Expert NFL Picks for Week 3, Including Packers-Saints and Cowboys-Seahawks

Chris Altruda of NJ Online Gambling, Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable and VSiN sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum offer their insights

September 25, 2020 8:37 am
Expert NFL Picks for Week 3, Including Texans-Steelers and Cowboys-Seahawks
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is pursued by two Seattle Seahawks in the NFC wildcard game in 2019.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which professional sports handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the football season. 

For this edition of Best Bets, Chris Altruda, a national betting industry analyst for NJ Online Gambling, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, and sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN shared their opinions on five Week 3 games, including the comeback Cowboys going to Seattle to face the Seahawks and the Packers heading to New Orleans to take on the stumbling Saints.

You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.

Rams (2-0) (+115, +2.5, O/U 47.5) at Bills (2-0)

A compelling matchup because … two teams that only face each other once every four years put their undefeated records on the line in Week 3. Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who many feel is the worst starting QB in the AFC East despite his high draft pedigree, is off to a great start and leading the league in passing after two weeks. LA will be his toughest test to date.

Altruda’s Angle:  The Rams have it slightly worse than the Raiders in the sense they will be making their second trip to the East Coast in eight days, opting to show up for this game Saturday to counteract the effects of jet lag. Whether that works is to be determined, but the Rams have an effective run-pass balance offensively with their backfield by committee, and LA quarterback Jared Goff not fixated on any one player among his receiving corps. Allen has looked spectacular in his first two games, throwing for 729 yards and six TDs with no interceptions, but there is a big difference facing a defense led by two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald compared to the dumpster fires he shredded in wins over the New York Jets and Miami. This has the feel of a game decided in the final possession and the Rams already delivering in that situation this year makes them the pick. Take the Rams and the points.

Gable’s Guess: This game opened at Bills -3. It’s already down to 2.5. The Bills have a better defense than what the Rams have faced thus far. I think this is going to be a good game offensively for both teams. There are still a lot of question marks surrounding Josh Allen, but he’s off to a fantastic start. The Rams rushed for 191 yards last week against the Eagles. They have 871 yards offensively over the two games that they played so far. Defensively, they haven’t looked great, especially with the pass rush. Allen’s a somewhat mobile quarterback, so they’ll need to generate more of a push and rely on Jalen Ramsey to continue to shut down wide receivers. With the Rams traveling across the country, that’s really why Buffalo is a favorite. It should be a really good game, but I’m certainly leaning Bills in this one. But if the Rams start out 3-0, I think that will change a lot of perceptions about them moving forward this year.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Rams (2-0 against the spread) have looked great thus far, beating the Cowboys 20-17 as 1-point dogs and then crushing the Eagles 37-19 as 1.5-point dogs last week. The Bills (1-1 ATS) have also looked impressive, although they’ve feasted on lowly divisional opponents, handling the Jets 27-17 as 6.5-point favorites and beating the Dolphins 31-28 last week but failing to cover as 5.5-point favorites. This line opened with Buffalo listed as a 3-point home favorite. The Rams are one of the most lopsided plays of the week and the line has fallen to -2.5. I think the public is overvaluing the Rams in this one, which creates value to buy low on Bills Mafia as a rare contrarian favorite with a deflated line. The Rams are also a West Coast team traveling East for an early 1 p.m. start, never a good situation. Give me the Bills -2.5.

Our Pick: Not sold on Goff against a good defense. Go Bills and lay the points.

Texans (0-2) (+170, +4, O/U 45) at Steelers (2-0)

A compelling matchup because … Houston is in dire need of a win to avoid falling into an 0-3 hole to start the season, but does not have an easy path to get it, as they must travel to Pittsburgh to take on a Steelers team that has looked fairly formidable on both sides of the ball. Deshaun Watson has not had a great start to the year at quarterback for the Texans and now must take on a Pittsburgh defense that has forced four turnovers thus far.

Altruda’s Angle: The early money has been with the Texans, driving the line down from its open of Steelers -6. There is some logic to that, given the Steelers are not the same caliber of Houston’s first two opponents (Kansas City and Baltimore), and the Texans have been outclassed more than beaten themselves in their 0-2 start. Pittsburgh is taking a step up in weight class with this matchup, having disposed of the New York Giants and Denver in workmanlike fashion. Ben Roethlisberger has shown no rust after missing nearly all of last season, the backfield tandem of James Conner and Benny Snell is working well, and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster looks rejuvenated with Roethlisberger back under center. The play here looks to be the first half – the Steelers have outscored opponents 33-13 in the opening two quarters, while the Texans have been outscored 37-17. With the game in Pittsburgh and a narrow first-half spread, the Steelers feel like a solid play to continue that trend. Take the Steelers -2.5 in the first half.

Gable’s Guess: It’s not surprising the Texans are 0-2 based on who they played and they have another tough test here with Pittsburgh on the road. Watson doesn’t seem to have the supporting cast that’s needed to kind of hang with the top-tier teams in the league and, in my opinion, the Steelers are certainly one of those teams. Both teams are 1-4 against the spread over their last five games. Houston is only averaging 18 points per game, while Pittsburgh is averaging 26. So I think this is a game to look at the under. You have a tough defensive team with Pittsburgh and Houston’s already not putting up much offense this year.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The winless Texans (0-2 ATS) have been outscored 67-36 in two games and just fell to the Ravens 33-16 at home, failing to cover as 7.5-point dogs. On the flip side, the undefeated Steelers (1-1 ATS) are coming off a 26-21 win over the Broncos but didn’t get the cover as 6.5-point home favorites. This line opened with Pittsburgh listed as a 5-point home favorite. The public is rushing to lay the points with the Steelers, but we’ve seen sharp money load up on Houston, dropping the line down to 4. Historically, it has been profitable to buy low on undervalued teams in Week 3 who failed to cover their first two games. Houston is 0-2, but they’ve lost to the two best teams in the NFL (Chiefs and Ravens). I’ll follow this sharp line move and buy low on the desperate Texans +4.

Our Pick: No consensus and Houston’s desperate offense could break out. Go over.

Raiders (2-0) (+215, +6, O/U 47.5) at Patriots (1-1)

A compelling matchup because … Jon Gruden brings a Vegas team that has surprised some people over the first two weeks of the season to New England to take on a Patriots squad that was neck and neck with Seattle last week before losing on the final play of the game. New England’s defense got torched last week and will look to right things against Raiders QB Derek Carr.

Altruda’s Angle: It is difficult to get an early read on the Raiders. They did just enough to survive at Carolina to start the season and benefited from a rare off-night from Drew Brees on Monday night in surprising New Orleans. Still, Las Vegas cannot be taken lightly with a workhorse running back in Josh Jacobs and steady quarterback play from Carr. Despite losing to the Seahawks on Sunday night, Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels showed he clearly trusts Cam Newton as a passer in addition to his everyday status of dual-threat QB. Two things going against the Raiders: they are making their second trip to the East Coast in three weeks for a 1 p.m. kickoff, and opponents are 14-for-24 on third down against them. And it’s still hard to go against the Pats at home laying less than a touchdown, especially with all-purpose back James White returning to make the offense whole. Lay the points with the Pats.

Gable’s Guess: Cam Newton’s 397 passing yards last week against Seattle looked really strong. New England’s offense as a whole really seems to be clicking. Carr has gone up against the Patriots twice in his career. He’s 0-2. Interestingly enough, they haven’t even been able to score in double figures against the Patriots in those two games. The Raiders are coming off the short week and they have to travel across the country for this game. In the coaching matchup, I’d certainly give the edge to Belichick over Gruden. I think you’re going to see a more energized New England defensive effort in this one. So things are just not really boding well here for the Raiders. Certainly look at the Patriots and lay the points in this one.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Raiders (2-0 ATS) couldn’t have asked for a better start to their inaugural Vegas season. The Raiders are undefeated and riding high after a Monday Night Football win over the Saints 34-24 as 4-point underdogs. The Patriots (1-1 ATS) nearly knocked off the Seahawks as 4.5-points but came up a yard short on the final play, losing 35-30 on Sunday Night Football. This line opened with the Patriots listed as 6.5-point favorites at home. The line has dipped slightly to 6 with the public riding the streaking Raiders. This is a value “spot” for New England: off a loss, back at home against a team coming off a big win on a short week, plus a West Coast team going East for an early 1 p.m. ET start. I’ll back Cam and Belichick -6 in a classic buy-low, sell-high situation.

Our Pick: Look for a Las Vegas letdown after a big win. Lay the points with the Pats.

Cowboys (1-1) (+185, +5, O/U 56) at Seahawks (2-0)

A compelling matchup because … two quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott, who had ridiculous games last week face off in a matchup of two of the preseason favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The defenses of both teams have underwhelmed thus far and this may come down to a late forced turnover in what figures to be a fairly tight game.

Altruda’s Angle: See what happens when you let Russ cook? Two wins, nine touchdown passes, 610 yards and 73 points is plenty of spice for the Seahawks, who can be counted among the best in the NFC. DK Metcalf is coming off a star turn in Sunday night’s win over New England in which the pedestrian totals of four receptions and 92 yards obscure the fact he made Patriots standout cornerback Stephon Gilmore look downright mediocre at times. The revamped pass defense and lack of a pass rush are concerns, but opponents have been forced to throw to try to keep up with Seattle’s offense. The Cowboys are essentially a boneheaded play by the Falcons away from being 0-2, but they can go point-for-point with the Seahawks provided they value the football better than they did versus Atlanta. Prescott has gotten running back Ezekiel Elliott more involved in the passing game, and rookie CeeDee Lamb has quickly settled into a No. 2 receiver role. Wilson has gotten the better of Prescott in both of their previous regular-season matchups and should make it 3-for-3 here. Also of note, the teams have combined for 37 or fewer points in their last three meetings. Like the Seahawks laying the points and lean the under.

Gable’s Guess: I think the two defenses are going to be what’s interesting here because neither team has really shown up defensively in the first two Both teams have a lot of weapons on offense. Seattle’s averaging 36.5 points per game, 6.9 yards per play. Dallas is right behind them. They’re averaging 6.3 yards per play. So obviously both have high-powered offenses, but Seattle is dead last in total defense in the NFL. I think this game is really going to come down to the Cowboys avoiding turnovers. If they can, I think they will have the ability to turn this into a shootout and see if they can stay with Seattle on the points. It’s a high total, but if I was betting this game, I’d probably look at the over, because these are two teams that really have not been able to stop anyone defensively.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Cowboys (0-2 ATS) saved themselves from a dreaded 0-2 start by posting one of the most thrilling comeback victories in recent memory, beating the Falcons 40-39 last week. They will now face their toughest test yet as they travel to Century Link Field to take on the undefeated Seahawks (2-0 ATS). Seattle is coming off an impressive win over the Patriots on Sunday night, covering on a last-second goal line stand as 4.5-point favorites. This line opened with the Seahawks listed as 3.5-point home favorites. The public is hammering the Seahawks at home, pushing the line up to -5. I’ll grab the Cowboys in a contrarian spot with an inflated +5 and hope for a back-door cover.

Our Pick: Rolling with Seattle until further notice. Take ’em and lay the points.

Packers (2-0) (+145, +3, O/U 52.5) at Saints (1-1)

A compelling matchup because … Green Bay’s offense has been firing on all cylinders over the first two weeks of the season, while the Saints’ offensive attack has largely sputtered, mainly due to the struggles of Drew Brees. But New Orleans has been one of the best teams in the league over the last three seasons and is in a prime spot for a get-right game. It’s Aaron Rodgers versus Brees on Sunday Night Football. Get your popcorn ready.

Altruda’s Angle: As mentioned earlier, Brees looked very un-Brees like in Sin City. Some of that can be chalked up to not having top wideout Michael Thomas, but for a quarterback who makes his living on being deadly accurate in the short and medium range passing game, it is reasonable to have some concerns. New Orleans’ offense ran only 24 plays in the second half versus the Raiders because the defense could not get off the field, and facing a Packers offense that has hit the ground running with 85 points and 1,010 total yards may only add to those problems. Aaron Rodgers has six TD passes and Green Bay’s offensive line has been outstanding — Rodgers has been sacked just once and the running game led by Aaron Jones is averaging 6.22 yards per carry. Green Bay’s secondary is worrisome, as opponents have recorded nearly 40 percent of their passing yards after the catch. Brees has averaged 363.8 yards and thrown 16 TD passes in his six career matchups with the Packers. If he finds a rhythm, this game will turn into a track meet with plenty of points. This is a game where line-watching is important, because a half-point swing in either direction for both the spread and the over/under will likely be the difference between turning a profit or coming up empty-handed. Lay the points with the Saints and take the over. This has the feel of a second straight Sunday Night Football contest where both teams score at least 30.

Gable’s Guess: This one opened with New Orleans laying 3.5 and it’s already down to 3. I could see this game even going a little bit lower. Green Bay leads the league in total yards and points scored. For New Orleans, all eyes are on Drew Brees to see if he can bounce back. He’s been throwing a lot of shorter passes and his accuracy hasn’t been pinpoint like it has been the last few years. The  Packers are ranked first in the NFL at 7.1 yards per play. I just think they’re going to be a really popular underdog here in Week 3 for betters. I think we’re going to see a lot of money-line action on the Packers to get that plus money return. And I see this spread dropping from the 3 that it’s currently at.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: Bettors are in for a treat with two of the NFC’s best teams going head-to-head on Sunday night. The Packers (2-0 ATS) have looked great out of the gate, putting up lots of points (42.5 PPG) in wins and covers against the Vikings and Lions. The Saints (1-1 ATS) are coming off a disappointing loss on Monday night, falling to the Raiders as 4-point favorites. This line opened with New Orleans listed as a 3.5-point home favorite. This is the top Pros vs. Joes game of the week. The public is absolutely hammering the Packers getting the points, which has dropped New Orleans from -3.5 to -3. The Saints are only getting about a quarter of bets in a primetime game and the juice on the -3 is -115, signaling Saints liability despite the heavy Packers betting. Green Bay might also be without Davante Adams. Give me the contrarian favorite Saints -3 off a loss at home.

Our Pick: Primetime usually produces points. Take the over.

Last Week: 3-2, Season: 8-2

Editor’s note: Lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.

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