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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tuesday's Gone: Week 4 #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)

"And if [I] happen to run through [the Panthers], put your goggles on, 'cause there's going to be blood and guts everywhere."

Week 4: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Week 4 results: 7-6 wins (36-25 .590); 3-10 v. spread (22-39 .361)

Note: When I refer to a team ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ (e.g. Carolina Panthers win by an average score of 21-19) that score reflects the team’s overall scoring offense/defense, and is set as a theoretical game score; that score does not necessarily correlate with said team’s actual record. For example, the Indianapolis Colts are 1-2, yet ‘win’ games by an average score of 32-26, reflecting their scoring offense/defense.

It’s been a tough year calling games in the NFL, especially Week 4.  I nearly suffered my first losing week yet (wins), and got four games very wrong (WAS, BAL, ATL, NE). To make matters worse, I only hit the win against the spread in three of the six games I called correctly; one positive note was hitting 9 of 13 O/Us. Calling games against the spread is always a more difficult task, that’s why the Sharps drive the fancy cars and I write for a website no one pays attention to. See where I went wrong this week:

New York Giants 1-2 (+3) @ Washington Natives 1-2 (45.5): Natives 27-23 Giants 45-14
Thursday, 8:25 PM, FedEx Field, Andover, Maryland (Weather: Chance rain; mid-60s)

Reasons: It’s widely known the road team has lost every Thursday night game by at least 20 points, and it’s not hard to understand why – the teams are on short rest, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement limits practice, and the teams haven’t had the requisite time to prepare for their opponent, especially the traveling team. These criteria have resulted in blowouts in the two Thursday night games (not counting the Packers 20-point loss to the Seahawks on Opening Night), both lost by the visiting team, the Steelers by 20 points two weeks ago and the Buccaneers by 42 points this past Thursday. The same could happen tonight, although not likely, considering both teams are coming off 30+-point performances and it is Week 4, so we should assume these teams are rounding into shape, for whatever that’s worth. That said, a 20+-point blowout could happen. The Giants, despite beating the overrated Texans team 30-17 Sunday, remain in the bottom ten of the NFL in passing yards (22nd), pass defense (22nd), scoring offense (24th), and scoring defense (24th). Conversely, the Natives are 3rd, 10th, 5th, and 12th in those categories, respectively; additionally, the Natives are the 9th-ranked rushing offense and the 3rd –ranked rush defense. So statistically the Natives remain one of the ten best teams in the NFL. Yet the Natives are also 1-2, and lost to the very Texans the Giants just whooped. The Natives lone win came against the wretchedly winless Jaguars. The Giants’ losses have come against a great team (ARZ), and a very talented team (DET). In other words, these teams are relatively equal. So although I’m statistically inclined to lean towards a blowout, it’s Thursday night and DeSean Jackson is questionable. Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t always tell the whole story. The Natives get the win by virtue of not having to travel. Then again, I’m also 1-2 on Thursday night.

You have to love the games that produce the exact opposite result that almost everyone expects. Kirk Cousins was coming off one of his best performances in his career; Eli Manning was steering a sinking ship that had been through tough battles. The game was Thursday night, and the loser had lost by at least 20 points in every game. Manning threw 4 TDs and 1 INT; Cousins threw 1 TD and 4 INT. The home Natives, not a redundant phrase by my new WAS naming standards, lost by 31 points. That happens when you tuen the ball over 6 times (4 INT; 2 fumbles).

Carolina Panthers 2-1 (+3.5) @ Baltimore Ravens 2-1 (40.5): Ravens 21-20 Ravens 38-10
Sunday, 1 PM, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland (Weather: Sunny, low 80s)

Reasons: The Panthers gave up the most yards between the tackles (244) since 2006 v. PIT Sunday, and it dropped them to 27th overall against the rush. That won’t sit well with this Panthers defense, but Thomas Davis is questionable heading into Sunday’s game. So is the entire Panthers backfield. The Ravens are also thin at running back, which means a heavy run attack game plan might not work as well as it did for the Steelers last week. These two teams match up very well statistically, and ‘win’ their games by average scores of 21-19 (CAR) and 22-17 (BAL). The big difference between these two teams is Steve Smith Sr. and turnovers. Smith has the reputation of putting games – and teams – on his back, and the Panthers are +4 in turnover ratio. It doesn’t look good for the traveling Panthers, but the Carolina defense might be chomping at the bit just as hard as Smith Sr. is.

This was an ugly game for the Panthers. Carolina gave up 454 offensive yards, on 7.4 yards per play, tallied zero sacks, and forced no turnovers. One of the best defenses in the NFL through Week 2, the Panthers defense has been a shell of itself since DE Greg Hardy’s placement on the NFL Exempt List. The Ravens offense put on a clinic, getting over 100 rushing yards (127) and over 300 yards passing (327), while their defense sacked Cam Newton twice, further injuring the already hobbled quarterback, and forced a fumble. The story of the game was Steve Smith Sr., who ended the game with 139 receiving yards and 2 TDs on seven catches (10 targets), although a huge chunk and a TD came on a deflected pass. It was one of those games for the Panthers.

Green Bay Packers 1-2 (-2) @ Chicago Bears 2-1 (50): Packers 28-27 Packers 38-17
Sunday, 1 PM, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL (Weather: Sunny, low 70s)

Reasons: The Bears are pretty beat up on defense, which is just what the doctor ordered for the Packers struggling offense. The only thing the Packers have impressed with has been pass defense, which has been the Bears strong suit since Jay Cutler arrived. Running the ball has not been the Bears Forte this season, pun intended; the Bears have the worst rushing game in the NFL, which should play well into the hands of the Packers 30th-ranked rush defense. Starting to see why the Packers are giving two to the Bears on the road? With Brandon Marshall questionable, the Bears could have a tough time against a desperate Packers team.

Aaron Rodgers told everyone in the WI area to r-e-l-a-x, and then went out and caused a frenzy throwing for 302 yards and 4 TDs on the road against the rival Bears. The Bears looked good, especially Jay Cutler, and led 17-14 with four minutes remaining in the first half from Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jefferies TDs; but the Packers put it in high gear, taking advantage of two Cutler INTs, and let their own WRs Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb loose, scoring 24 unanswered points to take the tough divisional game on the road.

Buffalo Bills 1-2 (+3) @ Houston Texans 2-1 (41): Texans 24-21 Texans 23-17
Sunday, 1 PM, Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Are you sitting? Arian Foster is questionable for Sunday’s game. Two mediocre offenses face two pretty good defenses in a close match up Sunday at Reliant Stadium. The two teams ‘win’ (see Note at top) their games by an identical average score of 21-17. Both teams also force turnovers (BUF +4; HOU +3), but give up a fair amount of yards, with the exception of Buffalo’s 5th-ranked run defense. The Bills running game is also top notch, ranked 11th in the league, which should take advantage of Houston’s 25th-ranked run defense. With both Foster and Andre Johnson questionable many signs point to the Bills, but the Bills simply aren’t that good, and probably won’t score enough points against the Texans on the road to win.

JJ Watt stole the show with his 3rd quarter 80-yard pick-6, which put the Texans up 14-10. They never looked back. The game featured four other turnovers, which set the tempo for the game. The Bills played tough, holding the Texans to 1.5 yards per carry on 24 attempts. Alas, it wasn’t enough, and Buffalo plans to go with Kyle Orton for the foreseeable future, something rookie Sammy Watkins apparently approves of. The Texans may have won, but it took Watt’s unbelievable defensive TD to win it.

Tennessee Titans 1-2 (+8) @ Indianapolis Colts 1-2 (46): Colts 28-21 Colts 41-17
Sunday, 1 PM, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Colts score a lot of points (3rd - 32 ppg) and the Titans don’t (31st - 14 ppg), but that doesn’t necessarily sum up this game. The Colts don’t really stop anyone either (27th-ranked pass offense; 25th-ranked scoring defense), but the Titans will be without tight end Delanie Walker, one of their only real weapons. The Titans 2nd-ranked pass defense will put pressure on Luck throughout the day, and these divisional match ups are always tough, but the Colts are giving eight points for a reason.

As expected the Colts cruised at home against the offensively challenged Titans. Tennessee turned the ball over three times, including an INT by the rookie Zack Mettenberger, who replaced Charlie Whitehurst, who replaced Jake Locker. On the other side it was business as usual for Andrew Luck, who threw 4 TDs passes and nearly eclipsed 400 yards passing (393).

Detroit Lions 2-1 (-1.5) @ New York Jets 1-2 (45): Lions 24-20 Lions 24-17
Sunday, 1 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Sunny, low 80s)

Reasons: On paper this is one of the best match ups of the week, if you discount the Jets 1-2 record. Both of these teams rank in the top-9 in three of the four major yardage categories, and both teams have two of the best defenses in the NFL (DET is the 2nd-ranked scoring defense). The major flaws on the these teams are the Jets passing game (ranked 19th) and the Lions run game (ranked 25th), although the Lions have Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. These teams also turn the ball over too much (DET -3; NYJ -4). The Lions should be able to take advantage of those Jets mistakes and turn them into points, especially if Muhammad Wilkerson can’t go.

The Jets got to Matt Stafford and kept Megatron in check, but it wasn’t enough as Stafford still threw for 293 yards and 2 TDs, and ran for another TD on their way to a 24-17 win in which the Lions were outplayed in several areas. What do you know, there’s another quarterback controversy within the New York Jets.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0-3 (+7.5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers 2-1 (45): Steelers 28-20 Buccaneers 27-24
Sunday, 1 PM, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA (Weather: Sunny, high 70s)

Reasons: The Buccaneers are bad. They’re so bad that their highest ranking is 20th, in rushing yards (think Bobby Rainey and Doug Martin), which happens to be the Steelers worst ranking (22nd rush defense). Don’t let that fool you though, because the Steelers are pretty solid everywhere else. The Steelers have the league’s top running game, and rank just out of the top-10 in scoring offense, passing yards, and passing defense. Even with a hobbled defense, the Steelers should win easy at home.

What an ending to this game. From the improbable first down, to the incredible Mike Glennon to Vincent Jackson TD with seven seconds left, the Buccaneers delivered the most exciting ending to any Sunday game. The only thing the Buccaneers were supposed to be able to do was run the ball, which they didn’t (63 yards on 20 carries, including a 19-yard scamper on one carry). Yet, the Buccaneers came into Pittsburgh and came out with a huge win, after being embarrassed on national television the week before. Roethlisberger had a typical big day (314 yards and 3 TDs), but Michael Johnso returned to the field for the Buccaneers and helped keep Big Ben on the run, sacking him five times.

Miami Dolphins 1-2 (-3.5) @ Oakland Raiders 0-3 (41): Dolphins 21-20 Dolphins 38-14
Sunday, 1 PM, Wembley Stadium, London, England (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Zzz…Zzz…Zzz…oh, I’m sorry. I fell asleep gathering my thoughts to preview this game. The Raiders are somehow the 4th-ranked passing defense and the 12th-ranked scoring defense in the NFL otherwise they’re abominable. Ranked last or near the bottom of the league in scoring offense, passing yards (29th), rushing yards (31st), and rush defense (31st), the Raiders would be the worst team in the league if not for the AAA Jaguars. Lucky for them they play the Dolphins, who are right there with them, save for the second half of their Week 1 win v. the Patriots; the Dolphins have the 30th-ranked passing offense and the league’s 29th-ranked scoring defense. Considering the Dolphins won’t be gaining many passing yards Sunday, especially with Mike Wallace questionable, it’ll be up to Dolphins RB Lamar Miller. Enjoy this one mate, if you’re forced to. Perhaps the NFL isn’t trying to get to Europe throwing teams like this out there.

The Dolphins put on a show for the Brits, and things actually got worse for the Raiders. Rookie quarterback Derek Carr was injured, the Raiders gave up 435 offensive yards, and they turned the ball over four times. The terrible international showing was the straw the broke the camel’s back; Dennis Allen was fired by telephone after the loss. Joe Philbin’s job may not be that much safer, but the Dolphins took advantage of the reeling Raiders nad looked lie a great football team for a day.

Jacksonville Jaguars 0-3 (+13) @ San Diego Chargers 2-1 (45): Chargers 31-17 Chargers 33-14
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA (Weather: Sunny, mid-70s)

Reasons: This will be the third week in a row the Jaguars are double-digit underdogs, but it’ll be the first week I won’t take all those points. You know what they say: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I won’t be fooled again. The winless Jaguars are next level bad. I just went on about the Oakland Raiders being bad, and they would crush the Jaguars. Jacksonville ranks last in the NFL in scoring defense, passing defense and rushing defense. To say they had the worst defense in the NFL would be, well, completely accurate. The Jaguars are the 30th-ranked scoring offense, have the 30th-ranked rushing offense, and rank 25th in passing, their best statistical category. Surprisingly enough, the have the same turnover ratio as their opponent, who ranks among some of the league’s elite in those aforementioned categories. The Chargers defense should stifle the Jaguars, and Phillip Rivers will have a field day at home against the NFL’s worst defense, even with hobbled tight ends. Chargers (should) win big.

For the third week in a row the Jaguars were gifted at least 12 points, and it wasn’t enough. Blake Bortles (254 passing yards; 1 TD) gives the Jaguars some hope, while Philip Rivers (377 passing yards; 3 TDs) continues to make his early case for league MVP.

Atlanta Falcons 2-1 (-3) @ Minnesota Vikings 1-2 (46.5): Falcons 24-20 Vikings 41-28
Sunday, 4:25 PM, TFC Bank Stadium, Minnesota, MN (Weather: Sunny, mid-70s)

Reasons: The Falcons are flying high, but they do their best work at home. The Vikings have been a surprisingly tough team, in some cases, but have been through football hell the past few weeks after losing their two most important players, Adrian Peterson to child abuse allegations, and quarterback Matt Cassell to injury. Only the Buccaneers have a more pathetic passing game than the Vikings, and they’ll be looking to rookie Teddy Bridgewater to improve things. The Vikings 28th-ranked scoring defense could have a tough time keeping the Falcons tethered – sorry ­– but the Falcons aren’t exactly the same team on the road (1-7 last year, the lone win coming in OT), especially up north in the cold or bad weather. That won’t be the case Sunday in warm, sunny Minneapolis. The Falcons have the top-ranked passing offense, but the Vikings and newcomer Captain Munnerlyn have the Vikings defending the pass pretty well (ranked 12th). It could be close, but the Falcons win on the road again in 2014.

Who saw this coming? Many people could have predicted a Falcons road loss, but few expected the Vikings to rattle off 14 unanswered 4th quarter points to steal the win. The Falcons led 28-27 going into he 4th quarter, but the legs of running back Matt Asiata (3 TDs) and kicker Blair Walsh carried the Vikings to victory. It was a bittersweet debut for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (317 passing yards), as his great game and the big win were overshadowed by a late injury that could cost the rookie time.

Philadelphia Eagles 3-0 (+5) @ San Francisco 49ers 1-2 (50.5): Eagles 28-24 49ers 26-21
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA (Weather: Sunny, high 70s)

Reasons: The 49ers defense isn’t quite what we expected it would be when the schedule was released this season and we all circled this game. Nonetheless, the 49ers defense is still good (6th-ranked rush defense; 14th-ranked pass defense; 14th-ranked scoring defense), and this looks to be a great game. Hopefully the 49ers can hang with the Eagles 2nd-ranked scoring offense, led by quarterback Nick Foles and the 2nd-ranked passing offense, but it might be up to quarterback Colin Kaepernick again. Although the 49ers have taken heat for relying on Kaepernick too much, and Kaepernick hasn’t really been able to handle it, the Eagles have one of the worst (30th) passing defenses in the NFL, so we could be in for a shoot-out in the land of denim. Eagles win on the road and send the 49ers spinning.

The 49ers held the Eagles to 213 offensive yards on a measly 3.8 yards per play, and were held to only 10 first downs, including only one rushing first down, yet were up 21-13 at the half on a Brad Smith blocked punt for a TD, a Malcolm Jenkins pick-6, and an 82-yard punt return TD by Darren Sproles. The 49ers took control of the second half, on the legs on 218 rushing yards on a whopping 42 carries, and scored 13 unanswered points to take the must-win game at home. The Eagles running game was not so fortunate; LeSean McCoy was held to 17 yards on 10 carries, something that’s bound to spark debate until the Eagles play again.

New Orleans Saints 1-2 (-3) @ Dallas Cowboys 2-1 (53.5): Saints 31-28 Cowboys 38-17
Sunday, 8:30 PM, AT&T Stadium, Dallas, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: One of the best games of the week, this is also one of the best match ups of the week. The two teams average the same points per game (26) and give up nearly the same points per game (NO – 23; DAL – 24). Even the ESPN Power rankings place the two teams within three spots of each other (NO – 15th; DAL – 18th), for whatever that’s worth. Both teams have big-time quarterbacks, although one is certainly more accident-prone, and both teams have dynamic offenses. One area these two teams don’t excel at is on the defensive side, although the Cowboys are improving and the Saints were the 4th overall defense in 2013. This game has barnburner potential, hence the 53.5 O/U, and I expect just that. The Saints may struggle on the road, but not usually in identical environments. The Saints should have plenty of fans in the Cowboys “dome”, so it could feel homier than a usual road game. Shoot, they might even win a road game.

These teams may have been evenly matched heading into the game, but it sure didn’t look that way. The once top-four Saints defense is back to being a bottom-of-the-barrel defense in 2014, and it showed Sunday. The Cowboys and Saints combined for big yards, nearly 880, but only the Cowboys came away with big points, thanks in part to two fumbles, one by Jimmy Graham, and a Drew Brees INT. Apparently it doesn’t matter if it’s a dome, it has to be in New Orleans for the Saints to win.

New England Patriots 2-1 (-3.5) @ Kansas City Chiefs 1-2 (45): Patriots 24-20 Chiefs 41-14
Monday, 8:30 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO (Weather: Clear, high 60s)

Reasons: The Patriots are giving 3.5 points on the road to one of the toughest crowds in one of the loudest stadiums in Pro Football history (I see you, AFL). I’m not so sure I buy it. The Patriots offense is abysmal (Ranked 27th in passing; 22nd in rushing), and the Chiefs, who rush the quarterback as well as anyone with Justin Houston (3 sacks) and Tamba Hali (2.5 sacks), have the 10th-ranked passing defense and the 12th-ranked scoring defense. Those numbers don’t bode well for the Patriots struggling passing game, which might have to relay on their running game to poke holes in the Chiefs 23rd-ranked rush defense. Otherwise the Patriots top-ranked pass defense will try and stifle the Chiefs passing game and force them to rely on their depleted running game, which is hoping for Jamal Charles’ return. The Patriots also boast the league’s 4th-ranked scoring defense and have the league’s highest turnover ratio (+6); the Chiefs have the worst turnover ratio in the NFL (-5). The Patriots should roll the Chiefs, but KC does most of the things required to beat the Patriots well, and the game is at Arrowhead.

The Chiefs came alive at home, with some help from their decibel record-seeking crowd, and absolutely torched the Patriots. The game was so bad for New England and Tom Brady that the media began talk of their demise. I don’t blame them – it looked that bad. Alex Smith threw three TDs and the Chiefs rushed for 207 yards after the return of Jamal Charles on their way to making a statement, which may have been that they beat a mediocre team at home. So before we go crowning the Chiefs for an epic performance, let’s remember the state the Patriots are in right now, and the amount of talent the Chiefs have. In other words, the Chiefs should be capable of these games once in a while.

Check back Thursday and again Sunday for Week 5 #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) at!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tuesday's Gone: Week 3 #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)

Week 3: #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Week 3 results: 9-7 wins (29-19 .604); 6-10 v. spread (19-29 .396)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0-2 (+6.5) @ Atlanta Falcons 1-1 (47): Falcons 24-20 Falcons 56-14
Thursday, 8:25 PM, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost two close games to begin the season, 20-14 on the road v. the Carolina Panthers, arguably the best defense in the NFL, and 19-17 v. the Rams at home in bad weather by a FG with 38 seconds remaining. The Buccaneers come in limping, with DE Michael Johnson, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, and running back Doug Martin all questionable. The Atlanta Falcons put on an offensive clinic Week 1 v. the New Orleans Saints, gaining 568 total yards, 448 of them Matt Ryan passing yards, on their way to a 37-34 overtime win. The Falcons then ran into the most underrated buzz saw in the NFL in the Cincinnati Bengals losing 24-10 while only gaining 309 total yards, a mere 212 of them coming in the air; Ryan’s three INTs didn’t help. The Bengals defense is one of the best in the NFL, but the Buccaneers are no joke, especially if Johnson and McCoy can go. The Falcons should be able to pass the ball relatively easily if those two are out, but Roddy White and Julio Jones are questionable for the Falcons, too; the Buccaneers should be able to run the ball whether Martin plays or not. The Falcons aren’t very good at anything but passing the ball, so the health of the Buccaneers defensive line could be the biggest key. The Falcons thrive at home, and the Buccaneers are banged up on short week. Falcons win, Buccaneers cover.

Many people thought the Falcons would win, hence the Buccaneers getting 6.5 points, but this game was over halfway through the second quarter. OK, the game was over in the first quarter. Matt Ryan threw two TDs and Kemal Ishmael returned an interception 25 seconds after the second TD pass to make a 21-0 game with 2 ½ minutes left in the first quarter. The second quarter belonged to Devin Hester, who caught a TD pass and returned a punt to make it a 35-0 game by the half. Hester’s TD was his 20th special teams TD, breaking Deion Sanders' record. Hester was also flagged for replicating Sanders' dance into the end zone, in a clear tribute to his idol, showing once again how tone deaf the NFL can be. It was one of those games for the Buccaneers, let’s just leave it at that.

Oakland Raiders 0-2 (+6.5) @ New England Patriots 1-1 (46.5): New England 31-14 Patriots 16-9
Sunday, 1 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: 40% rain; mid-70s)

Reasons: The winless Oakland Raiders are statistically one of the worst teams in the NFL and they’ll be flying from the west coast to play a 1 PM game in Foxborough. It’s not looking good. The Patriots rebounded from a horrendous second half against the Dolphins, which cost them the game, and pummeled a Vikings team that was without their All-Pro running back because of child abuse allegations last Sunday to right the proverbial ship. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots losing at home to a jetlagged team that simply just isn’t good. Stranger things have happened, and I’d usually steer from a double-point spread, but these Raiders could be historically bad.

The Patriots’ offense has not looked good so far this season, and it showed against the lowly Raiders. Although Oakland’s pass defense might be their one strong suit, on display to some level Sunday, the Raiders are awful and the Patriots barely beat them. In fact, the Raiders had a chance to win - so much for that 14-point spread. This game was bad – totaling 538 yards for both teams. Enough said.

Pittsburgh Steelers 1-1 (+3.5) @ Carolina Panthers 2-0 (41.5): Panthers 24-17 Steelers 37-19
Sunday, 8:30 PM, BoA Stadium, Charlotte, NC (Weather: Cloudy; mid-70s)

Reasons: The Steelers, for the first time since I can recall, are not a very good football team. The Carolina Panthers are. The Steelers are good actually pretty good in the air, on both sides of the ball, and is the reason the team is 1-1, but this Panthers defense is not joke. Even without DE Greg Hardy, placed on the NFL Exempt List this week, the Panthers possess one of the best front sevens in football, and they will get after Ben Roethlisberger. As Cam Newton gets more reps this offense will only improve, and we could see that happen during this game. The Panthers running backs should have a big day, as could Newton if he lets loose. The Panthers should roll at home.

This game was 23-13 with 13:28 left in the fourth quarter. All the vaunted Carolina defense had to do was force a stop on their home turf and give the Panthers offense a chance to make it a three-point game. Then things went horribly wrong and the Steelers ran away with the game – literally. Pittsburgh rushed for 264 yards and embarrassed the Panthers on several occasions. The locker rooms must have looked like triage – several players were injured, including Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who was replaced by Derek Anderson in the fourth quarter when it was 37-13 after making several vicious hits. It was the Steelers defense that shined Sunday night, and without a dominant defense, the Panthers look lost.

San Diego Chargers 1-1 (+2.5) @ Buffalo Bills 2-0 (45.5): Bills 24-20 Chargers 22-10
Sunday, 1 PM, Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo, NY (Weather: 90% rain; mid-60s)

Reasons: The Buffalo Bills are statistically one of the seven best teams in the NFL after two weeks. The San Diego Chargers, coming in hot off their 30-21 beating of the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks, have a chance to bring the Bills back down to Earth. Unfortunately for the Chargers, they’ll be the second team this week making a transcontinental flight for a 1 PM game. Even more unfortunate for the sun-kissed Chargers is the fact they fly into a rainstorm, which should stifle their 8th-ranked passing game. The Bills run the ball well and they stop teams from running the ball, so the Chargers could be in for a long game if they can’t get anything going in the air in the rain. The Bills continue to impress, with a little help from Mother Nature.

I guess the Chargers are for real. A transcontinental flight for a 1 PM game against one of the better defenses in the NFL had many thinking the Chargers were doomed, but the Bills team everyone expected didn’t show, at least offensively, and the Chargers squeaked out the 22-10 win in one of the more boring games of the weekend. The Bills were flagged 11 times for 110 yards and gave up a fourth quarter safety to end an ugly game in which they only averaged 4.5 ypp. The 16-0 dream is over in Buffalo.

Dallas Cowboys 1-1 (-1) @ St. Louis Rams 1-1 (44.5): Cowboys 27-21 Cowboys 34-31
Sunday, 1 PM, Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, MO (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: I don’t quite understand the Cowboys getting only one point v. the Rams Sunday, even if the game is in St. Louis. The one thing the Rams excel at so far in 2014 is pass defense, but the Cowboys have the 2nd-ranked rushing attack in the NFL. That could be trouble for the Rams, who are the third-worst rush defense in the league. The Cowboys defense is surprisingly middle-of-the-road after two games, so even if the Rams can get something going in the air with 3rd-string Austin Davis, which is possible with Anthony Spencer out, it might not be enough to stay with the scoring from DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant. The Cowboys should roll, which means they’ll probably lose.

The Cowboys were down 21-0 before rattling off 20 unanswered points to make it a 21-20 game heading into the fourth quarter. The Rams turned the ball over three times and were penalized eight times for 119 yards to help the Cowboys get back in the game and eventually win, so the game was almost as much about the Rams losing the game as the Cowboys winning it. Austin Davis out shined Tony Romo, who had a respectable game himself, but once again the game may have belonged to DeMarco Murray, who again ran for 100 yards and a TD on 24 carries.

Washington Natives 1-1 (+6.5) @ Philadelphia Eagles 2-0 (50.5): Eagles 27-23 Eagles 37-34
Sunday, 1 PM, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA (Weather: Sunny, mid-70s)

Reasons: Their might be drama surrounding the Natives once again with another RGIII injury taking center stage, but the drama should be about the team – they’re pretty good. In terms of yardage and scoring rankings, the Natives worst rankings are 10th (passing yards) and 12th (scoring offense); otherwise the Natives are top-four team. The Sharps must not believe in Kirk Cousins too much, because the Natives are giving the Eagles almost a TD. The Eagles excel where the Natives do not (2nd-ranked passing game; 2nd-ranked scoring offense), and the Natives lone with come v. the Jaguars. But one of the Eagles wins came v. the Jaguars, too, and the Eagles had to come back down from 17-0 in the second half to do so. Washington’s defense could be exposed v. these high-flying Eagles, which may be the reason for the large spread. This won’t be the blowout Vegas predicts, but Eagles should bring those surprising Washington rankings back to a place that will reflect their 1-2 record.

The Natives gained 511 total yards, 427 on the arm of Kirk Cousins, gained nearly 6 yards per play, held the ball for over 35 minutes, and still lost. Roy Helu made it a 37-34 game with 4:16 to go, but couldn’t pull off the comeback win on the road against the high-flying Eagles, which were actually leading at the half for the first time all season. The Eagles improved to 3-0 on the season, but were held to only 54 rushing yards. Shady McCoy gained only 22 yards on 19 carries, fumbling the ball once. The Eagles might be 3-0, but they could be the shakiest of the three undefeated teams in the NFL.

Houston Texans 2-0 (-2) @ New York Giants 0-2 (41.5): Texans 24-17 Giants 30-17
Sunday, 1 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: 30% rain; high 70s)

Reasons: I can say the names of two players and you will know the outcome of this game immediately: JJ Watt and Eli Manning. The Texans are not as good as everyone thinks they are, and their passing game (ranked 30th -172.5 ypg) is atrocious, but their running game isn’t (ranked 8th – 151.1 ypg). The funny thing is, the only thing the Giants are good at is stopping the run, although they’ll be without LB Jon Beason. That fact may explain the Texans only giving two points, because the Giants are awful. The Giants have lost to two pretty good teams, and the Texans haven’t really beaten anyone, so maybe the Giants get back on track. But then there’s JJ Watt and Eli Manning…and that -6 turnover ratio.

The Giants won the trap game many Sharps saw the Texans losing. No one had them blowing the Texans away. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three INTs to and was sacked twice by one of the worst defensive units in the NFL, but the game belonged to Rashard Jennings, who carried the ball a whopping 34 times for 176 yards (5.2 ypg) and a TD, with an 18-yard run being his longest of the day.

Minnesota Vikings 1-1 (+10.5) @ New Orleans Saints 0-2 (49.5): Saints 30-21 Saints 20-9
Sunday, 1 PM, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Statistically these two teams are poised for a battle. The Vikings offense sputters, especially without RB Adrian Peterson, placed on the NFL Exempt List pending his child abuse case, but so does the Saints defense, projected to only improved on their 4th-overall ranking in 2013. On the other hand, the Saints offense is one of the best in the NFL, and the Vikings have one of the better defenses in the league. The Saints will be home, however, and the Vikings are reeling after being humiliated at home in the wake of their best player leaving the team. All of this explains the otherwise excessive spread.

No one gave the Vikings much a chance on the road v. the Saints, but the game was far closer than anyone thought. The issue is that the Saints simply aren’t one of the best teams in the NFL as much as everyone wants to crown them (much like the 2014 NE Patriots). Just as I pointed out before the game, statistically these two teams battles it out, and despite the Saints besting the Vikings in every statistical category, it was a 13-9 game with 12 minutes to go in the 4th quarter. Simple reason: the Saints aren’t as good as fans think; the Vikings aren’t as bad.

Tennessee Titans 1-1 (+7) @ Cincinnati Bengals 2-0 (43): Bengals 24-17 Bengals 33-7
Sunday, 1 PM, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH (Weather: 50% storms; mid-70s)

Reasons: The Titans are the best team in the NFL against the pass, where the Bengals excel (3rd), and the Titans are the 8th-ranked scoring defense. The Bengals are the 3rd-ranked scoring defense, and also boast the 12th-ranked scoring offense as well. The Bengals are slowly gaining the respect they rightfully deserve, and will be a tough game for the visiting Titans. After an impressive Week 1 win, the Cowboys came into Nashville and turned off the music - in other words, the Week 1 hype may have been just that. The Bengals are a legit championship team if AJ Green can stay healthy, and should have no problem Sunday.

Not that the Titans are any sort of measuring stick, but people are finally starting to realize the Bengals are a great football team. The Bengals rattled off 33 unanswered points before the Titans finally scored with 6 minutes remaining. Despite not blowing up the stat sheet in any particular area, the Bengals scored with their defense, running game, and some trickery. So despite being out gained by the Titans the Bengals destroyed them. 11 penalties and two Jake Locker INTs certainly helped the Bengals cause, but good teams find a way to win no matter what. Great teams make statistically close games look like blowouts.

Baltimore Ravens 1-1 (-1.5) @ Cleveland Browns 1-1 (41.5):  Browns 24-21 Ravens 23-21
Sunday, 1 PM, First Energy Stadium, Cleveland, OH (Weather: 80% storms; low-70s)

Reasons: The Browns can score points (6th), and they can run the ball (6th), but the Ravens don’t allow points (5th) and they stop the run (8th). It should be a great divisional battle between the old Browns and the new Browns, especially with both teams coming off big wins, one emotional (Ravens) and one surprising (Browns). People still have faith in the Ravens, but I’m not one of those people. I do have faith in the Browns, however, although they need to be more consistent through four quarters to beat teams like the Saints on a consistent basis. Perhaps it starts Sunday.

This divisional battle was back and fourth until the Ravens kicked two unanswered FGs in the 4th quarter to take back the lead and then seal the win. The Browns had a TD nullified on a penalty, then had the FG that would’ve put them up 24-17 with ~8 minutes to go blocked. The Ravens took full advantage of the Browns late mental errors and kicked the late FGs for the win.

Green Bay Packers 1-1 (+2.5) @ Detroit Lions 1-1 (53): Lions 27-24 Lions 19-7
Sunday, 1 PM, Ford Field, Detroit, MI (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Another great divisional battle, the Lions are coming off tough loss to the Panthers after crushing the hapless Giants Week 1. The Packers were bullied by the Seahawks on Opening Night, but scraped and clawed out a win v. the Jets, although if not for Marty Mornhinweg the Packers could be 0-2. The Lions are a far better team statistically, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and they have the 4th-ranked passing game in the NFL, but the Packers have Aaron Rodgers. Then again, the Lions have Calvin Johnson. If you’re not a fan of either team you’ll bask in the glory of two of the best players in the NFL. If you’re a fan of either team, you’ll be biting your nails. The Lions have too much talent to drop this game at home, especially if they’re trying to take the next step.

The Lions beat the Packers in every single statistical category Sunday, even committing more penalties and turning the ball over more. The Lions turned the ball over three times, but it was a Packers fumble by RB Eddie Lacy that was the most important – it was run back for a TD by safety Don Carey. The Packers can't run, they can't play defense, and they can't protect Aaron Rodgers. Just relax, Packers fans.

Indianapolis Colts 0-2 (-7) @ Jacksonville Jaguars 0-2 (45.5): Colts 28-20 Colts 44-17
Sunday, 1 PM, Even Bank Field, Jacksonville, FL (Weather: Sunny, mid-80s)

Reasons: The New York Giants, the Oakland Raiders, and the Jacksonville Jaguars all go into a bad. I’ll spare you the joke, but the punch line has something to do with being the laughing stock of the NFL. This week it’s the Jaguars, who rank in the bottom four of five of the six major yardage and scoring categories in the league. The sixth category they rank 26th, which is passing defense, just what the Colts excel at (7th). In other words, the Jaguars could be near the bottom in everything by Sunday evening. The Colts are not a 0-2 team, at least they shouldn’t be, and if they have any chance at becoming one of the few teams to make the playoffs after starting 0-2, they have to beat the Jaguars on the road.

The good news for the Jaguars is that they were OK offensively Sunday, and after Chad Henne was sacked three times – now 13 times in 5 quarters – the team put in 2014 first round draft pick Blake Bortles. The bad news is the Colts defense is awful and Bortles threw two INTs. I continue to claim the Jaguars are trying to bomb so they’re move to London will be far more acceptable to the good people of Jacksonville, because the move is inevitable. Andrew Luck was on another level Sunday throwing for 370 yards and four TDs on 31-39 passing.

San Francisco 49ers 1-1 (-3) @ Arizona Cardinals 2-0 (42): 49ers 24-20 Cardinals 23-14
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Univ. of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ (Weather: Sunny, high 90s)

Reasons: Yet another great divisional game, this NFC West match-up could be the best of any of them Sunday. The 49ers blew a late lead against the Bears last week, partially due to QB Colin Kaepernick’s breakdown in the 4th quarter; otherwise this game would be for sole possession of first place. It’ll be tough sledding in this game, as both teams rank 7th (SF) and 3rd (ARZ) against the run. Both teams should be able to move the ball in the air, although Carson Palmer is questionable. The Cardinals are undefeated, but they came back late and just barely beat the Chargers, and then they beat the lowly Giants. The 49ers should be 2-0, too, if not for a late meltdown against a good Bears team. That probably explains the line.

The 49ers are in trouble. Whether it’s the injuries, the Ray McDonald distraction, the head coach being brought up for every major NCAA football job available, or Colin Kaepernick mentally destructing before our eyes, the 49ers are a shell of their 2013 selves. The 49ers led 14-6 at the half, but were outscored 17-0 in the second half to fall to 1-2 on the season, with the Cardinals improving to 3-0. No one shined in this largely defensive battle, but the Cardinals showed they’re a team on the rise, despite the absence of Carson Palmer, while the 49ers have some serious soul searching to do if they want to hang in this division.

Denver Broncos 2-0 (+5) @ Seattle Seahawks 1-1 (48.5): Seahawks 28-27 Seahawks 26-20 OT
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Century Link Field, Seattle, WA (Weather: Sunny, low 80s)

Reasons: Again? I can’t even think about reviewing this game to the length I did in my Super Bowl XLVIII preview, but I could. Both of these teams may have improved on last year if you can believe it. The Super Bowl loser bolstered the defense by signing DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, and TJ Ward. They also signed WR Emmanuel Sanders having gotten early word Wes Welker would be suspended for PED use at some point. No matter, Welker is back after a renewed CBA drug policy, and just in time. The Super Bowl Champion Seahawks are angry, coming off their first loss since losing to the Cardinals at home Week 16, and this time the Seahawks have a healthy Percy Harvin, Oh wait, they did last year v. the Broncos, too. The Seahawks are elite, but the film on them is out, and if you have a big offensive line, a great quarterback, and can contain The Beast, you have a chance. The Broncos have all of these things, and Marshawn Lynch’s health isn’t exactly 100%. The 12th Man will make Peyton Manning’s life miserable tomorrow, but I cannot imagine Manning getting beat by the same team twice on such a big stage in less than eight months. Then again, I lived through all of those epic Colts v. Patriots match-ups over the years, so I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

Aside from the ridiculous offensive outpouring, this game looked a lot like Super Bowl XLVIII in the sense that it was totally dominated by the Seahawks defense until there was about 13 minutes left in the 4th quarter. The Seahawks were leading 17-3 when Marshawn Lynch was somehow tackled in the end zone for a safety at 13:09 in the 4th quarter. Less than four minutes later Peyton Manning threw a 3-yard pass to TE Julius Thomas to make it a 17-12 game with 9:20 left. After exchanging a few series the Seahawks kicked a 28-yard FG with 59 seconds left to take a 20-12 lead and seal the win…not so fast. In typical Manning fashion, Peyton drove the Broncos 80 yards down the field in less than 40 seconds to make it a 20-18 game before connecting with Demaryius Thomas on the 2-point conversion to tie the game 20-20 with 18 seconds left. The Seahawks downed the ball, collected their thoughts, deferred the ball, stopped the Broncos, and handled their overtime business like the champion bosses they are. Still, the game proved the Broncos are tougher than they were in 2013…or that the Super Bowl might have been different if the Broncos were healthy. Enough defending Peyton Manning…

Kansas City Chiefs 0-2 (+4) @ Miami Dolphins 1-1 (42): Dolphins 21-20 Chiefs 34-15
Sunday, 4:25 PM, SunLife Stadium, Miami, FL (Weather: 50% storms; mid-80s)

Reasons: The winless Chiefs come into Miami having seriously underachieved thus far, although they played the Broncos tough last week, and almost tied the game late if it weren’t for the giant mitts of one Terrance Knighton. With Pro-Bowl RB Jamal Charles still questionable, this offense will continue to have a hard time getting to it’s 2013 level of 26+ ppg, and the defense is nowhere near where it was in 2013. The arrow is on its way back down and it doesn’t get any easier v. the Dolphins. The Dolphins aren’t a juggernaut by any stretch, but that front four should give Alex Smith fits. Expect some stormy weather and some low-scoring action in Miami tomorrow.

A relatively close game heading into the 4th quarter (21-15), the Chiefs scored 13 unanswered fourth quarter points to make a once close game a blowout. The Dolphins have looked foolish since their second half decimation of the New England Patriots, culminating in a bad loss to a KC team many had questioned themselves.

Chicago Bears 1-1 (+3) @ New York Jets 1-1 (45.5): Bears 24-21 Bears 27-19
Monday, 8:30 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Clear; mid-50s)

Reasons: I’m not sure if the Sharps see something I don’t, or if they think the Jets front seven unit is deadly enough to keep Jay Cutler on the run, something the Bears are apparently horrible at (30th). The Bears aren’t terrible in the air (9th), but Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jefferies are both questionable. The Jets are also banged up, with Chris Johnson and Eric Decker both questionable. The Bears won’t try to run on the Jets stout run defense (1st), but the Jets will certainly run on the Bears, especially if their top-ranked rushing attack includes Chris Johnson. These teams are pretty evenly matched, except for polar opposite offensive approaches, and apparently Vegas sees it the same way considering they’re giving the Jets three points at home. The Jets defense is good, but if the Bears get off to an early big lead, it could be over quick.

32 seconds into this game the J-E-T-S were down 7-0 on a Ryan Mundy pick-6. The Bears never looked back. Despite only gaining 257 total yards to the Jets 414, it seemed the Jets were never in this game. Perhaps it was the three TOs. Geno Smith threw two INTs and Jalen Saunders lost a fumble to make the game a lot easier for the Bears, who had to deal with the Jets tough defensive line all night (4 sacks). The Jets are certainly playing better than their record would indicate, but with the mistakes at quarterback and with the coaching staff, this great Jets defense will go to waste again in 2014.

Check back Thursday & Sunday for Week 4 #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) at!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Carolina Panthers: Greg Hardy placed on NFL Exempt List

Personal Twitter: @phaulkner

Tuesday's Gone: Week 2 #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)

Week 2 #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Week 2 results: 9-7 wins (20-12 .625); 7-9 v. spread (13-19 .406)

Week 2 Notes: What a breath of fresh air – literally – as 15 of this week’s 16 NFL games are outdoors. The truly amazing thing is that only three games are forecasted for even a chance of bad weather. In fact, every game but those three is forecasted for sunny weather in the 60s-70s - the main reason why I took the over on 11 of the 16 games. The only two remaining night games – at San Francisco and at Indianapolis – are on the west coast and indoors, respectively. It will be sunny at kickoff for Sunday “Night” Football and will remain so for most of the game (8:30 EST; 5:30 PST). With a few exceptions – e.g. games featuring elite defenses (Seattle; Carolina) or bad weather (Carolina; Tampa Bay) – this should be a high-scoring week in Pro Football.

Week 2 Notes: Week 2 is NFL reaction week, and it showed, both in Vegas and here at So much for taking the over in 11 of the 16 games  – 11 of the 16 games ended UNDER.

Pittsburgh Steelers 1-0 (+2.5) @ Baltimore Ravens 0-1 (44.5): Steelers 27-24 Ravens 26-6
Thursday, 8:25 PM, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD (Weather: 30% rain, mid-60s)

Reasons: This is a tale of two relatively evenly matched teams, both part of the grind-it-out AFC North division. The big difference here is that the Ravens have to play on national television at their home stadium the week of the biggest media firestorm I can remember, brought on by their former running back Ray Rice and his odious domestic violence case. The ancient Greeks couldn’t have imagined such timely drama. The Ravens awarded over 500 press passes - over a 300% increase to normal games - and chose Rihanna to sign the National Anthem, a celebrity domestic violence victim herself. Wow. How about some football? With only one game under our belt we don’t have much to go on, but Week 1 provided some insight. The Steelers were up 27-3 at the half v. the Browns, but it took a Shaun Suisham FG with 5 seconds left to seal – or steal – the win. The Ravens, on the other hand, were down 15-0 on five unanswered Mike Nugent FGs before the Ravens scored 16 unanswered points of their own; 48 seconds after the Raven’s second TD Bengals QB Andy Dalton connected with WR AJ Green for a spectacular TD to seal – or steal – the win. With only one game’s worth of statistics to go on, it might be safe to assume the Steelers passing game can take advantage of the Ravens sub-par secondary, as everything else between these two teams is relatively even. The emotions of the night will either carry the Ravens, or it’ll crush them.

This game can be summed up pretty easily: Courtney Upshaw blasted through the line and hit Ben Roethlisberger directly in the chest, lifting him off the ground, and burying him into it. Of course the officials, led by Ed Hercules, threw the UR flag, negating the textbook hit. However, the damage was done and I don’t feel Roethlisberger ever really recovered. Neither did Antonio Brown, the Steelers best player, who was also banged up early and never really recovered. A 10-6 game with less than 4 minutes remaining, the Ravens kicked four straight unanswered FGs to take control late. The Ravens, despite only gaining 323 yards on 65 plays in 34+ minutes, came away with a big emotional win v. the rivaled divisional opponent.

New England 0-1 (-3) @ Minnesota Vikings 1-0 (49): Patriots 28-27 Patriots 30-7
Sunday, 1 PM, TFC Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN (Weather: Sunny; mid-60s)

Reasons: Blame it on the heat, but the Patriots were smoked in the second half of last week’s game v. the Dolphins after dominating the first half. Miami has a good defense, especially up front, so it’s not totally surprising as a great front four is Tom Brady’s kryptonite. The Minnesota Vikings don’t have Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, but the do have Everson Griffen, who will try to duplicate Miami’s defensive game plan. The Vikings defense is much improved from 2013, which will be a problem for the Patriots offense, still clearly a work in progress. Two keys get the Patriots the nod in Week 2: Matt Cassell played for Bill Belichick and Adrian Peterson is deactivated pending his legal issues. Otherwise I’d take the Vikings at home.

Matt Cassel threw a 25-yard TD to RB Matt Asiata to take a 7-0 lead just over 4 minutes into the game. That was the last time we heard fro the Vikings Sunday, but it’s not like the Patriots dominated. Stephen Gostkowski kicked 3 FGs and DE Chandler Jones returned a blocked punt 58 yards for a TD in a 30-7 win that looked like another big performance from Tom Brady. Not so much. Brady underwhelmed, throwing for only 149 yards on 22 attempts, but managed the game perfectly - a la 2002. The Patriots ran the ball 37 times and essentially took the Vikings out of the game, who only managed 217 yards on 61 plays (3.6 ypp average) in 28+ minutes.

Detroit Lions 1-0 (+3) @ Carolina Panthers 1-0 (43.5): Panthers 24-23 Panthers 24-7
Sunday, 1 PM, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC (Weather: 20% rain; low 70s)

Reasons: The game has let down written all over it for Carolina. It was an emotional week for the Panthers, who are under great public pressure to deactivate Greg Hardy in the wake of his and the NFL’s domestic violence issues. The Panthers play their first home game Sunday; it will also be quarterback Cam Newton’s first game of the season after missing last week’s game due to a fractured ribs. The Lions are coming off an easy win over the lowly Giants, led by Calvin Johnson’s clinic performance and the Lions pass rushers. Unfortunately for the Lions, the weather could keep this game on the ground, where the Panthers excel. It’s probably good for quarterback Matt Stafford, as this could be the most dangerous front seven in the NFL. The weather and the nasty Panthers defense overcomes Cam Newton’s jitters and the Lions aerial attack.

If you had asked me to make direct predictions of play, and not just a general preview and a predicted score, I would have said this: The front lines will get to the quarterbacks and apply pressure, which will result in several sacks. The running games for both teams will suffer because of the front seven units both teams possess, but the relatively weak secondary units will allow for both quarterbacks to make plays, assuming some level of pass protection. Not to pat my self on the back with 20-20 hindsight, but that’s exactly what happened. Both QBs were sacked four times, both running games were stifled, and both quarterbacks threw for 280+ passing yards, although few of them resulted in big plays. The teams gained nearly identical yardage on nearly identical TOP, yet the score was 24-7. The big difference here was turnovers: the Panthers forced three (two fumbles; one INT), but never coughed it up. Turnovers – the single most correlated statistic to wins and losses in the NFL.

Miami Dolphins 1-0 (PK) @ Buffalo Bills 1-0 (43): Dolphins 21-20 Bills 29-10
Sunday, 1 PM, Ralph Wilson Stadium, Miami, FL (Weather: Sunny; mid-60s)

Reasons: The Dolphins showed the world 2013’s 8-8 campaign was no aberration, and came out strong v. the Patriots last week for a commanding Week 1 win. The Bills weren’t out to show the world anything, but did shock it with a win over the high-flying Bears. Both of these teams excel in two areas: rushing the quarterback and rushing the football. The Bills and Dolphin finished 3rd and 4th rushing the ball after last week, respectively, and also finished 10th and 11th stopping the run. Neither quarterback will light it up, although Ryan Tannehill is capable of it, and both teams have big-time receiving threats (Mike Wallace; Sammy Watkins), but the these two front four units are too good. If this was in Miami they’d be favored by three…but it’s not.

Perhaps the Bills are better than everyone thought. The Dolphins, hot off their Week 1 comeback win over the New England Patriots, were destroyed by the Bills. The Dolphins ran 74 plays in over 31 minutes and only managed 290 yards of total offense. Despite almost matching the Bills in yardage (315 yards), running more plays, gaining more first downs, committing fewer penalties, and holding the ball longer the Dolphins lost by nearly 20 points. The key again was defense and turnovers, as the Bills sacked Tannehill three times while forcing two turnovers. CJ Spiller also returned a kickoff for a TD and Sammy Watkins had his coming out party (8 receptions 117 yards 1 TD on 11 targets)

Jacksonville Jaguars 0-1 (+6) @ Washington Natives (43.5): Natives 27-20 Natives 41-10
Sunday, 1 PM, FedEx Field, Landover, MD (Weather: Sunny; mid-70s)

Reasons: Both of these teams looked horrible last week, but both had excuses via playing two of the better teams in the NFL Week 1. The Jaguars looked pretty good through the first half, but fell apart as quickly as they got going, surrendering 34 unanswered second-half points v. the Eagles to squander the win away. The Natives played the JJ Watts and paid for it. RGIII look awful, averaging less than 1 yard per attempt in the first half. RGIII won’t face JJ Watt this week and JAX is banged up, not that it really matters.

No offense to the Jaguars, but when you lose this badly to the Washington Natives, you might have hit rock bottom. The Natives sacked Chad Henne 10 times and rushed for 191 yards on 42 rushing attempts on their way to the lopsided win, but it was bittersweet…maybe. RGIII was lost early and indefinitely to a dislocated ankle, which is horrible news, except for fans who think Kirk Cousins (250 yards & 2 TDs) should be starting anyway.

Dallas Cowboys 0-1 (+3.5) @ Tennessee Titans 1-0 (49.5): Titans 27-24 Cowboys 26-10
Sunday, 1 PM, LP Field, Nashville, TN (Weather: Sunny; mid-70s)
Reasons: There’s a big reason Dallas is getting 3.5 points heading into Nashville: the Dallas defense, although better than we thought v. the 49ers, is not that good and the Titans defense actually is pretty good. The Titans also run the ball well, which will keep the Cowboys star-studded offense off the field. Either way, the Titans could easily rattle Tony Romo and Dez Bryant and make this one easy. I say the Cowboys put up some fight, but continue to disappoint.
The Cowboys continued their week-to-week flip-flopping. Then again, statistically the Cowboys outplayed the 49ers last week and lost, so perhaps the Cowboys aren’t that bad. And perhaps the Titans aren’t that good. What a difference a week makes. The Titans were the talk of the AFC after beating the KC Chiefs 26-10 Week 1, but the Cowboys returned the favor Week 2 by the same score. Tony Romo had another mediocre performance and was sacked four times by the Titans defense, but DeMarco Murray stole the show, rushing for 167 yards and a TD on 29 carries. Murray outshined Titans TE Delanie Walker, who caught 10 passes for 142 yards and a TD on 14 targets. The Cowboys held the ball for over 41 minutes.
Arizona Cardinals 1-0 (-2.5) @ New York Giants 0-1 (42.5): Cardinals 24-20 Cardinals 25-14
Sunday, 1 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Sunny; low 70s)
Reasons: This game has the lowest spread of any non-pick game Week 1 and I can’t figure out why for the life of me. Oh wait, the Cardinals are away, so I suppose they’re favored by 0.5. I jest, but the Giants are awful. Sure it’s only one week, but the Giants ranked 29th, 30th, and 31st of 32 teams in three of the four major yardage statistics, and were blown away by the Detroit Lions in Week 1. Arizona played a tough Chargers team and came away with the last-minute come-from-behind win. The Cardinals defense should give the Giants offense fits on Sunday, and the Cardinals offense will take advantage of the Giants poor defense enough to take the win on the road.
 There’s trouble brewing in New York. The Giants would be the worst team in the NFL if it weren’t for the leagues laughing stock (Oakland). Despite besting the Cardinals in every statistical category except rushing, holding onto the ball for five more minutes, and leading through the 3rd quarter…they lost. Big. So what’s the problem you ask? Are you kidding? The Giants turned the ball over four more times (two fumbles; two INTs) and committed nine penalties. If there weren’t a “Manning” on the back of his jersey he’d be another Chad Henne (no offense, Chad).
New Orleans Saints 0-1 (-6.5) @ Cleveland Browns (47.5): Saints 30-24 Browns 26-24
Sunday, 1 PM, First Energy Stadium, Cleveland, OH (Weather: Sunny; low 70s)
Reasons: This game features the two teams that played nail-biters Week 1 and a Browns team that nearly came back from down 27-3 to steal the win from the Steelers, if it weren’t for a last-second FG by Shaun Suisham. The suddenly high-flying Falcons took the Saints off-guard, especially the Saints defense, which was ranked 4th overall after 2013; the Saints lost to the Falcons in OT after a high-scoring back-and-forth game. The Browns will have a much harder time coming back from any big deficits against the Saints with Ben Tate and Jordan Cameron ruled out. The Saints should roll in this one, but won’t cover. They are on the road up north, after all.
For those looking for more evidence about the Saints road woes I offer exhibit No. Week 2. It wasn’t even cold or wet. The Browns are certainly better than most fans give them credit for, and Brian Hoyer has established himself as the Browns quarterback. Turnovers were again the name of the game as two New Orleans turnovers (1 fumble; 1 INT) were the difference in this close game.
Atlanta Falcons 1-0 (+5) @ Cincinnati Bengals 1-0 (49): Bengals 28-24 Bengals 24-10
Sunday, 1 PM, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH (Weather: Sunny; low 70s)
Reasons: The Falcons sent a message to the NFL v. the Saints last week that this is not the same 4-12 team from 2013. It took OT, but the Falcons defeated division powerhouse New Orleans soundly and looked like they’ll be a tough offense to beat. The Bengals also played a division rival to open the season and escaped a late surge by the Ravens to start 1-0. The Bengals will be without their star linebacker Vontaze Burfict, but these Bengals get after it across the board. Andy Dalton and AJ Green are one of the most dangerous duos in the NFL. I can see the Falcons making a late surge, but the Bengals should win.
The Falcons were riding high after their Week 1 win over the Saints, but came crashing back to Earth after running into the most underrated team in the NFL. After gaining nearly 600 yards total offense in Week 1, the Falcons only managed half of that (309) as they ran into the buzz saw known as the Bengals defense. It was even worse for quarterback Matt Ryan. After burning the Saints for 448 passing yards last week, Ryan managed just over half that (231) v. the Bengals and threw three INTs. The Bengals did their best Falcons impression gaining 472 yards of total offense, but lost WR AJ Green early to a toe injury. Green’s status will seriously affect the Bengals going forward.
St. Louis Rams 0-1 (+6) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0-1 (37): Buccaneers 20-17 Rams 19-17
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL (Weather: 20% rain; high 80s)
Reasons: The lowest O/U of the week doesn’t come as a surprise considering the weather could be a major factor and these offenses don’t light up the scoreboard. The Rams are on their 3rd string quarterback already in Week 2 after Shaun Hill suffered a leg injury, and the Buccaneers will still be seeing Carolina Panther ghosts as the young Rams line continues the elite pass rush. Chris Long may be out 8-10 weeks, but Robert Quinn does the work of two players, and he just signed a monster extension to ease his mind, allowing him to concentrate on keeping the Bucs off the board. Star defensive end Michael Johnson is also out for the Bucs, which makes me wonder how low the O/U would have been if he and Long were playing, but these teams are offensively inept.
This was a bad weather game between two relatively inept offenses with pretty good defenses and it showed. The Rams were on their third QB, but the Southern Miss rookie Austin Davis put the team on his back and carried them to victory on 235 passing yards. The lead changed six times in this evenly matched game, with Greg Zuerlein (4 FGs) outperforming Josh McCown (2 rushing TDs) and Bobby “Makin’ It” Rainey (144 rushing yards) for a great win by a reeling team.
Seattle Seahawks 1-0 (-6) @ San Diego Chargers 0-1 (44): Seahawks 27-20 Chargers 30-21
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA (Weather: Sunny; high 80s)
Reasons: The Chargers are a better team than we saw on MNF this past week, but the problem is the Seattle Seahawks are too, and they won their game by 20 points. I rarely say this about any NFL team, especially at home, but these Chargers have no chance against this Seahawks defense. The Chargers air attack should be stifled against the Seahawks secondary, and San Diego’s rushing attack gained the second fewest yards Week 1, although it was against the stout Cardinals defense. Well if the Cardinals are stout, the Seahawks are obese. I look to the Seahawks to make quick work of the Chargers, save a late score in meaningless time. The ‘Hawks are giving six on the road - that means Vegas sees them winning by 9. I’m not that disrespectful…but maybe Seattle fans think I’m being so towards the Seahawks.
So much for the Seahawks going 16-0 (I never said that). Many have described the AFC West as the toughest division in the NFL and they could be right. The other argument is that the best football resides in the NFC West, which could also be true. Remember a few years ago when both divisions were the worst in the NFL? That’s what no guaranteed contracts and a salary cap does – parity. The Chargers lost Week 1 to a pretty good Cardinals team and the Seahawks destroyed an OK Packers team, so some experts called this game correctly in the sense that they saw SD challenging the Seahawks; I’m not sure anyone saw them beating them. Phillip Rivers lit it up (284 passing yards; 3 TDs) and consistently threw to CB Richard Sherman’s side, beating him many times to Jermaine Kearse. The Seahawks inexplicably gave the ball to RB Marshawn Lynch six times for 36 yards and found out they’re not going to win games with that strategy.
Houston Texans 1-0 (-3) @ Oakland Raiders 0-1 (40): Texans 24-14 Texans 30-14
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Oakland Co. Stadium, Oakland, CA (Weather: Sunny; 70s)
Reasons: After one week in the NFL the Oakland Raiders are statistically the worst team in the league, narrowly beating out the New York Giants. The Raiders were last in three of the four major yardage categories, and managed only 14 points, although most of that is explained away by the New York Jets defense, one of the better units in the NFL. The Texans took care of business at home v. the Natives offense and face an even more underwhelming offense in Week 2. Even without #1 pick Ja’Deveon Clowney, this Texans defense should make mince meat out of the Raiders, who start rookie Derek Carr at quarterback and whose starting running back (MJD) is questionable. The Texans should roll.
The Raiders. Wow. The Raiders outgained the Texans and even had fewer penalties, but were destroyed. If not for a Derek Carr TD pass to James Jones with 14 seconds left in the game Oakland would’ve had seven points; the Raiders were shut out through the first three quarters. The reason? The Texans held the ball for nearly twice as long, exposing the yardage statistics for the garbage time yards they were. The Raiders turned the ball over four times (2 fumbles; 2 INTs), the key to this game, or any NFL game for that matter, and gave themselves no chance. The Texans may not be a juggernaut, but the Raiders are fighting the New York Giants for the distinction of the league’s worst team. Statistically they are.
New York Jets 1-0 (+8.5) @ Green Bay Packers 0-1 (46): Packers 24-20 Packers 31-24
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: Sunny; mid-60s)
Reasons: The Jets are the top team in the NFL after Week 1 in rushing yards, rushing yards allowed, and passing yards allowed. Unfortunately one week is a small sample size and the Jets Week 1 opponent was the Oakland Raiders (see above). Either way, to say the Jets have a great defense and a good running game would be accurate. The Packers had a similar experience Week 1, except theirs was an opposite experience, having played the best team in the NFL in the Seattle Seahawks. This should be another tough defensive battle for the Packers, as the Jets defense is one of the best units in the league. With the home crowd behind them, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers high-flying offense should score enough points to take a win away from the pesky Jets.
For a few series the Jets looked like the Seattle Seahawks. Aaron Rodgers was on the run many times in the first half and it took a Randall Cobb TD with eight seconds left in the 2nd quarter to even make it a game going into the half. For the Jets, that score was a killer. The Jets led 21-6 with less than six minutes to go in the half, but the Packers kicked a FG and then intercepted a terrible deep pass by Geno Smith to regain control of the ball with less than 2 minutes to go; Rodgers marched down the field and threw the strike to Cobb to erase any first-half domination by the Jets. The Packers returned the favor by dominating the second half, highlighted by Jordy Nelson’s 209 receiving yards. The Jets had a chance to tie the game late, and sort of did, but Smith’s late TD was negated because of a called time out by the sideline – disallowed by anyone but the head coach, who didn’t actually call the timeout. Whoops. For once Rex Ryan didn’t make a terrible offensive coaching call…and it still came back to kill them.
Kansas City Chiefs 0-1 (+12) @ Denver Broncos 1-0 (51): Broncos 30-21 Broncos 24-17
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Mile High Stadium, CO (Weather: 10% rain; low 80s)
Reasons: It’s starting to look like the Chiefs aren’t exactly who we thought they were. The Chiefs may not have gained a bunch of yards or stopped others from gaining them in 2013, but last year KC scored points and kept other teams from scoring them. Not so far in 2014. The Titans may be better than the lay fan thinks, but KC was embarrassed 26-10 at home. That’s not a good look with the a Broncos team coming up that looks like it’s straight out of Super Tecmo Bowl. The Broncos are coming off a win v. the Colts that was sealed by halftime, although the score looks like it was a close game. The Chiefs have plenty of talent and great coaching, but the Broncos should have no problem with these 2014 Chiefs.
This was a strange game. The Chiefs, despite missing Jamal Charles, outgained the Broncos, had almost 30 more offensive plays, nine more first downs, rushed for more yards, had fewer penalties, held the ball for 13 more minutes, and didn’t* turn the ball over ONCE…and STILL lost by a TD. In fact, the Chiefs only LED for 3:12 in the 2nd quarter. Amazing. Some would chalk this game up to a division battle between two heated rivalries; I’d say the Broncos defense is pretty good and the Chiefs “points without yards” scheme has fizzled out. Perhaps the game simply came down to one of the last plays – Terrance Knighton’s swat of a potential game-tying TD with 15 seconds left. Then again, perhaps it came down to two key turnovers that were negated due to penalties or official review, including *Aqib Talib’s pick-6. On paper the game looks closer than it was
Chicago Bears 0-1 (+7) @ San Francisco 49ers 1-0 (48.5): 49ers 27-24 Bears 28-20
Sunday, 8:30 PM, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA (Weather: Sunny; mid-80s)
Reasons: The 49ers, like the Carolina Panthers, are facing major criticism for not sitting defensive end Ray McDonald in the wake of his pending domestic violence case, but it’s unlikely that awkwardness will spoil the 49ers homecoming party, which celebrates the opening of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA Sunday. The Bears come in an offensive juggernaut, so long as it’s not v. a vicious front four like they faced v. the Buffalo Bills. Whoops. Despite being without star defensive end Aldon Smith, facing his own suspension, this 49ers front line is one of the best in the league, and the Bears will have a tougher time in Santa Clara than they ever could have imagined in Buffalo. The Chicago run defense will have no answer for this dangerous run game, which just welcomed Carlos Hyde to the mix. The 49ers won’t roll, but they win.
Like most of the rest of the country I went to bed in the 3rd quarter with this game well within the hands of the 49ers (20-7). I awoke to a Bears victory. What a 4th quarter that must have been. 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick led all players in passing yards and rushing yards, but was sacked four times, threw three INTs, and lost a fumble and his head on their way to squandering that 20-7 lead with 13:30 left in the game, spoiling the 49ers Levi’s Stadium debut. Bears QB Jay Cutler had as pedestrian a game as he’s ever had passing the ball (176 passing yards) through three quarters, but threw two 4th quarter TDs to bring the Bears all the way back - and then hit WR Brandon Marshall for the second time in the 4th quarter with seven minutes remaining to take the lead. So the Bears went from losing 20-7 to winning 28-20 in six and a half minutes - that was a bad 6 ½ minutes for the 49ers and their fans. It was a sloppy debut for Levi’s Stadium as the teams combined for 26 penalties  - 16 by the hometown 49ers.  Many players were injured in this game, including five Bears defenders and both 49ers tight ends, but the game came down to the 49ers horrible second half play.
Philadelphia Eagles 1-0 (+3) @ Indianapolis Colts 0-1 (53.5): Eagles 31-30 30-27
Monday, 8:30 PM, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)
Reasons: The only game indoors this week will feature two of the league’s best offenses. Like the sounds of that? The Eagles escaped embarrassment Week 1 by scoring 34 unanswered second-half points after being down 17-0 at halftime to steal a win from the hapless Jaguars. The Colts fought hard in the 4th quarter once the Broncos had fallen asleep, making the 31-24 loss look much closer on paper than it was in reality. That’s not to take anything away from the Colts – they’re good…offensively. Defensively the Colts are miserable, which will be a big problem v. this high-flying Eagles offense. This game represents the highest O/U of the week (53.5), and I expect it to be a full TD over that. I expect the Eagles to go up big early so the whole country gets to witness a patented Andrew Luck comeback. Comebacks don’t always end in wins.
The wild game everyone expected, the lead changed five times in this game before the Eagles came away with the win. Ten unanswered points in the last 3 ½ minutes of the 4th quarter and 142 receiving yards for RB Darren Sproles sealed the victory for the Eagles, who seemed out of it again after the first half. The Eagles have made a habit out of slow first half starts and second half explosions, and Monday night was no exception. After trailing 17-6 through the first half, the Eagles turned on their second half jets, scoring 24 points, 14 of which were unanswered 3rd quarter points that tied the game 20-20, to “steal” the victory. The Colts held the ball for nearly 13 more minutes, but two turnovers and Philadelphia’s explosive second half play were the keys to this game.