Friday, September 25, 2015

The Hail Mary - Week 3

Sunday, September 27

Philadelphia (0-2) vs. New York Jets (2-0), New York Jets favored by 2 1/2

After this past off-season when Chip Kelly put all his cards on the table and completely remade the Eagles in his vision, it was clear things would go one of two ways. He would either succeed and be labeled a genius, or he would fail and be labeled a moron and chastised for his hubris. Through two games, his tweaks to the Eagles roster, especially their offense, have been a complete and utter disaster. DeMarco Murray has 11 rushing yards on 21 carries. Shockingly, Sam Bradford hasn't torn his ACL yet but he still sucks. The Jets are a surprising 2-0 after dominating the Colts in Indianapolis on Monday Night Football. Their defense has been awesome through the first two games, especially Darrelle Revis. Revis was all over the place on Monday night, getting an interception and recovering a fumble at the goal line. Ryan Fitzpatrick has played within the offense and not tried to do much and the Jets resemble the Jets teams from Rex Ryan's first two years at the helm. They are winning with defense and doing just enough offensively. I think at some point the Eagles offense will click and start to produce but until I actually see it, I don't feel comfortable predicting it will happen. So because of that, I expect another long day at the office for the Eagles on Sunday.

Prediction: New York Jets 24, Philadelphia 13

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

The resurrection of Adrian Peterson started last Sunday against Detroit. Peterson wasn't perfect, and struggled with fumbles, but he ran like a man possessed and showed why the Vikings refused to ever seriously enter into any trade talks about him. Peterson is back in the comfortable confines of home this Sunday, playing a Chargers run defense that has struggled badly through the first two games. Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings passing game still appears to be a work in progress, so it becomes even more important that Peterson continue to run the ball well. The Vikings pass defense will be tested by Philip Rivers, who is completing an absurd 81% of his passes through the first two games. If he can keep his play up to close to that level and Melvin Gordon continues to become more comfortable each week, the Chargers should have a pretty potent offense. They will need that because so far their defense has been subpar. I think these teams are evenly matched so I expect a close game throughout, but for Peterson to ultimately be the difference maker.

Prediction: Minnesota 28, San Diego 23

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

Are the Cowboys the Notre Dame of the NFL? Two weeks ago they lost Dez Bryant for at least half the season, and then last week they saw Tony Romo get injured about force him out of action for at least two months. That means the Cowboys offense is now the Brandon Weeden show. Despite what Jerry Jones said this week making Weeden sound like the second coming, Dallas should be very worried that their starting quarterback is Weeden and their number one receiver is now Terrance Williams. The running game still has been somewhat stagnant, as Joseph Randle hasn't run anywhere near to the level that DeMarco Murray was running last year. Plus, now Jason Witten is hurting and he is questionable to play. Dallas was lucky last week that they were facing such an inept offensive team in Philadelphia and they won't have that same advantage against the Falcons on Sunday. Atlanta's tour of the NFC East has come up roses so far and they have made plays on offense in crucial moments in both of their wins. Matt Ryan hasn't been spectacular but has been his usual solid self, and has had to carry the load as the Falcons haven't been able to establish a run game yet this season. With how banged up Dallas is on offense I would be shocked to see them win this game.

Prediction: Atlanta 27, Dallas 15

Indianapolis (0-2) at Tennessee (1-1), Indianapolis favored by 3

Chaos and panic abound in Indianapolis as the Colts are off to their second straight 0-2 start. Last season, they rebounded by beating up on their pathetic division and eventually finished 11-5 and made the AFC Championship. The Colts free agent acquisitions of Frank Gore and Andre Johnson have been busts so far. Gore had an awful fumble in the Monday Night loss as he was headed for a touchdown and then fumbled the ball without even being touched. Andrew Luck has been awful as well, throwing way too many interceptions and being careless. However, a turnaround could be in order as the Colts next three games are all division games. The Titans came back down to Earth last week at Cleveland after their impressive opener at Tampa. Marcus Mariota still has yet to throw an interception this season but he did fumble way too much in the loss and will have to become more careful with the football. The Colts were my pick to make the Super Bowl out of the AFC, but their playoff hopes are probably cooked if they can't even win at Tennessee. I may have underestimated the tenuous situation developing with Chuck Pagano currently being a lameduck coach.

Prediction: Indianapolis 26, Tennessee 20

Oakland (1-1) at Cleveland (1-1), Cleveland favored by 3 1/2

Josh McCown makes his return for the starter for the Browns, sending Johnny Football back to the bench. The Raiders are coming off an impressive win at home against Baltimore, where Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree all shined. It will be interesting to see if the Raiders can bring that same level of performance on the road to Cleveland. The Browns secondary, led by Joe Haden, will be up for the challenge presented by the Raiders passing game. McCown will have his opportunities against a porous Raiders secondary and it will be interesting to see if he can develop the same rapport with Travis Benjamin that Johnny Manziel had.

Prediction: Cleveland 19, Oakland 16

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

Just a terrible loss from the Ravens at Oakland last week. The Bengals had completely destroyed Oakland the week before. Sure they were helped by knocking Derek Carr out of the game, but even before that had happened they were in control. The Baltimore secondary had no answers for the Raiders passing attack, and their offense and defense can't seem to get on the same page. Now they face basically a must win game at home against the undefeated Bengals. Andy Dalton has been quietly really good so far this season and has yet to throw an interception. A situation could be brewing in the Bengals backfield. Jeremy Hill fumbled it early against San Diego and then saw Giovanni Bernard take most of the carries and take advantage of his opportunity. Justin Forsett has just 111 yards rushing in two games, and the Ravens haven't done a very good job of establishing the run game. The Ravens are a tough team to beat in Baltimore, but the Bengals did it last year and I think they are playing so much better than Baltimore right now, that they will do it again.

Prediction: Cincinnati 31, Baltimore 28

Jacksonville (1-1) at New England (2-0), New England favored by 13 1/2

Well, Bloof Borkles showed me. He was an integral part of Jacksonville's upset of Miami and showed that perhaps the Jaguars will have a pulse this season. He will really have a chance to prove himself this week as the Jaguars travel to New England to take on the defending champs. The Patriots went about their business last week, and dispatched the loudmouth Bills. Any other team you might worry about them overlooking a clearly inferior opponent, but with the Patriots that isn't even a possibility. Interestingly, in last week's game Bill Belichick opted to hardly use LaGarrette Blount at running back, giving most of the carries to Dion Lewis. Lewis is proving to be a weapon both running and catching the ball, and seems to be becoming the new Shane Vereen for New England. I think Jacksonville can keep this game somewhat respectable but they never really will have New England sweating.

Prediction: New England 35, Jacksonville 21

New Orleans (0-2) at Carolina (2-0), Carolina favored by 3

Things are ugly in New Orleans. They inexplicably lost their sixth straight game at home, this time to Jamies Winston and the putrid Bucs. Now Drew Brees is hurting and poor Luke McCown who is in a commercial for something about being a backup, could become the starter if Brees can't get healthy. The question I have is who is Luke McCown's agent?  He must be really good to get a backup quarterback a national commercial. The Panthers are 2-0 in usual boring Panthers fashion. Nothing really flashy or newsworthy, just going out and beating the AFC South. Whether Brees plays or not, I like Carolina in this game, as I expect their defense to frustrate the Saints offense and Cam Newton will make enough plays to keep the Panthers ahead and on to victory.

Prediction: Carolina 24, New Orleans 17

Tampa Bay (1-1) at Houston (0-2), Houston favored by 7

The Texans have been one of the worst teams of the season thus far. They created a quarterback controversy before the first game was even over, they have no running game to speak of, and their defense has been mostly average. Arian Foster is working hard to get back and there is a chance he plays on Sunday, which couldn't come any sooner for the Texans. Jamies Winston earned his first win as an NFL starter, but its hard to tell if Tampa is improving or they were just the beneficiaries of playing a woeful Saints team. Ryan Mallett needs to find more ways to get the ball to DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans aren't going to be successful if old ass Nate Washington is leading the team in yards receiving.

Prediction: Houston 22, Tampa Bay 16

Pittsburgh (1-1) at St. Louis (1-1), Pittsburgh favored by 1

The Steelers looked like Super Bowl contenders last week as they completely obliterated the San Francisco 49ers. They also decided to shake things up a bit and start going for two point conversions after their touchdowns. You may have noticed that extra points are no longer gimmes and are now 33-yard kicks, which can actually be missed. The 49ers couldn't stop the Steelers and based on comments by Ben Roethlibserger the Steelers might continue to employ the two point conversion strategy throughout the season. The Steelers have La'Veon Bell returning from suspension for them as well, but their offense hummed along pretty well without him. The Rams on the other hand, had a terrible Sunday last week. After knocking off the Seahawks it seemed the Rams might be ready to take the next step from mediocre to good. But instead, they lost by two touchdowns to the Redskins and reminded everyone that mediocre coaches breed mediocre teams. Now even with that being said, I like the Rams to upset Pittsburgh on Sunday. Even though the stands are usually half full and in this case, I expect half the crowd to be Steelers fans, the Rams play much better at home, especially defensively. I think it is going to be a long day at the office for Roethlisberger and he will be running for his life. Roethlisberger is one of the best at throwing on the run and evading the rush but if he is doing it all game, he will eventually wear down. The Rams offense should also be buoyed by the debut of Todd Gurley.

Prediction: St. Louis 33, Pittsburgh 30

San Francisco (1-1) at Arizona (2-0), Arizona favored by 6 1/2

After a promising Week 1 victory, the team that 49ers fans feared showed up in an embarrassing Week 2 loss at Pittsburgh. The defense, specifically the secondary was dreadful, leaving receivers open all over the field. The offense only moved the ball when the game was completely out of reach and the Steelers started relaxing on defense. Things will be no easier on Sunday when the 49ers travel to Arizona to take on the Cardinals. Arizona looks like one of the best teams in the NFL through the first two weeks of the season. All three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams are clicking for the Cardinals right now. Hell, Larry Fitzgerald returned from the dead and had 3 touchdown catches last week. Carson Palmer is once again an elite quarterback, despite being 35 years old and for years seeming like his best days were well behind him. Arizona is a tough stadium to play in and I expect the 49ers to start the game off flustered by the atmosphere. I think the Cardinals will do what they want on offense and Colin Kaepernick won't start getting the chains moving on offense until things are out of reach. Beacuse I expect the Cardinals to pull ahead quickly, that will also limit Carlos Hyde's touches, the one true weapon the offense seems to have right now. Things don't get any easier next week when Green Bay comes to San Francisco.

Prediction: Arizona 35, San Francisco 20

Buffalo (1-1) at Miami (1-1), Miami favored by 3

Both the Bills and Dolphins are coming off disappointing losses and will need a victory in this game to avoid falling two games back of the Patriots in the division. The Bills and especially their defense were knocked back down to Earth after Tom Brady and the Patriots had their way with them. The Dolphins are still waiting for Ndamukong Suh to have an impact and negative stories about Suh freelancing on defense have already started leaking out. Ryan Tannehill has played well for Miami but Lamar Miller has not and he is now questionable for this game. Tannehill and the Dolphins offense can't just be pass happy, they need Miller to start producing. LeSean McCoy has gotten off to a decent start but is looking for his first rushing touchdown of the season. I think as long as Joe Philbin remains the Dolphins coach, Miami won't take that next step to the playoffs. That means losing games like this at home that they need to and should win.

Prediction: Buffalo 27, Miami 24

Chicago (0-2) at Seattle (0-2), Seattle favored by 14 1/2

After back to back road losses Seattle finally can return to the comforts of home. Even better they get to play the Bears, who might be the worst team in football. The Bears are likely without Jay Cutler for this game, meaning Jimmy Clausen will be making the start. Imagining Clausen trying to lead the Bears to victory in Seattle makes me laugh. If the Seahawks can't blow the doors off Chicago this week, something might really be wrong with the two time defending NFC champions. Their defense also will be getting back Kam Chancellor, who had seen enough and is returning to save the day!

Prediction: Seattle 38, Chicago 17

Denver (2-0) at Detroit (0-2), No Line

Much like the Seahawks, the Lions are more than happy to be returning home after opening the season with 2 road losses. They face a tough opponent in the Broncos, who showed great resiliency in their win at Kansas City last Thursday. In the first half of that game Peyton Manning and the entire team looked like 6-10 team I predicted they would be. Then in the second half Manning came alive and the defense created some turnovers and the Broncos were all of the sudden 2-0. They still haven't gotten their running game going, although in my opinion Ronnie Hillman has shown more than C.J. Anderson and should start receiving more carries. The Lions don't have much of a running game either, so expect to see lots of passes in this one. These two offenses used to be very high octane, and I think this game three years ago would have me a lot more excited for it than it would now. However, Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas are two of the top receivers in football and each should make some big plays in this game. I like Denver to once again find a way to pull out a tough victory on the road.

Prediction: Denver 24, Detroit 21

Monday, September 28

Kansas City (1-1) at Green Bay (2-0), Green Bay favored by 6 1/2

Kansas City will have had 11 days to stew over their crushing home loss to the Broncos. The player stewing the most has to be Jamaal Charles. It was his crucial fumble late that cost the Chiefs. He also had a fumble earlier in the game that Denver converted into points, overshadowing what was a really strong performance for the most part from him. Alex Smith did not have a strong performance against Denver and was careless with the ball, something that is uncharacteristic of him. The Packers RB Eddie Lacy is questionable, but James Starks is experienced and stepped in against the Seahawks and nearly ran for 100 yards. The Packers offense continues to hum along, even as players go down. As long as they have Aaron Rodgers quarterbacking, it doesn't seem to matter who else is hurt. The Packers are seemingly unbeatable at Lambeau, and I expect it to be a long night for the Chiefs. Also, yes, Smith has still not thrown a touchdown to a wide receiver this year.

Prediction: Green Bay 34, Kansas City 21

Last Week Straight Up: 7-9
Overall Straight Up: 18-14

Last Week Against the Spread: 7-9
Overall Against the Spread: 17-14-1

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