Chicago (+3.5) @ NY Giants
Power rankings: Chicago 27, NY Giants 32
Spread thoughts: This is the model's favorite bet of the week. I'm not surprised at all to see that the spread has moved to 3. Get your damn bets in early.
Keys to the game: This game is being played at 1 on Sunday. If you're watching individual games and aren't from New York or Chicago, I truly hope you are watching literally any other game.
We didn't expect much out of Justin Fields heading into the season given how poorly the offense is around him, but we didn't expect things to be this bad either. Fields is completing just 51.1% of his passes, which is an almost impossibly bad 16.1% below expectation. PFF has charted him with 6 turnover worthy plays and 0 big time throws, resulting in a grade of 43. His insistence on holding the ball for too long (3.33 time to throw is the slowest in the league) is partially to blame for being under pressure 47.7% of the time. What's worse is how he's handling said pressure -- his pressure to sack rate of 32.3% is the worst in the NFL. As a runner, he's averaging 3.5 yards per attempt and has fumbled 3 times. Literally everything has to improve. It won't be easy, since, as mentioned, the players around him are far from ideal. It is worth mentioning that the offensive line has surpassed my ridiculously low expectations (they're still bad). 5th round rookie LT Braxton Jones deserves a shoutout, he's surrendered just 9 pressures over 3 games. They're also up against a Giants pass rush that is poor in normal circumstances, but will also likely be without Leonard Williams (knee), leaving them to rely on second year starter Azeez Ojulari and rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux, both of whom were unable to play the first two games of the season due to injury. The Bears receivers have been even worse than expected -- Darnell Mooney looked like a solid receiver last year, but he has just 4 catches for 27 yards through 3 games. RB David Montgomery leads the team with 5 catches, but he looks like he'll be sitting after suffering a knee/ankle injury last week. I don't think it'll matter too much for the run game as Khalil Herbert is a fine replacement. The Giants defense is a dream matchup for most offenses, but the Bears offense is incapable of dreaming.
Daniel Jones is playing exactly how you'd expect a QB who's team was unwilling to pick up a 5th year option -- he's completing 64.1% of his passes 0.3% above expectation) and gaining 6.1 yards per attempt. The receiving core is such a mess I don't even know where to begin -- Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney have been pushed down the depth chart, Sterling Shepard tore his ACL, and rookie Wan'Dale Robinson is injured (knee). Toney likely won't even have a chance to prove that he was worthy of being a 1st round pick a year ago -- he isn't practicing with a hamstring injury. Rookie 4th round TE Daniel Bellinger has at least made a few plays, and Saquon Barkley is back to full health, but there's just too much crap going on to see this team performing well. Meanwhile, the offensive line is a disaster as well -- except for LT Andrew Thomas, who looks to be one of the better tackles in football. Not that Thomas will have anyone to block -- nobody on the Bears line that has more than 50 pass rushing snaps has a win rate over 10% (hint: that's bad). The best player in the seconadry, cornerback Jaylon Johnson, hasn't practiced this week due to a quad injury.
Seriously, don't watch this game.
Arizona (+1.5) @ Carolina
Power rankings: Arizona 24, Carolina 30
Spread thoughts: The line has moved down to 0.5 a point. Lines move toward the model. Bet your damn bets in early.
Keys to the game: Kyler Murray isn't even coming close to living up to his 230 million dollar contract, completing just 63.8% of his passes (4.8% below expectation) and gaining 5.6 yards per attempt. He has been a dynamic runner, gaining 5.4 yards per attempt (although he does have two fumbles), and we know he's a better passer than this. The offensive line isn't spectacular, but they have solid players across the board, which is more than enough in today's NFL to win. They're also up against a Panthers pass rush that has had issues to start the season -- Brian Burns is the best of them with an impressive 17 pressures, but nobody else has managed to make a consistent impact. The receiving core has benefited from 2019 UDFA Greg Dortch, who has made an impact in what's essentially his first year playing full time (he had all of 3 targets prior to this season). Along with deep threat Marquise Brown and TE Zack Ertz, it gives the Panthers something to worry about. CB Jaycee Horn -- the 8th overall selection from 2021 -- is off to an absurd start, allowing 5 catches (on 11 targets) for 35 yards and a pass breakup through 3 games. The rest of the Panthers corner depth is less than impressive, which should give the Cardinals an edge.
Baker Mayfield is playing at 2021 Baker Mayfield levels (hint: that's bad). He's completing 51.2% of his passes (11.5% below expectation) and gaining 6.7 yards per attempt. His receivers have also left him about to dry, with DJ Moore and Robbie Anderson both playing substandard football. Christian McCaffrey is also dealing with a thigh injury and is expected to be a game time decision. Despite a strong right side of the line (Taylor Mortin and Austin Corbett), the offensive line as a whole has struggled to protect Baker -- rookie LT Ikem Ekwonu has struggled in all 3 games this season. They are up against a bad Cardinals defense (31st in DVOA) who could be without JJ Watt (calf). If there was ever a spot for Mayfield and Moore to turn things around, this is the spot to do it.
Denver (+2.5) @ Las Vegas
Power rankings: Denver 10, Las Vegas 17
Spread thoughts: Since the spread is right up against 3, it's not a surprise that it's sticking at 2.5.
Keys to the game: This bet comes down to our method of not overreacting to a limited 3 season sample and sticking to our preseason thoughts that the Broncos are a good team. Russ Wilson hasn't played a solid game yet, however, compiling a 59.4% completion percentage (5.8% below expectation) and gaining 7.0 yards per attempt. This matchup will come down to what Raiders DE Maxx Crosby is able to do against RT Cam Fleming. Crosby has turned into one of the better pass rushers in football -- he also lines up almost exclusively on the left side, putting him against a journeyman tackle in Fleming. The Broncos line is much stronger at LT, where Garett Bolles shouldn't have an issue against whatever below average pass rusher the Raiders decide to stick on his side. Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy should have an advantage over the Raiders secondary as well, although sophomore CB Nate Hobbs is following up his solid rookie season with stingy cornerback play. The Broncos offensive line should be able to create space for Javonte Williams in the run game, who is average an impressive 4.8 yards per attempt and 3.57 yards after contact.
The Raiders offense has been confusingly bad, ranking 24th in offensive DVOA. The quarterback is partially to blame -- completing just 60.8% of his passes (0.5% above expectation) and gaining 7.1 yards per attempt. PFF has charted him with 8 turnover worthy plays, which has resulted in 4 INTs and 2 fumbles. It's likely an issue with a new coach and star receiver (Davante Adams), but I wouldn't expect their struggles to continue. Hunter Renfrow is questionable with a concussion, but even if he can't go, Mack Hollins stepped in to catch 8 balls for 158 yards and a score last game. Raiders fans should be more concerned about the below average offensive line and how they'll be able to handle Randy Gregory, Bradley Chubb, and Dre'Mont Jones. The Broncos secondary is solid, but they'll have their hands full against the Raiders receivers.
Kansas City @ Tampa Bay (+2.0)
Power rankings: Kansas City 4, Tampa Bay 3
Spread thoughts: Surprise, surprise, the line moved toward the model. The Chiefs are only 0.5 point favorites.
Keys to the game: By EPA/play (or common sense), the Chiefs offense is the best in football. Also By EPA/play (or common sense), the Bucs defense is the best in football. Brady vs Mahomes. Sunday Night Football. Let's go.
Mahomes is completing 67.9% of his passes (2% above expectation) and gaining 7.9 yards per attempt. Travis Kelce, as expected, is leading the way for the Chiefs receivers with 17 catches for 203 yards and 2 touchdowns. The secondary options (JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling) have been less than impressive, but the story with the Chiefs haven't changed much even without Tyreek Hill -- as long as Mahomes and Andy Reid are around, they're going to torture opposing defenses. The Bucs have enough talent at linebacker and safety (Lavonte David, Mike Edwards, and Logan Ryan) to dedicate resources to containing Kelce, and their corners are better than the Chiefs receiver. Meanwhile, the Chiefs and Bucs both have great play along the line. It's a good matchup "on paper" for the Bucs, but the reality is in a "good offense vs good defense" matchup, the offense has the advantage.
The Bucs offense ranks 27th in DVOA, which is certainly far lower than they'll finish this season. Tom Brady isn't playing at the levels he's been at the previous few seasons, but he isn't the issue -- he's completing 65% of his passes (2% below expectation) and gaining 6.5 yards per attempt, good for a 72.4 PFF grade. The problem with the Bucs has been a slew of injuries along the offensive line and at receiver. LT Donovan Smith (elbow) got in two limited sessions Wednesday and Thursday, which should give him a chance to return. That leaves them strong at LT, RT (Tristian Wirfs), and RG (Shaq Mason), but their backups playing LG and C are performing poorly. That's not great news considering the Chiefs best pass rusher, Chris Jones, lines up in the middle. The Chiefs utilize Jones by identifying your weakest interior lineman and placing Jones opposite said weakness for the duration of the game. At receiver, the Bucs will get Mike Evans back (suspension). Chris Godwin (hamstring) did not practice Thursday, Russell Gage (hamstring) is limited in practice, and Julio Jones (knee) is likewise limited. I'd expect Gage and Jones back while Godwin is a much bigger question mark. The Chiefs secondary is decent, but the Bucs should have enough back healthy to make a difference. They just need to make sure Chris Jones doesn't take over.