Prediction record last week: 9-7
Prediction record overall: 19-13
Another average week for me in predictions last week. I guess if I were an NFL team I’d be among the 20 1-1 teams we have after week two.
But, I suppose it could be worse—I could be the Saints, who fell to 0-2 at the hands of the Panthers last week (one of my nine correct predictions last week). With that, I’ll segue into my week-three analyses:
Giants @ Panthers
The Giants were lucky to escape their game against Tampa Bay with a win on Sunday. With the Buccaneers leading 27-13 in the third quarter, Eli Manning pulled another Eli Manning and led the G-Men to a thrilling 41-34 comeback win.
Meanwhile, Carolina, after losing to Tampa in week one, rebounded at home against the reeling Saints in a game that was not as close as the final score (35-27) would have you believe. The Panthers’ ground game dominated the game, with three different rushers scoring on the ground, and Cam Newton setting a career high in single-game rushing yards with 71.
Rushing yards might be a little more difficult to come by against the Giants defensive line, however; they may be the most talented defensive line in the NFL. The Panthers will probably have to pass more against New York than they did against the flimsy defense of New Orleans.
There will be good, competitive matchups all over the field in this one: the Giants’ talented D-line will square-off against the Panthers’ magnificent O-line; and the Panthers emerging but yet unproven (aside from a nicked-up Steve Smith) receiving corps against a Giants secondary that has not performed well, but has potential.
Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks, David Diehl, and Domenik Hixon are out. Without Bradshaw and Nicks in particular, the Giants could have trouble keeping up with the Panthers’ offense. I’m calling another Panthers upset this week.
Rams @ Bears
After watching Danny Amendola tie a record for first-half receptions (with 12 for 133 yards and a touchdown) against Washington, I realized how valuable he is to Sam Bradford and the rest of the Rams offense. Without him in 2011, they were terrible, and Sam Bradford took most of the heat for their lack of production. But now Amendola is back from 2011’s season-ending knee injury, and just like that, Bradford has some of the best quarterback stats in football, and the Rams (1-1) are four last-minute points away from being undefeated.
As for their week-three opponents, the Bears let a lot of people down against the Packers last Thursday. Just when we thought their offense was ready to be the difference in a recently lopsided rivalry, they sputtered against a Packers defense that was supposed to be one of the worst in the league. Brandon Marshall was stranded on Tramon Williams Island all night, and Matt Forte left the game with an ankle injury, leaving Jay Cutler to the unbridled ferocity of Clay Matthews.
With both starting running backs potentially out for this game, I think this matchup boils down to defense, and in that area, I give the edge to Chicago. The Rams have lost their best pass protector in Rodger Saffold, so I expect Julius Peppers to be a constant backfield distraction. The Rams’ best pass-rushing threat is Chris Long; he may get a sack or two, but ultimately, he’s no Clay Matthews.
In another close one for the Rams, I like Chicago.
Bills @ Browns
I just can’t figure out the Bills. They got trampled by the Jets in week one, then did some trampling of their own against the Chiefs a week later, but considering both of these games were played against opponents every bit as inconsistent as the Bills, how can we be sure of anything with this team?
The Bills defensive line and run game both looked excellent in week two. Kyle Williams led the way on defense with two sacks, while Spiller vaulted atop the NFL rushing chart with a 123-yard offensive extravaganza. The run game was so effective, in fact, that the Bills resorted to passing only 19 times in their 35-17 beatdown of the Chiefs.
The Browns showed some unexpected offensive life in week two, but faltered on defense, allowing Cincinnati’s receivers to run wild against them in a divisional loss. D’Qwell Jackson continues to play extremely well, but losing Joe Haden to suspension is certainly not helping on the back end.
Cleveland’s rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden looked good, completing 26 of 37 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns, but even more impressive was Trent Richardson, who contributed 145 all-purpose yards and two highlight-reel touchdowns. Richardson looks like the real deal, Cleveland fans.
I just don’t know which Buffalo team is going to show up in Cleveland on Sunday. If the Browns offense can maintain the momentum from their admirable effort against Cincinnati, they have a great chance to win this game, so I’m going with Cleveland to get their first win on the year.
Buccaneers @ Cowboys
The Cowboys are another team with an uncertain identity. It’s been this way for years. We all know that the talent is there, but is the focus? The discipline? That’s debatable. “America’s Team” looked sleepy in Seattle, and they got pounded to a pulp by mediocre team.
The Bucs, however, look like a franchise revitalized under Greg Schiano. They stifled the Panthers in week one and gave the defending champions all they could handle in week two. As for the controversy surrounding Schiano’s decision to attack Eli Manning on a kneel-down in hopes of forcing a fumble, I have to side with Schiano. I’m not going to lie there while you nail up my coffin; just because you’re driving the last nail a bit more gently doesn’t mean I’m not going to fight it. Save the courtesy for a different sport. This is football; this is war. As long as there is time on the gameclock, you go for the win. You don’t roll over.
That rant aside, I think this matchup depends on which Cowboys team shows up. In front of their own fans in their home opener, I would hope the good Cowboys would make an appearance, but nothing is guaranteed with this team. They certainly have the tools to exploit Tampa’s defense, but they can’t let Tampa hang around—that is, they can’t allow punts to be blocked; they can’t turn the ball over. If they keep Tampa Bay in this game by making mistakes like they did in Seattle, they’ll be 1-2 by Sunday afternoon.
The Cowboys are embarrassed. Even though the Bucs look decent at 1-1, I’m going with Dallas to restore their dignity a bit with a victory in Jerryworld.
Jaguars @ Colts
There’s reason to be optimistic in Indianapolis. Andrew Luck is going to make things happen. Eventually. He still predominately looks like a rookie, but he played a good game against Minnesota on Sunday. Two touchdowns; no picks—I’ll take it. A solid ground game would help him, but Donald Brown is hardly a dependable rushing option. He’s on his own for now.
Jacksonville looked like their old selves against Houston. The offense could barely move the ball. The defense was okay, but was ultimately overwhelmed by a far superior Houston squad. It’s good to see that Mojo’s still got his mojo, but he’s still the only real weapon the Jaguars have. Justin Blackmon has made no difference in his rookie campaign so far—but I blame that on Blaine Gabbert’s shortcomings, not Blackmon’s.
Before I begin the “Draft Barkley” campaign for Jacksonville, however, I’m going to give the Jags offense a chance in Indianapolis. If they can move the ball against anyone, it’s Indy. If they still struggle, it might be time to panic.
Although I believe Jacksonville will fare better against the Colts than they did against the Texans, the Colts have what the Jags don’t—a quarterback. Having Maurice Jones-Drew back is helpful, but he cannot do it alone (a lesson the Jags apparently have not learned).
The Colts should make it two in a row this Sunday.
Jets @ Dolphins
The Dolphins surprised me this past week. They might not be the league’s worst team after all. Heck, they might not even be Florida’s worst team (see above). But let’s face it, they are still bad. It’ll be tough sledding this week against New York’s stout defense—even if the Jets can’t score consistently on offense. I certainly wouldn’t expect another 172-yard game from Reggie Bush like he had against Oakland.
After a decisive defeat at the hands of Pittsburgh, the Jets are hoping to have Darrelle Revis back for week three, but Rex Ryan is making no guarantees. The good news is, even without Revis, the Jets could smother any funny business that Miami might try through the air. If the Jets stop Reggie Bush (which they should have little trouble doing), the Phins won’t have a chance. Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s young arm is not ready to win games unassisted yet.
Though the Dolphins offense flashed potential in their rout of the Raiders, they are a doggy treat for the Jets’ fierce and hardened defensive unit, especially if Revis is a go. The Jets should dominate this game.
These will be the hardest knocks the Dolphins have taken yet. I like the Jets to win big.
49ers @ Vikings
The Vikings have been in both of their games so far, winning one (against Jacksonville in week one), but they’ve had an enviable start to the season, taking on two of the weakest teams in the NFL. With the 49ers coming to town on Sunday, the Vikings could be in for a rude awakening.
San Francisco is far-and-away the best team in the league right now. That defense is phenomenal; the running game, unstoppable. The new weapons at receiver are versatile and numerous. And most importantly, Alex Smith has played great. He simply doesn’t turn the ball over, and when you’ve got the supporting cast he does, that’s all you’ve got to do.
Minnesota has a young and rebuilt offense, and I think they have good days ahead of them. Tight end Kyle Rudolph, for one, looks promising, and quarterback Christian Ponder is getting better… kind of.
Regardless of what the distant future might hold for Minnesota, the near future has them as major underdogs at home against Jim Harbaugh and his throwback, hard-nosed Niners. Things might get ugly.
I’ve got the Niners in this one, obviously.
Chiefs @ Saints
Something’s gotta give here. The Saints are catching hell from the media this week after dropping to 0-2 against Carolina on Sunday. They are easily the season’s most disappointing and simultaneously surprising team thus far. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are a low-profile winless team. Spotlight or not, these teams are a combined 0-4. The Saints have lost both of their games by eight points. The Chiefs, however, were slaughtered; first by Atlanta, then inexplicably by the Bills.
The Saints’ woes can be summed up in one word: defense. This defense is flat-out awful. Maybe it’s the absence of Jonathan Vilma. Maybe it’s growing pains under the defensive scheme of new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Whatever it is, this unit needs a doctor. They made Brandon LaFell look like Jerry Rice last week. Lucky for them, they’ve got the hapless Chiefs in the Superdome this Sunday.
It’s the Saints catching the flack in the media, but really if any team has an excuse for underwhelming in the season’s first two weeks, it’s New Orleans—no head coach; no defensive captain; new defensive coordinator; etc. The Chiefs, however, got all their pieces back before this season. Cassel, Charles, Hillis, Moeaki, Bowe, Berry, Hali, Johnson, Poe—these are all big, capable names who are underperforming, and I can’t tell you why; they just are.
I expect Drew Brees to resume his future-hall-of-fame form against the sloppy Chiefs and capture a win in the process.
Lions @ Titans
The Lions took it on the chin in front of the entire nation last week in San Francisco. They were supremely outmatched and soundly defeated. The same can be said of the Titans in San Diego. Both of these teams are looking for rebounds after unsteady beginnings to their seasons. Let’s not forget that the Lions came within a mere ten seconds of losing to the Rams in week one.
The Lions need a decisive win to assure people that they are still a playoff-caliber team. As of now, I’m not the slightest bit convinced; they should have lost to the Rams, and they were laughably outmatched against the 49ers. At this moment, there are a good ten or so NFC teams that could beat Detroit. This is a troubling fall from grace for a team that looked like one of the conference’s elite in 2011.
The people around Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford are still not stepping up. Aside from Brandon Pettigrew on occasion, the passing game is still limited to pretty much one option; and the running game is non-existent.
The Titans are even worse off. Jake Locker looked terrible against San Diego, and Chris Johnson apparently still thinks it’s the offseason. The defense looks bad too but is far from being alone at fault. Mike Munchak is going to have to make some serious adjustments or he could find himself on the hot seat after only two seasons as the Titans’ head coach.
The Lions might be having some trouble out of the gate, but they are still a talented club. They shouldn’t have too much trouble with Tennessee.
Bengals @ Redskins
The Bengals’ young receivers really stepped up this past Sunday as Andy Dalton was able to comfortably distribute the ball among Armon Binns, Brandon Tate, Andrew Hawkins, and of course, A.J. Green. It’s an encouraging sign for a young ball team with loads of potential.
As we all know, the Redskins had a shot to at least tie the Rams late in Sunday’s game, but Josh Morgan lost his cool and effectively cost his team the game with an ill-timed unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (which was one of the few correct game-changing calls made by the NFL’s replacement referees this past week). With Robert Griffin, III at the helm, the Redskins offense is one to be reckoned with. He has made the Redskins an immediate threat on that side of the ball. The defense has lost Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker for the season, but it’s not the end of the world; there is still talent here. Giving up 31 points to the Rams is distressing, but the offense is good enough to keep the Redskins in games down the stretch.
The Bengals defense still looked a little lethargic on Sunday, giving up 24 points to a weak Browns offense. Coming into the season, I thought the Bengals had something close to a top-ten defensive unit; now, I’m reconsidering.
That said, the Bengals offense is a good one, and this could turn into a shootout. In that case, I’m going with the Bengals, because, at some point, RGIII is going to have a rookie game. He’s well overdue for some mistakes.
Eagles @ Cardinals
Here we have two teams who truly do not deserve their undefeated records. The Eagles won their first game by sheer luck, and the second one was gift-wrapped and delivered to them by poor officiating (or so claims Joe Flacco, at least).
The Cardinals’ victory over Seattle was nothing all that special, but against New England, they undisputedly had Lady Luck on their side. I was impressed with their ability to stuff the run and fluster Tom Brady, but in the end, the game was still New England’s to lose—and thanks to Stephen Gostkowski’s late-game shank, they did; the Cards escaped with an improbable victory over the AFC’s defending champs.
The quarterback play for the Cardinals is still shaky. Kevin Kolb, on the whole, still looks scared in the pocket, and for whatever reason, he cannot get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, which makes it all the more astonishing that they’ve won games. Fitzgerald has had five catches in 2012. I hate watching him waste away in Arizona. Imagine what he could do with a good, or even just okay, quarterback.
The Eagles cannot continue to turn the ball over the way they have been. Nine turnovers in two games… if that trend continues, they will start losing games.
The Eagles have one of the NFL’s most talented teams and are underperforming in spite of their perfect record. Once they get it together, protect the ball, and get that offense clicking, they could be a contender in the NFC. For now, I think they will come out on top in Arizona.
Falcons @ Chargers
This is one of the weekend’s marquee games. I like what the Chargers are doing. They look like the force they were three years ago—the last time they waited until the postseason to blow it.
The Falcons, like the 49ers and Texans, are one of the NFL’s most impressive teams through two weeks. The defense outsmarted one of the most cerebral athletes in the game three times in one quarter. Those were some of the ugliest interceptions I have ever seen Peyton Manning throw.
The Atlanta offense continued to roll in week two, turning to Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez in the air, while Julio Jones had a comparatively quiet game.
The Chargers proved resilient and resourceful against the Titans in week two as they demolished Tennessee without Antonio Gates and Ryan Mathews in the lineup. Dante Rosario emerged with three touchdown receptions (bringing his career total to eight), and backup running back Jackie Battle added two rushing scores of his own, probably robbing Ronnie Brown of the primary backup role while Mathews continues to rehabilitate his injured clavicle.
Mathews and Gates appear primed for returns to the field against the Falcons, but Atlanta looks mighty tough. Atlanta, being the more complete team, has the edge in this one. I really want to choose the Bolts in an upset in this one, but my better sense says no. (I’ll probably regret this next week.) I’m going with Atlanta.
Texans @ Broncos
Coming off one of the most miserable games of his career, things will not get any easier for Peyton Manning as he will face a Texans defense that has dominated in its first two games.
Next to the 49ers, I think Houston has the best defense in the league. Johnathan Joseph is a certified stud at cornerback, but if there is a weak link in Houston’s D, it is the secondary; much of their success can be attributed to Houston’s relentless pass rush, compliments of Connor Barwin, Brooks Reed, and J.J. Watt et al.
Denver, much to Manning’s delight, has an excellent offensive line, however. If they can keep the Texans pass rush at bay, Manning undoubtedly has the skill to torch Houston’s defensive backfield. The blueprint for beating Denver’s pass protection seems to have been declassified on Monday night by the Falcons, as Atlanta sacked Manning three times. They still allowed Willis McGahee to rush for 118 yards, however.
The Denver defense—a slightly underrated unit—will have its hands full against Arian Foster and Andre Johnson. If Manning avoids mistakes and helps them out with field position, this may end up being a low-scoring defensive struggle.
This game will be won and lost in the trenches. I’m betting that Manning and the Denver offense will play much better than they did on Monday, but Houston is just too good. I like the Texans to improve to 3-0.
Steelers @ Raiders
Ask the old-timers what a nasty rivalry this used to be. They’ll tell you about “Mean” Joe Greene, “The Assassin” Jack Tatum, and the Immaculate Reception. There was a time when it just didn’t get any better than this in football. If these two teams played each other Sunday the same way they did in the 1970s, every play would result in multiple personal foul penalties (and that’s not even with the consideration of the flag-happy replacement refs).
Well, some things never change. The Raiders are still the most penalized team in football, and the Steelers are still known for their stellar defense. But while the Steelers have enjoyed three Super Bowl appearances in the last seven seasons, the Raiders have been an irrelevant franchise since 2002, when old geezers like Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Rich Gannon, Lincoln Kennedy, Steve Wisniewski, and Rod Woodson had their last hurrahs. A literal generation later (Stefen Wisniewski, Steve’s son, is now starting at center for Oakland), Oakland will renew one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the game when they host Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Oakland lost to Miami last week. That’s pathetic. Pittsburgh handily disposed of the Jets. This game might not even be close. Pittsburgh is historically, and currently, the superior team. They will roll in Oakland this weekend.
Patriots @ Ravens
The Ravens lost a heartbreaker last week in controversial fashion, but they had to have found the slightest bit of solace in the fact that New England lost to Arizona by two points when Stephen Gostkowski pulled a Billy Cundiff. What goes around comes around I suppose.
Of course, that’s not going to do it for Ray Lewis and the tenacious Baltimore Ravens. They want revenge at their own hands, and on a national stage—it would be even better if this were a playoff game, but hey, they will take what they can get. Make no mistake, the Ravens will be out for blood on Sunday night.
The Patriots played the worst game I’ve seen them play in a long time against Arizona this past weekend. Brady looked distracted and uncomfortable. If the Cardinals made him wary, he’s in for a long night against Baltimore’s savage defense. To make matters worse, he’ll be without Aaron Hernandez for a while, and for whatever reason, Wes Welker seems to be in Bill Belichick’s doghouse. The Patriots have resorted to re-signing Deion Branch (whom they cut just weeks ago) and seeking the help of Kellen Winslow. I am somewhat surprised they didn’t take a look at Jeremy Shockey too.
New England’s defense is highly penetrable. If Joe Flacco has another performance like he did against Cincy, Baltimore could take this game by double digits.
In what may be a preview of the AFC Championship Game (probably not), I’m taking Baltimore.
Packers @ Seahawks
The Packers defense turned the clock back to 2010 last Thursday against Chicago. With four interceptions and seven sacks, they dominated a game in which the offense, ironically, had trouble getting off the ground. Clay Matthews (along with Cleveland’s D’Qwell Jackson) has made a strong opening argument for Defensive Player of the Year.
The Seahawks’ win over the Cowboys this past Sunday was what we call in Southern Appalachia “an old-fashioned butt-whuppin’”. I can’t give Seattle all the credit though; Dallas forgot to get off the team plane by the looks of things. Marshawn Lynch is having a strong opening to the season, and, on defense, the Seahawks are playing lights-out. They do after all have perhaps the best safety tandem in the league in Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. And cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman have had good showings so far, each with a pick two games in.
But it’s nothing Aaron Rodgers can’t handle. He hasn’t had the best beginning of beginnings in 2012, but regardless of what Jermichael Finley’s clueless agent believes, Rodgers is still the best quarterback in the league. What’s scarier is that Green Bay’s running game came to life against Chicago last week, and Greg Jennings will return to the lineup for Monday night’s contest in Seattle.
Seattle has the 12th man and all, but Green Bay has number 12. In this bout between two of Wisconsin’s most beloved quarterbacks, I’m putting my money on Rodgers and the Pack.
Thought of the week: Thursday Night Football on NFL Network is awesome. I love having another night of primetime football in my week. Despite two of the loudest mouths in the history of football on the set in Deion Sanders and Michael Irvin, the pregame show is pretty good too, though maybe a bit spastic. I got a kick out of the “He’s a Beast” segment (NFL Network’s apparent answer to ESPN’s “C’mon Man”).
Unfortunately, it’s NFL Network though, so nobody sees it.
My appeal to Roger Goodell: please make NFL Network available on cable.
UPDATE: A day after this article was published, the NFL reached an agreement with Time Warner Cable! K thx guyz!