Last week at this time, we were still discussing Peyton Manning as a 2011 MVP candidate and the Indianapolis Colts as Super Bowl contenders. We were wondering whether Joe Flacco would ever be able to top Ben Roethlisberger in a head-to-head matchup. And we weren’t reacting to the name Tony Romo with the same sad and confused faces we make when we watch an episode of "Hoarders."
Well, that was last week, a week in which I bounced back from a few Sunday 1 p.m. clunker picks (Rams over Eagles, Titans over Jaguars, Browns over Bengals, Chiefs over Bills), to sweep the rest of the day and go on to finish 10-6.
Now, let’s dig into the Week 2 Cheat Sheet:
Week 1 record: 10-6
The Houston Texans became the first team since the 1994 Indianapolis Colts (35 points vs. the Houston Oilers) to score at least 34 points in the first half of a game on Kickoff Weekend. Name the Colts’ starting quarterback and starting running back that afternoon. (See below for answer.)
Sunday’s 1 p.m. ET games
Chicago at New Orleans: Don’t be fooled by Drew Brees’ absurd fantasy stats from Thursday night and the fact the Saints are at home after 10 days of rest. That Gregg Williams defense looked atrocious versus Aaron Rodgers, and though Jay Cutler isn’t quite the precision passer Rodgers is, Mike Martz will come ready with a game plan that exploits the holes. All offseason, people seemed to ignore the fact the Bears went 11-5 and hosted the 2010 NFC Championship Game, picking them to finish at the bottom of the NFC. That was silly. They’re a darn good team. Poor Roman Harper — gray hair and all — is going to get picked on again in this one. Your upset special! Take the Bears.
The pick: Bears 34, Saints 23
Oakland at Buffalo: Want a geeky stat that will impress your co-workers? With his two scores in Kansas City, Scott Chandler became the first Bills tight end to catch two touchdowns in a road game since Pete Metzelaars in 1992. On second thought, sharing that fact can go one of two ways. It will either make you the toast of the office and the company’s resident football guru or it will get you fired for having too much utterly useless info in that brain of yours. You might want to keep that tidbit to yourself. As for the game, the Bills are winning this one. Buffalo 2-0!
The pick: Bills 27, Raiders 20
Cleveland at Indianapolis: The Carson Palmer, David Garrard and Andrew Luck watches were all officially on in Indy about four minutes into the Colts’ embarrassing Week 1 loss in Houston. Kerry Collins seems to be the guy for now, turnovers, warts and all. Browns QB Colt McCoy couldn’t get the job done at home versus the lowly Bengals, but he should rebound against the Manning-less Colts. It’s amazing to even write this, but Cincinnati, even with that rookie quarterback, is a far better team than Indianapolis at the moment.
The pick: Browns 17, Colts 13
Tampa Bay at Minnesota: Cam Newton threw for 422 yards in his NFL debut on Sunday. Donovan McNabb? Well, the six-time Pro Bowl QB tossed for a jaw-dropping 39 yards in his Minnesota debut. Here’s to hoping he’ll fare a little better at home. Maybe he can crack the 50-yard mark? We’ll see. Whether or not McNabb racks up the passing yards, I can’t see the Baby Bucs coming into the Metrodome and escaping with a win. Tampa’s in for a dose of reality this year. It’s not sneaking up on anybody.
The pick: Vikings 23, Buccaneers 16
Green Bay at Carolina: I couldn’t help but feel a little proud of a few young guns while watching the Packers and Panthers last weekend. Randall Cobb, the guy I labeled as the “steal” of the 2011 NFL draft in April, went absolutely bonkers on national TV, and Newton — a young man I spent the entire preseason talking up in the face of countless critics — broke the NFL rookie opening weekend passing record. Newton’s good for a few highlights and some decent numbers in this one, but Carolina’s not beating the defending champions. If Cobb returns another kickoff for a score, he’ll be the early favorite — not Newton — for NFL Rookie of the Year.
The pick: Packers 31, Panthers 17
Seattle at Pittsburgh: After looking absolutely listless for 3-1/2 quarters, the Seahawks actually showed some fight in scratching within two points late in the game against the 49ers on Sunday. That was good to see. Savor that feeling, ‘Hawks fans. They’ll lose by three touchdowns to an angry Steelers team on Sunday. Still in your survivor pools? Circle this one and look toward Week 3.
The pick: Steelers 31, Seahawks 10
Baltimore at Tennessee: I had a weeklong debate over email last week with a buddy over Flacco’s proper placement in the NFL’s quarterback club. With four road playoff victories in three seasons and an AFC Championship Game appearance under his belt, I said Flacco was another AFC Championship Game away from being placed in the second tier of NFL quarterbacks (which currently houses Philip Rivers, Michael Vick and Eli Manning). I was mocked, laughed at, and called a Baltimore “homer” because I was once caught wearing a Ravens skull cap in a blizzard on the streets of Hoboken, NJ, a few years back. (Damn you, Facebook!) After Flacco’s flawless performance Sunday afternoon versus the Steelers, that same friend emailed me Sunday night with the following: “OK, Flacco’s pretty good. Another AFC championship game, and I’ll put him there. A Super Bowl? He’s first tier.” Couldn’t agree more. Flacco has been the most underappreciated quarterback in the NFL for three years. This season, with that first win over Big Ben finally in his rearview mirror, he’ll get some props.
The pick: Ravens 30, Titans 13
Arizona at Washington: Back in 2002, the Redskins won their home opener over the Cardinals with a beleaguered journeyman quarterback out of the University of Florida under center. This year, they’ll do the same exact thing. Rex Grossman, not Shane Matthews, will get the job done, putting the Redskins at the top of the NFC East standings after two games. Tim Tebow, get your arm ready, buddy. You’re on track to be doing the same exact thing in Washington 10 years from now. The Redskins, where crummy old Gators quarterbacks go to prosper!
The pick: Redskins 24, Cardinals 16
Jacksonville at New York Jets: The Jets didn’t win pretty on Sunday night, but their fans will take a fourth-quarter comeback from 14 points down with no qualms. Look for the Jags’ new-look defense to give Mark Sanchez some problems in this one, but for Gang Green to prevail at home. A guy to watch? Look for Jets rookie Jeremy Kerley to make a difference. He did nothing in his NFL debut on Sunday.
The pick: Jets 20, Jaguars 17
Kansas City at Detroit: The Chiefs looked undisciplined, unprepared, and downright terrible in their 41-7 loss at home to Buffalo last week. It could get even worse on Sunday in Detroit. Look for Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew to go bonkers with Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry out because of a torn ACL. Todd Haley’s great for an “Inside the NFL” sound bite and is apparently a scratch golfer, but I’m still not convinced he can game-plan with the Jim Schwartzes and Gunther Cunninghams of the world. He’ll be outclassed in this one.
The pick: Lions 31, Chiefs 17
Sunday’s 4 p.m. ET games:
Dallas at San Francisco: Following Sunday’s meltdown loss in New Jersey, Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking said the following about his quarterback, “I’ll take that guy over anybody in this league. Y’all might think I’m crazy, but I’m telling you right now, he’s going to have an all-time year. He’ll probably shatter every record. . . . I’ve seen enough football to know the guy’s ready for the next level.” Romo then slipped Brooking a $20 bill and whispered, “Thank you”. Dallas will rebound on the road in San Francisco.
The pick: Cowboys 34, 49ers 21
Houston at Miami: Saying the Dolphins have a home-field advantage in Sun Life Stadium is just plain wrong. They are losers of 10 of their past 11 home games dating to December 2009. Coach Tony Sparano actually had to pump fake crowd noise into the practices last week, preparing his team for all the Patriots fans that would be making the trip to Florida on Monday. Look for Miami to lose another one at home this weekend against the red-hot Texans. The Dolphins will be relieved to know they’re away in Cleveland in Week 3. As bizarro Dorothy once said, there’s no place like the road.
The pick: Texans 27, Dolphins 16
Cincinnati at Denver: A few days after I said the Bengals would go 1-15, they showed toughness, skill, and fortitude in a fourth-quarter comeback win on the road against a division rival. I’m still removing the shoe from my mouth. That being said, I can’t see the Bengals coming out of Mile High with a win on a late Sunday afternoon in Denver. Von Miller caused a fumble on his first NFL play and was the best player on the field Monday night. Look for some more impact plays out of the electrifying rookie in this one.
The pick: Broncos 24, Bengals 10
San Diego at New England: It feels like yesterday, but it has been six seasons since LaDainian Tomlinson and Shawne Merriman were insulted by Patriots players doing the “Lights Out” dance on the Chargers’ logo following New England’s 24-21 divisional round upset victory. Somewhere, a Bolts fan is breaking out in hives, cursing out Marlon McCree and Marty Schottenheimer. Sorry for the flashbacks. The Pats will get the best of San Diego again in this one. No dancing necessary. That includes you, Mr. Ochocino. And, no, I will not make an "Uno Catcho" joke.
The pick: Patriots 31, Chargers 26
Sunday night’s game
Philadelphia at Atlanta: I didn’t expect the amount of shock and vitriol I received when I said in my column last week that the Falcons wouldn’t make the playoffs. How dare I pick against Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez and Curtis Lofton — three men with a combined zero career playoff wins? This will be hyped up as some sort of Michael Vick redemption game, but we’re well past that. Vick threw and ran for touchdowns in Atlanta in 2009. Vick’s going to run all over that overrated Atlanta defense on Sunday night. All that preseason Matt Ryan MVP chatter will be hushed to a whisper after this one. The Vick MVP chatter? Good luck avoiding it.
The pick: Eagles 34, Falcons 24
Monday night’s game
St. Louis at New York Giants: Can we just call this one the M*A*S*H Bowl, scratch it off and reschedule it for later in the season when some of the star players are actually healthy? The league’s two most banged-up squads will give a national audience an ugly one way too early in the year. Expect a lot of Brandon Gibson, some Victor Cruz, and plenty of other backup skill position players whose names you’ll be forced to look up on Google. This is the anti-fantasy football owner’s dream matchup. Give me the Giants, in an ugly one. Hide the women and children.
The pick: Giants 17, Rams 13
Reader email of the week
Got in a heated argument with my friends Sunday, and we need you to settle it. Down seven points on the road in a big game, which fictional high school quarterback are you taking to lead your team on the two-minute drill?
— Sal, Verona, NJ
That’s an impossible question to answer without at least some specifics. Are we in a cold-weather environment? Are we in Texas? What kind of offense do we run — the spread, a passing offense, the wishbone? The obvious pick without any details is Lance Harbor, Paul Walker’s character in “Varsity Blues,” before the career-ending injury. Harbor had big things planned and was a respected leader. He can likely run a nice two-minute drill (with Foo Fighters’ "Hero" blasting in the background, of course).
But I’m going with a bit of a surprise pick here and choosing Vince Howard, the East Dillon quarterback in “Friday Night Lights” seasons four and five, instead. Howard overcame an abusive drug-dealing father (played by the same actor who was D’Shawn Hardell in the original “90210” series), a drug addict mother and gang-banging friends from the neighborhood with a bounty on his head to lead East Dillon to State during his junior year. And his girlfriend was the equipment manager! A measly two-minute drill? C’mon. That’s nothing.
Come to think of it, I’d probably choose Vince Howard as my fictional quarterback of choice in any situation, at any level. And, yes, that includes the gifted lefty from the Washington Sentinels in the five-star film "The Replacements", one Mr. Shane Falco.
Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh threw for 105 yards in a 45-21 Week 1 win over Cody Carlson and the ’94 Houston Oilers. The running back on that Colts squad? Marshall Faulk, a 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee. He ran for 143 yards and scored three touchdowns in his very first NFL game.