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Week Two Picks

September 13th, 2008

The matchups would probably make this week tough to pick mid-season. But it’s not mid-season, which means there are no long-term trends to analyze, only the results of a fairly weird week one to put too much stock in. So, you know, that helps a lot. I’m sort of figuring I’ll be lucky to come out of this week 8-8 picking straight up, and likely to do worse than that against the spread. Just so you know up front.

Chicago (+3) at Carolina
No, I don’t believe either of these teams is as good as it looked Sunday afternoon and evening. In fact, I’m not sure I know a single thing about either of these teams today that I didn’t know a week ago. All I know is that the Panthers are at home. So I figure they’ll probably win by about the three they’re giving.

Tennessee (+1) at Cincinnati
OK, yeah, the Titans have a quarterback who’s lost interest in playing football (and who won’t be this weekend). The Bengals, from what I saw last week have a whole team full of guys who have lost interest in playing football. Cincinnati does have a capable quarterback, though, so I guess that gives them the edge. Maybe. I’ll give the point on paper, too, but I wouldn’t put real money on this game if … well, I just wouldn’t.

Green Bay (-3) at Detroit
Do you believe the Falcons are really this good? Call me crazy, but I just don’t. I don’t care that Green Bay just played a tough, emotional Monday night game. I’m not worried about letdown. Because I’m not sure there’s a team in the league that can let down far enough to lose to these awful, awful Lions. (Of course, I go into each season firmly believing that Matt Millen’s days have to be numbered, and I always somehow turn out to have it wrong. So what the hell do I know?) Fatigue sets in late, and the Packers only win by nine.

Buffalo (+5.5) at Jacksonville
The Jaguars offensive line had better figure out how to keep pass rushers away from David Garrard, because if things keep going like this, they’re gonna find themselves shopping for a healthy quarterback by week four. My instincts tell me they’ll sort it out, at least temporarily. My instincts also tell me the Jacksonville defense will give Buffalo a better game time than Seattle’s D did. But my instincts don’t like the idea of giving five and a half points, so I won’t. Jags by a field goal.

Oakland (+3.5) at Kansas City
What a joke the Oakland Raiders have become. The team looked miserable in every aspect of the game on Monday night (and even worse early Tuesday morning). They’ve got a QB who can throw the ball a mile but almost no one for him to throw it to, a highly-touted rookie running back who runs to the outside when he should cut in and attempts to run between the tackles when he should go outside, and yet another head coach who’s had his legs cut out from under him by an owner whose football instincts have officially become worse than his fashion sense. Meanwhile, sure, the Chiefs are rebuilding. But they managed to stay with New England in Foxborough through four quarters last week. And, sure there were extenuating circumstances in that game, but the Pats without Tom Brady are still a better team than the Raiders at full strength. (Hell, the Pats with 11 semi-healthy starters playing iron man ball would be better than the Raiders at full strength. And New England isn’t the only team in the league about which I could make that statement). So you know what? I’m taking the Chiefs and giving the points. You tell me why I should do otherwise.

Indianapolis (-2) at Minnesota
Whether Peyton Manning is rusty (which he sure didn’t look in the second half on Sunday night) isn’t the big question for Indianapolis in this game. Not the way I see it, anyhow. I think the big question for the Colts is, if you give up 123 yards (5.3 per carry) and a touchdown to Matt Forte on your field, what do you suppose Adrian Peterson is gonna do to you on his? I’ve got some guesses. They add up to the Colts offense playing well and the Vikings still winning by a touchdown.

NY Giants (-8) at St. Louis
Remember what I said in my season preview and in last week’s picks about the Rams lack of anything resembling a defense biting them in the ass. Why don’t you figure I said that again here. Giants by 17. Minimum.

New Orleans (-1) at Washington
You know what would be interesting? If either of these teams had a ground game. That used to be a part of professional football, you know. Oh, what’s that? It still is, you say? Hmmm. Who knew? Coin toss says the Saints win this one. Maybe by three.

San Francisco (+7.5) at Seattle
Just when you thought the Seahawks couldn’t be more banged up, they went and got more banged up. That will continue to be a problem pretty much any time the Seahawks face a professional football team. Luckily for them, they’ve got the 49ers this week. Seattle by six.

Atlanta (+7.5) at Tampa Bay
You may have read this somewhere before (I’m not sure) but, do you believe the Falcons are really this good? I still don’t. Bucs by 10.

Miami (+6.5) at Arizona
I wish I had something interesting to say about this game. But I don’t. No one does. Because there is nothing interesting about this game. Unless you’re a Cardinals fan hoping for a 2-0 start, in which case it’s the goddamned game of the week. Arizona by nine.

San Diego (-1.5) at Denver
Yeah, I know San Diego’s done very well in Denver the past few years. I know Denver’s coming off rather a late Monday night game, too. And I’m sure the Chargers are the more talented team. But I don’t care about any of that. What I care about is that San Diego found a way to lose last week. To Carolina. At home. And maybe I’m just looking for something, but I feel like I’ve seen this sort of thing with Norv Turner teams in the past. So I’m gonna take my chance with the Broncos in this game. Maybe I’ll be wrong, and I’ll be OK with that. But don’t count on it.

Baltimore (+5) at Houston
Last weeks results in Pittsburgh and Baltimore notwithstanding, I’m taking the team quarterbacked by Matt Schaub over the quarterbacked by Joe Flacco. This week, anyhow. Texans by a touchdown.

New England (+2) at NY Jets
To my mind the most fundamental change in this game as a result of Tom Brady’s season-ending injury is the shift in pressure. With Brady healthy, all the pressure here would have been on New England. The Pats would have been double-digit favorites heading into the Meadowlands for the first time since the game that touched off Spygate. Jets fans and the New York media would have been hoping for blood, but they wouldn’t have been expecting to get it. Now, with Matt Cassel lining up under center for the Patriots, the Jets faithful and the local hacks all expect to see their team take its revenge for being beaten up mercilessly by New England for years. Brett Favre, who has yet to beat a good team (or play a particularly good game) as the Jets QB, is expected (again, by the locals) to lead New York to a victory that will start a charge to an AFC East championship. And if the Jets fail to win this game, there’s not simply going to be wailing and gnashing of teeth, there’s gonna be hell to pay. New England, meanwhile, remains inarguably the better team at all but one position, which means the win New Jersey is expected to produce isn’t going to come nearly as easily as the home crowd anticipates. Then there are the expectations for Cassel, which are so low you’d have a hard time arguing they put so much as an ounce of pressure on the kid. If the Pats win, even if it isn’t Cassel’s play that gets them there, the guy’s a hero. If they lose, as long as he doesn’t lose the game on his own, everyone thinks, “Well, you can’t expect Matt to be Tom Brady.” Do I think that shift in pressure decides the game? Not at all. I simply think it allows Matt Cassel to make his first start in the NFL (and, indeed, his first start since high school) without feeling like he’s responsible for the fate of the world, which may prevent him from folding. What I think decides the game is that the Patriots are the better team. And that if Favre tries some of the things that worked for him against Miami with the Patriots defense on the field, he’s likely to throw two pick sixes. And that you just don’t need to have a Hall of Fame quarterback on your team in order to beat the Jets. Those are the things that decide the game. New England by four

Pittsburgh (-5.5) at Cleveland
Note to Browns fans: The mere fact that your team can’t afford to open the season with two home losses doesn’t guarantee that it won’t. Note to Steelers fans: The mere fact that your team has had Cleveland’s number in the past doesn’t guarantee that it’s gonna win this game. Me, I’m not as certain about this game as Browns fans, Steelers fans or the oddsmakers. I don’t know which team is gonna win, partly because I don’t have any idea what to makes of last week’s results. I need to see more from both of these teams. I do expect to see a competitive game. Because I think the Cleveland offense is better equipped to deal with Pittsburgh’s D than Houston’s offense was. You can’t just take away the Browns’ run game and expect the offense to fold. Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, and Kellen Winslow will make you pay for overcommitting to stopping the run (or, really, they’ll keep you doing it). And because of that, I believe the Browns can score some points here. The question is whether they can stop the Steelers from scoring more. On that point, I’m just not sure. On one hand, you can’t simply expect Willie Parker to have another three-touchdown day. On the other, the Browns managed to allow Dallas to put up three scores on the ground last week. They did, however, need to account for a potent Cowboys passing attack in that game. The Steelers passing offense isn’t nearly so much of a concern. So that’s the long way of saying precisely what I said early on: I have no idea what to expect other than a close game. I’m definitely taking Cleveland with the points. That’s easy. Straight up … I don’t know, I want to pick both. But I can’t do that. So I guess I’ll take the home team. But that’s probably just because I don’t particularly like the Steelers.

Philadelphia (+7) at Dallas
You know what? I could spend an eternity parsing this matchup, but I’m not going to. What it comes down to is this: I know the Eagles have the Cowboys number. I know the Philadelphia defense can bring the kind of pressure that gives Tony Romo fits. And, honestly, I hope Philly wins. But I just don’t believe the Eagles are healthy enough on offense to pull it off. It’s one thing to stomp on the Rams. The Cowboys ain’t the Rams. The Cowboys actually field a defense. And the game’s in Dallas. So I’m taking the Cowboys straight up, looking for the Eagles to find a way to keep it closer than seven, and rooting for an outright upset.

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