New England Patriots 28, Las Vegas Raiders 24
This is a brutal matchup for both defensive fronts. The Raiders’ late-1980s playing style is perfectly crafted to wear down defenses like New England’s, which is designed to play with six defensive backs and invite the opposition to run. Derek Carr has barely been touched in two weeks, and that doesn’t figure to change against a Patriots team where Chase Winovich is (easily?) the best front-seven player.
The Raiders’ passive pass rush (one sack so far) doesn’t have it any better against a cohesive New England offensive line. After Cam Newton proved he is throwing as well as ever in Week 2, the Patriots present a lot to defend, even if their wide receivers are mostly moving at Witten speed. Possessions and defensive stops figure to be at a premium, so give the edge to Bill Belichick in a tight game where situational football makes the difference.
Raiders at Patriots (-5)
Does this look like a man who is going to let his team lose a second consecutive game?
The Raiders have some things going for them. Derek Carr ranked second in EPA per snap against man coverage last season, and the Patriots are a man-heavy team. The Raiders’ defense played better Monday night against the Saints, but preparing for the new-look Cam Newton offense on a short week will be challenging.
The pick: Patriots (-5)
From: The Athletic
Los Angeles Rams 30, Buffalo Bills 27
This is a fascinating test for Josh Allen 2.0, after the Bills QB spent the first two weeks of the season devouring cupcakes. Play-caller Brian Daboll is feeling himself, and there aren’t many defenses that can match up with Buffalo’s depth of offensive weapons — a tall order, even for an underrated Los Angeles secondary playing well under new coordinator Brandon Staley. The Bills’ defense could be the bigger issue here, especially if the top linebackers aren’t healthy against a Rams team that is second to none at flooding the middle of the field. Bills cornerback Levi Wallace is also struggling, and there are few coaches better than Sean McVay at identifying weaknesses and hammering them. L.A. and Buffalo both look like playoff teams that didn’t need a preseason.
Rams at Bills (-2.5)
The Rams’ defense was a big question coming into the season, considering it was switching coordinators and lost Dante Fowler, Cory Littleton, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews. But it’s off to a good start, and one player who has emerged is linebacker Micah Kiser. A 2018 fifth-round pick, Kiser had not started a game until Week 1. Last week against the Eagles, he had 16 tackles, a pass breakup and a forced fumble. Kiser looked good in coverage, too. Jalen Ramsey against Stefon Diggs might be the most entertaining one-on-one matchup in Week 3. But the Bills have other options even if Ramsey wins that battle. Buffalo will be much more disciplined defensively than the Eagles were last week.
The pick: Bills (-2.5)
From: The Athletic
Indianapolis Colts 26, New York Jets 13
The Jets found their left tackle for the next decade in Mekhi Becton, who is making my colleague Baldy break down in tears of joy with his ferocity. There’s virtually nothing else positive to say about Gang Green, the one NFL club I don’t expect to be competitive on a weekly basis until proven otherwise. Like most Adam Gase teams, these Jets try to win with 7-yard completions.
Indy has quietly lost three compelling starters who are 24 years old or younger (safety Malik Hooker, running back Marlon Mack and wideout Parris Campbell), but the depth of this well-constructed roster still holds up. The Colts should grind inferior opponents like the Jets down with their physicality.
Jets at Colts (-11.5)
A pet peeve of mine is when coaches point to execution as a reason for their team’s struggles. That’s what we heard from Adam Gase this week. It’s troubling on a number of levels. One, because it points the finger at the players. And two, because the job description of a head coach is to get the players to execute. Meanwhile, Jets players this week questioned the way they have been practicing. There is no reason to place even 10 cents on the Gase-led Jets. But this is a big spread, and Frank Reich showed last week that he’s willing to lean on the run game if that’s what gives the Colts the best chance to win. This feels like the pick I’m most likely to regret midway through the first quarter Sunday, but the Jets cover.
From: The Athletic