Overall, not a bad week for my prognosticating. I missed on a couple of upset picks (hey – it would be quite boring if I just took the favorite in every contest, wouldn’t it?) but hit on a couple as well and went 12-4 after 10-6 in week one.
Starting here with week two, I’m going to re-post my pre-game predictions, including the text, then add in a couple of comments after the fact – sort of a “what we learned from this particular game” comment. Keep reading and you’ll see what I mean.
Last week I went 10-6 which I think is pretty darned good for a week-one forecast due to the nature of the beast.
Panthers @ Bills:
The Carolina Panthers defense looks to be every bit as dominant as any in the NFL after a single game. If you can hold Russell Wilson, The Beast, and that crew to 12 points, you’re doing a LOT of things right. This Week, the D faces rookie E.J. Manuel and C.J. Spiller of abbreviated backfield fame. The results should be even better for the stout D. The Bills’ top two defensive backs, safety Jarius Byrd and CB Stephon Gilmore, are both out (Byrd is listed as doubtful).
Prediction: Panthers 17, Bills 6 (Panthers by 11)
Result: Bills 24, Panthers 23 (Bills by 1)
What we now know: The Panthers’ defense IS a good one, but once again the team choked in the final 4 minutes. Rookie Bills QB E.J. Manuel is the Real Deal, taking care of the ball and leading his team to victory under intense pressure literally in the final seconds of the game. The Bills are better than people think, and especially in the second half of the season should play a “spoiler” role in the AFC East.
Dolphins @ Colts:
Interesting match-up here in a rematch of a very close “battle of rookie QBs” last season. This season, Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill has a bushel-basket full of new toys, even though TE Dustin Keller was lost for the season a few weeks ago. WR Brandon Gibson could be their best offseason pick-up for Tannehill after all is said and done. Meanwhile, the Colts are trying to get the ball to another 2nd-yr player, WR T.Y. Hilton, as their backfield struggles to find an identity. Same with the Dolphins as their 2nd-yr back Lamar Miller struggled mightily last week. Look for close to 100 passes thrown when the dust settles, with the Colts once again claiming victory.
Prediction: Colts 23, Dolphins 20 (Colts by 3)
Result: Dolphins 24, Colts 20 (Dolphins by 4)
What we now know: I almost picked the ‘fins for the upset but thought it might be a tall order to win two on the road with their young QB, Ryan Tannehill. The Colts beat them last year on a big play by T.Y. Hilton and I was right about them trying to get the ball to him more (6 rec. 124 yards). The Colts DID have trouble running the ball and the Dolphins took advantage enough to win in Indy. The Dolphins are for real, defeating a playoff team from last year on the road.
Rams @ Falcons:
Here’s an interesting match-up with a very good Rams defense coming in to the Georgia Dome facing an already-depleted WR corps. Roddy White and Julio Jones are both listed as “questionable” but should play with their injuries meaning WR Harry Douglass could see a lot of targets along with Gonzo for the Falcons. The Rams have a young and talented offense, but QB Sam Bradford has yet to show he’s the answer after having a stellar rookie campaign. Tavon Austin helps, but he can’t do everything. The Falcons rarely lose at home, but the injuries will make this one close. Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein could really be a weapon as “Legatron” will be kicking in perfect conditions.
Prediction: Falcons 26, Rams 23 (Falcons by 3)
Result: Falcons 31, Rams 24 (Falcons by 7)
What we now know: The Falcons got a big lead early and held off a Rams rally for the victory. Even though both Roddy White and Julio Jones were hobbled, QB Matt Ryan’s production didn’t suffer (374 yds passing, 2 TDs) and Julio even had a long TD reception. However, both teams had difficulty running the ball. The Rams didn’t run much because they were behind, but the Falcons couldn’t get the ground game going against a very good Rams defense. Upshot is the Falcons’ offense looks very similar to that of the Saints, and Ryan should be in for a career year.
Vikings @ Bears:
I didn’t give either team any love last week, but the Bears proved me wrong in winning a close game at home against the rising Cincinnati Bengals. This time around, a team with the NFL’s best player rolls into town. Adrian Peterson will get his yards (120 and a TD), but that Bears defense will give Christian Ponder a lot of problems. Meanwhile, the Bears face a very good, if aging, defensive line but the back end still needs a lot of help. I’m looking for the Cutler-to-Marshall connection to remain strong while RB Matt Forte mixes things up and helps move the chains. The Bears have the better roster from top to bottom and should win this one without a huge amount of trouble.
Prediction: Bears 30, Vikings 20 (Bears by 10)
Result: Bears 31, Vikings 30 (Bears by 1)
What we now know: While Bears CB Charles Tillman picked
off up where he left off last season with another pick-6, it turned out to be the difference in the game. The Bears’ offense is for real and that’s how they’re staying in and winning games this year – with offense, not “just” defense. The Vikings should continue to struggle so long as Christian Ponder doesn’t take “that next step.” He was only 16-30 passing for 227 yards, but then again there’s Adrian Peterson. With AP in the backfield, Ponder should be completing closer to 65% instead of barely 50% and things are looking more and more like he may not be the “franchise QB” he was drafted to be.
Redskins @ Packers:
The Packers played a closer ball game at San Fran last week than I thought they would, indicating some growing on their part. The Pack gave up over 400 yards passing to Colin K., but held Frank Gore to about 2.0 ypc. That could be trouble for Redskins RB Alfred Morris, forcing RGIII to the air more than Shanahan would like. With his injury late last year, RGIII didn’t play in the preseason and showed his rust in week one, and I think the Packers just have too much firepower for Washington at Lambeau Field as rookie Eddie Lacy should have an easier time running and giving the Packers’ offense more balance.
Packers 28, Redskins 21 (Packers by 6)
Result: Packers 38, Redskins 20 (Packers by 18)
What we now know: RGIII’s struggles in his opening-day loss carried over into this contest. I looked at his throwing motion and he’s still not 100% from the knee injury and is falling away from a lot of his throws, not planting that back foot on his drop-backs, and opens his left shoulder too soon and too much – his mechanics are a big mess. The ‘Skins defense is terrible and with RGIII playing the way he is, look for more of the same unless and until he gets his throwing motion straightened out. Such is the price for keeping a rising second-year QB completely out of the preseason, and frankly a healthy Kirk Cousins would give the team a better chance to win. The Packers were a bit surprising in that now-backup RB James Starks had over 100 yards rushing – the first Packer to do so in the last 4 years – and the team looks a lot more like the world-champion version than they do last year’s. Watch out for the Packers come December!
Cowboys @ Chiefs:
The Cowboys travel to one of very few stadiums that isn’t a sellout – no corporate names, it’s STILL ARROWHEAD STADIUM! – and take on a resurgent Kansas City team. The Chiefs had a talented squad last year and now have a proven Head Coach in Andy Reid along with a built-from-the-ground-up QB for the West Coast Offense in Alex Smith. Dez Bryant plays today but goes up against one of the NFL’s better corners in Brandon Flowers. Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles caused fantasy owners a scare last week when he injured his leg, but looks to be 100% for today’s contest. In what will likely be a fairly close game, I think the Chiefs new-found stability will help them eek out a victory at Arrowhead this week.
Prediction: Chiefs 24, Cowboys 20 (Chiefs by 4)
Result: Chiefs 17, Cowboys 16 (Chiefs by 1)
What we now know: “Wisdom” was that Dez Bryant would have an off day because he was going up against veteran CB Brandon Flowers. Bryant responded with 9 rec 141 yards and 1 TD, so he looks to be one of those guys who is going to produce no matter who he’s playing and if any questions remained, they should stop now that Bryant has solidified his true-#1 WR status with this game. Chiefs’ QB Alex Smith once again kept the ball safe from turnovers as they won at home against a very talented Dallas roster. The Cowboys haven’t shown much consistency in the first two games, so look for the ‘boys to struggle against good all-around teams. They look like a 9-7 squad at best while K.C. has already matched their win total for 2013 and could make a lot of noise in the AFC West looking for a Wild Card spot as Denver should wind up winning the division.
Chargers @ Eagles:
San Diego’s offense showed some unusual efficiency last week, scoring 28 points while not gaining a ton of yards. The Eagles under new Head Coach Chip Kelly showed they can score in bunches but their defense is a bit suspect, as was thought heading into the season. It’s always difficult for west coast teams to win on the east coast due to the time difference and the earlier game start. It’s 10 in the morning on the west coast when the game kicks off, which should be enough of an edge for the home team in this one. Watch out for fireworks!
Prediction: Eagles 33, Chargers 24 (Eagles by 11)
Result: Chargers 33, Eagles 30 (Chargers by 3)
What we now know: Embattled Chargers QB Phillip Rivers showed he’s not ready to be put out to pasture yet. The Charger offense is more potent than I though it would be and they put up 33 points on the road. Granted, Philly’s D can’t stop many teams but the Chargers’ victory was impressive, considering the uncertainty surrounding a lot of aspects of the team. Philadelphia probably won’t have enough D to challenge in the NFC East over 16 games, but the Chargers look like one of those teams who might even over-achieve this season. Keep an eye on them.
Browns @ Ravens:
Last week, the Browns lost to a strong, deep Miami front-seven while the Ravens gave up 7 passing TDs to Peyton Manning. Brandon Weeden is no Peyton Manning and he won’t have Josh Brown until next week when he comes off suspension. Meanwhile, I’d hate to have been a Raven this week as John Harbaugh couldn’t have been happy with the way his team played in Denver. That said, the Ravens at least had a few more days to prepare for this contest than did the Browns. The Browns’ defense might have things together a bit more at this point than do the Ravens simply due to off-season roster turnover, but the Ravens got hit with a very cold dose of reality last week. I think they pick up the urgency a few notches at home this week and take their frustrations out on an average offense.
Ravens 27, Browns 17 (Ravens by 10)
Result: Ravens 14, Browns 6 (Ravens by 8)
What we now know: After Peyton Manning’s record-tying 7 TDs against the Ravens in week one, and with the Browns scoring only 6 points against a strong Miami defense the same week, something had to give in this one. Apparently, the Ravens’ defense isn’t nearly as porous as they showed against Denver and the Browns’ offense is as sluggish as ever. Josh Gordon’s return from suspension next week can only help, but I don’t think his presence will somehow magically transform Cleveland’s attack into anything to worry about. The Ravens look like they’ll be okay but questions remain about their offense as well.
Titans @ Texans:
The Titans shockingly beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh on opening day, and the Steelers just don’t lose home openers. However, they’re going to need more explosiveness on offense than they’ve shown thus far if they think they can outscore the Texans. Houston should split carries more between Ben Tate and Arian Foster as Foster works his way back into football game shape. DeAndre Hopkins, a rookie WR out of Clemson, looks like he could be that WR2 the Texans have been seeking for years to put opposite All-Pro WR Andre Johnson, and once again the home team should pull out the victory.
Texans 28, Titans 17 (Texans by 11)
Result: Texans 30, Titans 24 in OT (Texans by 6)
What we now know: The Texans are NOT the dominant force in the AFC they were thought to be coming in, having to go to OT to beat the Titans this week and having to rally to beat the Chargers last week – two teams that didn’t even make the playoffs in 2013. If this is how they’re going to play the rest of the season, the Colts could really make a push for the division title. The Titans have similar issues with Jake Locker that the Vikings are with Christian Ponder, so keep an eye on their growth – or lack of it – over the course of the season. Lastly, look for 2nd-yer WR Kendall Wright to become the go-to guy as the season presses forward and Kenny Britt continues to underachieve. 3 great games in a career won’t keep him on the team with the way he has played so far in 2014. Oh – DeAndre Hopkins had a great game two of his rookie season with 7 rec 117 yds and a TD and looks like he will pair up nicely with Andre Johnson after all.
Lions @ Cardinals:
The potent Lions offense takes on Arizona in the desert this week and this game features a TON of interesting match-ups: Detroit’s fearsome defensive line vs. probably the worst interior OL in the NFL; Arizona’s pass-rush vs. Detroit’s offensive line; Megatron vs. Patrick Peterson. The list goes on. It should be an entertaining game to watch if you have access, and the final score should reflect it.
Cardinals 24, Lions 23 (Cards by 1)
Result: Cardinals 25, Lions 21 (Cards by 4)
What we now know: This was one of my “upset” picks that actually came through although it wasn’t that difficult a pick to make. The Cards have a lot of very good pieces – a very strong pass rush along with an LSU defensive backfield (Patrick Peterson and the Honey Badger) – and really only lack interior OL and running game to be competitive. I figured playing at home, their D should slow down the Lions’ offense enough for Carson Palmer to connect with Larry Fitzgerald and make some noise. Instead, Palmer spread the wealth around to 10 different receivers…including a 17 yard toss to Patrick Peterson! The team made a little noise in the offseason talking about possibly putting Peterson at wideout and it looks like that’s what they’re trying out. Both teams look like they’re struggling to improve their performances from 2013.
Saints @ Buccaneers:
New Orleans pulled out a victory at home, unsurprisingly, against the Atlanta Falcons last week. The Saints simply play well at home against the Falcons. By the same token, the Saints won the 2012 matchup in Tampa Bay, and the Bucs don’t seem to have made the strides this offseason that were thought to have happened. Greg Schiano could be on the hot seat by the end of the season, and this game won’t help his cause. Sean Payton is at the helm and Rob Ryan’s 46 defense seems to be improved over last year’s record-worst effort. Josh Freeman better get his game in gear because Drew Brees isn’t going to loiter. Look for Saints’ rookie WR Kenny Stills to make some noise in this one.
Saints 34, Bucs 21 (Saints by 13)
Result: Saints 16, Bucs 14 (Saints by 2)
What we now know: The Saints are for real, and their defense has improved drastically after setting an NFL record for futility last season. So far in 2013, the Saints have allowed only 17 points in the win over Atlanta last week and 14 on the road against one of the most stacked offenses in the NFL – other than at quarterback. The Bucs proved that having a talent-laden team doesn’t necessarily translate into wins. There is indeed a rift developing between QB Josh Freeman and Head Coach Greg Schiano and I’ll tell you readers right now that both of them will NOT be in Tampa Bay next year, and possibly both. Freeman has hit his ceiling and it’s a ceiling in a Pygmy hut. There’s a reason they brought in rookie QB Mike Glennon via the draft this past April – he will be the team’s starting QB on Opening Day 2014 – if not before. Yes, it’s that bad already.
Jaguars @ Raiders:
This is pretty much the “Who Cares?” game of the week…except for the fact that Oakland starts QB Terrell Pryor while the Jaguars start QB Chad Henne for an injured Blaine Gabbert. Henne’s presence means the Jags actually might have a chance to win this one, but Pryor’s legs will make the difference at home.
Raiders 26, Jaguars 13 (Raiders by 13)
Result: Raiders 19, Jaguars 9 (Raiders by 10)
What we now know: Although raw QB Terrell Pryor wasn’t tested at home against the NFL’s sorriest team, the Jags were the perfect opponent for building confidence in any young signal caller. He responded with a respectful 15/24 for 126 yds with no picks or TDs. There wasn’t a whole lot “new” to be learned from this game, but underscores the Jaguars’ futility – especially on offense. However, with Jags’ WR Cecil Shorts going 8 rec for 93 yards, when WR Justin Blackmon comes back from suspension after week 4 and MJD in a contract year, the offense could improve somewhat as the season goes forward. The Jags do look like the team getting the top pick in 2014 thus far into the season.
Denver @ New York Giants:
Ahhh the “Manning Bowl part Deux” or whatever you want to call it. Peyton vs. Eli is always a worthwhile game to watch but this year especially so with the elder brother’s record-tying effort last week and Eli’s horrible preseason being in stark contrast with each other. However, the Giants are equipped to shoot-out with the Broncos if Eli is hot, and David Wilson will be running angry and with something to prove. Denver might be the better team, but I think the Giants pull off the upset at MetLife Stadium on this day.
Giants 30, Broncos 28 (Giants by 2)
Result: Broncos 41, Giants 23 (Broncos by 18)
What we now know: As I referenced in the Ravens’ matchup, the Broncos offense really IS that good and my “upset special” did a faceplant with the call I made. The Giants’ offense continues to struggle in both the running and passing game. The team abandoned the run early, relying on Eli and his gifted group of receivers to keep pace with his brother’s team, but Eli continues to struggle as he did during the pre-season. Wilson is going to HAVE to get the ball more than the 7 carries for 17 yards to lead his team in rushing in this game if the Giants want to go anywhere at all this season. Their offensive line woes rival those of the Panthers and the Cardinals, and that’s where you need stability the most in order to have any type of consistency on offense. The Broncos really are as good as they seem while the Giants really are as bad as THEY seem.
Niners @ Seahawks:
This match-up is one of the top-3 to see this week as two probable playoff teams in the NFC West face off. The two teams each have a very dynamic quarterback and a punishing, physical ground game with defenses designed to play exactly that type of football. Seattle was 8-0 at home last season and I have been saying since before that that the ‘hawks’ home field advantage is the best in the NFL. They’re also actively trying to break a world record for noise level with the crowd screaming at over 130 decibels, and Colin Kaepernick will be lucky to hear HIMSELF barking signals, let alone his receivers – or even his tackles! I think this ball game lives up to the hype.
Seahawks 24, Niners 20 (Seahawks by 4)
Result: Seahawks 29, Niners 3 (Seahawks by 26)
What we now know: It’s funny how so many people jumped on the Seahawks bandwagon before the season started, saying they should go to the Super Bowl. Many of the same people that were saying that predicted the Niners would win this game…? OoooKAAAYYY! As you can see, I had the winner right if the margin way too small because I know that the Seahawks DO have the best home-field advantage in the NFL – see the pre-game comments above! If nothing else, EVERYBODY should have learned that much at least AFTER seeing this ball game. The ‘hawks won by 26….and it wasn’t even THAT close! Still, I thought the Niners would at least make it a game, but they crumbled under the record-setting noise in Seattle. The matchup in San Francisco later this season should provide a better gauge of how the two teams stack up against each other. The Hawks’ aren’t quite as dominant as they seemed to show last Sunday and the Niners aren’t as bad as they looked. However, if the road to the Super Bowl goes through Seattle, it will be very tough for anyone – including the Packers – to wrestle a win away from them in Seattle in the playoffs.
MONDAY NIGHT GAME
Steelers @ Bengals:
There has been a mistaken thought going around the NFL regarding the age of the Steel Curtain and their losing effectiveness. People forget that Dick LeBeau’s defense is as complex as Bill Belichick’s offense, which is why so few rookies ever come into Pittsburgh and dominate the defensive side of the ball. It takes time to learn the system but rookie OLB Jarvis Jones should make some noise as he works his way into the rotation. In Steel City, it’s the offense that needs help as they’ve lost their All-Pro center, Maurkice Pouncey, for the season in a “friendly fire” incident in last week’s game. That will cripple the team for the rest of the season, and the Bengals are on the rise with a nice group of young skill players on offense and a tough defense anchored by Geno Atkins.
Bengals 24, Steelers 16 (Bengals by 8)
Result: Bengals 20, Steelers 10 (Bengals by 10)
What we now know: The Bengals are for real, folks, and the Steelers have a lot of issues especially on offense. While the Steelers’ defense kept them in the game, the injury to Maurkice Pouncey has made their offensive line a liability for Big Ben and the running game for sure. Pittsburgh probably won’t see much improvement until rookie Le’Veon Bell heals, and even then he will find running difficult. They also miss uber-deep threat WR Mike Wallace, who had his first TD of the 2013 season with Miami this week. The Bengals are set up with LOADS of talent on BOTH sides of the ball now, and actually have a good-looking young QB in Andy Dalton to get the ball to all his young weapons – and they have plenty of them. With DT Geno Atkins signed to a long-term deal just before the season starts, they have a great foundation on defense to grow. Mark my words, the Bengals will be in the Super Bowl within the next 3 years.
Week 1: 10-6
Week 2: 12-4
Overall: 22-10 (.688)