NFL Week 3 game picks: Falcons top Saints; Steelers edge Bucs

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The relevance of wins and losses truly begins Thursday night, and continues on through the weekend.

Week 3 really means something, at least if past trends are to be valued.

With quite a few teams still searching for their first W of the season, the data says (shouts) that those wins better come now. Since 1990, only three teams have ever started 0-3 and made the postseason (no squad has ever started 0-2-1). Those three -- the 1992 Chargers, '95 Lions and '98 Bills -- bucked the trend, although I am not sure how helpful that is, given that the last occurrence of 0-3-woeful-turned-Super-Bowl-hopeful came 20 years ago. Not to mention, but we'll mention, each of those teams carried some unique juice:

1992 Chargers: Young nucleus of a team that hit the Super Bowl two seasons later.
1995 Lions: Barry Sanders-fueled team with two receivers who caught 231 passes between them in '95. And hey, Detroit made the playoffs six times in the '90s.
1998 Bills: Leftovers of a group that went to four Super Bowls. The '98 team was led by a white-hot Doug Flutie.

On the 0-2 note, one embittered fan base had some thoughts on this week's Power Rankings ...

Because they are No. 1 in your heart.

I thought about it, Chris. But now you have something to strive for, since the postseason is a pipe dream. You're welcome.

Heard from non-Birdgangers, as well:

Sleep, yes. I also need a Bills at Dolphins, 1984 on VHS for my collection. Can you help with that? Thought this was a good time to ask. It's Joe Ferguson versus Dan Marino. Miami started 11-0 that year. Buffalo, 0-11. Good talk.

Like the Cards, the Giants and Texans are winless. Except, many folks thought New York and Houston would make the postseason. The loser of that Sunday matchup almost assuredly won't. For that result, and every other, check out my predictions below. Send your take, as well: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Elliot Harrison went 8-7-1 on his predictions for Week 2, bringing his record for the season to 19-11-2. How will he fare in Week 3? His picks are below.

SUNDAY, SEPT. 23

Atlanta Falcons 27, New Orleans Saints 24 (OT)

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta)

Man, oh man, this is an important tussle in the NFC South. The 2-0 Bucs are playing the struggling Steelers on Monday and are already up one game in the division. The Saints carry one loss in the division, and they certainly don't want another. The Falcons, meanwhile, are the walking wounded, with Andy Levitre, Deion Jones and Keanu Neal on IR, Devonta Freeman dealing with a knee injury and Julio Jones skipping Wednesday's practice with a calf injury. They must take advantage of being at home against an opponent that, without Mark Ingram, is not playing its best football. New Orleans couldn't run a lick against the Browns last week until late. Going to the other side: Without Jones or Neal in run support, Atlanta's outcome might very well fall on Dan Quinn's front four. And oh yeah, Takk McKinley is hurt, too. That said, who trusts the New Orleans defense, particularly the secondary? Rookie Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley got on the board for the first time last week. Might make it a deuce this Sunday.

Green Bay Packers 23, Washington Redskins 21

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | FedExField (Landover, Md.)

Ah, the matchup of the 2005 first-round quarterbacks. You remember: Twenty-one-year-old Alex Smith went first overall, while Aaron Rodgers sat with his hair perfectly gelled for two hours, waiting, frustrated, for his number to be called. The latter is considered 1B among the greatest passers going right now, while Smith has been unheralded (and disposed of by two different teams) over his career. Smith posted the NFL's best passer rating in 2017 (104.7), but he couldn't exploit a deficient Colts secondary last week. He'll have to do better Sunday, because the Packers should score at least 24 on this Washington defense. Guarantee you Rodgers will take more shots downfield than Indy QB Andrew Luck, who mostly dinked, dunked and threw short timing routes in Washington in Week 2. Going vertical (or even intermediate) more often should create small pockets for Packers RB Jamaal Williams. Don't expect him to have a huge day against those Redskins DTs, though. Good game.

Philadelphia Eagles 20, Indianapolis Colts 16

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia)

Even with Carson Wentz back in action this week, don't count out those pesky Colts -- not after last week. Holy cow does Indianapolis defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus deserve credit. Sure, the story in this game will be the return of former Eagles offensive coordinator (and current Colts head coach) Frank Reich, who played a huge role in Philly's Super Bowl LII win. But Eberflus' defense has played above its head, especially against the run. It took the better part of three quarters before the Bengals offense got going against the Colts in Week 1, while Adrian Peterson was shut down by Indy (11 carries for 20 yards) in Week 2. As for the Eagles, they need to get more creative in the passing game with Wentz under center once more. Hopefully they'll have Jay Ajayi available, and they need to get Darren Sproles back sooner than later. With Sproles and still-recovering receiver Alshon Jeffery out, and with Mike Wallace suffering a fractured fibula that sent him to injured reserve, fill-in QB Nick Foles had to hold the ball too much in the loss to Tampa. Including receiver Mack Hollins, who was placed on IR earlier this month, Philadelphia is down three of its top four receivers and its pass-catching running back. Nelson Agholor is solid, but he's not a premier WR1. Indy's best chance is through a turnover-free showing from Andrew Luck.

Minnesota Vikings 34, Buffalo Bills 9

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | U.S. Bank Stadium (Minneapolis)

This just looks ugly on paper. And it probably will on the field, too. Who knows, maybe the Bills will force two quick turnovers, one being a scoop-and-score, and go up 13-0 or 17-0. Or maybe (probably) Josh Allen's protection will break down in 2.3 seconds, and the Buffalo rookie will get sacked five times and hit a dozen others. Here's what I know: This is an awful matchup for a Bills team that has offensive line woes. If Buffalo can't establish the run again (83 yards in Week 1, 84 in Week 2), Sean McDermott's bunch has no chance. Look for Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer to play the long game, allowing the better roster to prevail without taking unnecessary risks offensively. Essentially, he won't give a turnover-starved defense any freebies.

Miami Dolphins 26, Oakland Raiders 20

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.)

I'm not picking against the Dolphins again. The reasons are two-fold: 1) When I do pick against Miami, my Twitter timeline blows up. (Although fans thought I picked them to get shut out last week, which I didn't. They were mad as Jay Fiedler over it.) And 2) Oakland is not strong enough right now, especially on defense, to mitigate mental errors like the ones that cost them last week. Miami's defense is playing well, while the Fins have two effective running backs in Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore. They can afford to play somewhat safe and still gain yards against a suspect Raider D. On a related note, I have the 1973 AFC Championship Game (Oakland at Miami) on DVD. The Dolphins made their second straight Super Bowl with a strong running game, their bend-but-almost-never-break defense and a mobile quarterback who didn't throw picks. Sound familiar?

Side note: The Raiders must feed Marshawn Lynch. Stop with the whole a few carries here, a few there approach. Lynch gives you a better chance to win, Coach Gruden.

Baltimore Ravens 26, Denver Broncos 17

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore)

The Ravens looked out of sorts against the Bengals last Thursday night. But that off-kilter performance will be 10 days old by the time they host the Broncos on Sunday. Denver's offense has been mired in orange sherbet for lengthy stretches thus far. (Call it baby puke for three quarters against the Raiders.) The Broncos also benefitted from two home dates to start the season. Now they go on the road against a rested team whose defense has enjoyed plenty of time to study Case Keenum. One advantage for Denver: Tailback Phillip Lindsay could make hay in the air game if injured Ravens LB C.J. Mosely isn't back there. If Baltimore linebackers Patrick Onwuasor and Matt Judon play well, though, I think it's game over for the visitors. That is, unless Keenum can take advantage of the Jimmy Smith-less secondary. But don't bank on it.

Carolina Panthers 24, Cincinnati Bengals 20

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, N.C.)

This interconference meeting might not sound sultry, but frankly, it's a damn-good matchup ... strategically speaking, of course. In Week 1, the Bengals' defense faced Andrew Luck in his first meaningful game in a year and a half; last week, they got an immobile Joe Flacco. Cam Newton presents an entirely different problem. League observers thought he would run less in new coordinator Norv Turner's offense, yet, here he is with 100 yards rushing through two weeks -- more than Run CMC. (Not sure how to feel about that nickname yet. Giving it a C- right now.) So what does more running from Newton mean? The Bengals' linebackers and safeties must play well. Safety Shawn Williams made plays close to the line of scrimmage last week for Cincinnati. He'll have to again, as the Bengals' LBs are not the strength of this group. Oh, what about rookie Panthers receiver DJ Moore, who has just one catch for 51 yards thus far? Get him involved early, Norval.

Houston Texans 23, New York Giants 21

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | NRG Stadium (Houston)

As I tweeted Sunday night, this is the first desperation matchup of the year. Since 1990, teams starting 0-2 have made the postseason 12.1 percent of the time. How have the 0-3 teams done? You don't want to know the percentage. My comrade @BaldyNFL broke down the Giants' pass-pro woes, which will be the deciding factor Sunday. That's because the Texans haven't been getting to the quarterback nearly enough, despite the way the pass rushers' fans spout off in defense of their defense. J.D. Clowney, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus are the stars, but Houston's three team sacks thus far have come from D.J. Reader and Duke Ejiofor. Something has to give -- as in, give positive production -- this week for one of these squads in this area. Big Blue has enough trouble at one corner spot, with Eli Apple banged up, for Texans QB Deshaun Watson -- who fared better last week -- to exploit. Watson hasn't jumped off the tape yet, but that'll change this week.

Jacksonville Jaguars 24, Tennessee Titans 13

1 p.m. ET (CBS) | TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Don't laugh, but the Titans are a tough out for these Jags. Just ask Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone, who watched his team struggle mightily against this AFC South rival last season ... twice. The question will be whether backup QB Blaine Gabbert starts again for Tennessee or if injured QB Marcus Mariota plays -- and if Mariota suits up, whether he can make those hardball throws outside the numbers. (He's not going to have big windows against the Jags' secondary.) Tennessee's seam game has been hemmed in by the loss of tight end Delanie Walker to a season-ending ankle injury. If Gabbert must go for Mariota, expect another conservative game plan; Gabbert threw 20 passes at 5.9 yards per clip against Houston last week. If I were Marrone, I would strongly consider parking injured running back Leonard Fournette for a second straight week. Tennessee's offense simply isn't at full throttle.

Kansas City Chiefs 37, San Francisco 49ers 30

1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, Mo.)

Like the Jets and Browns on "Thursday Night Football," this tilt brings back memories of the classic NFL, and a classic grudge match: The Steve Young vs. Joe Montana event from Week 2 of the 1994 season will forever be remembered by all those who were there and who watched it. Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas won the day that day, sacking Young three times in K.C.'s 24-17 win over San Francisco, and methinks whoever generates the most pass rush in this contest will prevail, as well. To be frank, the 49ers need it more. While the front performed well against the Lions last week, Detroit's late offensive flurry tired both the front seven and the back four out. If San Francisco was pressed by the Lions' offense, wait until the D gets a load of Patrick Mahomes and friends. The Chiefs have put up 80 points and eclipsed 800 yards in two games.

Los Angeles Rams 28, Los Angeles Chargers 20

4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) | Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Los Angeles)

Before the season began, I picked the Chargers to win this L.A. love-fest. (Well, maybe love is a strong word for Los Angeles and football.) I would love to pick the Bolts -- if Joey Bosa was going to be on the field. Without the Chargers' pass rusher to worry about, Rams coach Sean McVay can slide protection, given that he can trust left tackle Andrew Whitworth against anyone. One week after facing the Bills' anemic passing game, the Chargers will see a complete 180, the antithesis of Josh Allen and the Cruddy O-Line Quintet: the Greatest Show on Grass Experience. Seriously, it's like 4 Non Blondes opening up for Soundgarden. That's the difference. Now, if Philip Rivers plays as effectively as he did in Buffalo, look out. Keenan Allen can take any CB 1-on-1, including Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib -- meaning Allen could well be the one with reason to celebrate, via fine-inducing gestures or otherwise.

Seattle Seahawks 17, Dallas Cowboys 14

4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) | CenturyLink Field (Seattle)

Tough game to pick, frankly. The Cowboys' offense showed a little spark in last Sunday night's win over the Giants. Not a ton, but Dallas didn't need more than a growth spurt from Dak Prescott (who played much better than he did in Week 1), given the way coordinator Rod Marinelli's defense wreaked havoc on any protection New York tried to muster. The Seahawks' offensive line ain't much better. Doubt they will make the same mental errors the Giants did, however. Thus, Ezekiel Elliott becomes a larger factor. With Seattle capable of putting up more points, especially at home, quieting the crowd and lengthening drives is of more import for Dallas. In that regard, this matchup favors the Cowboys. But the Russell Wilson factor -- with receiver Doug Baldwin potentially returning -- does not.

Chicago Bears 20, Arizona Cardinals 10

4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) | State Farm Stadium (Glendale, Ariz.)

The Cardinals must generate some kind of offense -- even the tiniest morsel -- to win this week. The key is getting David Johnson involved. Former Arizona coach Bruce Arians and his staff were so effective at utilizing Johnson in the passing game. The Cardinals could take advantage of the Bears' linebackers in space. Rookie linebacker Roquan Smith is an excellent athlete, but his inexperience could come into play when faced with Johnson's innate ability to find windows and get into position against blitz packages, against the zone or when defenses go big nickel (five DBs, with a linebacker/safety hybrid). This game will likely be ruled by an RB, but after seeing how the Cards' run defense performed the last two weeks (allowing 136 rushing yards per contest), I'm thinking maybe it will be Chicago's Jordan Howard rather than Johnson.

New England Patriots 30, Detroit Lions 23

8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | Ford Field (Detroit)

Look for Tom Brady to rebound in a big way this week after last Sunday's loss to the Jags. Detroit's front four does not resemble the Jacksonville wall Brady faced in Week 2. Moreover, the Lions only seem to generate a pass rush when they blitz -- and blitzing the Patriots' quarterback has never been the ticket. If Detroit coach Matt Patricia attacks his former team with linebackers, he's going to get James White-d till the cows come home. An advantage to that strategy is the lack of a vertical component to the New England attack. I can't imagine recently acquired receiver Josh Gordon will have a huge role this week. Expecting the Pats to prevail. That said, if the secondary fares as it did in Jacksonville, Matthew Stafford will eat those guys alive (provided he's not off for the whole first half again).

MONDAY, SEPT. 24

Pittsburgh Steelers 29, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28

8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Fla.)

What a fun "Monday Night Football" matchup this is. The Bucs are suiting up at home for the second straight week, fresh off a week in which Ryan Fitzpatrick unleashed his inner Hasselhoff after beating the defending champs. Don't hassle this 'Hoff -- he's been lights-out thus far. Enter the Steelers, unused to being winless through two weeks and unused to their defense faring this poorly. An indicator of how fugly it's been for the Pittsburgh secondary: The Steelers have allowed opposing quarterbacks a 108.9 passer rating, with one out of every 10 throws resulting in a touchdown. Not completions, pass attempts. So, when the opposition puts the ball in the air 10 times, one of those tosses is bound to put seven points on the board. Eesh. I anticipate Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Keith Butler will throw resources into coverage and/or pressuring FitzMagic, thus daring Tampa coach Dirk Koetter to deploy Peyton Barber and the ground attack more frequently. Banking on a vintage Steelers performance, just when you thought they'd stink up the joint. #1-1-1

THURSDAY, SEPT. 20

Cleveland Browns 17, New York Jets 13

8:20 p.m. ET (NFL Network) | FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland)

Sam Darnold and the Jets' offense look to bounce back from a mediocre showing in their Week 2 loss to the Dolphins, while the Browns hope to finally close the deal on an apparent win. Cleveland's run defense was on point last week, allowing a mere 62 yards on 23 carries against the Saints. Thus, the Jets need to fuel up former Brown Isaiah Crowell and that offensive line, so as to provide Darnold with a little more help than the paltry 42 rushing yards New York managed against Miami. Getting 42 yards from a Crowell-led ground game is like going to borrow your neighbor's truck for moving day and being handed the keys to a 1986 Datsun instead. Speaking of '86, the Jets and Browns produced a forgotten classic that year. Take a look:

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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