With the craziness of Week 1 now behind us, we can move forward with a bit more clarity and evaluate these games based in part on what we saw last week, not what we saw last season. I’ve always liked Weeks 2 and 3— you have plenty of information on every team, yet preseason expectations and biases are still affecting the lines somewhat, so there’s loads of opportunity if you know where to look. With that in mind, here are a few recommendations:
Cleveland Browns @ New Orleans Saints
Line: New Orleans -8.5, 49.5
New Orleans was stunned at home last week, losing to Tampa Bay despite heading into the game as a 9.5-point favorite. The offense hummed along as expected, generating 40 points and 475 total yards, but the defense was absolutely shredded by journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Saints trailed for nearly the entire game. It was the worst anyone has seen the New Orleans defense look since… Week 1 of last season, when they let Vikings QB Sam Bradford go 27/32 for 346 yards and three touchdowns in a 5-point Minnesota victory. If you recall, the Saints D turned out to be pretty good in 2017, and with just about all of the key pieces back this year, I’d be very careful about overreacting to what we saw last week. And with the Browns coming to town, a team that hasn’t won a game since 2016 and struggles to move the ball through the air (Tyrod Taylor was a ghastly 15/40 passing in last week’s rain-soaked tie against Pittsburgh), the Saints have a golden opportunity to put last week behind them and get things moving in the right direction. Of course, things are already moving along just fine on offense and will be as long as Drew Brees is at the controls, and I firmly expect Brees & Co. to slice right through a Cleveland defense that allowed over 25 points per game in 2017 and surrendered 472 total yards last week. New Orleans should cruise to an easy victory here, and if you’re concerned about the 8.5-point number, don’t be: nine of the Saints’ 11 wins last season came by 9 points or more. This is a team that covers big numbers, especially in the Superdome.
Recommendation: New Orleans -8.5 at 1.95
Los Angeles Chargers @ Buffalo Bills
Line: LA -7.5, 43.5
While last week didn’t go as planned for the Chargers, who lost to division rival Kansas City at home, the disappointment pales in comparison to the outright hopelessness that Bills fans must feel after watching their squad get thoroughly embarrassed in Baltimore. The Ravens were ahead 40-0 in the 3rd quarter (!) before pulling their starters and cruising to a 47-3 win. Bills starting quarterback Nathan Peterman finished the game 5/18 for 24 yards and 2 interceptions, and was eventually pulled in favor of rookie Josh Allen, who was pretty bad himself but mercifully avoided the turnovers. Allen will get the start this week, and considering his own coach was saying as recently as last week that he wasn’t yet ready to play, I expect a very conservative, run-heavy game plan for Buffalo on Sunday. The goal will be to keep things simple for Allen, protect him from Melvin Ingram and the fierce LA pass rush, and feed All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy, who had a mere 7 carries for 22 yards last week. If all goes relatively well, this plan of attack will have the pleasant side effect of keeping the clock running and keeping Philip Rivers and the explosive Chargers offense on the sidelines. And can that Buffalo defense possibly be as bad as they looked last week, or even close to it? Remember, the defense is supposed to be the strength of this Bills team— they have adequate talent, and 2nd-year coach Sean McDermott is known as a defensive guru. Something tells me we’ll see them perform with some professional pride this week and keep this one respectable. I’m expecting a low-scoring game here.
Recommendation: Under 43.5 at 1.89
Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets
Line: New York -3, 44
Jets fans had to be overcome with giddiness after watching their team dismantle Detroit on Monday night, with rookie quarterback Sam Darnold bouncing back from a game-opening pick-six to complete 16 of 21 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns. But it was the defense that really broke the game open for New York, intercepting Lions quarterback Matt Stafford five times and returning one for a touchdown, to go along with a punt return TD from Andre Roberts. Going forward, though, what can we really expect out of a Jets team that went 5-11 last season, didn’t drastically overhaul the roster in the offseason, and is starting a rookie at quarterback? Sure, Darnold is an exciting prospect who seemingly has a bright future, but he’s bound to take his lumps, just like all rookies, and it’s unrealistic to expect him to be a difference-maker at this stage. His counterpart on Sunday, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, is in a completely different position— a 7th-year pro surrounded by familiar weapons, in the third year of an offense that seems to suit him. The Miami attack was balanced and effective in last week’s win over Tennessee, with Tannehill reminding observers what Adam Gase’s up-tempo scheme looks like with a capable trigger-man under center. The defense was solid as well, limiting the Titans to 336 total yards and forcing three turnovers. I believe people have overlooked this Dolphins team a bit— they may not be contenders, but they’re a capable, veteran club, not a doormat. They’ll likely beat a Jets team that’s a quintessential “sell high” candidate after last week’s performance.
Recommendation: Miami +3 at 1.91
Philadelphia Eagles @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Line: Philadelphia -3, 44
This one feels a little fishy, doesn’t it? I mean, at first glance most casual observers would likely jump all over the defending Super Bowl champs laying a mere 3 points against a Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Tampa Bay team, and indeed the Eagles are firmly the “public” side this week, with some 75% of the action coming in on Philly at sportsbooks that report such things. But is it really that simple? The Philly offense was disjointed and inconsistent throughout the preseason and it seemed to carry over into Week 1, when, despite pulling out a win, they produced just 232 total yards and 18 points in a performance that can best be described as anemic. The Bucs, meanwhile, had no such issues, rolling up 48 points and 529 total yards en route to an upset win in New Orleans. Now they return home to face an Eagles team that may be ripe for the picking— both Carson Wentz and Alshon Jeffery are still out, Nick Foles has looked like a shadow of the guy who out-dueled Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, and the Philly secondary may struggle to match up with a talented Tampa Bay receiving corps that features both tremendous size (Mike Evans) and tremendous speed (DeSean Jackson). Plus, Tampa QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is no ordinary backup— he’s had extensive starting experience and has had plenty of success, putting together a 3,900-yard, 31-touchdown season with the Jets just three years ago. There’s no reason to think that Fitzpatrick and the Bucs offense can’t capitalize on last week’s momentum and keep it rolling, and if they’re still in that kind of rhythm, I’m just not sure an Eagles offense that’s still finding its footing can keep pace. Gimme the home ‘dog here.
Recommendation: Tampa Bay +3 at 1.95