NFL week two has several interesting matchups, with things kicking off Thursday night with Denver coming from behind to beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The Patriots-Bills game highlights the early Sunday afternoon action, and then Dallas at Philadelphia follows as the big late game. The two prime time games are both well worth watching: Seattle travels to Green Bay in a rematch of January’s NFC championship game on Sunday night, and then on Monday night the Colts will attempt to fix their offensive line issues against a Jets team that recorded three sacks and forced five turnovers last week.
Houston at Carolina; early game on CBS
Panthers -3 … over/under 39½ … Texans +135, Panthers -155
Houston continues to struggle to develop an offensive identity, with Andre Johnson now in Indianapolis, Arian Foster out with a groin injury, and uncertainty over which former Patriot will be the team’s quarterback. The Texan defense however is nothing to scoff at, and that could spell trouble for a below average Carolina offense that misses 6’5″ Kelvin Benjamin being out on the field to snag Cam Newton passes that tend to sail high. Similar to Houston, the Panthers have a strong defense – but they will be without star linebacker Luke Kuechly, who will miss the game after suffering a concussion last week. I don’t have a strong feeling with this game, will give a slight line to J.J. Watt and the Texans to take advantage of the sieve that is the Carolina offensive line
Prediction: Upset! – Texans 20, Panthers 17 ✘
Texans +3 ✘, under 39½ ✘
Final Score: Panthers 24, Texans 17
Tampa Bay at New Orleans; early game on FOX
Saints -10½ … over/under 48½ … Bucs +400, Saints -500
Jameis Winston threw a pick-six on his first NFL pass, and the Bucs were down 21-0 by the time he completed his first pass to a member of his own team. As inept as the Tampa Bay offense was, the New Orleans defense was just as bad; they allowed a league-worst 7.5 yards per play to an average Arizona offense. With no Jimmy Graham the Saints stalled in the red zone, and the absence of third down back C.J. Spiller didn’t help matters either, with the Saints finding the end zone just once. Remember when the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was the biggest home field advantage in the NFL? That’s not the case anymore; the Saints are just 1-6 against the spread in their last seven games there. The line seems to be too high to me, an overreaction to Tampa Bay’s huge loss last week – though I’m not confident enough to place any money on it thanks to the impotence of the Bucs.
Prediction: Saints 31, Bucs 21 ✘
Bucs +10½ ✓, over 48½ ✘
Final Score: Bucs 26, Saints 19
San Francisco at Pittsburgh, early game on FOX
Steelers -6½ … over/under 45½ … 49ers +250, Steelers -300
An early east coast start is supposed to be a death knell for a west coast team, but that doesn’t apply to the 49ers. San Fran is 11-1 ATS in their last twelve 1:oo pm eastern time zone starts. Couple that with Pittsburgh tending to start the season slow – they are 1-9 ATS in their last ten September games – and the trends definitely favor the Niners. While San Francisco is not as strong as they were two or three years ago, they showed last week that their defense is still formidable. Pittsburgh will still be without Le’Veon Bell, and DeAngelo Williams is not going to see the running lanes open the way they did last week, when New England’s defensive game plan was to limit WR Antonio Brown and force the Steelers to try and beat the Patriots by running the ball. I just can’t back a Pittsburgh team with a defense that was in as much shambles as it was against the Patriots last week.
Prediction: Upset! – Niners 23, Steelers 20 ✘
Niners +6½ (two units) ✘✘, under 45½ ✘
Final Score: Steelers 43, Niners 18
Detroit at Minnesota, early game on FOX
Vikings -3 … over/under 43½ … Lions +110, Vikings -130
The off-season hype about the Vikings appears to be overblown, albeit with a small sample size of one game to go on. The idea that 30-year old Adrian Peterson was going to revert to his 2012 and prior form was overly optimistic. On one reception he could have ran towards the sideline and gained the six yards needed for a first down, but instead turned it inside. The end result was he looked as if he was wearing sneakers trying to run on ice, and was brought down for no gain. More disconcerting was the play of QB Teddy Bridgewater. Much was made of his numbers from the second half of last year’s rookie season, but his decision making still has plenty of room for improvement. One third down play in particular stood out. when Bridgewater took off with what appeared to be plenty of space to move the chains. Inexplicably he slid short of the first down, and the Vikings ended up turning the ball over. Add in a pick and some bad sacks – 54 yards of sack yardage lost – and the end result was a Minnesota offense that went an abysmal 1-11 on third and fourth downs, and managed to score just three points.
While Detroit’s defense does have some questions – apparently plugging Haloti Ngata in to replace Ndamukong Suh was indeed a downgrade – the Chargers in San Diego is far from a gimme, and the Lions with Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford were in sync, scoring 28 points. While Detroit does tend to struggle on the road (thy have covered the spread just twice in their last 14 road games), they do look right now to be the better team. With that in mind, even after allowing three points to the home team, this line should be at most one point, if not favoring Detroit.
Prediction: Upset! – Lions 27, Vikings 20 ✘
Lions +3 (one unit) ✘, over 43½ ✘
Final Score: Vikings 26, Lions 16
New England at Buffalo, early game on CBS
Pick’em … over/under 46 … Patriots -110, Bills -110
Bill Belichick and his staff will have ten days to study and prepare for QB for the Bills and QB Tyrod Taylor. In a pick’em game I will take the coaching edge and the extra preparation time, and I will take Tom Brady over Tyrod Taylor in spite of Buffalo’s superior defense and the fact that the Bills are playing at home. I think that Buffalo is going to be very good this year, but in this situation I am not going to go against Belichick and the Patriots. While the Bills were indeed very impressive against the Colts, they benefited greatly by a 3-0 turnover margin that game. Any defense is going to look good under those circumstances, and that is not something you can count on and expect every week – especially against New England. However, the Patriots usually have an early season loss and always have at least one division loss; before the season began I penciled this in as an L for the Pats – and that was before the Bills gained all that confidence over last week’s victory. On the other hand, Rex Ryan and Aaron Williams proclaiming that the whole league is hoping that the Bills beat the Patriots is simply going to add further incentive for the Patriots – as if they needed any.
For more on this game, check out:
Beating Rex Ryan’s Defense is Always a Tough Challenge; an All-22 Look
Key Matchups: Patriots-Bills, Who Has The Razor’s Edge?
Three Keys To Victory, Patriots-Bills
Three More Keys To Victory: Patriots Travel To Face Upstart Bills
Podcast: Patriots at Bills Preview
Prediction: Patriots 24, Bills 20 ✓
Patriots (pick’em) ✓, under 46 ✘
Final Score: Patriots 40, Bills 32
Arizona at Chicago, early game on FOX
Cardinals -1½ … over/under 45 … Cardinals -130, Bears +110
Former Chicago head coach Lovie Smith has been exposed in Tampa Bay as a terrible head coach that is stuck in the past and unable (or unwilling) to adapt, and his successor, Marc Trestman has also proven to be an inferior head coach. Perhaps it is less that the Bears have been a bad team over the last few years as it is that they have suffered from bad coaching. The Bears actually had more passing yards and more rushing yards than Green Bay last week, with more first downs and 80 more total yards. Matt Forte tallied 166 yards from scrimmage and averaged almost six yards per carry – however, the talent level is lacking on defense. The game was close because Forte and the Chicago offense was able to keep Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines, with 71 offensive plays to Green Bay’s 51.
Most alarming was Chicago’s complete inability to generate any pass rush. The Bears not only had zero sacks, they did not so much as even lay a hand on Rodgers the entire game. The Bears played as well as they could – an excellent offensive game plan that was well executed, with defensive players (unlike Pittsburgh) who were in proper position and not caught off guard – yet they still lost at home. You need your defense to create some pressure and to force a turnover or two; the Bears did neither. Bottom line is that thanks to the coaching change they are better than expected, but until the talent level on defense can be upgraded they are going to be no more than an average team at best.
Unlike the Vikings, Arizona is a team that is vastly underrated. Perhaps that is due to lack of star power or the ineffectiveness of an injury depleted squad down the stretch last year, but this is a talented and very well coached team. The Cardinals have now won seven straight games with Carson Palmer as their starting quarterback, and he has thrown 14 touchdowns against just three interceptions in that span.
The off-season defections of DC Todd Bowles, CB Antonio Cromartie and NT Dan Williams have not hampered the Arizona defense the way many speculated they would. The Cardinals still have DE Calais Campbell, OLB Alex Okafor and CB Patrick Peterson. That’s an elite player on each level of defense, and enough to make Arizona a very real Super Bowl contender. If the Cardinals could handle Drew Brees, they should have a field day with Jay Cutler. Forte should have a tougher game against this stout Arizona defense.
On a side note, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians interviewed with the Bears following the 2012 season when he was named NFL Coach of the Year. Arians thought he nailed the interview, but was snubbed by the Bears as they elected to go with Marc Tretman instead. Since then Arians has a 22-11 record with Arizona, while the Bears have gone 13-20. I would not be surprised if Arians would like to make a subtle point to the Chicago front office that they made a mistake, even if the person who made that decision (former G.M. Phil Emery) was fired as soon as the season ended for the Bears last December.
Prediction: Cardinals 23, Bears 17 ✓
Cardinals -1½ ✓, under 45 (one unit) ✘, Cardinals -130 (one unit) ✓
Final Score: Cardinals 48, Bears 23
Tennessee at Cleveland, early game on CBS
Titans -1½ … over/under 41½ … Titans -125, Browns +105
Last week the Titans scored on their first possession and then followed that up with another touchdown off a pick-six on Tampa Bay’s third offensive play. That start led to a blowout against a rookie quarterback and subpar team. This week – even though it is the Browns – Marcus Mariota should have a more difficult time. Cleveland DC Jim O’Neil now has some film to study, and should be able to come up with a scheme that can confuse Mariota and utilize corners Joe Haden and Tramon Williams to his advantage. Running backs on both teams should do well here: these two clubs were the worst in the NFL in rushing defense last year, with Cleveland allowing a 31st-ranked 137 yards per game while Tennessee was dead last at 142 yards per game. Before jumping on the Rocky Top bandwagon, let’s not forget that Ken Whisenhunt is 4-25 over his last 29 games as an NFL head coach.
Prediction: Upset! – Browns 27, Titans 24 ✓
Browns +1½ ✓, over 41½ (two units) ✓✓
Final Score: Browns 28, Titans 14
San Diego at Cincinnati, early game on CBS
Bengals -3 … over/under 45½ … Chargers +150, Bengals -170
Due to their early playoff exits, the Bengals get no love. However, they have an excellent defense – and how they perform in January should not translate to how well they play in September. Cincy went on the road and was up 33-0 before they took their foot off the gas pedal in the third quarter; if not, that game could have finished 52-0 or worse. Philip Rivers now has a 13:15 touchdown to interception ratio over his last nine games. The Chargers are not going to be able to run the ball on the Bengals, and Rivers just does not have good enough receivers to do accomplish anything against this defense.
Prediction: Bengals 31, Chargers 17 ✓
Bengals -3 (three units) ✓✓✓, over 45½ ✘, Bengals -170 (one unit) ✓
Final Score: Bengals 24, Chargers 19
St. Louis at Washington, early game on FOX
Rams -3½ … over/under 41½ … Rams -165, Skins +145
At the start of overtime in last week’s game against Seattle, Rams rookie WR Bradley Marquez signaled for a fair catch on an onside kick. Marquez caught the ball, but was then blasted by Seattle’s kick coverage team. Being hit like that on a fair catch is a clear cut foul, but the officials failed to penalize the Seahawks. St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher claims that the NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino later admitted that they made a mistake; that type of information being made public by a team official rather than the league is a big no-no with the powers that be at 345 Park Avenue. But Fisher has nothing to worry about; he is part of in-crowd with the league offices. He’s a guy that that was out of football after being fired by Houston, but as soon as he got a new gig with the Rams he was re-inserted on to the league’s most influential and important group, the Competition Committee. Like peeling a foul-smelling onion, there are more layers to this story. First, the replay official may have violated league protocols by contacting referee Jeff Triplette and telling him that his initial ruling on the field (that the kick did not touch the ground) was incorrect. Then, surprise, surprise, Blandino gets caught in another lie, dancing with semantics and implying that the call was not necessarily wrong and that the officials did not make a mistake – which means that he never had a reason to apologize to Fisher.
As for the game, the St. Louis defense is scary good. The Rams sacked Russell Wilson six times, and that number could have hit double digits if not for Wilson’s athleticism. DE Chris Long (six quarterback pressures), DE Robert Quinn, DT Aaron Donald and DT Michael Brockers comprise the best defensive line in the NFL, and they are backed by an almost equally impressive linebacking corps (Alec Ogletree, James Laurinaitis, Akeem Ayers). Washington may have kept it close against Miami last week, but the reality is that they have won just four of their last 25 games straight up. The only hope for Washington is that the Rams have a letdown after beating division rival Seattle last week. The Skins were unable to cover at home last week against Miami; St. Louis is much better than the Dolphins, and are favored by less.
Prediction: Rams 24, Skins 13 ✘
Rams -3½ (one unit) ✘, under 41½ ✓, Rams -165 (one unit) ✘
Two-Play Teaser: Rams +2½ and under 47½ (one unit) ✘
Final Score: Skins 24, Rams 10
Atlanta at N.Y. Giants, early game on FOX
Giants -2½ … over/under 51 … Falcons +120, Giants -140
Whether it was Eli Manning being unaware of the circumstances, or a coach not reminding him in the headset to do anything other than throw an incomplete pass, the bonehead play led to a Dallas drive that resulted in a loss for the Giants. Yes the Falcons beat the Eagles, but they looked very shaky down the stretch to hang on for that win. I’m expecting both teams to regress towards their respective norms, especially since the Falcons are now on the road without the benefit that the noise their crowd (and audio) provides in their dome.
Prediction: Giants 31, Falcons 27 ✘
Giants -2½ ✘, over 51 ✘
Final Score: Falcons 24, Giants 20
Baltimore at Oakland, late game on CBS
Ravens -6½ … over/under 42½ … Ravens -270, Raiders +230
Last week’s loss to Cincinnati was not even as close as the final score of 33-13, and Baltimore could have beaten the Broncos in Denver if not for Steve Smith not being able to handle a pass that bounced off his face mask. The discrepancy in the talent level between these two teams cannot be understated, and the Raiders are dealing with a laundry list of injuries. The Ravens win and cover a big line even though they are on the road.
Prediction: Ravens 27, Raiders 13 ✘
Ravens -6½ ✘, under 42½ ✘
Final Score: Raiders 37, Ravens 33
Miami at Jacksonville, late game on CBS
Dolphins -6 … over/under 41½ … Dolphins -240, Jaguars +200
Miami has some issues to be concerned with later on this year, with the defense failing to contain the edge and requiring a late special teams play to defeat Washington. Jacksonville may indeed have improved, but they still need a lot more time to grow and develop. The Jags have given up 33 sacks in their last six games, which plays right into the strength of Miami’s one-gap defense that prioritizes quarterback pressure over containment or run defense.
Prediction: Dolphins 20, Jaguars 10 ✘
Dolphins -6 ✘, under 41½ (one unit) ✘
Final Score: Jaguars 23, Dolphins 20
Dallas at Philadelphia, late game on FOX
Eagles -4½ … over/under 55½ … Cowboys +180, Eagles -220
My concern with the Cowboys is that they are still learning how to adjust to no DeMarco Murray, and now suddenly also have to adjust to no Dez Bryant; that combination is a lot to adapt to in one week. While their offensive line is still the best in the league, the replacements at RB and WR are a huge step down in talent. Dallas allowed 7.3 yards per pass attempt last year, and their secondary is not at all improved from last year. Philly will look to make this an up-tempo game, and right now Dallas won’t be able to keep pace in a shootout.
Prediction: Eagles 31, Cowboys 24 ✘
Eagles -4½ ✘, under 55½ ✓
Final Score: Cowboys 20, Eagles 10
Seattle at Green Bay, Sunday night on NBC
Packers -3½ … over/under 48½ … Seahawks +160, Packers -180
The Seahawks are thinner on defense than they have been in recent years, and losses among their coaching staff may be taking its toll. If not for two big plays – a punt return for a touchdown and a strip and score for another TD – then the Seahawks would have been blown out by the Rams. The Seattle offensive line is struggling – Russell Wilson was sacked six times last week – and although the Green Bay run defense leaves plenty to be desired, the Packer offense is far more efficient than the Rams – and they scored 34 points against Seattle last week.
Prediction: Packers 31, Seahawks 21 ✓
Packers -3½ ✓, over 48½ ✘
Final Score: Packers 27, Seahawks 17
N.Y. Jets at Indianapolis, Monday night on ESPN
Colts -7 … over/under 46½ … Jets +260, Colts -320
The Achilles Heel of the Colts is twofold: an ineffective offensive line, and a defense that is overpowered in the running game. That makes this a perfect matchup for the Jets, despite the overall lack of talent in comparison to Indy. While the Colts are a good bet coming off a loss (17-1 ATS off the loss in their last 18) and Andrew Luck is incredible at home (21-5 straight up, 19-7 ATS), I still believe that they are over-hyped and overrated. Take away the four games against two of the NFL’s worst teams in 2015 that happen to reside in the AFC South – the Titans and Jaguars – and the Colts were just 7-5 in the regular season, and outscored in all of their other 15 combined 2015 season games.
Prediction: Colts 24, Jets 20 ✘
Jets +7 (two units) ✓✓, under 46½ ✓
Final Score: Jets 20, Colts 7
Week One Results:
Straight Up: 12-4
5-Unit Plays: none
4-Unit Plays: none
3-Unit Plays: 2-0 (+600)
2-Unit Plays: 3-1 (+380)
1-Unit Plays: 3-2 (+80)
All Plays: 8-3 (+1,060)