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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Tuesday's Gone: Week 3 #NFL Game Reviews

 The Los Angeles Rams and running back Todd Gurley travel to Silicon Valley to face the San Francisco 49ers to bore us to death in another Thursday Night Football game

Week 3: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Week 3 results: 6-10 wins (season: 26-21; .553); 7-9 v. spread (season: 20-27; .426)

Los Angeles Rams 1-1 (-3) @ San Francisco 49ers 0-2 (40): Rams 21-13 Rams 41-39
Thursday, 8:25 PM, Levis Stadium, Santa Clara, CA (Weather: Partly cloudy; 60s)

Reasons: These aren't the teams to be playing on short notice, and both teams are coming off of a tough loss. So I guess we should expect another terrible Thursday Night Football game. The NFL needs to get rid of these games. That's not happening any time soon, so tonight we'll see an offense that has surpassed early expectations (33 ppg; 362.5 ypg) and a defense that has largely met early expectations (18 ppg; 331.5 ypg) in the Rams against a defense that has allowed fewer points per game (17.5), but has only managed an average of six points per game on offense in the 49ers. This game will come down to one defense on the rise against one already established defense ready to take the next step against two running backs with the same motives in Todd Gurley (LAR) and Carlos Hyde (SF). Unfortunately for San Francisco their defense is already dealing with attrition, like many teams in this latest Collective Bargaining Agreement era. The Rams don't have to travel far to beat the 49ers, but don't expect the game to be exciting. 

Thursday Night Football games have generally been bad, and last Thursday's participants seemed destined to keep that tradition going. Wrong. These games tend to be low scoring for various reasons. Wrong. The only solid thing about these teams are their defenses and running backs, which are both still young. About the only thing I got right in this game was the impact of the running backs. Todd Gurley (113 rushing yards; 2 TDs) and Carlos Hyde (84 rushing yards; 2 TDs) went off, but to the surprise of many, so did the quarterbacks. Jared Goff threw for 292 yards and three TDs on 22-28 passing, while Brian Hoyer threw for 332 yards and two TDs on 23-37 passing and was largely responsible for the furious 19-point 4th quarter comeback that almost tied the record-breaking game.

Baltimore Ravens 2-0 (-4) @ Jacksonville Jaguars 1-1 (39.5): Ravens 23-20 Jaguars 44-7
Sunday, 9:30 AM, Wembley Stadium, London, England (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: No team wants to travel to London to play at 9:30 EST, especially to play the London Jaguars at home, but the Jaguars come into the game a little banged up. I’m being facetious, because the Jaguars remain terrible despite winning their opening game, while the Ravens are one of only eight remaining undefeated teams. Still, the defense widely considered one of the best in the NFL, the Ravens, gives up 5.5 fewer yards per game then Jacksonville, but the Jaguars come in limited at cornerback, meaning Joe Flacco could abuse them in the air since Baltimore is limited at running back. The Ravens are not limited in the secondary, as they lead the NFL in INTs (8). In fairness, the Jaguars lead the NFL in sacks (11), so maybe Flacco doesn’t air it out. These London games are like TNF games, where we never know what to expect, but they’re usually bad games* due to their travel logistics and general irregularity.

*(61% of games were decided by one score [eight points], but the average score over 18 games is 31-18)

The Ravens scored their only touchdown with 3:24 remaining in the game on a pass from backup quarterback Ryan Mallet. That came after 44 unanswered point from the Jaguars, in which their star rookie running back wasn't even the leading rusher and embattled quarterback Blake Bortles threw four touchdown passes. It was that kind of game for Baltimore. The Ravens managed only 12 first down for 186 total yards on over 25 minutes of possession. The game was dominated by the Jaguars, who some people claim is actually London's NFL team, as Jacksonville sacked Joe Flacco twice, intercepted him twice and forced a Terrance West fumble on their way to stifling Baltimore's offense. 

Cleveland Browns 0-2 (-1.5) @ Indianapolis Colts 0-2 (41): Browns 20-17 Colts 31-28
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Browns are favorites on the road for the first time since 2014, but it’s not because they’re good; it’s because the Colts are atrocious. Indianapolis is averaging 11 ppg on 273 total ypg, and it’s even worse from the defensive side (398 yards allowed per game). The Colts are already on their second quarterback (QB Jacoby Brissett) in the continued absence of Andrew Luck, but the Browns rookie quarterback has also struggled, throwing four INTs already. Cleveland is still a bad football team, but they’re not so bad they’re giving up more than 136 than they’re gaining per game. 

This game was between two young quarterbacks, one shining and one stacking up INTs at an alarming rate. Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer threw three more INTs, for a total of seven on the young season, while Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett threw for a touchdown and ran for two more in a game largely dominated by the Colts. The Browns scored two late TDs, on a passing and rushing touchdown from Kizer, but the damage was done. 

Pittsburgh Steelers 2-0 (-7.5) @ Chicago Bears 0-2 (44): Steelers 24-17 Bears 23-17
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL (Weather: Hot; 80s)

Reasons: The Bears have a tough match up at home Sunday afternoon hosting one of the best defenses in the league to compliment a dynamic offense that hasn’t even started clicking yet. Mike Glennon will be under fire all day under the Sun and against a Steelers defense with nine sacks in two games, while allowing only 13.5 ppg, and to make matters worse, running back Jordan Howard was limited all week. Pittsburgh is dealing with some injuries themselves on defense, but nothing that won’t prevent the Steelers from rolling. 

The Steelers decided as a team to remain in the locker room for the national anthem after Donald Trump called NFL players "sons of bitches", but they never came out at all. Antonio Brown was the lone bright spot for the Steelers, gaining 110 receiving yards on 10 receptions and Ben Roethlisberger's lone touchdown pass. The Bears defense played well, sacking Roethlisberger three times and forcing five turnovers (3 INTs; 2 fumbles) while holding the Steelers to 282 total yards. Pittsburgh's defense played well, too, but in the end Jordan Howard, who was questionable all week, was too much for Pittsburgh, rushing for 138 yards and two TDs on 23 carries, one of those TDs coming in overtime to seal the win

 It's the New York Jets fan's turn to wear the paper bags on their heads this season.

Miami Dolphins 1-0 (-6) @ New York Jets 0-2 (42.5): Dolphins 21-17 Jets 20-6
Sunday, 1:00 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Hot; low 90s)

Reasons: The unusually hot fall weather across the country could affect several games, but no 90-degree game will make the visiting team more comfortable than the Miami Dolphins will feel in northern New Jersey Sunday. Miami is only playing their second game because of Hurricane Irma, but we have plenty on the Jets to know how terrible they are. It’s still hard to imagine a team that has given us less confidence in recent years being favored by nearly a touchdown on the road. The Jets are that bad. The Dolphins should cruise, but Cutler’s weapons could be limited Sunday.

The Dolphins scored as time expired on a Jay Cutler (26-44 for 220 yards; 1 TD; 1 INT) to DeVante Parker (8 receptions for 87 yards; 1 TD) to save themselves the embarrassment of being shut out by the Jets. The Jets had some advantage having played one more game than Miami, but it's hard to explain how the Dolphins were beat so badly, other than a dominant performance from a defense that was supposed to be depleted. Josh McCown was efficient (18-23), didn't make any crucial mistakes, and combined with New York's defense, was that explanation. 

Denver Broncos 2-0 (-3) @ Buffalo Bills 1-1 (40.5): Broncos 24-17 Bills 26-16
Sunday, 1:00 PM, New Era Field, Buffalo, NY (Weather: Hot; 80s)

Reasons: This is a battle of two of the top defenses in the NFL to start 2017, both with ball-hawking defensive backfields that intercept passes. The Bills also get after the quarterback (3rd in the NFL with seven sacks), which could rain on Denver signal-caller Trevor Siemian’s early parade. The Broncos are also away, which means they won’t benefit from the stifling noise of their crowd on opposing offenses, but it’s possible they won’t hear any crowd noise Sunday. 

The Bills scored 13 unanswered points beginning midway through the 3rd quarter, aided by the worst unsportsmanlike conduct call in the history of the NFL after Von Miller jokingly held his hand out to pick up Tyrod Taylor after a sack and then pulled it away. Both players, good friends, laughed, but the officials apparently didn't find it funny and the zebra defenders of the No Fun League conspired to help the Bills defeat the Broncos at home. In a game otherwise highlighted by seven field goals, that awful Von Miller flag, which made it a two-score game with mere minutes left in the game, was the highlight.

Houston Texans 1-1 (+13.5) @ New England Patriots 1-1 (44): Patriots 27-20 Patriots 36-33
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: Sunny; low 80s)

Reasons: The Texans are a bad offensive football team (10 ppg), which doesn’t play well against a New England Patriots team that can drop 40 points using players you’ve never heard of. So teams like Houston rely heavily upon their great defenses with monster defensive fronts to beat the Patriots, except even that hasn’t worked for the Texans, who are 1-8 all time against New England, having lost six straight since 2012 (by an average score of 34-16) . The Patriots will continue to tweak their defense as the season goes on, which means you can’t really rely on statistics to tell you a solid story in this game.

For the first time in nine tries at Gillette Stadium a rookie quarterback was about to beat the Patriots at home until Tom Brady went Golden Boy, throwing the go-ahead touchdown and a two-point conversion to Brandin Cooks to seal the game with 23 seconds to go.
Brady threw for 378 yards and five touchdowns on 27-35 passing to defeat the Texans, whose rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson (22-33 for 301 yards passing; 1 TD; 2 INTs; 41 rushing yards) almost stole the show. Jadeveon Clowney had another huge defensive play for the second week in a row, returning his second fumble in as many weeks, this time for a touchdown, to go along with two sacks as Houston's defense (five total sacks) rounds into post-Harvey shape. 

New Orleans Saints 0-2 (+5.5)@ Carolina Panthers 2-0 (46.5): Panthers 21-20 Saints 34-13
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Bank Of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC (Weather: Sunny; 80s)

Reasons: The Saints enter Bank of America Stadium to play the Panthers, but they should probably secure a loan for some defensive players after allowing over 500 yards per game to start the season. That should be refreshing news for Carolina’s offense, except tight end Greg Olsen is on IR, center Ryan Kalil is out and Cam Newton has been dealing with nagging injuries. The game will come down to a suffocating Panthers defense and their ability to stop a desperate Drew Brees and Sean Payton.

The Panthers suffered an embarrassing defeat to their division rival Saints Sunday, their top-ranked defense shredded by Drew Brees. Brees threw for three TDs on only 201 yards passing, but that's all it took to defeat the offensively-challenged Panthers, whose team leader and best player, Cam Newton, is clearly not 100% - or he's just not the quarterback most people keep assuming he is. Newton was atrocious Sunday, throwing three INTs, the game's only turnovers, one crucially coming directly after he taunted the Saints following one of his few good plays on the day. All is not well in Charlotte, as the team's one bright spot, their defense, was shredded, with New Orleans scoring 34 points on six drives of which only one extended past 4:43. 

 The Carolina Panthers would like to see less of this and more of Cam Newton protecting himself, especially with safety net Greg Olsen set to miss 6-8 weeks.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1-0 (+1.5) @ Minnesota Vikings 1-1 (41): Bucs 24-21 Vikings 34-17
Sunday, 1:00 PM, US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN (Weather: 20% rain; 80s)

Reasons: The Buccaneers came away with a win in their first game of the season last week, but it also came with some injuries, all on defense, something every team is facing earlier than ever due to the changes in collective bargaining between the players and owners. The Vikings will be without quarterback Sam Bradford again Sunday, which means the game could fall on the shoulders of rookie running back Dalvin Cook, who’ll have to take advantage of key absences across the field for Tampa Bay.

For the second time in 96 hours Jeff Fisher was proved to be a terrible coach. Jared Goff lit up the stage Thursday night against the 49ers, looking like the No. 1 overall draft pick he was in 2016, and then Sunday his 2016 on-again-off-again backup, Case Keenum, torched the hobbled Tampa Bay defense 369 passing yards and three TDs. You may recall Fisher didn't think either was ready. Stephon Diggs was responsible for 173 of those yards and two TDs, while rookie running back Dalvin Cook continued his stellar rookie campaign, rushing for 97 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. The Buccaneers defense was hobbled entering the game, but the Vikings defense was not, forcing quarterback Jameis Winston into three INTs while holding the Buccaneers to 26 yards rushing on 9 carries. 

Atlanta Falcons 2-0 (-3) @ Detroit Lions 2-0 (50.5): Lions 28-27 Falcons 30-26
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Ford Field, Detroit, MI (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: This game is an incredible reminder that although these two teams feature two of the best statistical quarterbacks in the NFL, their level of play is still relatively marginal compared to their older contemporaries like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning, who combined with Manning’s retired older brother Peyton, have played in 14 of the past 16 Super Bowls, four of those games featuring two opposing quarterbacks from that list. It should be noted that Matt Ryan just lost to Tom Brady in this past Super Bowl, but the point is that consistent statistical success has looked great on paper for Ryan and Matt Stafford, but it hasn’t materialized into many playoff wins for either team during their franchise quarterback’s reign. The Falcons could feel at home on the Ford Field turf, but the Lions defense is playing too well to let Ryan steal the show from Stafford at home.  

The Lions were screwed again by the officials and the NFL, as the Lions go-ahead touchdown by Golden Tate was called back because of poor judgment and not overcome because of a totally ridiculous rule. Despite Tate's knee and elbow coming down at the same time the ball crossed the goal line the officials ruled Tate down, and because of a 10-second run-off rule implemented by the NFL, the Lions were stuck watching the game expire as they sat on the one-inch line. The rule is put in place, I'm sure in part, so as not to allow a team to benefit from a time out they don't possess, which is utterly ridiculous. There were many highlights and many great individual performances, but all paled in comparison to the play that stole the game from the Lions, which seems to happen every season to Detroit now. I often wonder if that's because Detroit's owner is one of the only female principal owners in the NFL.

New York Giants 0-2 (+6) @ Philadelphia Eagles 1-1 (42.5): Eagles 21-17 Eagles 27-24
Sunday, 1:00 PM, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA (Weather: Hot; low 90s)

Reasons: The Giants offense looks historically bad, especially along the offensive line and it doesn’t get any better Sunday on the road versus a division rival without T/G Bobby Hart. The Giants defense has the chance to be historically great, but not if the offense can’t score more than 20 points, which has been their m.o. the past half season. The Eagles are trying to find balance on offense, but until they do they’ll rely on the young arm of Carson Wentz, who’ll be hoping Janoris Jenkins can’t go Sunday afternoon. All eyes will be on the blonde drama king Odell Beckham Jr., whose ankle assessments have only been matched in wackiness to his behavior on and off the field. The Giants struggles continue Sunday.

The Giants offense was once again stuck in a quagmire through three quarters against the Eagles until the passing game exploded in the 4th quarter for 21 unanswered points through the air. Two of those touchdowns were caught by mercurial but polarizing talent Odell Beckham Jr., who, on cue, diminished his unbelievable catch in the back of the end zone with an ill-advised celebration display, which included him walking on all fours like a dog and pretending to urinate in the end zone. OBJ claimed the display was in response to Trump calling players "sons of bitches", but it was a bad look either way for a man who's not only the face of the Giants, but maybe even the NFL. Still, OBJ and the Giants showed how powerful his presence can be, almost single-handily winning the game for New York in the 4th quarter. That was before Jake Elliot hit an improbable 61-yard field goal (on a very hot and still day) at Lincoln Financial Field as time expired to seal the 27-24 victory for the Eagles and send the Giants reeling.

Seattle Seahawks 1-1 (+2.5) @ Tennessee Titans 1-1 (42.5): Titans 21-20 Titans 33-27
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN (Weather: Hot; high 80s)

Reasons: The only offensive line in the NFL worse the New York Giants might be the Seahawks. Fortunately for Seattle their quarterback is mobile, but that doesn’t mean Russell Wilson enjoys running for his life, or that it’s a sustainable approach. The Seahawks offense will struggle again on the road, especially with tight end Jimmy Graham questionable, and the defense will have a hard time bailing out their offense after traveling east twice in three weeks to start the season. The Seahawks could luck out if DeMarco Murray can’t go, but young battering ram Derrick Henry has proven a worthy, if not better, alternative to Murray. Regardless, the Titans have a string defense themselves, and will look to take care of business in a tough early match up at home.

A defensive battle through the first half, both teams exploded for 44 combined points in the second half, thanks mostly to Russell Wilson's (SEA) arm and DeMarco Murray's (TEN) legs. Wilson threw for 379 yards and four TDs and Murray rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown on only 14 carries in a game that featured two great defenses, but delivered two great offensive performances. The Seahawks were undone by a late hit on Marcus Mariota by Richard Sherman, which probably sparked Tennessee, and the onslaught of 21-unanswered points by the Titans in the 3rd quarter, highlighted by two touchdown passes from Mariota and a 75-yard run by DeMarco Murray. 

 Phillip Rivers has his work cut out for him to prevent the Los Angeles Chargers from starting the season 0-3 in the tough AFC West division.

Kansas City Chiefs 2-0 (-3) @ Los Angeles Chargers 0-2 (47.5): Chargers 27-24 Chiefs 24-10
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Stub Hub Center, Carson, CA (Weather: Sunny; low 80s)

Reasons: The Chiefs could be the best overall team in the NFL right now, but the Chargers are certainly the most talented 0-2 team in the NFL. Los Angeles can’t lose their first three games to start the season, especially in the tough AFC West, and they just might pull it off with Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston was limited in practice all week and center Mitch Morse has already been ruled out. The Chargers will probably need Melvin Gordon to go to beat this very good Chiefs team, but Los Angeles is desperate, and I would never bet against a desperate Phillip Rivers.

This game came down to two pretty simple components: Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers threw three INTs and Chiefs rookie sensation running back Kareem Hunt rushed for 172 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Kareem Hunt has to think the world is his oyster at this point as he leads the NFL in rushing by 113 yards (401 rushing yards; 8.5 ypc) while the Chiefs roll out to 3-0.

Cincinnati Bengals 0-2 (+9) @ Green Bay Packers 1-1 (46): Packers 28-20 Packers 27-24
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: Hot; 80s)

Reasons: Believe it or not the Bengals have one of the league’s best defenses through two games, but you’d never know it because of all the screaming about how bad the offense, and therefore, the Bengals are. Cincinnati is 0-2, but considering Cincinnati played Baltimore and Houston, we should probably pump the brakes on the Bengals demise. In addition, the Packers possess one of the league’s worst defenses, which plays right into the Bengals hands, although those stats are skewed having played the Falcons in Atlanta. Unfortunately for Cincinnati the Green Bay offense is prolific, and they’re at home, which means they’re going to be tough to stop no matter how good the Bengals have been playing on that side of the ball. 

The Bengals led the Packers in Lambeau Field 21-7 going into the half before Aaron Rodgers ditched R-E-L-A-X mode and threw two second half touchdowns, one to Jordy Nelson as time expired in the 4th quarter, to help the Packers tie the game and send it to OT. A little over five minutes into OT Rodgers (28-42 for 315 yards passing; 3 TDs; 1 INT) hit Geronimo Allison for a 75-yard gain to set up the game winning 27-yard field goal from Mason Crosby. The Bengals team once again struggled, save a great performance by AJ Green (10 receptions for 110 yards; 1 TD), because at the end of the day Green Bay's defense is simply mediocre. 

Oakland Raiders 2-0 (-3) @ Washington Football Team 1-1 (54.5): Raiders 30-24 WFT 27-10
Sunday, 8:30 PM, FedEx Field, Landover, MD (Weather: Hot; high 80s)

Reasons: The Raiders are feeling pretty good about themselves. Oakland’s leading rusher from last year leaves the Raiders and gets replaced by the legendary Marshawn Lynch, who appears, early in the season, not to have lost a step. Oakland’s star 2015 first round draft pick wide receiver Amari Cooper isn’t even their top receiver so far this season. On the other side of the field you have Washington, who certainly always seems to feel good about themselves, but seemingly without much reason. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has looked awful and now could be without tight end Jordan Reed again, leading rusher Robert Kelley is hurt and star cornerback Josh Norman is questionable against the best young quarterback in the NFL. Look for the Raiders to pillage a win in the Mid Atlantic. 

The Raiders came out flat Sunday night, and America's Game of the Week turned into another reminder that Dan Snyder is a despicable human being. Whether it's constantly being reminded of how much of an insensitive white billionaire he is via the racist team name and helmet emblem he refuses to acknowledge, to the great play of his franchise quarterback he refuses to pay long term, I can't even see the Washington football team without getting annoyed. So I was disappointed Sunday night when the Raiders didn't show up and let Kirk Cousins and all his insecurities torch the Raiders terrible defense for 365 passing yards and three TDs. Washington outgained Oakland 472-128 and held the ball for over 38 minutes in an early game the Raiders probably can't wait to forget.

Dallas Cowboys 1-1 (-3) @ Arizona Cardinals 1-1 (47): Cowboys 21-20 Cowboys 28-17
Monday, 8:30 PM, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Cowboys enter Monday night having faced their third top defense in as many weeks to begin the season (NYG, DEN, ARZ). That’s a tough test for the Cowboys sophomore stars, especially one (Ezekiel Elliot) under emotional duress for off the field activities, and more recently, on the field apathy. Dallas and Ezekiel Elliot look to get back on track after they both suffered one of the worst defeats of their football existences, and what better offense to get on track against than the hapless Cardinals. It could be a depressing game for some Arizona fans watching Dallas take the field with a young bright star as their former quarterback star fades. Speaking of fading stars, all eyes will be on Dez Bryant as he tries to salvage his top wide receiver status against one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL. 

The Cowboys scored two touchdowns in the 4th quarter, one by each of their sophomore stars, to pull away from a 3rd quarter tie and take the win in Glendale Monday night. The Cardinals gained more yards, more first downs, and held the ball for 13 more minutes, but could not hold on to the win at home, despite quarterback Carson Palmer throwing for 325 yards passing and two TDs on 29-48 passing. The game belonged to Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, who not only threw for 183 yards and two TDs on 13-18 passing, but ran for another touchdown, looking like John Elway flipping into the end zone during Super Bowl XXXII. Maybe that's exactly the image the Cowboys want in their heads.

Stay tuned for Week 4: #NFL Games Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) coming Thursday and Sunday morning!


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