Underdogs continued to do better than expected during Week 2 of the 2021 NFL season. They went 9-7 against the spread, logging their second straight winning week after a record-setting Week 1.
Bettors that relied on the favorites early this season may be frustrated, but worry not. With two weeks of data now at our fingertips, it's easier to spot trends and analyze which teams and players are overvalued and undervalued. And, of course, some of those close non-covers were just a case of bad luck.
It's important not to overreact to results following Week 1, and the same can be said after Week 2. Some teams match up well with their records while others are more pretender than contender. Once Week 3 passes, the landscape will be easier to analyze, but for now, pay less attention to the record and more attention to the personnel that each team has available.
That's especially true as injuries become bigger deals across the NFL. Many quarterbacks went down in Week 2. Tyrod Taylor, Andy Dalton and Tua Tagovailoa have already been ruled out while Carson Wentz is dealing with two ankle sprains. The health of these quarterbacks will have a huge impact on the spreads of each game.
While fading a backup quarterback can be fun, don't just do it haphazardly, especially against the spread. You have to pick your spots, and the best way to do that is to target inexperienced, raw backups; not savvy veterans who can keep good teams afloat.
Here's a look at Sporting News' best bets for Week 3 of the 2021 NFL season, including picks against the spread, moneyline bets, over/under wagers and some player props.
(All odds are courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.)
Chargers (+6.5) at Chiefs
The Chiefs are still viewed as the favorite to win the AFC, but they have hit a couple of bumps in the road to start the season. Notably, their defense has been bad, and that's something of which the Chargers can take advantage.
Kansas City has allowed an NFL-high 469 total yards per game. Their 202 rushing yards allowed per game also tops the NFL, though that number is skewed a bit by having played Lamar Jackson and Nick Chubb.
It's true that the Chiefs have played formidable offenses in Weeks 1 and 2. The Browns and the Ravens both possess weapons on the ground and solid groups of pass-catchers, but the Chargers boast a similarly strong offense led by Justin Herbert.
Herbert threw for 337 yards in his first game and 338 yards in his second. He has had a couple of turnovers but largely, he has helped the Chargers' offense to keep humming. With Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jared Cook and Austin Ekeler in tow, he has a lot of weapons that he can use to pick apart Kansas City's defense.
It's also worth noting that recent Chargers vs. Chiefs games have been close. Four of the last five games have been decided by seven points or fewer. Los Angeles just always seems to find a way to stay in games against Kansas City.
As such, we like the Chargers here to cover. They may not win outright, but getting 6.5 points with an offense this good is a risk worth taking. We'll also be positioned to earn a potential backdoor cover if the Chiefs are leading by two possessions late, so this seems like a solid value.
Titans (-5.5) vs. Colts
The Colts are in dire straits at the quarterback position. Carson Wentz is dealing with two sprained ankles and may not be ready to play Sunday. If he can't go, Jacob Eason will likely start with Brett Hundley serving as the backup. Neither inspires much hope, even against a porous Tennessee defense.
The Titans lack talent on defense and have allowed the third-most points per game in the NFL this season (34). However, they should have more success against Eason, who has only thrown five career passes of which one was intercepted, or Wentz on two bad ankles.
On the surface, 5.5 points may seem like a lot for the Titans considering that the Colts hung with the Rams last week. That said, recent Colts vs. Titans games haven't really been close, as the winner has outscored the loser by an average of 12.9 points over the last 10 games. And only two of those games in total were decided by less than a touchdown.
This all makes the Titans look like an appealing bet, especially since they may be able to tire out the Colts' defense by using Derrick Henry. If they can do that, they should have a chance to win by double digits. Betting on them to win by less than a touchdown is a good value.
Broncos (-10.5) vs. Jets
The Broncos are a team to trust once again. The main reason for trusting Denver this time is not because of Teddy Bridgewater's sterling 37-13-1 record against the spread. It's all about Vic Fangio against rookie quarterbacks.
Fangio might not quite be Bill Belichick-level against rookies, but he has logged a 19-9 record against them since becoming a defensive coordinator in 1995. The includes wins over Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb and Justin Herbert.
You don't have to look far for an even more recent sample either. Denver beat Trevor Lawrence's Jaguars in Week 2 and covered a six-point spread. They won by 10 points.
Fangio's defenses have allowed 33 touchdowns while recording 26 interceptions in 28 games against rookie quarterbacks. Zach Wilson just faced Belichick and the Patriots and threw four interceptions while scoring six points. He may find it difficult to move the ball once again.
Trusting the Broncos to cover a 10.5-point spread may not sound exciting in theory, but the Broncos should have defensive success against Wilson much like the Patriots did. And since the Broncos have better offensive weapons than the Patriots, they should be able to win this one by double digits. The only thing we should have to worry about is a potential backdoor cover.
Bengals moneyline (+146) at Steelers
Moneyline bets always carry with them some risk. This may be one worth taking, and it has everything to do with the Steelers' injury situation.
Ben Roethlisberger is dealing with a pec injury. He may be able to play, but Mike Tomlin acknowledged that his preparation could be affected by the injury. If that's the case, he could start off rusty. Or worse, he could play at less than 100 percent, which may impact his ability to throw downfield, which was already dwindling.
Beyond the 39-year-old quarterback's injury problems, the Steelers' defense could be missing nearly half of its usual starters. Two defensive linemen — Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu — are definitely going to be out of this game. There are three more key players that could be questionable in cornerback Joe Haden, linebacker Devin Bush and rush linebacker T.J. Watt.
Watt is the Steelers' best defensive player. He had four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble before leaving the Steelers' loss to the Raiders. Las Vegas' offense was predictably much more effective once Watt exited the game.
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So, what does all of this mean? Watch the Steelers' injuries closely this week. If Roethlisberger is banged up and Watt is unable to go, that would give the Bengals a legitimate chance to win this game. Cincinnati didn't look great against the Bears, but their subpar blocking won't be as much of a problem given the multitude of injuries Pittsburgh has on the defensive line.
If Watt plays, then taking the Bengals (+3) is probably the better move. But if you're looking for an underdog moneyline to trust, the Bengals could be a sneaky-good option because of the Steelers' injuries.
Seahawks moneyline (-120) at Vikings
This is decidedly less risky than the Bengals pick, so if you're looking for a safe moneyline bet, this is probably it. Both of the Seahawks and Vikings are coming off brutal losses in which their defenses failed to contain the opposing offense.
The Seahawks allowed the Titans to come back using the run and drop 36 on them. The Vikings intercepted Kyler Murray twice and lost by one point after missing a game-winning field goal as time expired.
That said, of the two teams, the Seahawks had the better performance, and their offense matches up well against that of the Vikings.
Seattle is very similar to Arizona offensively. They have a dynamic quarterback who can make plays with his arm and legs and a plethora of receiving weapons to target. The Vikings couldn't stop Murray and the Cardinals Sunday, and they allowed 474 yards to Arizona. If not for a couple of second-half interceptions from Murray, including a pick-six, the Cardinals could have scored even more.
That's why Wilson and the Seahawks are a good bet. Wilson simply doesn't turn the ball over. His 1.8 percent interception percentage is tied for the third-lowest in NFL history, trailing only Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes.
So, the Vikings will have trouble generating points off turnovers as they did against the Cardinals. That makes the Seahawks a safe bet.
But why go with the moneyline instead of taking the Seahawks (-1.5)? Well, the Vikings offense could go blow-for-blow with the Seahawks, so this could end up being a close game. We don't want to risk this becoming another one-point game, so we're willing to take a bit less profit to pick Seattle as the winner.
Panthers at Texans: UNDER 43.5 (-118)
The "Thursday Night Football" game for Week 3 is shaping up to be a snoozer, at least from a scoring standpoint. Davis Mills will be quarterbacking the Texans. It will be the rookie's first career start. That spells good news for the under.
Mills was a third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Since the 2016 draft, 18 quarterbacks drafted outside of the first round have started for NFL teams. The results haven't been great, as the starters have averaged merely 17.2 points per game. Only seven of those quarterbacks have scored 20 or more points in their first start.
The Panthers have the league's best scoring defense. They are allowing only 10.5 points per game, so it could be hard for Mills to even approach the 17.2 mark. He may be held to single-digit scoring.
Meanwhile, Sam Darnold isn't an elite scorer in his own right. In his last 16 starts, he has averaged 16 points per game. His efforts with the Panthers have been slightly better — he is averaging 22.5 points per game with them — but even that number plus the average rookie QB number checks in nearly four points under the point total for this contest.
Unless Mills is better than expected or the Texans' defense collapses, going under on this 43.5 total seems to be the likely result. If you're worried about the Panthers offense going off in this one, taking the Texans UNDER 16.5 (-102) would be a solid alternative.
Cardinals point total: OVER 30.5 (-106)
The Cardinals' offense has come out firing on all cylinders to start the season. They scored 38 points against the Titans in Week 1 and 34 in Week 2. Their 36 points per game are second-best in the NFL behind only the Buccaneers.
The scary thing about that is that the Cardinals could be scoring even more than that. They have posted an even turnover margin through two games, as they have forced three turnovers while Murray has thrown three interceptions. If he can cut down on those mistakes, that will give the Cardinals even more opportunities to generate points and sustain drives.
The Cardinals are poised to do that against the Jaguars. Jacksonville has yet to force a turnover yet has committed five of their own. The Cardinals' defense should put the offense in position to score if they can make some opportunistic plays and force turnovers.
Murray figures to be a tough matchup for the Jaguars, too. They faced Tyrod Taylor in the season opener and had trouble containing his dual-threat ability. He threw for nearly 300 yards and added 40 on the ground. Murray has accounted for an average of 370 yards and 4.5 touchdowns per game this season, so he alone could position the Cardinals to post more than 30 points.
Arizona's offense can be trusted again in this favorable spot. Feel free to roll with them against another weak defense that is allowing 423.5 yards and 30 points per game.
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Player props will be added throughout the week leading up to games.
Christian McCaffrey rushing + receiving yards: OVER 132.5 (-114)
McCaffrey has recorded over 132.5 rushing and receiving yards in 15 of his last 20 games dating back to the beginning of 2019. He only failed to do it five times: twice against Tampa Bay, twice against New Orleans and once against Washington.
What do all of those teams have in common? They have been among the league's best run defenses over the last couple of seasons. As such, it's understandable that McCaffrey would struggle in those matchups.
The Texans aren't nearly as threatening. They have performed at a middle-of-the-road level this season, but the Browns just gashed them for 156 rushing yards and three touchdowns. They struggled to contain Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and they will struggle again versus McCaffrey.
McCaffrey is averaging nearly 30 touches per game. He just needs to get a little more than four yards per touch if he gets that much work against the Texans. And in reality, he it will probably take less for him to surpass this total, as the Texans were one of the league's worst run defenses last year. Feel free to trust him in this favorable matchup.
Jared Goff passing yards: OVER 262.5 (-114)
The Ravens actually rank dead-last in the NFL in pass defense. They have allowed an average of 376 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks. Granted, that has come against Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes, but it will still be hard for them to slow down Goff.
Goff is averaging 292 passing yards per game. More importantly, he's throwing the ball 46.5 times per contest. The Lions figure to use a pass-heavy approach with Goff running the offfense, especially since the team's defense isn't great. It has allowed 38 points per game, good for the second-most in the NFL, so Detroit will have to throw a lot to keep pace with the strong Ravens' offense.
The Ravens are getting cornerback Jimmy Smith back, which figures to help their defense a lot, but they will be missing Derrick Wolfe, Brandon Williams and Justin Houston on the defensive line. If they can't pressure Goff, he will find ways to throw on them. He could have a 300-yard day, so banking on him to go over seems like a good move here.