We are now two full weeks into the NFL season, and everyone is stuck in that unsure phase of fandom. If your team has looked good, you have been carefully reminding yourself that it’s only September. If the first two weeks have been a disaster, you use the same phrase to fight off the urge of flying into full-blown panic mode. Ahh, Welcome to Week 3. Where we have two data points for every team and we aren’t sure which one to trust more.
If your team has won or lost both its first two games, I have some news. It matters. And it’s going to matter even more after this weekend’s games. In Week 3, there will be nine teams competing to improve to 3-0, which historically has been a solid indicator that the postseason is on the horizon. Since the NFL merger in 1970, 75.6% of teams that start the season with three wins have ended up qualifying for the playoffs. There were only two teams that fit the mold in 2022 (Philadelphia and Miami), and both eventually ended up in the playoffs.
The situation is more urgent for those teams that started 0-2. Over the last 20 seasons, 99 teams have started their season with three straight losses. Only one has turned things around in time to make the playoffs (2018 Texans). There are also nine teams that are currently 0-2 that will be fighting for their season in a pivotal Week 3.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have “must win” games in September. They say pressure makes diamonds, but on the gridiron it can bring out the worst in teams. Must-win games are certainly not must-bet games. But, when surveying the odds this week, a pair of games featuring winless teams started calling my name. I will analyze what these teams need to do to avoid the dreaded 0-3 start, and whether I will be betting they can get it done.
Russell Wilson’s play is trending in a positive direction, but opening the season with two straight home losses signals Denver might not get the results they expected in Sean Payton’s first season.
What Denver must improve against Miami: The pass defense. You better be able to cover if you line up across from Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Braxton Berrios. Miami arguably has the most feared offense in the NFL. It only took two weeks for Tua Tagovailoa to assert himself as the betting favorite (+500) for league MVP. That’s bad news for a Broncos defense that just blew an 18-point lead by surrendering 35 points to Washington. Denver is now ranked 27th in both EPA per play allowed and PFF coverage grade (57.4), and that’s after facing Jimmy Garoppolo and Sam Howell. They have to find a way to slow down the Miami offense if they have any chance of pulling off a road win.
Best Bet: Miami (-6.5)
This feels like a big number against a desperate Broncos team, but I believe it’s playable under the key number of seven. Miami started 3-0 both straight up and against the spread in Mike McDaniel’s first season. This is long-distance travel for Denver with an early start in Miami. The Dolphins were a solid bet as a home favorite last year (4-2 ATS), and they covered at a 70% clip with an average margin of victory of 7.3 points over the last five seasons. Can Wilson keep up with Tagovailoa in a Vic Fangio revenge game? I will pay to see it.
After facing Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts the first two weeks, Bill Belichick is likely happy to see a familiar face under center for the Jets.
What New England must do to earn its first win: Run the football and protect Mac Jones at all costs. Belichick brought in Bill O’Brien to fix the offense, but that’s not an easy task when you are constantly shuffling offensive line combinations due to injury. The Patriots roster is built to methodically move down the field 10 yards at a time, and they don’t have the playmakers to overcome sacks or negative plays. Jets head coach Robert Saleh is known for dialing up the pressure, but his defense has also allowed the sixth-lowest rushing success rate through two games. If the Pats can’t get the running game going, it’s going to be a very uncomfortable postgame news conference in New England.
Best Bet: New England (-3)
The Patriots offense isn’t going to scare many teams, but this is the exact type of game where they have thrived in the past. Elite offenses force New England out of its comfort zone, but that’s not what we are getting with the New York Jets. The handicap at its core is still Bill Belichick versus Zach Wilson. The Patriots defense has tortured Wilson throughout his young career, and it appears to get worse with each outing. The last time he faced Belichick, the Pats defense allowed only 77 yards through the air, sacked him four times, held the Jets defense to 103 total yards and 2.1 yards per play. Robert Saleh doesn’t appear ready to move on from Wilson, so there is only one way to bet the side. The Jets’ team total under will probably be worth a look as well.
Stats provided by rbsdm, pff, stathead, teamrankings, ftn