NFL Week 3 Cheat Sheet
Reading through the transcripts of Sunday's postgame press conferences and scanning 32 beat reporters' columns, I can sum up Week 2's NFL player commentary with the following sentence:
Wah, wah, wah, tired cliché, wah, wah, wah, tired cliché, not fair, nanny nanny poo poo.
Ravens players accused Eagles players of playing dirty. Giants players accused Buccaneers players of playing dirty. Bills players accused Chiefs players of playing dirty. On Sunday night, even after a win, 49ers lineman Joe Staley said of the Detroit Lions, "It was key for our front offensive line to handle it tonight because they like to be cheap after the play and they think that makes them physical."
Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee said the following after getting lit up by Seahawks receiver Golden Tate on a legal play in a 27-7 loss: "He can celebrate all he wants. I bet you if we went head-to-head and square up he probably won't be celebrating as much."
Ugh. Enough already.
There was more finger pointing and back-biting after Sunday's games than any one episode of "The Real Housewives of New York." Add in the way the players and coaches sheepishly danced around their displeasure with the replacement refs through lame tweets and egg shell-walking innuendo, and it's enough to make you wonder when the NFL became some distant spinoff of "Gossip Girl."
I've never been one of those writers to say, "Back in the day, the game was different…," because truly, I don't believe Y.A. Tittle or Dick Schafrath would even get an NFL tryout in 2012. But there's something to be said for the way the players of yesteryear — hell, last year — went about their business. They had, or at least, I suspect they did, a mutual respect for their fellow player. They settled things in the trenches and between the sidelines.
Flipping through the press clippings after last weekend, it felt like one long item from "Page Six" or a post on Perez Hilton.
"He did this."
"He did that."
Enough already. Just play the game. Or at the very least, settle it on the football field, and not on Twitter or through muffled words in an interview with the local beat guy.
It's Week 3 and 20 teams have 1-1 records. The 2012 season is off to yet another amazing start. Why can't we all just be friends and play football?
With that plea for peace and decency, let's dig into the Week 3 Cheat Sheet.
Week 2 record: 10-6
Overall season record: 21-11
Week 3 Cheat Sheet trivia question: Prior to Sunday's 20-18 loss to the Cardinals, the last time the Patriots lost a home opener was the 2001 season. Which two longtime NFL gunslingers started at quarterback for the Patriots and Jets that afternoon?
See below for answer
Week 3 survivor pool pick: New Orleans Saints
Week 3 fantasy football waiver wire pickup: Vick Ballard, RB, Indianapolis Colts
New York Giants at Carolina: Though it may surprise you, the Giants and Panthers actually share a fairly rich history of important matchups over the years. Carolina knocked New York out of the playoffs in 2005 with a 23-0 shutout in Giants Stadium (a game in which Tiki Barber famously fired a few missiles in Tom Coughlin's direction afterward). A few years later in a widely viewed Sunday night game, DeAngelo Williams rushed for 108 yards and scored four touchdowns in an overtime win by the Giants. A year later, Carolina embarrassed New York 41-9, eliminating New York from the playoff hunt. The Giants' defensive backfield has struggled immensely in its first two games. I'm pretty sure Chris Berman could jump over Justin Tryon for a touchdown at this point. With that visual in mind, I foresee Cam Newton going absolutely bonkers in his first career regular-season game played under the lights. Give me the cats.
The Pick: Panthers 37, Giants 31
Sunday early games
Kansas City at New Orleans: The Chiefs are a very bad football team. Though labeled a "dark horse" pick out of the AFC West by a lot of national writers, the Chiefs have been blown out of their first two games. The defense has given up 68 points, Matt Cassel has looked terrible and Todd Haley is no longer there to be blamed. The Saints, who've had their own struggles, will bounce back with a blowout win in this one. All sorts of fingers are being pointed in Kansas City this week. Just wait until next Monday.
The Pick: Saints 38, Chiefs 20
Cincinnati at Washington: I'm concerned about the Bengals defense. So good for the past three seasons — Cincy was a Top 10 defensive unit in 2009, 2010 and 2011 — Mike Zimmer's unit has given up more than 400 yards in each of the Bengals' first two games. According to NFL stats, the Bengals are ranked 25th, 28th and 30th on short passes to the left, middle and right, respectively. RG3 is going to have a rabid (and likely, somewhat intoxicated) crowd in his corner for his first career start at home. No Orakpo, no Carriker but I'm still taking the Redskins.
The Pick: Redskins 31, Bengals 23
Detroit at Tennessee: With 21 rushing yards through two games, Chris Johnson, aka CJY1979, isn't exactly tearing up the league the way Tennessee fans hoped he would when he was rewarded with a massive new contract last summer. On the year, struggling second-year quarterback Jake Locker has 11 more rushing yards than Johnson thus far. The defense has been even worse than the ground game. Tennessee's D has given up 65 points in two games. It will only get worse on Sunday. Look for Detroit to put up silly offensive numbers coming off a frustrating Week 2 loss in San Francisco.
The Pick: Lions 41, Titans 20
San Francisco at Minnesota: Who had Alex Smith in the All-Pro conversation before the 2011 season started? Smith's been far more than a "game manager" this year and in his first campaign running the same offense from a season before, he's flourishing. He hasn't thrown an interception in 216 pass attempts and he's converting third downs. Coach Jim Harbaugh called him "tougher than a two-dollar steak" on Sunday night. For all those 49ers fans longing for Peyton Manning this offseason, you've got to admit — Smith is a damn good alternative. This one will be all 49ers. Hell, I can't pick against these guys until they show some flaws. They haven't yet.
The Pick: 49ers 27, Vikings 17
New York Jets at Miami: So, the Jets are exactly who we thought they were after all, huh? Gang Green had just 219 yards of offense in a 27-10 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Mark Sanchez completed just 10 passes, with four of those completions coming on the Jets' first offensive drive. Tim Tebow took three snaps, had one long run and did very little else. Santonio Holmes dropped passes, the running game stalled, and there was little creativity in the play-calling. Holmes had a colossal meltdown during the Jets' Week 17 loss in Miami last season. I don't expect a better result for New York this weekend than the one they had in that one. I am still eagerly awaiting the secret Wildcat package that Tony Sparano and Rex Ryan were cooking up in their underground bunker all summer. The media wasn't allowed to write about it at the time. I can't wait until we finally get to see it unleashed. Sadly, I have a feeling we'll see Santa Claus before we see the "Cortland Project" in all its grandeur.
The Pick: Dolphins 27, Jets 13
Jacksonville at Indianapolis: All summer, we read about the new-look Jaguars offense. Mike Mularkey was supposed to bring in a new aerial attack, Blaine Gabbert cut his hair and magically grew up, and there was a cast of shiny, new expensive receivers for him to throw to. I bought in to the hype. Hell, we all did. Alas, Jacksonville's 0-2 after two weeks and Gabbert — though decent in Week 1 — looked like the same old Blaine Gabbert versus the Texans on Sunday. Jacksonvile went 0 for 9 on third-down conversions and the offense put up a franchise-low 117 yards. Andrew Luck, though not perfect, did enough to get his team a win in the Colts' home opener. I like Luck — with rookie running back Vick Ballard putting up some solid numbers — to get the best of Gabbert and the Jags on Sunday. Remember that name: Vick Ballard.
The Pick: Colts 20, Jaguars 17
St. Louis at Chicago: Jay Cutler got pummeled by the media for his immature behavior in Thursday night's debacle out in Green Bay, but I don't believe he's fully to blame for his frustration. For the third straight season, the Bears' front office has put Cutler's safety in danger by not giving him an offensive line that can adequately protect him. Though this may sound a tad Gruden-ish — this football; it's a dangerous game. And every time Cutler drops back to pass, he's put in harm's way. I've been accused of being a "Cutler apologist" over the years, and that's fine. I think he's one of the most athletically gifted quarterbacks in the game. I think he deserves a few NFL-capable offensive linemen — at some point in his Bears career, at least — to protect him. Was he right to yell at Webb on national TV? No. Should he have to deal with J'Marcus Webb as his opening day starting left tackle? Absolutely not. They'll win on Sunday, but don't think Chris Long isn't going to have a field day with that Bears' O-line.
The Pick: Bears 24, Rams 17
Buffalo at Cleveland: How about my guy Brandon Weeden? A week after putting up a 5.1 QB rating versus the Eagles, the 28-year-old rookie goes on the road and tosses for 327 yards while putting up a 114 QB rating in Cincinnati. Though the Browns lost, there was some positives to take away from the offense's effort. That doesn't mean I think they'll win a game this season. It just means they won't be a complete eyesore to watch. Buffalo will go on the road and get the job done in this one.
The Pick: Bills 27, Browns 20
Tampa Bay at Dallas: Indulge me for a second here. Pretend like we don't know about the final play of last week's Giants-Bucs game. Now, imagine, if down seven points with five seconds on the clock, Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborn stripped the ball out of Eli Manning's hands and cornerback Aqib Talib recovered it and ran it back for a touchdown. Now, imagine if Greg Schiano — on the road in the defending champions' building — decided to go for two and Josh Freeman converted on a QB draw to give the Buccaneers a 1-point victory. If all that happened on Sunday, do you think there would be a single headline about the Buccaneers breaking "unwritten rules" this week? Do you think their head coach would be accused of playing "bush league?" Just give that some thought. If anything, Schiano would have been called a "genius" on Monday morning and we'd be reading 100 articles about the 2-0 Buccaneers' new "never say die" attitude and the team's culture change. The Bucs are solid, their coach is the right guy, and they're going to be a tough out for teams this year. I had no problem with how Schiano coached the final minute of that Giants game. I still like Dallas in this one.
The Pick: Cowboys 31, Buccaneers 20
Sunday afternoon games
Atlanta at San Diego: Could you imagine a game between two head coaches that have done less in big games? The only thing missing in this one is a ceremonial coin toss from Marty Schottenheimer. The San Diego defense has muzzled two of the top running backs in the league (Chris Johnson and Darren McFadden) and have given up just 24 points in two games. San Diego has never started a season 3-0 under Norv Turner. They will this year. I like the way Mr. Rivers is tossing the pigskin and I love that D. It won't be easy, but they'll find a way to slow down Dirk Koetter's high-flying Falcons offense that'll be playing across the country on just six days rest.
The Pick: Chargers 30, Falcons 23
Philadelphia at Arizona: The Cardinals haven't started a season 3-0 since 1974. That season, they were still located in St. Louis, Dan Dierdorf was a third-year offensive lineman out of Michigan, and Jim Hart was the quarterback. The No. 1 song on the Billboard charts was Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were." I must say, I loved Kevin Kolb's response to being asked if he was surprised by his team's win in New England last week. Kolb said, without irony, "It wasn't like we played a perfect game. We have a lot to improve on." No big thang. I love this Cardinals team, especially the defense, but I think Michael Vick and Co. find a way in the desert on Sunday. They've won their first two games by a point. Why not make it three?
The Pick: Eagles 28, Cardinals 27
Pittsburgh at Oakland: The Steelers play the Raiders for the third straight season. Oakland is grossly overmatched in this one, though, as the Raiders have proven themselves to be an offensive unit devoid of any playmakers not named Darren McFadden. Last year, guys like Jacoby Ford and Michael Bush picked up the slack when McFadden was out. This year, it's McFadden, McFadden and McFadden. Pittsburgh will bottle him up, James Harrison will do something crazy, and the Steelers will slide to 2-1 without anyone really talking about them as a contender in the AFC. As many of you know, I've got them winning the conference. Two weeks in, I haven't jumped off the boat yet.
The Pick: Steelers 24, Raiders 13
Houston at Denver: Though they haven't exactly played the '99 Rams or the '07 Patriots, the Houston Texans have absolutely silenced two NFL offenses in their first two games. They've given up just 17 points, have caused nightmares for two opposing quarterbacks, and have won by 20 points both times. But the Texans have never beaten Peyton Manning on the road. They were 0-9 against him when he played at Indianapolis. This is a different Texans team, though. J.J. Watt wasn't on those Texans squads. Nor was Brooks Reed or Ben Tate. High altitude may play tricks on the young Texans Sunday afternoon, but I think they'll find a way on the road, silencing any doubts whether they're ready for the big time.
The Pick: Texans 30, Broncos 20
New England at Baltimore: After rewatching Week 2's Cardinals-Patriots game on NFL Rewind, I'm convinced I jumped the gun crowning the Patriots the class of the AFC after their victory over Tennessee last week. This Patriots offense — especially without Aaron Hernandez in the lineup — has issues. Something is up with Wes Welker, and the offensive line isn't protecting Brady like it once did. He was sacked five times in Week 2. The Ravens defense will be foaming at the mouth in front of that fired-up home crowd on Sunday night — especially after the way they lost last week in Philadelphia — and the offense will get the job done. Lee Evans isn't dropping any passes on Sunday, and Billy Cundiff isn't missing any game-tying field goals for the Ravens. Baltimore gets the win.
The Pick: Ravens 34, Patriots 24
Green Bay at Seattle: I know Mike Holmgren's running the Browns, Matt Hasselbeck's anxiously watching a bad Titans offense from the sideline in Tennessee and Brett Favre's coaching high school football somewhere south of the Mason Dixon line. But I still can't help but mutter, "We want the ball and we're gonna score" anytime I see that Green Bay is playing Seattle. Different teams. Different quarterbacks. Different time. Different stadium. Hell, different overtime rules. But I think this one will have the same outcome as that 2003 NFC wild-card game. Give me Aaron Rodgers and a Pete Carroll-coached player named Clay Matthews Jr. over Russell Wilson and the 12th Man in a fun one.
The Pick: Packers 34, Seahawks 23
Reader Email of the Week:
You're so in the bed with Goodell, it's sickening. He's being greedy, he's selfish, and in this case with the refs — he's just plain WRONG. Quit humping the Comish's leg and think for yourself for once.
— Phil C. Towson, Maryland
I can't just NOT respond to such an antagonistic email. I may be guilty of many regrettable things and I'm not proud of everything I've done in this life, but I've NEVER humped the commissioner's leg. Never. Not once.
Well, not yet, at least.
OH, AND BY THE WAY…
1. I loved Steve Young's candor while talking about the NFL ref situation after Monday night's Falcons-Broncos telecast on ESPN. Though it was roughly 3 a.m. on the East Coast, Young was out on the field, throwing fastballs in the postgame wrap-up show. "In the end, you're still going to watch the game," he said. "So it doesn't matter. Rant all you want. I'm going to rest. It's inelastic." Trent Dilfer tried offering a counterpoint, saying, "It's so dangerous." But a fed-up Young laughed and shot back: "Who cares? The league office doesn't care. If they cared, would they put Division III officials out there? They view them as a commodity. Trust me, by definition — they don't care." Steve freakin' Young, telling it like it is. Respect.
2. I offered up "Call Me, Maybin" as the best fantasy football name of the year last week. Three readers offered their thoughts on the subject. Sadly, "Not Torain on Your Parade," "Forgetting Brandon Marshall," and "The Celek Few" — the three team names that were sent to me by those readers — just don't do it for me. Actually, and this is really meant in the sweetest way possible, they're pretty terrible.
3. The fact that the Mets' bats have been asleep since June is all the more reason why R.A. Dickey deserves the National League Cy Young award.
4. Mark Kriegel's got a new book out. I read the galley version a few months back. It's great. Here's the NY Times excerpt of "The Good Son."
5. The best non-sports-related article of the week comes from this months' "Outside" and is about a mysterious murder up in Mount Ranier National Park on New Year's Day. This one's a gripping read.
WEEK 3 CHEAT SHEET TRIVIA ANSWER: On Sept. 23, 2001 — the last time the Patriots lost a home opener — Drew Bledsoe started at quarterback for New England and Vinny Testaverde started for the New York Jets. Bledsoe was injured on a hit from Mo Lewis and a 6th-round pick out of Michigan — a guy named Tom Brady — went 5-for-10 for 46 yards in relief. The Jets won 10-3. The Patriots won the franchise's first Super Bowl four months later.