Look between the lines: Handicapping NFL's Week 2 slate

BY foxsports • September 11, 2014

James Hernandez has more than 15 years in the sports handicapping industry and will contribute weekly for FOXSports.com as our betting expert. Have comments or questions? Make sure to email him at jameshernandez1981@gmail.com.

During the NFL season, I will attempt to guide you to the winner's circle more often than not. I consider a combination of statistical trends, my own personal player ranking system, and meticulous attention to various wagering techniques that allow me to analyze and formulate a plan of attack. Each week I will post my five favorite plays in order of preference, best on top and so on. All right, let's get into it:

Pittsburgh Steelers (+3) over Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens and Steelers continue to set the standard by which other NFL rivalries are measured. Over 18 seasons, these two teams have played 39 times and 24 of the 39 meetings have been decided by eight points or less.

Joe Flacco may be employed by the Ravens, but it seems Ben Roethlisberger has a stake in him, too. Since 2008, Big Ben is 7-2 against his nemesis, including a 3-1 mark in Charm City.

Although the Ravens locker room will likely rally around the Ray Rice controversy and play inspired football, it just won't be enough to offset the speed and skill of Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell and the new-look, up-tempo Steelers offense.

If Brown's emergence as a true No. 1 wideout in Todd Haley's offense is not impressive enough, he is now arguably the most explosive punt returner in the game as well.

With 10 of the last 12 meetings between these two decided by three points or fewer, do yourself a favor and take the points in what is sure to be another fierce chapter in one of the game's most storied rivalries.

Tennessee Titans (-3.5) over Dallas Cowboys

While it’s not suggested to overreact after just one game, it appears as if the quarterback whisperer himself, Ken Whisenhunt, is up to his old tricks with Jake Locker.

After a masterful display in one of the league’s most hostile road venues, Locker will look to build on that effort as his Titans welcome in possibly the worst defense in the NFL. The Cowboys defense managed only one sack last week and may be hard-pressed to sniff the quarterback Sunday as they attempt to penetrate one of the best offensive lines in the game. First-round picks Chance Warmack and Taylor Lewan will team with 10-year vet Michael Roos to open holes all afternoon for the three-headed rushing attack of Shonn Greene, Bishop Sankey and Dexter McCluster.

Last week this trio went for 125 yards and should once again pace a well-balanced offense.

Tony Romo's three interceptions last week will have cornerback Jason McCourty and the Titans secondary salivating as they look to build on a three-interception performance last week against the Chiefs.

This game is a classic case of two teams headed in opposite directions. Locker is coming off the most efficient start of his career (22-of-33 for 2 TDs, 111.4 passer rating) as Romo had a passer rating of 60.8 -- 49.4 points below his combined quarterback ratings in seven previous season openers.

This appears to be the perfect spot to take advantage of the better team laying a favorable number early in the season.

Arizona Cardinals (-1) over New York Giants

West Coast teams heading east are generally at a severe disadvantage. But after the lackluster showing by the Giants on Monday night, the only team at a disadvantage here appears to be the G-Men.

After their secondary was exposed for 341 passing yards last week, both Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd are undoubtedly chomping at the bit to get a chance against a very shaky secondary.

After throwing for 304 yards and two TDs it appears Carson Palmer has finally become the quarterback Bruce Arians envisioned when the Cards traded for him in April 2013. Carson is now 11-6 as a starter for Arizona and that record is the best for a starter in the desert since a guy named Kurt Warner was leading Arizona to consecutive postseason appearances in 2008 (winning the NFC, too) and 2009.

Eli Manning is taking his lumps as he attempts to become a more accurate passer in a system that does not necessarily seem to fit his skill set. Manning threw a career-high 27 interceptions last season and, unfortunately for New York fans, he appears to be picking up right where he left off with a pair of picks to start the year.

To make matters worse, two of the best cover corners in the game (Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie) come into East Rutherford looking to shut down a receiving corps that is still finding its way.

Get on the bird gang early as this game will surely see one-sided action and possibly move a point or two by game time Sunday.

Philadelphia Eagles/Indianapolis Colts over 53

Despite the sluggish start last Sunday against Jacksonville, the Eagles proved that they can score points with the best of them as they turned a scoreless first half and 17-point deficit into a comfortable win going away that included 34 unanswered points to close the show.

It's almost as if Nick Foles saw Mark Sanchez getting his arm loose prior to the start of the second half and thought, “There is no way I can lose my job to the butt fumble guy.”

Andrew Luck was barely able to blink before Peyton Manning had found tight end Julius Thomas for three touchdowns last Sunday night.

Despite the offensive onslaught early in the Mile High City, Luck was able to rally his team from way behind and backdoor a late cover as an eight-point underdog. Philly may have been able to right the ship defensively in the second half against Chad Henne, but if they come out sluggish against Indy, Luck may have 21 on the board before Philly fans can say "cheese steak."

Even without the help of Superman, Carolina managed to outlast the Bucs and earn a gritty divisional road win.

The real story here, though, is Jim Caldwell and his new-look Lions emerging as a true contender for postseason play as well as a division title. Matt Stafford looks like he finally put the proper emphasis on his offseason conditioning and appears ready to take that next step to become one of the game's truly elite signal callers. If Megatron isn't the best player in the league, he surely is the most dominant. An impossible physical mismatch, Johnson is playing chess with opposing secondaries, while cornerbacks and defensive coordinators are left playing checkers.

The truly scary part of the equation is the offensive firepower the Lions have added this season to compliment No. 81. The additions of Golden Tate and Eric Ebron prove that Detroit is committed to Stafford and his continued development as he begins his sixth season under center in Motown.

Look for Ndamukong Suh, DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch and company to test Cam's injured ribs early and often as he attempts to shake off the rust from an offseason where he spent more time spectating than actually participating.

Take the three points to be safe, but don't be a bit surprised if the Lions break out the kryptonite and leave the Man of Steel searching for answers as they earn an outright win Sunday in Cam's house. 



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