Another NFL week, another opportunity for me to lead you in entirely the wrong direction. Here’s what not to expect.
Jacksonville (+3.5) at Carolina
Blaine Gabbert will get the credit (and maybe he’ll deserve some of it), but the likely reality for what I expect to be Jacksonville’s offensive emergence, after scoring 19 points over the first two games of the season, is that Carolina’s D can’t keep opponents out of the end zone and can’t take the ball away. Defensive ineptitude has been the main reason for the Panthers’ 0-2 start, and it’s likely to continue to cause Carolina problems throughout the season. It won’t stop the Panthers from winning a handful of games, however, because there will be those matches where Cam Newton and the offense are productive enough to compensate for the D. I expect this matchup with a travel-weary Jaguars squad to be one of those. Jags put up a fight, but the Panthers win it by a field goal.
Detroit (-3.5) at Minnesota
OK, you know what? I like the Lions. I believe in the Lions. Although I don’t think the Lions are quite ready to wrest the NFC North away from the Packers, I suspect they’ll earn a wild card berth in the playoffs. But I don’t really believe the Lions have proven a single damned thing with their 2-0 start. I’m just not ready to find Detroit’s wins over Tampa Bay and Kansas City impressive. On the other hand, I think the Vikings have proven quite a bit with their 0-2 start, not one bit of it good. The Vikings aren’t breaking the Lions’ win streak. Not this week anyhow. Detroit by a touchdown.
San Francisco (+2.5) at Cincinnati
Here’s a weird stat (I mean, I know it’s only week two, but let me have this one, will ya?): The Bengals are the only team in the NFL that has yet to commit a turnover this season. So that’s something, right? Probably not, but I’m gonna ride with it, mostly because the alternative is looking closely at this matchup, and that’s just not something I want to do at all. Cincy by a point.
Miami (+2.5) at Cleveland
An 0-2 start in the NFL is tough enough to overcome, but an 0-2 start when you’ve yet to play a road game? That’s absolutely killer. Miami’s season would be effectively over at this point even if the Dolphins weren’t in the AFC East. But they are. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily in the race for Andrew Luck, though. I expect the Fins will still find a way to win seven or eight games. This one, in which they face a Browns squad that can’t get much done even when Peyton Hillis isn’t suffering with strep throat (and passing it around the locker room), should be one of those. Dolphins by six.
New England (-7) at Buffalo
Look, I’m as impressed as anyone with Ryan Fitzpatrick. I think you have to count him as the second best quarterback in the AFC East (which ain’t so bad considering that the first best might be the greatest ever to play the game). And Buffalo’s 2-0 start makes me happy for the Bills, and happier still for their long-suffering fans. But let’s be honest here, OK? One gets the distinct feeling that a lot of teams are going to beat up on the Kansas City Chiefs this season. And although the second-half comeback and last-second win over Oakland last week were very impressive, they don’t change the fact that the Bills defense got carved up by Jason Campbell to the tune of 323 yards and two TDs. That doesn’t bode well for a team that’s about to face a quarterback who’s on track to shatter the NFL single-season passing record and an offense that’s poised to challenge its own single-season scoring record. It doesn’t bode well at all. The Patriots won by two touchdowns in each of their first two games this season. I’ll look for them to continue that streak. New England, 34-20.
NY Giants (+8.5) at Philadelphia
It looks like Michael Vick‘s gonna start for the Eagles. I’m not sure it matters. With the shape the Giants are in, the Eagles could go with Ron Jaworski under center and come out of this one with a decisive victory. Philadelphia by 10.
Denver (+6.5) at Tennessee
It’s a near certainty that one of these godawful teams is going to win this game. Yippee! Let’s have a party! I’m gonna go with the Titans both because they’re at home and because their offense doesn’t fumble the ball away ever other time they take the field. But you know what? Who cares? Tennessee by a touchdown.
Houston (+4) at New Orleans
Three weeks into the season, the Houston defense finally gets a real test. We’ll see if they’re up to it. We’ll also see if the Texans can overcome the negatives of a second consecutive week on the road. I’m guessing they’re not and they can’t. Saints by nine.
NY Jets (-3) at Oakland
Though they come in at 2-0, the Frat Boys really need a win here. This starts a three-game road trip for New Jersey, which spent the first two weeks of the season in East Rutherford. Next week, they’re in Baltimore. Two weeks from now, they travel to New England. Neither of those games will be easy. This one can be, but not if Mark Sanchez throws a bunch of picks. I suspect Sanchez will figure it out and the Frat Boys will manage a win, but I sure do hope I’m wrong. New Jersey by four.
Baltimore (-4) at St. Louis
I’m not sure what shocked me most, that Baltimore destroyed Pittsburgh in week one or that the same team looked pitiful in Tennessee in week two. I’m not sure either showing is indicative of who the Ravens really are, but I’m willing to guess that the first result is closer to reality than the second. Plus, the Rams can’t stop anything on defense, can’t score on offense. You may not know this, but that’s considered a bad combination in football — or, really, in pretty much all ball sports. So I’m looking for a Ravens win. It’s their second straight road game, so let’s figure they only come out on top by a touchdown.
Kansas City (+14.5) at San Diego
Honestly, what do you think I can tell you about this game that the spread hasn’t? Exactly. Chargers by 17.
Atlanta (+3.5) at Tampa Bay
The Falcons are tied with the Colts and the Dolphins for the second most points allowed over weeks one and two. The Colts and Dolphins (like the Chiefs who have surrendered by far the most points in the league) are 0-2 teams. The Falcons are a Michael Vick concussion away from being in the same boat. And still I expect them to win this game. Why? Partly because I think the Falcons are better than their defensive play so far this year. And partly because until I see evidence to the contrary, I have to believe that the Buccaneers have no ability to stop the run. Atlanta by four.
Arizona (-3.5) at Seattle
I’m not impressed with either of these teams. And the fact that the Cardinals are playing on the road for a second straight week, and coming off a tough loss in Washington, makes me very hesitant to take Arizona. But I simply can’t take Seattle. Just. Simply. Can’t. Cardinals by a field goal.
Green Bay (-4) at Chicago
Eleven. That’s how many sacks Jay Cutler has taken this season. In two games. And, no, it’s not like they all came in one match. Cutler went down five times in the Bears’ week one win over Atlanta, and half a dozen times in last week’s loss to the Saints. That’s a result of weak offensive line play. And that’s gonna spell doom for Cutler and the Bears this season. The Packers’ D, meanwhile, has logged seven sacks so far this season. That’s an impressive number. I can say that, because I’m not Jay Cutler. Of course, come late Sunday, Cutler may well wish he were me. I suspect this one’s gonna be way uglier than the spread implies. Packers by 13.
Pittsburgh (-10.5) at Indianapolis
This must have looked like ratings gold when it was slotted in. The best laid plans and all that. Steelers by a million (or, you know, something short of that but way more than ten and a half).
Washington (+5) at Dallas
Well, Tony Romo is all kinds of tough. You can’t take that away from him. Tough isn’t the same as good, of course. But, uh, I’m not sure that matters in this, the weekend’s second dog of a prime time matchup. The Native Americans aren’t coming out of Dallas with a win no matter who starts at quarterback for the Cowboys. Dallas by three.