With the Rams and Vikings facing each other on Thursday night, and the Chiefs not playing until Monday, Sunday will have an excitement deficit that the N.F.L. has avoided so far this season. The Dolphins will be the lone undefeated team in action on the league’s main day of action, though there should be plenty of reason to tune in to other games, with Baker Mayfield making his first start, Carson Wentz trying to go 2-0 and Ryan Fitzpatrick trying to rekindle FitzMagic while running away from Khalil Mack.
Here is a look at this week’s schedule, with all picks made against the point spread.
Last week’s record: 7-9
Overall record: 28-19-1
Dolphins at Patriots, 1 p.m., CBS
To say that the Dolphins (3-0) have Coach Bill Belichick’s number would be a dramatic overstatement, as the Patriots (1-2) under Belichick are 23-13 against Miami. But with a winning percentage against the Dolphins (.639) that trails his overall percentage (.753) by a decent amount, and several of those losses being shocking, it might be fair to say Miami has given him more trouble than would seem warranted based on its quality over two decades.
Though it may be more amusing than relevant, Belichick was even 0-2 against the Dolphins in his years as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Still, Belichick is Belichick, and Tom Brady is Tom Brady, and that, along with home-field advantage is why they are favored despite Miami having passed for more yards, rushed for more yards, allowed fewer rushing yards and allowed nearly as few passing yards. The Dolphins have scored 18 more points than the Patriots and have allowed 25 fewer.
So what has gone so right for Miami in its undefeated start? A strong connection between Ryan Tannehill and Kenny Stills is a major factor. They have connected for 184 yards and three touchdowns despite a fairly conservative offensive approach. Last week, Stills’s fellow wide receiver — and fellow national anthem kneeler — Albert Wilson got in on the action with a game that included a 52-yard touchdown pass and a 74-yard touchdown reception.
Miami’s hot start has come against fairly bad competition, and that makes this game harder to judge. So do a few key injuries to New England players. The Patriots are likely to win at home, but there is at least a potential for an upset, and a point spread of just under a touchdown seems too large. Pick: Dolphins +6.5
Browns at Raiders, 4:05 p.m., Fox
If Baker Mayfield were to call it a career right now, fans of the Browns (1-1-1) would very likely support him in a run for mayor of Cleveland and campaign for him to be put in the Hall of Fame. That’s what happens when you come into a game for just over two quarters of action and end a 635-day winless streak.
The key to this game, however, will be Cleveland’s much-improved defense continuing its strong start to the season by joining the parade of teams that has frustrated and beaten Derek Carr and the Raiders (0-3). A lot was expected of Oakland under Coach Jon Gruden’s system, but so far it has resulted in an extremely high completion percentage and very few touchdowns. If Carr continues to have turnover problems, the Browns could easily take advantage, taking some pressure off Mayfield in his first career start. Pick: Browns +2.5
Eagles at Titans, 1 p.m., Fox
There was some concern after two weeks that the Eagles (2-1) were in a slump after last season’s Super Bowl win, but Carson Wentz’s return got them back to a winning record, even if the victory over Indianapolis was not exactly emphatic. Philadelphia will have to hope it can show a little more burst on both offense and defense against the Titans (2-1), a team that has been banged up and fairly mediocre thus far but has lulled teams into playing down to their level. Pick: Eagles -4
Buccaneers at Bears, 1 p.m., Fox
Ryan Fitzpatrick is who we thought he was. The veteran quarterback had what qualifies as a career sampler last week, taking huge risks, some of which were rewarded and some of which were punished. That style is what has led to his 184 career touchdown passes (more than several Hall of Fame quarterbacks, including Joe Namath, Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman) as well as his 140 career interceptions and his career record of 50-71-1.
Regardless, Fitzpatrick became the first quarterback ever to throw for 400 or more yards in three consecutive games, and that has appeared to earn him at least one more start despite Jameis Winston no longer being suspended. An official announcement of the team’s starter has yet to be issued.
Should he start, Fitzpatrick may wish that Tampa Bay had gone with Winston, as the starter will spend his day running away from Khalil Mack and a Bears (2-1) defense that puts incredible pressure on quarterbacks and has shown a knack for taking advantage of even the slightest mistake. Pick: Bears -3
Vikings at Rams, 8:20 p.m., Fox
The Rams (3-0) have scored 33, 34 and 35 points in succession so far this season, looking even more devastating on offense than they did last year. The problem, though, is the team’s rebuilt defense has suddenly lost all of its secondary depth. Aqib Talib is on injured reserve after ankle surgery, and Marcus Peters is questionable with a calf strain. Going against the Vikings (1-1-1), a team with terrific depth at wide receiver, that could be a real issue.
Minnesota has its own defensive problems with Everson Griffen seeking treatment for mental health issues, so this is setting up as a video game-like shootout. The Vikings should rebound some from last week’s embarrassing loss to Buffalo, but against the Rams they are outgunned. Pick: Rams -7
Ravens at Steelers, 8:20 p.m., NBC
If Monday’s game had ended at halftime, all of the hand-wringing the Steelers (1-1-1) had endured in the first few weeks of the season would have faded away. But Pittsburgh, which had been up by 30-10 at halftime, let Tampa Bay storm back to make it a 3-point game, and the result was in doubt into the final minutes. The Steelers, despite generating numerous turnovers in the first half against the Buccaneers, clearly need a total overhaul of their defense, and even once you allow for the lack of Le’Veon Bell, they need to find something approaching consistency on offense.
This week is not a must-win game in the traditional sense, especially with so much season left, but if the Steelers want to convince anyone that they are still real contenders, they will need to beat a decent Ravens (2-1) team at home. Pick: Steelers -3
Saints at Giants, 4:25 p.m., CBS
The Saints (2-1) showed a lot of defensive improvement last season, which along with an emphasis on the running game finally let Drew Brees relax a little. This season has provided no such respite, as New Orleans has allowed 103 points over three games and has generated just 82.7 rushing yards a game, partially as a result of Mark Ingram’s suspension. The Giants (1-2) are not a very scary team, even when they are playing at home, and with Alvin Kamara nursing a knee injury, Ingram still suspended, and the Saints’ defense performing so poorly, it says something about the faith people have in the Giants that New Orleans remains the favorite. Pick: Saints -3.5
Jets at Jaguars, 1 p.m., Fox
The Jaguars (2-1) reminded everyone what the term “trap game” means last week when they lost shockingly to the Titans. There is no excuse for the defeat, but it should, at the very least, convince them to take the Jets (1-2) seriously. If all goes to plan, Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue and the rest of the Jaguars defense will make sure no one uses the word “poise” to describe the rookie quarterback Sam Darnold for at least a week. That being said, it seems generous to make a team that scored 6 points last week a 7.5-point favorite. Pick: Jets +7.5
Lions at Cowboys, 1 p.m., Fox
If the Cowboys (1-2) find a way to give Ezekiel Elliott the ball 20 or more times, the Lions (1-2) should have their winning streak stopped at one game. For some reason, that strategy isn’t a given. Pick: Cowboys -3
Bills at Packers, 1 p.m., CBS
The Bills (1-2) just pulled off what will most likely be the biggest upset of the season. They came in as 16.5-point underdogs, yet beat Minnesota by 21 points. It was a game where everything went right for Buffalo, including two early turnovers that they capitalized on with touchdowns. Repeating that sort of magic against the Packers (1-1-1) seems unlikely even when you consider how limited Aaron Rodgers has looked. With the game in Green Bay, the Bills should try for the same formula of pressuring the quarterback and letting Josh Allen take care of the rest, but that’s easier said than done. Pick: Packers -9.5
Seahawks at Cardinals, 4:05 p.m., Fox
Did the Seahawks (1-2) right the ship, or are they just good at home? That’s the big question for the season, but not one that will necessarily be answered against the Cardinals (0-3), a team that has been downright awful and will be starting a rookie quarterback, Josh Rosen. Pick: Seahawks -3
Bengals at Falcons, 1 p.m., CBS
The Falcons (1-2) do not get any real credit for almost beating the Eagles and Saints, but in those close games, and in a win over Carolina, they have shown themselves to be a team that is no fun to play against. Having the rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley improve from 0 catches in Week 1, to four for 64 yards and a touchdown in Week 2 to seven for 146 yards and three touchdowns in Week 3 should make the Bengals (2-1) nervous, especially with Julio Jones around in case Cincinnati decides to get cute and shift their coverage too much toward Ridley. Pick: Falcons -5.5
49ers at Chargers, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Colin Kaepernick, who has been in the news quite a bit recently, is a former starting quarterback for the 49ers (1-2) who would seem to give them a better chance of beating the Chargers (1-2) than C.J. Beathard. The same might be true of Steve Young, despite the 56-year-old Hall of Famer not having taken a snap since 1999. The question is if Los Angeles can stay interested enough to win by 10 or more points. Pick: 49ers +10
Texans at Colts, 1 p.m., CBS
It is probably not fair to judge Deshaun Watson and the Texans (0-3) so early in the season, especially when you consider the severity of the injury he is coming back from, but there is no question that Houston has underperformed, and a road game against the Colts (1-2) seems like a recipe for an 0-4 start to the year. Pick: Colts -1
Chiefs at Broncos, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Patrick Mahomes did nearly anything he wanted on offense, while the Chiefs (3-0) looked atrocious on defense. That was the story of Week 3, and Week 2, and Week 1. There might be a pattern. The second-year quarterback is an absolute sensation, and is using the entire field, and all of his receivers, in a way that few have ever tried. His 13 touchdown passes are the most a quarterback has ever had after three weeks, and the Broncos (2-1), who have allowed just under 290 passing yards a game, are probably not the team that is going to slow him down. Until further notice it should just be expected that Mahomes will run up the score, and then Kansas City’s defense will do its best to make things interesting. Pick: Chiefs -4.5
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