I had a miserable week 2 picking the games, but managed to go 7-7-2, bringing me to a crappy 13-16-3 this year. But oh well, it's hard to complain when the Lions win by 45 points.
Let's briefly break down that stunning conquest and then jump into week 3's picks.
First of all, I'm going to be the fun-blame monster and point out the truth that if Jamaal Charles didn't go down early in the first quarter, this wouldn't have been a 45 point blowout. That's just the facts. The Chiefs were without Charles for 55 minutes and Eric Berry for the entire game, and then lost Tamba Hali in the third quarter. That's their 3 best players, not to mention Moeaki is on IR and Jon Baldwin was gone too. The Chiefs were an injury-ravaged dumpster fire, and the Lions job was to pummel them into oblivion. Mission accomplished.
But let's be real. Before he went down, Charles had 2 carries for 27 yards. The Chiefs put up 91 yards on 20 carries with the backups. Our run defense is vulnerable, and we've got Adrian Peterson coming up this Sunday. The Lions absolutely cannot buy into their own hype this early in the season. Remember 2007? That team started 6-2, highlighted by a 44-7 drubbing of Denver. Then we went 1-25 in the next 26 games, or 5-47 in the next fifty-two games to be exact. Of course the 2011 Lions are light-years more talented than the '07 bunch, but still. Can't afford to believe you are truly 45 points better than anybody.
The good news is, Schwartz and Stafford are on the same page. They are taking a low-key, 'we-can-still-play-better' approach, which seems forced and stuffy but is actually totally accurate. Whether they are doing it because they think they should or because they know it's actually true is debatable. Either way, I'm glad they aren't making outlandish predictions and proclaiming that we own the NFC North. Still 14 games to be played.
Against KC, Stafford had another nearly flawless performance. He threw the one terrible pick early, but luckily got a fumble on that same play and a fresh set of downs. He only missed maybe one or two passes all game, which is outstanding on 39 attempts. He wasn't sacked at all, a testament to Jeff Backus, who amazingly kept Hali out of the backfield all game. But give credit to Stafford too; you can tell he's learned how to position himself in the pocket, how to step up, and how to get rid of the ball quickly. His new favorite move, the stare-at-the-safety-then-throw-somewhere-else maneuver, is hugely effective. He did not have that tactic in his arsenal in 2010. I love the new Stafford.
The running game was once again pathetic, gaining 89 yards on 30 carries. If you think I'm being too harsh, consider that we've averaged 3.3 YPC in the last two games, and the league's worst YPC last year was 3.6 (Bengals). However, part of the problem was giving Keiland Williams about 5 goal-line carries in the fourth quarter. Best was awesome out of the backfield catching passes, and lining up all over the field like vintage Marshall Faulk. But he struggles between the tackles. I really wish we had Mikel LeShoure.
Once again, the receivers were outstanding, with Burleson leading the way with 7 grabs and 93 yards. Titus Young made a splash (5 for 89) and the tight ends chipped in. I'm loving Tony Scheffler's weekly endzone dance. Calvin Johnson had only 29 yards and is mostly a redzone target right now; the way Burleson is playing, that's okay. It just means Calvin's being double-teamed on every down.
Defensively, the Lions really benefited from the absence of Charles and the awfulness of Matt Cassel. We beat the crap out of a bad team, which is exactly what we should do. We had 6 turnovers, 2 sacks, allowed only 267 yards, and yet I'm still looking for things to complain about.
Dwayne Bowe's 45 yard catch was crappy defense. We gave up a lot of rushing yards, as a I previously mentioned. But the Chiefs did run 29 times compared to 23 passing attempts, which is odd considering they were down 3 TDs most of the game. Todd Haley did a horrendous job coaching the Chiefs in every aspect, and will very likely be the first coach fired in 2011. It's him or Sparano, with a sleeper's chance to Jim Caldwell.
Next week, Detroit goes to Minnesota to face Mr. Chunky Soup himself, and the 0-2 Vikings. Don't let the record fool you; the Vikings led both their games by 10 at one point, and played two playoff-caliber teams. AP has 218 yards and a 5.3 YPC right now, so he's obviously priority #1. Just like the KC game, Detroit needs to stack the box and force the inept QB to make passes. Percy Harvin can get open, but he's the only viable receiver Minnesota has. We'll put Houston on him, give him some support on passing downs, but other than that, it's gotta be 9 in the box against AP on 1st and 2nd down. And even with that strategy, it'll still be surprising if he doesn't go well over 100 yards.
The good news is Nick Fairley might return this week, which is perfect timing. Fairley won't start, but he can alternate with Corey Williams and give them a 3-headed monster at DT. I would love to see Suh, Fairley and Williams all out there together. Forget the pass rush, let's concentrate on stopping the league's best running back. Anyway, let's hope I can put my prejudices behind me (stupid New York teams), make some decent picks, and get above .500.
Week 3 Picks
Lions (2-0) @ Vikings (0-2)
Predicted Line: DET by 3
Actual Line: DET by 3.5
Minnesota has won 21 of the last 23 matchups between these teams, dating all the way back to Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper. For the first time since the Barry era, Detroit legitimately has the better team.
The biggest advantage is at the quarterback position, where Stafford is playing like a rising star while McNabb is a shell of his former self. McNabb has just 267 passing yards in two games, a 55% completion percentage, and doesn't have enough time in the pocket (or good enough receivers) to complete any deep passes. The dink-and-dump stuff doesn't work for him because his short-range accuracy is atrocious. His mobility is pretty much gone. He's kind of a sitting duck, and by the way, Suh hasn't had a big hit on a QB yet this year and might be due.
On the other side of the ball, Minnesota gets DT Kevin Williams back from suspension, and that will be huge for their defense. Detroit struggles at running up the middle no matter who the DTs are, but he makes it pretty much impossible. He also doubles as a rare DT who can rush the passer, so Raiola and Peterman are in for a tough matchup. On the left end, Backus faces the superior Jared Allen, so some RB/TE help will have to come. Fortunately, Detroit can spare an extra blocker or two, because the Vikings secondary is very beatable.
Calvin Johnson has a mismatch no matter who he plays, but Antoine Winfield worries me more than most. He's the physical type of corner who can jam Calvin at the line and can tackle him in the open field. I hope to see some deep routes to try to take advantage of Calvin's speed advantage. Burleson should perform well against his former team, and hopefully Pettigrew will bounce back from the nagging shoulder injury and play his first good game of 2011.
I have a crappy feeling that Detroit will win by just 3, but I don't want to pick the Vikings just on that chance. So I'm siding with the favorite, denying the homedog, and predicting the Lions to be 3-0 and the Vikings to be 0-3. I know this is stupid, I know I'm going to regret it, but I'm doing it anyway. Lions fall behind, come back, then hang on, for a 24-20 win.
The Christian Ponder Watch begins.
Jaguars (1-1) @ Panthers (0-2)
Predicted Line: CAR by 1.5
Actual Line: CAR by 3.5
Everyone is so excited about the Cam Newton extravanganza that they must have forgotten about the other 21 guys who also play for Carolina. The loss of Jon Beason should force this line down to CAR by 1, but Newton's amazing play has made that impossible. The Panthers shouldn't be favored by more than 3 against anybody. Not with their defense. Not until they win a game. 84% of bettors are on the Cam Newton Wagon already; I'm still not sold. Jags win 27-17, and Luke McCown redeems himself just a little.
Quick note on the Jags QB situation: it's too soon to start Gabbert. I know it's more fun to play the rookie. I know McCown went 6 for 19 for 59 yards and 4 INTs last week for a 1.8 QB rating. And no, I've never seen a QB rating lower than 2. I don't think I've seen one lower than 40, even in a video game. But still ... it's too early in the season to give up on your supposed starter, and there's no shame in getting killed by an elite defense on the road. Now that the Colts are a rotting carcass, the AFC South is up for grabs. Jacksonville has to play to win and hope Houston derails; they might make the playoffs at 9-7. Probably not. But maybe.
*EDIT* Gabbert will start after all. Panthers are favored by 4. Still taking Jags against the spread. I think the Panthers win straight-up but it's close. I'll say 27-24.
Broncos (1-1) @ Titans (1-1)
Predicted Line: TEN by 7.5
Actual Line: TEN by 7
These two stupid teams are among the most frustrating reasons why I'm 13-16 against the spread. First they both lose at home against terrible teams; then Tennessee kicks the crap out of Baltimore. Really?
That fluky win inflated this line, and as a result the Titans are 7-point favorites when they should only be favored by 4 or 5. I'm taking Denver even though I have no reason to believe in them. I just think this spread is goofy. Titans win 30-24 ...?
Dolphins (0-2) @ Browns (1-1)
Predicted Line: CLE by 4.5
Actual Line: CLE by 2.5
Ah, the Left Tackle Bowl! Let's just say whichever team wins, that team's LT is deemed the league's best, because I'm sick of the Long/Thomas debate. I'm going with Cleveland, mainly beause it looks like the Dolphins might be quitting on their coach already, and the Dog Pound isn't an easy place to play. But that Fins front 7 can stop the run, so Colt McCoy is going to have to earn this win. I'll go Browns 23-17. Congrats Joe Thomas.
*Fantasy Update - Won 2 of the 3 main leagues; would have won them all but his Tony Gonzalez outscored my Antonio Gates 19-0. Went 10-3 overall in the 13 leagues. My sneaky move was picking up Kevin Ogeltree (Dallas' #3 receiver) because I had injured Dez on the bench. It didn't work out too well. 50 yards. Not terrible, but if I had played Daniel Thomas instead I would won.
*Edit - Miami's CB Vontae Davis is out. Cleveland doesn't have any good receivers to take advantage, but still big news. Definitely feel good taking the Browns. Might start Mohammad Massaquoi (or Greg Little) if I needed a fantasy receiver.
Giants (1-1) @ Eagles (1-1)
Predicted Line: ?? Is Vick going to play ??
Actual Line: None.
Still no line. They're saying Vick 'might' play, but also saying they feel confident with former Northwestern QB Mike Kafka. My gut is that Vick is out. Concussions are no minor deal.
If it's Vick, I'd say PHI by 7. With Kafka, PHI by 1. I'll comprimise and say Eagles are favored by 4.
On Sunday night, we saw the Eagles defense exposed in the middle of the field. The linebackers just flat out stink, and so do the safeties. Teams will avoid Asomugha like crazy all year (Roddy White had 4 targets last week), while running up the middle and offsetting the pass rush. It's a pretty simple equation right now, and Philly needs to make some serious adjustments. Fortunately, the Giants don't have a good tight end or possession receiver (they gave that guy to Philly in free agency), so it's likely be a huge workload for Bradshaw and Jacobs. That will work somewhat, but I wouldn't expect more than 17 or 20 points from New York.
Philly should surprise people if Kafka plays. They won't have their dog-murdering leader, but they'll still have McCoy, Jackson, Maclin, Celek, Steve Smith ... more than enough play-makers to take advantage of a crap-tastic Giants defense. I'm going with Kafka and the Eagles, 23-17.
*EDIT* Vick will play. Line is PHI by 9. That's a tad too high if you ask me. New York always plays their best against the Eagles. And I'm thinking Vick's concussion could lead to a few bone-head plays and turnovers. Eagles 27-20.
Texans (2-0) @ Saints (1-1)
Predicted Line: NO by 3
Actual Line: NO by 4
Two really, really good teams. I can't find a decent reason to pick against either team. I think this line ought to be 3, but the Saints have a superior quarterback and they're at home, so I guess I'll take them, 28-23.
Patriots (2-0) @ Bills (2-0)
Predicted Line: NE by 7
Actual Line: NE by 8.5
The Bills can score, and the Pats defense can't stop anybody. But let's be real. Brady shouldn't be less than a 14 point favorite to anybody. I'll take the Pats, 45-20.
49ers (1-1) @ Bengals (1-1)
Predicted Line: CIN by 1
Actual Line: CIN by 2.5
This one's tough. Everything is working against San Fran ... they're traveling West to East for a 1pm game, they just got heart-broken last week against Dallas in OT, and Cincy is playing better than people realize. I'm a big fan of Harbaugh, but I don't see San Fran as a winning road team until they get a new quarterback. Which reminds me ...
Has there ever been so much build-up for a #1 pick this early in a season? Not since LeBron right? The "Suck for Luck" campaign is building steam for at least 5 teams already. Fanbases all over the country are dreaming of Andrew Luck as their quarterback. It's uncanny. Two weeks ago, I would have pegged Oakland, Washington, Miami, and Seattle as the frontrunners. Now it appears that Indy and KC are in the mix, along with maybe San Fran if they lose this one. Still liking Miami as a 2-14 team. I was way wrong on Washington. Rex Grossman is not bad.
Oh, I'm taking Cincy at home. 20-17.
Chiefs (0-2) @ Chargers (1-1)
Predicted Line: SD by 14.5
Actual Line: SD by 15
This was your classic "They Can't Make The Line High Enough" game. 82% of betting is on the team favored by 15. After the Chiefs 0-2 start and -79 point differential, not to mention a crushing injury to their best player, it makes sense to bet on the high-octane Chargers offense.
But speaking of injuries ... Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd, Michael Tolbert, and Antonio Gates are all on the injured list. San Diego is coming off an emotional loss to New England and might be flat. Plus they always stink in September. I think Rivers gets them off to a decent lead early, but doesn't kick the Chiefs into the hole. Also wouldn't be shocked to see speedy Dexter McCluster make a big play in Charles's stead. I like him as a fantasy pick-up.
Chargers get up 14-0 early, then coast. Final score: SD 27-16.
Jets (2-0) @ Raiders (1-1)
Predicted Line: NYJ by 2
Actual Line: NYJ by 3.5
Speaking of team's being without star players ... here's one you might not have heard. Jets center Nick Mangold, also known as the best center in the NFL by far, is out for this game with an ankle sprain. He didn't even make the flight to Oakland. So while that isn't the juicy story of a Romo or Vick, it's just as important for the Jets offense. He's their best offensive player by a mile.
The other side of the coin ... Oakland stinks, and is overachieving just by being 1-1. They've played Denver and Buffalo and allowed 58 points - 6th most in the league. Their defense can't stop anybody. And their offense won't be able to move on the Jets.
But this is Oakland's home opener, and this line is too high considering Mangold's injury. I'm taking the Jets, and giving Oakland the cover. 17-15 Jets.
Ravens (1-1) @ Rams (0-2)
Predicted Line: BAL by 2
Actual Line: BAL by 4
As I explained in the season preview, the Rams begin the schedule with 7 brutal games and follow that up with 7 easy games. But that doesn't mean they can start out 0-7. Sooner or later they've got to get a win. With Steven Jackson out and the Rams defense looking inept against the run, it's hard to imagine them getting that win here. Ray Rice should have another big day.
I'm starting to feel pretty confident that the Rams will become the first team to ever start 1-6 and win their division. Ravens take this one early and don't ease up. 31-20.
Falcons (1-1) @ Bucs (1-1)
Predicted Line: Pick
Actual Line: TB by 1.5
Big division game with both teams at 1-1. Both teams will bring it, knowing the importance of this one. I can't see any way this game isn't close. Tampa getting Tanard Jackson back from suspension will be underratedly important. I'm sick of betting for Matt Ryan on the road. He always lets me down. Tampa takes this one on yet another Freeman fourth-quarter comeback, 23-20.
Cardinals (1-1) @ Seattle (0-2)
Predicted Line: ARZ by 2.5
Actual Line: ARZ by 3.5
One of my philosophies is to not support crappy teams on the road. Arizona is a crappy team. And this is Seattle's home opener, plus the line shouldn't be above 3. That's three reasons to take Seattle. I hate everything about this game. Go Beanie Wells! Seahawks win 17-13.
Packers (2-0) @ Bears (1-1)
Predicted Line: GB by 5.5
Actual Line: GB by 3.5
Surprised by this line. The public hates Jay Cutler as much as I do, and the Bears offensive line appears to be in shambles. I still don't think people realize how stacked the Packers are. I'm calling for a huge blowout at Soldier Field. Packers by 27.
Steelers (1-1) @ Colts (0-2)
Predicted Line: PIT by 8.5
Actual Line: PIT by 10
Man, this game sure looked different on the schedule a few weeks ago. Those damn Steelers have all the luck. Well, I guess we did face a Charles-less Chiefs last week ...
Speaking of the luck, Indy's chances at picking #1 are really starting to look serious. If they can't beat Cleveland at home, they can't compete with a still-pissed-off Pittsburgh team. No chance for Indy to not be 0-3.
But what about the spread? Isn't 10 points a bit much for Pittsburgh to cover, seeing as they are a ball-control offense who doesn't run up the score? Maybe, but it also wouldn't shock me if Pittsburgh's defense led to a TD or 2 late in the game. I'll take the Steelers in a modest blowout, 27-14, on Sunday night.
Redskins (2-0 ) @ Cowboys (1-1)
Predicted Line: Romo's Ribs! I mean, DAL by 5
Actual Line: ROMO'S RIBS! Holy crap, did you hear Romo had a PUNCTURED LUNG!!! What a stud!! He's such a hero!! OHMYGODISHEGOINGTOPLAYTHROUGHTHEPAINAGAIN?!?!
I'm getting so sick of sports radio lavishing over Romo like a wounder war hero. Dude played through some serious pain, won a game, it was awesome. But I'm so dang sick of hearing about it.
Aside from Romo, the Cowboys are also dealing with injuries to Miles Austin, Felix Jones, Dez Bryant ... in other words, their entire offense. For security purposes, I picked up Kitna in the league where I own Romo, and Ogeltree in the league where I have Dez. If all 4 offensive starters miss the game (a definite possibility), it will be Jon Kitna, DeMarco Murray, and Kevin Ogeltree on Monday night against the terrible Redskins defense.
There's still no line. I don't know what's going on, but I'm just taking Dallas because no way Grossman is 3-0.