Schrager’s Week 3 Cheat Sheet: Forget Peterson & Rice — Super Bowl rematch is upon us

Leaving the Vikings facility in Eden Prairie, Minn., on Monday night, I couldn’t help but feel a little foolish.

The Adrian Peterson news, which I have been covering copiously, compounded with the Ray Rice elevator video tape that was released to the public a few days earlier, came just three weeks after Johnny Manziel gave the middle finger to the Redskins sideline in garbage time of a preseason game.

It was a mistake by a rookie quarterback with a history of some other (albeit harmless) mistakes throughout his NFL career. Maybe it was a bit unprofessional.

At the time, I came down on Manziel for his immaturity and a lack of respect for both the game and the audience — which included kids — watching at home. Manziel’s middle finger really bothered me. During the FOX Sports Live commercial break, the show’s lead football analyst, Donovan McNabb, told me to get a glass of water and take a deep breath.

It probably made for some decent television and it wasn’t an act. I genuinely was frustrated over Manziel’s latest gaffe.

But as I was walking out of the Vikings facility, I couldn’t help but feel a sting of embarrassment. That was what I was worked up about? That was what I spent time getting upset over? A 21-year-old kid flipping the bird?

This week has put quite a lot into perspective. And any “anger” over Johnny Manziel that any of us in the media may have had this summer looks and feels ridiculous now. 

Quite frankly, it seems like years ago.

I’d take a million middle fingers over what we’ve seen the past two weeks.

Now, let’s get to the Week 3 games.

Disagree with what I write? Good. Hit me up @Pschrags on Twitter or email me at PeterSchrager@gmail.com and let me have it.

CHEAT SHEET WEEK 3 TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK:

J.J. Watt is one of two players in NFL history with more than 30 career sacks and a receiving touchdown during the first four seasons of his NFL career. Who is the other player? (Answer at bottom)

THE OTHER ARTICLE OF THE WEEK:

The Washington Post’s Kent Babb is one of my favorite sportswriters. This piece from Kent and his colleague Adam Goldman on the far-ranging tentacles of the league’s security network is eye-opening:

The key excerpt: “Each NFL team is assigned a contractor, along with an associate investigator, to act as the league’s eyes and ears (many teams hire their own in-house security experts to protect their interests). Of the consultants assigned by the league, many have experience in federal law enforcement agencies — most commonly the FBI — and their directive is to establish knowledge of and comfort within the local legal setting. They get to know the area’s information brokers, and after player arrests or potential incidents of misconduct, the representative ferrets out information — often details that would never be made public — with the intention of sharing it with the league office.”

THROWBACK JERSEY OF THE WEEK

Each week, we’ll direct you to a throwback jersey worth purchasing. The Carolina Panthers are 2-0 and looking good. So, here’s an autographed DeShaun Foster jersey.

THE PICKS

Last week wasn’t pretty. I have confidence this week will be more like my Week 1, where I looked somewhat (somewhat!) smart.

Week 2 Record: 5-11

2014 Overall Record: 16-16

Thursday

Tampa Bay at Atlanta: The Falcons defense couldn’t cover a book right now. Fortunately for them, an actual hardcover book — an immobile object filled with words, pages and a weird-ish photo of a middle-aged man dressed in jeans, a button-down, and a snazzy blazer on the inside flap — could score more points in an NFL game than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense. Jeff Tedford’s unit has been a dreary nightmare, with neither the ground game nor passing game doing anything worth mentioning. Tampa Bay has now lost two games at home, to Derek Anderson and Austin Davis. It doesn’t get any easier. The FOX Sports cameras caught Jeff Tedford making this face during Sunday’s loss to the Rams. It could get worse on Thursday.

The pick: Falcons 34, Buccaneers 17

Final: Falcons 56, Buccaneers 14

Sunday

San Diego at Buffalo: Before we get too excited about the Bills’ hot start, realize that they have been 2-0 six times since they last made the playoffs in 1999 and didn’t make the postseason each time. On a less depressing/cynical note, the Bills have now put together two complete wins, in which they’ve gotten production from the passing and running games, defense and special teams unit. Many of us (yes, even me!) wrote the Bills off when Kiko Alonso went down. We forgot that they had arguably the best defensive line in all of football. The Chargers are flying high after their win over Seattle, but I’m always leery of a team that’s traveling across the country and playing in a time zone other than their own.

The pick: Bills 24, Chargers 17

Dallas at St. Louis: Make no mistake about it, Tony Romo’s passes don’t have quite the same zip on them this year as they once did. And two recent back surgeries have limited the mobility of a guy who for many years was one of the more dangerous out-of-the-pocket quarterbacks in the game. And yet, the Dallas offense will be OK if it continues to get the same production out of DeMarco Murray as it had in its first two games. When a back averages 5.8 yards per carry, as Murray did against the Titans in Week 2, you’re not going to lose many games. When I predicted the Cowboys would win 10 games back in August, it was because I saw a schedule and slate of opponents I thought they could manage. If the defense can’t stop Austin Davis — even if the game is on the road in a hostile environment — 10 wins seems unlikely.

The pick: Cowboys 24, Rams 17

Washington at Philadelphia: DeSean Jackson expects to play Sunday against the Eagles, and that’ll be the biggest storyline heading into this one. “I’m a very confident person, regardless of an injury, and I pride myself on not missing any games and prepare myself any and every way I can to help my team. So when it comes time for game, I’m going to do everything I can to get myself prepared and ready. Being cleared through my trainers is more of ‘we’re waiting’ more than anything. But I should be as far as good come Sunday,” Jackson said on Wednesday. Translation? I wouldn’t miss this for the world. I can see Jackson — one of the more productive Eagles players of the past decade — having a big game at the Linc. I can also see Darren Sproles and LeSean McCoy slicing up the Redskins D. Give me the home team.

The pick: Eagles 34, Redskins 23

Houston at New York Giants: A lot was made of J.J. Watt being put in at tight end, and I guess it was cute and fun and whatever else, but I can’t say I loved it. Just as I cringe when I see Antonio Brown or Earl Thomas returning punts, I cringed when I saw Watt line up on offense. All it takes is one defensive player trying to make a point, one frustrated Raiders defender insulted by the fact his team is being made a mockery in a blowout and one low blow to seriously injure one of the league’s best — if not the best — defensive player. Watt played offense in the Pro Bowl a few years back, and it was good fun. Unless he’s the best player at the position on the team (and he may very well be), I’m fine seeing that package in All-Star games and All-Star games alone. OK, now let me take a step down and get off my soapbox. Oh, yeah, and I like the Giants this weekend.

The pick: Giants 24, Texans 20

Minnesota at New Orleans: There’s an old saying in football. And that’s “next man up.” Vikings running back Matt Asiata. If Adrian Peterson was an All-Pro in the making back when he was dominating at the high school level in Palestine, Texas, Asiata’s rise to the NFL wasn’t as direct. Undrafted out of Utah, Asiata bounced in and out of the NFL for a year before spending his entire 2011 season working in a warehouse, waiting for another shot. He’d get an opportunity in 2012, jumping on the practice squad with the Vikings and ultimately getting some carries in NFL games a season ago. Asiata, a father of four who has tattoos stressing the importance of family on his forearm, tragically lost his father in a bus accident a year ago. Peterson likely won’t see another down with the Vikings this season. Asiata’s time has arrived, and I expect him to have a big day on the ground this weekend. I think the Vikings will put their best effort together on Sunday but would lose to an angry Saints team in the Superdome with or without Peterson.

The pick: Saints 27, Vikings 20

Tennessee at Cincinnati: If I were to do a weekly power rankings list (and really, who are the fans who get worked up over those?), I’d have the Bengals at No. 1 heading into Week 3. They have two good victories over two good teams and a balanced running and passing offense that complements a hard-nosed defense. I was curious to see how Cincinnati would react to losing its offensive and defensive coordinators this offseason. Through two games, the Bengals have been even better than they were with those guys.

The pick: Bengals 33, Titans 17

Baltimore at Cleveland: Just how Cleveland is Brian Hoyer? He was in the stadium for the last home game of the 1995 season before the team moved to Baltimore. “I just remember being scared at the game because of the people ripping out the benches, the atmosphere,” Hoyer said Wednesday. “I remember they could only play in one end zone of the field because the Dawg Pound was so crazy.” Everything is clicking for Hoyer, and it helps to have rookie runners Isiah Crowell and Terrence West gashing opposing defenses. The real wild card Sunday could be tight end Jordan Cameron. If he plays through a shoulder injury, I like Cleveland. If he doesn’t, I’m going with the Ravens. Let’s say he plays. Give me Mr. Cleveland, aka Brian Football, in another impressive home victory.

The pick: Browns 23, Ravens 20

Green Bay at Detroit: I just can’t see the Lions stopping Aaron Rodgers with their current secondary in place. Detroit placed cornerback Nevin Lawson on the season-ending injured reserve list earlier this week. Lawson, of course, was in the lineup because Bill Bentley — the usual nickel corner — is out with a torn ACL. The Lions have only three cornerbacks — Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis, and Cassius Vaughn — with any game experience on the roster, and make no mistake, none of those guys has played like Deion Sanders thus far this season. Rodgers has had success throughout his career in Detroit. I’d expect him to do some damage against the undermanned Lions.

The pick: Packers 31, Lions 24

Indianapolis at Jacksonville: This one may seem like a nice reprieve for the Colts after two tough losses to the Broncos and Eagles. But I wouldn’t put it in ink just yet. Jacksonville has been on the road in its first two games and has historically defended Andrew Luck fairly well. It’ll be a lot closer than expected. I just hope offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton remembers that Luck, not Trent Richardson, is the MVP candidate on this team.

The pick: Colts 23, Jaguars 17

Oakland at New England: I didn’t get a chance to watch the Raiders-Texans game tape until Wednesday of this week. And I’m glad I didn’t. Yuck. What’s with Oakland? After an offseason in which the team spent big bucks on high-priced veterans, several of them — LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith, in particular — were absolutely invisible in the team’s home opener. I’m not sure what the hope was coming into this year, but it seems like more of the same. Oakland hasn’t won more than eight games since 2002. Based on what I saw from last week — a defeated, deflated, and very old-looking squad — I don’t see how the Raiders get to eight in 2014.

The pick: Patriots 34, Raiders 20

San Francisco at Arizona: Though an injured foot is certainly slowing him down, you wouldn’t know by Andre Ellington’s 5.1 yards-per-carry average this season. Arizona has lost some key players to injury — Carson Palmer, Darnell Dockett among them — but seems to just keep on plugging away. Drew Stanton isn’t the next Joe Montana, and he isn’t the next Palmer. But he doesn’t turn the ball over, either. The most underrated player on this Arizona team thus far has been cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Signed for less money than many expected, the former Charger and Jet has allowed just three catches for 20 yards this season. San Francisco is a road favorite in this one. I’ll take the Bird Gang.

The pick: Cardinals 23, 49ers 18

Denver at Seattle: Lost in all the off-field news this week is a Super Bowl rematch that’s gotten just about no hype or publicity. The last time Denver saw Seattle in a game that mattered, the final score was 43-8 and we were left wondering what exactly happened. I can’t imagine Peyton Manning not wanting this one badly, but I also can’t imagine him coming out of Seattle with a victory. The Seahawks will be pissed off after losing to the Chargers last Sunday, the crowd will be in a frenzy, and the Seattle defense had its way with The Sheriff back in February. I’ll take the defending champs.

The pick: Seahawks 27, Broncos 23

Kansas City at Miami: What hasn’t gone wrong for the Chiefs this season? Injuries, undisciplined play and an uncharacteristically below-par defense have KC in an early 0-2 hole. Miami, on the other hand, looked like it fell asleep at the wheel once Knowshon Moreno left last Sunday’s game in Buffalo with an injury. This one has a quirky, late afternoon start in Miami, and a last-second field goal written all over it. I’ll take the Chiefs on the road because I just can’t see a team this talented coached by Andy Reid starting the season 0-3.

The pick: Chiefs 17, Dolphins 14

Pittsburgh at Carolina: Who had the Carolina Panthers — with Cam Newton’s bruised ribs, a cast of nobodies at wide receiver, and the Greg Hardy situation looming over them — going 2-0? No one. I love what this Carolina team has done in its first two games, winning with defense and limiting mistakes on offense. If Cam Newton can win the NFC South after losing his top four wide receivers during the offseason we need to put him in the same conversation as the rest of the game’s greats. This one won’t be easy, but in front of that home crowd under the lights, I like the Panthers. Jason Avant — yes, Jason Avant! — was Newton’s go-to guy last week. Doesn’t matter. Give me Cam and that D.

The pick: Panthers 24, Steelers 17

MONDAY NIGHT

Chicago at New York: The Jets are a tough team, and I love the way they’ve played in their first two weeks — despite giving up an 18-point lead in Lambeau last weekend. But I just don’t see those cornerbacks — regardless of whether Dee Milliner plays — stopping the Alshon Jeffery/Brandon Marshall duo. The guy who might make an impact against New York in this one? Look for former Jet and current Bear Santonio Holmes to make a few plays. Everyone is focused on DeSean Jackson’s return to Philadelphia. I’m curious to see what ’Tone has up his sleeve in his first trip back to MetLife.

The pick: Bears 24, Jets 16

Reader Email of the Week

Peter,

You’ve got a good head on your shoulders and I love listening to your rants each week on the Jay and Dan Podcast. On this week’s, I couldn’t help but take a moment and notice you raving about The Olive Garden’s “All You Can Eat” salad and breadsticks deal. Though I have no doubt you actually dine at the establishment, I have to ask — because you didn’t disclose this and I see Matthew Berry talking up Dave and Buster’s and Chris Berman for Applebee’s and Scott Van Pelt for WingStop — are you on the Olive Garden payroll? Be honest with us, Schrags!

Scott G.,

Plainview, New York

Scott,

Sadly, I’m not on the Olive Garden payroll, nor do I want to be. Truthfully, I don’t deserve such an honor. As long as they keep filling my gullet with those zesty breadsticks, that incredible salad and that absolutely delicious never-ending pasta bowl — I’m more than compensated with happiness and 10 extra pounds during the football season.

CHEAT SHEET WEEK 3 TRIVIA ANSWER OF THE WEEK:

Jared Allen recorded 43 sacks and had 2 career receiving touchdowns between 2004 and 2007, the first four seasons of his NFL career.