Week 2 NFL Picks: Eagles, Browns, Rams, Panthers, More Bets For Sunday’s Early Games
Grant Halverson/Getty Images. Pictured: Christian McCaffrey
- Looking for the best bets on the board for Week 2 of the 2021 NFL season?
- Our analysts run through their five favorite NFL picks for Sunday's early games.
- Find out why they like the Panthers and Eagles to cover their spreads as underdogs (and more).
Saints at Panthers
Sean Koerner: I’m looking to fade the Saints after their lopsided 38-3 win at “home” against the Packers — heading into that neutral-site game in Jacksonville, I had warned that the Florida heat could be an issue for a cold-weather team like Green Bay. Well, it did turn out to be an issue, and a Week 1 blowout like the one we witnessed typically leads to overreaction in the Week 2 market, as we see here with the Saints favored by more than they should be.
The Panthers are still in rebuilding mode. Sam Darnold will prevent them from ever becoming a serious Super Bowl contender, but they’re just good enough to be a sneaky play against the spread (ATS) some weeks.
Offensive coordinator Joe Brady did a great job of scheming up high-percentage throws for Darnold in Week 1, as seen by his 68.9% expected completion percentage (xCOMP%) — the sixth-highest of the week, according to Next Gen Stats. The Panther’s offensive philosophy appears to be: Get the ball into the hands of playmakers like Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and Terrace Marshall. So far, it’s working, considering they ranked sixth in expected points added (EPA) per pass attempt in Week 1.
The Saints’ defense will present a much tougher test than the Jets did last week. However, Marcus Davenport, Marshon Lattimore and Kwon Alexander are shaping up to be game-time decisions. I would expect this line to drop down to +3 or even +2.5 if Davenport and Lattimore are ruled out, so it’s critical to lock in +3.5 while you can.
Center Erik McCoy has already been ruled out, which is a big loss on the offensive side of the ball. The coaching staff is also dealing with a COVID outbreak.
I’m projecting the Saints as 2-point favorites here and would bet the Panthers down to +3. If Davenport/Lattimore are both ruled out, I would bet the Panthers down to +2.5 (compare real-time NFL odds here).
Saints at Panthers
Stuckey: I jumped all over the Saints last week, but I’m selling that stock after last week’s domination of the Panthers.
Like Sean said, don’t sleep on the impact of Lattimore’s injury on what is now a brand new corner group. Plus, if you’re going to fade Jameis Winston, do it when he’s a favorite: He’s 18-10-1 ATS as an underdog of more than a field goal, but only 7-14-1 ATS as a favorite. I can see him making a few key mistakes against Carolina’s zone looks.
Give me the Panthers +3.5 in a game that I also have closer to +2.
49ers at Eagles
Not including COVID absences, the 49ers had 161.6 adjusted games lost last season, which was the second-most behind the 2017 Bears. After losing Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford, Raheem Mostert, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Richard Sherman at various points in 2020, the prevalent sentiment coming into the 2021 season was that the 49ers’ injury luck would improve.
They couldn’t possibly suffer the same injury luck as last season, could they Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Just one week into the season, the 49ers lost Mostert to a season-ending knee injury and cornerback Jason Verrett to a torn ACL. And to make matters worse, cornerback Emmanuel Mosley didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday after suffering a knee injury while linebacker Dre Greenlaw will miss the next 6-8 weeks with a groin injury.
Overall, this defense is banged up. DT Javon Kinlaw (knee), DL Arik Armstead (hip/adductor) and LB Marcell Harris (oblique) are all listed as questionable after missing practices and/or being limited participants this week. (DL Dee Ford also was also a limited participant all week but is not listed on their injury report.) Kinlaw’s injury could be an issue against this Eagles defense considering he played a big part in slowing down the Lions’ run game last week, and dealing with Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders will be a tougher task.
The injuries at corner led the 49ers to sign Dre Kirkpatrick, who ranked 55th out of all cornerbacks with just a 48% success rate last season and was tied for sixth among all defensive players in penalties while giving up the fourth-most first downs (39) last season.
Hurts thew for 264 yards and three touchdowns in the Eagles’ season opener, but was just 35th among all quarterbacks with 3.7 intended air yards, and I believe that should change against a 49ers secondary that could struggle defending DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor.
While people may write off the Lions’ attempted comeback performance last week, a healthier 49ers team still gave up 33 points and 430 yards total yards to the Lions. I believe the Eagles are a step up in competition and should be able to take advantage of this depleted 49ers defense.
And on the flip side of this matchup, there’s not a defense better equipped to deal with the 49ers than the Eagles, who have one of the best defensive lines in the league behind Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave — it helps that the D-line opened the season a 33.3% pressure rate against the Falcons. The 49ers were successful on just 37% of their runs last week, which could be an even bigger issue against an Eagles team that’s familiar with Kyle Shanahan’s system and finished first in success rate on outside zone runs last season.
If the Eagles can slow down the 49ers’ run game, it could go a long way toward slowing down their play-action passing game.
Nevertheless, this feels like a good spot for the Eagles, and it’s clear the market hasn’t caught up to how good they actually are. While the 49ers have done well on the East Coast in recent years, they are just 9-18-1 as favorites under Shanahan and I expect their struggles to continue here.
Texans at Browns
Brandon Anderson: Somehow, the Texans are leading the AFC South after a surprise win over the terrible Jaguars. And that’s the only reason this line is still below 14 — because Houston is still terrible. And guess what? The Browns are not the Jaguars. Cleveland is loaded up and down the roster.
Think of it this way: The Browns led the Chiefs by double digits at Arrowhead last week … and this is the Texans. Cleveland is built to blow out bad teams, and Houston has the league’s worst offense and defense. The Browns may not even need to pass. They’ll win it in the trenches and should run all over the Texans.
Rams at Colts
Michael Arinze: I’m always searching for opportunities to fade Carson Wentz. The former North Dakota State product finished last season with a Total QBR of 41.9. In Week 1, that number was down to 34.7.
The Colts are also dealing with crucial injuries with wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on injured reserve and their best cornerback, Xavier Rhodes, already ruled out.
Los Angeles comes into this game with a +3 net yards per play margin. By contrast, Indianapolis has a deficit of -2.5 net yards per play.
In Week 1, the Colts accumulated 336 yards of offense, won the time of possession battle (35:47 to 24:13), and had more first downs (23) than the Seahawks (18), yet the Colts never really looked threatening. In fact, Wentz finished the week 26th in average explosive pass rate and 31st with 5.7 intended air yards per pass attempt.
The Seahawks took full advantage of Rhodes’ absence and attacked the Colts’ secondary vertically to finish in the top-three with an average explosive pass rate of 15%. The Rams are likely to utilize the same tactic after averaging 8.8 intended air yards per pass attempt.
I don’t think the Rams showed much of their playbook against the Bears, so there should still be plenty in their locker to unleash against the Colts.
The full-game spread has the Rams pinned as 3.5-point road favorites. However, I’m going to bypass that line and instead play the Rams in the first half at -2.5 because Wentz is on a brutal 0-7 ATS run in his last seven games in this spot.
Saints at Panthers
Mike Randle: New Orleans has one of the best run defenses in the NFL, which was reinforced in its Week 1 destruction of Green Bay. The Saints held the Packers to just 43 rushing yards at a minimal 2.9 yards per carry.
The Saints have been historically successful against Christian McCaffrey, limiting the Panthers’ star running back to just 32.1 rushing yards per game over six contests. However, McCaffrey usually produces in the passing game regardless of matchup. In those six games against the Saints, he’s averaged more than 60 receiving yards per game. And in home matchups against the Saints? That number jumps to 80 receiving yards.
With New Orleans displaced for what would have been last week’s home opener due to the damage caused by Hurricane Ida, the Saints now play their second consecutive game away from home. With eight coaches also missing the game due to COVID protocols, this sets up as a tougher intradivisional matchup than most would expect.
McCaffrey finished as the overall fantasy RB1 last week despite not scoring a touchdown. And he caught all nine of his targets for 89 receiving yards in a game the Panthers led comfortably for most of the second half. I’m backing the over on this receiving prop at 45.5 yards, and would do so up to 49.5 yards.
Regardless of game script, McCaffrey will be heavily involved. With the Saints rushing defense providing stiff resistance, the Panthers will look to maximize McCaffrey’s efficiency through the air.