Another week, and another outstanding performance from quarterbacks at the opposite ends of their NFL journeys: Patrick Mahomes and Ryan Fitzpatrick are atop the MVP leaderboard and both will lead their teams to wins in Week 3
In other games, the Browns continue their search for a win, the Bills are just trying to keep from getting blown out (and having somebody retire at halftime), the Bengals are looking to get to 3-0 (!), while the Rams continue to make their case for the NFL's most complete team.
We'll talk about all 16 games in our picks below.
LAST WEEK: 8-7-1
OVERALL RECORD: 18-12-2
N.Y. Jets at Cleveland
The Browns could be 2-0 right now. But because they're the Browns, they're 0-1-1. Changes are afoot, however; scapegoated kicker Zane Gonzalez has been replaced and mercurial wideout Josh Gordon has been traded, though it's hard to imagine that a team with one win since Christmas Eve 2016 is now poised to get the next one. The Jets smoked the Lions in Week 1 but stumbled against a surprisingly successful Dolphins outfit last Sunday. And for all the perceived progress Cleveland has made -- veteran leaders like Tyrod Taylor and Jarvis Landry to complement young playmakers like David Njoku, Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward -- this group still has no idea how to win football games.
Pick: Jets 21, Browns 16
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Buffalo at Minnesota
The Bills continue their march to the type of futility rarely seen in professional sports. And we say that as someone who watched the Browns go 0-16 a season ago. The difference: The Browns have been really bad for some time. It's been nine months since the Bills went 9-7 and made the playoffs! It was their first postseason appearance since 1999, and if the changes aren't both urgent and drastic, there's a much greater chance Buffalo has the first-overall pick long before its next trip to the playoffs. Helping to facilitate that: Traveling to Minnesota to face one of the league's most balanced teams. The Vikings have a top-5 defense and quarterback Kirk Cousins aims to make the offense even more explosive than it was a season ago under Case Keenum. However you look at it, this spells doom for the Bills and rookie quarterback Josh Allen, who threw two picks and was sacked five times in his debut last week against the Chargers.
Pick: Vikings 34, Bills 9
Cincinnati at Carolina
The Bengals are not just the best team in the AFC North, they're one of the best teams in the entire conference, right up there with the Jaguars and Chiefs (we're reserving judgment for now on the other undefeated AFC teams, Miami and Denver). The 2015 season, when Andy Dalton was quietly one of the NFL's most efficient quarterbacks, is also the last time Cincinnati made the playoffs. The offensive line has been very good through the first two weeks and Dalton has flourished. The defense been good too; Geno Atkins has three sacks and rookie safety got his first career pick against the Ravens last week. The Panthers are coming off a tough loss to the Falcons, and will be the Bengals' toughest test of the young season. Christian McCaffrey is emerging as playmaker in his second season and coach Ron Rivera indicated that he wants to get rookie first-rounder D.J. Moore more involved in the offense this week. But will it be enough to stop a Bengals team that has scored 34 points in both wins?
Pick: Bengals 24, Panthers 23
Denver at Baltimore
So who are the 2018 Ravens? The team that dismantled the hapless Bills in the opener or the one that slowly imploded against the Bengals? Put another way: Is Joe Flacco elite? To answer that question, it's worth noting that Flacco's eliteness doesn't travel to Cincinnati, where he has played some of the worst football of his 11-year NFL career. Flacco is much better at M&T Bank Stadium where he wins 76 percent of the time. And for the first time in a long time, this offense has balance; Alex Collins can be a workhorse back and the pass catchers can actually, you know, catch passes -- offseason additions John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead are all contributing. The Broncos have beaten two bad teams -- Seattle and Oakland -- at home and while Case Keenum is an indisputable upgrade over (take your pick) Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch, he's completing only 59.5 percent of his throws and has just three touchdowns against four interceptions.
Pick: Ravens 17, Broncos 10
Green Bay at Washington
A week after Aaron Rodgers and the Packers overcame a 20-0 deficit to beat the Bears, he one-upped himself in Minnesota where he completed 71 percent of his passes on only one good leg in a performance that should've ended in victory (ridiculous penalties and honked field goals resulted in a tie). The Redskins were flying high after their 24-6 thrashing of the Cardinals in Arizona in Week 1, but it turns out that the Cards may be one of the NFL's worst teams and Washington came crashing back to earth in Sunday's home loss to the Colts. We'll need a few more weeks to figure out the identity of this Skins team but we all know what the Packers are about.
Pick: Packers 27, Redskins 20
Indianapolis at Philadelphia
CARSON WENTZ IS BACK. This is a huge development because he was the leading MVP candidate before he tore his ACL last December, and despite Nick Foles playing out of his mind in January and February, he's since returned to his replacement-level-playing ways. One word of caution: We shouldn't expect Wentz to pick right up where he left off. His return to the field was delayed two weeks while he continued to recover and if we've learned anything from Deshaun Watson, who tore his ACL last November after tossing 19 touchdowns in six starts, it's that patience may be required before these young quarterbacks return to form. Same holds for old quarterbacks too; Andrew Luck went some 600 days between starts, missing all of 2017 with a shoulder injury. Thankfully, new coach Frank Reich had him throw the ball only 31 times last week after watching Luck put it up a whopping 53 times in the opener. Balance is key in Indy, where Luck continues to slowly work his way back.
Pick: Eagles 21, Colts 18
New Orleans at Atlanta
It's silly to say because it's only Week 3, but if the Falcons and Saints aren't in "MUST-WIN" territory, they're uncomfortably close. Both teams were widely considered playoff favorites before the season but now both sit at 1-1 behind the undefeated and seemingly unstoppable Buccaneers in the NFC South.
If any team has an edge in this matchup it's the Falcons, who are coming off a big win over the Panthers, and that included something we haven't seen in a while: A Matt Ryan-led red-zone offense. There are issues in Atlanta, however. The injures are piling up; safety Keanu Neal is done for the year and linebacker Deion Jones is out indefinitely while running back Devonta Freeman won't be back for a few more weeks. Still, in addition to Ryan there's Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Freeman's replacement, Tevin Coleman, who ran for 107 yards last week. The Saints are healthier but also have a lot more unanswered questions. They were blown out at home by the Bucs in Week 1 and should have lost to the Browns on Sunday. The good news is that the offense can be explosive -- and Michael Thomas is making his case for the NFL's best receiver -- but the defense, which was a top-5 unit last year, can't seem to find its form.
Pick: Falcons 31, Saints 28
N.Y. Giants at Houston
Full disclosure: Before the season, we picked both teams to win their respective decision. As is stands, they currently hold the top two selections in our most recent mock draft. So yeah. In New York, the issue is that despite their best efforts, the offensive line is still a mess and we have the Evergreen Eli Face to prove it:
The Giants need to get Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr. and Evan Engram more involved in the offense, but that requires much more than what the O-line has been able to provide. The Texans, meanwhile, have also been a huge disappointment and it starts with second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson. His red-hot start last season was cut short by an ACL injury and he's yet to regain that form. Teams that begin the season 0-2 qualify for the playoffs about 11 percent of the time. Fall to 0-3 and it drops to 2.9 percent.
Pick: Texans 28, Giants 14
Oakland at Miami
The Raiders have two sacks this season. Khalil Mack has a sack, a forced fumble and a pick-six while generally being a nuisance in two games for the Bears. We mention this because after both of Oakland's losses, the man responsible for shipping Mack out of town, first-year coach Jon Gruden, has complained that he needs pass rushers. You don't say.
The Raiders' offense has been pleasantly surprising, if not for entire games at least for long stretches. Unfortunately, the team is 0-2 after a 20-point home loss to the Rams and a squandered 20-19 loss to the Broncos. And with the Dolphins playing some inspired football, things might get worse for Gruden before they get better. We half-joked before the season that Oakland could flirt with 0-16 and if they lose to Miami, their best chance for a win may come next week against the Browns. Woo boy.
Pick: Dolphins 27, Raiders 23
San Francisco at Kansas City
Eight months ago, we were falling over ourselves to talk about The Amazing Jimmy Garoppolo. He had just won five straight games for his new team, the 49ers, taking them from 1-9 to 6-10. That was around the same time then-rookie Patrick Mahomes had made his first and only start, a good-but-not-great effort against the Broncos. And while Mahomes didn't exactly fly under the radar this offseason, few people expected him to thoroughly outplay Garoppolo -- and the rest of the world -- through the first two weeks of the 2018 season. In simpler terms: Until the facts show otherwise, Mahomes is already one of the league's best passers and he's only getting better.
Mahomes has a chance to get better very quickly. On film you see him make a lot of the right reads against difficult looks. He'll only get more efficient at that.— Andy Benoit (@Andy_Benoit) September 18, 2018
The Chiefs' offense is damn-near unstoppable, and that's after playing their first two games on the road. The home opener is going to be nuts.
Pick: Chiefs 40, 49ers 20
Tennessee at Jacksonville
The Jaguars have lost four of five to the Titans but if the New and Improved Blake Bortles continues to ball out, that ends on Sunday. Bortles was masterful against the Patriots last Sunday after coach Doug Marrone did something he was afraid to do in the AFC Championship Game: He put the game in Bortles' hand and Bortles delivered. We understand Marrone's trepidation; Bortles has been the definition of replacement level throughout most of his career but he appears to have turned a corner this season. The Titans beat a bad Texans team last week but whether it's Blaine Gabbert or Marcus Mariota, this team has issues at quarterback.
Pick: Jaguars 20, Titans 12
L.A. Chargers at L.A. Rams
The Chargers may be one of the best 1-1 teams in the league but the Rams are the NFL's best team and it may not even be close. Chargers rookie first-rounder Derwin James has been been a revelation (two sacks, three passes defended) but the team is still without Joey Bosa and that's a problem when you're facing Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp. There's also that defense, which is allowing 6.5 points per game -- and there's still room for improvement.
Pick: Rams 31, Chargers 27
Chicago at Arizona
We don't know who these Bears are and that's understandable; first-year coach Matt Nagy and second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky are early in their relationship. The duo got off to a promising start against the Packers but the last six quarters can kindly be described as a rough patch. We also don't know who these Cardinals are -- they too have a new coach and a new quarterback -- but unlike the Bears, who have shown flashes of being really good. Arizona has scored six points all season while giving up 58. Sam Bradford has been dreadful but he hasn't been alone. The Cards' best chance to get their first win could come Sunday though we remain skeptical given their inability to score.
Pick: Bears 18, Cardinals 13
Dallas at Seattle
This summer we pegged the Seahawks as the worst team in the NFC West. We didn't count on the Cardinals being this terrible this soon but the point remains: Seattle is not a good football team. They dismantled the defense and refuse to fix an offensive line that has Russell Wilson running for his life every single week. And when tries to make the best of a terrible situation, this happens:
Pick: Cowboys 20, Seahawks 17
New England at Detroit
In retrospect, it seems clear why the Patriots were so eager to keep Josh McDaniels but were happy to let Matt Patricia bolt for Detroit. Through two games, the Lions have been thoroughly outclassed, first by the Jets and then the 49ers. And now Patricia faces a New England team that will be especially motivated after losing to the Jaguars last week. Remember when folks criticized Jim Caldwell for not getting the most out of this Lions team? A quick reminder: Detroit went 9-7 last season, and the one before it when they made the playoffs.
Pick: Patriots 35, Lions 12
Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay
The Steelers can't get out of their own way both on and off the field. Two of the three B's -- Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown -- have made news for all the wrong reasons while 36-year-old Ben Roethlisberger is left trying to hold it all together. Big Ben threw for 452 yards and three touchdowns in last week's loss to the Chiefs but unless he can play defense too, Pittsburgh is in trouble. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have one of the league's most explosive offenses thanks to the Ryan Fitzpatrick playing out of his gourd. Given Roethlisberger's road struggles, that porous Steelers defense and these ridiculous numbers from Fitzpatrick -- 78.7 completion percentage, eight touchdowns, one interception -- it's hard to see Tampa Bay losing.
Pick: Buccaneers 38, Steelers 28