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Thursday, December 14 2017

NFL Predictions 2011: Week 2

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 Let's put week 1 in the rearview mirror and call it good. Without doing the research I'm pretty sure there are not many 9-7 marks straight up in my history making picks. However, the lockout made it especially difficult to project how these teams would perform early in the season. I avoided disaster against the spread at 7-9 and was up to my usual tricks on the over/under at 11-5. What does the second week hold? Let's take a look. 

 Oakland (1-0) @ Buffalo (1-0): Getting to 2-0 is usually a nice head start towards a playoff spot, but in the competitive AFC neither of these teams can rest easy with a win here. Both are trying to reverse a trend of losing, and based on last week perhaps this might be an important game down the line. The Bills destroyed the Chiefs 41-7 at Arrowhead Stadium. It was a dominating performance. The Raiders battled past the Broncos 23-20 at Mile High, but expended a lot of energy during a late Monday Night Football start. Their preparation time for this game is severely hamstrung by the travel schedule the team endured. 

When I picked Kansas City to beat Buffalo last week it was because I thought they would run the ball on a defense ranked dead last defending the run in 2010. It didn't happen. Will it happen this week? I don't know how Oakland manages to get it done behind a makeshift offensive line, but they do. Their offense is scrappy. Buffalo's defense clearly is full of confidence and back at home gets the extra bump. When these teams met here in 2008 it was a "showdown" at quarterback between first overall pick JaMarcus Russell and third-rounder Trent Edwards, both from the 2007 class. The Bills rallied to win 24-23. Not many players are left on either side from that one. 

Both teams have managed to find new quarterbacks since. Oakland traded for Jason Campbell who has been fairly serviceable. Buffalo is ready to give Ryan Fitzpatrick an extension after his performance last week, which is an overreaction in my opinion. They are not bidding against anyone. I still like Fitzpatrick here because the Raiders are suspect on the back end. Their pass rush masks this and taking on a shaky offensive line might get the secondary off the hook yet again. That is the big question when the Bills have the ball. When the Raiders get possession I wonder how their line deals with a raucous crowd on a short week. They are the better team, but the better team does not always win due to circumstances like this: Buffalo 23, Oakland 20 (OAK +4/over 42.5)

Kansas City (0-1) @ Detroit (1-0): Is it fair to say the Chiefs are struggling on offense? Fantasy owners who drafted Jamaal Charles are in full panic mode. Quarterback Matt Cassel is  banged up and without offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has struggled mightily. Stud tight end Tony Moeaki has already been lost for the season and rookie wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin is out with a thumb injury. This is not an offense capable of dealing with losses and change like this. On the other side the Lions were terrific in securing their third straight road win. More importantly it was the first time they won a game away from home that was meaningful for both teams since 2007. 

Megatron is ailing with a bad ankle and their rookie running back Mikel LeShoure is done for the year, but unlike the Chiefs this offense can still get it done when everything is not going just right. Matthew Stafford continues to live on the edge of injured reserve, which is fine as long as he stays on the field. The crowd at Ford Field will be going berserk in this one as fans look for anything to cheer for. They are definitely buying the hype. If this is going to be a playoff team, finishing games is on the checklist. Stafford was limited passing the ball in the second half and the Bucs almost rallied on them before holding on for the 27-20 win. 

If things were not bad enough for Kansas City, emerging young safety Eric Berry is out for the season. The defense would be expected to pick up the slack for the struggling offense. Now what? I look for Detroit to put the hammer down early. Unless they start turning it over they should be able to build a nice lead by halftime. At that point we will find out what the Chiefs are made of. Clearly last year was an overachieving performance, but are they ready to accept the cellar for the duration of the season? On the heels of last week it looks like it and this loss might cement their status as a doormat: Detroit 31, Kansas City 15 (DET -7.5/over 45)

Chicago (1-0) @ New Orleans (0-1): Can we call this the Kreutz Bowl? Free agency created a lot of problems after the lockout because teams had very little time to react. Olin Kreutz is a great center playing at high level, but is old. As part of a center carousel he was allowed to leave and the Saints, who lost their center to the 49ers who lost their center to the Giants, scooped him up. Roberto Garza is filling in for now, but that's not the point. Kreutz is going to unload a lot of knowledge for his new teammates to absorb. The pass rush is always enhanced by a home crowd in a dome, and I expect visiting quarterback Jay Cutler to be pressured from the jump. 

When the Bears go on defense, Brian Urlacher is playing with a heavy heart after the passing of his mother. His defense will rally around him to be sure, but emotion is not everything. The Saints, even without some parts on offense, are potent and creative. Typically I downgrade a physical defense on the road in a dome, but Chicago was pretty good indoors last year. Not dominating though, and New Orleans is going to score their share of points. It is just a matter of Chicago being able to keep up. If the pass rush is there for the Saints the answer is clearly no. I think it will be and I anticipate more rushing for the home team than we saw in the opener at Green Bay. Speaking of which, they are well rested and more prepared. I like them to grind this out: New Orleans 24, Chicago 20 (CHI +7/under 48)

Cleveland (0-1) @ Indianapolis (0-1): I would dub this the Disappointment Bowl. Everyone knew the Colts would be in trouble without Peyton Manning, but they were thoroughly whipped by the Texans. I was genuinely disappointed in the Browns after their home lost to state rival Cincinnati, a team I view as one of the worst in the league. I expected this team to be relatively good this year, but now I'm not so sure. Quarterback Colt McCoy was erratic and the defense melted down when it mattered most. Which team bounces back?

The easy answer is the Colts because they are at home. Veteran quarterback Kerry Collins is going to get better with time at managing this offense and moving the chains. The defense has to adjust to life after Manning as well because the pressure is on them like it has never been. As a rookie McCoy went on the road to beat Drew Brees and Tom Brady so it's not like he will be intimidated in this environment. He is also the type of player who will work hard to shake off a bad performance. 

I'm looking for a lot of running out of Indianapolis. They have to know who they are at this point, and their best chance to win is controlling the clock to keep their defense off the field. Rookie Delone Carter might have himself a coming out party if you ask me. The Browns do possess a lot of beef in their defensive line, but in a dome situation guys tend to find open space and break runs. Peyton Hillis conversely is better in the elements. When the rushing edge goes in their favor it takes a lot of pressure off and I'm taking the home team in a tough one to call: Indianapolis 24, Cleveland 17 (IND -1/over 39.5)

Tampa Bay (0-1) @ Minnesota (0-1): The Vikings were better than I expected in week 1 and the Buccaneers were definitely worse. Despite traveling across the country to face a talented team, Minnesota took San Diego to the wall before losing 24-17. Tampa Bay had home field and didn't wake up until the second half while losing to Detroit 27-20 in a game that wasn't really that close. These losses could not have been more different, but now both teams are tasked with avoiding the dreaded 0-2 start. The Vikes are not seen as a playoff contender, but the Bucs just went 10-6 and very much thought they would be in the thick of things. None of that really matters between the lines though. 

Adrian Peterson is pretty much the offense for Minnesota unless Donovan McNabb starts completing some passes. Tampa Bay is weak at cornerback so that helps. On the flip side clearly Josh Freeman does not need to be throwing the ball 43 times as he did last week. LaGarrette Blount has to be more of a factor. Some have speculated Freeman's confidence is shaken. I don't buy that at all. This team just ran up against a hungrier opponent. Meanwhile the Vikings caught a San Diego team that chronically starts poorly and took advantage. This is back to reality for both teams in a low scoring struggle with a lot of running: Tampa Bay 20, Minnesota 17 (TB +3/under 41.5)

Green Bay (1-0) @ Carolina (0-1): It was fun watching Cam Newton live up to the hype in his rookie debut at quarterback for the Panthers, but the Cardinals definitely made it possible. Now in his home debut a defensive coordinator (Dom Capers) known for wrecking young signal callers is going to make his life very difficult. The defending champs have had a couple extra days to prepare, not like they needed it, and were already preparing for this team while their opponent was busy dealing with a road loss. 

Let's not mince words here. Green Bay gave up some yards and points to New Orleans last week, but Carolina does not come close to matching that machine by any stretch of the imagination. They will certainly be motivated to not let the kid show them up. On offense the Packers are ridiculous. They can pretty much work the field as they see fit starting with the passing game short and deep, then figuring out the ground attack. In short, they have far more scoring power and once it becomes a situation where the home team plays catch up it is over. The turnovers will flow and it will get out of hand: Green Bay 30, Carolina 13 (GB -10/under 45)

Seattle (0-1) @ Pittsburgh (1-0): This is too easy on paper. The Seahawks are miserable when they travel this far east. The Steelers are really, really upset after getting torched by their bitter rivals. Obviously the defending AFC champions are not going to turn it over 7 times again, but the bigger concern is their offensive line. Rookie Marcus Gilbert is being pressed to start at right tackle after Willie Colon was lost for the season. Unfortunately I don't think the Seahawks have enough defensively to make this too big of a factor. Their own offensive line is in bad shape and has to deal with crowd noise against an elite defense. 

Offensively Seattle has some pieces in place and plenty of remaining holes. One is at quarterback. Tarvaris Jackson is the kind of player you stick in there when you are tanking the season for a high draft pick. Free agent pickups Sidney Rice (wide receiver) and Robert Gallery (guard) probably will not play in this one. If they could only put up 17 at San Francisco I have to wonder how much they can score here against a ticked off opponent. Pittsburgh has to work around the offensive line woes, but has big play wide receivers if Ben Roethlisberger ever gets time to throw. They will also run it once a lead it built. I do not anticipate a pretty game here: Pittsburgh 27, Seattle 9 (PIT -14/under 40)

Baltimore (1-0) @ Tennessee (0-1): There is not much mystery here. The Ravens came out of the gate hot, shutting down the Steelers 35-7. The Titans were lackluster at best, losing 16-14 on the road to the Jaguars who are not exactly a powerhouse. On one hand Baltimore has a proven ability to run the ball and on the other hand Tennessee can't stop the run. In other words the visitors should be able to move the chains. Defensively the Ravens are stout and offensively the Titans have a lot to prove. First downs will be hard to come by, not to mention points. 

I am hard pressed to find an angle here other than perhaps one team coming in overconfident off an emotional win. I don't see that happening. Ray Rice is going to run his tail off here and should have an easy time of "showing up" fellow star rusher Chris Johnson. Unless CJ2K breaks off a big run or two, good luck with that, this should be a rout from the start. It won't get too ugly in the first half. I sense more of a slow burn, perhaps a lot of field goal drives and a lunch pail effort for the visitors: Baltimore 23, Tennessee 6 (BAL -6/under 38)

Arizona (1-0) @ Washington (1-0): One of these lucky teams is going to be 2-0 and feeling pretty good. Not many would have expected it. The Cardinals survived a record setting rookie quarterback to beat the Panthers 28-21 while the Redskins punished the rival Giants 28-14. I favor Washington right off the top because Tim Hightower has extra motivation against his former team and insight for his new defense. When it comes to preparation Washington has scouted Kevin Kolb before and beat his Eagles 17-12 last year. The injury status of Brian Orakpo and LaRon Landry is a concern on defense, but this is a weaker offense than they faced a week ago. 

I liked what I saw out of Beanie Wells last week, and if Kolb protects the football this should be a balanced offense for Arizona. For Washington the running game has been more dominant and therefore Rex Grossman can play with more confidence knowing he does not need to win it. I like it when I get a team at home with a good running game. Sure, last week Arizona gave up the farm through the air and if Grossman sees open players he will take advantage, but they will start with the run. Quite simply I look for Washington to score some points. The visitors have the potential, but if I'm putting it on the line the conservative pick goes this way: Washington 24, Arizona 16 (WAS -3.5/under 44)

Jacksonville (1-0) @ NY Jets (1-0): Something tells me Rex Ryan is fine with preparing his defense to face a team led by Luke McCown. Even if his talent was combined with his brother Josh I'm not sure it would be enough to frighten the Jets. They worked their way back last week on SNF to upend the Cowboys 27-24. Meanwhile the Jaguars held on for dear life to beat the Titans 16-14. On the injury front Aaron Kampman is out, which hurts Jacksonville's improved defense as they try to get to Mark Sanchez whose status is in doubt due to a concussion. He should play, and hand the ball off plenty. 

The trouble for the visitors is their offense. McCown has no receiving targets and Maurice Jones-Drew is physically unable to take over this game. If they score more than 14 points it would be surprising. On the other side there are so many veteran playmakers, even including Plaxico Burress fresh out of prison, that they should be find here at home. I look for a low scoring game that is ugly. As much running as possible will be done by both teams, and some success should be in store. The better defense always prevails in this situation though, so while it won't be a walk in the park the home team should get it done: NY Jets 20, Jacksonville 9 (NYJ -8.5/under 39.5)

Dallas (0-1) @ San Francisco (1-0): A classic matchup here and if the 49ers had a quarterback it might live up to some of those thrillers from days gone by. Unfortunately Alex Smith is still in charge and believe me when I say that fans of this team would kill for Tony Romo making a dumb mistake here and there. The key for me is a struggling offensive line for the home team and a solid pass rush by the visitors. If this game was in Jerry's little stadium in Texas I would probably pick a rout. By the Bay I always like the 49ers to be a little bit feisty. 

The problem for San Francisco is offense. Their defense should stand up just fine. Eventually they have to put points on the board and without a dominant offensive line or quarterback that is tough to do. I see Dallas wearing them down and by the second half things are going to fall apart at the seams. It is fun to watch Jim Harbaugh coach, but he doesn't have the team where he wants them yet. If they somehow land Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck in the draft it would be a gift to fans of all teams who enjoy quality football. Smith is not going to get it done in this spot. Romo should put up plenty of numbers here and direct a comfortable win: Dallas 24, San Francisco 13 (DAL -2.5/under 42.5)

Cincinnati (1-0) @ Denver (0-1): These are two of the worst teams in the NFL as far as I'm concerned. Both showed better than I expected heading into the season though, so there is that. The Bengals stuck around and eventually wore down the Bengals to win 27-17 while the Broncos never quite got over the hump and lost to the Raiders 23-20. Quarterback play is a big reason I like these teams more now. Kyle Orton obviously gives Denver a better chance to win games this season. It's not his fault the team didn't run the ball last week. Rookie Andy Dalton and even feisty backup Bruce Gradkowski did just fine replacing Carson Palmer. 

The better running game is going to push one offense over the top in this one. Cedric Benson had a decent opening week stamped by the sealing touchdown. Meanwhile Knowshon Moreno is likely out, leaving veteran Willis McGahee to do the heavy lifting. We'll see how it all works out because neither defensive line is particularly strong. This should be a battle of wills. I like Denver's pass rush if Elvis Dumervil is healthy, but he isn't. Home field is not much of a factor because the fans are going to be chanting for their head coach to put in the backup quarterback, who really is third string. 

I look for the Bengals to run the ball with success and continue running it all afternoon. The Broncos counter with a more balanced attack to stay in the game. As much as I am tempted to roll with an upset here, Orton is the better quarterback and last week the opponent edge goes heavily towards Denver because Oakland is better than Cleveland. I'm looking for things to level out this week because I don't think the Bengals are 2-0 or the Broncos 0-2 based on what I shave seen. This pick makes me uneasy: Denver 21, Cincinnati 20 (CIN +3.5/over 40)

San Diego (1-0) @ New England (1-0): Every year I picked all 256 winners to gauge my evaluations of all the teams. I had the Chargers here, but now I am uncertain. Tom Brady dropping over 500 yards passing on MNF will do that. So will Philip Rivers needing a rally to beat a limited Vikings team at home. This could easily be a high scoring shootout. Chad Henne just shredded the Patriots so while Rivers is just 1-4 against them he is going to get his yards. 

Does either team have an interest in running the ball? New England drafted a couple running backs, but when Brady is throwing lasers all over the field why bother? Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews on paper form a nice duo. They have produced more in the passing game though (131 yards on 12 touches) than running it (24 carries for 80 yards). The weakness of New England's interior offensive line leaves them limited on the ground and vulnerable to blitzes right up the middle if San Diego is so inclined. I can't break this down too much because I think it is simply a showdown between the quarterbacks. Brady is at home against a slow starting team, so I have to go with him: New England 28, San Diego 24 (SD +8/under 54)

Houston (1-0) @ Miami (0-1): This is an interesting matchup. The Texans beat up the bully on the block last week, but the bully had two broken arms so to speak. The Dolphins unfortunately had to face the bully on their block at full strength and he beat them silly. Now comes the hard part for both teams. Houston has to avoid a letdown on the road and Miami needs to recover on a short week. This could be a replay of the MNF game actually. Chad Henne threw for a bunch of yards and it's not like Houston's secondary is stout. Meanwhile if the Dolphins let Tom Brady go wild it's not as if Matt Schaub with his arsenal poses much less of a threat.

If the points start flowing anything can happen. I do see Miami tightening up on defense here. They have the home field advantage and need to act like it this week. Houston's defense is still an unknown. Yes, they shut down an offense run by a retired quarterback. Can they do it on the road against a team without as many challenges moving the ball? Arian Foster should be a  go and obviously the Texans have a better backfield in terms of both running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield. I can see why people are calling for the fish to deliver here, but I really think this can be the season for the Texans. If that is the case they win a game like this. Maybe it's not pretty, but they win: Houston 24, Miami 20 (HOU -2.5/under 48)

Philadelphia (1-0) @ Atlanta (0-1): Think this isn't a big one? Michael Vick finally gets a shot at the first team that handed him a hundred million dollars. It comes on SNF with the whole country watching. Try for a moment to forget that the Falcons were smoked last week by the Bears. They are not the same team on the road, especially outdoors. I sensed a potential problem when they gave up so much to draft wide receiver Julio Jones. It wasn't just the picks they lost, it was the message of "with one player we can take the next step to win it all". The roster did not indicate that.

Now here come the Eagles with the ability to wreck their defense in much the same way the Packers did in the playoffs last year. Vick is obviously more mobile and the receivers are built differently, but whatever. The point is that Atlanta needs to rush the passer and cover on the back end a lot better than they are right now. How much will the home crowd help them in this under the primetime lights? A little I believe, and it might be enough if the offense wakes up out of their slumber. Last week they had more turnovers (3) than scoring drives (2) and both of those went for field goals. 

The key for the home team is doing what they do best which is possessing the football and playing with a lead. If their defense can keep plays in front of them and prevent DeSean Jackson from dancing things should go in their favor. The Eagles have issues along the offensive line and coupled with the dome crowd noise I see the pass rush working. Aside from all of this, karma favors Atlanta big time. If God cares about football whatsoever there is no way Vick comes back to this building and wins: Atlanta 27, Philadelphia 20 (ATL +3/under 50)

St. Louis (0-1) @ NY Giants (0-1): Is there anyone healthy on offense for the Rams in this one? Their version of the triplets all got injured during the opening loss to the Eagles. The Giants lost too, on the road to the Redskins. Their injuries are on defense. MNF thought they had a great early season showdown between playoff contenders. It looks more like an early fight for survival. Obviously there is a ton of football left, but the loser here is 0-2 with the aforementioned personnel concerns. 

Sam Bradford is expected to play, but is he ready to roll and will New York's pass rush get after him? Their head coach Steve Spagnuolo knows all about it having served as defensive coordinator here for the Super Bowl championship run. If wide receiver Danny Amendola and running back Steven Jackson are out an offense without much pop gets even weaker. Spagnuolo will want his defense to play well against his former team naturally, and this could shape up to be a  pretty low scoring affair for the national audience.

I like the running game of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs to pace the home team with Eli Manning converting the key throws. It should be a close game though because both defenses should be up to the task. I'm not looking for the Giants to roll here. They were shaky last week and while the Rams have players out of action on offense they have time to react to those changes. This isn't going to be an instant classic let's leave it at that: NY Giants 21, St. Louis 17 (STL +7/under 44)

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