For seventeen weeks last year, I did not have a losing week. Sure, there were some 8-8’s in there, but I generally performed well in my prognostications.
In 2011, I stumbled out of the gate.
Thanks to ineptitude by Pittsburgh, the Giants, Kansas City, and others, I found myself at 7-9, which is still good enough to win the NFC West. But that’s still not good enough for the rigorous standards that I hold for myself. Eric Gargiulo deserves better than 7-9, so I made sure to hit the stat lines and box scores harder this week to gain an edge. I vow that if I finish worse than 8-8 this week, I will bob for apples in a kiddie pool that Rex and Rob Ryan spent an hour wading naked in.
Okay, maybe I won’t go THAT far, but I do promise to improve my picks considerably. I owe it to you, the reader, and to the gambling cartels that rely on my usually razor sharp information.
As wiseman Dennis Green once said, “They are who we THOUGHT they were.” This time, with my copious research, I DO know who they are. However, I am NOT letting them off the hook.
The comeback begins now.
Last week: 7-9
For the year: 7-9
16. Pittsburgh over Seattle
Fortunately for Pittsburgh, ESPN.com and NFL.com still have them in the top ten in the power rankings despite their complete core meltdown against Baltimore. Why? Because Sunday’s game was merely a “Murphy’s Law” game, and Seattle isn’t Baltimore. In other words, those sites are secure in the knowledge that the Steelers will make up for that loss. Seattle couldn’t muster a single sack, forced fumble, or interception on an offensive headed by the woeful Alex Smith, so shouldn’t they do the same against a Steelers team that doesn’t take humiliation lightly? Besides, if Smith can go 75% passing on the Seahawks D, you’d think Ben Roethlisberger would capitalize on such tentativeness. Whatever Hell that coach Mike Tomlin has put the Steelers through this week to erase that stench of failure, if they don’t win by at least 21 this week, I’ll be stunned.
SCORE: Steelers 47, Seahawks 10
15. Tampa Bay over Minnesota
When you run the ball a mere 16 times (5 being quarterback scrambles) on the Detroit Lions, of course you’re going to struggle against a Lions team that may or may not make that “leap” this season. It’s too early to shovel dirt on any 0-1 team, as there are sixteen of them and the previous pick highlights one primed to bounce back. I think Tampa will do the same, provided they remember to balance their offensive ticket. Despite the Vikings’ defense and special teams keeping Donovan McNabb’s horrid performance alive (7/15, 39 yards with a TD and a pick), Minnesota ultimately caved to a well balanced offense that showcased Mike Tolbert making the most of the flat. Get LeGarrette Blount in open space on dumps and swings, and Minnesota won’t stand a chance.
SCORE: Buccaneers 27, Vikings 10
14. Baltimore over Tennessee
Jacksonville had questionable faith in Luke McCown, which explains why the Jaguars ran the ball 47 times against the Titans on Sunday. While it was only for a 3.5 yards-per-carry average, Jacksonville still saw fit to give 14 carries to the backup, Deji Karim, and 24 to Maurice Jones-Drew, the resident bruiser, and it still packed enough punch to give the Jags a narrow win. Baltimore has a little more firepower, thanks to Ray Rice approaching his peak of production (5.6 yards a carry on Pittsburgh!), and a still-capable Ricky Williams to compliment him. As long as the Ravens can keep Kenny Britt from making his circus catches to bail out Matt Hasselbeck (leaving an anonymous police tip before the game helps), I see no reason for them to lose this one.
SCORE: Ravens 31, Titans 14
13. Houston over Miami
Alright, I’m convinced. It may have been against a Manning-less Colts team, but the Houston Texans are finally adding defensive bluster to the high powered offense. If they can’t win the AFC South this year, or at least snare a wild card ticket, then Gary Kubiak will likely be drawn and quarted. Even if Arian Foster sits again this week, with no concrete indication of his status as of Wednesday afternoon, Ben Tate and Derrick Ward still combined for 155 yards on 35 carries. If Foster does go, he’ll likely split duties with Tate to prevent an injury reoccurrence, which is still trouble for the Dolphins. As good as Chad Henne looked Monday night, Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has seemingly rejuvenated his corps, and they won’t take Henne lightly.
SCORE: Texans 27, Dolphins 10
12. Green Bay over Carolina
There’s a tiny voice in my head that’s saying, “The Packers have never seen Cam Newton before. There’s a chance that the complex zone blitz won’t know how to handle him early on, and the Panthers can build enough of a buffer lead to where they sneak out an upset.” Then that same voice declares, “But it’s Aaron Rodgers vs. Carolina’s defense….” Indeed, I expect the Packers to have a couple of blips and stumbles here and there as far as corralling Newton is concerned, but it won’t be anywhere near the dissection and evisceration of the Panthers’ defense that Rodgers brings to the table. Concerning stat: DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart had only 56 yards on 19 carries against Arizona. Looks like Newton’s gotta shoulder the load here.
SCORE: Packers 41, Panthers 17
11. Philadelphia over Atlanta
A tale of two teams: the Eagles pulled themselves out of an early rut against St. Louis on Sunday, while the Falcons let misfortunes snowball against the Bears, resulting in defeat. Granted, the Eagles don’t have Chicago’s linebacking corps, and are prone to flooding too early on slow developing run plays, but Atlanta’s problem on defense lies in buckling down. The Bears had sixteen third down opportunities, converted six of them, and hit field goals on three that went to fourth down. The Eagles were eight of eleven on third down Sunday, with a scrambling Michael Vick running roughshod, or sharply throwing, to convert. If the Falcons can’t hunker down and keep Vick at bay, it’s going to be a nice homecoming for their first overall pick of a decade ago.
SCORE: Eagles 31, Falcons 17
10. Detroit over Kansas City
Everybody on the Lions’ bandwagon, there’s plenty of open spaces. Matthew Stafford finally played like a first overall pick (not named JaMarcus Russell) against a promising Buccaneers team (73% completions, 305 yards, 3 TD), while the defense was quick to capitalize on a slew of Buccaneer mistakes. Meanwhile, the Chiefs were absolutely lit up by an efficient Bills offense, which boasts nowhere near Stafford’s and Calvin Johnson’s ceiling. Matt Cassel was either bothered by his ribs or lost his confidence somewhere, because he was held to five yards a completion, which indicates a pressuring zone defense is his kryptonite. If the Lions get pressure on Cassel, it’ll be over early.
SCORE: Lions 24, Chiefs 9
9. New York Jets over Jacksonville
The Jaguars played conservatively against the Jets, as Luke McCown slowly worked his way into the starting quarterback role. 47 times spent running the ball wasn’t exactly because they were hauling for big gains, but they were effective clock-eaters on a Tennessee offense that had little chance to come back. While the Jets struggled early against Dallas, particularly Darrelle Revis (early) and Antonio Cromartie, they were getting beaten by an offense that played aggressively. The Jaguars I don’t think have that capacity to play as strong, especially against a Jets team that knows how close they were to defeat. Jacksonville’s run defense is underrated, but the Jets are a more dimensional offense, and Mark Sanchez, without the microscope of playing in New York on 9/11, will be more relaxed and poised.
SCORE: Jets 24, Jaguars 13
8. Buffalo over Oakland
Just think, one of these teams will be 2-0 before Sunday ends. There’s actually an interesting clash in this one, as Ryan Fitzpatrick’s calm efficiency (never thought I’d ever utter THAT remark) faces a Raiders defense that’s heavy on penalties, but also high on rattling an offense. Flip around the circumstances and put Jason Campbell against Buffalo’s defense. The Bills hemmed Matt Cassel in on Sunday, forcing him to throw short, despite plenty of weapons around him. Raiders like Darius Heyward-Bey and Jacoby Ford are renowned for their speed, which can be nullified with Buffalo’s surprisingly good man coverage. If the Bills can contain Darren McFadden beyond that, they can keep Fitzpatrick serene and make for a convincing win.
SCORE: Bills 21, Raiders 13
7. New England over San Diego
The Patriots can’t play any better than they did Monday, unless they run back four or five kickoffs for touchdowns against the Chargers’ anemic special teams. I wouldn’t even rule out that happening. Mike Tolbert, who had three touchdowns Sunday against Minnesota, is uncertain to play with his late-game leg injury, which gives Philip Rivers one less versatile weapon against the questionable Patriots defense. Tolbert or no Tolbert, when the Patriots get on a roll, they roll like a flood, and Tom Brady certainly won’t throw for 39 yards like Donovan McNabb did against the Chargers. Much of the Chargers success Sunday was in forcing three-and-outs, and New England simply has too many weapons to let that happen consistently.
SCORE: Patriots 31, Chargers 20
6. New York Giants over St. Louis
Just what needs to be broadcast on Monday night: the offense of a million injuries vs. the defense of a million injuries. If Sam Bradford can’t pick apart an ailing Giants defense, then there isn’t much else he can do to assure victory, even without Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola. Justin Tuck’s vowing to play Monday night, and that can only help a pass rush that was the one effective weapon against Rex Grossman on opening day. The Rams have a decent pass rush of their own, but Eli Manning has a varied offense and, like Michael Vick, will play better as the game goes on. Especially if the G-Men’s defense can avoid giving up the big plays like Sunday.
SCORE: Giants 20, Rams 10
5. Dallas over San Francisco
Put it this way: if Dallas loses this game, I’m considering them eliminated from playoff contention. No quarterback has lost games in such a variety of ways as Tony Romo has, and that loss to the Jets was enough comic fodder to be chicken soup for the Cowboy hater’s soul. That said, San Francisco only won Sunday because a) Seattle sucks, b) Ted Ginn had a career day returning the ball, and c) Seattle sucks. I fail to see a way in which Romo has back-to-back embarrassing weeks (usually his humiliations are spread out to maximize the enjoyment), so I think Dallas picks on a San Fran offense that wasn’t exactly moving downfield with the greatest of ease. The 49ers only real chance at winning is to force Romo mistakes, thanks to their underrated pass rush facing a shaky Dallas offensive line.
SCORE: Cowboys 21, 49ers 10
4. Denver over Cincinnati
The rematch of the Stokley Bowl from 2009 (which prompted Gus Johnson’s rendezvous with destiny: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fPamV6LsV8) and both teams are in need of a tune-up. I still like Denver, in spite of Kyle Orton gift-wrapping Monday’s game for the Raiders. For a quarterback that had an unheralded yet good 2010, Orton’s more than capable of dissecting the Bengals’ defense, which surprisingly had their way with Colt McCoy on Sunday. Near as I can tell, neither weather nor a penalty-collecting Raiders defense will be a factor on Sunday, and Orton, after hearing the “TE-BOW” chants Monday night, I think will be psyched up to put the loss in the past. Besides, the Broncos only ran 13 times vs. the Raiders, so I look for John Fox to open up that part of the game more in order to take the pressure off of Orton.
SCORE: Broncos 24, Bengals 16
3. New Orleans over Chicago
Because I can’t see Drew Brees starting off 0-2. It’s New Orleans’ home opener, and if you think the fans of an 0-1 team, one that they take pride in, is going to be silent on every Jay Cutler throw, you’re crazy. Cutler benefitted from his defense, as well as a collapsible Falcons defense, on Sunday, while the Saints’ points and stats would have been enough to destroy most other opponents this week. It’s just a shame that they drew Green Bay first. Michael Turner was able to put up 100 yards on a defense that was mostly shutdown through the day. I visualize Darren Sproles darting in and out of Bears tacklers in between Brees’ attempts to spread the field. With a varied attack like that, not to mention the home crowd rattling a very irritable Cutler, the Saints should be able to even their record.
SCORE: Saints 27, Bears 20
2. Arizona over Washington
Either Kevin Kolb or Rex Grossman will be 2-0. Let that sink in for a moment. The Cardinals allowed 422 yards through the air against Carolina, largely because rookie Patrick Peterson was rope-a-doped by Steve Smith and Cam Newton. Arizona’s secondary will be a liability if Grossman decides to “unleash the dragon”. Then again, Kevin Kolb was good at answering back when the situation called for it, completing 2/3 of his passes for over 300 yards, and the Redskins can be prone to give up the big play, as the Giants were able to garner early on. If the Redskins rely too much on Tim Hightower again (26 rushes by the Skins, 25 by him), the Cardinals will be able to pick up on patterns and thus figure out Washington’s game plan early. Force Grossman to make mistakes, and that’s your difference maker.
SCORE: Cardinals 17, Redskins 13
1. Indianapolis over Cleveland
Give Peyton Manning a healthy neck and this might be my top pick. As it is, this is a gamble, because I’m banking on Kerry Collins and the offensive line coming up with a new way of communicating this week. The Bengals were able to capitalize on the Browns’ inability to get third down stops, so Indy may be better off letting the running game bruise Cleveland for the first two quarters. In the second half, with Cleveland effectively worn down, the Colts can take over on Sheldon Brown, who may be the slowest corner in the game today. Joe Haden will most assuredly match up with Reggie Wayne, so if Collins can hit Pierre Garcon or Austin Collie on the other side of the field, he can easily erase the opening week nightmare.
SCORE: Colts 20, Browns 14
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.