NFL Analysis: Week 3’s Four Major National TV Games

This isn’t the most compelling week of national TV games as we get set for NFL Week 3. I didn’t expect that Chiefs-Eagles would transform the normally sorry Thursday night game into a marquee spot, but you can make an argument for Andy Reid’s return to Philadelphia as one of the best games of the week. Here’s a review of the four games the nation will see, including late Sunday afternoon, and the prime-time Sunday-Monday games.

All games are picked on the moneyline, with the numbers noted in parentheses by each time. TheSportsNotebook is thus far showing a modest profit at (+157) over two weeks.

Kansas City (+135) Philadelphia (-155) (Thur, 8:25 PM ET, NFL): Andy Reid not only comes home to Philly, but he brings with him a 2-0 team, and going against a new-look Eagles team whose offense is the talk of the NFL after two weeks under Chip Kelly. It all adds up to making this the biggest event where a Kansas City sports team played one from Philadelphia since the Royals and Phillies met in the 1980 World Series.

Thursday night’s game should be a classic battle of tempo. Kansas City got their big Week 2 win over Dallas by playing mistake-free football and letting the Cowboys eventually make the mistakes—be it turnovers, or a big drop by Dez Bryant. The Chiefs will have to use that same formula against Philadelphia, although it’s likely that even a game manager like Alex Smith can make a few big plays against what has been a porous Philadelphia defense. I’d also look for Jamaal Charles to be able to rip off some big runs.

For me, the only hindrance in picking the Chiefs is the short week. It’s asking a lot to go on the road and win in an environment where the Philly fans should be even more jacked up than normal—Donovan McNabb’s jersey will be retired, in addition to Reid’s homecoming. Kansas City’s own defense will be pressured by the combination of DeSean McCoy getting the ball outside and on the edge, and LeSean McCoy running the ball.

I’m going to pick Kansas City to win for two reasons—my only reasons for liking Philly are the venue and the day of the week. Everything about the football teams themselves points to the Chiefs. Not in any dramatic way, and I think these teams are competitive in any situation, but I believe KC is establishing themselves as the better team. It’s a risk taking them on the road on Thursday night, but at least I get (+135) for my trouble.

Indianapolis (+410) San Francisco (-520): The moneylines demonstrate that the betting market is not impressed with the Colts’ sluggish start and inclined to dismiss the 49ers trouncing on Sunday night as just being one bad game in Seattle.

I do believe San Francisco has to be concerned about their lack of a running game in the first two weeks. For now, it’s fine to believe that it’s just a result of playing Green Bay and Seattle, but if Frank Gore continues to struggle this week, then Jim Harbaugh clearly has a problem.

Andrew Luck makes his return to northern California, where he starred at Stanford. The Colts have had a dramatic week in the running game themselves. After Vick Ballard was lost for the year, Indy dealt a first-round pick to Cleveland to acquire Trent Richardson.

The Alabama product was the third pick in the now-legendary 2012 draft that produced Luck and RG3. Ironically, Luck and Richardson were considered 1-2 in the Heisman race for most of the 2011 college season before RG3 took over at the end. Now, Richardson needs to provide some balance to the Indianapolis lineup.

For the time being, I’d be more concerned about Indianapolis’ defense. This wasn’t a great unit last year, they didn’t play well against Oakland and they looked subpar against Miami. It’s a great spot for Colin Kaepernick to get on track again, playing at home and the high odds don’t scare me off of San Francisco.

Chicago (-145) Pittsburgh (+125) (8:30 PM ET, NBC): There’s very little not to like about the Chicago Bears right now. They’re protecting Jay Cutler, they’re forcing turnovers as usual—Tim Jennings had a pick-6 against Minnesota—and they’re coming from behind at the end of games. Now they have to show that they can sustain quality play on the road against a proud opponent that’s desperate.

As bad as Pittsburgh’s offense has looked in the first two weeks—and it looks absolutely awful. Despite no running game, no downfield threat and injuries on the offensive line—the defense has kept the Steelers in games pretty well. The Steelers have only given up a combined 36 points. Granted, Tennessee and Cincinnati are not offensive juggernauts but each Pittsburgh opponent scored more in their other game than they did against the Steelers.

That, along with the desperation factor, marks a compelling reason to at least feel this game is going to be close—although it will probably be so in a style that will leave the national audience weeping. Back in the spring, hockey fans were dying for these two cities to meet in the Stanley Cup Finals because of the quality of the offense and the promise of high scoring. It won’t exactly be that way on Sunday night.

I’m “this close” to giving up on the Steelers for the season, but I’m not there yet. If the defense allows them to hang tough, I’m betting Ben Roethlisberger pulls a rabbit out of his hat at home.

Oakland (+975) Denver (-1400) (8:30 PM ET, NBC): Denver’s joyride of the first two weeks came to a screeching halt with the word that left tackle Ryan Clady will be lost for the year. Clady, the protector of Peyton Manning’s blind side, was one of the best in the league at his spot. When you add this to Von Miller’s suspension and Elvis Dumervil’s departure in free agency, this is a franchise that’s hemorrhaging talent at or near the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball.

I’ve liked the way Oakland has played in these first two weeks, even if you can’t get excited over beating Jacksonville at home. I like the way Darren McFadden ran the ball and I like the way Terrelle Pryor is coming along. This money is just very disjointed—yes, I would be surprised if the Raiders won outright at home, but when you consider that a loss on Denver at (-1400) is a hole almost impossible to climb out of, I’m just not that confident. This is one of those spots where a value play on the underdog just to take a shot is worth the risk.

TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysis also looks at the rest of the Week 3 schedule.