Each week during the 2021 NFL season, TheLines will examine how the coming week’s NFL lines have changed relative to preseason or prior expectations. Often, early lines can give an objective look at teams’ relative talent levels, absent week-to-week recency bias when the weekend results take hold. Let’s take a look at NFL Week 3 spreads and see which numbers have changed and, potentially, why.
How Did QB Changes Affect NFL Week 3 Spreads?
|Game||Look-Ahead Line||Sept. 14, Noon ET|
|Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans||Panthers -4||Panthers -7.5|
|Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans||Titans -3.5||Titans -5.5 (-105)|
|Chicago Bears at Cleveland Browns||Browns -8.5||Browns -7.5 (-104)|
|Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders||Raiders -1.5||Raiders -3.5 (-114)|
One of the biggest storylines out of Week 2 was the first major rash of QB injuries. Quarterbacks across the league hit the sidelines and several of them did not return. They look questionable at best for Week 3. The NFL Week 3 spreads have moved in kind. Let’s examine them.
Panthers At Texans
One thing we know for sure: Tyrod Taylor will give way to third-round rookie Davis Mills, possibly for several weeks, after sustaining a hamstring injury.
Mills was not a highly touted pro prospect. Some evaluators had him as a borderline draft candidate, so it counted as something of a surprise the Texans grabbed him fairly high. He probably has the arm talent — he was the top high school pocket passer in his class — but having him on the field this early likely won’t end well.
Case in point: he went just 8-for-18 with a TD and a pick, and a QBR of 10.1 in limited Sunday action. The market was not impressed and shifted the Panthers to much bigger road favorites in this spot.
You have an ugly combo here of not-ready quarterback on a bad team facing what looks like a solid defense. On a short week, no less. One can easily see why this line moved the way it did.
Colts At Titans
Colts QB Carson Wentz also gave way to an untested youngster on Sunday. Jacob Eason, a second-year pro out of Washington, entered the game briefly and threw an atrocious interception among his five attempts.
Wentz reportedly injured both of his ankles, and he may or may not play in a critical road game against the Titans.
Perhaps that ambiguity explains the awkward line movement off the opener. If Eason becomes the confirmed starter, it’s easy to see the Titans being -7 or even higher. If Wentz’s ankles heal up and he’s good to go, the -3.5 look-ahead starts to look pretty accurate.
The Titans, for their part, may have increased market confidence after they stormed back against the Seahawks. However, the fact remains they have spent most of the season looking pretty poor. Remember, the Cardinals thrashed them from start to finish in Week 1.
Eason believers — or Frank Reich believers — should probably wait here since this line only figures to grow unless Wentz gets clearance from the medical staff.
Bears At Browns
The Bears said Andy Dalton is “week-to-week,” so many are anticipating the starting debut of Justin Fields.
Like his fellow rookie in Houston, Fields struggled in limited Week 2 action despite facing a fairly inviting — at least on paper — Bengals unit. His 13 attempts went for a mere 60 yards and he threw an ugly pick where he failed to read a simple LB drop in coverage.
That sort of decision-making bodes ill against a Browns unit that has allowed plenty of offense so far but does boast an elite pass rusher in Myles Garrett. Fields seems likely to find himself under pressure in negative game script considering the market price on his team.
Still, perhaps the market doesn’t see much difference between Dalton and Fields at this point in their careers. It barely budged this number, and the Texans’ reasonable success on offense — they scored 21 with half a game of Taylor, who had 11.4 YPA — may have influenced this merely minor shift.
Dolphins At Raiders
Perhaps the most interesting shift in NFL Week 3 spreads for teams potentially missing their starting QBs comes from the Miami Dolphins. In this case, it’s still too early to say whether Tua Tagovailoa or Jacoby Brissett will draw the start at Las Vegas.
But let’s shift gears and talk about those Raiders. They followed up their Week 1 home upset over the Ravens with another upset victory, this time on the road over the Steelers. Derek Carr scorched the Steelers for almost 10 YPA.
And Brissett has not been a terrible QB despite his journeyman status. He can keep your offense afloat and has played for some great football minds. Meanwhile, Tagovailoa has yet to impress as a pro.
So, what’s the root of this line move? While it’s only two points, the Raiders crossed a key number here. Does the market believe the Raiders are a good team? Does it see little to no difference between the Dolphins QBs? Some combination of the above?
A Few More Notable NFL Week 3 Spread Moves
|Game||Look-Ahead Line||Sept. 14, Noon ET|
|Arizona Cardinals at Jacksonville Jaguars||Cardinals -6.5||Cardinals -7.5 (-102)|
|New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots||Patriots -1||Patriots -3 (-102)|
|Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers||49ers -3||49ers -3.5 (-105)|
Cardinals At Jaguars
It’s not the biggest move, and indeed the vig makes it even less of one that it appears at first glance. But, the theme carries over from last week’s line moves: people want to fade the Jaguars. The market is not impressed with Urban Meyer’s bunch.
And rightfully so. They followed up their amazing Week 1 stinkbomb with a manhandling by the Broncos. Trevor Lawrence has begun his career in putrid fashion:
- 50% completions
- More INTs (5) than TDs (4)
- 25.0 QBR
The Cardinals did not look overly impressive in eking out a home win against Minnesota. Their secondary looks poor on paper, so this could be Lawrence’s chance to get things on track, even if the defense doesn’t figure to have much success.
The market moved the Cardinals through 7 here, and expect most of Jacksonville’s future opponents to say on that end unless things turn around in a hurry.
Saints At Patriots
This one hardly needs much explanation. While the Patriots picked up their first win, their passing offense looked stuck in the mud against the Jets. A piddling 4.8 YPA through the air won’t get it done going forward except against the league’s worst teams.
If the Saints just didn’t play Week 2, this line would likely have stayed close to even money.
Actually, the Saints basically didn’t play Week 2. Carolina choked the life out of them to a staggering degree, allowing just 80 net passing yards.
The Saints defense clamped down on the opposing running game, but their patchwork secondary didn’t hold up as Sam Darnold passed for 305 yards.
Overall, the Saints could hardly have performed worse. This line move to -3 likely stems more from Saints pessimism than Patriots optimism. Furthermore, every week the Saints remain displaced likely increases their road weariness and erodes their performance. They’ve settled in Texas to practice at TCU and won’t return to Louisiana until October.
Packers At 49ers
A small but interesting move shifted the Sunday Night Football line ever so slightly, but it’s the biggest half point in the game: -3 to -3.5.
Yet, it came after a Packers victory on national TV Monday night. So, what gives here?
Well, anyone who watched the first half knows the 35-17 final score of the win over the Lions doesn’t tell the full tale. Detroit went blow-for-blow with the Pack. The team’s offensive line in particular made the Packers pass rush look inept absent EDGE Za’Darius Smith.
Aaron Rodgers had some dimes but also missed some open throws and took some bizarre sacks.
Does the market see warning signs in that first?