By now, everyone has heard the statistic: an NFL team that starts its season 0-2 is approximately 12 percent likely to make the playoffs. It's no surprise, therefore, that largely considered 'playoff teams' like the Patriots, Packers, and Chargers avoided the dreaded two-loss start to the year with wins on Sunday.
The number -- 12 percent -- is largely skewed. While facing an 88 percent probability that one's season is already over, teams that make up the '0-2′ club are often bad, anyway. The Jacksonville Jaguars haven't made the playoffs since 2007. However they start their season has largely been irrelevant, as they always tend to end up in the same place.
The weight of each game in an NFL season obviously grows from one week to the next. Dropping from 0-1 to 0-2 is painful, but 0-3 would be catastrophic. Suddenly, facing a 98 percent failure rate, even teams with higher ceilings than the Jaguars and Raiders of the world can see their season go down the drain. If the Saints were to lose this weekend, the 2 percent chance of a recovery is even less likely when considering the NFC South features the Panthers and Falcons. If the Colts were to drop to 0-3 in Jacksonville, their road to the playoffs would be equally as dark, but perhaps remain manageable by the weaker AFC South.
The same shifts in probabilities are found constantly throughout an NFL season, but typically, teams quickly establish whether or not they are 'playoff-worthy', usually negating the numbers. At the very least, the bad teams have shifted to the bottom.
In Week 3, however, everyone still believes they are alive.
Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team and an asterisk denotes one of the week's most confident picks.
*Confidence Picks: 4-1 (Season: 8-3)
All Picks Against Spread: 9-7 (Season: 16-15-1)
Has any team been dealt a tougher hand to start the season than the San Diego Chargers? The Cardinals, on the road, on Monday Night Football. The defending champion Seattle Seahawks. The … Buffalo Bills? On paper, this was the only ‘sure win’ when the year began. Now, it appears as daunting a task as the first two games.
Both teams are coming off emotional home wins, and Buffalo has the added benefit of sitting at home while San Diego travels across the country for a 1 p.m. game. The fact that no one has fully bought into the Bills adds to the chip on their shoulder, but they have a history of early season success negated by season’s end. In the past three seasons, Buffalo is a combined 6-3 in their first three games, but finished 6-10 each year.
In an attempt to foresee the direction of both the Chargers and Bills going forward, San Diego has the brighter future. The Chargers win by a field goal and beat the spread.
(Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Tennessee Titans (+7)* at Cincinnati Bengals
It’s time to stop pretending the Bengals aren’t one of the league’s best teams. If the Bills feel disrespected despite winning their first two games, the Bengals must be stirring after coming off back-to-back AFC North titles, yet still getting little recognition for their success.Andy Dalton is good. Cincinnati’s defense is even better. The two additives continue to result in wins.
Tennessee getting blown out by the Cowboys at home quickly burst the early season hype balloon surrounding the Titans. Like every other team in the NFL, however, Tennessee is neither as good as their road victory in Kansas City nor as bad as their home loss to Dallas. The Titans have the talent and coaching staff to make a legitimate push at the AFC South this season -- especially if Indianapolis continues to struggle -- but beating the Bengals on the road seems unlikely.
Tennessee hangs in the game to the end, but loses by a field goal, beating the spread in the process.
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Baltimore Ravens (-1) at Cleveland Browns
It may have only been Week 2, but these division foes each won critical games for vastly different reasons. The Ravens, swimming in media coverage after the release ofRay Rice stepped forward as a new team with a much-needed division win over the Steelers. The Browns, one week removed from falling just short of capping off an epic comeback against the same team from Pittsburgh, pulled off the improbable upset of the Saints.
Much like the game between the Bills and Chargers, the matchup between the Ravens and Browns should be decided by the team with the better likelihood of fighting for a playoff spot long-term. The Baltimore Ravens win a close, prototypical AFC North slugfest by a field goal and cover the small spread.
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (-1)
The Packers and Lions each share stark similarities over the first few weeks of the season. Both had home victories against perceived weaker teams (New York’s two franchises, oddly enough), but lost, on the road, to playoff teams from one year prior.
With the entire NFC North sitting at 1-1, a win on Sunday gives one of these two teams an early edge in what should be a long race towards the division crown. The Lions have taken a backseat to the Packers for eight straight seasons, including Green Bay’s three consecutive division titles since 2011.
Detroit delivers the first blow in their quest for the NFC North title, winning the game by a touchdown and covering the spread.
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Minnesota Vikings (+6.5) at New Orleans Saints
Two of the biggest letdowns from Week 2 -- The Saints falling to 0-2 at the hands of the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota getting dismantled by the Patriots -- square off in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon. While the controversy about what to do withAdrian Peterson has swirled in Minnesota, the talk all week surrounding the Saints has been one-dimensional -- universally, they are considered the 0-2 team most capable of making the playoffs.
But, what if they’re not?
If the Saints are simply an average team -- that is, not the world-beaters everyone always expects from a team led byDrew Brees andSean Payton -- they have no business being an almost double-digit favorite. They are, however, playing for their ‘statistical’ playoff lives.
Sluggish 0-2 starts are difficult to overcome. 0-3 is nearly impossible. The Saints pull out the four-point victory but the Vikings beat the spread.
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Dallas Cowboys at St. Louis Rams (+1)*
Whether it’s the Cowboys, Rams, or any of their opponents, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has embodied all of them. What could we take away from the Cowboys beating the Titans on the road? What about the Rams surviving (‘winning’ would be too forgiving of a term) in Tampa Bay?
It’s difficult to gauge either team with the uncertainty that has been present in their opening two games, but there are a few telling points to consider.
The Rams are better coached, playing at home, and, most importantly, only getting one point. Dallas has a huge fanbase, and the one-point spread seems like excellent bait to trap those millions of supporters throughout the nation.
St. Louis hands Dallas its second loss of the season, winning by a touchdown at home and beating the spread.
(Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
Oakland Raiders at New England Patriots (-14)
The dreaded two-touchdown spread. The decision to take the points is made a lot easier when the game features two division opponents, but the space between the Raiders’ and Patriots’ talent is as wide as the distance between their respective home stadiums.
We always subscribe to the ‘Any Given Sunday’ mentality, but Oakland needs to prove that they are worthy of this consideration. After New England thumped Minnesota in Week 2, it deserves the benefit of the doubt.
The Patriots win the game and, while the spread is painfully large to swallow, they find a way to cover. Patriots win by three touchdowns.
(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Houston Texans (-2.5) at New York Giants
When the New York Giants started 2013 0-2, people quickly recalled the 2007 campaign during which the Giants turned an 0-2 record into a Super Bowl Championship. As loss after loss began to pile up, however, the belief in another historic run began to fade.
It’s time to be proactive in 2014 and pronounce the Giants dead. Now.
New York will win their share of games -- besides 2013’s 7-9 record, the Giants haven’t posted a losing season since 2004 -- but it’s safest to stay away until proven otherwise. The Texans come into MetLife Stadium, win by a touchdown, and cover.
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Washington Redskins (+6.5)* at Philadelphia Eagles
During the preseason, there were audible grumblings about the possibility thatKirk Cousins may be better suited to quarterback the Redskins thanRobert Griffin III. After RGIII sustained yet another injury in Week 2, Cousins was handed the weapons to complete the assault on Jacksonville. Now, he will be tasked with carrying the team for much of the remainder of the young season.
Philadelphia’s historic second consecutive come-from-behind victory marked a 2-0 start to the year, but the Eagles cannot continue to fly this close to the sun with wings intact. Robert Griffin III is certainly the more dynamic of the two quarterbacks we will see this in Washington this season, but Kirk Cousins appears every bit capable of leading the Redskins to victory. Furthermore, if there exists any believers in Cousins’ ability in the locker room, their best should be brought out on Sunday.
Call it a letdown game for the Eagles. Call it a division team on the road catching the home team off-guard. Call it a statement for Washington. Whatever Sunday ends up being in the long run, it will belong to the Redskins. Washington beats the spread and wins by a touchdown.
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (+7)*
It takes little observation to deduce that the Colts are better than the Jaguars, but there are times when numbers and guidelines outrank perception and names. It is easy to overlook the success rate of certain spreads, but this column will never pass up the opportunity to take a touchdown underdog at home. Nothing is guaranteed, but this setup beats the spread at an alarming rate.
Indianapolis is facing the same potential 0-3 start as New Orleans, except the Colts are playing on the road against a division opponent. The difficulty, here, is in the projection of the remainder of the year. Indianapolis falling to 0-3 would effectively spell the end of their season. In the same vein as the Saints, we ask the question, “Are the Colts victims of bad luck or simply bad?”
Regardless, home field advantage has been statistically proven to exist. Furthermore, the bigger the crowd, the bigger possibility for influencing factors that contribute to a home victory. In a few weeks, EverBank Field in Jacksonville may be barren, but for the team’s home opener, Jaguars’ fans should be in full-force.
The confidence pick is for Jacksonville to beat the spread, but it is still early enough in the season for the Jaguars to stop the bleeding. It shouldn’t be overlooked that Indianapolis is also winless -- granted, against better teams than Jacksonville’s opponents. Perhaps the two teams aren’t as far apart as we like to believe.
The Jaguars play a complete game, Indianapolis fails to pull away and Jacksonville finishes the upset at home, beating the Colts by a field goal.
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals (+3)
Arizona tops the ever-growing list of teams who continue to win games yet fail to gain public accolades. After beating the Chargers on Monday Night Football to start the season, Arizona went into New Jersey and took care of the pathetic Giants. To add injury to insult, Cardinals’ quarterbackCarson Palmer‘s shoulder withheld him from playing. Arizona still won.
The Cardinals play in arguably the toughest division in the NFL, yet they managed ten wins in a season where the 49ers and Seahawks combined for 25. Arizona has the potential to fend off the other two powerhouses of the NFC West and emerge as the division winner when the dust settles in January, but the task begins now.
Behind the league’s third-best rushing defense, the Arizona Cardinals win the game by a field goal, beat the spread, and improve to an impressive 3-0 to sit atop a brutal division.
(Photo by Ron Antonelli/Getty Images)
Kansas City Chiefs (+4.5) at Miami Dolphins
Let’s call this the first of what should be many make-or-break weeks for the Miami Dolphins. Falling to 1-2 in the suddenly deep -- at least, at the moment -- AFC East would be suicide. Kansas City is obviously beatable -- as evident by their 0-2 record -- and will not be able to match the intensity with which they attacked Denver in their division game one week ago.
While Kansas City’s 0-2 start all but eliminates their playoff hopes in the AFC West, they will take Miami to the end, beating the spread, but losing to a better Dolphins team by a field goal.
(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks (-4.5)
The Seahawks would be the pick even if they hadn’t torn apart the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. Seattle is coming off their first loss in months and will be playing in front of their insanely intense home crowd.
Denver won’t go undefeated through the season, nor should they win 13 games for the third consecutive year. The losses have to come from somewhere, and the team with the defense that could stop Manning and the blueprint -- not to mention, history -- to do so will be the first to knock off the Broncos.
Seahawks win by a touchdown and cover.
(AP Photo/Scott Eklund)
Pittsburgh Steelers (+3.5) at Carolina Panthers
Excluding the first half of their game against the Browns on Opening Day, the Steelers have looked largely inept. Their six straight quarters of poor football speaks to their streaky nature -- in 2013, they started the season with four straight losses, then ended the year with two three-game winning streaks in their final eight games. The trend, therefore, is that they should continue to struggle in Carolina.
Despite their quarterback being injured for Opening Day, the Panthers managed to win each of their first two games en route to a 2-0 start. Ironically enough, the 2013 Panthers were the anomaly team that started 0-2 and eventually won their division.
Carolina appears to be the better team, all-around, but Pittsburgh cannot afford to continue its downward trend. The Steelers reverse course, bucking their current streak, and revert to the team that ended last season with three consecutive wins and started 2014 on fire. Pittsburgh limits its turnovers against a hungry Panthers’ defense, keepsCam Newton at bay, and wins by a field goal, beating the spread.
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Chicago Bears at New York Jets (-2.5)*
Something must be wrong.
The nation watched the Bears knock off San Francisco on Sunday Night Football hours after the Jets blew an 18-point lead to the Packers. The struggles in the Jets’ secondary have been highlighted for more weeks than Brandon Marshall has touchdown catches. New York’s only victory came against the same Raiders team that lost by 16 to the Texans, while the Bears only loss was an overtime field goal to the AFC East leading Buffalo Bills.
Nothing about the first two weeks of the season should equate to the New York Jets giving points to the Chicago Bears.
When it comes to picking football games against the spread, part of the job is analyzing the two teams – noting recent trends and highlighting particular strengths and weaknesses. When there is no conventional wisdom to support the line, we must turn to the numbers themselves. Doing so, we identify the traps.
The Jets giving two-and-a-half points to the Bears is a trap.
The Bears are the easiest team to pick this week and, therefore, are the one to avoid. Naturally, the other side of the coin depicts the Jets, making New York the team to back. Keep in mind, Chicago’s defense is much worse than their ancestors’, while the Jets thrive at stopping the run. Jay Cutler and the Bears still commit too many turnovers, and New York will capitalize on Monday Night.