So Thursday night football was a dud. At least I picked the right team. Unfortunately a few more duds may be in the works by weekend’s end.
1 P.M. Slate
San Diego at Buffalo
This one has some sizzle. Being currently embedded in central New York, I can only hope this game lives up to the Bills fanfare that is building into a crescendo and rightfully so after an impressive 2-0 start. That said, we’ve seen the Buffalo disappearing act before harkening back to the days of J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards.
San Diego is riding high after their victory over the defending champs, but they would do well to not take the Bills lightly. A case can be made that Buffalo’s front four is better than Seattle’s-or any other line in the league. San Diego’s handling of that line could decide this one. The Bills should be able to have some success moving the football against San Diego’s 18th ranked pass defense and 15th ranked run defense. If the Bolts can’t answer back, Buffalo could pull off a third-straight win in front of a charged-up Ralph Wilson crowd.
Prediction: San Diego 27 Buffalo 24
Dallas at St. Louis
Dallas ran over the Titans on the way to their first win last week. They shouldn’t have too much trouble improving to 2-1 against a depraved Rams squad. DeMarco Murray rushed for 167 yards against a Titans’ defense stuck in a transition to the 3-4 scheme. This week they’ll face a Saint Louis defense that’s ranked lower than the Titans, averaging 171 yards allowed per game. Things rarely work that simply, but with any luck for Murray’s fantasy owners, he may actually improve this week. In any case, the Rams having to compensate for Murray’s presence will likely create favorable match ups for Dallas’ receiving corps.
A shootout does not bode well for the Rams, even if the Cowboys’ defense is a lacking one. Austin Davis has yet to throw a touchdown in a game and change’s worth of action. As long as Tony Romo doesn’t have one of his melt downs, the Cowboys should be in good shape.
Prediction: Cowboys 31 Rams 17
Houston at N.Y. Giants
The Texans are one of the league’s more surprising teams. While I get the feeling their 2-0 start is much more paper tiger than it is real turnaround, they have more than a fighter’s chance traveling into MetLife against the 0-2 Giants. Ryan Fitzpatrick has yet to make the big mistake, and the Texans defense has performed admirably, even in the absence of number one of overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, surrendering the fewest points in the league through two games.
For the Giants, they need to find something in their passing game. Eli Manning’s struggles are well-documented. Victor Cruz has been held in check. Odell Beckham Jr. can’t get healthy, and only tight end Larry Donnell and running back Rashad Jennings have given any kind of consistent production. The Texans have struggled with yardage, ranking 25th in the league with a weekly average of 368 yards allowed. It’ll be about ball security and red zone efficiency if the Giants want the win, two areas they’ve struggled with in 2014. Without Arian Foster today, the Texans will be looking throw the ball more and New York will have to find their pass rush if they want to root out bad Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Prediction: Giants 23 Texans 20
Washington at Philadelphia
The NFC East is in a weird state; The Eagles at 2-0 have had to make two monumental comebacks to gain control, Washington may have new life in new starter Kirk Cousins, the Cowboys are trying with some success to compensate for a lousy defense by keeping their offense on the field with a heavy ground game, and the Giants are stuck floundering at 0-2. With that said, every inter-division match up is another inch down the fuse that ultimately leads to the powder keg that is this division.
Washington will have DeSean Jackson who has been chomping at the bit to play the team that cut him this offseason amidst speculation that he had ties to gang activity. In addition to Jackson, Washington has formidable talent in Alfred Morris, Pierre Garçon and tight end revelation Niles Paul. It’s all up to Kirk Cousins to be the glue that holds it all together. Defensively, Washington couldn’t have done much better than they did last week, dragging down Chad Henne for ten sacks. Philly’s offensive line is one of the better units in the league, but they proved mortal against Jacksonville in week one, looking helpless at times as Nick Foles was sacked five times. Washington will look to duplicate the feat and should employ a heavy pass rush in response to the Eagles’ quick-tempo offense.
The Eagles have yet to meet a team who has the requisite speed to go toe-to-toe with running backs in LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. The mismatches the duo create have been as big a reason if not the only reason the Eagles are 2-0 at this point in the season. Nick Foles has been average so far, already matching his interception total from last year and struggling with his downfield reads. He’ll need to be better against Washington, who currently possess the number one defense in total yards, number four defense in points allowed and number sits number one in sacks with 10. Philly’s defense will have to shut down Alfred Morris to make Kirk Cousins win the game rather than manage it.
Prediction: Washington 27 Philadelphia 24
Minnesota at New Orleans
The Vikings are a mess. Adrian Peterson is out indefinitely and at this point, he’ll be lucky if he ever plays in the league again. With Matt Cassel under center, Minnesota is a ship without a sail. They’ll continue to float aimlessly as long as he stays there. Teddy Bridgewater has a chance to right the ship, but he shouldn’t be thrown into one that is already destined to sink. Are the Vikings that far gone? It looks that way. Adrian Peterson is not replaceable. He’s represented about a third of the Vikings offense on his own since entering the league. Bridgewater should get a good long look either way, but the Vikings may want to play it safe and wait until they know the season can’t be saved, thus absolving Bridgewater of blame and pressure in his rookie season. Until then be prepared to see the low-ceiling Cassel and likewise, the low-ceiling Vikings.
That all figures nicely into the Saints plans. Two frustrating losses courtesy of defensive collapses against the Falcons and Browns leaves the highly-hyped Saints at 0-2. Outside of Cordarrelle Patterson, no one on the Vikings is a game-breaker. Kyle Rudolph could cause problems in the red zone, but he hadn’t been all the effective through the first two games. The Saints shouldn’t have too much trouble moving the football for their purposes, as there really has yet to be a defense outside of Seattle to stop Jimmy Graham. Mark Ingram is out for the next month with a hand injury so Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson will need to add balance in place of Ingram while the combo of Colston and Cooks should provide more than a few mismatches for Drew Brees to exploit.
Prediction: Saints 34 Vikings 20
Tennessee at Cincinnati
After sailing through week one against the Chiefs, the Titans struggled mightily against the Cowboys ground game last Sunday. Don’t expect things to get much better against the Bengals. There are still plenty of questions to be answered for Tennessee; if or when Bishop Sankey breaks into the running back conversation, whether or not Jake Locker is a lost cause, and whether they have the personnel to run Ray Horton’s 3-4 defense. I don’t think many, if any will be answered in Cincinnati Sunday.
The Bengals are for real. With a ground game featuring both Gio Bernard’s speed and Jeremy Hill’s power, a physical defense that gets after the passer and forces turnovers and a quarterback that can lead a game-winning drive, the Bengals are pretty close to replicating Seattle’s blueprint for success. At the very least, they possess all the needed tools to dominate the Titans.
Prediction: Begals 30 Titans 16
Baltimore at Cleveland
Baltimore’s off-field distractions appear to be taking on a whole new form as it appears their ownership went out of their way to influence law enforcement and NFL decision-making in the Ray Rice incident. The only thing the players can do for their fans is just keep winning. After a ten day layoff following an impressive win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens should be well-rested and ready to compete against yet another division opponent in Cleveland. Their defense has been strong thus far, ranking fifth in the NFL in points allowed, and the offense looked improved against Pittsburgh, running with effectiveness against an admittedly poor run defense.
Cleveland has been the epitome of scrappy. They rallied back from a 24-point deficit against Pittsburgh only to lose in the final minute of the game. The following week, they won in the last minute, driving down the field against a New Orleans defense that was paid a lot of money to be a top-ten unit. Brian Hoyer has done well fending off Johnny Manziel, and will get a chance to widen the gap between his starting role and the lonely spot on the bench against a quality division opponent.
Prediction: Baltimore 20 Browns 17
Green Bay at Detroit
Another division match up, but this time offense will be the theme. Neither Green Bay nor Detroit possess a formidable secondary which makes the jobs of guys like Calvin Johnson and Jordy Nelson that much easier. Expect a lot of highlights and a lot of points thoughout the duration of this game, with the nod going to the Super Bowl champ in Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers dominated the Jets last week to stave off an 0-2 start and is 6-0 in his career against Matt Stafford. Stafford was completely stonewalled by Carolina, and despite having home field advantage, he has the unfortunate task of going against a slightly better secondary than his own. Guys like Tramon Willians and rookie HaHa Cinton-Dix aren’t always consistent, but they have better ball skills and thus more potential to influence a game than the aging Rashean Mathis and James Ihedigbo for Detroit.
Prediction: Packers 31 Lions 27
Indianapolis at Jacksonville
A surprisingly 0-2 Colts team needs this win badly so as not to dig themselves too large a hole in the AFC South. The team the Colts just lost to in Philadelphia had their fair share of struggles against the Jaguars in week one, and absent the pass rush Washington has, the Colts may also have issues. That said, Andrew Luck, motivated by a costly pick he threw late in the fourth against the Eagles, should feast on a poor secondary provided he has time to throw the ball and that his running backs don’t cough it up twice as Trent Richardson did last Monday.
The Jags on the other hand will try to duplicate their week one, first-half success against a comparable Eagles defense. The return of Cecil Shorts should help matters. Toby Gerhart floundering through his first two weeks certainly hasn’t helped take attention away from Henne and his targets. The once-backup to Minnesota hasn’t had much help in front of him, but without any semblance of a ground game, Chad Henne will continue to be Chad Henne (that’s bad) against even a marginal defense in the Colts’.
Prediction: Colts 28 Jaguars 20
Oakland at New England
Ugh. I mean could Oakland come in to Foxboro and upset the Pats? Sure. Tom Brady could also wake up tomorrow and retire so that he can pursue his true calling: Uggs Sales Department and shampoo model. The chances are about the same. Brady didn’t have to do much against an AP-less Vikings, and that is unlikely to change when squaring off with his counterpart, rookie Derek Carr who will have the task of throwing at corners like Darrelle Revis. That said, the poor Raiders’ secondary should provide Tom with plenty of opportunities to put up numbers.
Oakland’s only prayer in this game would be a horrific day from Tom Brady and a case of the fumbles from guys like Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Pass rushers Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley have to hit home for any of that to happen. Neither have done much in the early stages of 2014, doing little to dispel the notion that Oakland picked up two has-beens for too high a price.
Prediction: Patriots 33 Raiders 17
4 P.M. Slate
San Francisco at Arizona
Even in a three-week old season, our fifth divisional match up comes with major playoff implications. Bad news for the division-leading Cardinals, it’ll be up to Drew Stanton again with Carson Palmer out with a bum shoulder. That doesn’t bode well when going up against a stingy 49er defense. Yes, the receiving corps are talented, but the 49ers have done well against opposing passing attacks with four sacks and three interceptions in two games. The Cards will need another big day from Andre Ellington in both the running and receiving game if they want to compete. The speedy running back put up 101 total yards in last week’s win over the New York Giants. He’ll have his work cut out for him against a San Francisco defense that currently ranks as seventh best against the run.
For the Niners on offense, it boils down to one question: which Colin Kaepernick will show up? The one who was elemental in San Fran’s second-half collapse against Chicago last week or the one who led them to victory over the Cowboys in week one? It won’t help that his most lethal target in Vernon Davis is now listed as doubtful. Don’t expect a lot of production from the Niner’s running backs; the Cardinals possess the league’s third-best run defense. Kap will need to be on his A-game to avoid falling to 1-2 and 0-1 within the division.
Prediction: 49ers 21 Cardinals 17
Denver at Seattle
Oh boy. Do we get the Super Bowl or do we get the premiere matchup we were denied last February? Wes Welker returns for Denver and while still formidable, Seattle’s secondary has not been as dominant in the first two weeks of 2014 as they were in 2013. Changes in personnel certainly have a lot to do with that, but on the same token, the Broncos only change to their passing attack was the departure of Eric Decker and the arrival of Emmanuel Sanders. The latter shares attributes-speed and shiftiness-with receivers like Roddy White and T.Y. Hilton who’ve had past success against the Seahawk’s vaunted defensive backfield. Look for Peyton Manning to test the Legion of Boom early and often in wake of last week’s “exposure” of Richard Sherman. Monte Ball remains a dark horse for touches in this one as Wes Welker’s albeit limited presence should help soften the middle of the Seahawks’ defense.
Seattle on the other hand will enter the contest with a bit of a chip on their shoulder following the defeat they suffered in San Diego last week. Though they lost by a single score, they were dominated in the sense of the time of possession battle; the offense only registered 40 snaps, and the defense could not get off the field on third downs. The champs will be back in their favorite environment in Century Link, a venue they are now 18-1 in over the last three seasons. The offense should be in good shape with Beast Mode and Percy Harvin giving out heavy doses of thunder and lightning, and Denver’s defense, for all the “upgrades” they made in the offseason, has been mediocre, ranking 31st against the pass and 28th in total defense.
Prediction: Seattle 30 Broncos 27
Kansas City at Miami
Not sure what the schedule-makers saw in this one to make it a 4 p.m. game but both these teams are lousy. Kansas City will need Kniles Davis to do his best Jamaal Charles impression and shoulder the load of this Kansas City game plan. Defensively the Chiefs need Tamba Hali and Justin Houston to apply consistent pressure to disrupt Tannehill and Mike Wallace. Without strong play from the secondary, Wallace could be a problem that may go unanswered.
The Dolphins don’t have much of a running game with the injury to Knowshon Moreno, which doesn’t bode well for an offense that is pretty centered on drawing attention away from Mike Wallace. The defense has just been average, and while Kansas City doesn’t posses a whole lot of talent offensively, they have the veteran presence to take advantage of mistakes.
Prediction: Chiefs 23 Dolphins 17
Sunday Night Football:
Pittsburgh at Carolina
Things aren’t going well for the Steelers. They scraped by the Browns after embarrassingly blowing a 24-point lead and then were humiliated on the road against the rival Ravens 26-6. The common culprit in both games? The defense. Dick LeBeau’s once vaunted unit has fallen by the wayside, being pushed around by mediocre running games and picked apart by similarly average passing attacks. No pass rush, no run defense, no turnovers, no bueno. Offensively, Pittsburgh isn’t as bad as the point totals indicate with Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown flourishing, but their three-and-outs are even more damaging given the fact that their defense can’t get off the field. They’ll face a tall order in running the ball against the Panthers who have given up just 86 rushing yards a game through the first two weeks.
Carolina is an offense in transition, with Cam Newton and Kelvin Benjamin and the rest of Carolina’s free agent receivers building chemistry week-by-week. The game plan will be to employ dual tight end packages and running Jonathan Stewart and game-time decision DeAngelo Williams straight at a Steelers defense that is allowing 174 rushing yards a game. If they’re successful in this pursuit, Cam can run the play action to his heart’s content and chew up big chunks of clock and yardage. Defensively the Panthers stellar front seven will face their toughest running back yet in the versatile Le’Veon Bell who is equally as talented catching the ball as he is running it, but they had little issue stopping similarly-gifted running backs in Joique Bell and Reggie Bush last week against Detroit. If Bell is nullified, as good as Big Ben is, he’ll be on his back far too often to lead his team to a win.
Prediction: Panthers 30 Steelers 20
Monday Night Football:
Chicago at N.Y. Jets
This one has potential to be an even match up given each teas’ defficiencies. The Jets can’t stop the pass and the Bears can’t stop the run. A dominant running game can dictate the tempo of the game, whereas a dominant passing game can wrack up points in short order. The good news for Chicago; Jay Cutler is coming off a four-touchdown performance against a vaunted 49ers defense and has big targets Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery at his disposal. Matt Forte may be limited in what he can do on the ground but his value as a receiver should keep him as an effective option in this one.
The Jets have their work cut out for them in this game. Their lacking pass rush needs to harass Cutler into bad decisions if they want any chance of winning this one. They won’t stop Marshall and/or Jeffery, but they can try to contain them. Running the football effectively to keep that offense off the field and Geno avoiding interceptions is their best chance at doing that.
Prediction: Bears 27 Jets 21