San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (-3): As I told fantastic radio host Josh Pacheco on my weekly appearance on The Josh Pacheco Show on ESPN Hawaii (Wed. 4:30 EDT), this is likely the best game of the first month of the season. The two presumed NFC favorites square off in Seattle, with two of the most entertaining quarterbacks in the league and two of the most animated coaches renewing their NFC West rivalry.
The young quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, are both dual threats who have proven they can win with either their arms or their legs. It’s a defensive nightmare, forcing coordinators to choose the instrument of their own demise. The Packers opted to let Kaepernick beat them through the air last week, and he did just that: 27-for-39, 412 yards and three touchdowns. That dwarfed the great Aaron Rodgers. Meanwhile the Panthers focused on forcing Wilson to beat them via the pass as well. Carolina bottled up the strong Seattle rushing attack very well, but Wilson lit them up: 25-for-33, 320 yards and one touchdown. Those are impressive numbers from a 12-7 defensive slugfest.
I love the coaching rivalry here too. There aren’t many of those in the league anymore, what with the rampant job turnover and inward, analytical approaches by so many head men these days. There is genuine enmity between the Niners’ Jim Harbaugh and the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll, and both men thrive on that negative energy directed at them. This dates back to their PAC-10 (now 12) days, when Carroll was at USC and Harbaugh at Stanford. Their animated, calculated but boyish reactions on the sidelines are as much fun to watch as the action on the field, and the postgame handshake could develop into an intriguing conflict.
I think Carroll will the happier man at that handshake moment. The 12th man is a real advantage for Seattle, and their defense feeds off it. I also like Seattle’s depth of receiving targets more than San Francisco’s Anquan Boldin-centric attack. Boldin is not getting 208 receiving yards in this one, and I’m not sold that the Niners have enough around him to make up the slack.
Seahawks 23, Niners 21
Denver Broncos at New York Giants (+4.5): The Manning brothers meet in Eli Manning’s home coming off vastly divergent weeks. Peyton Manning threw for a record-tying seven touchdowns in a romping win, while Eli was at the helm for six Giants turnovers in a sloppy loss.
Neither of those are going to happen here. This is a game where the Broncos are going to really miss the increasingly troubled Von Miller, because Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are deadly downfield targets and Eli will have more time to locate them in Miller’s suspended absence. Yet the biggest positional advantage in this game remains the Denver passing offense against the back seven of the New York defense. Wes Welker brings a new dimension to the Broncos offense, affording Peyton the chance to strike at all different levels of the defense. That’s overwhelming for a Giants team that badly lacks depth in the secondary and lack speed at linebacker. The Giants strong defensive line will have their moments, but so will Peyton, Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas, and even kicker Matt Prater for Denver.
Now about the latest, awesome Manning brother ad. In the setup piece, Eli stated that Peyton was a fan of Twisted Sister and Wham! and that was the inspiration for his look. I’m a little older than Peyton but that’s my formative era of music too. No way would anyone who liked Twisted Sister ever admit to listening to Wham!, certainly not in public. Dee Snider’s hair probably popped out of his head in hearing his “We’re Not Gonna Take It” put on the same level as “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”. S.M.F. (Google it) everywhere vomited in their mouths at the concept of one of their compatriots liking Wham!, even in their closet. I’ll admit to liking Seether’s cover of “Careless Whisper”, but it’s still not as good a song as the TS classic “The Price”.
Broncos 33, Giants 28
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears (-6): Last week was an interesting one for Adrian Peterson and the Vikings. On their very first offensive play, AD scorched the Lions for a 78-yard touchdown. After that he ran the ball 17 times for 15 yards, though he did find the end zone twice more (once as a receiver). I chronicled how the Lions turned All Day into All Done, and the Bears have a good chance to replicate that success. Their defensive front seven can win individual battles, notably DT Henry Melton in the heart of the defense. Forcing Peterson to alter course before he hits the line is the most effective way of preventing the big play, as he must reestablish his momentum.
It’s still easier said than done. Peterson broke out for 260 yards and two touchdowns in the two meetings last season, which the teams split. I expect the Vikings to try and throw the ball more to loosen the defense. In fact, I’ll guarantee they don’t win if Christian Ponder doesn’t attempt at least 30 passes. The inherent problem with Christian Ponder throwing the ball 30+ times is that, well, he’s just not very good. I was decidedly underwhelmed by prized acquisition Greg Jennings, who was supposed to help Ponder look better, too; Jennings looked sluggish coming out of breaks and his run blocking left me wanting. The Bears corners are as opportunistic as they come, and you can bet Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are salivating at the thought of Ponder trying to beat them in the air.
Look for Peterson to get 125+ yards and a touchdown or two. He’s simply too talented to be held down for long. But I think the Bears defense records a score and Jay Cutler strikes for at least three touchdowns of his own against a Vikings back seven that had no clue how to defend in space last week. The Bears pick up the critical division home win, sending the Vikings to 0-2 in the fiercely competitive NFC North.
Bears 34, Vikings 24 with 250 som that Chicago covers
Washington Redskins at Green Bay Packers (-7): Washington is one of those teams where people are apt to try and draw conclusions based on one game. In fact, it seems most of America tuned them out after their error-filled first half.
That’s a mistake. Washington played much better after halftime. Robert Griffin III looked like he threw off most of the rust, while the defense settled down and remembered how to blitz. They looked like the Redskins' team everyone anticipated; it just took them an extra half to get there.
Unfortunately for Washington, traveling to Green Bay to face the ticked off Packers is perhaps the worst matchup they could draw this week. The Redskins' safeties are a huge weakness, and now they have to play the pass-happy Packers and the best QB on the planet in Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay comes home having just faced a dual-threat QB in Colin Kaepernick, so they won’t have to adjust their game plan too much. They must execute it more effectively, to be sure, but Dom Capers won’t have to do much tweaking to get his defense ready. Barring a turnover barrage by Green Bay, the home team controls the game and wins fairly comfortably.
Packers 30, Ethnic Slurs 21 for 250 som
St. Louis Rams at Atlanta Falcons (-7): I got to break down the Rams opener as I was studying their Week 1 opponent, the Cardinals, to prep for the Arizona/Detroit game. One of the things that stood out to me was the poor offensive concepts. St. Louis consistently ignored the set and personnel of the defense and tried to run plays that were designed to face different alignments. When the Cardinals had seven or even eight defenders in the box, the Rams still tried to run. Several times the Cardinals showed they were dropping seven into coverage and yet Sam Bradford still opted to throw instead of attacking the weak front with a run. It wasn’t every time, but it happened often enough that it really stood out.
That is a sign of coaching arrogance, an indication that the Rams feel they are good enough to do whatever they want against any sort of defense. Muppet News Flash: the Rams aren’t that good on offense. I love the dimension TE Jared Cook brings, and I like Daryl Richardson as the lead runner, but the rest of that unit is nothing special. If they don’t acquiesce to football common sense quickly, they’re going to struggle. Overrated corner Cortland Finnegan has to play infinitely better too, especially against Julio Jones and the hungry home Falcons. Finnegan was the worst played on the field in the Rams opener, and that will get the Rams killed against a much more talented and balanced Atlanta team. The excellent St. Louis pass rush gives them a fighting chance, but it won’t be enough.
Falcons 27, Rams 17
San Diego Chargers at Philadelphia Eagles (-7.5): Both these teams surrendered epic second-half comebacks in their openers. The difference is that the Eagles had enough to hang on and secure the win, while the Chargers squandered a three touchdown lead in a little over a quarter.
I was encouraged by the Eagles vitality on defense. Trent Cole looked rejuvenated, and their swarming to the ball should be effective against San Diego’s makeshift blocking. I am not as certain that the early sharpness shown by Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense will carry over. Factor in the West Coast team playing early in the Eastern Time Zone and I really like Philadelphia to get off to a 2-0 start. It should be an excellent day for LeSean McCoy fantasy owners.
Eagles 29, Chargers 16 for 300 som
Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills (+3): This game features the ostensible home of two of my favorite foods. Nothing beats Carolina barbecue for lunch, and there’s nothing better than Buffalo wings to dine upon while watching football. Those cancel one another out.
Move onto the side dishes. When I lived in Virginia, their authentic Carolina pulled pork sandwiches came with peanut soup and cornbread. Yummy but something of an acquired taste. Wings typically come with carrots and celery, which is healthy and makes you feel better about eating fried chicken parts. Slight advantage to Buffalo.
The normal drinks serve as the tipping point. In Carolina, it’s all about the sweet tea. Buffalo wings are designed with beer in mind. Let’s see…sweet tea makes my teeth hurt and stomach tingle; beer makes me happy but requires frequent trips to the restroom. Advantage beer, and advantage Buffalo.
Bills 20, Panthers 17
Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals (+1.5): Last season these two teams met in Week 15 in Arizona. The Cardinals had lost nine in a row, the Lions had lost five in a row heading into that one. The 38-10 shellacking that Arizona willed upon Detroit is arguably the lowest point of non-Millen Era Lions history.
I like the Lions to extract revenge for a couple of reasons. Foremost is the Detroit defensive line, which had its way with a vastly superior Vikings line than the one the Cardinals will trot out Sunday. The emergence of Willie Young, a bitter disappointment a year ago, gives this group incredible depth and upgrades the run defense.
Secondly, the Lions put up 34 points last week without getting much of anything from Calvin Johnson. Minnesota took him away and the Lions still piled up points. Reggie Bush & Co. can do that again if needed, but look for Johnson to have a bigger day on deep crossing routes. He might even score a touchdown before he loses control!
One bit of caution: the Cardinals played a similar style of team last week in St. Louis, while the Lions played a very different style of team from Arizona. That familiarity/foreignness dichotomy means I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinals raced out to an early lead. It wouldn’t surprise me if they held on, either, but the Lions are the better team.
Lions 29, Cardinals 28
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3.5): Drew Brees is noted for his relative struggles outdoors, but it’s hard to fathom him struggling enough against the Bucs that the Saints lose. This is a Tampa Bay team that blew a late lead to the punchless Jets, after all. Josh Freeman continues to look apathetic and inaccurate; his 15-for-31 performance last week couldn’t outscore Geno Smith throwing to guys that non-Jets fans have probably never heard of. There’s no way he puts up more points than Brees. I love Doug Martin as a running and receiving weapon and I like the Bucs wideout tandem, but unless Freeman has an “A” game and Brees brings his “C” game or worse, this matchup doesn’t look close.
Saints 33, Bucs 24 for 300 som
Dallas Cowboys at Kansas City Chiefs (-3): The Chiefs figure to get a stiffer test from Dallas than they did in their yawn-worthy opener in Jacksonville. Dallas didn’t play very well in their opening win over the Giants, but Tony Romo and his merry band of weapons figure to rebound.
This is one of those situations where the coach of one team knows the other team a lot better than that team knows the coach’s new squad. Chiefs coach Andy Reid has faced this Cowboys team for years when he was in Philly, while the Chiefs are something of an unknown quantity for Dallas. Even though Dallas has completely transformed their defense, I trust Andy Reid to know the strengths and weaknesses of the Dallas defense.
The wild card is turnovers. Dallas took the ball away from New York six times. While some of that was dumb luck--David Wilson’s fumblitis was a huge factor--I do think the healthy new-look defense is going to create more opportunities. This game is a gambling push; the home team gets 3 points and that’s the spread for the Chiefs, which means these two are essentially even. I’ll tepidly take the home team, but this game is probably the lowest confidence pick of any game this week.
Chiefs 27, Cowboys 26
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (-9.5): I hate to be Mr. Buzzkill, but Titans fans have to be realistic about their offense. Jake Locker stunk in the win over Pittsburgh, going 11-for-20 for 125 yards is terrible, yet that was better than their 2.7 yards per carry, which netted 112 yards on 42 rushes.
Taking that offense into Houston, with a healthy Brian Cushing and reigning Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt? In the Texans’ home opener against the franchise that used to call home the decrepit eyesore that is now the Astrodome? Good luck with that.
Texans 27, Titans 13
Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts (-3): Frequent readers know I’m not someone who bought into the Andrew Luck mythos last year. Where everyone else was quick to leap on the bandwagon with all his fourth quarter comebacks, I was more focused on how his uneven, turnover-filled play made those late comebacks necessary.
Last week, I saw a much improved Andrew Luck. He didn’t force balls. He saw linebackers in coverage and anticipated reactions to routes. Luck handled pressure more adeptly and did a better job looking off the safeties. If that keeps up, and there is no reason to doubt it, Luck and the Colts are going to be a much better team.
Having said that, Miami can bring the pressure with Cam Wake and Dion Jordan. Their athleticism and speed off the edge can give Luck fits. I do also think the Dolphins offense will have some success against the Indy secondary, which features castoffs galore. Yet if it comes to a shootout, I’m taking Luck and Reggie Wayne over Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace without hesitation.
Colts 30, Dolphins 24
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (-6.5): Arguably the two teams that disappointed me the most in the first week square off in Baltimore. I was stunned at how inefficient and unconfident the Browns offense looked, while the Ravens pass defense was nothing short of atrocious in Denver.
So what gives between the motionless object and the nonexistent force? The key here is the Ravens pass rush. I think they will play better against Cleveland, and the Browns offensive line was not nearly as good as advertised in the Miami loss. I also wasn’t very encouraged by Trent Richardson’s lack of vision and elusiveness. If he can’t gash the Ravens or chunks of yardage, that pass rush is going to make life miserable for Brandon Weeden.
Ravens 20, Browns 17
Jacksonville Jaguars at Oakland Raiders (-5.5): The loser of this game has the inside track on the No. 1 overall pick in the next draft. It’s probably more fun for fans of these teams to fantasize about adding Teddy Bridgewater or Jadeveon Clowney than to watch the action on the field. Oakland has the ability to create with their QB, Terrelle Pryor, while the Jaguars don’t have that ability with Blaine Gabbert. The counterpoint is that Darren McFadden appears spent and their receivers don’t inspire confidence, while the Jaguars have better weapons (notably Cecil Shorts, who could have a nice fantasy day) around Gabbert and still have Maurice Jones-Drew to pound the rock. I’ll take the better quarterback, and amazingly that is Pryor.
Raiders 22, Jaguars 17
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (-7): Pittsburgh is one of the teams where a dramatic reaction to a Week 1 performance is likely. They were flat and discombobulated in an ugly home loss to Tennessee. Their meager running game took a huge hit when Maurkice Pouncey got hurt. Ben Roethlisberger had little chemistry with his wideouts, and the porous line had him running for his life.
It would be very easy to buy into those struggles whole hog and forecast imminent doom. The Bengals feature a great defensive line, a fairly balanced offense, and they play with more consistent intensity in the Riverfront Jungle. I am inclined to believe in the doom and gloom for Pittsburgh myself, but I think they (insert your favorite inspirational cliché here) and give the Bengals a real game. I do like the Bengals to win because the Steelers have no answer for their tight ends or AJ Green, but this figures to be a close battle.
Bengals 20, Steelers 16 for 300 som
Jets +12.5 for 500
Eagles -7.5 for 300
Steelers +7 for 300
Saints -4.5 for 300
Bears -6 for 200
Packers -7 for 250
4-1 last week
Alabama 34, Texas A&M 16. Payback is a bitch, Mr. Johnny Football…
UCLA 40, Nebraska 26. I’ll be scouting Bruins QB Brett Hundley extensively in this one, as the Huskers have some NFL talent at corner.
Texas 27, Ole Miss 24. The defensive coaching change works for the Longhorns, for one week anyway.
Michigan 52, Akron 10. I bring this game up only because I’ll be in attendance
TCU 30, Texas Tech 28
Enjoy the full football weekend!