Well, I bounced back, as promised! After going 7-9 in week one, yours truly was 12-4 in week two, with my effort buttressed by last minute wins by Tampa Bay and Buffalo. Cheers!
The NFL picture is finally beginning to take some shape, as we see the contenders (Green Bay, New England, New York Jets), pretenders (Kansas City, St. Louis, Minnesota), and surprises, both good (Detroit and Buffalo) and bad (Indianapolis). Of course, there’s still fifteen weeks to be played before we get to the post-season, so as Kevin Garnett once offered, “annnnneh-theeeng’s possssssaaaa-bbuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh”
And so, here are my rapid-fire picks. Feel free to, in honor of the New York Giants, flop to the ground and clutch your knee if the picks are coming too quickly.
Last week: 12-4
For the year: 19-13
16. Pittsburgh Steelers over Indianapolis Colts
Here’s a preview for Sunday night’s game on the commentary end of things, ripped directly from Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth’s format: Q1) Can Kerry Collins and the Colts offense turn the tide against the odds? Q2) Will Kerry Collins set a new record for combined turnovers and sacks in a half? Q3) How different would this game be if Peyton Manning was healthy? Q4) Two items: will Manning be mentoring Andrew Luck in 2012, and will NBC institute flex scheduling before November, starting next season? After back to back 300 yard passing games from opponents (one being the shaky Colt McCoy), that streak may actually end this week for the Colts. Of course, that’s because Ben Roethlisberger will throw all of fourteen passes as the defense decides the game early.
SCORE: Steelers 38, Colts 3
15. San Diego Chargers over Kansas City Chiefs
Part of me is surprised the NFL didn’t fine Ndamukong Suh for Roary the Lion injuring Jamaal Charles. Without Charles, the worst total offense in the NFL (10 pts, 9 turnovers, 511 total yards over two games) is facing the Chargers, who are giving up five yards a run. Honestly, if Charles had been healthy, I’d have taken KC in the upset in this one, and there’s still a tiny voice in my head that says Dexter McCluster and Thomas Jones are going to have stunning fantasy days on the foldable Chargers defense. In spite of that, Philip Rivers is generally good at padding his statistics, and at 71% in completions, with over 350 yards a game, the Chiefs (allowing 41 and 48 points in each of their first two games) are going to be flooded out again. Todd Haley “Coors Light” press conference audition in three….two…..
SCORE: Chargers 41, Chiefs 13
14. New England Patriots over Buffalo Bills
Call me a cynic, but given Buffalo’s track record over the last decade, especially in comparison to New England’s reign of dominance, I just don’t see this one being close. For the sake of seeing something different, I hope I’m wrong. The fact is that Buffalo has failed to generate a decent pass rush in their first two games against a hopeless Kansas City and a hot-and-cold Oakland, garnering just two sacks and one interception. Jason Campbell had all day to throw with a line that isn’t exactly Honolulu-bound from year to year, and it’s not his fault that Buffalo made an unlikely comeback. Against Tom Brady and his offense of Odyssey of the Mind alums, the Bills will be playing catch-up all day.
SCORE: Patriots 38, Bills 17
13. New York Jets over Oakland Raiders
One entry ago, I mentioned Jason Campbell having ample time to make his reads against Buffalo. Different story here, as the Jets are coming off virtually ending Luke McCown’s season, picking him off four times, sacking him twice, and holding him to below 33% passing, which has sparked the announcement of Blaine Gabbert getting his first start this week. The Jets, though, are not without flaws. As a team, they average a paltry three yards a carry, and Mark Sanchez is still making mistakes in crucial situations. Oakland can win if they leverage the game into a free for all (like they did with Denver opening week), but I see the Jets defense more than crushing Campbell to make it easier on Sanchez.
SCORE: Jets 24, Raiders 13
12. Baltimore Ravens over St. Louis Rams
The vast majority picked the Rams to win the NFC West, simply because “Sam Bradford makes the leap” was a more plausible prediction than “Seattle, San Francisco or Arizona win the division”. In two games against tough pass rushes (Philadelphia and the Giants), Bradford’s been sacked six times, and is barely throwing above fifty percent (39 of 76 with one touchdown and no picks). Baltimore, despite the hiccup game against Tennesse, is still the same Baltimore that marauded AFC Champion Pittsburgh in week one, stymieing Ben Roethlisberger. The Ravens have sixteen defensed passes in the first two games (four alone from Ed Reed), and will likely be aware of the Rams’ lack of a true playmaking receiver. I don’t think Bradford’s gonna be throwing 65% in this one.
SCORE: Ravens 27, Rams 10
11. Detroit Lions over Minnesota Vikings
One of the most underrated free agent pick-ups this offseason has been Stephen Tulloch, the consistent linebacker that quietly complimented, and later supplanted, Keith Bulluck as the Titans’ middleman, and is somebody Jim Schwartz has a world of faith in. Yards are deceiving, and the 2-0 Lions allowed over 400 yards each to the Buccaneers and Chiefs, with a lot of those yards coming in relief efforts. LeGarrette Blount put up only 15 yards on the Lions, while Dexter McCluster (subbing in for Jamaal Charles) had 51 yards on 8 carries, but subtract a 24 yard burst, and he was held to 27 yards on 7 carries, much of it reflective upon Tulloch’s leadership in the middle. If the Lions hem Adrian Peterson in, they’ll easily break Donovan McNabb down (throwing just 55%) and go to a once-improbable 3-0.
SCORE: Lions 26, Vikings 9
10. New Orleans Saints over Houston Texans
I’m not buying Houston as the “team to beat” in the AFC South, especially as the league’s #1 defense, believe it or not, until they can handle an offense as diverse and deadly as that of the Saints. Thus far, the Texans have brutalized a muddled Colts team and did enough to hold off an in-flux Dolphins team, but the real test is Sunday. The Saints put up 34 on the World Champion Packers (with the impenetrable zone blitz of Dom Capers), and then hung 30 points on a nearly-as-aggressive Bears. Drew Brees’ new favorite toy is Darren Sproles’ speed on the dump-off, something the Chargers surely miss by now. Sproles is averaging 8 yards over the middle and in the flat per catch, and it keeps defenses guessing, especially when Brees still has his downfield threats. I don’t think Houston’s passing this test.
SCORE: Saints 34, Texans 20
9. Philadelphia Eagles over New York Giants
Signs point to Michael Vick likely playing, despite getting his brains scrambled by Todd Herremans (and really, I’m surprised the league didn’t fine Big Todd). Call me a homer, but those unfortunate fumbles on Sunday night (one was just a heads up play by Peria Jerry when Vick needlessly stalled) don’t reflect the nature of the team’s offense. For the most part, the Eagles offense is still quite efficient, with even Mike Kafka nearly leading the team to victory in the closing minutes. The Giants remain good run-stoppers, hemming in Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood on Monday, but their troubles with Vick’s scrambling last season will be uncovered. The Giants haven’t dealt with many dump-offs to running backs yet this year, something LeSean McCoy thrives on.
SCORE: Eagles 30, Giants 17
8. Carolina Panthers over Jacksonville Jaguars
Sixteen years ago, it was Kerry Collins vs. Mark Brunell, who are both still in the league. Now it’s Cam Newton vs. Blaine Gabbert, who were barely in grade school when the aforementioned quarterbacks were in their primes. No receiver on the Jaguars has over 100 receiving yards yet this season (Mike Thomas is closest with 84 on 11 grabs), and Luke McCown was quick to lose his job after posting a 30.6 rating. Meanwhile, Newton has been a surprise to many naysayers, despite being 0-2 and making a few costly mistakes. Still, Newton put up 23 points on Green Bay, and was handling that zone blitz early. With Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams averaging less than 2.5 yards a carry combined, it’s time they jump start on a defense that will see the field many, many times.
SCORE: Panthers 34, Jaguars 19
7. Dallas Cowboys over Washington Redskins
I’m a little iffy on this, based on DeAngelo Hall’s threat to target Tony Romo’s ribcage, should Romo play. Despite the injury, I think Romo might be spurred on by the week one loss, as evidenced by his well placed throw to win in overtime Sunday, and it’s driven him to shed all loser labels. As it stands, the Redskins allows less than 100 yards a game, but opponents have only tried to run 15 times (Arizona) and 20 times (New York Giants), so the mettle of the run defense hasn’t been tested. Felix Jones and Tashard Choice have had slow starts to the year running the ball, but the unreality of the Redskins being 2-0 means something drastic has to happen for balance to be restored. Felix Jones, over 100 yards on the ground, book it.
SCORE: Cowboys 21, Redskins 14
6. Green Bay Packers over Chicago Bears
Saints with Olin Kreutz as a starter: four sacks allowed. Bears since excising Kreutz: eleven sacks allowed. Jay Cutler even came out and said he’s not sure how much more he can physically take, which isn’t quite a ringing endorsement from the Bears’ field general. This is the same Cutler that, in the NFC Title game last year against Green Bay, was rattled in the first half by the onslaught of the zone blitz, and had his toughness questioned when he was allegedly too hurt to play in the second half, bringing Caleb Hanie in. The running game of Chicago hasn’t suffered any, so it looks like the pass blocking assignments just aren’t effective. Hey, you know who’s good at exploiting shaky pass blocking schemes? Dom Capers!
SCORE: Packers 24, Bears 14
5. Denver Broncos over Tennessee Titans
Despite Tennessee stunning the Ravens on Sunday, thanks more to Ravens’ inability to overcome ill-timed turnovers than anything else, I don’t see the Titans being a powerhouse team. The Denver Broncos, who have struggled with inferior competition, I think are due for a game in which everything goes right. Orton played a wise, conservative game in the win over Cincinnati, which hopefully regains him the confidence he lost in the week one washout vs. the Raiders. With Brandon Lloyd healthy and back in the line-up this week (remember, he’s 2010’s receiving champion), I think Orton opens the playbook more and throws more successful deep balls, just to counteract a possible late comeback like Cincinnati nearly had.
SCORE: Broncos 30, Titans 20
4. Cleveland Browns over Miami Dolphins
Well, somebody has to win, right? Fortunately for the Browns, the Dolphins are allowing 4.2 yards on the ground per carry, and Peyton Hillis is aching to get his first 100 yard game of the season, I’m sure. The Dolphins’ defense, still trying to shake the cobwebs after Tom Brady and Wes Welker incinerated them in week one, let Ben Tate post 100 yards on them in week two. The run defense is very suspect, especially without Channing Crowder around anymore to provide a sense of play recognition. The Browns offense may not be any great shakes, but I can see them bruising their way to victory behind Hillis. Unless the Madden Curse shows up, of course.
SCORE: Browns 20, Dolphins 13
3. Cincinnati Bengals over San Francisco 49ers
Well, lookie here, Andy Dalton is a competent quarterback. Grant you, he’s played two incompetent defenses in Cleveland and Denver, but San Francisco’s no great shakes, and they’re next on Dalton’s hit list. I like the Bengals chances here, not just because of Dalton’s eased style of play, but for two other reasons: Cedric Benson’s hot-cold career path is currently “hot”, as he’s built a head of steam against the aforementioned opponents (180 yards on 41 carries), and San Francisco is dealing with injuries to Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards. When Josh Morgan has become your go-to guy, it’s looking like a long season.
SCORE: Bengals 23, 49ers 14
2. Arizona Cardinals over Seattle Seahawks
I’m in full “pick anyone and everyone” over Seattle mode, because a) there’s no rational reason to choose them to win and b) watching Pete Carroll suffer after avoiding punishment at USC is delicious. Beanie Wells has been a machine, averaging 5.7 yards a carry on just 32 carries. After Seattle couldn’t stop Pittsburgh from racking up yards and eating the clock on Sunday, Wells should be able to continue his bruising ways. On top of that, Seattle’s allowed ten sacks this season, and since the Cardinals defense has enough playmakers to deflect passes, if not pick them off, you’d think Tarvaris Jackson will be hemmed in by a number of complicated blitzes on Sunday. And you’re probably right.
SCORE: Cardinals 20, Seahawks 13
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers over Atlanta Falcons
LeGarrette Blount, after an invisible week one, racked up over five yards a carry against the solid Vikings defense on Sunday, including a 27 yard touchdown run, and the clinching touchdown in the final minute. Atlanta’s weakness, one that Philadelphia was exploiting before the turnovers and Michael Vick’s injury doomed them, is that the secondary fails in key situations. Johnny Knox, Devin Hester, Matt Forte, and Jeremy Maclin all put up sixty or more receiving yards on Atlanta this season. For Tampa Bay, which is getting mileage out of Arrelious Benn and surprising second-year player Preston Parker (remember that name), avoiding turnovers will allow them to do what the Eagles couldn’t against the Falcons: win.
SCORE: Buccaneers 24, Falcons 20
Justin Henry is a freelance writer whose work appears on many websites. He provides wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture columns for CamelClutchBlog.com, as well as several wrestling columns a week for WrestlingNewsSource.com and WrestleCrap.com. Justin can be found here on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh and Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/cynicjrh.