Week 3 Football Pick’em Contest Strategy & Advice (2023)

Week 3 of the 2023 NFL season brings us some big spreads, some really popular teams, and a few gut-check picks to consider in pick'em pools.

Kyren Williams is the new man with the Rams as they head to Cincy (Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

The Week 3 slate has some bigger favorites, as the haves and have-nots are revealing themselves. We have three different double-digit favorites this week, and lots of other larger favorites, so there will be fewer toss-up games than the first two weeks. We are also waiting on some key injury updates, including Joe Burrow in Cincinnati.

In these columns, we explore strategies to maximize your edge in NFL and college football pick’em contests. We also provide some of the rationale behind picks potentially recommended by our premium product.

We plan to periodically update to this post through Sunday of Week 3, so check back for updates. Here’s what’s available now:

Sunday 9/24

NFL Week 3 Sunday Overview 

Here are some of the key games we are seeing across various types of pools:

Game Winner

There are plenty of games this week where we are picking a team at 100% of entries in season-long and that high or nearly that high in weekly pick sets. That includes most of the bigger favorites this week, like Kansas City, Dallas, Baltimore, and Jacksonville.

Smaller favorites like Cleveland and Las Vegas are also fairly important and will likely decide how good of a week it is.

Weekly Game Winner

There are lots of underdogs/toss-ups that are pretty key leverage picks in weekly pools. In fact, there are seven different underdogs currently drawing at least 40% of our weekly top option picks. They are:

  • LA Chargers
  • Atlanta
  • NY Jets
  • Carolina
  • LA Rams
  • Denver
  • New Orleans

Confidence Points

In confidence point pools, those value favorites like Cleveland and Las Vegas are pretty important. They will be relative differentiators in season-long contests, and also move up the points list in smaller weekly contests. The LA Chargers become more prominent in smaller weekly pools, while you may see some bigger underdogs like Carolina, Atlanta, and Denver move up the confidence point ranks in larger weekly contests.

Spread Pools

In spread pools, there are a lot of teams that are heavily featured in both weekly and season-long pick sets. We have several games with a popular side where the line has moved against the popular pick, and our models are also against them. We see that on picks for underdogs Denver, Carolina, Washington, Houston, Tampa Bay, NY Jets, and Indianapolis.

In weekly spread contests, you will see some plays against popularity with teams like Cleveland and the LA Chargers, along with Atlanta.

Thursday 9/21

Las Vegas Moves to Value Favorite Role

When the week started, the Steelers were a slight road favorite at Las Vegas. But the line has now shifted to Las Vegas -2.5, with 56% win odds. The public pick popularity is also at Las Vegas 56%, so you should be seeing the Raiders as a slight value favorite in game winner pools in all your pick sets, and in spread contests that closed the line before that line move, might be able to take them as an underdog.

Tuesday 9/19

NFL Week 3 Early Value Picks

Below are some picks initially setting off the value radar for Week 3 in game-winner-based NFL pick’em contests. Things are bound to change as kickoffs near, but it’s worth keeping an eye on them.

Los Angeles Rams (at Cincinnati Bengals)

Spread: +1.5
Win Odds: 49%
Pick Popularity: 38%

Things went from bad to worse for Cincinnati as QB Joe Burrow re-injured his calf, that kept him out all preseason. The point spread currently reflects that he is unlikely to play, but the public is still picking the Bengals more often.

After two weeks, the underdog Rams are 2nd in total yards, while the Bengals are dead last in yards. If Burrow can’t go, then the backup is Jake Browning, a 27-year-old who had never thrown a pass in an NFL game until this year. They also released Trevor Siemian after an underwhelming preseason while Burrow was out, and could add him back.

But either way, you are potentially getting a Bengals offense that has struggled with an injured Burrow and could be without him, going against a team that has been pretty good on offense with Matthew Stafford back this year.

Cleveland Browns (vs. Tennessee Titans)

Spread: -3.5
Win Odds: 63%
Pick Popularity: 64%

The Browns are coming off a Monday Night loss where they lost RB Nick Chubb and where Deshaun Watson looked bad, again. They are still favored at home over a Titans team, by more than a field goal. The public pick rate on this one is such that the Browns are a relative value here. The other favorite of a similar size, Detroit, is at 77% popularity for a contrast of value, and there are three toss-up type games where a team has similar popularity to Cleveland here.

Buffalo Bills (at Washington Commanders)

Spread: -6.5
Win Odds: 72%
Pick Popularity: 84%

The Bills are another case of a larger favorite coming at a reasonable value price this week. They are the 6th-largest favorite but 9th in popularity. Multiple teams with win odds below them have popularity around 95% this week.

Buffalo bounced back from the Monday Night loss in impressive fashion, but the public is still a little more willing to pick the Washington upset here, with the Commanders at 2-0 following close wins over Arizona and Denver.

So stick with the favorite in this one.

Los Angeles Chargers (at Minnesota Vikings)

Spread: PK
Win Odds: 50%
Pick Popularity: 39%

The Chargers travel to Minnesota in a game between two teams off to disappointing starts. Both teams rank highly in offensive yards and scoring, but have failed on the defensive end. The Vikings have also struggled to run the ball so far (2.7 yards per carry) which has been a relative weakness for the Chargers.

In what could be a shootout, we’ll take the less popular Chargers, particularly in weekly contests.

Carolina Panthers (at Seattle Seahawks)

Spread: +5.5
Win Odds: 35%
Pick Popularity: 5%

This one is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not a good pick in a lot of pool types. But if you are playing in a larger weekly contest, taking a chance on a pick like Carolina is the kind of move you have to consider. The Panthers’ offense has struggled in the first two games under Bryce Young, but the defense has been really good, and the running game has been productive. Just as importantly, they are in a “get better” spot against a defense that ranks 30th in points allowed, 31st in yards allowed, and 30th in net yards per pass allowed so far this year.

Only 5% of the public is picking the Panthers. That’s the same rate that entries are picking upsets by teams like Arizona, Houston, and Indianapolis this week, in matchups where the odds are much longer. So you are getting pretty large leverage against a big pool by taking a team with about a 35% chance of winning, when they are going to be picked at such a low rate.

Tuesday 9/19

Week 2 Results Summary

We talked about overreaction week, and of course, what happens? The value picks mostly fail in Week 2. The biggest leverage picks against the public included Chicago, New England, Denver, Carolina, Tennessee, and Atlanta.

The overall results showed that the picks performed similarly to the public at large, but it’s probably not going to be a week where any segment crushed.

Game-Winner Pools

In game-winner pools, the public averaged 10.1 wins in Week 1. The four teams favored by six or more points all won, and then the other favorites went 6-6 straight up.

Our game winner picks in season-long finished similarly to the public. It could have been better if two of the favorites who were being relatively underpriced, Denver and Cincinnati, won their close games. However, Atlanta was probably the single-biggest favorite for leverage against the public, and they won in a close one.

The value underdogs were a mixed bag. Carolina was the highest leverage play, and could not get it done on Monday. Then came Seattle, who did bounce back with an overtime win, followed by New England and Chicago (losses) and Tennessee (win in OT).

Overall, the season-long “Max Profit” picks were at 9.9 wins and weekly picks were at 9.2 wins because of those highest leverage upsets and value favorites underperforming.

Season-long confidence point pools probably did pretty well, as our top five in that category won. However, the weekly confidence point pool entries likely were below average, especially in larger pools, because of those value upset plays that got pushed up the board.

Overall 2023 averages: Season-long Max Profit 18.4 wins, Weekly top option 17.6 wins, Public 18.5 wins

Spread Pools

The public was just above .500 this week in spread pools, averaging 8.3 wins in 16 games. We’ll note that these average expectations could be a little more off this week, based on specific pool numbers. There was lots of line movement, and there were several teams that covered against one available contest line but not another (or the closing line). Atlanta for example would have covered in pools where they were the underdog in the contest line but only won by a point and didn’t cover any that had them as the favorite.

In general, the teams that received line movement in their favor underperformed, failing to covering slightly over half of the time.The biggest line moves (comparing the closing line to the average contest line) were Atlanta, Buffalo, Houston, and New England, and only Atlanta covered (when an underdog in contests).

Our biggest model leans were the Seahawks, Bears, Jets, and Panthers, and those went 1-2-1 ATS. Our pick recommendations averaged 8.5 wins in season-long max-profit picks and 8.8 in top options for weekly picks. Those are above the public average, but not significantly so, like last week where they were more than 2 wins above the public average (and that resulted in Week 1 reported win rates for ATS pools 2.6x higher than expected).

Overall 2023 averages: Season-long Max Profit 18.4 wins, Weekly top option 18.7 wins, Public 15.6 wins

Tuesday 9/19

Week 2 News and Stats Rundown

We are adding this section to our weekly articles, where we put some random observations, news, and notes from the week that was, that may be important going forward.

Key Injuries in Week 2

Nick Chubb‘s season-ending injury is the most gutting, as Chubb has been a fantastic player for awhile. He sits right between Jamaal Charles and Jim Brown, at 5.1 yards per carry for his career, among the leaders all-time in that category for running backs. While we debate the value of running backs, the elite ones can still drive how defenses game plan, and the Browns’ outlook is a little less sunny today.

Joe Burrow‘s status with a re-injury of the calf is up in the air. He could miss this week, and beyond. We’ve already seen significant line movement down and the Bengals are now only a small favorite at home against the Rams, suggesting that missing is the more likely outcome.

The Detroit Lions had several potential injuries to monitor, ranging from Amon St. Brown and a toe injury to David Montgomery to DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

Going Inside the Stats

The public tends to overreact to wins, losses, and scores. But football is a game where a couple of bounces and key plays can swing scoring quite a bit in the moment, but may not be as predictive.

Here are some notes from Week 2:

  • Kansas City is now 30th in our yards per point measure, which tends to show how good teams have been about converting yards to points, based on things like red zone performance, turnovers, and hidden yard factors like special teams plays and starting field position. In the previous five years with Mahomes at QB, their end of season ranks have been: 4th, 8th, 13th, 2nd, 1st. So expect positive regression for the Chiefs.
  • On the other end, Dallas (9.2) and Green Bay (8.9) are at the extreme other end in points versus yards. The leader in that category by season’s end has averaged 12.7 yards per point the last five seasons. So even if you assume those teams are really good in that category, they’ve still outperformed their yards by 19.1 and 18.5 points respectively this year.
  • On Green Bay, it’s been a matter of bunching their points on their only good drives. The Packers have 9 drives where they have scored points, and they have 55 points on those, and 55 yards per scoring drive. In the 12 other drives, they have four total first downs, and only 99 yards gained (just over 8 yards per non-scoring drive). So basically, they’ve cashed in at a high rate when they have moved the ball, but have a lot of bad drives.
  • Scoring jumped substantially in Week 2 from the dismal Week 1, as games averaged 49.8 points scored, versus 41.0 in the first week. This jump was almost entirely caused by a bounce-back in yards gained, as the points per yard were similar for the two weeks. One has to wonder if the reduction in preseason games and the approach this year where a lot of offenses barely played the starters in the preseason made for one of the ugliest offensive weeks we have seen recently, though things looked to have rebounded just a week later.


Important Notes About Picks We Highlight

Keep in mind three things about picks we highlight in this article:

  1. Optimal pick’em contest strategy balances risk and potential reward.
    Maximizing your odds to win a pick’em pool generally requires exploiting the best opportunities to differentiate your picks from your opponents’ picks. Ideally, you want to fade the public while taking on minimal additional pick risk to do so. For example, taking a betting market favorite being picked by less than 50% of your opponents is usually a great opportunity.
  2. Not all of the picks we highlight are suitable for all pools.
    Don’t be surprised if our Football Pick’em Picks product doesn’t recommend several of the picks we mention in this post for your pool specifically—especially the upset picks. The best pick strategy for you depends on a number of factors such as your pool’s size, rules, and prize structure (a concept that’s covered in part by our article on season vs. weekly prize strategy).
  3. Picks we highlight may no longer look compelling by game day.
    We analyze and write about picks using data (e.g. win odds and pick popularity) current at the time we publish this article, but that data can change before kickoff. For example, a key player being ruled out or a shift in public sentiment about a team can erase the differentiation value that a pick initially offered.

We’ll provide periodic updates in this post if major data changes occur for picks we’ve mentioned, so make sure to check back. However, there’s a much better way to stay on top of changing data trends throughout a week, which all sharp players need to do.

Our Football Pick’em Picks product automatically imports the latest win odds and pick popularity data multiple times per day. You can see the latest information in the Data Grid.

After you generate customized picks for your pool, you can also update those pick recommendations whenever you want via the My Pool Picks screen. The updated picks will incorporate the most recent data we have.


About Our Pick’em Pool Advice

What makes pick recommendations from our Football Pick’em Picks product different from other sites is that it isn’t generic.

In any given week, the best picks for your football pool depend on a number of variables. Your pool’s size, rules, and prize structure all influence strategy, as do factors like your current place in the standings and how many weeks are left.

So many different scenarios exist that it’s impossible to give pick advice that makes sense for every one. An underrated 6-point underdog could be a great pick in a big weekly prize pool and a terrible pick for a small season-long pool where you’re currently in the money.

Technology to the rescue

As far as we know, we’re the only site that has built algorithms to evaluate all these strategy factors and provide you with customized pick recommendations every week.

The result? Every year, an average of 73% of our subscribers win a prize (season-long or weekly) in a football pick’em contest.

If you want to see all the Week 1 picks we recommend for your football pick’em contest, use our Football Pick’em Picks product.

Why we write this column

At the same time, we know our subscribers like to understand the rationale behind picks our product may recommend, especially when those picks go against the grain. So over the years, we’ve started to write more about the “whys” behind our approach.

This column can also help educate our readers with pick’em pool strategy. We highlight tactics proven to result in more pick’em pool wins over the long term and point out common pitfalls to avoid.

We hope you enjoy reading, and we encourage you to check out more of our football pick’em strategy articles.