Big Five Picks for NFL Week 3 (2021)

What great success we had with Week 2! 4-1 for the Big Five Picks! 11-5 overall against the spread! I am glad I finally decided to dust off the old linear regression model for predicting point spreads and determining the proper weight for 2020 and 2021 stats. With two weeks of in-season data for the 2021 season, we will adjust the weights slightly: 7/8 for 2020 and 1/8 for 2021.

If you want an explanation of the methodology I use for making my predictions, please check out my Week 2 article. In summary, I use overall DVOA from Football Outsiders as the input for my model and then I compare the predicted point spread to the actual point spread. Still, we have to take these predictions with a grain of salt, especially when a team's QB is out. That would be the case with the Colts and Dolphins, two teams the model loves but the eye test tells us we should stay away. We also saw this with the Thursday Night game. The model preferred Houston as a home dog but no Tyrod Taylor meant that we had to stick with Carolina who covered quite convincingly.

Before I delve into the Big Five picks, here is a table displaying the currently published point spreads for the Week 3 games as well as the predicted point spread from my model.


In order to read this table correctly, a positive point spread means the home team is favored. Negative point spreads favor the road. For example, Buffalo is favored to win by 7.5 points by most sportsbooks and they are at home so the published point spread will show up as positive 7.5. My model has Buffalo winnings by 8.22 points so that predicted point spread will also appear as positive.

Games for which the published point spread and the predicted point spread are both positive or both negative mean that you bet on the favor to cover. Otherwise, you take the underdog. For example, the Browns are expected to beat Chicago by 7 points but the predicted point spread is -0.41 in favor of Chicago. Hence, Chicago represents very good value and that is a game I feel where the sportsbooks are wrong. Trust the data my friends, not the public or Johnny Wiseguy!

Picking the Big Five Picks is tricky since conventional wisdom would dictate taking the teams with the biggest differential between published and predicted point spreads. I wish it was that easy. If so, I would have been long retired on some private island! Alas, I am a married man with two small kids so reality sinks in when I realize how tough it is to live such a dream and a dream it is! Still, if we think through these games carefully and understand why the data is behaving the way it is, then we can make some calculated decisions that should lead to profitability (as I did last week).

Without further ado, here are the Big Five Picks.

  1. Buffalo Bills -7.5

Buffalo is a team that almost went to the Super Bowl last year. This is also a team that went into Miami last week and won 35-0. To go to your division rival's home and shut them out is very, very impressive. Last year Buffalo went 7-1 at home during the regular season with 5 of those wins by at least double digits. Meanwhile Washington won the NFC (L)East with a losing record and barely beat an inferior NY Giants team last week. The model likes the Bills to win at least 8 points so this tells me that the model is in line with the sportsbooks and is expecting to exceed that spread. Josh Allen and the rest of his arsenal of offensive weapons should have no problem moving the football to put up somewhere between 24 - 28 points and will have the crowd on its side when it stymies the inept Washington offense with Taylor Heinicke behind center. It's OK to eat some chalk from time to time. The Bills will roll the Redskins en route to a typical 10+ point victory at Orchard Park.

  1. Chicago Bears +7

The Browns have no business being a 7 point favor. True, the Bears were crushed by the Rams during Week 1 but that game was in LA on national TV. Plus Andy Dalton was the QB and he stinks. He has officially become an NFL journeyman. It's time to usher in the Justin Fields era who is a dynamic playmaker with not much NFL game film for defenses to figure out what he will do. He took over for Andy Dalton last week midway through the game and not only proved he can keep the game close but outright earn the victory. On the flip side, the Browns have not proven to me why they should be favored by so much. They let an inferior team like the Texans hang around for most of the game and the Browns had just a 3 point lead in the 4th quarter but oddly were a 12.5 point favorite. The previous week, the Browns had the Chiefs on the ropes with a 29-20 lead early in the 4th quarter but blew it at the end by giving up 2 late TDs to Patrick Mahomes and his top receivers. Of course the Chiefs are very good but to give the Browns this much respect makes no sense. A 7 point favor is very unwarranted. The model has this game as a pick 'em with a slight edge to Chicago. While Chicago could easily lose, it won't be by much. They have the playmakers on both offense and defense to keep it close. If you are feeling lucky, consider the moneyline bet on Chicago which is currently at +265.

  1. Baltimore -8

The model loves the Ravens to win this game by close to 2 TDs. The Ravens had some trouble in Vegas during Week 1 but proved all the naysayers wrong by earning an impressive win at home on Sunday Night Football against the two-time defending AFC Champions. Now they get one of the worst teams in the league and I don't care where this game is being played. The Lions were destroyed by the 49ers two weeks ago (those 16 unanswered points in the final 2 minutes was a total fluke) and never had a serious chance of beating the Packers last week. The Ravens love to run the football and do it well. The Lions simply can't stop the run. They rank 29th so far with rush defense based on DVOA by Football Outsiders and last year were 27th for that metric. If we get more granular, the Lions struggle the most with stuffing RBs at the line of scrimmage and limiting 2nd level yards. Lamar Jackson and Ty'Son Williams could easily have a dozen run plays of 8 - 10 yards each. Last year Baltimore ranked in the top 10 in stuffed yards and 2nd level yards. Overall, the rush offense had the 2nd highest DVOA. The Ravens will have no problem running all over the hapless Lions.

  1. Arizona -7.5

I know what you are thinking. Chalk with Buffalo. More chalk with Baltimore. Now even more chalk with Arizona. Arizona didn't even make the playoffs last year. At least Buffalo and Baltimore are part of the NFL elite. Well make room for Arizona to join that list. Cardinals QB Kyler Murray is quickly cementing himself as the best player in the league now that he is in Year 3. That is typically when a QB with lofty expectations tends to shine. He was the first overall pick in the 2019 draft for good reason. He is uber talented with a rocket for an arm and picks up huge yardage with his legs. Good luck with trying to take him down. During his rookie year, Murray was sacked for a league leading 48 times. He cut down those sacks to 27 in Year 2. Murray has learned how to get rid of the ball and picks his spots carefully when leaving the pocket for huge gains on the ground. Much like Detroit, the Jaguars are dealing with an identity crisis. The future is bright for Jacksonville with a new coach and QB but it will take time for the Jaguars to turn the ship around. With two double digits losses already this season, why not make it 3 in a row to a team that has put up at least 30 points in each game so far this season.

  1. Seattle Seahawks -1.5

OK some chalk but not too much. Seattle blew a 24-9 halftime lead to Tennessee last week but they won't make that same mistake again in Minnesota. One issue is that Seattle struggled to stop the run. Derrick Henry of the Titans ran all over Seattle but I highly doubt that an injured Dalvin Cook can do the same. Perhaps Cook sits to give way to Alexander Mattison but when that happens, the Minnesota offense looks out of sorts. Last year Cook missed Week 6. The Falcons built a 20-0 halftime lead and won the game 40-23. The Vikings had to ditch the run game quickly making them very one-dimensional. The same thing can happen this week against Seattle. The Seahawks will be plenty motivated after losing a heartbreaker at home to Tennessee. If Julio Jones can put up 8 receptions for 137 yards and 2 TDs last year, imagine what DK Metcalf can do who is younger, stronger, and faster. Minnesota didn't have Cook for the last two regular season games of the 2019 season and those games mattered given that Minnesota had a chance to win the NFC North. They lost both games and, like the Atlanta game last year, had to ditch the run game quite quickly. Seattle is a veteran team who knows how to bounce back after a tough loss. Playing a Vikings team who might be without its star running back (or hobbled if he does play) serves as the perfect "get right" game for Seattle. The model has Seattle winning by 10 points.

There you have it. 4 favors and 1 dog. Last week we picked 3 favors and 2 dogs so we are not far off. Hopefully you agree with my reasoning and that you make some money. Good luck!