This column previews five Week 3 matchups: the Indianapolis Colts at the Tennessee Titans, the Seattle Seahawks at the Minnesota Vikings, the Arizona Cardinals at the Jacksonville Jaguars, the New York Jets at the Denver Broncos, and the New Orleans Saints at the New England Patriots.
All spreads and totals are provided by DraftKings.
Indianapolis at Tennessee (TEN -5.5, Total 48)
At one point on Sunday, it appeared that this matchup would pit the AFC South’s two preseason favorites at 0-2. It was about then that Titans running back Derrick Henry got rolling.
Tennessee’s offensive approach boiled down to bludgeoning the Seahawks defense with Henry. The Titans were short-handed on the offensive line, as they lost left tackle Taylor Lewan to a knee injury and left guard Rodger Saffold midway through the game, but Henry’s dominant play made up for that. His presence in the run game got the Seahawks defense on their heels and the hesitation that resulted was critical in affording quarterback Ryan Tannehill time to throw behind a decimated line. On the game-tying drive, there was a feeling that the Seattle defense was struggling to hide behind a shield as an enemy mercilessly hammered on them, along the lines of Menelaus overwhelming Paris in the movie adaptation of Homer’s Troy.
The frightening thing for Indianapolis fans is that Tennessee’s offense wasn’t clicking on all cylinders. Veteran receiver Julio Jones played a brilliant game, but fellow pass-catcher A.J. Brown had arguably the worst game of his career in this contest, dropping several passes throughout the game. That’s unlikely to become a consistent trend, so Brown could be due for an explosive performance in the matchup with the Colts.
Indianapolis’s day went the opposite way. Hours before Titans made their epic comeback, the Colts allowed the lead they gained on a touchdown off a botched Rams punt attempt to slip away, with Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford calmly carving up this defense as he led the comeback. To make matters worse, Colts quarterback Carson Wentz injured both of his ankles on a game-tying drive when defensive tackle Aaron Donald tripped him up as Wentz attempted to find a receiver in the scramble drill. Wentz was unable to return to the game after Stafford led the Rams to a field goal on the net drive, leaving second-year quarterback Jacob Eason to try to lead a final comeback, which went poorly.
If Wentz can’t go this week, the Indianapolis season will rest on Eason, whose NFL resume consists of coming in for Wentz in last weekend’s game and overthrowing the majority of his passes, including a corner route on his interception to Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, while completing two of his five attempts. It’s not a promising situation for an Indianapolis team that could see their playoff hopes extinguished before October.
Model Projection: Tennessee 28.48 – Indianapolis 19.94 (Eason at quarterback)
Model Projection: Tennessee 27.43 – Indianapolis 23.19 (Wentz at quarterback)
Seattle at Minnesota (SEA -2, Total 55)
This weekend’s action came close to falling so that a 2-0 Seattle team would face a 1-1 Minnesota team, but a rally by the Titans in Seattle and a missed field goal by Vikings kicker Greg Joseph against Arizona made it a game between the 1-1 Seahawks and 0-2 Vikings.
The Vikings are in the more dire straits of the two as Minnesota faces the prospect of a second consecutive 0-3 start, but the fact that the Cardinals pulled the win out also means that Seattle is in 4th place in an NFC West with three 2-0 teams. The Rams and 49ers face formidable opponents this week, but the Cardinals are in a strong position to get to 3-0 with a win over Jacksonville, which puts pressure on Seattle to win this one.
Minnesota’s top-end talent is obvious, but the holes on the offensive and defensive sides continue to drag them down. Cardinals’ edge rusher Chandler Jones was held off the stat sheet but had an immense impact on the game, piling up pass rush wins on left tackle Rashod Hill that led to hits on quarterback Kirk Cousins and a sack by fellow edge rusher Markus Golden. Cousins did a good job evading Jones at times, such as when he broke the pocket to the left and found Justin Jefferson for a touchdown, but the inconsistency with his blindside protection makes the game much more difficult. On defense, the continued struggles of slot corner Mackensie Alexander and left corner Bashaud Breeland, who was replaced by Cam Dantzler this week, are tanking an otherwise talented unit. Those holes are preventing the quality play of individuals such as Danelle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, and Harrison Smith from showing up in the final score.
Seattle is likely to target that Minnesota weakness based on how well their passing game has worked, though their second-half struggles against the Titans suggest they might need to maintain a bit more balanced for the offense to run at peak efficiency. Running back Chris Carson failed to establish any consistency against the Titans and their best run came from backup Alex Collins against a pass-rush look, so it’s understandable that the offense had a pass-heavy feel in the second half, but there was a point in that comeback where they needed to settle things down and the run game might have helped to slow the pace as their defense attempted to regroup.
Based on each team’s early games, this matchup should feature plenty of scoring. The Seahawks appear to be the better team, but it’s tough to count out a Minnesota team with this much talent when their back is against the wall.
Model Projection: Seattle 27.88 – Minnesota 27.02
Arizona at Jacksonville (ARI -8, 51.5)
The fact that Cardinals edge rusher Chandler Jones was shut out of the box score is an excellent reminder of how hard it can be to judge defensive performance based on those numbers.
Jones was once again dominant, racking up pass rush wins on Minnesota left tackle Rashod Hill that led to pressures, quarterback hits, and a sack by teammate Markus Golden that Golden and Jones stripped Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins on, though the Vikings recovered. Jones also showed off his freakish athleticism feat when he peeled out to blow up a swing route to the left flat.
Jones is the brightest spot on this defense, but there’s plenty more to get excited about. Safety Budda Baker is playing at an All-Pro level, flying around the field to make plays at all levels, and inside linebacker Isaiah Simmons looks like a new player in his second season, with instincts added to his elite athletic traits that allowed him to repeatedly trigger and make plays against the run game in the backfield.
Quarterback Kyler Murray helps carry the athletic freak theme over to offense. Murray’s elusiveness played a prominent role in the win over Minnesota, most notably on his escape of a free rusher to peel out and find rookie Rondale Moore for a long touchdown pass. Moore, who has shown rare burst and quickness as both a punt returner and receiver, slots perfectly into this offense. Veteran A.J. Green was also improved from Week One and his down 2020, showing that he can still run a little bit on a vertical up the right sidelines this past week and Christian Kirk made the game-changing catch on a high-trajectory pass that Murray dropped in to him on a late 4th and 1.
It adds up to an Arizona team that should overwhelm a Jacksonville outfit that has been overmatched in the first two weeks. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence made a few big throws early against Denver, but his scattershot accuracy and the lack of a consistent run game brought this offense to a halt by the midway point of the second quarter. The unit appeared to have given up to some degree in the second half when the team’s only points came on a Jamal Agnew kickoff return touchdown, and the listless body language of the Jaguars’ offense in the second half is a notable concern so early in the season.
The Jacksonville defense has struggled in most areas, but the biggest issues are in the back end. Denver receiver Courtland Sutton posted a dominant performance this past week and Murray has legitimate threats behind lead receiver DeAndre Hopkins for the first time in his career, which should allow him to put up big passing numbers in a game that projects as a blowout.
Model Projection: Arizona 30.2 – Jacksonville 18.8
New York Jets at Denver (DEN -10.5, Total 42)
The New York Jets had a disastrous performance against the New England Patriots, headlined by rookie quarterback Zach Wilson’s four interceptions, but unlike the Jaguars, the Jets continued to show fight to the end of the game. Wilson dropped a dime to receiver Jeff Smith down the left sidelines while backpedaling away from pressure on a 4th and 15 that had no impact on this game, but bodes well for the future. It was a pure arm talent throw that showcased Wilson’s high level of ability as a passer.
Wilson will need to clean up a long list of mistakes, but he stayed in an attack mentality despite the turnovers and will learn from this experience. The Jets are playing several rookies on offense and running back Michael Carter and receiver Elijah Moore also had bright moments, with Carter showing off light feet and good contact balance on his touches and Moore hauling in a deep wheel route on a concept that created a pick on New England corner J.C. Jackson to get Moore loose. The defense played with good energy, particularly along the defensive line, and got strong performances from their “name” players, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Marcus Maye.
The Jets are a rebuilding team that is going to struggle this season, but through two weeks, they’ve shown a competitive mindset. Roster moves such as dressing receivers Braxton Berrios and Jeff Smith over Denzel Mims have these players competing with a high level of effort on both sides of the ball, which should pay dividends as this team grows under head coach Robert Saleh.
It is probably best for Jets fans to think about the long run because this weekend’s road game in Denver could be another long one for Wilson and company. The Patriots defense is talented, but Denver is arguably even better and the unit’s confidence should be high after their performances against the Giants and the Jaguars. Edge rusher Von Miller has a notable advantage over both Jets’ offensive tackles and will look to continue his productive start to the season, while an inexperienced Jets secondary is likely to have problems with Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton.
Denver is in an enviable situation in terms of facing the teams that drafted first and second last year back-to-back. The Broncos look good so far, with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater playing at a high level, and they are likely to win this one by a comfortable margin before facing a step up in competition with a matchup against the Ravens in Week 4.
Model Projection: Denver 27.93 – New York Jets 18.58
New Orleans at New England (NE -3, Total 42.5)
In the week after the Saints’ victory over the Green Bay Packers in Week One, there seemed to be a legitimate possibility that quarterback Jameis Winston might actually have improved his decision-making. In Week Two, Winston showed that fans never should have doubted him.
The above image is not reversed. It comes from near the end of the first half in the Saints’ loss to the Panthers when Winston abandoned anything he had supposedly learned from Sean Payton and Drew Brees during his apprenticeship last season and decided to attempt a left-handed throw to get out of a sack. He smoked his left tackle, Terron Armstead (72), in the head with the pass, which was one reason that this play won out as the highlight from a long list of inexplicable decisions by Winston.
It seems apparent after Sunday that these reactions are too deeply ingrained in Winston to get them out of his game, an issue that Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his staff will attempt to exploit. New England intercepted Jets quarterback Zach Wilson four times last week and their defense holds a substantial talent advantage over a pedestrian Saints receiving core. New England’s cornerbacks should be able to hold up in man without help, which opens up a variety of blitzes and trap coverages for the Patriots to employ against Winston. New England’s front also played well last week, with rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley standing out along with more established players such as edge defender Matthew Judon, and pass rusher Josh Uche will look to build on the two sacks he picked up late in last week’s game.
New Orleans must get running back Alvin Kamara going in the ground game because Winston is not capable of handling a high volume of pass attempts. If the Saints can play good defense and run the ball, as they did against Green Bay, they can minimize Winston’s role and be successful, but it’s evident that Winston is going to make mistakes if he gets enough opportunities. The Saints may be able to hold this conservative New England offense in check, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick might be fine with this, content to avoid mistakes and wait for Winston to hand them the game.
Model Projection: New England 21.9 – New Orleans 19.7
This article previewed five NFL matchups for the coming week. For more content from The Professor, including the rest of his game previews and his fantasy content, check out BeerLife Sports!