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$.10 After NFL Week 3

By Jeff Risdon

It was another long week in the NFL, as the league continued to dominate the news cycle for all the wrong reasons. Fortunately we got an entertaining slate of games on Sunday to help shift the focus back where it belongs.

$.01--Once again the lead NFL story had nothing to do with anything happening on the field. Roger Goodell held a long-overdue press conference on Friday afternoon to address the maelstrom of arrests and malfeasance by the players, as well as the league’s (read: Goodell’s own) inept handling of the issues at hand.

Doing his best impression of President Barack Obama, Goodell showed up some 15 minutes late to his own press conference and read a bland, non-specific statement big on buzzwords but embarrassingly shy on actual detail or substance. The Commish largely failed to take any real responsibility for, well, anything other than acknowledgement that the league needs to do better. On that count he’s absolutely correct.

The greater media, both sports and general news organizations alike, panned Goodell’s speech as too little, too late. My personal reaction, captured live on ESPN 96.1 in Grand Rapids while Goodell was still taking pointed questions from the likes of TMZ and Rachel Nichols of CNN, was animated by Goodell’s lack of color. It took him nearly two weeks to come out and say that? The NFL owners are paying him $40 million a year to take the heat and deal with situations like this. He continues to steal their money by trying to build walls and buy time, desperately hoping something else steals away the dark spotlight before yet another NFL miscreant beats his wife or his children…or both, in the case of Cardinals RB Jonathan Dwyer.

This ties into a larger point. Last year I warned about the NFL approaching oversaturation; there is only so much even the most ardent fans can digest before they need to back away. With the commissioner--and the completely invisible NFLPA--fumbling the ball time and again in all these recent situations, the train of discontent and disinterest is accelerating. From the sprouting domestic violence issues to the ongoing concussion litigation to the bullying scandal (remember Richie Incognito?), too many issues keep spiraling wildly out of control against the NFL. It’s Goodell’s primary job function to keep the trains running on time, but they’re derailing around him in a scene straight out of The Fugitive. If he cannot conduct his precious shield more proactively and publicly savvy, he threatens to crash everything he holds so dear. 

$.02--The Super Bowl rematch between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks wasn’t much of a game through the first three quarters. Seattle led 17-3 thanks to their trademark swarming defense, which Denver largely matched with solid D of its own. There were 12 punts through three quarters, quadruple the entire number in the Super Bowl.

Denver showed a little life when DeMarcus Ware smartly played the edge and broke in to stuff Marshawn Lynch in the end zone for a safety. The Broncos closed it to 17-12 when Peyton Manning finally struck paydirt in finding Julius Thomas with a flip pass. They had a chance, moving the ball well as Manning found some room underneath with Emmanuel Sanders and Wes Welker. But Manning threw a wobbler right to Kam Chancellor, the lanky Seahawks safety, whose long runback seemed like it would salt away the game.

But the Broncos thought otherwise. The defense held Seattle to a field goal and quickly got the ball back in Manning’s hands. This time he delivered. He fired a long strike to Sanders between DBs, then capped off the drive with a 26-yard laser shot to tight end Jacob Tamme. Needing a 2 pt. conversion, he beat Richard Sherman with a perfect strike to Demaryius Thomas. That forced overtime and silenced the raucous, stunned Seattle crowd.

They quickly reawakened as Russell Wilson calmly guided Seattle down the field for a game-winning touchdown on the opening drive. Lynch, who earlier in the game lost one of his braids of hair, dove over a Denver defender into the end zone to end what wound up being a thrilling game.

Seattle’s defense once again flummoxed Manning. Between their barrage of pressure and their varying buzz zones and man coverage schemes, Seattle doesn’t give Manning any chance to get comfortable or hit his bread-and-butter routes in the seams. Richard Sherman gets, and deserves, a lot of the praise but he gets a lot of help from his friends. Safeties Chancellor and Earl Thomas are great at anticipating where Manning is looking and flying to the ball. Even when it’s caught, there is no running room after the catch. Linebackers K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner quickly get to great depth in their coverage drops, and they too close like lightning.

Manning and the game Denver defense made this game closer, but once again Seattle’s great defense trumped Peyton and all his weapons.

$.03--Even though it was in Arizona, not many expected the host Arizona Cardinals to beat the San Francisco 49ers. Yet that’s exactly what happened with backup QB Drew Stanton doing just enough to take the final few snaps in victory formation, lifting the Cardinals to 2-1 and dropping the Niners to 1-2 with a pair of ugly losses.

The Niners were often playing themselves, it seemed. Consecutive personal foul calls, a somewhat valid one against Dan Skuta and a ridiculous one on Patrick Willis, led to a John Brown touchdown catch. A deserved personal foul call on Anquan Boldin for head-butting safety Tony Jefferson moved the 49ers way back. A clipping block--a penalty I haven’t seen called in years--on Jonathan Martin stymied that same drive, which ultimately ended with a blocked field goal. The following drive featured a taunting penalty on Chris Culliver, followed a few plays later by another personal foul to set up 1st and goal. Arizona’s next drive was extended by a (valid) pass interference call. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the definition of sarcasm…

John Brown deserves more mention. The speedy rookie from Pittsburg State caught two second-half touchdowns, his third in three games as he gets his name out there for Rookie of the Year consideration. He’s provided an excellent complement for the Larry Fitzgerald/Michael Floyd tandem, giving the Cardinals a barrage of weapons who all offer different talents. This is a more balanced offense with an improved offensive line, one which did not surrender a sack to the mighty 49ers. They’re for real, folks! 

$.04--I will continue to trumpet the Cincinnati Bengals as the class of the AFC. They pounded the visiting Titans 33-7 after jumping out to a 19-0 lead at halftime. Their first half dominance was not an aberration:

The highlight of this game was quarterback Andy Dalton catching a touchdown pass from wideout Mohammed Sanu. Yes, Dalton caught the TD and it wasn’t easy, either; he leapt up to make the catch, somehow deterred corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson from smashing him and then outraced the rest of the Tennessee defense to the end zone.

When the offense is flowing with that sort of creativity, the defense can be suffocating. Here are Tennessee’s drives in the first half:

Plays

Yards

Result

10

59

Missed FG

 4

23

Punt

 9

45

Missed FG

 3

-2

Safety

 3

 1

INT

 5

30

Punt

 3

-1

INT

You’ll note a lot of miscues by the Titans there too, and that’s the flip side of the coin. Jake Locker was sacked twice and completed just half his 34 attempts, netting only 158 yards for a woeful efficiency. After their impressive thrashing of Kansas City in Week 1, the Titans have been outscored 59-17, including 35-0 in the first halves of those two losses. They have a critical game next week at Indianapolis, who waxed the Jaguars 44-17 to also move to 1-2. 

$.05--The Detroit Lions entered Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers with the 2nd-ranked defense in the league. Most everyone chalked that up to playing the Giants and Panthers, two teams without a lot of offensive firepower, in their first two games. Nearly every fantasy sports site strongly encouraged players to load up on Packers, thinking Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and friends would destroy the decimated Detroit defense.

If you followed their advice, you lost. So did the Packers, 19-7. It was the lowest point total ever posted by Rodgers in a game he played start to finish. He didn’t top 100 yards passing until the fourth quarter. Detroit’s defense actually outscored Green Bay’s offense 9-7, thanks to an Eddie Lacy fumble returned for an early TD by Don Carey and a safety by DeAndre Levy, who dropped Lacy in the end zone one play after Green Bay picked off Matthew Stafford.

Rodgers struggled all afternoon against a secondary down to its 7th option at corner. Carey, who missed the first two games, aggravated his bum hamstring on his touchdown and didn’t play again. He was already playing out of position at corner to cover for the loss of Bill Bentley and Nevin Lawson, both out for the year. Cassius Vaughn missed the game with an injury. That left undrafted rookie Mohammed Seisay in the slot against Randall Cobb or Jordy Nelson, Pro Bowl-caliber wideouts who have routinely torched the Lions in recent years.

Seisay is so green he didn’t even start in his senior season at Nebraska. I tried to scout him in person last year but he played just four snaps against Michigan. Yet there he was being a functional part of a lockdown Detroit secondary. Yeah, for real; Detroit’s defense completely locked down the Green Bay offense, and the back end played marvelously.

Some credit must go to the guys up front. Even though they got just two sacks and the Packers OL played impressively, they kept Rodgers from getting into a groove and consistently threw off his timing. Levy was once again everywhere, snuffing out runs but also proving he’s arguably the best coverage backer in the league. Green Bay’s final gasp was a fourth down shot to Nelson at the goal line. Levy had him in man coverage and blanketed him, leaving the talented wideout with no chance to flag down an errant Rodgers throw. Nelson and Cobb both struggled all day to get open against emerging star Darius Slay, Detroit’s second-round pick in 2013 who has indeed made the proverbial leap. They even held strong after losing middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who blew out his knee in an asinine sack celebration.

The numbers aren’t final yet but it appears the Detroit Lions will have the #1 ranked defense in the NFL through three weeks. Meanwhile, Stafford has struggled in the last two games and the offensive line has regressed. It’s the dominating defense carrying the day in Detroit, a sentence I’m not sure I ever thought I would type. 

$.06--The public desperately sought escape from the issues surrounding football with actual football on Thursday night. Instead they witnessed a beating of epic proportions as the Atlanta Falcons gutted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 56-14. It was not as close as the final score indicates.

Atlanta was ahead 35-0 before Tampa Bay mustered a single first down.  Matt Ryan had as many TDs as incompletions on 25 attempts with three apiece. Devin Hester broke Deion Sanders’ NFL record for return touchdowns by making his old coach and benefactor Lovie Smith pay for inexplicably kicking to him. He also rushed for a touchdown on a jet sweep, something Lovie could never quite figure out to do with him during their time together in Chicago.

The Bucs are 0-3 and appear to be steamrolling to the #1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Their prized free agent acquisition, 35-year-old journeyman QB Josh McCown, is now on the shelf with a thumb injury. They were missing four defensive starters, most notably star DT Gerald McCoy. Starting RB Doug Martin remains out, while backup Bobby Rainey continues to fumble at an alarming rate. Second-round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins has one catch in three weeks. Star wideout Vincent Jackson has caught 10 of the 25 passes thrown his way.

It’s hard to fathom that things have gotten worse with the departure of the truly reviled Greg Schiano, but that is exactly what has happened. Every week is a painful reminder of why the Bears waited two years too long to can Lovie, and that years of mistakes by the personnel department don’t get washed away overnight. It says here that Marcus Mariota will be their QB in 2015, and that’s a great step in the right direction.

$.07--If you needed a reminder that there are really good men in the NFL, look at Devon Still of the Cincinnati Bengals. His story transcends sports in a way that should be celebrated.

Still is a rotational defensive tackle for the Bengals, a 2012 second-round pick who has yet to really live up to his potential coming out of Penn State. He’s got a good excuse: his daughter Leah.

The 4-year-old has cancer, Stage 4 cancer that requires constant care. This has weighed heavily on Still, and it kept him from focusing on his job. The Bengals noticed, but instead of coolly releasing an underperforming asset the team stepped up in a way that should be celebrated. Coach Marvin Lewis and the Bengals made sure that Still would continue to get full insurance benefits if they cut him but signed him to their practice squad. When they found out he would, they did the benevolent thing. But Cincinnati didn’t stop there.

The team announced that 100% of the sales of Still’s #75 jersey would be donated to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Shortly thereafter, the team announced that they sold a record number of jerseys. Saints coach Sean Payton bought 1,000 of them even though he’d never met Still. He gave a tearful, well-done interview, and then another. And another. He’s a football player, but he’s a caring dad first and foremost. The Bengals deserve praise for recognizing that and letting him keep those priorities. Please consider buying a Still jersey if you’re done with your Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson or Greg Hardy ones. Or buy one even if you’re not, to show support for an occasion where the NFL gets it right.

$.08--NFL Quickies

--Another uplifting story involving NFL players comes from the mighty Kemoeatu brothers. Maake, a defensive tackle for the Ravens, retired in order to donate a kidney to his brother Chris, a retired NFL veteran. There’s not much more to say about this than “awesome”.

--On a much more tragic note, former Titans kicker Rob Bironas died early Sunday in a one-car crash outside Nashville. Bironas had a workout with the Lions earlier in the week. He was just 35 and recently married Terry Bradshaw’s daughter. He holds the NFL record for most field goals made in a game, with eight. Horrible news to wake up to on a football Sunday. R.I.P.

--Sick of Chris Berman and ESPN’s morning shoutfest that is Countdown? I was, so I flipped to FOX Sports One to catch their lead-up show. Randy Moss and Donovan McNabb were both level-headed, informative and pleasant. McNabb offered great perspective on DeSean Jackson returning to Philly as the enemy.

--File this under the eye-opening stat:

They barely beat the game Raiders in Foxboro, thanks in part to committing zero turnovers.

--After another crushing loss, the Jacksonville Jaguars announced they are turning the offense over to rookie QB Blake Bortles. Never mind their defense has given up over 39 points per game so far. It’s going to be a long year for Bortles, throwing behind a crappy line when the team is hopelessly behind early in games.

--The St. Louis Rams did exactly what they have to do to win games, jumping out to a 21-0 lead on Dallas. St. Louis is designed to get a lead and unleash the hounds on defense, but instead they looked like schnoodles. The Cowboys rallied for the 34-31 win, headlined by a play where Dez Bryant got some 30 yards behind the defense and could have wormed his way into the end zone. At least Austin Davis looks competent at quarterback for the Rams, a pleasant surprise for an otherwise beleaguered team heading for another top-5 draft pick.

--The Baltimore Ravens escaped Cleveland with a last-second field goal from Mr. Clutch Justin Tucker, beating the Browns 23-21. Once again the Browns were in the game until the final snap, and in this one it was their offense that looked better than the defense. Cleveland is going to be a tough out just about every week, and they might even start winning some of these close ones sooner than later. 

$.09--College/Draft Quickies

--I was at the Utah/Michigan game, which could be remembered by Wolverine fans as the last straw with embattled coach Brady Hoke. The Utes were the more talented team and more prepared team, both of which reflect quite poorly on Hoke. His insistence on sticking with overwhelmed QB Devin Gardner rankled many feathers in the stands, which happened to be a lot emptier than ever before. The announced crowd of 103,000 was inflated by at least 10%; the top 25 rows of the student section were completely empty, and my section (38) was no more than 80% occupied even before the rain delay. If Hoke wants to save his job, he must end the Gardner-at-QB era. If backup Shane Morris isn’t ready, that’s on Hoke and his staff for failing to develop a viable alternative to one of the most erratic and panic-stricken passers who has ever worn the maize and blue.

--Got home in time to watch most of Mississippi State’s stunning upset of LSU in Baton Rogue. The Bulldogs ran over, around and through the Tigers defense, which looked a count slow and overmatched by a very solid MSU offensive line. Of course Les Miles nearly pulled off another miracle comeback, as LSU scored two touchdowns in 30 seconds in the final two minutes, but the mad hatter ran out of tricks. Be careful not to overreact to how well MSU played here, however. They’re a good team for sure but benefitted from a very favorable matchup, and their veteran leadership trumped LSU’s greenhorn squad that looked rudderless most of the night. They won’t have that advantage against Ole Miss or Alabama or Auburn.

--I get lots of questions about Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner who was suspended from Florida State’s narrow overtime win over Clemson. It was the sixth off-field incident which has drawn scrutiny in the last two years for the dynamic QB.

My personal take is that he’s not fundamentally ready to handle being a NFL quarterback yet. Aside from his obvious and glaring immaturity, he needs lots of work as a passer. Winston is a reactive thrower with an inconsistent release point. His accuracy ebbs and wanes. He drops his eyes when pressured and doesn’t manipulate the defense well. I would strongly advise him to remain in school for another year, but I’m not sure Florida State wants to deal with the headaches. I’m not sure I would if I were a NFL GM, either. I still think he goes in the first round, but only if the immature idiocy stops now. One more incident and he’s approaching untouchable status.

--What do I do when I can’t sleep? I watch non-BCS football. Sometimes my insomniac theater pays off by finding more under-the-radar prospects. I’m hoping that’s the case with my Wed. night (technically Thursday AM) viewing of SELA (that’s Southeast Louisiana) QB Bryan Bennett. The Oregon transfer looked like a viable NFL developmental prospect. Even though he kind of struggled against a bad Tulane team, I liked his ability to buy time and keep his eyes down the field. His receivers often needed to be thrown open. I had earlier seen two of his 2013 games and he showed progress in his manipulation of the defense and toughness as a runner, even in what appears to be an ugly defeat. My biggest question remains his arm strength, which is somewhere between Colt McCoy and Matt Cassel.

$.10-- Thursday night showcased Auburn and Kansas State, an entertaining game even though it was most remarkable for the disappointing lack of execution. K-State missed three field goals, including a 22-yarder, to allow the visiting Tigers to escape with a 20-14 win. I broke down the prospects from both teams here at Detroit Lions Draft, but I want to focus on one in particular: Auburn WR D’Haquille “Duke” Williams.

My Bleacher Report colleague Matt Miller and I had a public break on Williams. Here is the Twitter exchange:

This is a great example of how two different people can view the same game. Matt and I are both trained eyes, and we communicate fairly regularly. I completely respect him and I know the exhaustive hours he puts in. I’m fairly confident he would say the same of me.

So how could we view one performance by a JUCO transfer wide receiver playing in just his third career game so differently?

Some of this comes from divergent approaches. I blatantly ignore recruiting websites and proclamations, preferring to discover folks more organically. Miller prefers to have a depth of info about a guy before he watches. My way works for me, while his way works for him. Neither is right nor wrong.

Some is a function of intently watching the game in real time, which I did. Williams was awful, and I don’t use that word lightly in scouting parlance, for the first two-thirds of the game. He dropped one sure touchdown as well as another easy pass. He showed zero burst in and out of cuts or off the line. His blocking was embarrassing in both function and effort. Another JUCO transfer, Wildcats CB Danzel McDaniel, was quite obviously the superior prospect from just watching this particular game, even though he was almost unheard of outside of Big 12 inner circles.

Then in the fourth quarter, when many folks bailed on the Bucs/Falcons game to catch this one, Williams came alive. He made an outstanding touchdown reception that demonstrated his physical potential. He also torched McDaniel with a double move to secure a huge 39-yard reception which essentially sealed the game. If you only tuned into that part of the game, Williams lived up to the hype. Same with the highlight reels of the game.

That highlights another difference between draft evaluators that extends far beyond just myself and Miller. Some are pessimists who tend to be hypercritical. Others are optimists who look for the best and the potential even in bad performances. I lean more towards the former camp, while Miller falls in the latter. Both of us have extensive company. Again, neither is right nor wrong.

This is how most NFL draft rooms are during the lead-up phase. Most teams have a healthy balance of both types of evaluators. There are area scouts who can tell you what flavor of Gatorade a prospect prefers and can diagram his every snap, but their opinions are balanced by other evaluators who watched maybe two games of film without much background info. Sometimes the more macro-level look is more valuable than the micro focus because there is less personal investment.

So when you see disagreements like the one Miller and I had, understand that it’s healthy and part of the process. Unlike politics, it’s common for the two sides to discuss the player in question and try to find common ground, to see what the other side sees. Many times it results in two sides agreeing to disagree but walking away respectfully and more informed. Maybe Congress could learn from the NFL Draft community…


Football Meteorology For NFL Week 3

By Jeff Risdon

This is the last weekend of summer, believe it or not. Nights are getting cooler, and many areas north of the Mason-Dixon line will see their first frost in the next couple of weeks. The leaves are already turning here in West Michigan, where we had a pathetically cold summer; just one day did the temperature top 90, and we had record low high temperatures 11 times between July and August. One of those happened to be a day I took my kids to a water park. Not that I’m bitter…

Last Week: Another 10-6 week, pushing the season forecast to 20-12.

Betting Recap: I really don’t want to talk about it. Wagered $2250. Lost $2000. The little old ladies surgically attached to the slot machine chairs with their portable oxygen tanks on their walkers blocking the path are laughing at me. Sitting at $7250 

Thursday Game

- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (-6.5): I’m not sure Atlanta is a touchdown better than anyone at this point, but if they are the most likely suspect is any team coached by Lovie Smith. He must have nightmares about Matt Ryan. The Bucs look badly out of sync on both sides of the ball, with the signing of Josh McCown appearing to be a failed gamble. Tampa cannot throw the ball, period. That’s just what the Falcons need, because they cannot stop anyone from throwing. They’ll be better at home. Heck, they might even get their first sack.

Falcons 27, Bucs 17

Sunday Games

- Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks (-4.5): There has not been a Super Bowl rematch in the following season since 1997. That’s a truly amazing statistic. It doesn’t exactly provide much of a track record in those types of situations.

This contest figures to be a lot closer than the Super Bowl romp by Seattle. Yet the outcome will be the same; Seattle is going to win because Denver cannot handle their pressuring style of defense. The Seahawks underrated linebackers are a problem with their range and headiness. The focus is always on Richard Sherman, but Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are so good at patrolling the 7-15 yard range. That’s where teams move the chains, and Seattle keeps offense off schedule with their three-deep zone looks that limit first down gains and crush teams on 2nd-and-8. The home field advantage is nice, too.

Seahawks 28, Broncos 20

- Tennessee Titans at Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5): Last week the Titans defense really struggled to keep up with Dallas and Demarco Murray. This week they face a similar challenge with Gio Bernard and the Bengals, who have a good offensive line and a dangerous passing game to balance out the attack. Even without A.J. Green, this is still a high-caliber offense with an ever-progressing Andy Dalton.

Tennessee can still win, but it will take Jake Locker being the Week 1 version and not the Week 2 version. He has earned my respect for improving his game, but has not yet earned my trust. The Cincy defense is showing great opportunism, and I see them with a +2 turnover ratio in this one.

Bengals 24, Titans 13

- Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns (+1.5): Cleveland is doing a great job of not beating itself. The Browns have yet to turn the ball over, and they rank 6th in penalty yards. Smart and disciplined football gives them a chance in every game.

They will be challenged by Steve Smith in this one. The brash Ravens wideout drew three penalties last week and is notorious for getting under opponent’s skin. He’s also a handful in coverage, and if the Browns think Joe Haden can cover him they’re in for a long afternoon. Haden ranks 94th out of 96 corners in Pro Football Focus rankings. Should Cleveland roll help to Steve Smith, it’s Torrey Smith time. The Browns effective running game will keep it close, but the Ravens notch the divisional road win thanks to Justin Tucker’s mighty leg.

Ravens 17, Browns 16

- Dallas Cowboys at St. Louis Rams (+0.5): The Rams are built almost completely around the ability of their defensive line to dominate games. In drafting Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Aaron Donald in the first round while neglecting the gaping holes in the secondary (and quarterback, wide receiver and tight end) the Rams are relying on that major investment in the front to carry the day.

So when that universally lauded unit has just one sack and one takeaway in two games, it’s a recipe for disaster. Dallas has one of the best offensive lines in the league, which helps blunt St. Louis’ supposed advantage. They also have a great wide receiver in Dez Bryant that the Rams cannot cover and a running back in Demarco Murray who is a mismatch against badly overdrafted LB Alec Ogletree. The Cowboys' own defense is overachieving. I’m not sure they can sustain that long-term, but against this sorry excuse of an offense they’ll keep it rolling.

Cowboys 28, Rams 16

- San Diego Chargers at Buffalo Bills (-2.5): I don’t want to rain on Buffalo’s impressive unbeaten parade, but don’t go buying those playoff tickets just yet. The Bills have missed the playoffs the last four times they started 2-0, making them the only team to accomplish that feat.

Perhaps, to quote Evans Blue, this time it’s different. The Chargers travel across the country for an early kickoff one week after an emotional, physical win over mighty Seattle. The heavy money coming in on Buffalo leads me to follow, too. This game opened with the Bills as a 1-point favorite. It jacked up from 2 to 2.5 from Wed. to Thursday. In a game that seems like a tossup, I’ll swim with the whales.

Bills 24, Chargers 21

- Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (-1.5): Every time Aaron Rodgers has played the full game against Detroit, the Packers have won. It’s hard to ignore that inglorious nugget, but I’m going to in this one.

Detroit’s offensive and defensive lines both have major advantages in this game over Green Bay’s editions. The Packers made some nice in-game adjustments to slow down the Jets running game last week, but that was predicated on the defense banking that Geno Smith and Jeremy Kerley couldn’t exploit them with the pass. That won’t work against Matthew Stafford throwing to Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Detroit had better put the ball in the end zone when they get close, because there is zero confidence in kicker Nate Freese. It’s hard to pick against the Packers here, but I’m doing it with $500.

Lions 30, Packers 25

- Houston Texans at New York Giants (+2.5): The Giants will win at some point, but this is a terrible matchup for them. New York has yet to force a turnover, while their offensive line continues to struggle. Houston has this guy named J.J. Watt you might have heard of. He’s probably the best player in the league regardless of position, and he’s liable to end Eli Manning’s impressive consecutive game streak. The Giants lost their top receiver in Jerrel Jernigan this week, as well as valuable CB Walter Thurmond. Somehow the Texans eclipse last year’s win total by the end of summer.

Texans 23, Giants 13

- Oakland Raiders at New England (-14.5): Things don’t get any easier for Derek Carr and the Raiders, as the rookie QB must travel across the country for an early start against emerging stud Chandler Jones and the Patriots defense. The Patriots' offense has not impressed, but they won’t need to do much here to outscore a toothless Oakland offense, whose best player is probably rookie left guard Gabe Jackson. He’s going to be great, and soon, but that says a lot more about the lack of talent around him at this point.

Patriots 24, Raiders 3

- Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (+6.5): No way the Andrew Luck Colts fall to 0-3 by losing to the Chad Henne Jaguars. No freaking way. I’ll bet $1000 on it.

Colts 36, Jaguars 20

- Washington at Philadelphia Eagles (-6.5): Something tells me DeSean Jackson is going to haunt his former team. I’m also concerned the Eagles cannot keep falling way behind and rallying back. I believe Kirk Cousins will run coach Jay Gruden’s offense very similarly to the way Andy Dalton did in Cincinnati. I’m not bold enough to predict the outright upset but I do really like Washington getting a touchdown.

Eagles 30, Ethnic Slurs 27

- Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints (-10.5): Obligatory mention of Adrian Peterson not being active.

With that out of the way, this game is a real litmus test for the Saints' defense. They’ve been lousy thus far, but last year they were quite stout. If they struggle at home here against Matt Cassel, Matt Asiata & Co., their issues are very real and pervasive. I’m confidently starting Cordarrelle Patterson against them regardless, and you should too. But that’s fantasy talk. In real football, the Saints offense should cruise against Minnesota’s overmatched back seven. 

Saints 34, Vikings 21

- Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers (-3.5): The Panthers were mighty impressive in beating up my Lions last week, a game I’ve extensively broken down throughout this week. The manner in which they did so portends quite well against a Pittsburgh team reeling after getting pounded by the rival Ravens. I can’t see the Steelers OL holding up against Carolina’s impressive front, even sans convicted woman beater Greg Hardy. But the biggest advantage is Luke Kuechly, who will absolutely snuff out Le'Veon Bell and the Pittsburgh running game. He’s pretty darn good in coverage too, as is the underrated Panthers secondary.

Side thought: Steel Panther should play the national anthem and be the halftime show.

Panthers 24, Steelers 14

- Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Dolphins (-4.5): This game is strangely the toughest on this week’s slate for me to forecast. My relative clueless nature stems from Miami’s vastly divergent performances in their two games. The good Dolphins from Week 1 will crush the wounded Chiefs in Miami, but the Week 2 version will struggle even at home against Alex Smith throwing to Donnie Avery. Both teams will be without their starting RBs, further muddying the South Beach waters. I can’t see Kansas City’s offense outscoring Miami’s, but defense and special teams might swing the equation the other way.

Dolphins 26, Chiefs 21

- San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals (+2.5): If Carson Palmer were 100% I would pick the Cardinals here, but he’s not. Drew Stanton is a capable backup, but you have to be more than capable to beat the 49ers. That SF secondary has shown they are vulnerable, however. The Niners have had Arizona’s number, winning the last four meetings. That includes a December meeting in Arizona when the Cardinals were absolutely rolling. I like the San Francisco ground game to have a big day.

49ers 20, Cardinals 16

Monday Night

- Chicago Bears at New York Jets (-2.5): I really like what Chicago showed in their comeback rally over San Francisco. They proved ready for primetime despite a rash of key injuries that left them either less than 100% (Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery) or out (Charles Tillman). Meanwhile the Jets completely wet the bed with a big lead against the Packers. That doesn’t exactly engender confidence in New York. This should be an entertaining matchup, but I really like the road team getting points. $500 on Chicago. 

Bears 28, Jets 20

Gambling summary:

Indianapolis -6.5 for $1000

Chicago +2.5 for $500

Detroit -1.5 for $500


NFL Team Rankings, Week 2

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



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