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.

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

Atlanta Falcons (-6) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After allowing the most yards in the NFL through two games and not registering a sack, the idea of backing the Falcons may seem like a curious proposition. Luckily for Atlanta, it faces a Bucs team that appears too inept offensively to capitalize on their defensive inefficiencies.

The Falcons have dominated in this spot, going 8-1 against the spread on Thursday nights, including a perfect 5-0 when the game is against a divisional opponent.

Matt Ryan has seen his fair share of success versus Tampa Bay as well, winning five of his last six, and eight of 12 in his career, which includes a 5-1 mark inside the Georgia Dome. The Buccaneers defense comes limping into the game and is expected to be without two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy — after he broke his left hand — as well as starting middle linebacker Mason Foster, who left last Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury.

The return of prized rookie Jake Matthews to protect Matty Ice should put the former Boston College signal caller at ease as he continues to carve up the NFC South and take the "dirty birds" to the winners circle with a big win and cover Thursday night.

San Diego Chargers (+2.5) over Buffalo Bills

Coming off an emotional win Sunday over the defending Super Bowl champions, the Chargers head east for the dreaded 10 a.m. PT kickoff.

Although the Bills are off to their first 2-0 start since 2011, Buffalo has only managed a 2-22 mark against the spread following a victory over the Dolphins. I am not a big believer in looking into the past to predict the future, but sometimes trends and stats are so one-sided that you have to at least consider their relevance. In addition to having to fight back the curse of the fish, the Bills will surely face problems as their subpar cornerback play attempts to slow down Philip Rivers.

With the absence of running back Ryan Mathews, look for San Diego to use quick screens and flat routes as they rely on the pass-catching abilities of Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown to pick up the slack and add a sense of balance to their offensive attack.

As long as the San Diego offensive line can keep Rivers upright, expect the king of Bolo ties to continue his early season success as he carves up one of the league’s thinnest secondaries and guides the Bolts to a big road "W."

Seattle Seahawks (-4) over Denver Broncos

Very few things generate as much buzz as a Super Bowl rematch. Combine this with a hostile crowd and two teams that plain don’t like each other and we have the potential for our first "statement game" of the season.

Russell Wilson can do no wrong at CenturyLink Field going 18-1 at home to start his NFL career as he continues to play the position with a maturity well beyond his years. With 28 wins in his first two seasons in the league, it appears as if Wilson now has his sights set on becoming one of the all-time greats. Speaking of all-time greats, Peyton Manning will be playing in this game, too. Although the run game has yet to click the way it did last year, Wes Welker’s return to the Broncos lineup should free up some things underneath and on the outside for tight end Julius Thomas and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

The Denver Broncos are an abysmal 3-30 against the spread in their last 33 games as an outright underdog. Look for the Legion of Boom to prolong Denver’s misery and road woes as Pete Carroll and his Hawks take out last week’s frustrations on a Denver team that will keep it close early, but eventually fall victim to the helter-skelter created by a ball-hawking secondary and the support of the 12th Man.

Cleveland Browns (+2.5) over Baltimore Ravens

This game reignites the debate of the "home dog" and whether or not it is a viable and profitable betting option in the NFL. Last season taking the home underdog went 53-37-2 which roughly translates to winning at a 58 percent clip. It may not be enough to bring down the house, but cashing your straight bets at nearly 60 percent is a result that every bettor should find acceptable.

The Browns have started the season 2-0 against the spread and since returning as an expansion team in 1999 they are 12-2-1 ATS in their second home game of the season. Coming off a thrilling home upset of the Saints, the Browns are flying high and will look to shut down a very pedestrian Ravens offense. While the Ravens have struggled to establish a consistent running game, the emergence of Towson rookie Terrence West has Cleveland fans excited about the future of their backfield. For what it’s worth, the steady play of Brian Hoyer (426 passing yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) has momentarily silenced the fans’ demands to see Johnny Manziel and rewarded rookie coach Mike Pettine’s belief in his ability to lead this young team.

Baltimore will be hard-pressed to duplicate the kind of intensity and effort they put forth last Thursday night against the Steelers, so take the points with the Browns in a game that is sure to be competitive right down to the final whistle.

Green Bay Packers (+2.5) over Detroit Lions

The Packers have owned the rivalry with Detroit for quite a while now, winning 15 of the last 17 games straight up and going 13-4 against the spread. The Packers also feature a 5-2 record straight up and ATS versus the NFC North during their last seven road contests within the division.

Despite the presence of Megatron, it is Green Bay which features the better running game, deeper receiving corps and overall better offensive weapons. Combine that with the presence of Aaron Rodgers and his ability to always outshine his divisional counterparts (26-8 versus the NFC North), including a 9-1 mark versus the Lions. It appears as if this will be another high-scoring, offensive showcase that the NFC North has become known for in recent years.

When you get the opportunity to catch points with the better quarterback and coach (McCarthy 15-2 career versus Detroit), more often than not it turns out to be a winning proposition.