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NFL picks Week 3: Ravens, Eagles, Panthers

This week's picks are going up a little later than usual, just under an hour before the 1 p.m. games.  Last week, we were 2-1 with the Packers and Colts covering as favorites but stumbling along with the Jets as the Patriots proved they can still win without Tom Brady -- which is probably why New England is getting the respect that was more common last year as 12 1/2-point favorites over Miami today.

Cleveland at Baltimore (-2 1/2).  Without the Ravens playing in Week 2, they remain something of a mystery to oddsmakers and bettors.  Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco was solid in the opening win over Cincinnati and the defense was spectacular but it's beginning to look like the Bengals weren't much of a litmus test.  The Browns are 0-2 but their two losses have been to quality opponents, Dallas and Pittsburgh, and Cleveland is close to desperate. The Browns can't afford to go 0-3 overall and 0-2 in the AFC North and that will make them an even tougher opponent.   I like the home field here for Baltimore.  Pick:  Ravens, giving 2 1/2.

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Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (-3 1/2).  The Steelers have been playing like the Steelers -- a productive ground game and a tight defense.  The Eagles have been flying up and down the field as Donovan McNabb is off to a terrific start.  Philadelphia can be vulnerable to the run at times but the real threat is Ben Roethlisberger making big plays outside the pocket.  The Eagles defense got lit up in a Monday night shootout with the Cowboys and I think they bounce back for a big effort today and again, I like the home crowd although that half-point over a field goal makes me nervous.  Pick:  Eagles, giving 3 1/2.

Carolina at Minnesota (+3). The Vikings are going through a change of quarterback that has the scent of panic to it.  Tarvaris Jackson is out and Gus Frerotte is in.  Plus, Vikings star ball carrier Adrian Peterson has been called a game-time decision but even if he plays, there is the likelihood his nagging hamstring injury limits his touches and effectiveness.  On the other side, Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith returns from a team-ordered two-game suspension.  Pick:  Panthers, giving 3.

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