By Brian Burke
This time of year is one of the more interesting for NFL prognosticators. This is when our perceptions of which are the good and bad teams come into direct contact with reality. Two weeks into the season, the Patriots and Packers are struggling to pass the ball, while the Bills and Browns are moving down the field efficiently. (And if those trends continue we'll all pretend like we saw it coming.) These early weeks are the most revealing outings all season.
Last week, I had five out of the 15 games picked correctly off the spread (no pick for the Thursday night contest). Will Leitch got four out of 15 games. Our totals so far are neck-and-neck: 11 for me, 12 for Will. Here are our picks for Week 3.
Note: The Machine's outcome probabilities are based on who will win the game, not the point spread. The score predictions are Burke's own estimates when factoring in the win probability, which is based on a logistic regression model of projected core team efficiency statistics. For more on Burke's model, click here.
VIKINGS: 14 (21% win probability)
SAINTS: 27 (79%)
VEGAS: Saints (-10.5)
New Orleans is 0-2, but has been efficient in most facets of the game. This will be a good test to see if they suffered some bad luck in a couple road games or are truly vulnerable.
Thanks to Anheuser-Busch's courage, you can now drink your Lime-a-Rita in comfort and peace during this one.
WASHINGTON: 21 (25%)
EAGLES: 30 (75%)
VEGAS: Eagles (-6.5)
Don't expect Kirk Cousins to put up numbers like he did against Jacksonville every week.
The Kirk Cousins dream ends in tears, as it always does with cousins. (This might just be me. My cousins growing up were very big, and mean.)
TITANS: 14 (26%)
BENGALS: 35 (74%)
VEGAS: Bengals (-6.5)
The Bengals might me my top team if they can continue to play like they have in Weeks 1 and 2. Tennessee's pass defense is allowing just 4.5 yards per attempt, so they will present a challenge.
The Bengals are so much more dull without A.J. Green.
COLTS: 37 (74%)
JAGUARS: 17 (26%)
VEGAS: Colts (-7)
The Colts want to play old-school smash-mouth football, but their roster isn't designed for that. Despite averaging a modest 5.8 yards per attempt, Indy is still well ahead of Jacksonville's 4.3.
The Jags are going to take the brunt of the Colts' Monday Night frustration. The Jaguars, always taking brunts.
BUCCANEERS: 17 (32%)
FALCONS: 28 (68%)
VEGAS: Falcons (-7)
Atlanta's season will hinge on their pass defense, which is giving up nearly 10 yards per attempt so far. The Josh McCown experiment in Tampa is failing as their passing game flounders. It will be weakness vs. weakness when the Bucs have the ball.
The Buccaneers were a hot sleeper pick coming into this year, but that's pretty much over now. This is a game where you should be able to comfortably fall asleep by halftime.
STEELERS: 17 (36%)
PANTHERS: 24 (64%)
VEGAS: Panthers (-3)
Despite criticism to the contrary, Pittsburgh can move the ball as well as they have in recent years. But the Carolina pass defense will likely slow them down enough to win.
Still concerned this is the year the wheels come off for Pittsburgh.
RAIDERS: 10 (39%)
PATRIOTS: 28 (61%)
VEGAS: Patriots (-14.5)
Oakland is playing like a below-average team but don't seem to be the basket case most observers paint them as. Despite New England's struggles with their passing attack, they'll be able to handle the Raiders.
Yet another Raiders season when no one wants to get out of bed by Week 4.
49ERS: 24 (60%)
CARDINALS: 20 (40%)
VEGAS: 49ers (-2.5)
Drew Stanton is a significant step down from Carson Palmer, so this game's probabilities ride on whether Palmer can go. But either way, if Colin Kaepernick is more careful with the ball San Francisco should have the edge.
This one is massively important in the NFL West, a division that leaves no margin for error. The University of Phoenix crowd isn't 50 percent 49ers fans like old Sun Devil Stadium was, and that's the edge here.
CHIEFS: 10 (42%)
DOLPHINS: 16 (58%)
VEGAS: Dolphins (-4.5)
Neither team has been able to pass efficiently but Miami has the better defense to date. Look for a low-scoring slug-fest between middle-of-the-pack teams.
Is Hootie still a Dolphins fan now that he's a big country music star? Has anyone asked?
COWBOYS: 34 (58%)
RAMS: 24 (42%)
Dallas can't continue their 4.5 percent interception rate and 3.4 percent fumble rate and hope to win. The good news is those numbers are both unsustainably high. Austin Davis had a great outing last week, leading the league in air yards per attempt (passing efficiency minus receiver YAC).
It's always disappointing to pick the Cowboys to win, isn't it? The jokes are so much better when they lose.
TEXANS: 20 (57%)
GIANTS: 14 (43%)
VEGAS: Texans (-2.5)
Houston's passing game has been one of the best through two weeks, but look for it to fall back to earth. The Giants have already cratered into the earth.
The Giants' offense showed a LITTLE more life last week, and they wouldn't dare start 0-3 (or 0-6!) again, would they?
BRONCOS: 24 (45%)
SEAHAWKS: 31 (55%)
VEGAS: Seahakws (-5)
Despite dropping a game to the Chargers, Seattle's 'internal' numbers look strong. They are No. 1 so far in both offensive and defensive run success rate, which is the percentage of run plays that result in improved down-distance-yard line situations.
You know Manning will get his revenge because it's the regular season.
PACKERS: 31 (55%)
LIONS: 24 (45%)
VEGAS: Lions (-1)
Based strictly on their stats in the first two weeks and without any information from pre-season projections, this would be an 80-20 percent game in favor of Detroit. But it's a virtual certainty Aaron Rodgers will improve on his 5.9 yards per attempt.
This reeks of one of those games that is the last of the 1 p.m. hour to finish. I feel like I don't have ENOUGH points here.
RAVENS: 22 (54%)
BROWNS: 20 (46%)
VEGAS: Ravens (-1.5)
The Browns are playing much stronger than expected, but their pass defense is suspect. A lot of their success is directly the result of having no turnovers so far, something that is extremely unlikely to continue.
It just won't be worth watching if Johnny Manziel doesn't get to hand the ball off a few more times.
CHARGERS: 23 (47%)
BILLS: 26 (53%)
VEGAS: Bills (-1)
Buffalo has been solid but not spectacular on both sides of the ball. San Diego is probably a slightly better team overall, but home field gives the edge to the Bills.
I want SO BADLY to pick the Bills to go 3-0 to start the season. But beating the Seahawks focuses one's attention.
BEARS: 27 (53%)
JETS: 24 (47%)
VEGAS: Jets (-2.5)
The Bears' defensive weakness is masked by some timely interceptions, but they'll have enough of a passing attack for a slight edge in New York.
For what it's worth, I think Rex Ryan -- not the Jets, necessarily, but Rex Ryan -- should be on "Monday Night Football" every week.
Brian Burke is a former Navy fighter pilot and tactics expert. He is the founder Advanced Football Analytics, the site that made modern football analysis a reality.