UPDATE: Lots of action coming in on HOU and MIA. Line has gone as high as -3 for HOU at some places and +4 for MIA.
UPDATE #2: Added ATL +3. The line continues to move towards +3 as the weekend approaches.
UPDATE#3: Added SD -1 1st half. The line for the HOU game has crossed the 3 and sits at -4. I would consider a lean on that, but it sat at -3 or better all week. ATL has moved to +3 and MIA to +3.5. That is a lot of lost value if you waited until game day to pull the trigger.
San Diego Chargers vs Arizona Cardinals: SD -1 1st Half
Many expect Norv Turner's team to get off to their perennial slow start again this year, but I don't things will follow that script this year. A closer look at their camp reveals that they are paying extra attention to the details and making a concerted effort to start strong. This week they traveled to ARI on Friday, one day early, instead of the usual game day trip. It is little differences like this that are making a bigger overall impact on the 2011 approach. The starters are expected to go into the 3rd quarter, but this week we've seen a lot of teams pull back at halftime.
There is a lot of hype surrounding Kevin Kolb this year, but most of it is a mirage. He has only started 7 games in this league and got thrown head first into a brand new offense. This makes him closer to a rookie than a legitimate starting QB. Kurt Warner won't even give his stamp of approval yet and holds a lot of reservations about Kolb's ability to be "the guy". Last week against GB Kolb should have been picked off 3 times. His throws were often erratic and he takes too many unnecessary sacks due to his questionable pocket awareness. He stares down Fitzgerald at times and forces the ball to him far too often. Later on in the season he could round into form because he does show flashes of being a starter and has good mobility. ARI's running game has been decent, but they suffered a major blow when Ryan Williams tore up his knee.
Defensively is where ARI is going to be severely challenged. Their secondary has been riddled with questions from the get-go and we saw what Rivers did to the DAL defensive backs last week. Also, this unit still takes too many penalties and misses too many tackles. The front four have been decent with the pass rush, but they haven't gotten much from their linebackers. The general vibe might be good around this club, but they aren't ready for prime-time just yet. Wisenhunt is 2-5-1 ATS at home and I expect them to be down after two quarters on Saturday. Prediction: Bank SD -1 1st Half.
Houston Texans vs San Francisco 49ers: HOU -1
SF love to dink and dunk their way down the field with the short stuff and pound the rock in the running game, but HOU's defense excelled in this area against the Saints and it continued with the second-team as well. Ryans and Cushing will get extended playing time together and Joseph could debut in the secondary. HOU's defense has been putting up a lot of sacks this preseason and they'll be looking to adding some run-stuffing to their repertoire on Saturday. The transition to a 3-4 scheme isn't going to happen overnight. Mario Williams made some big strides at linebacker in week 2, so Alex Smith and company will need to be aware of his presence at all times. SF's offensive line opened some eyes last week, but this group is far from solidified.
SF will bring some confidence into this game after they improved so much against OAK. One thing to be wary of will be their lack of defensive line depth. This will cause a lot of problems going against a dominating HOU offensive line. HOU's line isn't filled with house-hold names, but they bring continuity into the 2011 season and blow holes side open for their backs. Schaub will severely test a suspect secondary. It's possible that he's on the cusp of leading HOU to new heights. Even if SF do happen to fight and scratch their way into a competitive 4th quarter, Colin Kaepernick is not likely to outplay Matt Leinart--and who knew we would ever say Leinart has a favorable matchup? Roll with the future AFC South division winners and lay the point. UPDATE: Harbaugh has changed the game-plan for this one. He says the 2nd/3rd stringers will be coming into the game earlier than previously stated--even getting time against HOU's 1st teamers. Alex Smith will leave early for Kaepernick and return to run the two-minute drill before halftime. Great news for our play. Prediction: Bank HOU -1.
Miami Dolphins vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers: MIA +4.5
MIA will test TB once again in the air as they are demonstrating a pass-first mentality this year. In fact, their new spread offense produced passes in 13 of their 21 first-down opportunities last week. That is a far cry from the wild-cat run-first approach from prior years. Henne did a good job silencing some critics last week and his stats would have been even better if he connected on one of his bombs to Gates. He also lined up at shotgun a dozen times in the first half against CAR. Many wondered how Brian Daboll's offense would translate from CLE to MIA and they are finally beginning to see the impact.
Aqib Talib might make an appearance and make life more difficult for a quarter or two, but he is still nursing a sore hamstring and could be more concerned about his appointment with Roger Goodell. Henne is also unlikely to face any kind of fierce pass rush from a defensive line that lacks a headliner. Reggie Bush actually ran through the tackles for once in his life and had some success. I don't expect that to last, but it's a good sign that he's willing to do it. MIA are still looking to improve their goal-line scoring and it's looking more and more like they'll be doing it without a legitimate pass-catching tight-end. Look for rookie Daniel Thomas to get more opportunities inside the 10 yard line. Thankfully, they have a top-flight defense to fall back on and they will cause a lot of problems for Freeman and company.
Raheem Morris is 0-2 in week 3, 1-4 ATS at home, and only 2-2 as a favorite. Some of this is understandable given the rebuilding mode the team has been in over recent seasons, but they are still a far cry away from being a bonafide playoff roster just yet. Their youth got exposed last week as there were tons of missed assignments and mental mistakes. Their offensive line got abused and they lost a lot of one on one battles. That's not good news when questions continue to circle around LaGarrette Blount. He's still a work in progress and there isn't much to speak of behind him. Things shouldn't be quite so bad against a team like MIA, but to lay 4.5 points is asking a lot from a team still trying to build an identity. This game might ultimately be decided in the 4th quarter by either Matt Moore or Josh Johnson, but either way it's doubtful TB will have enough to cover a soft line. Look for the fins' to improve to an undefeated 3-0 ATS. Prediction: Bank MIA +4.5.
Atlanta Falcons vs Pittsburgh Steelers: ATL +3.5
I was very high on ATL last year and I think they have a chance to be even better this year. Newly acquired Ray Edwards is schedules to make his debut and could see as much as a quarter of snaps on Saturday. ATL have already had good pressure on the QB in their first two outings and Smith has been pleased with his first-team defense, so throwing in a stud on the D-line will be an additional boost. Big Ben showed his ability to escape the rush against PHI, but he'll have to do it all over again behind a questionable offensive line.
Matt Ryan is even going back to watch tape from the week 1 matchup they had vs PIT in 2010. The personnel is largely the same for both teams, so we have a pretty good idea of what to expect. All week they've practiced on improving their performance on third and long and want to use this game as a real test for the start of the season. Look for Ryan to continue and find guys like Douglas on the outside as Jones has really opened things up for this offense.
Not a lot of information leaks out of PIT's camp in the preseason, but they are in a prime spot for a letdown this week. UPDATE: Cotchery, Scott, McFadden are all questionable. Taylor is out. Tomlin said the starters will play at least a half, which is less than what most other coaches are saying this week. They put a stamp of approval on their roster on national TV against the over-hyped Eagles so there won't be as much to prove this time around. PIT know who they are and what they have heading into the regular season. This doesn't mean I expect PIT to roll over and lay down for ATL because they won't, but it won't be easy to replicate that regular season feel from a week ago. I like the Falcons in this spot and I like them even more with the hook. Prediction: Bank ATL +3.5.