Friday, September 18, 2015

The Hail Mary - Week 2

Sunday, September 20

San Francisco (1-0) at Pittsburgh (0-1), Pittsburgh favored by 5 1/2

I am not really pleased with the NFL schedule makers. How is it fair to make the Niners go play the Steelers on six days rest after having to fly cross country, while the Steelers would have had 10 days of rest for this game? That point aside, I was very pleased with how the 49ers looked last Monday night. There certainly was some sloppiness and the passing game could still use some work, but the defense played way better than I or anyone else expected. Also, we saw the emergence of Carlos Hyde. I expected Hyde to do well this season and even bought his jersey, but never would have guessed he would announce his presence so convincingly last Monday night. Hopefully, he can do more of that Sunday against the Steelers, who struggled at times stopping the Patriots no name running backs. The Steelers also had a tough time covering Rob Gronkowski. I mean, that isn't breaking news, everyone struggles to cover Gronk, but maybe there are some plays to be made for Vernon Davis, who actually showed a pulse against Minnesota. I hope to see the same poise out of Colin Kaepernick playing on the road, that we saw from him at home. For the Steelers, they hope that DeAngelo Williams picks up where he left off last week. Williams rushed for 127 yards and looked like his old self from 3 or 4 seasons ago. Le'Veon Bell returns next week, so the Steelers just need one more week of production out of Williams. The 49ers know that Antonio Brown will get his 5 or 6 catches, they just have to try to contain him and not let him break for big gains. I don't expect the 49ers to win this game but I do expect them to make it competitive and give a good accounting of themselves, further proving that they are still able to compete with the best this season.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, San Francisco 17

Detroit (0-1) at Minnesota (0-1), Minnesota favored by 3

It was an ugly start to the season for everyone's sleeper pick, the Vikings. The offense could get nothing going and the defense was run all over by Carlos Hyde. People aren't jumping off the bandwagon yet, but it will have some space open up if Minnesota loses at home to Detroit on Sunday. The Lions roared out of the gates at San Diego, including rookie Ameer Abdullah rushing for a touchdown in his first regular season carry. But then the defense fell apart and the offense started looking like the uneven unit we saw in 2014. The Lions brought on Haloti Ngata to be the new Suh but he's an older, less athletic model. The goal for the Vikings and Norv Turner specifically for this game should be to feed Adrian Peterson early and often. He seemed hesitant to go to Peterson for some reason, when Peterson should be fresher than ever after a year off. This will also be Peterson's first home game since the 2013 season, so I expect him to get a strong reaction.

Prediction: Minnesota 26, Detroit 24

St. Louis (1-0) at Washington (0-1), St. Louis favored by 3 1/2

During the off-season the Rams were declaring that with their ferocious pass rush, and the addition of Nick Foles and drafting Todd Gurley this was finally the year they would make the leap. They got off on the right foot by beating the defending NFC Champion Seahawks last week. Now to truly make the leap, you can't be a team that springs an upset from time to time because you are so pumped for the game. You have to be able to beat the teams you are supposed to beat, which is what St. Louis faces this weekend in Washington. It's funny because in previous years when these teams played it was always a game the Redskins should win and they almost never did. Kirk Cousins was slightly above mediocre in his first start of the season, certainly not this player that some Redskins fans were saying would bring them to 8 or 9 wins and was such a drastic improvement from RGIII. He was good for 2 interceptions, which it seems, he's good for just about every game. The Redskins line did a good job against the Dolphins rush, but I don't think they will have the answers for a Rams pass rush that sacked Russell Wilson six times last week. I expect to see Cousins flat on his back a lot or rushing his passes, which you guessed it, will lead to interceptions. The Skins secondary is dealing with injuries and suspensions, and Tavon Austin is the type of player that has given the Redskins fits over the years, so I expect at least one big play out of him.

Prediction: St. Louis 26, Washington 17

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

Houston came out completely flat for their home opener against the Chiefs and have already created a quarterback controversy one game into the season. Coach Bill O'Brien pulled Brian Hoyer in the second half in favor or Ryan Mallett. Once Mallett came into the game the Texans offense did seem to respond to him. Now O'Brien is saying this week's quarterback is a secret, despite the age old rule that secrets don't make friends. I figured he was going to go with Mallett and that has already started leaking out to the press. The Panthers won a boring game against Jacksonville, but this game against the Texans should be interesting as Cam tries to elude J.J. Watt and Jadaveon Clowney. It was a very poor performance for the Houston defense in Week 1. The Panthers don't have a player as dynamic as Jamaal Charles, but I still think they will put up enough points to send the Texans to another loss.

Prediction: Carolina 24, Houston 17

Tampa Bay (0-1) at New Orleans (0-1), New Orleans favored by 9 1/2

The Saints are looking to break a 5 game losing streak at home against the putrid Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs were walloped by Tennessee at home as Jameis Winston looked every bit the rookie he is. The Saints showed the same problems in Week 1 that we saw from them last season. Too many turnovers by Drew Brees and a defense that can't consistently stop anyone. Playing Tampa at home should at least provide a one week reprieve from what ails the Saints, if not, their problems are even worse than imagined.

Prediction: New Orleans 38, Tampa Bay 24

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

Carson Palmer is back from injury and continued his winning ways as the Cardinals quarterback. One thing he had started doing last season that was different for the Cardinals organization, was taking them on the road and winning in tough places. We will find out Sunday if he still has that magic, as the Cardinals travel to Chicago. The Bears kept things interesting with Green Bay and Matt Forte had a hell of a game, but like it was the story most of 2014, it just wasn't enough and Jay Cutler couldn't make the big plays needed down the stretch. I expect Smokin Jay to throw a couple picks against the Cardinals tough secondary, and I think Palmer and the Cardinals offense, even with a depleted running back corps, will be able to pass the ball pretty much at will, leading to a relatively stress free win.

Prediction: Arizona 30, Chicago 20

New England (1-0) at Buffalo (1-0), New England favored by 1

Rex Ryan renews his battles with New England but this time as a Buffalo Bills coach. I commented last week how I didn't understand why Bills fans were so hyped for this year's team, and then they went out and dominated my AFC champion pick, the Colts. LeSean McCoy mad some plays, as did Tyrod Taylor, but annoyingly to me for fantasy football reasons, Sammy Watkins was held without catch. I would think the Bills will make a conscious effort in this game of getting Sammy the ball. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski picked up where they left off last season, connecting for 3 touchdowns and looking unstoppable in the redzone. The Patriots also will have LaGarrette Blount back in the lineup for this game after he served his 1 game suspension. The Bills have a far better defense than Pittsburgh and I am sure Ryan will be coming up with some ways to not let Gronk beat them. The Bills have had some success at home against the Patriots in recent years, but not this year. I think mental toughness will be the deciding factor late in this game, as the team that knows how to win will beat the team that is still learning.

Prediction: New England 23, Buffalo 19

San Diego (1-0) at Cincinnati (1-0), Cincinnati favored by 3 1/2

The Chargers trailed the Lions 21-3 but then stormed back to victory with Philip Rivers and the passing game looking on point. One player that had a monster game was Keenan Allen. Allen came onto the scene in 2013, surprising everyone. In 2014, he surprised everyone the wrong way by not building upon that season. However, if the start to his 2015 is any indication than he should be in for a big year. Rookie Melvin Gordon showed some flashes running the ball but also fumbled, so it was an uneven debut for him. The Bengals went to Oakland crushed the Raiders and set themselves up nicely for another season where they do well before losing right away in the playoffs. I'll be interested to see how Andy Dalton plays in this game, because if he struggles, I expect the crowd to get on him. Bengals fans were starved for success for almost two decades, now they are starving for a playoff win. These are two evenly matched teams, and I expect a close game that isn't decided until the final few minutes.

Prediction: Cincinnati 27, San Diego 21

Tennessee (1-0) at Cleveland (0-1), Line is a pick em

Marcus Mariota had a debut for the ages. He barely completed any passes and had 4 touchdowns. I definitely give him his due, that's a heck of a start to your career, but lets not crown him just yet. He did it against a really bad Buccaneers team. He could be in line for another big game this week as the Titans face the awful Browns. Johnny Football was on the scene last week as Josh McCown suffered a concussion. Manziel did throw a touchdown pass but he was also a turnover machine. He may be at least saying and doing all the right things but his actual quarterbacking talent still leaves a lot to be desired. With the Colts coming to Tennessee next week, Titans fans might be really excited and feeling good about themselves at 2-0.

Prediction: Tennessee 33, Cleveland 20

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

These teams had opposite late game results in Week 1. The Falcons managed the clock, made the right decisions and beat the Eagles with a late field goal. The Giants squandered their chance for a win at Dallas by making just about every wrong decision you could make with the ball under 2 minutes. You have Eli Manning telling Rashad Jennings not to score even though that put them up 2 touchdowns because he doesn't think Dallas has any timeouts. Then you have the Giants passing the ball on third down, when just running it and kicking a field goal would have killed about 40 seconds. That result could end up being the difference between the Giants winning the division or earning a playoff berth. The home crowd might let them hear their displeasure from that game if the Giants start slowly on Sunday. However, I think the Giants showed some promising signs before the late collapse, especially on defense. The big task for the Giants defense will be finding a way to somehow slow down Julio Jones. For Atlanta, it will be stopping Odell Beckham Jr. who was a non-factor in Dallas. I think Beckham gets back on track this weekend and New York earns their first win.

Prediction: New York Giants 29, Atlanta 24

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

The Dolphins got the win but it was one of those wins where you feel slightly dirty afterwards. Ryan Tannehill didn't look very good and the Dolphins defensive front, which was supposed to be rock solid with Ndamukong Suh, was run all over by Alfred Morris. The glass half full way of looking at it is this is just a work in progress and the Dolphins will improve. They should be 2-0 on Sunday after they beat Bloof Borkles and the pussycats. For the second straight season I was seeing Twitter clowns saying how good Borkles looked and the Jags were up and coming, blah, blah. Then they did nothing on offense and looked like the same sad sacks they have been for a while now. It would be nice if Miami could look a little better against an inferior team this weekend, but in the NFL wins are at a premium, so no matter what the score, just get a win.

Prediction: Miami 24, Jacksonville 13

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

The Ravens had a tough luck loss to Denver, giving it away late when Joe Flacco threw a pick six. They also lost the heart and soul of their defense, Terrell Suggs for the season. The new Jack Del Rio era for the Raiders started a lot like the last 4 or 5 new eras have been for Oakland, dreadfully. They lost quarterback Derek Carr to injury and were lambasted by the Bengals. Carr's status for this game is questionable, and if he plays he gives the Raiders a slight chance versus no chance at all if Matt McGloin is the starter. I think this game will give the Ravens the opportunity to get some momentum on offense, especially Justin Forsett. Flacco needs to start finding out who he can count on receiving wise besides Steve Smith Sr. Playing the Raiders is a great chance for a receiver to step up and make some plays.

Prediction: Baltimore 35, Oakland 20

Dallas (1-0) at Philadelphia (0-1), Philadelphia favored by 5 1/2

The Cowboys snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against the Giants, so they got to feel good about themselves, but let me be Critical Chris here for a minute. Some people just assumed the Cowboys run game would march on without DeMarco Murray because of their offensive line. But based on Dallas' play calling, the staff doesn't appear to have the faith in Joseph Randle or Darren McFadden to be their bell cow like Murray. Some of the lack of carries was dictated by Dallas trailing, but even in the first half when the score was closer, Dallas wasn't pounding the ball with the run the same successful way they had last year. Then their offense took another hit with Dez Bryant breaking hit foot and being out at least a month now. Tony Romo was masterful on the game winning drive and is a good enough quarterback to bring others up to his level so I think the Cowboys offense will still find success. For the Eagles, their first game was a tale of two halves. The first half was a complete disaster and had everyone talking about what an idiot Chip Kelly was for turning his team over to Sam Bradford. But in the second half, Bradford got much more comfortable, they started finding ways to use Murray and they looked like a lethal unit. Murray had two touchdowns but hardly any carries so hopefully Kelly rethinks that strategy starting Sunday against Dallas. I expect to see both offenses in peak form and putting up points against shaky defenses.

Prediction: Philadelphia 38, Dallas 34

Seattle (0-1) at Green Bay (1-0), Green Bay favored by 3 1/2

It's a rematch from last season's NFC Championship game. For those that need a refresher, the Packers jumped out to a 16-0 lead and were just five minutes away from sealing the deal before they suffered an incredible choke and lost. The Packers will say all the right things about this not being a revenge game but they will be looking to get the monkey of beating the Seahawks off their backs. Aaron Rodgers has struggled mightily against Seattle but those games were in Seattle. Playing in the friendly confines of Lambeau Field should elevate his game. It also appears the Seahawks pass defense is not quite what it was, if their performance against the Rams last week is any indication. It might be that they are missing the presence of Kam Chancellor, who is still holding out for more money, despite having three years left on his contract. Rodgers showed that even without Jordy Nelson, he can still put up impressive numbers. The biggest beneficiary of Nelson's injury appears to be James Jones. Without Nelson getting injured, the Packers probably would have never brought Jones back into the fold. But there he was last week, catching two touchdown passes and looking like he had never left. The Packers defense had a hell of a time with Matt Forte last week and that could spell trouble this week as they try to stop Beast Mode Marshawn Lynch. Homefield has made a tremendous advantage for Seattle when these teams have played, and I think the Lambeau crowd will make the difference in this one.

Prediction: Green Bay 34, Seattle 26

Monday, September 21

New York Jets (1-0) at Indianapolis (0-1), Indianapolis favored by 7

The Colts come into this game as a desperate team after an embarrassing performance in Buffalo last week. Their high powered offense was shut out for most of the game and their new acquisitions Frank Gore and Andre Johnson did next to nothing. The Colts offense has to get on track because the defense is still mediocre at best. The Colts defense should be able to limit a Jets offense that doesn't have a whole ton of weapons aside from Brandon Marshall. Chris Ivory can be dangerous as a running back but he suffers from the Jets never truly committing to giving him the ball. The Jets defense, especially Darrelle Revis will present challenges for Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton. It is imperative that Gore and Johnson start producing this week and I think they will.

Prediction: Indianapolis 27, New York Jets 17

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

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

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