Friday, September 27, 2013

The Hail Mary - Week 4

Sunday, September 29

Pittsburgh (0-3) "at" Minnesota (0-3) in London, England, Pittsburgh favored by 1

Hey London! You want American football, how about watching two teams that can't win a game! Obviously, this was not what Roger Goodell had in mind, but it is pretty funny that this has ended up being a matchup of winless teams. The Steelers are hoping their anemic rushing attack will be helped by the debut of rookie La'Veon Bell. The Vikings just wish games were 58 minutes, then instead of 0-3, they would be 2-1. With this being on a neutral field, I tend to lean on coaching and I believe that Mike Tomlin will outcoach Leslie Frazier. The Steelers also have the advantage at quarterback with Big Ben being well above Vikings backup Matt Cassel, who has been pressed into duty in place of the injured Christian Ponder.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 26, Minnesota 23

Baltimore (2-1) at Buffalo (1-2), Baltimore favored by 3 1/2

So maybe the Ravens weren't as bad as I thought? Or is Houston just not as good as I thought? The Ravens destroyed Houston in Baltimore last week, and look to win their third straight game in Buffalo. The Ravens defense performed very well in their past two games after an embarrassing start to the season. Playing against rookie E.J. Manuel, they have a chance to tee off on him. Manuel has performed pretty well at home though, and I still am not sold on that Ravens offense.

Prediction: Buffalo 20, Baltimore 16

Cincinnati (2-1) at Cleveland (1-2), Cincinnati favored by 4 1/2

Wow, so everyone said the Browns were tanking, and then they go out and win. Pretty incredible, and Browns fans had to like how much better the offense looked with Brian Hoyer under center. Now, while Hoyer did play well, he also had 3 INTs, so Browns fans shouldn't start printing their playoff tickets just yet. The Bengals won a crazy game against Green Bay. They managed to give up 30 straight points, yet still won. The defense gave up points but also forced a ton of turnovers, and have a chance to do that again this weekend. I look at last week's Browns win as more of a fluke, then the beginning of something.

Prediction: Cincinnati 27, Cleveland 20

Chicago (3-0) at Detroit (2-1), Detroit favored by 2 1/2

These two teams are the front runners in the NFC North. The Lions finally won in Washington, and Joique Bell looked really tough running the ball last week. Even if the Lions have to go without Reggie Bush against this weekend, I think they have something in Bell. Detroit caught some breaks against the Redskins, as Washington seemed intent on committing unforced errors. But being at home for this game, I think that they can get some push on the Bears offensive line, and force Jay Cutler to make some pretty major mistakes.

Prediction: Detroit 28, Chicago 17

New York Giants (0-3) at Kansas City (3-0), Kansas City favored by 4 1/2

Really Giants? Losing 38-0 to Carolina, really? My NFC East pick is in major trouble and now has to go to Arrowhead Stadium to face a revitalized Chiefs squad. Alex Smith has landed himself in the perfect situation. He has a good running game and a tremendous defense, so he can dink and dunk his ways to win, and convince people that he is somehow better than average. Unless the Giants have a miraculous week of practice, I don't think they can solve their problems in time to get their first win. This Chiefs defense is going to feast on the Giants porous offensive line, and Eli will be doing tons of shoulder shrugs and derp faces throughout his game.

Prediction: Kansas City 21, New York Giants 14

Arizona (1-2) at Tampa Bay (0-3), Tampa Bay favored by 3

I knew eventually that Tampa would turn to Mike Glennon at quarterback, but wasn't expecting it to happen after just three weeks. I originally was going to pick Tampa to win this game, but with Glennon being a wild card I have switched to going with Arizona. Larry Fitzgerald versus Darelle Revis is about the only thing worth watching in this one.

Prediction: Arizona 20, Tampa Bay 13

Indianapolis (2-1) at Jacksonville (0-3), Indianapolis favored by 8 1/2

Tough to get a read on the Colts just yet. Their loss against Miami doesn't look bad with the Dolphins at 3-0, and their win over San Francisco was pure dominance. We won't know much about them after this weekend because they play the Jags, and everyone beats the crap out of the Jags.

Prediction: Indianapolis 31, Jacksonville 12

Seattle (3-0) at Houston (2-1), Seattle favored by 3

Most everyone is picking Seattle to win this game and I understand why. The Texans defense has been dreadful this season, while the Seahawks defense has been dominant. Russell Wilson should get his against the Texans, but it will be fun watching JJ Watt try to chase Wilson down. Sometimes games go against what we have seen in previous weeks and that is what I am predicting to happen in this game. I think the Houston offense will make some plays, with Arian Foster having a strong game, and the defense will do just enough to eke out a victory.

Prediction: Houston 28, Seattle 27

New York Jets (2-1) at Tennessee (2-1), Tennessee favored by 4

Raise your hand if before the season you predicted that both these teams would be over .500 when they played each other? I doubt even Jets or Titans fans would raise their hands. I believe the Jets still will suck but Tennessee might be a contender. Their defense seems legit and Jake Locker continuously shows flashes of improvement. The question is can he string it together over the course of a season? Geno Smith struggled mightily in his first road start and I expect that trend to continue on Sunday.

Prediction: Tennessee 23, New York Jets 14

Philadelphia (1-2) at Denver (3-0), Denver favored by 10 1/2

Get your popcorn ready for this game, and expect to see a lot of scoring. The Eagles offense struggled against Kansas City, but I think some of that had to do with it being a Thursday night game. The Eagles defense is not good and Peyton Manning could throw for over 400 yards in this game. Denver looks unstoppable so far and I am getting a 2007 New England Patriots vibe from them right now. Denver is just a more talented team on both sides of the ball, and add in homefield advantage and this is a pretty easy pick. I do think the Eagles will manage to cover though.

Prediction: Denver 38, Philadelphia 28

Washington (0-3) at Oakland (1-2), Washington favored by 3

The 2013 Washington Redskins have made a lot of history in just three weeks of the season. Unfortunately, it has all been negative history. They added to it last week by becoming the first Redskins team to lose DC or Maryland to the Detroit Lions. They hope the fourth time is the charm on Sunday as they try to finally win their first game of the season. They may be catching a break as the latest reports are that Terrelle Pryor will likely miss this game with a concussion. Pryor has been very impressive so far this season, especially with his ability to run. His replacement, Matt Flynn, won't bring that same dimension, and really no one knows what he will bring as he has only started two games in his career. The Redskins defense has struggled against the run and pass this year, so Darren McFadden has a chance to have a big game for Oakland. Washington's offense showed some signs of rejuvenation last weekend against Detroit but Robert Griffin kept turning the ball over and killing drives. If he can cut back on that, I think the offense is getting close to what it was last year. 1-3 would still suck but going into a bye next week, at least having a win would be tremendous for the Redskins psyche. Oakland is not a very good team, and then if they are without their starting quarterback, this is a game the Redskins should win and have to win.

Prediction: Washington 31, Oakland 21

Dallas (2-1) at San Diego (1-2), Dallas favored by 1 1/2

Almost by default the Cowboys are the class of the NFC East at this point. They have a chance to really run away with the division early, but when is the last time Dallas took advantage of the opportunities handed to them. San Diego suffered their second loss of the season last week and just like their first it was in heartbreaking fashion. The San Diego pass defense has been making quarterbacks look unstoppable, so Tony Romo has to be licking his chops for this game. Dallas discovered a run game last week with DeMarco Murray, but he only really seems to come alive when he plays the Rams. Philip Rivers is still playing well and at three weeks people may just have to accept that this isn't a fluke. The Chargers are close to being able to make some noise in the playoff race this year and I think being at home will take them over the hump this weekend.

Prediction: San Diego 24, Dallas 21

New England (3-0) at Atlanta (1-2), Atlanta favored by 1 1/2

This game could be the return of Gronk, which should make Tom Brady a very happy man. It remains to be seen how long Gronk lasts in his return as last time he promptly got injured in his first game back. The Patriots defense has been very impressive this season, although most of that is because of the lousy offenses they have played. The Falcons are dealing with tons of injuries and weren't able to hold on to beat the Dolphins last Sunday. Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling put forth strong efforts in place of Steven Jackson, but it's the lack of plays from Roddy White that are really hurting the team. Tom Brady seemed to get a little bit more on the same page with his receivers last week, so his play should get better. It would help the Pats if Stevan Ridley could do anything on the ground, this season has been a nightmare for him thus far. If Atlanta were at full strength I would pick them at home, but I think the Pats are a little less banged up, and will remain undefeated.

Prediction: New England 21, Atlanta 17

Monday, September 30

Miami (3-0) at New Orleans (3-0), New Orleans favored by 6 1/2

A lot of people are shocked, shocked I say by the Dolphins 3-0 start. But I am not shocked, in fact I predicted the Dolphins would make the playoffs this season. Of course I will keep banging that drum and ignore my other incorrect picks. Ryan Tannehill has been very good this year and did a great job keeping Miami in last week's game against Atlanta and ultimately bringing them to victory. Even more impressive is that he has only really had new signing Mike Wallace as a weapon for one of their three games, as Wallace was once again hardly noticed against the Falcons. One thing I did not predict was that the Saints would be so good on defense through three games. I tended to think Rob Ryan was incredibly overrated but there is no denying the change in the Saints defensive play with him as coach. The offense also broke 30 points for the first time last week, so if they get on track then the Saints will be one of the favorites to come out of the NFC. The Dolphins passed last week's test but that was at home, this test is one I don't think they are quite yet ready for, but they will make it interesting.

Prediction: New Orleans 24, Miami 19

Last Week Against the Spread: 7-8-1
Overall Against the Spread: 20-25-3

Last Week Straight Up: 8-8
Overall Straight Up: 29-19

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cram Session - Week 5

Thursday, September 26

San Francisco (1-2) at St. Louis (1-2), San Francisco favored by 3

For the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era the 49ers are facing really adversity. They are under .500 for the first time since Harbaugh took over as a coach. They haven't just lost the last two weeks, they have been completely destroyed. The offense can do nothing, and is badly missing Michael Crabtree, and last week Vernon Davis. The defense hasn't played a good game in what seems like forever, even going back to last season's playoffs. Things aren't likely to get better either as their best defensive player, Aldon Smith will miss this game and possibly more while he is in rehab dealing with substance abuse issues. Also, their second best player, LB Patrick Willis is questionable with a groin injury. Now, they have to go on the road in a short week and beat the team that was their bugaboo last season, the St. Louis Rams. The 49ers could beat almost anyone last season, but in their two meetings with the Rams they tied and lost. They can't afford a loss tonight or I will go into full crisis mode. The Rams defense has been dreadful this season, and they were supposed to be the bright spot of the team. If the defense can't get it together, the Rams season will quickly fall apart as their offense just isn't good enough to be winning shootouts. San Francisco will win this game if they allow Frank Gore to get going and then when he does, stick with him. The Rams run defense is pretty awful and was just shredded by DeMarco Murray last week. The most frustrating aspect of Sunday's loss to the Colts was that the run game was working, and then offensive coordinator Greg Roman kept calling pass plays, which weren't working at all. I have no real confidence in my pick of the 49ers to win this game, but they're my team and I certainly won't pick the Rams to beat them.

Prediction: San Francisco 24, St. Louis 16

Games That Matter To Me

#14 Oklahoma (3-0) at #22 Notre Dame (3-1)

These two meeting this year isn't generating nearly the buzz of last year's meeting, but for Oklahoma you know they are amped up to try to gain revenge for their embarrassing loss from a season ago. This will the Irish's toughest opponent so far this year. Yes, tougher than Michigan who has appeared fraudtastic in the weeks since beating Notre Dame. Blake Bell is the Sooners new quarterback, but remains mostly unproven, as I don't consider playing well against Tulsa as proving anything. WR Sterling Shepherd and Bell seemed to develop an instant chemistry, with Shepherd hauling in 10 catches against Tulsa. Outside of his success against Tulsa, Shepherd and the rest of the Sooners offense has struggled throwing the ball so far this year. The Sooners lead back is Brennan Clay, but outside of a strong effort against West Virginia, he has also struggled. The Irish defense had their best game of the year last week against Michigan State. But how much of that was good defense, and how much was the fact that the Spartans stink on offense?

Now, how effective will the Irish offense be against a stout Sooners defense? The Irish nailed a huge run against Oklahoma last year in Norman and that set the tone for the game right away. However, this season, the Irish ground game has struggled as no running back has been able to grab the job by the horns and take control. QB Tommy Rees has mostly played well but he struggled mightily against a strong Spartans defense last week, and could face similar pressure and trouble against the Sooners. WR DaVaris Daniels did almost nothing last week after his breakout performance against Purdue the week before. His fellow wideout TJ Jones has also disappeared the last two weeks.

I have a hard time picturing the Irish beating Oklahoma two years in a row. The offense hasn't been consistent enough for me to believe that they will dominate Oklahoma's defense. Oklahoma is mostly a mystery on offense, but maybe Bell is the difference maker they need. The Irish defense controlled the line of scrimmage last year, but they haven't shown that type of push so far this season. I think the Sooners win a tough game and end Notre Dame's home winning streak.

Prediction: Oklahoma 28, Notre Dame 20

Top 10

#21 Ole Miss (3-0, 1-0) at #1 Alabama (3-0, 1-0)

The Rebels are coming into Tuscaloosa still high off of their drubbing of Texas in Austin. They have gotten an extra week of preparation and Nick Saban has to make sure his team doesn't take the Rebels lightly. Ole Miss has a dangerous offense, and one that is balanced. They have a premiere running back in Jeff Scott, who is averaging an absurd 9 yards per carry. Quarterback Bo Wallace is completing 64% of his passes and hasn't thrown an interception. The Bama defense has shown that they can be scored on in bunches, so unlike in past year's some of the pressure will be on the Bama offense. That means involving T.J. Yeldon who interestingly only had 7 carries last week in the win over Colorado State. Bama sometimes plays disinterested against lesser competition, but Saban will have his boys ready for this one. It still won't come easy though, the Rebels are too good on offense to not at least make it interesting.

Prediction: Alabama 34, Ole Miss 23

California (1-2, 0-0) at #2 Oregon (3-0, 0-0)

The Ducks kick off their Pac-12 schedule against a team whose defense will be the perfect match for them to continue to average over 60 points a game. Cal gives up 42 points a game, so maybe I should actually predict for Oregon to score 80+.

Prediction: Oregon 63, California 21

Wake Forest (2-2, 0-1) at #3 Clemson (3-0, 1-0)

Clemson struggled at NC State but was able to pull the victory and avoid a Clemson. We might just have to all deal with the fact that this is a new day for Clemson football. With the Demon Deacons coming to town, Clemson should have things much easier this Saturday. The Wake Forest offense couldn't put up many points against low level competition, so no chance they compete with the Tigers on Saturday.

Prediction: Clemson 38, Wake Forest 14

#23 Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0) at #4 Ohio State (4-0, 0-0)

It is refreshing to see some matchups between ranked teams this week after last week's awful schedule. This one will be contested under the lights. Wisconsin's record says they are 3-1 but had the officials not screwed them in Tempe, they would probably be 4-0. Wisconsin averages over 40 points a game and Ohio State 50, so this could be a shootout. The Buckeyes should be getting back starting QB Braxton Miller. There has been some talk of leaving in Kenny Guiton who has played so well in place of Miller, but all indications from Urban Meyer are that Miller is his guy. Guiton was very good, but Miller has also never lost a game as starting quarterback under Meyer, so its a wealth of riches for the Buckeyes at the quarterback position. The only Wisconsin can pull off the huge road upset is if Joel Stave plays above his head, and his running backs Melvin Gordon and James White continue their run of being unstoppable on the ground. Melvin in particular has been spectacular. His lowest rushing output in a game thus far this year is 140 yards and he did that on 9 carries. If this game was in Madison I might go upset, but the road atmosphere will be too tough for Wisconsin and Stave to handle.

Prediction: Ohio State 45, Wisconsin 27

#5 Stanford (3-0, 1-0) at Washington State (3-1, 1-0)

This game will actually be at CenturyLink Field, where the Seattle Seahawks play. Stanford raced out to a huge lead last week against Arizona State but nearly coughed it up after taking their foot off the gas too soon. I'm not entirely sold on the Cardinal and think this game has upset alert written all over it. Cougars coach Mike Leach is known for his offense but Washington State has a pretty good defense. They are only giving up 12 points a game this year, and I think they can frustrate Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan into some critical mistakes. While it won't be in their home stadium, the game will be in their home state, and that atmosphere will be an advantage for Washington State. Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday will have to play almost mistake free football, and avoid interceptions. He already has 8 of those through four games. It's boring picking favorites all the time, so I will go out on a limb and pick Washington State to pull off the shocker.

Prediction: Washington State 27, Stanford 24

#6 LSU (4-0, 1-0) at #9 Georgia (2-1, 1-0)

Almost every week, Georgia has a game that is tougher than the last. They got a bit of a respite last week with North Texas but this week they face a Top 10 team for the third time this season. I touched on it last week, but this Tigers team is unlike any we have seen in a few years. They can actually do some things on offense and have mostly been carried by that side of the ball, while their young defense gains experience. Last season at this time I never thought I would be writing that Zach Mettenberger is on par with Aaron Murray at quarterback but so far this year he has been. Offensively, these teams are about equal, but defensively, while young, I give the Tigers the edge over Georgia. I like their defense to force more mistakes out of the other teams offense and to ultimately be the difference as to why LSU remains unbeaten.

Prediction: LSU 37, Georgia 28

#8 Florida State (3-0, 1-0) at Boston College (2-1, 1-0)

Jameis Winston returns to ACC action where he already made a name for himself in his first ACC game against Pitt almost a month ago. Boston College has had two weeks to prepare for him, but with the way Winston has played so far, that probably means very little. Even if the Eagles can slow him down, they then have to try to score on a stout Seminoles defense. Florida State should continue to roll through the ACC, until they have the ultimate matchup with Clemson.

Prediction: Florida State 45, Boston College 17

#10 Texas A&M (3-1, 0-1) at Arkansas (3-1, 0-0)

It looked like the Razorbacks would be rolling into this game undefeated and with a confidence building win at Rutgers. However, they let a 24-7 second half lead slip away, and instead have to get right mentally for the Aggies coming to town. Arkansas will have to find some way to slow down the fast moving Aggies offense led by Johnny Manziel. This will be the Aggies first road trip, but Manziel has proved that playing away from home isn't an issue for him. The Aggies defense also finally stepped up and put in a good performance against SMU last week. Amazingly, the Aggies missed three extra point attempts last week, but I am going to bet against that trend continuing and predict they will do the impossible and make all their extra points against Arkansas!

Prediction: Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 21

Last Week: 11-0
Overall: 37-2

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Hail Mary - Week 3

Sunday, September 22

Cleveland (0-2) at Minnesota (0-2), Minnesota favored by 5 1/2

What a week it has been in Cleveland. But once again the Browns aren't making headlines for anything they have done well on the field. Instead, they are making headlines for rebuilding effort #123. They shockingly traded away last season's #3 pick in the draft, RB Trent Richards to the Colts for the Colts first round pick in 2014. Add to that, the fact that their starter Brandon Weeden is injured and the Browns look poised for another double digit loss season. I think you have to reserve judgment on the Richardson trade for now. I know that is sacrilegious to say in this era of hot takes, but the winner/loser of that trade won't be determined for at least a few years. It depends on how Richardson does in Indianapolis, compared to whatever player the Browns take with the Colts pick. Richardson wasn't very good, more like mediocre for Cleveland, but it did seem pretty early to give up on him, we shall see. As for this weekend's game, this seems like the perfect opponent for the Vikings to get their first win. Minnesota suffered a heartbreaking loss at Chicago last week. With Brian Hoyer starting at quarterback for Cleveland, the Vikings defense should be able to dominate and force turnovers. The Browns run defense has been strong so far, but it will be hard keeping up with Adrian Peterson on that fast Metrodome field.

Prediction: Minnesota 24, Cleveland 13

Detroit (1-1) at Washington (0-2), Washington favored by 1 1/2

People are in full panic mode in DC following the Redskins being completely decimated a second straight week. RG3 and the offense can't get anything figured out in the first half of games. The only times they have put up numbers and points has been in the second half when the game has been out of reach. One bright spot that people haven't talked about was Alfred Morris' play last weekend, when he rushed for over 100 yards on just 13 carries. Another silver lining is that the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders are the Redskins opponents over the next two weeks. Now, if this week's game was in Detroit, then the Lions would definitely win. But it will be at FedEx Field, and the Detroit Lions have never beaten the Redskins in Washington DC/Landover, Maryland. In fact they are 0-21 in DC/Maryland against the Redskins. Now, this year's Washington Redskins already broke the Packers long streak of not having a 100-yard rusher, but losing to the Lions at home would be a new low. We may not know until kickoff whether or not Detroit will have Reggie Bush available. Bush is nursing an injured knee, so it may be Joique Bell getting the start. I don't really have a reason to pick the Redskins other than history. If they do win it will be because the offense starts fast for a change, and the defense bends but doesn't break. Matthew Stafford will find Calvin Johnson and find him often. The key for the Redskins will be to not let other guys start torching them.

Prediction: Washington 33, Detroit 27

Green Bay (1-1) at Cincinnati (1-1), Green Bay favored by 2

This is definitely an offense versus defense battle. The Packers win with offense, while the Bengals are at their best when their defense dominates. The Packers carved up the porous Redskins defense, but should find things much tougher at Cincinnati on Sunday. The Bengals started to see rookie RB Giovanni Bernard emerge, as he scored 2 TDs on Monday night against the Steelers. AJ Green was kept in check by Pittsburgh, but I think he could have a huge game against Green Bay. I just like the Green Bay offense a little more than I like the Cincinnati defense. Plus, I don't think Andy Dalton will make enough plays for the Bengals to get the win.

Prediction: Green Bay 26, Cincinnati 20

St. Louis (1-1) at Dallas (1-1), Dallas favored by 4

The Rams looked like they were going to be blown out by the Falcons, but came back to make a game of it. Rookie Tavon Austin had 2 TDs receiving, and Sam Bradford might finally have a real threat at receiver. The Cowboys offense failed to show up at Kansas City and wasted a strong defensive effort. I expect the Cowboys offense to bounce back against a Rams defense that has been surprisingly suspect to start the season. Teams have had real success throwing on the Rams, so look for Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and Jason Witten to have strong games.

Prediction: Dallas 31, St. Louis 17

San Diego (1-1) at Tennessee (1-1), Tennessee favored by 3

Back when I did my previews I said that Philip Rivers had a chance to be rejuvenated under new head coach Mike McCoy. However, even I didn't expect him to have 7 TDs and 1 pick after 2 games. What is more amazing is that Rivers is doing it with a mediocre run game and mediocre receivers. The biggest beneficiary thus far or River's resurgence has been WR Eddie Royal. Royal exploded for 3 TDs last weekend against the Eagles. The Titans defense has looked very strong through 2 games, so this will be a real test for Rivers and the Chargers on if the offensive improvement is for real, or was a factor of facing a very bad defense. Jake Locker had a pretty decent game in a tough environment in Houston, but can he become consistent and string some good games together? I think these teams are pretty even, so I will go with homefield advantage and Chris Johnson as being the difference.

Prediction: Tennessee 24, San Diego 17

Tampa Bay (0-2) at New England (2-0), New England favored by 7 1/2

The Patriots are 2-0 but their offense is hurting. Tom Brady and his lack of receivers looked absolutely dreadful in their ugly win over the Jets last week. The good news is that TE Rob Gronkowski is getting closer and closer to returning. Being overlooked but just as worrisome is how terrible Stevan Ridley has been so far this season. The Patriots had a very strong running game last season, and with Brady not in sync with his receivers, now is when they really need that running game to step up. The Buccaneers are a team in turmoil. Greg Schiano is apparently feuding with both Josh Freeman and Darrelle Revis right now. This is what happens when you start losing games, although at 0-2 it seems way too early for this level of turmoil. Things will only get worse this weekend. I think the Pats offense will look somewhat better and the Bucs offense to continue to look inept, save for Doug Martin.

Prediction: New England 23, Tampa Bay 14

Arizona (1-1) at New Orleans (2-0), New Orleans favored by 8

It is very strange to see the Saints at 2-0 and it being because of their defense and not really their offense. Rob Ryan seems to be pushing the right buttons so far. The offense hasn't been bad or anything, just not as explosive as everyone is used to. The Cardinals got their first victory of the season last week, and did it with the offense somewhat struggling and Larry Fitzgerald hobbling. Fitzgerald is questionable for Sunday, but I'd be surprised if he isn't out there. I think the Saints offense wakes up a bit this week though, and maybe even someone will step up in their rushing attack.

Prediction: New Orleans 30, Arizona 20

New York Giants (0-2) at Carolina (0-2), Carolina favored by 1 1/2

The loser of this game will be in some real trouble at 0-3. The Giants were destroyed by Denver, as they continue to turn the ball over way too much, and have one of the worst defenses in football. Carolina suffered a heartbreaking loss at Buffalo, and heartbreaking losses have become far too common under coach Ron Rivera. The Panthers offense still seems a step slow, and Cam Newton doesn't look much like the quarterback that arrived on the scene two years ago. I don't think the Giants are as bad as they have shown, but they do need their running game to start doing something. You can tell that Eli Manning is trying to do way too much, and that is why he has so many picks this year. Since I think Carolina will lose, I am picking them to do it the only way they know how, in a close one.

Prediction: New York Giants 22, Carolina 20

Houston (2-0) at Baltimore (1-1), Houston favored by 2

The Baltimore Ravens may have gotten a win, but they still look like a team destined for a playoff-less season. Ray Rice was dinged up and has yet to get going this season, and Joe Flacco is learning what life is like when you have very little weapons at receiver. The Texans have mastered the miracle comeback these first two weeks. They can't rely on that all season, but 2-0 looks far better than 0-2 and affords them the luxury of getting some of their kinks worked out. They may have S Ed Reed make his debut for them, which would be fitting since this game is in Baltimore. The Texans are a better team than the Ravens and that will bear itself out Sunday.

Prediction: Houston 28, Baltimore 21

Atlanta (1-1) at Miami (2-0), Miami favored by 1

Everyone is so surprised by the Dolphins 2-0 start, but had they read my AFC East preview they would have known that Miami was a sleeper team this season. Their defense is very good, and Ryan Tannehill is showing some real improvement at quarterback, especially last week when he outplayed media darling Andrew Luck. 3-0 is a real possibility with the banged up Falcons coming to Miami. They will be without Steven Jackson at RB, Roddy White continues to be hobbled and they also lost Sean Witherspoon and Kroy Biermann on the defensive side of the ball. The Falcons defense really struggled against St. Louis when some of these guys started to go down. I think that is just too much for Atlanta to overcome on the road against an up and coming team. If Miami does lose this game, it will be a sign that they still have a lot of work to do.

Prediction: Miami 25, Atlanta 21

Indianapolis (1-1) at San Francisco (1-1), San Francisco favored by 10 1/2

It's the Stanford reunion bowl! Former Cardinal coach/quarterback combo Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck on the same field for the first in years. This game will also be notable for the Colts debut of Trent Richardson. It will be interesting to see how much of the workload they gave him right away, or if he and Ahmad Bradshaw have an even amount of touches. The 49ers are desperate to get back on the field and erase the stench of that Seattle game. The defense cannot ever stop Marshawn Lynch, and killed itself time after time with stupid penalties. I would like the 49ers defense to have a dominating effort for a change, something they haven't done in far too long. Luck will find some success passing, especially if he targets that bum Nnamdi Asomugha. However, I don't think Richardson or Bradshaw will do a ton running the ball, and that could be the difference in this game. The offense hasn't been able to run the ball for two games. If Frank Gore does next to nothing again, the talk of him falling off once turning 30 will grow very loud. Anquan Boldin should bounce back after last week's game, although Vontae Davis is a pretty good cover corner. I also expect Colin Kaepernick to have a bounce back game. I think he will have time to throw the ball, won't have to deal with an insanely loud crowd, and will look more like the Kap we saw in Week 1.

Prediction: San Francisco 34, Indianapolis 24

Buffalo (1-1) at New York Jets (1-1), New York Jets favored by 2 1/2

It is the battle of the rookie quarterbacks as E.J. Manuel takes on Geno Smith. Both had very different Week 2's. Manuel led a stirring comeback win over the Panthers, while Smith threw 3 INTs and was unable to lead the Jets to a come from behind win at New England. These are both pretty middle of the road, leaning towards bad teams, so I will go with the Bills since Manuel > Smith.

Prediction: Buffalo 24, New York Jets 21

Jacksonville (0-2) at Seattle (2-0), Seattle favored by 19 1/2

The Seattle Seahawks have officially entered my NFL hate zone occupied by the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. So sick of hearing about this team, sick of Pete Carroll and his goofiness, sick of Richard Sherman and his non-stop yapping, and sick of the 12th man. Vegas is even on the Seahawks bandwagon, anointing them as 19 1/2 point favorites. Last time we saw spreads this big was when the 2007 New England Patriots were running roughshod over the NFL. The sad thing is, I like the Seahawks to cover because the Jaguars are so atrocious.

Prediction: Seattle 28, Jacksonville 6

Chicago (2-0) at Pittsburgh (0-2), Chicago favored by 2 1/2

The primetime games this weekend leave a lot to be desired and it starts Sunday night with Steelers/Bears. Both these teams do have fat faced quarterbacks which is comical, but they also are both pretty boring to watch. The Bears are the cardiac kids of the NFC, coming from being in both of their wins. The Steelers are just plain terrible right now. They have rushed for 75 yards in two games, and things have gotten so bad that Heath Miller is now being labeled as a potential savior. The Bears tend to play down to competition and this is in Pittsburgh, so I expect at least a close game. But it will likely feature both offenses and offensive lives struggling, and not much in the way of entertainment. After how terrible the Steelers have looked in the two weeks I picked them, in good conscience I can't pick them this weekend.

Prediction: Chicago 20, Pittsburgh 17

Monday, September 23

Oakland (1-1) at Denver (2-0), Denver favored by 14 1/2

Why was this made a Monday Night game? Because of some rivalry that no one has cared about for almost 20 years? Huge loss for the Broncos with the news that left tackle Ryan Clady is out for the year. You know things are not good when you have to sign Winston Justice to help out your line. This is definitely a storyline to watch, because Justice might get Manning killed. Maybe Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor will run around a bunch and keep this game slightly interesting. That being said, the Broncos have killed their first two opponents, I don't see the Raiders breaking that trend.

Prediction: Denver 35, Oakland 14

Last Week Against the Spread: 8-7-1
Overall Against the Spread: 13-17-2

Last Week Straight Up: 11-5
Overall Straight Up: 21-11

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cram Session - Week 4

Thursday, September 19

Kansas City (2-0) at Philadelphia (1-1) 

The game itself takes a back seat to the storyline around it, the return of Andy Reid to Philadelphia as the Chiefs head coach. I expect the Philly fans to give Reid a warm welcome in his return, and then immediately boo him as much as possible when the game begins. The Eagles offense continues to put up points and yards, but the problem is, as expected, their defense is terrible. The short week could help the defense, and also playing a middling Chiefs offense could help as well. Like a typical Alex Smith led team, the Chiefs are so conservative and cautious on offense. That helps them win games, but it also keeps them in the teens and twenties. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles offense hums along well on just a few days rest for the players. I think it will stagnate a bit, as has become common with teams and these Thursday night games. I expect a close back and forth battle, with the Eagles hanging on this weekend, reversing last week's late loss to the Chargers. I think LaSean McCoy's ability to make plays rushing and catching the football will be the difference.

Prediction: Philadelphia 24, Kansas City 20

Games That Matter To Me  

Michigan State (3-0) at #22 Notre Dame (2-1)

The Irish have outclassed and outplayed the Spartans in their last two meetings, winning by a combined score of 51-16. The defense has been dominant in each of those meetings, but dominance has eluded the Irish defense in 2013. Even when they held Temple to 6 points in the opener, the Owls were able to move the ball through the air pretty easily. This week, they are facing an average at best Spartan offense, but that didn't seem to matter for Notre Dame last week when they let Purdue score all over them. Michigan State has finally settled on a starting quarterback, Connor Cook. Cook should come into this game with some confidence following a strong showing against Youngstown State last week where he threw 4 touchdowns. Cook's play is important, but what will really make the difference in this game is the performance of the Spartan running game. Jeremy Langford leads the Spartans in carries, yards, and touchdowns, but Nick Hill seems to be the more explosive back, averaging over 7 yards per carry. The Irish defense should be able to shut down the Spartans anemic passing game, and if they can slow down the run, this could be another dominating win.

The Irish offense has played well all season save for struggling in the first half against Purdue, but they will face their toughest challenge in the number one ranked Spartans defense. The breakout start so far is WR DaVaris Daniels who already has 4 touchdowns. Along with TJ Jones, the Irish passing game is humming along fine. The rushing attack is more unsettled, as no one has taken the reigns and taken over the job. So expect to see a work share between Amir Carlisle, Cam McDaniel, and George Atkinson III. Whichever of those backs is having some modicum of success is who will get the heavy lifting. The onus will also be on the offensive line to protect Tommy Rees and give him time to find his big play receivers.

I expect a dogfight Saturday afternoon. I think the Irish defense finally has a chance to shine this year, and will more resemble that 2012 unit. This game will come right down to the wire, but I like the Irish's edge in talent to win out.

Prediction: Notre Dame 21, Michigan State 19

South Dakota State (3-0) at Nebraska (2-1)

It has been an ugly few days for Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. It started Saturday when the Huskers blew a 21-3 lead at home, losing 41-21. Once again, the Huskers appeared completely outmatched against a team with a pulse, a recurring theme since Pelini has been coach. His supposed specialty of defense, continues to be the terrible unit of the team. Maybe he really misses his brother Carl? Things got worse when audio was leaked from two years ago where Pelini was lambasting the fanbase as fair weather. He also didn't help his cause by dismissing Tommie Frazier, a Cornhusker legend and a player that had success that Pelini could only dream of. Nebraska has one more non-conference game, then a week off, and then open the Big 12 season at home against Illinois.

They face the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State this weekend. The Jackrabbits have a high powered offense that has feasted on their fellow FCS foes. With how terrible the Huskers defense is, it will probably feel like playing an FCS defense. The Jackrabbits best player is RB Zach Zenner, who is coming off a three touchdown game last week against powerhouse Southeastern Louisiana. Unfortunately, the Jackrabbits defense gave up over 500 yards to Southeastern Louisiana, meaning Taylor Martinez, Ameer Abdullah, and Kenny Bell should have no problem piling up yards and points. Pelini badly needs a blowout win, and some time to calm the storm that is surrounding him.

Prediction: Nebraska 48, South Dakota State 27

Top 10

Thursday, September 19

#3 Clemson (2-0, 0-0) at North Carolina State (2-0, 0-0)

This is the type of game people would point to and say, Clemson might pull a Clemson. A Clemson, for those that don't know, is when Clemson loses a game they should win. Raleigh should be pretty electric for this primetime affair, but the Tigers are a much better team than the Wolfpack. NC State barely beat Richmond at home just a few weeks ago, but they also have a history of pulling off pretty major home upsets in the ACC. The problem for them is they won't have an answer for Tahjh Boyd or Sammy Watkins.

Prediction: Clemson 34, North Carolina State 24

Saturday, September 21

Colorado State (1-2) at #1 Alabama (2-0)

The Crimson Tide have to get refocused following an emotional win at College Station last week. The Tide defense was eviscerated like we haven't seen in some time, but as great teams do, Bama found a way to win. One interesting aspect of this game is the Rams coach, Jim McElwain. McElwain was the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator from 2008-2011. We will see if he can give his defense some tips on the Alabama offense. Expect the Bama defense to be flying all over the place, trying to atone for last week's poor performance.

Prediction: Alabama 40, Colorado State 13

Florida A&M (1-2) at #4 Ohio State (3-0)

In something that is definitely different, Ohio State is openly disrespecting Florida A&M. Players and coaches are openly talking about how disappointed and the lack of motivation they are feeling in playing the Rattlers. I appreciate the honesty I guess, but you have to think that will fire up the Rattlers a bit. Unfortunately, the Rattlers could play 11 on 5 and still would probably lose to the Buckeyes. With Ohio State, you have to wonder if a quarterback controversy could start. Kenny Guiton filled in more than capably for Braxton Miller last week, and it might be tough to get him off the field.

Prediction: Ohio State 52, Florida A&M 10

#23 Arizona State (2-0, 0-0) at #5 Stanford (2-0, 0-0)

This is the only game this weekend pitting ranked teams against one another. Arizona State had one of the most bizarre finishes I have ever seen, in their victory over Wisconsin. The referees were so confused by how Wisconsin QB Joel Stave took a knee, that instead of taking control of the game and giving Wisconsin time to clock the ball, they stood around with their thumbs up their asses, costing the Badgers the game. Stanford had way more trouble with Army than I expected them to have, but a win's a win. Both teams have strong offenses, but their philosophies are a bit different. The Sun Devils are more of a passing team, led by QB Taylor Kelly. Kelly was just okay against Wisconsin and will have to better if Arizona State is to pull off the upset on the road. A player that did play well against Wisconsin was Kelly's favorite target, WR Jaelen Strong. In two games this season, Strong has 12 catches for 162 yards and a TD. He is complemented by RB Marion Grice, who serves as a dual threat for the Sun Devils offense. The Cardinal like to run the ball and RB Taylor Gaffney does it very well, averaging almost 6 yards per carry. If the Cardinal impose their will on Arizona State's defense and get the running game going, the Sun Devils have no chance. Arizona State allowed Wisconsin to rush for 231 yards last week, so chances are that Gaffney will have a big game. If Arizona State's defense was better I would consider picking them to pull off the upset, but they won't have any referee shenanigans to give them a win this weekend.

Prediction: Stanford 28, Arizona State 20

Auburn (3-0, 1-0) at #6 LSU (3-0, 0-0)

ESPN is trying to hype this game up as something special, mostly because this weekend's games are terrible. Witness Michigan/UCONN being a primetime game. Auburn did finally win an SEC game last week, which is improvement, considering they were 0fer in that department in 2012. Their offense, which was horrific last season, has shown signs of life under new coach Gus Malzahn. QB Nick Marshall had a very strong showing against Mississippi State last weekend, throwing for 339 yards and 2 touchdowns. One problem is, he did throw 2 picks, and mistakes like those will kill Auburn against LSU. LSU has been very impressive thus far, mostly because they finally seem to have an offense that complements their defense. LSU QB Zach Mettenberger already had 9 TDs in 3 games, after throwing just 12 all of last season. He also has 0 interceptions, and might be one of the most improved players in college football. Now he has to show that improvement in the toughest conference in football. I believe he will get off to a good start Saturday night at home.

Prediction: LSU 30, Auburn 17

Florida International (0-3) at #7 Louisville (3-0)

Florida International is terrible and was just cooked last week by Bethune-Cookman. However, the last two seasons they have given Louisivllle some trouble, including defeating the Cardinals in 2011. I would be surprised if they give them any trouble Saturday, and expect Teddy Bridgewater to atone for his poor game against the Golden Panthers last season.

Prediction: Louisville 42, Florida International 14

Bethune-Cookman (3-0) at #8 Florida State (2-0)

As mentioned above Bethune-Cookman creamed Florida International of Conference USA last week, so they should have some confidence going into Tallahassee. They have a strong ground attack that averages 244 yards per game. They also haven't played a team anywhere near as talented as Florida State. This will be another game for Jameis Winston and the Seminoles offense to showcase their talents and pour on the points.

Prediction: Florida State 57, Bethune-Cookman 17

North Texas (2-1) at #9 Georgia (1-1, 1-0)

Georgia finally faces a cupcake a month into the season. They better enjoy this cupcake because next week it is back to the grind, as they host LSU. This game will be about getting the starters some action, then taking them out before they get hurt.

Prediction: Georgia 41, North Texas 14

SMU (1-1) at #10 Texas A&M (2-1)

Johnny Football finally has people talking about his exploits on the field, instead of his dumb decisions off of it. He did all he could to try to knock off Alabama for the second straight year, but came up a bit short. The truth is, the Aggies defense is terrible, so the pressure is on Manziel every game to put up a ton of points. I expect another shootout this weekend, when they face SMU. SMU is coached by the master of the shootout, June Jones.

Prediction: Texas A&M 48, SMU 31

Last Week: 8-1
Overall: 26-2

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Hail Mary - Week 2

Sunday, September 15

Miami (1-0) at Indianapolis (1-0), Indianapolis favored by 3

The Dolphins defense was tremendous against Cleveland last week, forcing multiple turnovers and sacking Brandon Weeden throughout the game. The challenge figures to increase this week against Andrew Luck and the Colts. That being said, the Colts only mustered 21 points against a poor Raiders defense. Luck only threw for 178 yards but he was very accurate, which is a good sign for Indy. Vick Ballard again ran the ball well but only received 13 carries, as the Colts continue to insist on relying on the pass, when Ballard has proven to be a capable runner. One negative for the Dolphins coming out of last week's win was Mike Wallace only having 1 catch for 15 yards. Hopefully, that was simply a case of him being shut down by Joe Haden. However, it doesn't get easier this week with former Dolphin Vontae Davis on him. I think Luck being better than Ryan Tannehill and homefield advantage will carry the Colts over Miami.

Prediction: Indianapolis 27, Miami 19

Minnesota (0-1) at Chicago (1-0), Chicago favored by 6 1/2

Save for Adrian Peterson's opening run for a touchdown, last week was ugly for Minnesota. Christian Ponder looked terrible and is not becoming the consistent quarterback the Vikings were hoping he would be by now. It doesn't get any easier as the Vikings travel to Soldier Field this week. Soldier Field has always been a house of horrors for Minnesota. The Bears played a solid game against Cincinnati last week, with both the offense and defense complementing each other nicely. The Vikings defense will be helped by the likely return of DT Kevin Williams, but I don't think the offense will muster up enough to avoid Minnesota from falling to 0-2.

Prediction: Chicago 23, Minnesota 13

San Diego (0-1) at Philadelphia (1-0), Philadelphia favored by 7 1/2

For NFL fans that aren't college football fans, they finally got to experience the craziness that is Chip Kelly's offense. Even I had seen Oregon play and was still pretty amazed at how fast paced it was. The Washington Redskins didn't look like they knew what to do and the Eagles were able to jump out to a huge lead. The Chargers shocked everyone by jumping ahead of the Texans 28-7, but then in typical Chargers fashion they blew the lead and the game, losing 31-28. I believe it is going to take the NFL about a year to figure out Kelly's offense. That means that the Eagles should be able to score at will the majority of the time, and as long as they stay healthy, Michael Vick, LaSean McCoy, and DaSean Jackson should all have Pro Bowl type seasons. I think much like the Redskins, the Chargers aren't going to know what hit them.

Prediction: Philadelphia 38, San Diego 21

Washington (0-1) at Green Bay (0-1), Green Bay favored by 7

After all the months and months of hype, Robert Griffin III's return to the field was a huge bust. He looked slow and incredibly rusty and despite only losing by 6, the Skins were basically destroyed by the Eagles. Arm-chair quarterbacks were saying that this was proof that Griffin should have played in preseason to knock off the rust. I enjoy that all of the sudden we are going to act like preseason matters and would have made a huge difference. Griffin is coming back from a major injury and it is going to take time for him to feel comfortable and look like himself again. Plus, he's had everyone in his head for 6 months talking about how he has to change his style of play. It was obvious that was going through his mind Monday night, as he was much more indecisive than we ever saw him be last season. Another dud in the Eagles game was the play of Alfred Morris. Morris couldn't hold on to the ball, fumbling twice, and couldn't get anything going on the ground against Philly. I think he will struggle again on Sunday, trying to rush against the Packers front of BJ Raji and John Jolly. That means for the Skins to have a chance, Griffin will have to find his game early on, and the passing game will have to carry the team. It also means that the defense will have to try to prevent Aaron Rodgers from making too many big plays. Unfortunately, I expect none of these things to happen. The Packers receivers should have a field day against a porous Washington secondary. I think the offense will scuffle again this week, and the Skins will drop to 0-2.

Prediction: Green Bay 28, Washington 17

St. Louis (1-0) at Atlanta (0-1), Atlanta favored by 7

The Falcons offense sputtered against the Saints defense. Some are crediting Rob Ryan for improving the Saints defense already, I think it is more that Roddy White is not healthy. He is on the field, but last week he served mostly as a decoy. The Falcons will be tested by the Rams defense, although Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals had success throwing the ball. I'm still not sold on the St. Louis offense, as it appears TE Jared Cook is their most dangerous weapon. The Falcons had to be encouraged by the play of their defense against the Saints. I think they can dominate the St. Louis offense and give Atlanta their first victory.

Prediction: Atlanta 24, St. Louis 16

Carolina (0-1) at Buffalo (0-1), Carolina favored by 3

The Panthers young defense, led by LB Luke Kuechly stymied the Seahawks offense, but Cam Newton didn't play well and the Panthers fell to the Seattle Seahawks 12-7. The Panthers may try to feed DeAngelo Williams the ball more, as he ran for over 5 yards a carry last week, although he did fumble once. The Bills gave the Patriots all they could handle but lost at the final gun. EJ Manuel played pretty well, and is quickly earning fans in West Orchard. The Bills want their running game to wake up a bit, as C.J. Spiller did next to nothing against the Patriots. I think this game will be more of a defensive battle, with whatever offense that turns the ball over less, winding up the winning team.

Prediction: Buffalo 20, Carolina 17

Dallas (1-0) at Kansas City (1-0), Kansas City favored by 3

The Chiefs streamrolled Jacksonville, getting the Andy Reid/Alex Smith era off to a winning start. Smith won games like he always does, with pedestrian numbers. Smith is competent, but it is so obvious what a step below Colin Kaepernick he is. RB Jamaal Charles played well but was dinged up, which is a constant story with him. The Cowboys defeated the New York Giants, with the defense being the highlight forcing six turnovers. The media was quick to give new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin all the credit, but mostly it was ineptitude of the Giants. The Cowboys defense will get more credit after this because the Chiefs and Smith will play conservative and try to win with defense. I expect this game to come down to the final seconds, and Tony Romo to lead Dallas on a final drive, culminating in a Dan Bailey game winning field goal.

Prediction: Dallas 22, Kansas City 19

Cleveland (0-1) at Baltimore (0-1), Baltimore favored by 6 1/2

The Ravens played well in the first half against Denver and I was starting to think that maybe they would be a contender this season despite all the turnover. Then they were blitzkrieged in the second half and I felt even better about my 6-10 prediction for them. The problems I expected the Ravens to have were apparent. Flacco has hardly anyone to throw the ball to and make him look better than he is, and is now without Jacoby Jones for at least a month. The Ravens defense looked awful, as you can't replace half a defense and expect it to come together right away. The Browns looked decidedly like a team that isn't ready to improve. Any thoughts I had about Brandon Weeden turning a corner this year went away pretty fast after that Miami game. It is never a good thing when Jason Campbell might be the best quarterback on your team. The Ravens will win this game because they always beat the Browns in Baltimore, but they won't cover the line.

Prediction: Baltimore 24, Cleveland 18

Tennessee (1-0) at Houston (1-0), Houston favored by 8 1/2

The Titans shut down the toothless Pittsburgh Steelers offense and everyone jumped on their "Gregg Williams is there see how much better they are" stories. Nevermind that Williams is simply a defensive assistant and not the coordinator, or that Williams is completely overrated as a coordinator to begin with. I'm still skeptical about the Titans defense, but will believe in them more if they can replicate last week's effort against the Texans. It will have to be the defense that does their work, as outside of Chris Johnson the offense remains mostly terrible. The Texans defensive play was very disappointing against the Chargers. Maybe being back in front of their fans will get them going, including J.J Watt. Brian Cushing did have an interception return for a touchdown in his first game back from an ACL tear, so that was a good sign for Houston.

Prediction: Houston 20, Tennessee 14

Detroit (1-0) at Arizona (0-1), Detroit favored by 1

This could be a sneaky, entertaining game in the late afternoon slate on Sunday. Both of these teams have quarterbacks that like to air it out. Both teams also feature two of the best receivers in football in Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson. Reggie Bush had a great debut for the Lions, running the ball well and proving to be a receiving threat too. The Cardinals rookie, Tyrann Mathieu had a memorable debut, chasing down the Rams Jared Cook and stripping him right in front of the goal line. Carson Palmer played pretty well in his first game, and it looks like Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd will be much greater weapons with a half decent quarterback throwing them the ball. The key to this game will be if the Cardinals offensive line is up to the task of blocking the fearsome Lions front that includes Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. I think they will do just enough, and the Cardinals will eek out a win.

Prediction: Arizona 34, Detroit 31

New Orleans (1-0) at Tampa Bay (0-1), New Orleans favored by 3

Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman didn't start the year the way he had hoped. He struggled in the Bucs loss to the New York Jets, as talk grows louder that his days as the starting quarterback are numbered. As mentioned above, the Saints defense came to play in the season opener, and now Rob Ryan is getting his ego stroked this week. Freeman loves his turnovers as much as he loves oversleeping and I think the Saints will pressure him into a couple in this game. The Saints offense did nothing on the ground last week, but the passing game was as good as ever. They may have even found a new weapon in wide receiver Kenny Stills. One thing to watch is how often Brees targets Marques Colston who likely will be covered by Darrelle Revis. I expect the Saints will score in the 30s this week and improve to 2-0, while the Bucs misery will continue.

Prediction: New Orleans 35, Tampa Bay 23

Jacksonville (0-1) at Oakland (0-1), Oakland favored by 6

The worst game of the weekend is easily this one. One reason that might make it worth watching is new Raiders quarterback Terrell Pryor. People had to put away their arm punt jokes about Pryor after last week's performance against the Colts. If he can keep playing up to that level and limit some of his mistakes, the Raiders might actually be competitive this season. Blaine Gabbert is already hurt in Jacksonville, which might actually be a good thing. Chad Henne receives the start, but the Jaguars losing ways should remain the same. Even if Henne is a little bit better than Gabbert, he is still surrounded by crap.

Prediction: Oakland 21, Jacksonville 10

Denver (1-0) at New York Giants (0-1), Denver favored by 4 1/2

Manning Bowl III. Peyton has won the first two games between him and his brother and I don't think the third time will be the charm for Eli. The Giants passing game looks good, but their running game is a mess. David Wilson Chokies the ball too much, but with Andre Brown hurt the Giants had to sign the tip toe burglar Brandon Jacobs. Anyone expecting Jacobs to make much of a difference must think it is 2008. Peyton won't throw seven touchdowns this week but he will still have his way with a weak Giants defense. One player that will be looking to get more involved for Denver is WR Eric Decker, who somehow didn't have a touchdown catch in a game with seven of them.

Prediction: Denver 38, New York Giants 28

San Francisco (1-0) at Seattle (1-0), Seattle favored by 3

The Seattle Seahawks have quickly entered into that Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers zone of teams I really, really hate. I hate how overrated the Seahawks are by the media. The media decided Seattle was their Super Bowl pick this year, while I had the Seahawks missing the playoffs. Seattle barely beats a crappy Carolina team and the media wants to make it seem like it was some great win. I don't deny that Seattle has a very good defense. What I question is their offense, especially when Marshawn Lynch is struggling like he did against Carolina. The 49ers offense, with Colin Kaepernick throwing instead of running led the Niners to beat Green Bay a third straight time. Again, the lazy media has tried to characterize Kaepernick as a running quarterback, when anyone who has actually watched him play, knew how good of a passer he was. His running complements his passing game but it doesn't define him. Another lazy media plot point was that Kap and Vernon Davis didn't have chemistry. That might have been the case during the regular season last year, but in the playoffs Davis and Kap were connecting all of the time. That carried over to the opener last week. Almost as impressive as Kap was WR Anquan Boldin. I loved the addition of Boldin but admit to being nervous about him being the #1 receiver when Michael Crabtree went down. Those fears were quickly erased after his performance last week. The reason why his numbers probably went down in Baltimore was because he had a mediocre quarterback throwing the ball to him. So needless to say the atmosphere will be intense in Seattle. The Seahawks embarrassed the 49ers in Seattle last season, so San Francisco should be highly amped up for this game. Seattle is in incredibly tough place to win a game, but the 49ers have won in some very difficult places before, so winning in Seattle isn't impossible. Both teams have traded words back and forth, but on Sunday, none of that will matter and it will simply come down to which team imposes their will on the other. The 49ers have to do a better job of containing Russell Wilson, and not let him run wild like he did last December. Kaepernick and the offense will have to show more poise and get the crowd out of the game early. This should be a hell of a game, and of course I am going to pick the Niners to win.

Prediction: San Francisco 24, Seattle 19

Monday, September 16

Pittsburgh (0-1) at Cincinnati (0-1), Cincinnati favored by 7

Only the Jaguars had a worst start to the season than Pittsburgh. Much like the Giants, their running game is in tatters, forcing them to bring back Jonathan Dwyer, who they had just cut a couple weeks ago. They also lost one of their best players on the offensive line, center Maurkice Pouncey for the season. So obviously the Bengals will win at home then, right? To steal a line from Lee Corso, not so fast my friend. The Steelers have beaten Cincinnati on the road 10 of their last 11 meetings. Pittsburgh just seems to own the Bengals and especially Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals defense did not look very good last week, and the offense appears to be A.J. Green and nothing else. When everyone thinks something is so obvious, that is when the opposite happens.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 20, Cincinnati 17

Last Week Against the Spread: 5-10-1
Overall Against the Spread: 5-10-1

Last Week Straight Up: 10-6
Overall Straight Up: 10-6

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cram Session - Week 3

Thursday, September 12    

New York Jets (1-0) at New England (1-0), New England favored by 12 1/2    

This line seems insanely high to me. The Patriots offense didn't look good at all last week, and now is even more depleted with RB Shane Vereen and WR Danny Amendola to miss this game. The injury to Vereen should get Stevan Ridley out of Bill Belichick's dog house by default. Belichick benched Rildey last week after a first half fumble against the Bills. The Jets defense played well last weekend, and Geno Smith did just enough to help the Jets escape with a victory against Tampa. This will be the second straight week the Patriots face a rookie quarterback. EJ Manuel fared decently against New England, and I think Smith could do the same. With the Patriots offense having so many questions right now, I think this will end up being a close game.

Prediction: New England 24, New York Jets 17

Games That Matter To Me

#21 Notre Dame (1-1) at Purdue (1-1)

Losing at Michigan wasn't a surprise, it was the way the defense was manhandled by the Wolverines that was shocking. The Irish defense getting manhandled by a team full of pros like Alabama was one thing, but Michigan's talent on offense isn't comparable to that Bama team. The good news is that the Irish to get play sorry Purdue this weekend. The Boilermakers barely beat FCS team Indiana State last week and anything less than Irish domination in this game will be a disappointment. The defense should be able to feast on Purdue QB Rob Henry who hasn't thrown a touchdown pass yet this season. The Irish will have to focus on RB Akeem Hunt, who returned a kick for a touchdown last week and Purdue's most talented offensive player.

Tommy Rees needs to find his form he had against Temple and be less of the turnover happy player Irish fans have seen far too much. The Irish also need to be more committed to the run game, although trailing most of the game against Michigan did make it hard for them to stick with the run. WR TJ Jones looks like a star and I expect him to have a touchdown or two on Saturday night. With Michigan State, Oklahoma and Arizona State up next, the Irish need to take advantage of an overmatched opponent this week.

Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Purdue 13

#16 UCLA (1-0) at #23 Nebraska (2-0)

Most people are talking about the rematch of Alabama/Texas A&M, but UCLA/Nebraska is another intriguing rematch this weekend in college football. The Bruins burst onto the national scene last year when they defeated Nebraska at home. It also made Bruins RB Johnathan Franklin a household name and future NFL pick. Franklin is gone, but junior Jordon James looks ready to pick up where he left off after rushing for 155 yards in the opener. Brett Hundley is back at quarterback for the Bruins and he is probably frothing at the mouth for a chance at Nebraska's questionable defense. Expect to hear WR Shaquelle Evans name when you are watching the game, as he is Hundley's favorite target. The Huskers defense used Southern Miss as a battering ram and a team to gain some confidence on as I hoped. They may have to play over their heads to win this game.

I am not worried about the Huskers offense, which seems to be able to score on anyone. The only thing that is slightly worrisome is that the offense avoids fumbles and Taylor Martinez doesn't do anything too dangerous when he has the ball. Playmakers like RB Ameer Abdullah and WR Kenny Bell will make plays and keep the offense chugging along.

It will be interesting to see how UCLA responds after the death of walk on wide receiver, Nick Pasquale. Sometimes teams find motivation from tragedy but for other teams it proves to be too emotionally draining. This is a game where I think the crowd at Memorial Stadium could make a big difference in the outcome. I think the noise could present some challenges for the Bruins and help out the Huskers defense. I like Nebraska to win a close game and get revenge for last year's loss.

Prediction: Nebraska 31, UCLA 24

Top 10

#1 Alabama (1-0) at #6 Texas A&M (2-0)

Alabama has been waiting for this game ever since losing to the Aggies last November. The Tide's defense looked as strong as ever in their win two weeks ago against Virginia Tech, but the offense left a bit to be desired. Particularly, QB AJ McCarron was off, completing just 43% of his passes. The team seemed to be adjusting to three new starters on the offensive line. They have to hope they got some great practices in during these last two weeks because the competition will only increase when they play the Aggies. Last season, Aggies QB Johnny Manziel was able to have success against Bama's defense full of pros. Along with Manziel, the Aggies have a two headed monster at RB in Ben Malena and Tra Carson. WR Mike Evans is off to a roaring start, with 13 catches and 2 TDs in 2 games. I can't picture the Aggies knocking off a team as talented as Bama two years in a row. I expect a much better performance from the Crimson Tide then they put on the field against the Hokies a few weeks ago. I think they can frustrate Manziel and force him into some turnovers, that will prove to be the difference in the game.

Prediction: Alabama 27, Texas A&M 20

Tennessee (2-0) at #2 Oregon (2-0)

Going from playing Austin Peay and Western Kentucky to playing the speed and talent of Oregon will be quite the shock to the Vols players. I am not just talking on the offensive side of the ball either. Everyone thinks offense with the Ducks, but Oregon is working hard to become a team known for its defense as well. A pretty shocking stat considering the program Tennessee once was, the Vols have lost 16 straight games to ranked teams. The Vols defense forced 7 turnovers against Western Kentucky, and while that gives them confidence, they may not even be able to catch De'Anthony Thomas or Marcus Mariota.

Prediction: Oregon 41, Tennessee 17

#4 Ohio State (2-0) at California (1-1)

The Buckeyes go on the road for the first time this season and while California is a Pac-12 school they won't be much of a step up in competition from what Ohio State has faced so far. Braxton Miller left the win over San Diego State with a left knee sprain but is expected to start this game. These are teams with opposite philosophies. The Buckeyes attack their opponents on the ground, while Cal QB Jared Goff has almost passed for 1,000 yards in just two games. I expect a high scoring game, but for Ohio State to roll.

Prediction: Ohio State 42, California 24

#5 Stanford (1-0) at Army (1-1)

Army likes to run the ball and only passes to change things up from to time. They'll face their toughest test in years when they try to run on the Cardinal. Most interesting to watch will be whether Army RB Larry Dixon continues his absurd pace of running, averaging over 8 yards per carry. Stanford answered some questions about its offense last week, as Tyler Gaffney and Ty Montgomery showed they will be picking up the slack at running back and receiver. They should have their way with an Army defense that gave up 40 points to Ball State last week.

Prediction: Stanford 49, Army 16

#7 Louisville (2-0) at Kentucky (1-1)

The football version of this rivalry doesn't hold a candle to the basketball version but Teddy Bridgewater makes it worth watching. Bridgewater is completing a ridiculous 76% of his passes through two games. The Cardinals defense hasn't been challenged yet, giving up 7 points each in their first two games. Kentucky QB Maxwell Smith will try to change that, and build upon the strong game he had last week against Miami of Ohio. Easier for me to write than for him to actually do.

Prediction: Louisville 35, Kentucky 20

Kent State (1-1) at #8 LSU (2-0)

Tigers coach Les Miles has been in the news this week and not for anything his LSU team has done. He is in the news because of allegations of impropriety while he was the coach at Oklahoma State. Miles of course denies all charges, and probably hopes that no one figures out that he is probably cheating at LSU as well. As far as on the field matters his LSU offense has looked much improved under new coordinator Cam Cameron. They have another week of gaining belief in themselves when they host the Golden Flashes.

Prediction: LSU 47, Kent State 14

Nevada (1-1) at #10 Florida State (1-0)

The Seminoles were off last week so I didn't have a chance to write about freshman sensation, QB Jameis Winston. Winston was 25 of 27 for 356 yards and four touchdowns in his first college game against Pittsburgh two weeks ago. Normally with one good game I might say let's see him do this a few more times. But to complete almost of your passes, avoid any mistakes and dominate a team has led me to believe this kid is for real. All those years of talk about how the Seminoles are back, might finally be true with what they now have at quarterback.

Prediction: Florida State 48, Nevada 15

Last Week: 10-0
Overall: 18-1

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Hail Mary - Week 1

The first Sunday of the NFL season is my new Christmas morning. Remember that feeling of anticipation and excitement you would get as a child that morning? That is what I have been feeling for weeks and finally, this Sunday, I get to open my presents. Except now my presents aren't video games, or toys, it is sitting down and watching football for ten hours straight Sunday. Then getting home Monday night and watching six more hours of football. So glorious.

Sunday, September 8

Miami at Cleveland, Line is Pick Em'   

These are two teams that I think will have better seasons than their fans have seen from them in a while. I like the Dolphins to make the playoffs, and the Browns to be right there on the precipice of .500. Brandon Weeden showed some promise in the preseason, and I think new coach Rob Chudzinski could have a really positive effect on him. Like Weeden, Ryan Tannehill is in his second season and for the Dolphins to finally get back into the playoffs, he will need to take huge strides. These teams will show some improvement in Week 1, with a hard fought, down to the wire finish.

Prediction: Cleveland 20, Miami 17 

Minnesota at Detroit, Detroit favored by 4 1/2

Almost no one seems to have faith that the Vikings can follow up last season's surprising 10-6 finish with another playoff berth. There is no doubting that Adrian Peterson gives them a chance to win every game. However, their quarterback and receiver situations leave a ton to be desired. The Lions are a popular pick to be a turnaround team, with people hyping the addition of Reggie Bush like it was 2005 or something. The Lions need to find ways to get in the end zone and cut down on turnovers. Matt Stafford was paid top 5 quarterback money this off-season, so the pressure is on him to live up to it. It certainly helps that he has Megatron, Calvin Johnson to throw to.

Prediction: Detroit 28, Minnesota 24

New England at Buffalo, New England favored by 9 1/2

This game might have been worth watching if something called a Jeff Tuel would have ended up starting for Buffalo. Instead, EJ Manuel receives the start for the Bills, and Buffalo will probably be killed. I guess it would be interesting to watch if Tom Brady continues to be as good as ever with a depleted receiving corps. Can Danny Amendola really be his new Wes Welker? Will he miss Gronk?

Prediction: New England 31, Buffalo 17

Cincinnati at Chicago, Chicago favored by 3

This could be one of the better games of the weekend. The Bears will be putting out their new look offense with new head coach Marc Trestman. I expect them to be much less of a boring, plodding team that they often were with the offensive coordinators Lovie Smith saddled them with. They will be tested right out of the gates by one of the fastest rising defenses in football in the Bengals. If you haven't heard of Geno Atkins yet, you will this season. Andy Dalton needs to answer some questions this season. He has gotten the Bengals into the playoffs his first two seasons, but expectations are much higher this year. We will also get a clearer picture of the Bengals running game and whether or not Giovanni Bernard will start to take carries away from the Law Firm.

Prediction: Cincinnati 21, Chicago 16

Oakland at Indianapolis, Indianapolis favored by 9 1/2

It looks like I might have been too generous when I predicted the Raiders would win six games. Almost everyone else thinks they will be one of the worst teams in football. Poor Matt Flynn just can't catch a break. For the second straight season he has gone somewhere, presumably to be the stater and then come Week 1 he is the backup. The Raiders can only dream that Terrell Pryor turns out the way Russell Wilson did last season. Andrew Luck is one of the most overhyped players in the game right now. Don't get me wrong, I think he is good, but the media is tripping over each other to talk about how great this guy is. Let him cut down on the interceptions and actually become somewhat accurate and maybe I'll believe the hype. At least in Week 1, he shouldn't have any problems showing out against an awful Raiders defense.

Prediction: Indianapolis 35, Oakland 14

Atlanta at New Orleans, New Orleans favored by 3

The NFC South is expected to be a battle between these two teams. Last year the Saints were without their general, head coach Sean Payton, but this season he is back, and I expect him to make a significant difference. Offense wasn't really the problem for the Saints last year, it was their historically bad defense. Their new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is wildly overrated but he has nowhere to go but up with that unit. The Falcons were able to convince TE Tony Gonzalez to come back for one more season and one more run at a Super Bowl. They also hope to have improved their run game with the addition of Steven Jackson. Where I have questions is their defense, which lost one of their better pass rushers in John Abraham, weakening a unit that wasn't very good at rushing the passer to begin with. Games between these teams usually come down to the wire and are high scoring, I expect that script to be followed Sunday.

Prediction: New Orleans 34, Atlanta 30

Tampa Bay at New York Jets, Tampa Bay favored by 3

Geno Smith will start for the Jets, as he won the quarterback battle over Mark Sanchez by default with Sanchez's shoulder being hurt. Josh Freeman didn't have to compete for his job yet, but if he struggles this season, Bucs fans, all 5 of them will be shouting for Mike Glennon to take over. This game is mostly notable for the return of Revis Island to New York, but this time as a Buc. It would be pretty funny if he ends up with a pick six.

Prediction: Tampa Bay 21, New York Jets 13

Tennessee at Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh favored by 7

The Steelers have some question marks entering the season, especially when it comes to their offense. I have faith they will work those issues out and I still consider their defense one of the best in the league. I expect them to hit Jake Locker early and often on Sunday, as this game smells like a Steelers blowout.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 30, Tennessee 10

Seattle at Carolina, Seattle favored by 3

The Seahawks are getting way too much love. All of the sudden I am reading idiots like Bill Barnwell speaking as if a receiving corps of Doug Baldwin, Sidney Rice, and some other bum I can't even think of right now is something teams should be afraid of. Teams should be afraid of Marshawn Lynch, the rest of the Seahawks offense, and I include Russell Wilson, not so much. Ron Rivera is coaching for his job this season, as the Panthers got off to an awful start to the season in 2012 and never recovered. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has sort of disappeared from the young quarterbacks discussion. If he can play well against Seattle, it will remind a lot of people of his existence. This is the type of game the Seahawks should win if they are going to be a Super Bowl team like so many believe.

Prediction: Seattle 27, Carolina 21

Kansas City at Jacksonville, Kansas City favored by 3 1/2

The most boring game of the week goes to this matchup between the Chiefs and Jaguars. That is mostly the fault of the Jaguars, as the Chiefs will be interesting to watch with new coach Andy Reid and new quarterback Alex Smith. I really want to see how well Alex Smith performs when he isn't surrounded by a beast team like he had in San Francisco the last two seasons. Playing against the Jaguars will certainly inspire confidence for both him and Reid. I also want to see how Reid uses Jamaal Charles, and if he remembers that he has one of the best running backs in football.

Prediction: Kansas City 22, Jacksonville 13

Green Bay at San Francisco, San Francisco favored by 4 1/2 

The Packers and their fans have been counting down the days to this playoff rematch ever since it was announced in April. The Packers were embarrassed by the 49ers in that game, especially their defense as Colin Kaepernick ran past them, behind them and around them. But Kap didn't just beat Green Bay with his legs, he killed them with that beautiful ball he throws. The Packers are talking a lot about how they are going to hit Kap often in this game, and make him scared to run. They think they have solved the read option, but what if the Niners don't even try to run the read option. People see highlights of Kap running and think that's his game. What really is his game is the accuracy with which he throws. His legs are a threat and certainly opens things up for him, but to call him a running quarterback is the wrong characterization. I am intersted in seeing how the 49ers defense plays. They have some new starters and also have something to prove after not playing well at all in the playoffs. I hope that Aldon Smith finds his sacking ways again now that Justin Smith is healthy. There is no greater quarterback to go up against to try to make a statement than Aaron Rodgers. He may leave a lot of former, bitter teammates in his wake, but not many people would argue with you if you told them he was the best quarterback in football. We will also start to find out if drafting Eddie Lacy will finally give Green Bay a rushing attack, that could make Rodgers even more lethal. This is going to be a hell of a game to watch and to me is a matchup of the two best teams in the NFC. Both offenses are premiere, so the winner will be which defense can get the most stops and force turnovers.

Prediction: San Francisco 28, Green Bay 23

Arizona at St. Louis, St. Louis favored by 4 1/2

Actually, this game might be even more boring than Kansas City/Jacksonville will be. What is most funny is people still talking about Carson Palmer like he will be a major difference maker in Arizona. I mean of course he will be better than freaking John Skelton, but that's a backhanded compliment at best. At least Palmer should make Larry Fitzgerald relevant again, and maybe even help Michael Floyd break out. The Rams took some major strides in Jeff Fisher's first season but no one is talking about this year. Mostly because the majority of fans probably couldn't name the Rams running backs or receivers. The Rams do have a stout, young defense, and that will be the difference in this game.

Prediction: St. Louis 24, Arizona 17

New York Giants at Dallas, Dallas favored by 3 

The Cowboys will be trying to finally beat the Giants at their new stadium, now christened as AT&T Stadium. Thoughts on the Cowboys are mixed. If you are like me you think the offensive line is still terrible, they are still poorly coached and once again will miss the playoffs. Others think that Monte Kiffin will maximize his personnel on defense, Romo is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and that Dallas is a sleeper Super Bowl team. Not many are talking about the Giants, which is sort of strange for a team that has won two Super Bowls in the past 6 seasons. However, that tends to happen when during those six years you miss the playoffs three times. The Giants defense has been steadily declining, and Eli Manning's play fell off a cliff in the second half of 2012. One thing that could really help is a motivated, healthy Hakeem Nicks. Nicks is going to be trying to get paid, like his cohort Victor Cruz was. If Nicks can find his form from a few years ago, I will feel much better about my Giants to win the NFC East pick. This will be a close game as most Cowboys/Giants match ups are, but I have to go with history. Dallas hasn't proven they can beat New York at home, no reason to think they will start now.

Prediction: New York Giants 26, Dallas 20

Monday, September 9

Philadelphia at Washington, Washington favored by 3 1/2

So many storylines heading into this one. For the Eagles, what will the Chip Kelly era look like? How will his fast paced, gimmicky offense translate to the NFL. Will Michael Vick be resurrected in this offense? For the Redskins, it is all about Robert Griffin III. He returns from his massive knee injury in Week 1, just as he said he would. Will will see a different Griffin? One that runs less and passes more. You would have to think so, but you know his adrenaline will be pumping during this game. Much like the NFC East a whole, trying to predict this game is just blindly throwing darts. The Eagles are switching to a new defense and have a new set of cornerbacks. It will take time for the defense to gel to the system and to playing with each other. The Redskins have continuity on offense, and that is why they will defeat Philly on Monday.

Prediction: Washington 28, Philadelphia 21

Houston at San Diego, Houston favored by 3 1/2 

I think I am the only person in the world, besides Texans fans of course, picking them to reach the Super Bowl out of the AFC. People forget that Houston was the best team in football for the first twelve games of the 2012 season. I do agree with those that question whether Matt Schaub is the guy to lead them to a championship. He mostly remained under the radar being good but not great. However, as the Texans expectations have grown, so has the scrutiny he feels. I also think I am the only person in the world, including even Chargers fans, that has San Diego making the playoffs. I don't think the difference it will make in no longer having bumbling Norv Turner as a head coach is being taken into account. Finally, with Mike McCoy, they will have a coach that will hold them accountable for their mistakes. Philip Rivers needs that more than anyone as he has fallen off badly the last few seasons. With a new coach comes growing pains, and those will come to the forefront having to face a dangerous Texans defense. I expect Rivers to be on his rear end early and often.

Prediction: Houston 23, San Diego 16

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cram Session - Week 2

Starting this week I will begin Cram Session with my pick for the Thursday night NFL game.

Thursday, September 5

Baltimore at Denver, Denver favored by 7 1/2 

The NFL is back! Normally, the defending Super Bowl champion opens the season at home. This year things are different as the Baltimore Orioles and MLB weren't willing to accommodate the Baltimore Ravens and move their home game to a different time. A lot of people thought that was selfish of the Orioles, but logistically it wasn't that simple and the NFL can't win every battle. This game is being billed as the rematch from the best playoff game we saw last season. The scene will be the same, but while the Broncos appear mostly intact, the Ravens will look quite different. They have seen some changes on offense and a massive overhaul on defense. One of the big questions Baltimore will begin to answer tonight, is how will the offense move on without Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. Boldin was traded to the 49ers, while Pitta was lost for the season to an injury during training camp. That leaves Joe Flacco with not nearly as many weapons to throw to, and puts a new found pressure on Torrey Smith at receiver. It also means that Jacoby Jones will have to step up. Jones was one of the key players in the Ravens win over Denver in the playoffs, catching the game tying touchdown. Ray Rice is still there and he may be leaned on more than ever has in his career, not just running the ball, but also as a receiver out of the backfield. The Broncos defense will be without star LB Von Miller, suspended the first six games of the season, and also possibly without Champ Bailey. Smith would actually probably be upset if Bailey can't go, since he torched Bailey in the playoffs last season. The Broncos offense is mostly the same, except for a change at running back with Willis McGahee cut loose. Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno, and rookie Montee Ball should all see some carries, with the Broncos hoping that one of the backs can seize control of the job. Peyton Manning's options at receivers are even more fearsome with the addition of Wes Welker to go with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. One of the Ravens new defensive players is former Bronco Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil will be chomping at the bit to stand out against his former team. This will be a great test for the Ravens revamped secondary, no longer having one of the best safeties in the history of the game, Ed Reed. If you read my previews you know that I am down on the Ravens, while I expect the Broncos to finish with the best record in football. I think those predictions will bear themselves out in this game. The Ravens can keep it close for a half or so, but Manning will eventually begin to carve up a defense that still needs to learn to play together. Things will be a struggle for Flacco and company, as they start to realize just how much they will miss Boldin and Pitta.

Prediction: Denver 27, Baltimore 16

Games That Matter To Me

#14 Notre Dame (1-0) at #17 Michigan (1-0)    

Despite what Irish coach Brian Kelly might think, this is one of the best rivalries in college football. Unfortunately, after next season when it will return remains unknown. This will be Notre Dame's last trip to Michigan in the current incarnation of the series. I can't say I mind that too much, especially with how heartbreaking the Irish's last two visits to Michigan ended. Each time the Irish led the game late, and then allowed Michigan to score the winning touchdown at the end of the game. Notre Dame had a nice star to the season with a dominating 28-6 win over Temple. Most impressive was the play of quarterback Tommy Rees. Rees was accurate and threw 3 touchdowns. Rees really isn't that bad, his biggest problems in the past was his penchant for turnovers. While the performance against the Owls was reason for optimism his competition will step up considerably against the Wolverines. WR TJ Jones seemed to announce his arrival as the Irish's best receiving weapon, catching 6 passes for 138 yards. DaVaris Daniels also announced his arrival on the scene with 2 touchdown catches. The running game followed the by committee route most expected with Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel sharing carries.

The Irish defense picked up where they left off last season as far as allowing points but they struggled a bit slowing down the Temple passing attack. The quarterback they will face this week, Devin Gardner is known for both his arm and his legs. Gardner's play left a bit to be desired last week against Central Michigan. He rushed for 2 touchdowns but also threw 2 interceptions. With an offensive line that is breaking in three new starters, he may be running for his life Saturday night. This game will really come down to that battle between the Michigan offensive line and how much they slow down Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix. The Wolverines also employ a running back by committee with freshman Derrick Green and senior Fitzgerald Toussaint.

I believe that Notre Dame is better than Michigan both offensively and denesively, but am scarred by the recent experiences at The Big House. I worry about Rees avoiding turnovers, which plagued him in his last start at Michigan two years ago. This will be a defensive battle, but somehow Michigan will once again find a way to break Notre Dame's hearts.

Prediction: Michigan 20, Notre Dame 17

Southern Miss (0-1) at #22 Nebraska (1-0)   

Nebraska opened their season with a 37-34 victory over Wyoming but it might as well have been a loss. No one expected the Huskers to struggle to that level with the Cowboys. Even worse the fears of a porous defense proved themselves to be true, as Nebraska gave up 602 yards of offense to Wyoming. With Southern Miss coming to Lincoln on a 13-game losing streak it would seem they would be the right opponent for Nebraska to get back some of the confidence they lost. The Golden Eagles run a spread offense, just like Wyoming. Their quarterback is Allan Brigford, who completed barely over 50% of his passes and threw two picks in a loss to Texas State last week. The Golden Eagles appear to have no running game, as they rushed for just 23 yards against Texas State. Senior receiver Rickey Bradley had a strong game, catching 7 passes for 193 yards.

The Nebraska offense is hoping for a better performance from Taylor Martinez. Martinez did throw for 3 touchdowns but also had a pick and only had 129 yards passing. The running game was on fire though, with both Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross rushing for over 100 yards. Nebraska needs to come out and make a statement in this game. Things get considerably tougher next week when they host the UCLA Bruins. They need to be going into that game feeling good about themselves. I have faith that the defense will play well enough to take advantage of an overmatched opponent, and the offense will do its thing, leading to the blowout win Nebraska should have gotten last week.

Prediction: Nebraska 45, Southern Miss 17

Top 10

#2 Oregon (1-0) at Virginia (1-0)    

The Ducks take their offensive show on the road to Charlottesville, Virginia. This will be Oregon's first true test of the season, since Nicholls State doesn't really count. Virginia isn't a juggernaut but they at least have a pulse and if the Ducks beat them up on the road it will be impressive. The Ducks defense looked impressive last week, and has a chance to again this week. The Cavaliers struggled to do anything offensively against BYU in Week 1.

Prediction: Oregon 44, Virginia 17

San Diego State (0-1) at #3 Ohio State (1-0)    

Ohio State rolled in Week 1 against Buffalo, but did show some lapses during the game when they allowed the Bulls to keep it interesting. The Aztecs were destroyed by Eastern Illinois, but are hopeful that things will improve this weekend with the likely return of top rusher Adam Muema. His presence won't be enough to make this game interesting.

Prediction: Ohio State 47, San Diego State 14

South Carolina State (0-1) at #4 Clemson (1-0)    

The Tigers are the talk of college football following last week's win against Georgia. That game should prove to be great for recruiting. It not only spotlighted that the Tigers are capable of winning big games, but ESPN showing their entrance to the stadium is getting a ton of publicity. They will get to build on that momentum this week with a sure victory against South Carolina State.

Prediction: Clemson 56, South Carolina State 20

San Jose State (1-0) at #5 Stanford (0-0)

Stanford was one of the few teams not in action last weekend. The Cardinal have major expectations a year after winning the Rose Bowl. Kevin Hogan is back at quarterback, but they will be replacing Stepfan Taylor at running back, and have new starters at tight end and receiver. The offense should be given time to get, because their awesome defense returns 9 of 11 starters from last season. San Jose State shouldn't be a complete pushover and might make this game interesting for a bit.

Prediction: Stanford 34, San Jose State 20

#6 South Carolina (1-0, 0-0) at #11 Georgia (0-1, 0-0)

It is not often that you face a must win game in just the second game of your season, but those are the realities of being a big time college football program coming off a loss in its opener. The Bulldogs have to run the table to have any chance of winning a national title. They now face their second top 10 opponent of the season as they welcome South Carolina to Athens. In addition to wanting to save their season the Bulldogs want to avenge an embarrassing 35-7 loss at South Carolina last season. Aaron Murray gives Georgia the advantage at quarterback, but his success hinges on the ability of his lineman to keep Jadeveon Clowney out of his face. He will be without his top receiver Malcolm Mitchell who infamously tore his ACL when leaping to celebrate a Todd Gurley touchdown. Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw is a dual threat player, and his running ability gave Georgia fits last season. Sophomore Mike Davis appears ready to carry the load at running back, coming off an impressive performance against North Carolina. Georgia did lose to Clemson but it seems like it was just a case of two good teams matching up and one being a little bit better. I am not entirely sold on the South Carolina offense and Shaw and think that the road atmosphere could cause them trouble. I think the Bulldogs will get the season saving win that they need.

Prediction: Georgia 24, South Carolina 20

Sam Houston State (1-0) at #7 Texas A&M (1-0)

For only playing a quarter and a half of football, Aggies QB Johnny Manziel created quite a stir. Manziel looked spectacular in his limited playing time, but the talk was more about his antics after plays. There will be no sitting out in this game against FCS opponent Sam Houston State. The Aggies have a huge home game against Alabama next weekend, so I am sure coach Kevin Sumlin has been pounding it into his players head that they can't be caught looking ahead. As seen last week, not all FCS teams are pushovers, so the Aggies better be ready to play.

Prediction: Texas A&M 48, Sam Houston State 27

Eastern Kentucky (1-0) at #8 Louisville (1-0)

Teddy Bridgewater was spectacular in the season opener against Ohio and heightened talk of him being a strong candidate to win the Heisman trophy. The Colonels of Eastern Kentucky should provide him with even more opportunity to put up video game like numbers.

Prediction: Louisville 42, Eastern Kentucky 16 

UAB (0-1) at #9 LSU (1-0)   

LSU saw some positive signs that their offense will be improved under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. QB Zach Mettenberger avoided any turnovers, although his completion percentage of 50 percent still needs a lot of work. The Tigers also had two players, Terrence Magee and Alfred Blue almost rush for 100 yards in the win against TCU. They may also even have back RB Jeremy Hill for this game. The LSU defense looked as strong as ever and the Tigers look like once again they will be national title contenders. This week they play a terrible UAB team that should present no challenge at all.

Prediction: LSU 41, UAB 10

Last Week: 8-1
Overall: 8-1