BEST GAME – Tampa Bay at New England (+5.5)
Here’s today’s quiz: What is the only team that Tom Brady hasn’t beaten?
A – The Patriots.
That should all change by early evening next Sunday in Foxboro, where Brady and the Super Bowl-champion Buccaneers figure to lay waste to a Patriots team that is in disarray and has shown no signs that it is much better, if at all, than last year’s 7-9 non-playoff group. The Bucs have a few questions to answer themselves after getting pushed around by the Rams, but they are clearly superior to NE at this point – and Brady should be fuming as he prepares for the Pats this week.
The early line had TB favored by the always-awkward 5.5 total, but that could go higher when bettors around the country see clips on just how bad the Patriots played against New Orleans.
Unless Brady gets ultra stubborn and hangs around for another decade or so, or switches teams again, this will be his final appearance in Gillette. It will no doubt be an agonizing week for Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft, who bet against TB12 once he got on the wrong side of 40.
New England is hoping that rookie Mac Jones can develop into a reasonable facsimile of Brady the Game Manager when Brady was a pup in New England. Short passes, no turnovers, long clock-killing drives. Win 20-17 and move on. But that business model was at least temporarily blown to smitherines last Sunday by the Saints, who pressured Jones all day, induced three interceptions and sent the Patriots to 1-2.
And now here comes Tom Brady to rub some salt into the wounds.
WORST GAME – Detroit at Chicago (-6)
Optimism in the Rust Belt is a rare commodity these days as the Lions and Bears are forced to dig themselves out of deep holes before the calendar even turns to October. In Chicago, Justin Fields may be questioning his career choice after the Browns bended, folded and mutilated him to the tune of 9 sacks. Fields completed just 6 of 20 passes for 68 yards. If there is any good news for the Bears it’s that they get two games against the Lions, who are an even hotter mess. Detroit is winless at 0-3, and with a 17th game on the schedule have a puncher’s shot at breaking their own record of 0-16, set in 2008.
LARGEST SPREAD – Houston at Buffalo (-16.5)
There’s talk that the Texans’ hard-line stance against QB DeShaun Watson might be softening a tad, but even Watson wouldn’t be able to do much against the Bills, who after two straight wins by a combined score of 88-21 look like they might have enough juice to give the Chiefs some problems in the playoffs. Sixteen and a half is a heavy carry, even against Houston, but the Bills have the highest-scoring offense in the AFC and appear to have moved past that (probable one-off) loss to the Steelers on Opening Day. The Texans could somehow score in the low 20s and might still not cover this number.
SMALLEST SPREAD – Baltimore at Denver (+1)
Denver comes into this one 3-0 SU and 3-0 ATS, but all three of those wins come with giant asterisks. The teams the Broncos have beaten – the Giants, Jaguars and Jets – are a combined and deserved 0-9 today. So the Ravens will be Denver’s first test, and if things go South against Baltimore, at least the Broncos will be 3-1 this time next week. Worse things have happened. Baltimore didn’t deserve to beat Detroit, but Justin Tucker’s NFL-record 66-yard FG as time expired got the job done.
LARGEST TOTAL – Kansas City at Philadelphia (54.5)
Who else but the Chiefs in this slot again? After being held to 24 points in a somewhat head-scratching loss to the Chargers, no doubt Andy Reid and the offense will work on some things this week. They will need to be ready, because the Eagles defense has shown some life in the early going. BTW, KC and the Chargers put 54 points on the board this past Sunday (30-24 LA), and the O/U number was 55.
LOWEST TOTAL – Indianapolis at Miami (45.5)
Presumed franchise QB Tua Tagovailoa is out until mid-October, and what that means to the Dolphins in the short term is anyone’s guess. The offense led by backup Jacoby Brissett was passable, but everyone knows Brissette is a stopgap until Tagovailoa comes back and the Fins can really evaluate where they are. The Colts, meanwhile, are four quarters away from cashing in their chips for the season.