We’ve got division matchups. We’ve got fan bases in a certain big media market (cough, LA, cough) ready to jump ship. And we’ve got Jameis Winston coming off an NFC Offensive Player of the Week award. We’ve got good stuff this weekend. Here are my picks.
Getty ImagesKevin C. Cox
Cheat Sheet trivia question of the week
Since 2012, Russell Wilson has more fourth-quarter comebacks than any other quarterback in the NFL. Who is No. 2 on the list?
Thursday: Jets at Bills
This one isn’t just about Rex versus his former team. He went 2-0 last year against New York and that storyline was beaten to death more than the fact that Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard. He did! How zany! I’m looking at Leger Douzable. Yes, Leger Douzable! The longtime Jet had 1.5 sacks in his Bills debut last week against the Ravens and filled in nicely for the giant void left by Marcell Dareus. The Jets D-Line is nasty, yes. But their O-Line could have trouble on Thursday. Give me the Bills.
The pick: Bills 20, Jets 17
Sunday: Cowboys at Redskins
I’m not jumping off the Kirk Cousins Train just yet. I predicted he’d lead the league in passing this season and after a sub-par Week 1, the Twitter Mob got me good. I believe he gets things right this weekend. Short week for the Skins, but I’m not sure I see Dallas – with a rookie quarterback – going on the road and beating the defending division champions in their building.
The pick: Redskins 28, Cowboys 20
Sunday: 49ers at Panthers
Tough, tough task for the 49ers here. Short week and a trip across the country to face Cam Newton and the defending NFC champions who are on 10 days’ rest? Thanks a lot, NFL scheduling gods! But Chip Kelly’s paying immediate dividends in Santa Clara and I think the 49ers keep this one surprisingly close. San Francisco nearly doubled its average points per game from a season ago with its 28-point outburst Monday night. The Niners will compete on Sunday.
The pick: Panthers 24, 49ers 20
Sunday: Titans at Lions
The whole “exotic smash-mouth” thing in Tennessee was silenced by a ferocious Vikings defense last week. After finishing second in the preseason in rushing yards per game (and getting me way too jazzed), the Titans plodded their way to just 64 yards on the ground in Week 1. Can they bounce back? I think they do. For whatever reason, Marcus Mariota is an absolute stud when he plays everywhere but in Nashville. Over the course of his young career, he has 10 passing TDs and just one interception in six starts away from home. Going with him (and the upset) in this one.
The pick: Titans 22, Lions 20
Sunday: Dolphins at Patriots
Everyone’s giving Jimmy Garoppolo and Bill Belichick a ton of credit for Sunday night’s win in the desert and rightfully so. But how about Josh McDaniels? The offensive coordinator in charge of calling the plays built a gameplan without Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Dion Lewis, Rob Gronkowski, and oh yeah, Tom Brady. And truthfully, it was a thing of beauty. I had my doubts about the Brady-less Bunch last week. For that coaching staff, this four-week stretch without TB12 is almost more fun.
The pick: Patriots 23, Dolphins 17
Sunday: Saints at Giants
The last time these teams played. Drew Brees and Eli Manning combined for an NFL-record 13 passing touchdowns. The Giants spent $200 million in the offseason to rebuild their defense. The Saints lost their best cornerback to an injury last Sunday. Home crowd coming off a win? Pretty September day. Lots of Giants excitement in New York this week. This could be ugly.
The pick: Giants 38, Saints 17
Sunday: Chiefs at Texans
That Texans defense could be something really special this year. J.J. Watt was rumored to be on a “pitch count” last week, but that was hardly true with him taking 88 percent of the defensive snaps. Scary thing there? Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney were the ones flying all over the field. Watt was almost a complementary piece. That playoff loss last year? The Texans remember it. New team. New blood. You saw a lot of Will Fuller V in Week 1. I’d expect the other electric rookie, Braxton Miller, to make an impact in this one.
The pick: Texans 23, Chiefs 17
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsTroy Taormina
Sunday: Ravens at Browns
The Browns are going the Moneyball approach and as Carson Wentz develops elsewhere, Cleveland fans need to hope the team is building for the long-term and not focused on a Super Bowl run. That’s hard to do, but it’s really the only option. The Browns will compete every week under Hue Jackson, but I can’t see them knocking off Joe Flacco and a John Harbaugh-coached team on Sunday.
The pick: Ravens 20, Browns 13
Doug Kapustin/MCT via Getty Images
Sunday: Bengals at Steelers
The last time these teams played … (hide your eyes Bengals fans) …well, yeah, you know how it ended. Something with Adam Jones on Instagram saying things. New year. Andy Dalton’s the quarterback this time. And yet, after Monday night’s performance, I can’t pick against the Steelers in their home opener. How good is Ben Roethlisberger? He seems to get better with age. Most underappreciated quarterback of all time. First-ballot Hall of Famer in my book.
The pick: Steelers 23, Bengals 20 (OT)
Sunday: Buccaneers at Cardinals
Fun subplot, here, with Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht being the former No. 2 to Cardinals GM Steve Keim in Arizona. Once colleagues. Now foes. Let’s go! I’ll be on the sidelines for FOX in this one, and I’m curious to see just how Larry Fitzgerald and this Arizona team answers the bell. With the Panthers, Falcons and Saints all losing Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in sole possession of first place in the NFC South for the first time since the last week of the 2007 season. That’s just silly. Tampa will get there. The Bucs are on the right track. But I don’t see them winning this one. Not yet.
The pick: Cardinals 27, Buccaneers 21
Sunday: Seahawks at Rams
It didn’t take long for people to jump off the L.A. Rams bandwagon, huh? I mean, talk about a team getting walloped in the media this week. If you listen to talk radio this week, you’d think Jeff Fisher is the worst coach in NFL history, quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke has never seen a game of football in his life, and Jared Goff is in kindergarten while Carson Wentz is studying for the bar exam. The truth is, LA sports fans can be fickle, and as odd as it sounds, Sunday matters. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman are on the call, it’s a big national game and there’s a feeling of desperation already. Can the Rams beat Seattle? I think they can. Here’s to an upset for the ages. Give me Aaron Donald and the Rams to turn this thing around. After all, they beat Seattle twice a season ago. And that was without 90,000 fans all sorts of juiced up.
The pick: Rams 20, Seahawks 16
Sunday: Jaguars at Chargers
Tough to have much confidence in Jacksonville traveling all those miles for this one. The Jags are 0-6 in September road games under Gus Bradley and have been outscored 223-84 in those contests. Philip Rivers tends to get things back on track after tough losses. Last Sunday was one of those. I’ll take the ‘Bolts at home.
The pick: Chargers 24, Jaguars 17
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY SportBrace Hemmelgarn
Sunday: Falcons at Raiders
Raiders bandwagon? Yeah, I’m on it. The mystery man who’s getting a lot of buzz in coaching circles is Raiders quarterbacks coach Todd Downing. Just 36 years old, Downing is credited for a lot of the success Derek Carr has had in Years 2 and 3. I think they keep the mojo going Sunday. Expect a healthy dose of Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington, and Latavius Murray (28) against that wish-washy Falcons run defense.
The pick: Raiders 33, Falcons 24
Sunday: Colts at Broncos
Can the Broncos actually defend a title with Trevor Siemian? I ask, honestly, “Why not?” The Broncos did just what they had to on offense a week ago in their season-opening win, and gave Von Miller and the defense a chance. Cam Newton was annihilated back there last Thursday night. Andrew Luck will have a bit more protection (and the officials will be watching things very, very closely), but I don’t see him faring much better up in Mile High. This Broncos team is for real. And Siemian might be, too. The beauty of it all? With that defense, he doesn’t necessarily have to be.
The pick: Broncos 26, Colts 17
Denver Post via Getty ImagesJohn Leyba
Sunday night: Packers at Vikings
Fun one, here. The Vikings are opening a new home stadium, are being viewed around the league as de-facto division champions from a year ago because Jordy Nelson was injured, and there will be a Sunday night audience. I love Aaron Rodgers. Really, I do. But let’s not disrespect the Vikings fans and that defense by making them field goal underdogs in their home opener. I don’t know who is starting at quarterback, but I do know that place will be absolutely nuts. I’ll roll with the elements. Give me Adrian Peterson and Minnesota.
The pick: Vikings 24, Packers 20
Monday night: Eagles at Bears
The Wentz Wagon is in full effect. I saw the Texans just pummel Jay Cutler a week ago, time and time again. I know this front seven is not that one, but I’m also not sure it’s that far off. I won’t stop picking against Carson Wentz until he shows that he isn’t the greatest quarterback we’ve ever seen. This ride is too much fun not to enjoy it. I can’t wait to hear Jon Gruden give him the love on Monday. Give me Wentz. The pick: Eagles 23, Bears 16
Getty ImagesRich Schultz
Reader email of the week
Peter, fan of your stuff. I was watching you on the sidelines on Sunday in Houston and couldn’t help but notice you were giddy about the Texans' young wide receivers. What about my Giants? Best wideouts in the league, in my humble opinion.
Jeff, Montclair, New Jersey
Love the Giants wideouts. Love the Texans wideouts. Love the Falcons wideouts. But the best wideout corps in the league is the one in Arizona. The Cardinals don’t just go three deep in the desert. They go four, five deep. Forget John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald (11) and Michael Floyd (15) for a moment. Unknown studs J.J. Nelson and Jaron Brown could start for most NFL teams. Carson Palmer has all the weapons in the world. Now, they just need to put it all together.
Getty ImagesChristian Petersen
Cheat Sheet trivia answer of the week
Tony Romo has the second-most fourth-quarter comebacks by a quarterback since 2012.