The football world is waiting to find out whether Joe Burrow will play Monday night against the Rams, but some of us can’t wait that long. Bets need to be placed!
Regardless of whether Burrow plays, expect an intriguing matchup because the Rams have early breakout star Puka Nacua and a rejuvenated Matthew Stafford. But that’s just one of our top five games of Week 3.
The Falcons will put their undefeated record on the line against a talented Lions squad that’s coming off a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Seahawks. As for another surprise undefeated team, the Buccaneers will have a daunting challenge vs. the Eagles.
We’re also keeping tabs on the Saints’ dominant defense against the Packers’ surging offense with quarterback Jordan Love in his first year as the starter. Love’s been finding the end zone, despite playing without some of his best teammates.
Here’s the breakdown of our five favorite games with picks afterward, along with our final thoughts.
1. Los Angeles Chargers vs. Minnesota Vikings
Game info: Sunday, Sept. 24 | 1 p.m. ET | Fox|
Location: U.S. Bank Stadium | Minneapolis, MN
Spread: Chargers +0.5 (-110) | Vikings -0.5 (-110)
Moneyline: LAC (-110) | MIN (-110)
Total: 54.5 Over (-110) | Under (-118)
Los Angeles and Minnesota both ended playoff droughts last season with designs on returning in 2023. That’s looking unlikely for both teams after 0–2 starts and it will be nearly impossible for whichever one leaves Week 3 winless. According to ESPN, 99 teams have started 0–3 since 2002 and only the 2018 Texans made the postseason.
The Chargers lost to the Titans, 27–24, in overtime Sunday without Austin Ekeler (ankle), who could potentially miss this game as well. Los Angeles’ offense has been one of the better units in the NFL but its defense has been one of the worst. Only the Giants and Bears have allowed more points so far and no team has surrendered more yards.
Justin Herbert is 0–1 against the Vikings in his career. That lone meeting, which happened in 2021 at SoFi Stadium, ended in a 27–20 Chargers loss.
Minnesota’s story is somewhat similar to L.A.’s, just not as drastic. The offense hasn’t been nearly as good and its defense hasn’t been as bad as that of its Week 3 opponent. Despite four lost fumbles, the Vikings hung around with the Eagles last week in a 34–28 defeat. Kirk Cousins ranks second in passing yards and Justin Jefferson leads all players in receiving yards, but the running game is the worst in the league.
There’s ample talent on both offenses despite injuries to Ekeler and two of Minnesota’s starting offensive linemen (Christian Darrisaw and Garrett Bradbury). That’s why this over/under is the highest of the young season in a must-win game for both teams.
Verderame’s pick: Vikings PK, Over 54.5 (Minnesota 32, Los Angeles 28)
Manzano’s pick: Vikings PK, Over 54.5 (Minnesota 30, Chargers 28)
Wood’s pick: Chargers PK, Over 54.5 (Los Angeles 34, Minnesota 31)
2. Atlanta Falcons vs. Detroit Lions
Detroit came back to Earth last week after its season-opening upset of Kansas City. The same Lions defense that kept the reigning Super Bowl champs in check Week 1 let the Seahawks run rampant in a 37–31 overtime loss.
Atlanta, on the other hand, is 2–0 for the first time since 2017. The Falcons scored 13 unanswered fourth-quarter points to get past the visiting Packers, 25–24, and now they’ll take their run-heavy attack on the road to the Motor City.
These two NFC playoff hopefuls work in very different ways on offense. Detroit passes for the fourth-most yards per game and Atlanta runs for the fourth-most. The Lions may have to lean on Jared Goff’s arm even more if leading rusher David Montgomery (thigh) isn’t available. But Amon-Ra St. Brown (toe), the team’s top receiver, could also miss Sunday’s game.
Coach Dan Campbell is also dealing with injuries on the offensive line to Taylor Decker (ankle) and Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee) and on defense as James Houston (fibula) and C.J. Gardner-Johnson (pec) both landed on injured reserve. The Falcons’ injury report is much cleaner: They could get Jeff Okudah (foot), a first-round pick by Detroit in 2020, back this week.
The Lions’ defense has held up well against the run so far but it’s been punished through the air. It won’t have to worry about that against Atlanta, which runs on over 55% of its plays with rookie Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier leading the charge. This game will be decided in the trenches, just the way Arthur Smith and Campbell like it.
Verderame’s pick: Lions -3.5, Over 46.5 (Detroit 26, Atlanta 21)
Manzano’s pick: Lions -3.5, Over 46.5 (Detroit 27, Falcons 20)
Wood’s pick: Falcons +3.5, Over 46.5 (Detroit 24, Atlanta 23)
3. Los Angeles Rams vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Game info: Monday, Sept. 25 | 8:15 p.m. ET | ESPN
Location: Paycor Stadium | Cincinnati, OH
Spread: Rams +2.5 (-110) | Bengals -2.5 (-118)
Moneyline: LAR (+120) | CIN (-141)
Total: 43.5 Over (-110) | Under (-110)
Get ready for a Super Bowl LVI rematch in prime time. Just don’t count on seeing the MVP of the Big Game, Cooper Kupp (hamstring), and Burrow (calf) could be out as well. The uncertain status of Cincinnati’s quarterback has seen this line drop from the Bengals favored by a touchdown to tighter than a field goal.
Cincinnati, which fell to 0–2 last week with both losses to division opponents, can hardly afford to be without Burrow this week. But the fact of the matter is he’s not playing up to his usual level as he works his way back from injury. Burrow looked more like himself in a 27–24 loss to Baltimore but the comeback effort came up short. Jake Browning, who has attempted one pass in his NFL career, is Burrow’s backup and would start Monday if the franchise quarterback can’t go.
Even without Kupp, Los Angeles offense has been one of the NFL’s best. Matthew Stafford threw for over 300 yards in an upset win over Seattle in Week 1 and hit that mark again in a 30–23 loss to San Francisco. Fifth-round rookie Puka Nacua has had a record-setting start to his career and Tutu Atwell and Kyren Williams have emerged as offensive weapons as well.
Keep an eye on Burrow’s status as kickoff approaches. Browning will have star receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins at his disposal if he’s asked to make his first start, but he’ll also have to deal with Aaron Donald — just ask Geno Smith how that feels.
Verderame’s pick: Rams +2.5, Over 43.5 (Los Angeles 27, Cincinnati 19)
Manzano’s pick: Rams +2.5, Over 43.5 (Los Angeles 24, Cincinnati 23)
Wood’s pick: Rams +2.5, Under 43.5 (Los Angeles 23, Cincinnati 20)
4. Philadelphia Eagles vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Game info: Monday, Sept. 25 | 7:15 p.m. ET | ABC
Location: Raymond James Stadium | Tampa, FL
Spread: Eagles -4.5 (-118) | Buccaneers +4.5 (-110)
Moneyline: PHI (-213) | TB (+175)
Total: 45.5 Over (-118) | Under (-110)
Philadelphia’s 2–0 start has been considered underwhelming while Tampa Bay’s has been quite impressive. That difference in perception is more a result of the preseason expectations for each team than anything else. They share a common opponent in Minnesota, which the Eagles beat 34–28 last Thursday and the Buccaneers upset 20–17 in the season opener.
The last time these teams met was two seasons ago in the playoffs, prior to Jalen Hurts’s breakout year. Tampa Bay, led by Tom Brady, rolled to a 31–15 win while Philadelphia was left asking if Hurts was the answer under center. Brady has since retired, replaced by Baker Mayfield, while Hurts earned a hefty contract. The Bucs are now the plucky underdogs and the Birds are the reigning NFC champs.
This is a meeting of the two top rushing defenses in the NFL. Tampa Bay just bottled up the Bears on the ground, but this unit will be hard-pressed to slow down a Philly ground game that gained over 250 yards last week. The pressure will be on Mayfield and Mike Evans to exploit a depleted Eagles secondary that’s allowed the second-most passing yards in the league. Avonte Maddox (pec) landed on injured reserve this week and James Bradberry (concussion) and Reed Blankenship (ribs) are both questionable after missing the Minnesota game.
The mini-bye could allow Philadelphia to get healthy on defense and hand Tampa Bay its first loss. It’s worth noting the Eagles were favored by as much as a touchdown just last week, so this line has moved a bit.
Verderame’s pick: Eagles -4.5, Under 45.5 (Philadelphia 24, Tampa Bay 16)
Manzano’s pick: Buccaneers +4.5, Under 45.5 (Philadelphia 23, Tampa Bay 20)
Wood’s pick: Eagles -4.5, Under 45.5 (Philadelphia 26, Tampa Bay 17)
5. New Orleans Saints vs. Green Bay Packers
Game info: Sunday, Sept. 24 | 1 p.m. ET | Fox
Location: Lambeau Field | Green Bay, WI
Spread: Saints +1.5 (-110) | Packers -1.5 (-110)
Moneyline: NO (+105) | GB (-133)
Total: 42.5 Over (-110) | Under (-110)
Jordan Love is set to make his first home start against a fierce New Orleans defense. Green Bay’s fourth-year quarterback has played well despite missing some of his top weapons, like Christian Watson (hamstring) and Aaron Jones (hamstring). But the Bears and Falcons did not offer as much resistance as the Saints will.
New Orleans is top five in points and yards allowed and has only allowed one touchdown in eight quarters of play. That score came at the tail end of a 20–17 triumph over Carolina on Monday. On the other hand, the Saints’ offense has only found the end zone twice and Derek Carr has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. Receivers Chris Olave, Michael Thomas and Rashid Shaheed are all off to strong starts but the running game has struggled without the suspended Alvin Kamara. And now Jamaal Williams (hamstring) could be out as well.
The Packers could certainly use their primary playmakers back this week, especially with additional injuries along the offensive line to Elgton Jenkins (knee) and David Bakhtiari (knee). Love has turned to Jayden Reed as his go-to option early on and the rookie scored twice last week. Green Bay’s defense has been gashed on the ground so far but that was against two of the run-happiest teams in the league. New Orleans is unlikely to lean on the run as often or enjoy as much success as Chicago or Atlanta did given the state of its running back room. All-purpose tight end Taysom Hill led the team in rushing against the Panthers.
It’s a short week for the Saints and they learned Wednesday they’ll be without safety Marcus Maye, who was suspended three games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. That’s another notch in Love’s favor as he makes his first start at Lambeau Field.
Verderame’s pick: Packers -1.5, Under 42.5 (Green Bay 20, New Orleans 15)
Manzano’s pick: Saints +1.5, Under 42.5 (New Orleans 20, Green Bay 17)
Wood’s pick: Packers -1.5, Under 42.5 (Green Bay 20, New Orleans 16)
Verderame: Don’t start selling stock on the Packers because they blew a fourth-quarter lead in Atlanta. The defense is largely playing well and Love has been fine under center. However, sell all your stock in the Chargers. Brandon Staley’s defense is a disaster, especially against the pass. Look for Jefferson to have a massive day.
Manzano: Expect another high-scoring game involving the Chargers because they continue to show they can’t cover downfield and now face Vikings receivers Jefferson and Jordan Addison in Minnesota. Over bettors must love Staley’s defense. The Lions also tend to play in shootouts, but expect them to struggle a bit against a quality Falcons defense before finding a groove late in the game.
Wood: This is a pivotal week for contenders around the NFL. Look for the Chargers to escape an 0–3 start with a win in Minnesota but the Bengals might not be able to avoid the same fate if Burrow can’t go Monday. And I like what the Bucs have shown through two games, but this feels like the week where the Eagles make a bit of a statement after back-to-back one-score wins.