Sunday, September 25, 2011

Week 3 NFL Picks- Make or Break Time

David Nelson's Game Winning TD...With a packed Ralph in the background!

Week 3 in the NFL presents for many teams a critical point in the young season. For every team that's started 0-2, it's a chance to turn around the momentum of their season before they've dug themselves into a hole that's too deep to crawl out of. The 1-1 teams want to get on the right side of the 2-1/1-2 split, obviously, but they also want to show that what happened in their sole loss was an aberration, a blip in what will be a successful season. And for every team that's started 2-0, including my own Buffalo Bills, it's trying to prove that they are, as the media loves to put it, "for real", that they can keep up the pace, that they are as good as advertised. It's still early in the season- everyone still has hope (except for Colts fans), and this week goes a long way in either proving that the hope is warranted or extinguishing belief in many fans.

Anyway, onto the picks. Last week I went 12-4 overall, but a ghastly 4-11-1 ATS. If you were desperate enough to follow my gambling advice, well, don't. Unless you're just picking winners, of course.

San Francisco at Cincinnati (-2.5)

Well, I wouldn't touch this game if I had any money on the line, because both teams haven't presented a consistent identity. Which 49ers are going to show up? The team that needed a bunch of special teams TDs to beat Seattle or the team that hung around with Dallas and took them to overtime? The Bengals had a dreary win over the Browns and then a close loss to a depleted Broncos team. Still, Andy Dalton and AJ Green have shown the beginnings of some chemistry and are making plays. For the 49ers, there's still Alex Smith and no one at wide receiver, but a pretty solid defense. I can't make sense of this game, couldn't say why I think this, but I'll take Cinci to win and cover.

Pick: Bengals win, cover

New England (-7) at Buffalo

Well, here's the ultimate test for the Buffalo Bills. The media has been quick to anoint the Lions as "The NFL's newest contender!" but, for some reason, look upon the Bills with wary eyes, saying that this is the week where we'll see if the Bills are "for real." What, does that mean the Bills have to lose by a certain amount to be "real"? Or do they have to win? Well, we'll just have to see after the game. The Bills have what looks to be an explosive offense paired with an underachieving defensive secondary- ESPECIALLY YOU, LEODIS MCKELVIN- and face the Patriots, a team explosive offense paired with an underachieving defensive secondary. Neither team has shown an ability to stop the pass and aren't fantastic against the run, either. This game is going to come down to a shootout, where whoever gets the ball last might be the winner. Whichever defense can create turnovers, either by fumbles or interceptions, will take control of the game. The Bills, to me, have a shot in this game, especially if Fred Jackson gets rolling and keeps Tom Brady off the field. I don't have enough blinding optimism to pick them to win, but I still harbor the expectation that it will be close, close enough that the Bills might be considered "for real".

Pick: Patriots win, Bills cover

Houston at New Orleans (-3.5)

The Texans are another 2-0 team trying to prove that they're "for real." The defensive secondary, statistically, is vastly improved over last year's unit, but they've only faced the decaying corpse of the Indianapolis offense and the Chad Henne led Dolphins. Their biggest test comes now as they face the high powered machine that is the New Orleans Saints offense. I have yet to see the Texans defense perform against a good offense and the Saints have carved up better defenses already (the Packers and Bears). The Texans might be able to get their offense going, but they won't be able to make any stops when they need it, as opposed to the Saints defense.

Pick: Saints win, cover

NY Giants at Philadelphia (-8.5)

The Eagles are just plain weird, seemingly altering between mediocrity and brilliance between drives on offense, with or without Michael Vick (he will play this week). The defense, however, is weak against the run, something opponents will now try to exploit. The Giants, on the other hand, look to be a mess in all facets of the game. There's something off. Eli Manning has been completely pedestrian, the receivers are all injured, the running game hasn't picked up, and the defense is also ripped up by injuries (real or feigned). I'll take the schizophrenic over the just plain broken, I guess.

Pick: Eagles win, cover

Miami (-1) at Cleveland

Miami's awful record at home in the past two seasons belies the fact that they've been fantastic on the road during that stretch. The Browns just got by last week against the decaying corpse of the Colts, haven't looked impressive this season, and now go into this game without Peyton Hillis. Miami has a lot to play for- they've started 0-2, and everyone else in the division is 2-0, so, if they want to keep up, they have to win ASAP. I'll take Miami's desperation over Cleveland's boring mediocrity.

Miami wins, covers

Denver at Tennessee (-7)

Tennessee burst out last week and shred the disinterested looking Ravens behind strong performances from  Matt Hasslebeck and Kenny Britt, winning in spite of Chris Johnson's lackluster performance. The Broncos managed to pull out a win last week seemingly without half their starting lineup, as a ton of key players sat out the game. Call it a hunch, but I see the Titans as a better overall team- more weapons on both sides of the ball, and healthier. I see them winning this one, but I can't quite count out the Broncos yet.

Pick: Titans win, Broncos cover

Detroit (-3) at Minnesota

Detroit's offense has looked like a juggernaut so far, with Matthew Stafford living up to all the hype as a top tier quarterback. They have a nasty front seven on defense, although they haven't been tested much in two weeks (a game against the Chiefs, sans Jamaal Charles, is a cakewalk). The Vikings blew a 17 point lead last Sunday, and seem to have about one option on offense- Adrian Peterson. The Lions, with their huge defensive line, look built to stop the run, and the offense looks capable of moving the ball on anyone, even with the return of Kevin Williams to the Vikings defensive line. I'm looking at another Lions win here. 3-0 in Detroit! Can't say much else is going right for the city (cue tons of sportswriters covering that angle for the rest of the season if Detroit is a true contender). Looking at the games this week, though, this is one where picking the upset wouldn't be that farfetched. Adrian Peterson can still control games.

Pick: Lions win, Vikings cover

Jacksonville at Carolina (-3.5)

So far, Cam Newton has made all his doubters look like fools, passing for over 400 yards in his first two starts. He has a chance to really prove something by winning a game against the Jaguars and his draft day nemesis Blaine Gabbert, who is making his first start for the Jaguars after the Luke McNown experiment, as was foreseen by pretty much everyone, failed. For everyone who said Gabbert would be a better pro quarterback, well, he'll have to do a lot today to try and prove them right- and he does not have the weapons around him that Newton has, at least receivers wise. I look for Carolina to get their first win, but an inspired performance by Maurice Jones Drew could certainly shift this one the other way.

Pick: Panthers win, cover

Kansas City at San Diego (-14.5)

Last week I asked, "Kansas City can't be that bad, right?" Well, they are, and with the loss of Jamaal Charles, it's gone from bad to worse. This should be no problem for the Chargers, who come off a tough loss to the Patriots that was decided by some costly turnovers. They'll be able to take their anger out on the Chiefs.

Pick: Chargers win, cover

NY Jets (-3) at Oakland

Watching the Raiders last week, I actually came away pretty impressed- they have a power running game and a franchise running back to make it work, and they can pass the ball when they need to. They're defensive front is improving, and the corners are good (but not against quick, short routes). Is that enough to beat the Jets? Mark Sanchez has been decent-to-awful so far, and the defense has picked up the slack for the team. Their running game has been awful, and that's bad news for a team built around the running game. I definitely think the Raiders can stay in this game, but I'm having trouble putting my faith behind them fully- it seems as if the Jets are masters at pulling wins from the jaws of defeat, creating good luck for themselves.

Pick: Jets win, Raiders cover

Baltimore(-5.5) at St. Louis

Well, I think it's fair to say that the Ravens weren't as up for their game against the Titans as they were for their game against the Steelers. They looked as if they were sleepwalking, still dazed at the prospect of beating their hated rivals. Hopefully the shellacking they received was enough to wake them up. St. Louis, on the other hand, is playing out a string of very difficult games, and they haven't looked good doing it- they can't score in the red zone. The funny thing is, this team could start with 5 or 6 losses and still contend for the NFC West crown. St. Louis, though, is definitely not the league-wide contender many thought they'd be.

Pick: Ravens win, cover

Atlanta at Tampa Bay (-1.5)

Both teams have played sloppy, inconsistent football, and both teams find themselves at 1-1. The Buccaneers have played 2 good quarters of football so far, and might have been awakened by last week's second half comeback. The Falcons looked bad in week 1 and then won a topsy turvy affair with the Eagles. That win, though, was at home, in the dome, where Matt Ryan flourishes. On the road, he goes into his shell. Without brilliant play from Ryan, I can't see the Falcons winning this one. The Buccaneers have weapons on offense and look as if they've hit their stride- a come from behind win can do wonders for a team.

Pick: Buccaneers win, cover

Arizona (-3.5) at Seattle

Literally the only thing the Seahawks have going for them is their very loud home stadium. The rest of the team is a dreck, with two touchdowns through two games and a ton of points allowed. Arizona has played decently enough, beating Carolina and keeping it very close with Washington. Decent beats out horrible, though, and that phrase ought to be the slogan of the NFC West.

Pick: Arizona wins, covers

Green Bay (-4.5) at Chicago

Green Bay hasn't even hit their stride yet and they're sitting at 2-0; the Bears have played one great game and then got shredded by the Saints. The Packers were able to beat the Saints while playing an off game defensively. The Bears simply don't have the weapons on offense to keep up with the Packers, even if their defense stays strong and limits the Packers attack. So far, Aaron Rodgers has looked too good, too precise, to be knocked off his game. The Bears have shunned their best offensive option in Matt Forte and have tried to put the game on Jay Cutler's shoulders, but he doesn't have an offensive line, which creates some problems. It's probably why he's pouting all the time.

Pick: Packers win, cover

Pittsburgh (-10.5) at Indianapolis

As with every Colts appearance on prime time television, well, this game would've been awesome if Peyton Manning was healthy. He's not, and his team is a mess. The Steelers get the luxury of playing this team before they've started to sort everything out, and a week after they got to rip up the Seahawks. It's a luxury cruise for the Steelers, who will coast back to 2-1 after a week one embarrassment.

Pick: Steelers win, cover

Washington at Dallas (-4)

Ah, Monday Night Football is always willing to either put a terrible game on TV between two teams with high expectations going into the season or put the Cowboys, Jets, Patriots or Eagles on. The Cowboys come in after Tony Romo's gutty performance last week (did anyone ever think they would say that about Tony Romo?) led the Cowboys to a win over the 49ers. The Redskins eked out a close win over the Cardinals last week and have improbably improved to 2-0. The Cowboys are without Miles Austin, and will have to rely on a reality show winner to pick up some of the slack. Still, I find Dallas' defense scarier than Washington's, and I don't trust the Redskins offensively. With Rex Grossman slinging the ball, you can only really just close your eyes and pray it doesn't fall into a defender's grasp.

Pick: Cowboys win, cover

Season: 21-11 Overall, 12-19-1 ATS

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