|CJ Spiller: the only bright spot of the Bills, so far|
The first week of picks is probably the hardest- there are so many unknowns. The second week is nearly as tough, though. There's no way to know the relative quality of each team yet. What I'm saying is, a team that looked impressive in Week One could've been playing a horrible team; a team that looked awful could've been playing a future Super Bowl winner. It's impossible to tell whether teams are better or worse than what they showed yet- the opponent matters so much. So these are hardly picks I make with extreme confidence, in most cases.
Last week, I went 9-7 overall and 7-9 against the spread. Batting around .500, which is fine for me on Week 1. And I already messed up the Thursday Night game- well, just the spread.
Chicago at Green Bay (-5.5)
The Bears are riding high off their Week 1 win over the Colts, and the Super Bowl hype is, obviously, already building in Chicago. Never mind that they beat a rookie QB making his first start surrounded by a horrible team. The Packers, meanwhile, are coming off a tough loss to the 49ers, who look to be the class of the league. The Packers have lost their last three games at Lambeau, and I'm sure they're tired of hearing about it. I see the Packers having more offensive success than last week (sorry, Bears, your defense is not on the 49ers level), but the Packers defense is still suspect. I like the Packers to win, but the Bears to keep it close, close enough to crush the hopes of delusional Bears fans.
No, the Bills Week 1 loss didn't make me bitter, or anything.
Pick: Packers win, Bears cover
(Update from the future: Jay Cutler was horrible and the Bears lost. Ha! The Packers weren't super impressive, though.)
Tampa Bay at NY Giants (-7.5)
The Bucs somehow managed to out-discipline, out-character, out-gritty and out-whatever cliche you want to use about a Greg Schiano coached team to beat the Panthers last Sunday, holding them to 10 yards rushing total. The Giants are better than the Panthers, though, have had since last Thursday to rest, and have a more balanced attack on offense- as well as a more talented defense. Plus, they played their typical "mess up an easily winnable game" last week, and the Giants rarely repeat those week to week. No, better to save it for every five weeks or so.
Pick: Giants win, cover
Arizona at New England (-13.5)
The Cardinals, despite their win over the Seahawks last week, still look to be one of the worst teams in the league. John Skelton, who 'won' the quarterback competition, is out with an ankle injury, and Kevin Kolb gets yet another chance to 'shine' as the starter. The defense was able to frustrate a rookie last week, at home, but this is against Tom Brady, on the road. I don't see things going so well for the Cards.
Pick: Patriots win, cover
Minnesota (-1.5) at Indianapolis
Andrew Luck was not the magical franchise savoir everyone expected him to be in a Week 1 loss to the Bears- he was a rookie. There was some good, and some bad. While he'll get better with time, the rest of the team doesn't have quite the same ceiling. The offensive line, running backs, most of the receivers, and the defense are near the bottom of the league, talent-wise. No amount of rookie magic will fix that. The Vikings, meanwhile, look like they could be a decent team- Christian Ponder is slowly coming along at quarterback, Adrian Peterson is still one of the best running backs in the league, Percy Harvin works well in open space, and the defense isn't horrible. That sounds good enough to beat most bad teams in the NFL, including this Colts team.
Pick: Vikings win, cover
New Orleans (-2.5) at Carolina Panthers
The Saints were a little out of sorts last week, but that's probably what happens when your coach is the interim to the interim coach, and the real coach is lurking off somewhere in the shadows (presumably). Still, this is basically the same team as last year- the high powered offense with a turnover forcing defense. As for the Panthers, they looked all out of sorts, but with none of the excuses that the Saints have. They couldn't rush the ball, and Cam Newton struggled his way to an ugly 300 yard passing day. The defense was able to shut down the Buccaneers, but the Saints have a little more talent, and a little more to play for this week. The Saints are a playoff contender with Drew Brees at the helm; we have yet to see that from the Cam Newton Panthers.
Pick: Saints win, cover
Kansas City at Buffalo (-3)
Oh god, where to begin with the Bills. Fitzpatrick was awful. His third pick was maybe the most confident looking interception I've ever seen. He stepped in the pocket and just ripped it between Antonio Cromartie's numbers, in the flat, for a pick-six. The defensive line didn't show up, and the Jets used quick routes and throws to make sure they didn't. The corners were atrocious. Leodis McKelvin needs to be cut, or guarding tight ends. The only thing the Bills did well was run the ball (thank god for CJ Spiller, especially with Fred Jackson out for an extended period) and stop the run. They were flat out unprepared to play the Jets. It was one of the worst Bills games I remember watching. And yet...
I feel like this team can't be any worse than that performance. The Chiefs were almost as bad last week in losing to the Falcons, but I can't tell what will happen in this game. If the Bills think they are anything close to a playoff team, they win this game. And I have no idea if the Chiefs are as bad as they looked, or the Falcons are just that good, but I am, regrettably, once again putting my faith in the Bills. They can't be this bad.
Pick: Bills win, Chiefs cover
Baltimore at Philadelphia (-2.5)
Wait, what is this line? Do the Eagles have such a home field advantage that we're just ignoring last week? The Ravens completely blew me away as they destroyed the Bengals, showcasing a no huddle attack that actually works (not to say that the Broncos' version didn't work last week, but the Ravens do it all game) and the same stout defense. Meanwhile, the Eagles barely beat the Browns. With their horrible rookie QB. I can't trust the Eagles as long as Andy Reid coaches them. They have the talent to win titles but are consistently hampered by his awful time management and play calling. The Ravens look like a complete team; the Eagles, still a mess.
Pick: Ravens win, cover
Oakland (-2.5) at Miami
Ryan Tannehill's NFL debut was just as bad as I imagined, and I loved every second of it. That was the only solace I could take from last weekend as the Bills tried to ruin my day completely: Ryan Tannehill looks awful. The only thing that will keep them in games is their above average defense- and that's good enough for this game, at least. Oakland could barely move the ball last week against the Chargers, and any team worth it's salt will shut down the Raiders running game and force Carson Palmer to throw- not the game plan the Raiders want to use. While I'm not huge on a West Coast team on a short week travelling across the country, the Dolphins are bad enough at home to warrant my belief that the Raiders will eke out a win here.
Pick: Raiders win, Dolphins cover
Cleveland at Cincinnati (-7)
Look at my Eagles pick and you'll see how I feel about the Browns. They are a boring team with a horrible quarterback. Brandon Weeden is a 28 year old project, and that combination rarely leads to wins in the NFL. Or ever. Meanwhile, Cincinnati got out-classed by the Ravens, but that's pretty much par for the course from what we saw last year- they beat bad teams and lose to good ones. Cleveland is a bad, bad team, and the Bengals should be able to win this easily.
Pick: Bengals win, cover
Houston (-7) at Jacksonville
The Jaguars aren't that bad! My Jaguars fan friend, Quazzo, will be overjoyed to hear this (we were watching Sportscenter during the pre-season, and the panel pretty much decided that the Jaguars were not a playoff team this yeah. No chance, at all. Not even considered. Not a good night for Quazzo). Even though he totally jinxed his team by celebrating before they had, you know, actually won the game. Either way, Blaine Gabbert looked like a halfway decent quarterback last week, Maurice Jones Drew didn't look too rusty, and the defense was as sneaky good as last year. The Texans traditionally struggle against their own division, and the Jags have the defense to stay in this. Not win it, mind you, but stay in it- not a minor feat against an extremely talented and balanced Texans team. And that's progress for the Jags! They're staying in it now! Your 2012 Jacksonville Jaguars- we're not getting blown out!
Pick: Texans win, Jaguars cover
Dallas (-3) at Seattle
The Seahawks completely extinguished the pre-season momentum that Russel Wilson engendered with a horrible performance against the Cardinals. That was on the road, though. Seattle has the best home field advantage in the league, good enough to change games. I expect the Seahawks to play better at home, but I don't know if they can beat the Cowboys this week. The Cowboys have had extra rest, are riding high after their win over the Giants, and have a plethora of weapons on offense- an offense that many teams will be hard pressed to stop, it seems. I don't think the Cowboys will make it easy- Romo could easily be rattled in this stadium- but if the Seahawks struggled against the Cardinals, home sweet home won't be quite enough.
Pick: Cowboys win, Seahawks cover
Washington (-3) at St. Louis
The Rams actually gave Detroit a tough game last week, forcing Matthew Stafford into three picks, limiting Calvin Johnson, and losing only in the last minutes. This is not the disaster that was last year- it's a cleaned up version, which I predicted last week. The defense is tough, Stephen Jackson is somehow still chugging along, and Sam Bradford is a good enough quarterback. As for the Redskins, they are filled with confidence after Robert Griffin III's auspicious debut. Unfortunately for the Redskins, teams now have some tape on RG3, and what surprised the Saints last week may not surprise the Rams. And the Redskins defense didn't look impressive last week (although most teams look bad against the Saints offense). All of this is a long winded way of saying, don't count St. Louis out of this game in the midst of all the RG3 hype and media adoration.
Pick: Redskins win, Rams cover
NY Jets at Pittsburgh (-5.5)
The Jets certainly surprised me last week, but I'm not sure how much of that was a product of the Bills horrible play or the Jets actual talent. Either Mark Sanchez is finally a functional NFL quarterback, or the Bills secondary made him look a lot better. I lean towards the latter. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, couldn't beat the overwhelming media narrative of Peyton Manning returning. Too scared to go with Jets when I still haven't seen them play a functional team (Note: the Bills were NOT that on Sunday). Plus, the Jets are without Darrell Revis, the lynch pin of their defense. I like the Steelers, angry after losing to the Broncos, winning at home.
Pick: Steelers win, Jets cover
Tennessee at San Diego (-6)
No idea what to figure on either of these teams. The Chargers pulled out an ugly win over the Raiders, while the Titans didn't do much to impress in a loss against the Patriots. Once again, I fall into the quandary of figuring out if these teams looked good or bad because of their opponent or if they are actually that good or bad. I have no new opinions about either of these teams since last week. When in doubt, take the points, right?
Pick: Chargers win, Titans cover
Detroit at San Francisco (-6.5)
While many were calling for a regression for the 49ers, the team that showed up to Lambeau last Sunday looked like favorites in the NFC, if not the whole league. Alex Smith actually has talented receivers, and the defense can shut down anyone. In a pass happy league, the 49ers have found an anti-dote. Any team that can't establish the run against the 49ers (which is hard enough) is doomed to flounder trying to pass. They made Aaron Rodgers look sort of pedestrian last week. Detroit is a very one dimensional offense- lots of passing- and didn't look great as they squeaked by the Rams. The 49ers are a class above the Rams, and I don't think Detroit will be able to keep up.
Pick: 49ers win, cover
Denver at Atlanta (-3)
Peyton Manning has his second week in a row playing in prime time, and he looked in vintage form last week. Atlanta also looked a lot better than I expected last week, though that could be a product of a bad Chiefs team. I still don't trust Atlanta's defense, though, and I expect this one to be a shoot out. With the game on the line, the Broncos can get a stop. I'm still not so sure about the Falcons in that situation.
Pick: Broncos win, cover
Last week (ATS): 9-7 (7-9)