Week 2 Cheat Sheet: Season is young, but questions are popping up
We're a week into the NFL season and I've already got several questions.
If the Giants offense looked as bad as it did in Monday night's first half --after an entire summer to prepare for their Week 1 matchup with Lions -- what are they going to do against the stout Cardinals defense on just six days' rest? The Chiefs were getting manhandled by the Titans at home even before they lost Mike DeVito and Derrick Johnson for the season. Kansas City just inked monster money deals with Jamaal Charles and Alex Smith this offseason. Is a 26-10 loss to the Titans -- at home -- what they had in mind when handing out those contracts? Certainly, the Week 1 loss can't be blamed on Smith and Charles, right? Right. But just about every quarterback and running back making the money they do performed far better last weekend.
And of course, there are issues far bigger than football in Baltimore this week. So, I wonder how the team will respond to this week's news and revelations, when there's a game against a division rival with just four days to prepare. Pittsburgh's been thinking about football and defeating the Ravens since Sunday. Has that been the focus in Baltimore? I can't imagine X's and O's have been the only thing on the coaching staff and players' minds.
The squad I was most impressed with in Week 1? The Buffalo Bills. More than a touchdown underdogs, on the road and against a Chicago team that got more summertime hype than the new iPhone watch, the Bills put together a complete game plan, executed, and won in overtime after surrendering a lead. It wasn't just E.J. Manuel, C.J. Spiller, and Mario Williams who performed well, either.
I loved what I saw out of Seantrel Henderson, the 237th selection in May's draft and a guy whose marijuana use led to three different suspensions from the University of Miami. Henderson played tackle on Sunday, and held his own against a strong Bears pass rush. Playoff teams are built on star players, of course, but they are completed by guys like Seantrel Henderson (seventh round), guard Erik Pears (scooped up off the Broncos practice squad) and Jerry Hughes (discarded by the Colts after never fulfilling his first-round potential).
The Bills may not win the Super Bowl this year, but their performance was enough to make you question just about everything you read and heard this summer. Further proof: the preseason means nothing.
Now, let's get to the Week 2 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 2 TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Since 2009 (including the playoffs), Calvin Johnson has 54 receiving touchdowns, the most in the NFL during that span. Who is number 2 on the list, with 53?
(Answer at Bottom)
THE OTHER ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
Loved this article from the Wall Street Journal's Kevin Clark on how the Seahawks learned to finally defend the back shoulder fade -- with height and length.
The Key Excerpt: "According to Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, the numbers say long arms are crucial: Reid said that having long arms is the equivalent of having an extra tenth-of-a-second advantage on a 40-yard dash. It was the equivalent of one full step, which can mean everything at the speed of the NFL. For Seattle, it worked like a charm. If one of those pinpoint passes did get through, one of their long-armed cornerbacks would simply poke it away."
THROWBACK JERSEY OF THE WEEK
Each week, we'll direct you to a throwback jersey worth purchasing. In honor of the Bills' recent ownership news, here's a sweet Trent Edwards Bills jersey to wear around Duff's while eating wings and blue cheese this weekend.
Now, on to the picks.
Week 1 Record: 11-5
Season Record: 11-5
Pittsburgh at Baltimore: Who's the leader in the Baltimore locker room? I've been there enough in the last year to honestly say I'm not sure. Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and Matt Birk aren't walking through The Castle in Owings Mills and rallying the troops. Joe Flacco's not the most vocal type, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata aren't real "rah rah" locker room guys, and there was a leadership void towards the end of the season when the team lost its final two games of the campaign and missed the playoffs. An 0-2 record is one thing. An 0-2 record with two divisional losses -- both at home -- is a mighty deep ditch to dig out of. I think this is a typical Ravens-Steelers battle, but have the visitors -- coming off a near-disastrous loss to the Browns -- getting the best of the Ravens on Thursday.
The Pick: Pittsburgh 20, Baltimore 16
Final: Baltimore 26, Pittsburgh 6
Miami at Buffalo: My big takeaway from Miami's Week 1 victory over New England? Cameron Wake is a beast. Watching the tape of the Dolphins-Patriots Week 1 clash, Wake jumps off the film like a man possessed. He was everywhere in the second half, swallowing Tom Brady for two strip-sacks and making Sebastian Vollmer -- a good tackle -- look far inferior. I loved what Wake, a former Canadian Football League player, said after the game: "I'm not dropping back and getting interceptions. My part of that is the sack-fumble. When you get to that point of attack, you do whatever you can to get the ball off the guy. And those are the best drills we work on day in and day out in practice, and then it shows up in the game." Miami's D could be an X-factor in the AFC East this year. With the four sacks and two forced fumbles, the Dolphins defense only allowed 62 yards passing and 28 yards rushing against in the second half versus the Patriots last week. They lost to the Bills -- and Thad Lewis at quarterback -- twice last year, ultimately keeping them out of the playoffs. I think the D carries the 'Phins and they improve to 2-0 this weekend.
The Pick: Dolphins 21, Bills 16
New England at Minnesota: The Vikings and Patriots have actually played on the campus of University of Minnesota once before. In 1971, New England visited old Memorial Stadium in the teams' preseason opener on Aug. 8. Certainly, you remember that one. Week 2 is too early to hit the panic button, but if the Patriots offensive line is manhandled like it was by the Dolphins, there can be big trouble up in Foxboro. The Vikings are 5-0 under Mike Zimmer -- and yes, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick both included the team's four preseason wins in their press conferences on Wednesday -- and the offense looks explosive under Norv Turner. A week ago, I picked the Patriots to win the AFC. I still think they will. I just don't see them winning this one.
The Pick: Vikings 27, Patriots 23
Jacksonville at Washington: The Allen Hurns Era has begun in Jacksonville. This year's Kevin Olgetree Award winner (the guy everyone in your fantasy league scrambled to pick up after a big Week 1 performance) is no stranger to Jacksonville offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. In fact, there are more than a few familiar faces for Fisch on that Jaguars offense this year. First-year players Hurns, guard Brandon Linder, running back Storm Johnson, and practice-squad quarterback Stephen Morris all played -- for at least some time -- for Fisch at the University of Miami. Each one is making an impact in Jacksonville. The Jaguars gave the Eagles a fight for 50 minutes. With one of the better defenses (think Seahawks Lite) in the league, they'll go the full 60 and beat the Redskins in Washington on Sunday. I keep hearing that Robert Griffin III isn't on any sort of hot seat and his job is secure. How could that be the case if the Redskins start the season 0-2 with losses to Houston and Jacksonville?
The Pick: Jaguars 20, Redskins 16
Detroit at Carolina: DeAndre Levy became the first Lions defensive player since 1997 to win the Defensive Player of the Week award after his performance versus the Giants. But for as good as Levy and that defensive unit looked in Monday's 35-14 win, I was more impressed by No. 9. All summer, I was told that Matt Stafford would flourish under Jim Caldwell's tutelage. Caldwell's been dubbed a "quarterback whisperer", the new en-vogue term used for any guy that's not a screamer, but works well with signal callers (see: Marc Trestman). Stafford looked like an All-Pro on Monday night. His statistics were similar to recent years and his passes were pinpoint, but the biggest thing I noticed while sitting in the press box on Monday was the amount of balls Stafford chose to throw away instead of force into tight coverage. Watching the film back on Tuesday, I counted six different Stafford instances where he chose to sacrifice the big play in exchange for an incomplete pass. That's not the Matt Stafford we've been watching the past five years. That's not the Matt Stafford from a year ago. It's a new offense, new coaches, and a new Stafford. He's always had the physical gifts. This might be the year -- with the whisperer in his ear -- Stafford puts it all together. I like him in a showdown against one of the league's best defenses.
The Pick: Lions 24, Panthers 20
Dallas at Tennessee: After an offseason discussing with coaches on the pro and college level, Jason Garrett unveiled a different practice schedule for the Cowboys this week. Instead of the typical Tuesday off-day, something that's been an institution in the NFL for decades, Garrett's gone the Chip Kelly route, shifting Cowboys off-days to Monday, giving the coaching staff an uninterrupted day to prepare a game plan, and the team hitting the ground running in implementing it on Tuesday. The Cowboys needed some sort of shakeup to the routine after Sunday's embarrassing loss on national television. The final score was 28-17, but it may have just as well been 52-17. I'm taking the Cowboys, but have about a 1 out of 10 on the old "confidence" scale at this point.
The Pick: Cowboys 34, Titans 30
New Orleans at Cleveland: Over the summer, the big talk around the Saints was that a good defense only got better, adding a Pro Bowl safety to one of the top defensive units in the league. In Cleveland, there was a lot of excitement about the additions of Donte Whitner, Justin Gilbert, and Karlos Dansby on the defensive side of the ball. The two units combined to give up 1,058 yards on Sunday. Again, don't read too much into summertime storylines. I think the Saints get the best of the Brian Hoyer-led Browns, but it won't exactly be the 2000 Ravens versus the '85 Bears.
The Pick: Saints 34, Browns 24
Arizona at New York Giants: Tom Coughlin, the offensive line, and Eli Manning are taking all the heat for the Giants' lump of coal of an effort on Monday, but I can't help but look at the Giants' recent draft classes and wonder where the talent is. Since Jerry Reese's famous 2007 draft in which the bulk of the team's picks were Super Bowl contributors in 2008, the New York front office hasn't exactly hit home runs. The list of mid-round whiffs is endless. Ramses Barden, Phillip Dillard, Marvin Austin and James Brewer are just a few. Jason Pierre-Paul, the one draft pick outside of Hakeem Nicks that's been a true star for the team in recent years, got dinged up again on Monday night. Arizona, however, continues to hit home runs in each passing draft. Look for John Brown (2014 third-round pick), Michael Floyd (2012 first-round pick), and Andre Ellington (2013 sixth-round pick) to do damage against a Giants D that couldn't hang with Detroit six days earlier.
The Pick: Cardinals 27, Giants 17
Atlanta at Cincinnati: For as much positive press as the Falcons offense has received this week, their defense showed some glaring holes versus the Saints. The Bengals offense isn't the New Orleans offense, but until I see Atlanta's D stop someone, anyone, anything -- I can't take the Falcons on the road.
The Pick: Bengals 33, Falcons 28
St. Louis at Tampa Bay: Here's a game between two teams that couldn't have had a worse Week 1. St. Louis' quarterback situation is as murky as it gets, but I was far more surprised by how faulty the defense looked against a Minnesota offense that won't exactly be mistaken for the '98 team with Randy Moss and Cris Carter. Tampa's got to look better, and quite frankly, needs to win. If you can't beat Derek Anderson and the Shaun Hill/Austin Davis combo platter -- at home -- you're not beating Drew Brees or Matt Ryan anytime soon.
The Pick: Buccaneers 23, Rams 17
Seattle at San Diego: Darrell Bevell has a new/old toy in Percy Harvin and boy was it fun watching him play with it on Thursday night. Harvin's everything he was when he had his career year in Minnesota with Bevell back in 2011, and more. My favorite play of Seattle's win over Green Bay was the 33-yard triple option touchdown pass to Ricardo Lockette. That one was a Gus Malzahn special. Bevell went into the bag of tricks he's been building up this offseason, and used the same play Auburn ran with 32 seconds remaining to tie up the Iron Bowl a season ago. The play, known as the "pop pass", goes from a triple-option play, but replaces a pitch man with a receiver down field. "We'll go anywhere to find a play," head coach Peter Carroll told Sports Illustrated. "And that one -- uh, Muschamp at Florida, no...Auburn. They ran it. Give Gus Malzahn credit." Seattle looked the part on Thursday night. Expect more of the same, even on the road, in this one.
The Pick: Seahawks 30, Chargers 20
Houston at Oakland: David Carr had one of the more difficult rookie seasons ever, being sacked a record number of times during the Houston Texans' inaugural season. His little brother Derek now faces his older brother's ex-team in his first start at home. Little Carr actually played pretty well in his Raiders debut on Sunday, and I think the home crowd will help lift the Silver and Black to its first win on Sunday. No Clowney hurts the Texans more than they'll have you believe and the Houston offense -- something that'll improve as the season goes on -- didn't exactly wow the masses versus Washington. I like the Raiders here.
The Pick: Raiders 19, Texans 16
New York Jets at Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers didn't look like Aaron Rodgers last Thursday night against the Seahawks. The Packers' rookie center struggled against the CenturyLink noise, the 12th Man, and the Seahawks defensive line and the rest of the offense did Rodgers no favors. I like the Jets this year. A lot. But I don't think Geno Smith is beating the Packers in Lambeau Field on a Sunday late afternoon. Not yet, at least.
The Pick: Packers 24, Jets 16
Kansas City at Denver: The Chiefs are now 2-7 in their last nine games (including last year's playoff debacle) and they'll be without Mike DeVito and Derrick Johnson -- in addition to the losses of Branden Albert and Brandon Flowers from the offseason -- on Sunday. The game's in Denver, the Broncos are healthy, and Peyton's not losing this one.
The Pick: Broncos 34, Chiefs 16
Chicago at San Francisco: It's not easy to learn an entire playbook, build chemistry and get going in just three weeks. That was seen on Sunday when a Santonio Holmes miscue caused an interception late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's Bears loss to the Bills. On a crucial third-and-1, Holmes can be seen on film blocking, when he should have been running a passing route. Jay Cutler threw an interception as a result. Jarred Allen was a bit of a non-factor last weekend, too. They're unveiling the new stadium on Sunday, it's a night game, and the crowd's going to be nuts. I see the Bears dropping to 0-2.
The Pick: 49ers 34, Bears 21
Philadelphia at Indianapolis: The Chip Kelly offense got going late in the second half and salvaged a near disastrous loss a week ago versus the Jaguars. The Pep Hamilton offense got going late in the second half and nearly pulled off a miracle comeback a week ago. Here's to hoping one of the league's two highest power offenses decides to show up in the first half. The biggest question mark heading into this one will be the Eagles offensive line. Entering the offseason as one of the best, most polished units in the league, injuries and suspensions have already started to ravage Nick Foles' front five. With Lane Johnson out with the suspension, and now both Evan Mathis and Allen Barbre headed to the injured reserve list, there are holes across the unit that need to be filled. On the road, in that building on Monday night? I'm not sure those holes will be filled sufficiently just yet.
The Pick: Colts 28, Eagles 23
Reader Email of the Week:
Loyal reader, here, and I like your stuff, for the most part. So I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and say you must have been intoxicated or dropped on your head with your "Cowboys-10 win prediction". In Week 1, you saw what the rest of us saw all summer. I speak for the rest of your readers--you can either back out and admit you're wrong, or double down on Dallas. What do you want to do?
Could the 'Boys have started the season off any worse? In front of a nationally televised audience, no less? But I can't back off a "bold" prediction after one week of football. That'd be rash. It'd be cowardly. But find me after Week 2. A man can only stand by his convictions for so long.
CHEAT SHEET WEEK 2 TRIVIA ANSWER
San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis.