Look between the lines: Handicapping NFL’s Week 3 slate

James Hernandez has more than  15 years in the sports handicapping industry and will contribute weekly for FOXSports.com as our betting expert. Have comments or questions? Make sure to email him at jameshernandez1981@gmail.com.

James Hernandez, Contributor to FOXSports.com

During the NFL season, I will attempt to guide you to the winner’s circle more often than not. I consider a combination of statistical trends, my own personal player ranking system, and meticulous attention to various wagering techniques that allow me to analyze and formulate a plan of attack each week.

Each week I will post my five favorite plays in order of preference, best on top and so on. All right, let’s get into it:

Minnesota Vikings (-5) over Cleveland Browns

While both teams come into this Week 3 contest 0-2, only one should believe they can turn it around.

The schedule makers didn’t do the Viking any favors by scheduling them consecutive division road games to start the season. However, Minnesota was ultra-competitive in both contests and could easily be 2-0 and on top of the NFC North. The Browns, on the other hand, couldn’t look much worse.

With the hiring of Rob Chudzinski and offensive guru Norv Turner this was supposed to be the year that Cleveland’s offense finally came into the 21st century and joined the rest of the NFL. Unfortunately, 16 points scored in 2 games has the Dawg Pound fearing that they are in for another anemic season, offensively. To add insult to injury, literally, Brandon Weeden has been ruled out for Sunday’s game and the alternatives are Brian Hoyer to start. If that fails, it’s Jason Campbell. If that’s not bad enough the Browns also managed to trade Trent Richardson to the Colts and further deplete the offensive side of the ball.

Cleveland fans haven’t had a week this bad since Art Modell decided to pack up the team and move it to Baltimore. Don’t you worry loyal Browns fans, Jordan Cameron and the newly-reinstated Josh Gordon don’t know who Brian Hoyer is either. It’s rare enough that Christian Ponder enters a game as the best quarterback on the field so with the help of Adrian “All Day” Peterson and a ball hawking D that was built to play on turf, look for Minnesota to get the win for the first time this season by kicking a Browns team that may be down for the count.

Green Bay Packers (-2) over Cincinnati Bengals

This is an early season statement game for two teams that not only plan on being part of the NFL’s second season, but doing some significant damage once they get there.

After watching Andy Dalton struggle to execute offensively Monday night, it seems as if the pressure to erase the dismal performances of the past two playoff exits is starting to show. The Red Rifle may be living in the past instead of moving forward. As flashy as Jay Gruden’s new toys Tyler Eifert and Gio Bernard looked, he can’t be happy with the plays and points that were left on the field by his offense. This week, the Bengals D won’t have the luxury of facing a decimated Steelers unit. Instead, they will be facing a Packers offense that is averaging 33 points per game and when Aaron Rodgers is on his game no one in the league does it better.

With depth at the receiver position that is the envy of the league, look for Rodgers to continue to utilize Cobb, Nelson, Jones and Finley through the air and the resurgent running of James Starks on the ground to pace a balanced attack that should prove to be too much for the Bengals D, coming off a short week and a very physical division game against Pittsburgh.

San Francisco 49ers (-10) over Indianapolis Colts

The 49ers love to tease us don’t they?

After flexing their muscle against Green Bay Week 1 they went up to the Great Northwest and got the woodshed treatment from a Seattle team looking to make a statement. Most people want to overreact to the loss, but the truth of the matter is it was one game and San Francisco simply had a bad day.

Jim Harbaugh is an impressive 7-0 after a loss or tie and during his tenure at San Francisco he has been nearly unbeatable in the Bay Area going 14-2-1. With the unfortunate loss of Vick Ballard the already suspect Indy running game got a huge shot in the arm with the acquisition of Richardson. As beastly as T. Rich is it seems highly unlikely that he will be able to pick up the playbook in such a short time and breakout against a Niners D that surely had there ego bruised and will be out for blood after allowing Marshawn Lynch to find the end zone three times Sunday night.

Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman will have no love for the hometown boy (Andrew Luck) in his first trip back to the bay since he was helping Harbaugh beat down teams on The Farm.

Look for the Niners to crank up the pass rush and make life in the pocket miserable for the young signal caller all afternoon. I see a bright future for Indy’s newly minted dynamic duo, however this is just not the time nor the place for a breakout game to happen. On the other side of the ball, Colin Kaepernick should find the going much easier against a middle-of-the-road secondary and don’t be surprised if old reliable Frank Gore finds pay dirt and tops the century mark on the ground as the 49ers get back on track in a big way.

Buffalo Bills (+3) over New York Jets

With the magical finish of last week’s win in Orchard Park, the Buffalo Bills come into this game with a real optimism that hasn’t been felt in upstate New York in quite some time. EJ Manuel seems to have the Bills Mafia finally believing that the successor to Jim Kelly has finally arrived — it only took 17 years.

After giving New England all they could handle and beating a solid Panthers team, they will need to continue to feature a running game that is proving to be a great 1-2 punch. CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson went for over 150 yards last week and will have to be even better against a Jets’ run D that is allowing a minuscule 59.5 yards rushing and ranks No. 1 statistically in the AFC.

The problem with the Jets is they have not been able to establish a running game and that has led to Geno Smith being forced to shoulder the offensive load and the results have not been productive. With 4 interceptions and a fumble loss compared to just one touchdown pass , it is hard to believe that he will be able to keep up with a Buffalo offense that ranks fifth in the AFC.

In a divisional battle with two evenly matched teams, look for Bills playmakers to do just enough to get a victory. But don’t be shocked if that 3 points gets you a win, even if the Bills don’t.

Detroit Lions/ Washington Redskins over 49

With all the hype surrounding RG3 and whether his knee is healthy or not, the root issue in the nation’s capital seems to be the miserable D.

Not only is Washington ranked last statistically in the NFL in total defense, they have allowed 71 points in two games, so what happens when the game’s best receiver and downfield threat Calvin Johnson  comes to town? One word: points!

These teams come into the game ranked 4th and 5th offensively in the NFC and although I expect this game to be competitive and the Redskins defense to actually start playing before its 21-0, it’s still the Redskins defense and they will give up their fair share of points.

Even if Reggie Bush is unable to go, Joique Bell filled in admirably and should have no issue running the ball effectively considering the ‘Skins have been gashed for 402 yards on the ground through two games.

Look for Griffin, Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon and company to dig deep and play as if their season depends on it, because let’s face it there season does depend on it.

This should be a highly competitive battle that will cruise past the total of 49 as both offenses push the pace all afternoon long and the winner may very well be the team who has the ball last.