If winning in the NFL was all about quarterbacks and high-scoring offenses, Matt Ryan and the Falcons would be sitting pretty after two weeks instead of buried in an ugly 0-2 hole with a coach on the hot seat.
Ryan ranks No. 2 in the league with 723 passing yards and is tied for second with six touchdown passes. Yet while Atlanta has scored 64 points, its defense has surrendered a league-high 78. Defensive breakdowns and a special-teams blunder led to the Falcons’ late meltdown Sunday in an improbable 40-39 loss at Dallas.
“There was a lot of wise-guy money on the Falcons,” South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews said. “The Falcons will put points on the board, but their defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed.”
The wise guys were on the right side. Atlanta, which closed as a three-point underdog after the line opened at 6, covered the spread and should have won the game. The stakes were not as high as in February 2017, but it was a Super Bowl-like choke. Falcons coach Dan Quinn, a former defensive coordinator, is failing at his specialty, and his job is in jeopardy again this year.
How will bettors play the backed-against-the-wall Falcons in Week 3? In a so-called must-win spot, Atlanta is a 3½-point home favorite over Chicago. The line opened at 3 on Sunday night, so it appears smart money is staying loyal to the Falcons. Bettors might also be fading the Bears, who are frauds and the most fortunate 2-0 team in the league.
“I don’t think the public is going to want to bet many of these 0-2 teams,” Andrews said. “But if you look at the history, not many teams go 0-3, and not many teams go 3-0.”
Eleven teams are 0-2. Last season five teams started 0-3 — the Bengals, Broncos, Dolphins, Jets and Steelers — and none made the playoffs.
But just as all schedules are not created equally, all 0-2 teams are not the same. Some teams still have hope and others are hopeless.
Still have hope …
Bengals: Cincinnati, with a point differential of -8, should remain competitive. Joe Burrow has looked worthy of the No. 1 draft pick while completing 60 of 97 passes for 509 yards with three TDs and one interception. This is not a playoff team, but it’s a live underdog.
“Are the Bengals good? Not really,” Andrews said. “But Burrow looks pretty good, and that team could cover as a dog.”
Dolphins: Narrow losses to the Bills and Patriots are no reason to give up. A young team that figures to improve still can win with veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. At some point, Miami will turn to rookie Tua Tagovailoa to get a glimpse of the future. A year ago at this time, the Dolphins had been outscored 102-10 and were being called the worst team in NFL history. A team that started 0-7 finished 5-11.
“I think the Dolphins might have upside,” Andrews said. “I think they could be OK.”
Eagles: For the record, I never have been a member of the Doug Pederson Fan Club, which is shrinking in size. The 2018 Super Bowl win, which had more to do with Nick Foles getting hot and offensive coordinator Frank Reich calling the plays, is fading in the rearview mirror. The Eagles might be in a hopeless situation if not for the sad state of the NFC East, where the Cowboys were lucky to avoid 0-2. Carson Wentz has thrown four interceptions, and Philadelphia has been outscored 64-36. I do like Wentz despite his poor start. Dallas will leave the door cracked open for Philadelphia, a six-point home favorite over the Bengals this week.
Falcons: Aside from a game at Green Bay in Week 4, Atlanta faces a considerably easier schedule through early November. Still, Quinn could be out of work soon if he can’t fix the defense, and beating Mitchell Trubisky is a must.
Texans: No team opened with a more difficult schedule than Houston, which fell to the Chiefs and Ravens. After the Texans are 3½-point dogs at Pittsburgh in Week 3, the schedule softens and quarterback Deshaun Watson will get a chance to lead a comeback to playoff contention.
“I love Watson, but that team really looks like it’s missing something,” Andrews said. “Bill O’Brien the general manager really screwed Bill O’Brien the coach, and that’s my opinion on that.”
Vikings: A week after Minnesota allowed 43 points to the Packers, Kirk Cousins threw three interceptions in a 28-11 loss at Indianapolis. The Vikings are on the brink of hopelessness, but it’s a team that won a playoff game last season, and Mike Zimmer is a coach capable of steering a turnaround.
“Minnesota lost its defensive line and secondary in the offseason,” said Scott Kellen, a professional bettor and VSiN analyst. “Add Cousins, who has trouble winning big games, and no home-field advantage this year and this team is in trouble.”
Broncos: Andrews said it’s too soon to “totally bail” on the Broncos, but injuries are wrecking their season. After losing top pass rusher Von Miller, Denver lost quarterback Drew Lock (right shoulder) for two to six weeks, and wideout Courtland Sutton is done for the season with a blown knee. The Broncos, with a -7 point differential, are tough enough defensively to hang in most games, but they won’t win much. The Raiders are the team on the rise in the AFC West.
Giants: Daniel Jones almost pulled off a comeback in Chicago, but the Giants are without injured running back Saquon Barkley for the rest of the season. Although first-year coach Joe Judge will keep the team’s effort level up, the betting public will bail.
“I don’t think the Giants have much talent, and they just lost Barkley, who was their best player, so there’s not much hope there,” Andrews said.
Jets: The sportsbooks took a beating Sunday, when favorites went 13-1 straight up and bettors jumped all over the 49ers as seven-point road favorites in their 31-13 victory over the Jets. Who’s taking 10½ points with coach Adam Gase and quarterback Sam Darnold this week against the Colts? There were no takers when the line opened at 9½.
“Darnold is not getting it done, but look at Adam Gase,” said Andrews, whose adjusted ratings show the Jets as the worst team in the NFL. “The only time he really had success was with Peyton Manning.”
Said Kellen: “Not only do the Jets lack talent, but the talent they had can’t get on the field because of injuries. The Jets are a mess.”
Lions: It’s time to move on from coach Matt Patricia. Detroit had hope entering the fourth quarter of Week 1, when the Lions blew a 17-point lead against the Bears. There was hope after one quarter of Week 2, when the Lions led the Packers 14-3 before getting outscored 39-7 the rest of the way. Aaron Rodgers still is the best quarterback in the division, not Matthew Stafford, and it’s not that close.
“The Lions just look like they have nothing going,” Andrews said. “I like Stafford, but I don’t see much else around him, and I don’t like the coach.”
Panthers: First-year coach Matt Rhule’s team will fight in the underdog role, yet do-everything running back Christian McCaffrey is out multiple weeks with a high-ankle sprain.