The 49ers' Jim Harbaugh and the LIons' Jim Schwartz reunite for a game that should be among the highlights of Week 2 in the NFL.
By Peter SchragerFoxSports
Week 1 had just about everything an NFL fan could ask for.
Peyton Manning came back and picked up right where he left off 20 months ago, RG-320 became the first opposing quarterback to win at New Orleans since the 2010 season, and Brandon Weeden began his NFL career by getting trapped under a 100-yard-long American flag. Unfortunately for Weeden, that was the best moment of his NFL debut.
We nailed one of our upsets in last week’s Cheat Sheet, accurately predicting a win from Greg Schiano's new-look "Baby Bucs" over Carolina, but didn’t see the 49ers coming out on top at Green Bay. Did anyone?
San Francisco’s opponent in Week 2 is a familiar one. Last year’s Lions-49ers game, a classic in Detroit, was overshadowed by the head coaches having a bizarre shouting match after the final whistle. This time around, neither coach is talking about Shovegate, with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh telling reporters, "People who choose to use that to promote this game or any other game are really missing the point. As a rule of thumb, I have too much respect for the men who play this game — on both side sides to give it any (credence).”
Well, sorry, coach. This is fun for us. And asking the media not to promote Shovegate would be like asking the makers of “Showgirls” to not promote the fact Jessie Spano from “Saved by the Bell” was naked for half the film. This is the most anticipated meeting of two middle-aged, know-it-all NFL coaches since Bill Belichick snubbed Eric Mangini at midfield in 2008.
You better believe we’re going to use that Shovegate clip, over and over again, to promote this game. The “Cheat Sheet” is all about awkward handshakes, hugs and snubs.
With that, let’s dig into the Week 2 Cheat Sheet:
Week 1 record: 11-5
TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 355 yards Sunday in his 30th career start. Stafford has 8,195 passing yards, the third-most through 30 starts by a quarterback who began his career in the Super Bowl era. What two quarterback threw for more yards in their first 30 career starts? (See below for answer.)
Chicago at Green Bay: After the Green Bay defense's listless effort in the 30-22 loss to the 49ers on Sunday, defensive back Jarrett Bush insisted that the Packers “beat themselves.” Nope. That actually wasn’t the case at all, Jarrett. The 49ers beat the heck out of you. They did so at the line of scrimmage. They did so through the air. And they did so rather convincingly. In your building, no less. Green Bay has lost its past two games at Lambeau Field. I can’t see them losing a third. If they do, it will be because of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall torching them, not because the Packers “beat themselves.”
Houston at Jacksonville: Blaine Gabbert played very well last week. That’s the first time I’ve ever written those words in a column. Alas, he won’t fare as well against the Houston front seven on Sunday. As Mario Williams, the $100 million man in Buffalo, recorded one tackle and no sacks in a 48-28 loss last week against the Jets, J.J. Watt batted two passes down that resulted in interceptions and had 1.5 sacks in a 30-10 win over Miami. Expect Watt and teammate Connor Barwin to give Gabbert fits in this one.
Tampa Bay at New York Giants: Want a good backstory for this one? Of course you do. Victor Cruz’s grandmother passed away on Monday evening. Cruz did his now-signature salsa dance as a tribute to her last season, a nod to Hispanic Heritage Month and the home where she taught him to dance on 20th Street in Paterson, N.J. Who encouraged Cruz to break out the salsa dance? Former Giants quarterback coach Mike Sullivan. You see, Sullivan had a feeling that Cruz might have had some butterflies in his stomach before his first career start, so he told the second-year player to concentrate on celebrating his culture if he got into the end zone instead of focusing on the game. Cruz burned Kirk Coleman and Nnamdi Asomugha, got to the 5-yard line, said, "Ah, what the heck?", and did the salsa. Well, Sullivan is now the offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay. Full circle, huh? The Giants have had 10 days off, 10 days to prepare and 10 days to get healthy. Give me New York in Schiano’s first game back in the Garden State.
Cleveland at Cincinnati: It takes a pretty crummy day from a quarterback to have Browns fans clogging sports radio station phone lines asking for Colt McCoy on a Monday morning. A 5.1 QB rating will do that. But I don’t blame all of Cleveland’s problems on Brandon Weeden. There’s not an NFL receiver on that Cleveland roster. USC has two better wide receivers than any of the wideouts on the Browns. Everyone praised it at the time, but trading the 2011 sixth overall pick — which was used on Julio Jones — for a few future draft picks will haunt this team for years. Cincinnati will win big after being embarrassed on national television on Monday night. The Browns' offense — whether it be Weeden or McCoy under center — will continue to struggle.
Oakland at Miami: For about a half-hour, things were going very well last week for the Dolphins. They led the Texans 3-0 in the first quarter, and an upset appeared to be in the works. Then Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions in less than six minutes, and that was that. I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of “and that was thats” for the Dolphins this year.
The pick: Raiders 31, Dolphins 20
Kansas City at Buffalo: The Bills spent $119.25 million on free-agent defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson in March and have an additional $56 million committed to defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Those four defensive linemen— hyped all summer as the best defensive line in all of football — combined for a grand total of four tackles and no sacks in Buffalo’s 48-28 loss to the Jets. In our FOXSports.com preseason predictions in August, I picked the Bills as my second wild card out of the AFC this year. If they lose this one, I’m requesting a do-over.
The pick: Bills 23, Chiefs 17
Baltimore at Philadelphia: The Ravens put on a show Monday night in a 44-13 blowout of the Bengals. But should we have been all that surprised by the effort? Joe Flacco looked incredible all preseason, the no-huddle was working all summer, the kicking game improved with Justin Tucker and Ray Lewis lost 20 pounds in the offseason. The Eagles? They were very fortunate to escape Cleveland with a win. If they were against an actual NFL offense, they wouldn’t have. Seeing the way the Ravens' D came at Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, I can’t take the Eagles, in good conscience. Not with that offensive line.
The pick: Ravens 31, Eagles 23
Minnesota at Indianapolis: The Vikings blew halftime leads of 10 points or more while losing each of their first three games in 2011. They came awfully close to coughing up a game that they were controlling all afternoon last Sunday, only to rally in the final seconds to beat the Jaguars. I like this Vikings team. No hype. No pomp. No real buzz. A motivated Adrian Peterson, a solid second-year quarterback and a cast of young defenders. Give me the Vikes. Minnesota 2-0 and atop the NFC North after two weeks? Sure, why not?
Arizona at New England: Is it too early to pencil the Patriots in for the Super Bowl? Probably. But with the way newcomers Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Lloyd played in the opener, it’s difficult not to consider the Patriots the favorites in the AFC. They’ll have no problems with Arizona on Sunday. Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Kurt Warner or Neil Lomax — there’s no chance the Cardinals are traveling across the country, playing at 1 p.m. ET and winning against a Belichick-coached team.
The pick: Patriots 31, Cardinals 17
New Orleans at Carolina: The Buccaneers did a real number on Cam Newton last week, holding the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year to four rushing yards and limiting the high-flying Carolina offense to 10 points. It’s rare that a Week 2 game has so much riding on it, but with the Saints facing Kansas City next week and Carolina getting the Giants, both teams need this one. Newton’s going to get his yards and the Panthers will put more than 10 points on the board on Sunday, but I don’t see Drew Brees losing with his back against the wall. The Saints will win on a late TD.
The pick: Saints 31, Panthers 27
SUNDAY 4 P.M. ET GAMES
Washington at St. Louis: Forget “Tebowing.” The new sensation is “Griffining,” which, from what I gather, is lying flat on your back in a make-believe end zone and raising your arms upright and taking a photo of it. Of course, I’m two years behind. I'm still into “Bradford-ing.” That’s throwing a ball five feet over an open receiver’s head along the near sideline on third down.
Dallas at Seattle: The last time Tony Romo played in Seattle, there was an extra point, a botched hold, and, well, yeah, it didn’t end so great. That was a different Tony Romo than the one we saw last Wednesday night, though. Now five years after that fateful 2007 wild-card round loss in Seattle, Romo looks locked in and as capable as he ever has before. The Seattle fans will make their presence felt — they always do — but this Cowboys team is just too good and too seasoned to suffer a letdown after 10 days off.
The pick: Cowboys 24, Seahawks 17
Tennessee at San Diego: After his 11-carry, four-yard effort versus the Patriots on Sunday, Titans running back Chris Johnson is now only 1,996 yards short of reaching his goal of 2,000 for the season. There were some bright spots for Tennessee last week — quarterback Jake Locker and wide receiver Kendall Wright had their moments — but it appears as though 2012 could be a long year for Titans fans. Matt Hasselbeck or Locker, I like Philip Rivers over both QBs.
New York Jets at Pittsburgh: The last time Tim Tebow played against the Steelers, he threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas, ending the Steelers’ 2011 season in Denver. He has a bit of a different role on the Jets, but will, no doubt, make his impact felt in this one. Expect some wildcat formation, expect some crazy quarterback shuffling by Tony Sparano and expect at least one of those funky Tebow jump passes in the red zone. It will all be really fun, and you'll see the highlights for days. But it’ll also be for naught. The Steelers aren’t losing this one.
The pick: Steelers 24, Jets 20
SUNDAY NIGHT GAME
Detroit at San Francisco: Just about everything about the 49ers’ win was flawless. I won’t be picking against them again for a while. Honestly, I might never pick against them again.
The pick: 49ers 31, Lions 20
MONDAY NIGHT GAME
Denver at Atlanta: Matt Ryan completed a combined 17 passes to Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City last Sunday, and the Atlanta offense put up 40 points rather easily on a good Chiefs D. Atlanta scored on its first eight possessions. Make no mistake, this is a very dangerous Falcons offense. Peyton Manning will get his fantasy points, and poor Chris Owens — playing for injured Falcons starting cornerback Brent Grimes — will get picked on from start to finish. But I like the Falcons. They’re home. And the game's not being played in January.
Peter, Did you read that Percy Harvin celebrated like his team had won after the Vikings’ kicker hit the field goal on their opening drive in overtime? First, Donovan McNabb didn’t know that there were ties in the NFL. Now, this. How hard is it for NFL players to learn overtime rules? They can learn entire playbooks, offensive schemes and coaching staffs, but not simple the rules of the game. It’s amazing to me. Freddy T. Fairfield, CT.
Freddy, I can’t lie — I made the same exact mistake Harvin did when that kick sailed through the uprights. I totally forgot the new OT rules were in place and assumed the game was over, patting myself on the back for accurately picking the Vikings in last week’s Cheat Sheet. I was at a sports bar, and, trust me, the entire table of Vikings fans sitting behind me were in the same exact boat as Harvin and me, jumping all over each other when Blair Walsh’s kick went through. It was an awkward moment when we all realized the game wasn’t over. We kind of nodded, tipped our caps, blushed and went about stuffing our faces with buffalo wings and other unhealthy, unthinkable things. Hey, I don’t blame Harvin. Like you said, he has a lot more to worry about than the OT rules. Including his Florida Gators. Undefeated record or not, they look terrible. Like really, really bad.
OH, BY THE WAY . . .
1. The Victoria Azarenka-Redfoo friendship/possible romance is the most fascinating musician/athlete relationship of the past decade. How did the tennis phenom from Belarus meet the front man from LMFAO? What do they talk about in their quiet moments? Can Redfoo play tennis? Does Azarenka end up in LMFAO’s next video? I have so many questions that will likely never get answered. For shame.
2. The best fantasy football team name I’ve heard this year? “Call Me, Maybin.” That wins. For now.
3. The “Christmas Story 2” movie trailer made the rounds last week. If you would rather not spend the rest of your day angry at Hollywood, you shouldn’t watch this.
4. My favorite part of the US Open isn’t the tremendous athleticism, the wonderful concessions or the great celebrity sightings. It’s the fans who show up dressed head to toe in tennis clothing . . . you know, just in case one of the players gets hurt and they need to jump in.
5. The best non-sports related article I read this week comes from Bloomberg BusinessWeek. The headline: “Death to PowerPoint.” Anyone sitting at a desk with a presentation due at the end of the day will appreciate this.
Only Kurt Warner (8,739) and Dan Marino (8,467) had more passing yards through their first 30 career starts than Stafford.