Avoid these NFL Week 3 traps

We have worked our way through two weeks of NFL betting and it’s been an unusual season already. Several teams that looked fantastic in Week 1 floundered in Week 2 and vice versa. There are only seven undefeated teams left, and the only one that might not be considered a surprise is the defending champion Buccaneers. There are also seven winless teams. Bettors are already forming opinions about the teams, and in turn, those setting the odds try to take advantage of this.
You’ve probably read stories about how the books may have “lost” so far or something along those lines. That said, regardless of what has happened in the first two weeks, historically, Week 3 has had a penchant for evening the scales, so tread cautiously this weekend and perhaps have the courage to go “against the grain” in terms of what we’ve seen so far. Bettors who have done so have typically reaped the rewards.
I’m here to look at some NFL handicapping systems that have thrived in recent years, using logic that might not seem all that sensible. Backing these types of angles helps bettors avoid what I consider “traps.” Let’s take a look at six concepts you’ll want to consider as you prepare your wagers for this weekend, and figure out the games that will be affected:
1. Teams that start 0-2 SU in the NFL are 19-21 SU but 28-12 ATS (70 percent) against 1-1 teams in Week 3 since 2010
There’s a tidal wave of negativity that gets associated with the winless teams after two weeks, and while they remain typically bad when matched against undefeated teams, they do perform quite well against middle-of-the-road opponents. In most cases, the 1-1 team has shown early signs of inconsistency, and I don’t know any bettors looking to bet teams like that. Trust that the desperate 0-2 teams will bring their best effort into this week’s games, motivated by the fear of going 0-3 and what that has historically meant for teams’ playoff chances.
The 0-2 teams in 2021, with their prospective matchups for Week 3 against 1-1 teams are as follows:
INDIANAPOLIS (+ 5) at Tennessee
DETROIT (+ 8.5) vs. Baltimore
MINNESOTA (+ 1.5) vs. Seattle
The opponents of these three winless teams all have been inconsistent. Tennessee was clobbered by Arizona in Week 1 and managed to come back from 14 points down in the 4th quarter at Seattle in Week 2 to win. Baltimore blew a two-touchdown lead at Las Vegas in Week 1 but flipped the script on Kansas City this past week. Seattle has had significant leads in both games but is .500. 
2. Winless teams are 17-27-1 SU but 31-14 ATS (68.9 percent) in Week 3 when playing as underdogs of + 3.5 points or more since 2010
This system reeks of pure desperation by the 0-2 team. Surely you’ve seen the stats indicating that only six teams since 1980 have reached the postseason after an 0-3 start. That’s essentially only one team every seven years. In other words, you can almost kiss the playoff chances goodbye for the teams below should they lose this week. That’s enough to fuel even the worst team’s effort level. Here are the 0-2 teams playing as underdogs of + 3.5 points or more this week:
INDIANAPOLIS (+ 5) at Tennessee
DETROIT (+ 8.5) vs. Baltimore
N.Y. JETS (+ 10.5) at Denver
JACKSONVILLE (+ 7) vs. Arizona
History says that at least one of these large underdogs in Week 3 will pull the upset, and the chance of two is even better. If the ATS numbers maintain their status quo, three will cover the spread. Recognize that bettors in past years have also faced this same difficulty of choosing to back a team that looks hopeless at this point, but for whatever reason, they do bring a solid effort in most cases.
3. Teams allowing more than 6.50 yards per play in the first two weeks have rebounded in Week 3 with a record of 20-14 SU and 22-12 ATS (64.7 percent) since 2015.
This absolutely goes against all logic when it comes to bettors and the choices they make. The teams that have allowed more than 6.5 yards per play have shown to be the league’s worst defensively in the first two games. Why in the world would any self-respecting bettor consider backing a team like this in the third game? Well, this is exactly how the sportsbooks entrap their clients. Typically, teams that were that bad defensively in the early going rebound, as they are motivated by the bad press about them and/or make adjustments. In many cases, the Week 3 matchup is also against a lesser opponent offensively than they faced in the first two games. 
Seven teams have allowed at least 6.5 yards per play defensively in the first two games. Unfortunately, two pairs of them will be facing one another. Here is the list of games that feature these poorly performing defenses. Note that the two games pitting these poor defenses against one another are bolded.
MINNESOTA (+ 1.5) vs. Seattle
KANSAS CITY (-6.5) vs. L.A. Chargers
DALLAS (-4) vs. Philadelphia
Minnesota lost on a last-second missed field goal in heartbreaking fashion last week and legitimately seems too competitive to slip to 0-3. Kansas City is 0-2 against the spread and would likely fall to two games back in the AFC West with a loss in this one. I would expect a motivated effort. Dallas plays its home opener on Monday night against rival Philadelphia and is riding the momentum of its own final-play game-winning field goal last week.
4. The league’s best defensive teams after two weeks, or those allowing 14 points or fewer, are 22-17 SU but just 11-27-1 ATS (28.9 percent) in Week 3 since ’05 when favored by three points or more.
It’s obvious from this system and the previous one that bettors shouldn’t put too much stock into the defensive performance of teams in the first two weeks. Often, the numbers that a defense puts up in the early going are more a reflection of the opposing offenses they’ve faced. Those that played bad offenses have fared well, while those that faced the elite attacks are probably being wrongly maligned. Again, this is a trap that many bettors fall into. After two weeks, the Ravens have allowed the most yards per play in the league. Would it be an overreaction to suggest that a defense that has been really good for most of the last decade is suddenly this bad now after two weeks? Surely. On the other hand, Carolina has allowed only 21 points in two weeks after yielding 25-plus points per game last year. Sudden revival or good fortune? I lean on the latter. These are the league’s top defenses so far and their Week 3 matchups:
CAROLINA (-7.5) at Houston
BUFFALO (-9) vs. Washington
NEW ENGLAND (-3) vs. New Orleans
DENVER (-10.5) vs. N.Y. Jets
PHILADELPHIA (+ 4) at Dallas
Let’s put two of these games in perspective right off the bat. In the cases of Carolina and Denver, could anyone have imagined these teams playing to lines like this just a couple of weeks ago? The Panthers and Broncos were both 5-11 last year, now they are 7.5-point road favorites and double-digit home favorites, respectively, after just two games. Neither has played an elite opponent yet. If numbers hold true, at least three of these top defenses will lose against the spread this week.
5. Teams gaining more than 6.75 yards per play in the first two weeks have continued their impressive play in Week 3 with a record of 12-3 SU and ATS (80 percent) since 2015.
So this system wouldn’t be considered a “trap” per se, but I included it here to remind people that good offense continues to rule the NFL and is the more consistent factor to rely on in a team’s resume. Five teams have been truly elite offensively, and in many ways, none is a real surprise as they all have well-respected quarterbacks. These offenses are clicking, and historically speaking, it makes no sense to step in front of the train until a key injury or other factor has a negative impact. These teams are all averaging 6.9 or more yards per play after two games, 0.3 better than any other team:
SEATTLE (-1.5) at Minnesota
KANSAS CITY (-6.5) vs. L.A. Chargers
CLEVELAND (-7) vs. Chicago
ARIZONA (-7) at Jacksonville
L.A. RAMS (PK) vs. Tampa Bay
Five teams qualify for a system that has hit at 80 percent over the last six seasons. If numbers hold, expect four of these offenses to continue to roll in Week 3.
6. Since ’08, the league’s best undefeated teams after two weeks — those having outscored teams by 25 points or more — are 22-17 SU but 13-24-2 ATS (35.1 percent) in Week 3.
These are the teams that oddsmakers tend to shade the lines heavily toward in Week 3, as they have put up the most attention-grabbing performances in the early going. Some of the teams may actually warrant the respect. Others, though, may be the beneficiary of turnover luck or favorable scheduling in the first two weeks. Recognize that if you’re backing a team that has won its first two games by a combined 25 points or more, you are probably paying too high a price and be prepared to see your team struggle to cover an overinflated point spread. Three teams have met the criteria for outscoring teams by 25 points or more in the first two weeks, and one is actually 1-1.
BUFFALO (-9) vs. Washington
ARIZONA (-7) at Jacksonville
TAMPA BAY (PK) vs. L.A. Rams
The Bills are of course the 1-1 team, but I don’t think anyone is surprised to see them with an elite point differential after two weeks. Arizona is one of the league’s biggest surprises, with its offense being among the best in football. Tampa Bay is the defending league champion but has been tested in both of the first two games. Two fourth-quarter pick-sixes helped the Buccaneers win ATS last week vs. Atlanta. On average, two of every three teams on this system fail to cover their point spreads. Which two will it be in 2021?


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