Leans & analysis Preseason Wk 3
Leans & analysis

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Posted Friday, Aug, 26 at 3:00 PM EST and are subject to change.

NFL Preseason Week 3

What you see below is a sample of what we do each and every week during the NFL Season. On Friday's we will post our early leans. Many of the selections below will stay the same and some will be moved into official plays on the day of the game, usually Sundays. However, there is also the possibility that we see, read or get a sense that something is not right with one of our selections and change our pick. There are several different criteria we use to grade a game and make it an official play and a lot of things can happen or change between Friday and Sunday.

Friday, August 26

Chargers @ Saints -3

8:00 PM EST. This game might best be avoided, as we’ve seen very little from the Chargers or Saints this preseason. L.A. will once again be without their starters, most notably Justin Herbert, while the Saints are expected to do the same, which means they’ll be led by Ian Book.

These teams are a combined 0-4, with both losing by double digits last week. The Saints fell in Green Bay 20-10 and the Chargers, 32-18 to Dallas. This game looks very much like a coin flip, with the Saints giving up the field goal based on home-field advantage. If we were forced to choose, we’ll lean Saints, but there are more questions than answers here. Recommendation: New Orleans -3

Saturday, Aug 27

Jacksonville @ Atlanta -3½

3:00 PM EST. On the Jaguars side, few starters are expected to play, which appears to be in line with the sleepy approach of new coach Doug Pederson. The Jags have played three preseason games already, and are 0-3. Their best showing was last week against Pittsburgh in a 16-15 loss, but prior to that, Jacksonville had been outscored 51-24 in games against the Raiders and Browns. If we are to trust Pederson’s plans this week, Jake Luton and EJ Perry each get a half at quarterback. Runners Ryquell Armstead and Mekhi Sargent will split carries, and the receiver core will be made up of those looking for jobs, Tim Jones, Kevin Austin Jr., Jeff Cotton, Laquon Treadwell, Marvin Hall, and Willie Johnson.

The Falcons brought in former #2 overall pick Marcus Mariota, who spent the last two seasons playing backup to Derek Carr and the Raiders. Mariota was great in college and had some nice flashes while in Tennessee, but injuries and the signing of Ryan Tannehill ended his time in Nashville. Mariota has to be playing with a big chip on his shoulder. The Dirty Birds are playing with house money this season. Expectations are as low as they’ve been since before Matt Ryan came to town. However, nobody has apparently told these Falcons because they’ve been playing hard this preseason.

Atlanta is 1-1 in the preseason so far this summer, but if you watched either of their games, you know they pass the eye test. Smith’s Falcons were in a Week 1 preseason dogfight in Detroit with Dan Campbell's try-hard Lions. The Falcons would win the game after recovering a late fumbled snap and post the winning major a minute later. It was a performance that stuck with us. Last Monday night in New Jersey, the Falcons battled the Jets and were fast out of the gate, with Mariota going 10-of-13 for 132 yards and a touchdown. Rookie backup Desmond Ridder was also very good, going 10-of-13 for 143 yards. Don’t sleep on these Falcons, they are going to offer some tremendous value in 2022, this game included. Recommendation: Atlanta +1½

Rams @ Bengals -2½

6:00 PM EST. Fight, fight, fight! It took a little longer than we would have liked, but if you were worried that the third week of this preseason was going to be chill, with no fisticuffs, worry no more! Ding, ding! It’s fight night in Cincinnati!

The Bengals and Rams made headlines this week for the fight that broke out in their joint practice. Apparently, a few months is not enough time to settle the flames of that very competitive Super Bowl in February. Rams coach Sean McVay had warned his players to keep their cool. How did Aaron Donald respond? He was captured on video swinging two Bengals’ helmets after the ruckus broke out. Lucky for Donald, he’ll not be suspended. The Rams were the ones taken to task for the brawl, as ProFootballTalk reported the league said the Rams failed, “to exercise proper control over their players." It might be time to take a log of the fire there, coach.

McVey’s approach to the preseason has been consistent since he took over the Rams, which is to say, he doesn’t care about these games. The Rams went 0-3 last year and won the Super Bowl. This preseason they are 1-1, but that victory came against cross hall rivals, the Chargers. Last week, the Rams were beaten by the Texans at home, and so one has to wonder what they’ll bring to this final preseason game, fights or not.

The Bengals aren’t going to make good for their Super Bowl loss here, but is it out of line to suggest they might have a little something extra on each play after the Rams acted like a bunch of poor winners during these joint practices? To their credit, the fans in the stands in Cincy are going to be bloodthirsty, no? That atmosphere might be the difference in the Bengals taking this one a little more seriously than the visitors. Recommendation: Cincinnati -2½

Washington @ Baltimore -6½

7:00 PM EST. The story of the Ravens in the preseason has been well documented, both in the media and in this space. Baltimore backers were giddy after cashing tickets in two straight weeks, including last Sunday’s 24-17 win in Arizona as a 5½-point favorite. That final score actually flattered the Cardinals, as the Ravens took a 24-3 lead into the fourth quarter before taking their foot off the gas. We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again, this is a steam train we do not want to stand in front of.

If the Ravens were -5½ on the road in Arizona, how can they be just -6½ at home to the lowly Commanders? It can’t have anything to do with Lamar Jackson not playing because he hasn’t suited up yet this preseason. If we are strictly looking at value based on the number, this line is short from any angle we see it. Washington has been pretty lifeless in two preseason games, losing to both Carolina (23-21) and Kansas City (24-14).

On the surface, it might not look like a big deal, but if you watched those games, you know that the Commanders were down big to the Panthers before scoring a couple of pity touchdowns in preseason Week 1. Last week in K.C., Washington was down 14-0 before the Chiefs let up and that game became interesting. The Chiefs still covered the 5-point spread with ease. Look, if Baltimore wins and covers here, so be it but the entire world is on em because of their recent unblemished preseason record. It's a story all of its own right now. We also know the books aren't likely giving away money here so Washington has to be the correct play. Recommendation: Washington +6½

Chicago +5½ @ Cleveland

7:00 PM EST. The Browns are a mess, with Deshaun Watson taking all of the attention away from this team. Watson can’t play until December by the way, and the Browns are holding him out of preseason action. Watson isn’t the only one that has barely played this preseason, as Jacoby Brissett, who will start until he gets back, has also not suited up either. This week, the Browns will take a different approach, suggesting Brissett and other starters will see some time, but that does not excite us. These starters are not going to come in cold after two weeks and play extended time. However, don’t tell that to this market, who jumped all over that news.

This is a pretty big pile of points (and getting bigger) for one not to snap up in a game where the Bears’ starters, including quarterback Justin Fields, are expected to play until at least half-time. The Bears have been playing their guys all preseason, so there should be little rust at this point. After Fields sits down, he’ll give way to Nathan Peterman, who is fighting for his football life. Peterman is now six years into his NFL career, which means he can no longer be stashed or find work on the practice roster. That means dude has to prove he’s worthy of a proper roster spot, that’s not a bad situation to back in a preseason game with little else on the line. Recommendation: Chicago +5½

Philadelphia +1½ @ Miami

7:00 PM EST. There was drama out of the Eagles and Dolphins joint practices this week, but it’s not the kind of drama we like. Instead, there was a “stomach bug” going around both teams. Ewww.

Other notes from practice have praised the play of Jalen Hurts, who hadn’t thrown an interception in weeks, August 6, to be exact. That was over 150 pass attempts without an error, a very positive sign. However, Hurts did throw two picks in practice this week. One was not his fault, as there appeared to be a miscommunication with Jalen Reagor, who has yet to put it together. The other was Hurts’ fault, as he was way short on a back shoulder throw to DeVonta Smith in the endzone.

The Dolphins played their starters for two drives last week against Las Vegas, but that group did not look good. Maybe the stomach bug was already working its way through the Fins or maybe the Dolphins just might be the mess we suggest they’ll be under new head coach Mike McDaniel.

The treatment of star tight end Mike Gesicki continues to be a story, as Gesicki is getting the rookie treatment from his new coach, playing far more snaps than any of the other starters. It’s no coincidence that Gesicki was not signed to a long-term deal by Miami and was instead franchised. Now the Fish are just dangling him out there for extra preseason reps as if he needs them. Very professional.

With so much uncertainty due to the “non-COVID” related illness on both sides, it might be best to wait for some more information or pass on this game entirely. Recommendation: Philadelphia +1½

Arizona +3 @ Tennessee

7:00 PM EST. In a battle of who wanted it less, Mike Vrable and his Titans were forced to walk away with a 13-3 win over Tampa Bay in preseason Week 2. There isn’t much to say about this one, as it was approached on both sides as if it were a total inconvenience. We expected that apathy from Vrable, and we see no reason as to why his giving no hoots would not continue here.

The Cardinals and Titans played nice at their only joint practice this week, as the two teams decided to cut their two scheduled sessions to one, while also limiting that interaction to one-on-one drills and some two-minute work at the end of Wednesday’s practice. The coaches said it was to protect against injury. In that session neither first-team offense managed to up points in that limited time together, which might suggest, they are both playing this game close to the vest. However, the Cardinals' second team was able to put up points with Trace McSorley finding rookie receiver Jontre Kirklin.

This is a Cardinals or nothing play for us. The points look appealing and we know Vrable would rather be anywhere else than coaching on the sidelines in this meaningless game. The Titans were the top seed in the AFC last season and have a much bigger prize in their sights. Recommendation: Arizona +3

Minnesota @ Denver -1

9:00 PM EST. It’s going to be tempting to fade the Broncos after they were embarrassed 42-15 last Saturday in Buffalo, but we’re willing to write that game off as an anomaly. We don’t know what Broncs’ coach Nathaniel Hackett did to Bills’ coach Sean McDermott either in this life or another to deserve such a bum spanking, but McDermott coached that game as fiercely as we’ve seen anyone till the bitter end, making sure to stop Denver from popping in a meaningless late touchdown. Would 42-22 really have been any less dominant? It was weird to see. Maybe Hackett took McDermott’s mother out for a nice seafood dinner and then didn’t call her again.

The Vikings are in our sights, as every story out of their camp under new head coach Kevin O'Connell is more head-scratching than the last. This week’s drama concerns the newly retired JC Tretter, who let it be known he would have loved to play for the Vikes, his favorite team as a kid for a hometown discount. In case you aren’t familiar with the 31-year-old Tretter, he was one of the centers in football. As it happens, the Vikings are weak at that position, so it looked like a match made in football heaven. What happened next falls right in line with how the new Vikings front office has handled things thus far.

In addition to being a great center, Tretter was the president of the NFLPA. Believe it or not, the owners and the union don’t always see eye to eye. Although Tretter’s agent reached out to the Vikings, Minny did not return the call. Now, why would a team desperate for offensive line help not take a call from a stud who wanted to join them? Other than a statement that O’Connell and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah were unaware that Tretter’s camp had reached out. If you believe that, we’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. This is a story that is starting to simmer and it’s not going to go away, as claims of collusion are in the air. The Vikes' new brass is already under the heat lamp and they’ve yet to play a real game. It might be a long year in Minny. Recommendation: Denver -1

Sunday, August 28

N.Y. Giants @ N.Y. Jets -4½

1:00 PM EST. The Jets are going all out with a full lineup of starters in this one, which head coach Robert Saleh said was not because of a lack of confidence in his team, but rather because he wants them to be “ready” for the regular season. You can take that statement any way you like, but it suggests that Saleh wants to see more from his side and they know it. There is no word if Zach Wilson will be ready for Week 1 proper, but if Joe Flacco is going to get the start a little extra time with the Jets' young offensive weapons cannot hurt. After Flacco is former CFL standout Chris Streveler, who has made many new fans in the swamp after leading the Jets to come from behind wins in both of their preseason games this season. Streveler is fighting for tenure, as he’s very close to securing that NFL pension. This guy is playing like his life is on the line and it shows.

What about the Giants? Big Blue has won both of its preseason games as well, but it is hard to get too excited by a 25-22 win over the Bengals, in which the Giants needed 18 fourth-quarter points, which were accumulated long after Cincy stopped caring. On paper, the G-Men’s preseason Week 1 win in New England looks impressive, but the Pats too stopped trying after going up 21-20 with under five minutes to go. It was not a dramatic game-winning drive as the box score would suggest, the Pats played dead and let the Giants march down the field and kill the clock even though New England had timeouts to burn. Of the two “New York” clubs, the Giants are the ones tasked with taking a step forward in 2022. For reasons we cannot explain, expectations are pretty high. We’re not buying it. The Jets are the best team in Jersey and can let “big brother” know as much here. Recommendation: N.Y. Jets -4½

Detroit +4½ @ Pittsburgh

4:30 PM EST. We have a hard time betting against a Dan Campbell-coached team, especially in a game where the motivations of the other side might not be so clear. The Lions have played two intense games against the Falcons and Colts, and there is little reason to believe that they are going to let up now. Campbell is committed to winning at all costs in any situation. That’s all we need to know about his team.

The Steelers’ stock is at its lowest since before Ben Roethlisberger came to town, which has them in our sights as a potentially undervalued asset, but not this week. There is a perception that the Steelers are still looking to cement their starting quarterback (they aren’t, this is Mitch Trubisky’s team), so their backers can expect the stiff competition and quality play in the preseason to continue in Week 3. However, with Trubisky on the run for his life, last week in Jacksonville, one has to wonder how much exposure coach Mike Tomlin will give him. The same could be said of rookie Kenny Pickett. If we had to guess how Tomlin will approach this game, we say get ready for a load of Mason Rudolph. Recommendation: Detroit +4½

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