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Against the Spread: 2011 NFL Picks: Week 3

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Transparency is just as important in picking NFL games against the spread as it is with, say, performance of one's stock portfolio. Admitting losses and being culpable for losses is the best way to learn from bad picks and hopefully avoid repeating the same mistakes, whether it's a bad bet on the Buffalo Bills or Netflix (NFLX).

Though I'm not happy to admit I'm 2-8 in this young NFL season, I have to be accountable for my record. I've already endured the gentle ribbing from friends, including TheStreet's terrific biotech reporter Adam Feuerstein, and thankfully it's all good-natured. I'm actually taking more heat for the epic collapse my hometown Red Sox are making me endure. Thankfully, I have football to keep me occupied.

Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers)

The problem for NFL squares at home (and with my record, I have to believe I'm certainly a square bettor) is the abundance of sports picks sites out there, many of which charge exorbitant amounts for weekly picks from the professionals in Vegas. And yet, it's hard to get a handle on the track record of the person you're paying. You're getting a 2-8 record with me, but at least I'm honest about it (and free). That's also why I reach out to good Vegas sources who are held accountable, and who are transparent about their success.

Entering Week 3 of the NFL season with an abysmal record like mine, one might be prone to changing the strategy dramatically. But looking back at some of my picks, I don't see a fundamental flaw in the analysis. The Green Bay Packers game against the Carolina Panthers last week was a perfect example. With a pick of Packers -10, I looked to have an early winner with Green Bay up 14 with two minutes left in the game. Panthers rookie QB Cam Newton, though, put up another 400-yard performance passing and engineered a late-game touchdown drive for the backdoor cover. Sometimes, that's the way luck goes.

That's the danger for NFL bettors who sustain a losing streak. The inclination is to change up betting habits, perhaps wagering more now to make up for losses in the first two weeks. That's the most irresponsible way to handle a bankroll. It's boring and clich├ęd, but it's important to be more like the tortoise than the hare.

Week 3 presents a difficult task for handicappers due to an outsized number of injuries to key players, most notably star quarterbacks like Philadelphia Eagle Michael Vick, Dallas Cowboy Tony Romo and Pittsburgh Steeler Ben Roethlisberger. With no clarity on the extent of the injuries and uncertainty over who starts in each case, there are a handful of games I'm staying away from this week.

Another problem with wagering this year is the enormous amount of touchdowns that are being scored by NFL teams. There have been over 170 touchdowns scored through the first two weeks, far and away the most number of touchdowns in the first two weeks in history.

"With the touchdowns being scored at a higher rate, a touchdown win now is closer to the expectation than it ever has been before," says Paul Bessire, the general manager and creator of the Web site PredictionMachine.com. His Prediction Machine is a quantitative way to break down NFL games as it simulates each contest 50,000 times to come up with a pick against the spread.

"In other words, a 6.5-point line is not necessarily a big number," he continues. "It used to be anywhere from 1 to 3 points. You still see that in half the games, but whenever New Orleans or Green Bay or New England take the field, anything less than a touchdown you have to jump on."

Meanwhile, Bryan Leonard, a professional sports handicapper with Pregame.com, says that one of the big trends he's seeing if the public jumping on teams that are undefeated, perhaps overreacting to a small sample size.

"With teams who have looked good in the first two games, there's a lot of press now and teams like that get overrated," Leonard says. Leonard is part of the Tuesday Group, a collection of professional bettors in Vegas who get together to handicap the games each week. "There are a lot of teams that don't deserve that, and I'm looking to take advantage of that this week."

With that, let's get on to the picks for Week 3 of the NFL season. As I'll remind you through the entire season, these are for entertainment purposes only. Once again, I have enlisted the help of PredictionMachine.com's Paul Bessire, who offers analysis of the data his model provides for the games I've picked this week.

I've also collected commentary on each game from Pregame.com's Bryan Leonard. His analysis focuses on the spread movement by Vegas oddsmakers to determine where the public and professional money is moving on each game. These trends prove to be critical for bettors who are on the hunt for inefficiencies and value.

Click on to read the first game preview, the New England Patriots against the Buffalo Bills. And as always, I encourage you to leave comments below with your favorite picks against the spread this week.

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