Friday, September 18, 2015

NFL Picks, Week 2

Last week a strong initial showing was undone by a disastrous Monday Night. Which brings us to Overreaction Week! From last year's week 2 picks:

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 themselves 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?
What's that? How did I do last week in week 2? That's not important. What's important is I have a theme to tie this post together. Themes are good! Hooray themes!

As always, home teams are in CAPS.

CAROLINA (-3) over Houston
Question: What do I make of Houston? 
It's not that Houston lost to Kansas City, the Chiefs should be a good team this year when they're not fumbling the game away.

It's that the Brian Hoyer-led Texans looked inept. Yes they were missing Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson is gone, but this is the same Brian Hoyer who had the Cleveland Browns on the edges of the playoffs for 3/4 of last season. The Cleveland Browns! Now Hoyer's been benched after 3 quarters. It's like they always (almost) say, "If you have two starting quarterbacks in the first two weeks of your season, you really have none." And if you have no starting quarterbacks, you aren't going to be very good. Houston isn't going to be very good.

Carolina's no offensive juggernaut themselves. And their defense takes a hit if Luke Kuechly isn't cleared to play. But with this Houston offense, Carolina's defense will be good enough again this week.

NEW ORLEANS (-10) over Tampa Bay 
Question: So, Tampa Bay making a climb towards respectability...are we just tossing that idea in the garbage again this year? 
I have to say yes. Tampa isn't completely devoid of talent. That's why upgrading from univserally-hated Greg Schiano to universally-indifferent-to Lovie Smith was supposed to coincide with a jump in the Bucs' record last year. Didn't happen as Lovie's defense was torched up and down the field all year long. So we get to week one and Lovie's defense...gets torched by a rookie quarterback still adjusting to the pro game. Meanwhile, Lovie's own rookie quarterback (who did run a pro-style offense in college) is flummoxed into completing less than half of his passes and 2 interceptions to go with 1 non-garbage-time touchdown.

They lost by 28 last week at home to the Titans and this week they play to New Orleans in the dome. Perhaps the question we should be asking is, will Lovie last the season?

San Francisco (+6.5) over PITTSBURGH
Question: Were the rumors of the 49ers' demise greatly exaggerated. 
Exaggerated? Yes. Greatly so? I don't think so. Most teams aren't going to let Carlos Hyde run for 168 yards. That said more about Minnesota than it did about the 49ers. When that doesn't happen, we'll get to see if Colin Kaepernick has made strides from last season, when he appeared to stagnate. The bottom line is, they aren't more talented than last year's team AND they severely downgraded their coaching staff. That's not a good combination. That being said, I don't see Pittsburgh's defense shutting down this 49er offense, so I don't understand why this line is so high.

Detroit (+2) over MINNESOTA
Question: Is it too late to jump off the Vikings' bandwagon before we're all maimed in a fiery crash? 
Probably not. That wagon was pretty full (I should know, I was on it), and it crashed pretty hard at San Francisco on Monday night. It would appear the Vikings have a problem with their lines, as they couldn't run or stop the run all night. And as high as many are on the future of Teddy Bridgewater, this season won't go particularly well if they can't run the ball consistently.

New England (-1) over BUFFALO 
Question: Do the Patriots actually have a legit challenger to their divisional superiority? 
I'm sticking with no. Yes, Buffalo has a terrific defense, and yes, the Tyrod Taylor era got off to a promising start last weekend, but even during Rex's heyday with the Jets, he never actually challenged the Patriots for the division. He won 3/5 games in a 2-year span, but the team was not consistent enough to keep pace with New England.

That's not to say they won't play the Patriots tough this weekend. Rex has plenty of pieces to run his defense, and his defenses have given New England problems over the years. And with the lack of film out on his limited quarterback, he's getting the Pats at a great time. I just don't believe Taylor will do enough offensively to win the game.

Arizona (-2) over CHICAGO
Question: Are the Cardinals with Carson Palmer Super Bowl contenders? 
Whoa there, pump the breaks. They beat a questionable Saints team in week 1. I know the Cards are 8-0 in Palmer's last 8 starts and yes, they were a clear playoff team last year until both Palmer and backup Drew Stanton got hurt, forcing the team to turn to Ryan Lindley, but come on, this is still Carson Palmer. 1) No, Carson Palmer is not going to win you a Super Bowl unless you have a legitimately great defense and running game supporting him. Last year's Cardinals might have had the defense, this year they don't. And we haven't seen a running game in the desert in years. 2) He's going to miss time. Carson Palmer is not playing 16 games in a season.

That being said, Palmer and the Cardinals are going to torch the Bears. But that's because the Bears aren't good. The Cardinals are good. They're not great.

Tennessee (-1.5) over CLEVELAND
Question: Marcus Mariota is the savior Titans fans have been clamoring for!!!
Hmmmm, not a question. And I'm not sure we can describe Titans fans as clamoring for anything. They're perfectly nice people, they like their team, but I don't know how much pressure they put on their front office/coaching staff. Right now when people talk about Mariota, it's either a) You haterz shouldn't have hated on my boy, he's going to rock the NFL! or b) This guy's just RG3 all over again. Neither is true. Mariota is going to have to adjust from the Oregon offense to the NFL, but he's already a better passer than RG3, which will smooth his transition much more.

As for this game, I have no idea. Cleveland has the better roster, but Mariota is much better than whoever the Browns will trot out at quarterback, so I'm picking the Mariotas...err, Titans.

San Diego (+3) over CINCINNATI 
Question: Are either of these teams anything other than the fringe playoff contenders they've been? 
If one is, it would be the Chargers. But I don't beleive either is. The Bengals are the definition of insanity: putting out roughly the same team around Andy Dalton and expecting to win a playoff game. The Chargers still have barely anything in the running game to support Phillip Rivers, and a defense that approaches good, not great.

So who wins this game? Again, I'll pick the Chargers. Their aggressive defense is the type to bring out Bad Andy.

St. Louis (-3) over WASHINGTON
Question: Okay, the Rams are finally for real this year, right? Right?
Time will tell. As you'll see below, the Rams own Pete Carroll in St. Louis, and Jeff Fisher has the penthouse suite inside Carroll's head. The Rams have always played their division tough, they just don't put together anything resembling consistency over the whole 16-game season. Traveling to Washington and leaving no doubt would be a good first step to change their image as underachievers.

Atlanta over NEW YORK GIANTS
Question: Are the Giants the team that took it right to the Cowboys or the team that blew the game thanks to colossal stupidity? 
Well, they're not the team that took it to the Cowboys. The Cowboys spent most of the game shooting themselves in the foot, only for the Giants to detonate an atom bomb in their own shoe. The Giants did a poor job stopping the Cowboys. They took the turnovers Dallas gave them, but otherwise weren't able to slow down Dallas' offense. The only chance for the Giants to be competitive is to win shootouts, and the offense didn't look ready to do that either.

Last year's Falcons teams wouldn't have cared, because Mike Smith would have taken umbrage at another coach trying to usurp his title as worst in-game coach in the league. Unluckily for Giants fans, Smith is no more in Atlanta. Atlanta still doesn't have the horses to be a defensive power, but they at least offer some resistance, as Philly found out for a half. Combine that with a competent quarterback, and the Falcons will take this one on the road.

Baltimore (-6.5) over OAKLAND
Question: Just how good can you be with a 36-year-old and spare parts at receiver? 
I still say the Ravens are on the short list of top teams in the AFC. But they will have to improve substantially in the passing game pretty quickly. Their defense will remain stout even without Terrell Suggs, but they're not going to carry the offense to a contending year, Flacco and Co. will have to pull their weight as well. Luckily for the Ravens, they don't need to be much better this week, as they play Oakland.

Miami (-6) over JACKSONVILLE
Question: Wait, 17-10 over the Redskins? I thought the Dolphins were going to make the leap?
That was a disconcerting result, the Dolphins need to put away bad teams like the Redskins if they are, in fact, going to be a playoff team. The defense (assuming health) will be very good. The offense has the potential to be good as well, but good offenses score more than 10 points against the Redskins. Many were onboard the Tannehill bandwagon going into the season. I remain skeptical.

PHILADELPHIA (-5) over Dallas
Question: Should we expect to see the first-half Eagles team from Monday night or the second-half one?
Quick reminder: After one half of play in 2014 last year Philly was down 17-0 to Jacksonville. Nope, I'm not kidding. They recovered to win that game 34-17, but were similarly up and down over the course of the season. I expect more of the same this season, and that's assuming Sam Bradford stays healthy, which is less than likely.

Now, is Dallas minus Dez Bryant good enough to hang with the Eagles? This will be a good litmus test for the Eagles secondary. Yes they got torched by Julio Jones, but you're supposed to get torched by Julio Jones, he's a top-5 NFL WR. If the Eagles struggle against these Cowboys WRs? Then their fans should be in full-fledged panic mode. It says here we can keep those fingers off that button for at least one week.

GREEN BAY (-3.5) over Seattle
Question: Is that the sound of Seattle's window slamming shut?
In a word, no. Pete Carroll has been Seattle's coach since 2010. Here is how the Seahawks have fared in St. Louis each year:
Seattle at St. Louis
Week 4
Week 11
Week 4
Week 8
Week 7
Week 1
34-31 (OT)

In that same time frame, Carroll's Seahawks are 48-27 outside the city of St. Louis (inlcuding 5-0 vs the Rams in Seattle). In short, Carroll has always had a problem beating the Rams in St. Louis, especially under Jeff Fisher.

There were concerning signs in that game, but most of those issues were in the back 7 defensively and on the offensive line. There are always going to be offensive line problems on this team, it seems to be part of the philosophy - they'd rather spend elsewhere. The back 7 problems I would trust Carroll to fix, he's a secondary guy. Will it be enough to beat the Packers 7 days later? I'll say no. They're 3-0 vs Green Bay since 2012 because the defense has completely shut down Aaron Rodgers. This defense, with an incomplete secondary is not going to shut down Rodgers on the road. I wish I saw it happening...but I don;t.

INDIANAPOLIS (-7) over New York Jets 
Question: Are the Colts in trouble
No. They went on the road against a very strong defense and didn't play well. Aaron Rodgers lost in Buffalo last year. On Monday night they'll be at home against another very good defense, and facing Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. They'll be fine.

This week: 0-1 (D'oh!)
Last week: 8-7-1 (.531)

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