By Christopher Reina
Our NFL Team Rankings are based entirely on the The Trench Counter, which is an objective formula measuring average yards per pass and run on both offense and defense, along with first downs registered and given up, turnovers for and against, and total penalty yards.
Over time, The Trench Counter rankings begin to closely resemble the standings but goes even further to determine which teams are truly the best when on the line of scrimmage.
The chief aim of the Trench Counter is to take the subjective out of the equation and even the somewhat fluky nature of teams actually scoring points, which is of course the whole point on a game-by-game basis.
The Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins climbed to first and second in the rankings after huge Trench Counter differentials in Week 2 against the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Buffalo Bills, meanwhile, are 2-0 while posting a -5.3 and +5.6 in their two games so we're not quite ready to buy their fast start.
The Seattle Seahawks fell to No. 6, but had a +2.3 in their loss to the San Diego Chargers. The Seahawks rushed for 8.0 yards per rush, but running 35 fewer plays was a clear issue as was allowing Antonio Gates to score three touchdowns. The Seahawks will be fine though and will win more road games than they lose.
To reiterate, this is not how I would subjectively rank the 32 teams and two weeks of data produce results that are themselves fluky.
Week 2 Rankings
1. Cincinnati Bengals: 10.7
2. Washington Redskins: 8.0
3. Arizona Cardinals: 7.8
4. Chicago Bears: 7.5
5. Baltimore Ravens: 6.9
6. Seattle Seahawks: 6.2
7. Minnesota Vikings: 5.4
8. Philadelphia Eagles: 5.3
9. Carolina Panthers: 4.8
10. Detroit Lions: 3.7
11. Houston Texans: 3.5
12. Miami Dolphins: 3.2
13. Tennessee Titans: 2.9
14. Denver Broncos: 1.8
15. Cleveland Browns: 1.6
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1.5
17. New Orleans Saints: 0.8
18. Green Bay Packers: 0.7
19. Buffalo Bills: 0.2
20. Dallas Cowboys: -1.3
21. San Francisco 49ers: -1.7
22. New England Patriots: -2.2
23. New York Jets: -3.5
24. Oakland Raiders: -3.7
25. Indianapolis Colts: -5.2
26. Kansas City Chiefs: -5.3
27. San Diego Chargers: -5.8
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: -9.1
29. New York Giants: -10.0
30. Atlanta Falcons: -10.8
31. Jacksonville Jaguars: -11.3
32. St. Louis Rams: -12.4
Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, IQ
By Jeff Risdon
This was a real tough week to follow and cover the NFL. At one point six of these ten cents had nothing to do with anything on the field. It’s not, as some claim, the worst week in NFL history. Nobody died, which inherently makes the Jovan Belcher and Rae Carruth situations worse. Yet the barrage of negativity is hard to ignore when off-field criminal issues lead the network news shows, not just the sports networks.
$.01--The news story that dominated the nation this week involved the released video of Ray Rice knocking out his wife with a swift left in the elevator of a now-closed Atlantic City casino. That disturbing visual quickly shifted the story into two directions: domestic violence awareness and a stern challenge to Roger Goodell’s viability and effectiveness as NFL Commissioner.
It’s the Goodell angle that has transfixed the football world. Long a lightning rod of criticism, the commish earned near universal scorn for his ham-handed handling of such a public case. Even though the NFL committed no legal crime, the league is most certainly guilty of a cover-up scandal rivaling the Iran-Contra affair or Benghazi, based on your political persuasion.
Goodell claims to have no knowledge of the video before TMZ released it on Monday. That flies in the face of his authoritarian, omnipresent image and history. It also raises some serious questions about the competency of his office, as there is verified receipt of the video at NFL headquarters from several months ago.
Either Goodell is a lying hypocrite or a flaming rod of ineptitude, take your pick. I’m not even sure which is worse.
Will it be enough to cost him his $40M-a-year job? Probably not. He makes the NFL owners--his bosses--far too much money for them to send him to the gallows.
Still, a man whose driving force in life is “protect the shield” splattered the blood of abused women everywhere all over his league’s precious reputation. By coming down initially too soft, then overreacting (more on that coming below) in the other direction when caught with his pants down, Goodell has irreparably damaged his own credibility and power. He can never earn back what he gave away.
$.02--As macabre as it sounds, it’s really a damn shame that there isn’t a Ray Rice video of what Panthers star defensive end Greg Hardy did to his girlfriend. Because if you think sucker-punching an agitated companion is worthy of a lifetime ban from the NFL, you probably want Hardy deported to northeast Syria.
It’s a complex case fueled by intoxicants and 911 calls from neighbors and Hardy himself, nicely detailed back in July by the Charlotte Observer. Yet he was found guilty in court of assault and communicating threats, which entailed him putting his hands around her neck and telling her he was going to kill her after dragging her around the house by her hair.
As tone deaf as Goodell appeared with the Rice case, the Panthers are worse. Hardy was convicted in July, yet the team has done nothing until Sunday. They weren’t even expected to do anything then until public outrage finally forced them to acquiesce to common decency and deactivate Hardy for Carolina’s game with the Lions. Per Chris Myers on the Fox game broadcast, it was “on organizational decision”.
I want to give Panthers owner Jerry Richardson some credit. He’s a very good man. Yet it never should have taken this long to begrudgingly sit down his star player. As Louis Riddick sagely said on ESPN’s exhausting NFL Countdown, Joe Gibbs would have cut Hardy long ago. That Hardy is still employed is a travesty. Maybe when he goes to prison later this fall Richardson will finally have the decency to cut him.
Perhaps there was some karmic justification in place for Carolina. Hardy’s replacement Mario Addison annihilated Detroit’s 3rd and 4th string right tackles for 2.5 sacks and was unblockable when the Lions were in definite passing mode.
$.03--Adrian Peterson made sure the negative spotlight shone brightly on the NFL all week. The Vikings star running back was indicted and later arrested for “reckless or negligent injury to a child”.
This is a tough case. Peterson quite clearly and sincerely believes his actions are a perfectly acceptable form of discipline that he perhaps took a bit too far.
Regardless of your personal viewpoint of corporal punishment, a 230-pound pro athlete hitting a 4-year-old child with a switch “10 or 15 times” for interrupting a video game is miles beyond a bit too far. The boy suffered nasty injuries to his legs and groin, ones that were visible to doctors days later. Google the pictures if you want the disgusting evidence.
What makes this especially gut-wrenching is that Peterson of all people should be hyper sensitive to this issue. He had another son killed by an abusive stepfather just 11 months ago.
I wonder if Peterson thought of his dead son while nearly beating the life out of this one. I wonder how many lashes he would inflict if the child did something really unreasonable, like setting off firecrackers in the living room or spilling grape juice in one of Peterson’s luxury cars.
I consulted with former Suffolk County (NY) Assistant District Attorney Craig Hayes about Peterson’s grand jury case. I’m going to quote Hayes directly from our correspondence here:
There is a good chance that this case goes to trial, unless the DA caves in.: Most DAs when a person has a good background in cases like this will offer things like parenting classes, anger management, probation, etc., and other alternatives to jail to dispose of a case like this. I would think that the DA made some type of pre-indictment offer. We probably will never know what -if any- pre-indictment offer was given to Hardin and AP. Neither DAs nor the defense attorney will typically share this kind of information.
But since Peterson rejected any offer, if he got one and I would guess that he did, and more important, he testified before the Grand Jury, the DA probably will not offer a plea bargain now, that ship has sailed. Many DA Offices have a "No Deal" policy once a defendant testifies. There reasoning is, "I know your defense, they didn't buy it, why should I cut you a deal now." Asking for a deal now is like wanting your chips back after showing your hand in poker.
Hayes’ opinion on why he was charged with those specific allegations:
“the fact that the Grand Jury indicted Peterson on a reckless theory means that they did not believe that he intentionally injured his child, but they are accusing him of doing something reckless (A 230 pound ball of muscle hitting a 4 yr old with a switch) that he knew that he could hurt him, but he disregarded that risk.”
It’s sad that Peterson doesn’t realize the gravity of his actions. It’s sad that he learned NOTHING from the death of one of his other children. It’s sad that folks are whining about how this impacts their fantasy football teams. Most of all, it’s sad for that little boy.
$.04--In actual football, the defending Super Bowl champs showed some vulnerability in San Diego. The Chargers beat the Seahawks 30-21, sending both teams to 1-1.
The story of the game was opportunism. Seattle’s vaunted defense could not get off the field on third downs, as San Diego converted 10 of 17 chances. They absolutely dominated the clock, and it worked:
On the other side, Dwight Freeney sacked Russell Wilson on Seattle’s first third down attempt and it set the tone for the game. San Diego stayed composed after Seattle cut the lead to 20-14, mounting a steady drive to threaten the red zone. Seattle had them stopped for a field goal attempt but a personal foul on Bruce Irvin kept the drive alive. Two plays later Antonio Gates caught his third TD pass--a spectacular one-handed stab--and it was 27-14. The game was essentially over.
The score shouldn’t even have been as close as it was. Percy Harvin clearly stepped out of bounds on his long touchdown scamper for Seattle, but the zebras on the field and in the replay booth all somehow missed it. Perhaps it was the 100+ degree heat on the field.
$.05--San Francisco opened Levi’s Stadium some 45 miles outside the city. It was a tale of two halves.
This was an ugly affair early on, one that made me wish I could go to bed instead of writing about the game. There were 17 penalties in the first half.
The Chicago offense was limper than an overcooked Ramen noodle for most of that half:
Fortunately I stuck around to catch what became a pretty compelling game. Niners fans might see it a little differently…
Chicago rallied while San Francisco imploded. Jay Cutler came alive while Colin Kaepernick came unhinged. Cutler wound up throwing four TDs and was masterful in the red zone. Kaepernick turned the ball over four times and was at his worst when his team needed him the most.
The Bears leave town with a much-needed 28-20 win. It elevates them into a 4-way tie in the NFC North. Meanwhile the Niners were exposed for their vulnerable secondary and declining offensive line. They’re now looking up at the Cardinals in the NFC West and travel to Arizona next week with what looks like a lengthy injury list.
$.06--Baltimore rallied around itself in the Thursday night game, thrashing the archrival Steelers 26-6. The actual game didn’t get nearly as much publicity as it should, because what happened between the lines was the most graphic exposure of the Pittsburgh Steelers as a team in serious trouble.
Since jumping out to a 27-3 halftime lead in their opener against Cleveland, Pittsburgh has been outscored 50-9. Worse, it’s to divisional opponents and with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger and emerging stud in running back Le'Veon Bell.
There are myriad reasons why these Steelers look very much like a last-place, 5-11 team. Their offensive line is substandard. Their defensive line is worse than that. The linebackers make those units look like Pro Bowlers.
Poor drafting has been a major culprit. The Steelers are an organization which takes deep pride in its ability to replace aging talent from within. Unfortunately they’ve whiffed on several higher draft picks in recent years, going back to Limas Sweed and Bruce Davis in 2008. Some of the better picks have fled for greener pastures, guys like Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, LaMarr Woodley and Kraig Urbik. Complete whiffs on guys like Mike Adams, Sean Spence, Marcus Gilbert, Ziggy Hood, Alameda TaAmu, Curtis Brown, the list goes on and on. They drafted Jarvis Jones, a player who this 40-year old (at the time) with chronic turf toe outperformed in every Combine test except the bench press, in the first round last year and wonder why he’s been inadequate…at best.
At some point, some of the fault is going to hit the coaches for failing to develop these players and for their inability to properly scheme for the talent they do have. Dick Lebeau is a legend, one of the most innovative defensive minds in NFL history. Alas, he has not changed with the modern NFL. His time has come.
It might be coming for Mike Tomlin too. As many Steelers faithful lament, he gives the same press conference after every defeat. Tomlin takes the blame for failing to have his team prepared and making too many mistakes. How about trying to remedy that, coach? Omar Epps’ doppelganger needs to figure that one out soon.
$.07--The New York Jets beat the New York Jets in Green Bay. I guess the Packers technically had something to do with it, but the Jets are far more culpable in their own defeat.
New York thoroughly dominated the game early, racing out to a 21-3 lead by scoring touchdowns on each of its first three drives. The Jets completely owned the line of scrimmage both offensively and defensively, pushing around the Packer lines with ease.
The worm started turning late in the second quarter, when Geno Smith threw an ill-advised pick deep in Green Bay territory on the first play after the two minute warning. That gave Aaron Rodgers just enough time to mount a critical drive culminating in a Randall Cobb TD reception. That closed the gap to 21-16 instead of having the Jets ahead no worse than 24-9. Huge swing.
As for the second half, the Jets happened. They gained all of 50 yards in the second half. New York even benefitted from a ponderous officiating decision that negated a Smith fumble, as somehow a pass that goes backwards can be ruled forwards even if it’s not really thrown.
When the Packers took the lead, the Jets responded by starting a brawl on the 2 pt. conversion. After tying the game with a 52-yard field goal, it took exactly one play for Jordy Nelson to embarrass first-round picks Dee Milliner and Calvin Pryor on an 80-yard catch and run for the go-ahead TD.
Then this happened…
The following wins football tweet of the weekend:
The wiped out TD would have tied the game in the fourth quarter, but some official ruled that some Jets coach not named Rex Ryan called timeout. Of course Ryan is the only person allowed to call timeout from the sideline, but that didn’t matter because the play was blown dead right at the moment of snap. Marty Morninwheg happens, just ask Lions fans…
Somehow, Green Bay eked out the win to improve to 1-1. That’s a critical win, keeping them tied for first in the NFC North and headed to Detroit next week with a chance to seize control of the NFC North, a division they’ve owned recently. The Jets fall to 1-1 and have only themselves to blame.
--Very happy for Austin Davis getting the win in his first start for the Rams. The way that game ended was a travesty, however. Bucs WR Mike Evans makes a great catch and gets rocked by the crown of a helmet into his neck and shoulder. He tries to get up but can’t; he’s obviously hurt by a hit that was obviously a penalty. Since Tampa had no timeouts left, the 10-second runoff penalty caused time to expire with the Bucs in field goal range and trailing by 2.
--The RG3 injury looked terrible, but this is why Washington selected Kirk Cousins in the same draft and refused to trade him despite some (allegedly) tempting offers. Cousins was 22-for-33 for 250 yards and 2 TDs in leading Washington to a 41-10 thrashing of the Jaguars. He’ll be the starter for the foreseeable future, and if he plays like this the question might turn to “what can they get for RG3” instead of Cousins.
--I love the Ickey Woods commercial for Geico. Even after seeing it approximately 113 times over the football week, it still hasn’t gotten old. I totally believe Woods would celebrate getting cold cuts.
--Woods’ old team, the Cincinnati Bengals sit atop the AFC North with a quiet 2-0 record. One of those wins is over Baltimore, the other came Sunday in whacking the Falcons 24-10. A big key: they have yet to turn the ball over in their two games. If only Andy Dalton could do that in January…
--One of the most surprising outcomes came courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys, who trounced the host Titans 26-10. The surprising number there is 10. The Cowboys embattled defense forced Jake Locker into a rough day, as Tennessee went just 2-for-10 on third down. Dallas held the ball for over 41 minutes thanks to a pounding rushing attack, the best way to keep a bad defense from being exposed. Good game for Coach Jason Garrett.
--The New York Giants didn’t come close to beating an Arizona team playing an early Eastern game with a backup quarterback. That was one the Giants had to have, and they were thoroughly outclassed. Eli Manning is much more a part of the problem than the solution at this point.
--In my Football Meteorology virtual wagers, I’ve bet big against the Browns twice. I’ve lost twice. Huge win in the home opener for Cleveland and Coach Mike Pettine. They’ve been very solid over the last six quarters with a strong running game and smart football. Like their I-71 brethren, the Browns have yet to turn the ball over in 2014.
It was a pretty lame weekend of college action, and I watched almost none of it in real time. So the focus here this week is the draft.
--I’m not a huge fan of Michigan State QB Connor Cook, whom I compared to a McCown brother this week. Yet he’s got this going for him…
He’s a better prospect than Hoyer or Cousins at the same point. Stanton was a different style of QB so it’s hard to compare them, but their talent level and ceilings are comparable: capable #2 who can start a few games and not be the reason you lose, but not a guy you are comfortable calling a true #1.
--The one game I was watching was UCLA vs. Texas in Jerry Jones’ palatial shrine to his own cash in Arlington. The Longhorns looked better than they have in years early on, and they even knocked overrated (as a draft prospect) Bruins QB Brett Hundley out of the game. I fell asleep at halftime. I woke up just in time to see backup QB Jerry (son of Rick) Neuheisel being carried off the field after leading UCLA to the win. At some point I’ll have to watch the second half…
--I spent time breaking down Toledo C Greg Mancz and his performance in the Rockets’ exciting loss to Cincinnati. Mancz was impressive as both a right tackle and guard earlier in his Toledo career, and now he’s moved to replace Zac Kerin in the middle. He’s better than Kerin, an undrafted rookie currently on Minnesota’s practice squad. Kerin was nastier but Mancz is stronger and more technically proficient with his hands. I like his ability to fire off the ball and dictate the action, and he generally did well engaging in space. I want and need to see more, but Mancz looks like a worthy Senior Bowl candidate and potential middle-round pick next May.
$.10--Friday was a gut punch, a rotten day to have this job which I normally love. Minutes after talking to ESPN 96.1 in Grand Rapids (thanks Sean Baligian!) about Greg Hardy’s brutal assault of his girlfriend and Carolina’s tone-deaf refusal to suspend him--let alone deactivate him for a game--the Peterson news broke.
Frequent readers know I’m a Lions fan, but not the kind of fan who hates or roots against other teams. I’m above all else a football fan, and watching AD run all day is a great example of why. My children got home from school about 30 minutes later, and my son immediately wondered why one of his favorite players was in trouble.
It’s hard to explain child abuse to a child who hasn’t been abused. That’s a foreign concept, as is corporal punishment to my children. Answering questions about why someone would whip a child is a conversation I was not ready to have with my kids.
So I unplugged on Friday night. I watched the first half of the Toledo-Cincinnati game with the sound off. Yet every time I saw the NFL on the crawl it completely bummed me out. I really needed a good Saturday to get my mind back in the right place.
I got it thanks to lower levels of sports. My daughter Elizabeth had her first game of kindergarten soccer at 8 AM in the 44 degree cloudiness of the early fall in West Michigan. The game was everything you’ve heard about 5 and 6 year olds playing soccer, one giant amoebic mass of children chasing the ball with no organization or passing. My Lizzie made two legitimate saves while playing goalie, and she nearly scored the first soccer goal in Risdon family history at the other end later on.
It was the lowest level of sports, and it was fantastic. Kids knocking each other over and saying “sorry” before sometimes sitting down next to them as the action played on nearby. There was the one inevitable kid who just couldn’t resist using his hands on the ball…every single time. Each team had one player who looked like Lebron James playing middle schoolers, a couple of kids who have clearly played before, and novices like my Lizzie who smiled when they simply kicked the ball in the right direction.
My son Layne wildly cheered on the young ones, yelling praise and literally leaping out of his shoes when his little sister launched a shot that required a save worthy of Tim Howard. My kids get along well together, but seeing him so fired up and happy for his sister was still absolutely awesome.
After defrosting for a bit, my wife headed to the Michigan/Miami tilt and I took the kids to the local D-III college game. We watched Hope College host Augustana, part of a crowd that was notably less than high school games we attended in Clear Lake, Texas.
We had no rooting interest in the game. Heck, we didn’t even have seats; we sat on a grassy knoll in the end zone. Layne fielded an extra point, as there was no net to catch the ball. Popcorn was $1.25 for about half the amount that costs $8.50 at Ford Field. Admission was $11 for the three of us. Parking, which costs at least $40 to park 3 miles away in Ann Arbor, was free two blocks from the stadium.
It was joyous. The game was close and exciting, with Hope winning 37-27. The skill level was solid and pretty balanced. There were no future NFL players on the field. Most of these young men couldn’t walk onto downtrodden Big Ten teams. It didn’t matter.
For one day anyway, sports became about fun and escapism again. I wish it could always be that way.
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By Jeff Risdon
In a week where off-field action winds up putting the NFL as the lead story on the evening news, it’s nice to get back to actual football.
Last Week: 10-6. For what is typically the most unpredictable week, I’ll take it
Wagering update: I went 2-2, but lost big on Pittsburgh not covering against the Browns. The balance stands at $9000. Joey the Barber bought himself some new Euro-style tight pants with what he took from me in the first week. Folks from my hometown know exactly what I mean.
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5)--It’s downright amazing that the NFL spotlight is focused on Baltimore on this very newsworthy week for both the Ravens and the league itself. The question for this game is how the Ravens players and coaches handle the scandal surrounding their former mate, Ray Rice.
It’s either going to be a major distraction and hinder them, or the catharsis of being on the field and free from the questions and troubling thoughts sets them free to unleash a world of hurt on their bitter rivals. Pittsburgh already presents a big challenge, as their power running and deep passing dichotomy on offense really stresses the defense. The first two possessions of this game are likely to decide the outcome; if Baltimore storms out and rallies the crowd with a touchdown and a quick defensive stand, they could very well win by 20+ points. If the Steelers come out and squash any positive buzz, gashing the defense for an early score and watching Joe Flacco throw two bad incompletions after the Ravens run for a yard on their first play, look out for the home team to be on the wrong end of a powerful hose.
These teams typically play close contests, often decided by late field goals. Not this time.
Ravens 33, Steelers 17
- New England Patriots at Minnesota Vikings (+3.5)--I want to pick the Vikings here. I was thoroughly impressed with their evisceration of the Rams, and I don’t think the Patriots have any answer for Cordarrelle Patterson. The issues along New England’s offensive line trouble me too. But there’s just no way the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick Patriots start a season 0-2. None. If by some happenstance Minnesota wins, be on the lookout for porcine planes.
Patriots 28, Vikings 24
- Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers (-2.5)--One of the more underrated developments of opening weekend was Carolina winning on the road without Cam Newton. Their offensive line allowed Derek Anderson to get comfortable, as the Buccaneers pressured him just four times all day. Even a journeyman backup playing with journeymen receivers can light up a defense with the pass protection and run/pass balance the Panthers established in the opener.
Having said that, Detroit wins this game if the same Matthew Stafford from Week 1 shows up in Charlotte. He’s never looked better, and with the weapons at his disposal the Panthers just cannot keep up. However, both the starting RT and his backup (LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard) will be out. Hilliard is gone for the year with a Lisfranc injury. Carolina’s defensive front excels at creating pressure with just four and making plays behind it with the extra man in coverage. Consider this a great litmus test for Stafford’s progress, as well as for Carolina’s new-look OL. One of those factors will win this game.
Panthers 29, Lions 27
- Atlanta Falcons at Cincinnati Bengals (-5.5)--Two of the more debated QBs face off in The Jungle. Fans are constantly back and forth on both Matt Ryan and Andy Dalton, talented guys who have laid some prominent eggs in big games. Ryan somewhat shook his negative reputation with a playoff run two years ago, something I think happens for Dalton this year. Atlanta’s stirring comeback win last week was fantastic, but I don’t think they can do it again on the road against a better defense. This figures to be one of the most entertaining games on the docket.
Bengals 31, Falcons 24
- Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (+0.5)--Frequent readers know I’m a sucker for intangibles and outside forces at play. It’s about the only way I can explain my strong inclination that Buffalo wins this game. This city might never have had a better recent run than the home of the Bills, as Matthew Fairburn points out with the Week 1 win, Jim Kelly's good news and the sale of the franchise to Terry Pegula:
Miami is the better team, but I think God is smiling on Buffalo a little bit longer.
Bills 18, Dolphins 16
- Arizona Cardnals at New York Giants (+2)--The Cardinals received quite a shock when star pass rusher John Abraham left the team on Wednesday after being diagnosed with memory loss and a concussion. That’s a real tough blow for a team already struggling to keep bodies on the field. Moreover, it’s a bitter reminder that these are men who face real issues off the field that can be scary and hard to deal with. They get a long plane ride to New York to think about their fallen mate and ponder their own vulnerabilities.
I don’t know how much that will play into their performance against the Giants, but it cannot inspire confidence. New York blew several coverages and has one of the most disjointed offenses I’ve seen in recent times, but they’re not that bad. I think they eke this one out, provided Eli Manning keeps the giveaways at less than three. I’ll even put $250 on it.
Giants 20, Cardinals 17
- Houston Texans at Oakland Raiders (+2.5)--In watching the Raiders opener against the Jets, one of the big takeaways is that Derek Carr’s wideouts really struggled to get open against what appears to be a very poor Jets secondary. That’s a real problem that isn’t going to go away. J.J. Watt will dominate whatever Oakland tries to do to keep him from disconnecting Carr’s right arm from his body. This could be a very good fantasy week for second-year wideout Nuke Hopkins and the Texans offense. Oakland is better on defense than widely presumed, but they’re vulnerable to quality No. 2 wideouts form offenses that can also run the ball. That’s Hopkins and the Texans. Friendly reminder that the Texans were 2-0 last year before the injuries mounted and their QB situation turned to flaming dog crap.
Texans 26, Raiders 23
- New York Jets at Green Bay Packers (-8.5)--One of the worst things you can do against Green Bay is to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers but fail to finish the job. Ask Bears and Lions fans, who have seen him consistently turn near-sacks into touchdown strikes thanks to his savvy agility and patience to let the downfield routes exploit the leaky coverage. The Jets secondary held up surprisingly well in the opener, but that was rookie QB Derek Carr and an Oakland offense that doesn’t have a skill position player that would make Green Bay’s 53-man roster. The Packers romp at home, and it’s a good week to have Randall Cobb in fantasy football. I’ll take GB at -8.5 for $500.
Packers 30, Jets 17
- Dallas Cowboys at Tennessee Titans (-3.5)--The Titans blew out the Chiefs in Kansas City, an impressive way to start the season. The manner in which they did that portends well for facing the defensively challenged Cowboys. Jake Locker was outstanding. He was smart. He was efficient. He was accurate. Gone were the baffling misfires and the panic-induced INTs. If this new and improved Locker sticks, and the signs are quite encouraging, these Titans have a chance to be a very good football team. Dallas should find better success on offense this week, but I don’t see them outscoring Tennessee in Nashville.
Titans 32, Cowboys 28
- New Orleans Saints at Cleveland Browns (+6.5)--Last season one of my biggest preseason prediction misses was the Saints defense. I thought they were going to be terrible, in no small part because coordinator Rob Ryan gets too creative for his own good. Looks like I might have been off a year.
The Saints have surrendered a stunning 8.2 yards per play, easily the worst in the league so far. There were blown coverages, missed tackles (six by safety Kenny Vaccaro alone!) and poor execution on gap integrity. It cost them a win over Atlanta.
I don’t believe those struggles are going to go away quickly. However, they catch a break by facing Cleveland. The Browns posted an impressive comeback against Pittsburgh, using a powerful ground game and speed on the outside to claw back from a huge deficit. The problem for Cleveland is that their own defense ranks 31st in yards per play at 7.3, and the Pittsburgh offense is not as polished or diverse as what they are going to see from Drew Brees & Co. this week. Watch the Saints prove my mother correct once again in her assertion that Joe Haden is terribly overrated. You’re right, mom, and this game will give you more evidence. I’m putting $1000 on it.
Saints 33, Browns 20
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Washington Redskins (-5.5)--The Jaguars stunned the football world by racing out to a 17-0 lead in Philadelphia. Suddenly the narrative that Jacksonville is an emerging power gained legs, and there is real confidence surrounding the team. My advice: don’t ignore the second half of that game. Philly won 34-17 and it could have been much, much worse…
Washington’s offense sputtered in its opener, but the Texans are going to have that effect on teams. The Jaguars don’t have anyone remotely resembling J.J. Watt, or Brian Cushing, or even D.J. Swearinger. As long as the Washington defense can produce a couple of turnovers and get off the field on third down (just 50% in the opener) they should be a strong home play. Take advantage of the national overconfidence in Jacksonville. Never thought I’d type that last sentence.
Washington 27, Jacksonville 20
- St. Louis Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-5.5)--The Rams are not going to win more than four games all year. This just might be one of them. Tampa’s play on both sides of the line of scrimmage was embarrassing against Carolina, and they’ll need to step it up to handle a St. Louis team that has almost nothing other than strong line play on both offense and defense. They took a big hit with star DE Chris Long’s surgery that will keep him out several weeks, and that’s probably enough to allow the Bucs to prevail. This one gets decided on a blown coverage or a great special teams play. If you’re bold this is the time to use the Buccaneers in Survivor Fantasy pools, but I’m not nearly that confident in the home team.
Buccaneers 17, Rams 14
- Seattle Seahawks at San Diego Chargers (+5.5)--When I did my season preview breakdown I had this as a Chargers victory. My rationale was that their diverse offense would match up as well as possible against Seattle’s tough defense, and it’s the home opener for what may be one of the last seasons in San Diego. After watching both of these teams in Week 1, I’m strongly inclined to change my opinion. Losing stud center Nick Hardwick hurts San Diego’s cause even more.
Yet I’m not going to overreact to one week. I’m still a believer in these Chargers and I still think Seattle has exploitable vulnerabilities. They’re a different team away from the raucous comforts of home. Do I have any confidence in this pick? No, but I’m not wavering.
Chargers 20, Seahawks 17
- Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos (-13.5)--Kansas City gets shellacked in the opener, loses two key defensive starters for the season, and now they have to go to Denver to play the reigning AFC champs. You can bet the perfectionist in Peyton Manning is going to address the Broncos’ surprising second-half offensive slumber against the Colts. He’ll be screaming for vengeance, breaking the law of football that says you can’t throw deep when up by 24 in the 3rd quarter. This one has blowout written all over it.
Broncos 40, Chiefs 19
- Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers (-7.5)--The scheduling gods were quite kind to the San Francisco offense. After opening with the Cowboys in a pseudo home game in Dallas, they get to return to their actual home and break in the new stadium against the Bears. Chicago’s defense couldn’t contain E.J. Manuel and the Bills, so expecting any improvement against Kaepernick and the strong running tandem of Gore & Hyde seems crazy. I like how Kaepernick ran the offense, even when they went conservative once garnering a big lead. Chicago’s offense will find some success as they have too much talent to do otherwise, but Jay Cutler is going to have to be a lot better than he was against Buffalo to pull this one off. On the road in the inaugural game of Levi’s Stadium in prime time against a Niners defense that still apparently has some teeth? That’s a tall order.
Niners 31, Bears 20
- Philadelphia Eagles at Indianapolis Colts (-2.5)--If you only saw these two teams play the second halves of their openers, you’d think this is a Super Bowl preview. Alas, they lost the first halves by a combined score of 41-7.
I trust Andrew Luck a lot more than I trust Nick Foles, who missed an unreal amount of opportunities against the Jaguars. The Colts have their own problems with a player unable to take advantage of opportunities, however. Check out this appalling lack of vision and common sense from Trent Richardson:
Still, Richardson is a minor player compared to Luck. When the Colts went up-tempo and put Pep Hamilto’s otherwise predictable, pedantic offense in his hands, Indy’s efficiency and lethality really perked up. I don’t believe Foles and the Eagles can match that. I’ll wager $500 on it, too.
Colts 30, Eagles 24
New Orleans -6.5 for $1000
Green Bay -8.5 for $500
Indianapolis -2.5 for $500
New York Giants +2 for $250
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The AFC West had three playoff teams in 2013 and very well could be on their way again while leaving the Raiders with the NFL's most difficult schedule.
Week 1 is always the most difficult to predict on the NFL schedule after a long offseason in which meaningful football was last played seven months ago.
The Patriots are loaded and have one of the easiest paths to the playoffs and should comfortably win their division, which could setup another trip to the Super Bowl.