Saturday, September 13, 2014

NFL Picks, Week 2

It's week 2 of the NFL season, which means we're right in the middle of overreaction week. You see, fans, "experts", and even the clubs themsevles come into the season with (relative degrees of) informed opinions about how the season will play out. Then week 1 comes along and trashes many of those preconceived ideas. So does that mean we were wrong? Or was this just a small-sample-size issue that will be corrected as more games are played?

As always, home team in CAPS.

Baltimore (-2.5) over Pittsburgh
Note: I made this pick on twitter yesterday evening.
Question: Should I be looking at the 1st half Pittsburgh from week 1 or the second half Pittsburgh from week 1? 
After that game, I think the answer has to be second-half Pittsburgh. The Steelers simply have no pass rush whatsoever, and their secondary will continue to be horribly exposed unless they find one quickly.

CAROLINA (-2.5) over Detroit
Question: Wait, Carolina is heading for a big-time regression year...right?
Everyone and their mother was picking Carolina to take a big step back from last year's division championship. Many even had Carolina bringing up the rear in the NFC South. And then Cam Newton broke his ribs during the preseason. And then he was held out of their first game against a Tampa Bay team almost universally described as "frisky". Surely, Carolina would exit week 1 0-1.

Nope, they beat Tampa 20-14. Again, without Cam Newton, and without any wide receiver who caught a pass from Newton last season. That's right, Derek Anderson led this team to victory last week.

So what does this mean? Is Carolina going to become the first NFC South winner to repeat as division champion since the division was created in 2002? I'm not ready to predict that, but I am going to take the Panthers to win this game against the Lions, who looked unstoppable in week 1*.

* but it was against the New York Giants. More on them later.

For all of the questions surrounding the Panthers' offense, their defense hasn't lost much from last year's impressive season. And while Detroit is under new leadership, I'm not ready to believe they'll go on the road and handle a tough opponent until I see it happen.

Miami (PICK) over BUFFALO 
Question: Are these two teams for real? 
In Buffalo's case, they looked so bad offensively in the preseason, but then knocked off Chicago in week 1. In Miami's case, they outscored the Patriots 23-0 in the second half of their week 1 matchup behind a brand-new offensive line and under a new offensive system (one that doesn't include confusing hand signals). I'm buying Miami as a threat, but EJ Manuel still has a ways to go before Buffalo gets there.

WASHINGTON (-6) over Jacksonville
Question: Oh no, the RG3 bandwagon is veering towards a ditch, jump off!!! SAVE YOURSELF!!!!
Okay, that's not really a question. But let's talk RG3. He had a rough preseason, but last week was a real bucket of cold water for Washington fans. Griffin struggled, and worse, seemed averse to running. Granted, running too often has gotten him in trouble in the past, but if he takes it out of his arsenal completely, he's artificially capping his potential as a quarterback. Add in JAcksonville's surprising first half showing against the Eagles (0 points allowed), and this could get ugly quick for RG3 and his team.

Except if you look a little closer at the Jacksonville game, much of the blame for Philly's woes lays at Nick Foles' feet. I have seen snapshot after snapshot of Eagles receivers running free during that first half and Foles simply missing them or not seeing them. This leads me to believe the Jacksonville defense is more like the second half edition (27 points allowed) versus the first half one. Griffin gets back on track this week and silences (for now) the growing rumble of discontent in the nation's capital.

TENNESSEE (-3.5) over Dallas
Question: Could the Titans be a legitimate contender in the AFC South? 
Kansas City was going to regress this year, that much seemed clear. But very few people saw Tennessee's 26-10 easy win in week 1 coming. Now, I'm not ready to crown Tennessee, because it sure looked like Kansas City spent most of that game shooting itself in the foot and watching  important defensive cogs fall with season-ending injuries. And I still don't trust Jake Locker yet. That being said, Tennessee proved very capable of taking advantage of an over-matched defense, and this week they play the Dallas Over-matchedDefenses.

Arizona (-2.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS
Question: Are the New York Giants really that bad?
Well, I think so, yes. It's not just the 21-point loss to the Lions, or the multiple Eli Manning interceptions (no, those weren't 2013 flashback, those happened). More concerning to me were the numerous incidents where Manning and his receivers clearly weren't on the same page. Yes, the Giants hired a new offensive coordinator with a new scheme, but they had an entire offseason to get things right. And they're still flubbing simple things like hand signals? I take that as a very, very bad sign.

New England (-3) over MINNESOTA
Questions: Are the Patriots dead? Long live the Patriots? 
I'm going to say no to this one. I do believe the offense will take another small step back this season (unless Gronk plays a full 16 plus playoffs, which I doubt), but the defense should be very good. Like top-5 good. Yes I'm concerned about that second half in Miami where the Patriots could not stop the Dolphins from running all over them, but I trust Belichick to shore things up there. And then there's this:

Absolutely unbelievable. Whether you believe in some form of corporal punishment or not, I just don't see how it's anything resembling good parenting to whip a 4-year-old with a tree branch. Especially if you have the strength of an NFL running back.

New Orleans (-6.5) over CLEVELAND
Question: Umm...what happened to the good Saints defense that should only have gotten better? 
New Orleans was a top-10 defense last season. Yeah, really. And they added a top safety in the game to their defense this offseason. And then Atlanta went out and hung up 37 on them. I'm writing this off as an outlier. Or, to put it another way, I think that result says more about Atlanta and their offense than it does about New Orleans and their defense. The Saints get back on track this week against the Browns.

Atlanta (+5.5) over CINCINNATI 
Question: Is Atlanta back? 
As long as Matt Ryan, Juilio Jones, and Roddy White are healthy, the offense should be there. In this game, I think they can put up enough points to bring out bad Andy Dalton.

TAMPA BAY (-6) over St. Louis
Question: Are either of these teams better than they showed last week? 
I think they have to be, but Tampa Bay will get there quicker. As of this writing, the Rams sound like they're leaning towards starting Austin Davis on the road against a Lovie Smith defense. If Tampa can't put the clamps on Davis a week after failing to do so on Derek Anderson, sound the alarms.

Seattle (-6) over SAN DIEGO
Question: Is Seattle as good as they looked against Green Bay? 
Will they blow everyone out by 20+ points? No. But will their offense continue to show great progress and take more of the load on their shoulders instead of relying so much on their terrific defense? Yes, especially if they can keep Percy Harvin healthy. And if the offense can be on close to equal footing with the out NFL.

Houston (-3) over OAKLAND
Question: Can the Texans really compete for a playoff spot with Ryan Fitzpatrick/Ryan Mallett under center? 
I still say the answer is no, but that won't stop JJ Watt from ripping apart the Raider offensive line to get to Derek Carr.

New York Jets (+8.5) over GREEN BAY
Question: Green Bay is still really good, right? 
Their offense is, unquestionably. The defense is probably as bad as they looked on kickoff night. Especially if you a) play enough defense to keep the game close, b) are committed to the run and will stay with it all game. Green Bay's secondary is good and talented, the rest of that defense? The Jets won't dominate this game like Seattle did, but if they can avoid early turnovers I don't see Green Bay pulling away.

DENVER (-12) over Kansas City
Question: Just how bad will Kansas City be?
It's looking like worse than we thought. The defense got hit pretty hard by injuries in week 1, but it may be the offensive line that's most responsible for the team's regression. They could not protect Alex Smith, which probably gave him flashbacks to the Mike Nolan San Francisco era. When you can't protect Alex Smith, he;s not going to give you much. Even if Andy Reid remembers to not ignore Jamaal Charles (aka, his main offensive weapon) in future games, Kansas City is going to struggle to put up points.

SAN FRANCISCO (-6.5) over Chicago
Question: Were San Francisco's preseason struggles overblown? 
To a degree, yes. They were never going to be as bad as the preseason made them look. There's too much talent here still, even after they've been thinned by injuries and suspensions. But putting up 28 points against Dallas doesn't tell us much, and honestly, Chicago's defense isn't much better. I thought we'd get more answers about San Francisco's defense in this game, but with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey gimpy at best (and they might not even play), Chicago doesn't have the firepower to compete with the 49ers on the road.

Philadelphia (+3) over INDIANAPOLIS
Question: Can we just write off that whole 17-0 halftime deficit to the Jaguars? 
I'm going to say yes, like I said above, most of the issues fall at Foles' feet. And while he's not going to have only 4 turnovers all season again, he's not going to start averaging 3 a game either. Unless you can matchup with Philly's receivers in man coverage consistently, or you can get to Foles, Philly's going to get theirs on offense. I don't see Indy doing either one consistently Monday night.

This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 6-10 (.375)

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