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Thursday, April 26 2018

NFL Predictions 2014: Week 2

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Well that my friends, was no good. The opening couple of weeks is always the toughest to predict because there is so much roster turnover. Typically there are a handful of stunners, and by comparison last week was pretty tame. I did a decent job straight up (9-7) actually. Cincinnati/Baltimore was going to be a tossup and I went with the home team. New Orleans had Atlanta by 13 before they allowed the Falcons to steal a crucial field goal before the half, points that later allowed them to reach OT and pull out the win. The biggest surprise for me was actually Buffalo going to Chicago and winning, and of course that was also in OT. 

I was also surprised Tennessee was able to win so handily in Kansas City, and likewise for Minnesota in St. Louis. I knew New England had a chance to struggle in Florida, but Miami really took it to them in the second half. Of course, I screwed up both home field advantage situations in the Sunshine State because Tampa Bay choked against Carolina. When it came to the point spread I really had a tough time (4-12). There were a lot of close losses and heartbreakers of course, and now I have a nice hole to dig out of. At least I took it home on the over/under (10-6) to save face. Now I turn the page and learn from my mistakes.

Pittsburgh (1-0) @ Baltimore (0-1): How do I even talk about the game on the field? The NFL has a major scandal on their hands, and CBS gets to broadcast it for a national audience to soak in. Released running back Ray Rice would have been sitting out the second and final game of his suspension if TMZ did not (presumably) purchase the elevator video of his assault on then-girlfriend and now wife Janay. Instead, the league is trying to say they had no previous access to this footage. Sure, because the NFL has no power to wield right? Either way, the Ravens are going to be playing this game with about as much distraction as I can imagine. For some context, last year Miami played two nationally televised games when the Richie Incognito scandal broke. They won the first one, on TNF against Cincinnati, and lost on MNF at Tampa Bay.

On a short week, this is going to be a matter of instinct. These teams know each other very well so how many surprises can be in store on either side? Steve Smith Jr. proved in the opener he has something left in his tank. He loves primetime and is going to be pumped to insert himself into this rivalry. The Ravens started slow against the Bengals and by the time they got back into it, one big play did them in. The Steelers faded badly on defense and barely escaped with a win over the Browns. If I had to evaluate both performances I would say Baltimore might be better. However, their running game is in trouble. Bernard Pierce fumbled his way to the dog house, leaving Justin Forsett in the lead spot and Joe Flacco throwing way too many passes. The first team to 20 should win this game. Who gets there?

It would be easy to say the team playing distracted loses, but they are home and quite frankly might come together as a result of this situation and play better. Pittsburgh knows they can put their rivals in an awful spot at 0-2 inside the division, needing to ostensibly later beat the teams they just lost to in their building just to get even.  Flip a coin here. I wish I had a matchup edge I could call on. I suppose I could say that Ben Roethlisberger usually beats Joe Flacco, but trends like that always fail when you cite them as the reason for a pick. Stubbornly, I want insist this division is going to be a three-way struggle to the end and take the Ravens but after last week's poor showing I prefer the more logical result: Pittsburgh 20, Baltimore 16 (PIT +3/under 44.5)

Miami (1-0) @ Buffalo (1-0): Sole possession of first place in the AFC East is up for grabs. Who wants it? I picked both of these teams to lose in their openers and they proved me wrong with gritty performances. Obviously I was more impressed with the Dolphins who flat out shut down (and out) the Patriots in the second half for a 33-20 victory. The Bills did their damage on the road, taking advantage of a Bears team that honestly is soft on defense and mistake-prone on offense. Still, this is their home opener and with the announcement that the new owners will keep them here I expect their crowd to be a big factor. Usually this rivalry is impacted more by home field because of the time of year. In this spot, it is not a bitter cold trip north so I wonder if Miami can pull this one out. 

The key here is going to be the running game. Both teams had it going last week, allowing their quarterbacks to coast. Ryan Tannehill definitely has the better chance at impacting the game if the situation presents itself. E.J. Manuel has his supporting cast now and that helps. Rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins was not a factor in the opener, but quietly it was running back Anthony Dixon giving them three guys over 50 yards rushing. Again, who is going to do their damage on the ground? Buffalo was pretty good against Matt Forte last week, while Miami held down everyone the Patriots threw at them. I like the pass rushes both, and the edge goes to the visitors because their quarterback is better. Another coin flip game? Yeah, I think it is. Taking the road team is dangerous for me here. I have to do it because I think it is set up nicely for them to get this done: Miami 24, Buffalo 20 (MIA +1/over 42.5)

Atlanta (1-0) @ Cincinnati (1-0): Another matchup of teams I picked against that won? Yep. The Falcons turned back the clock and took down the rival Saints in an OT thriller. The Bengals blew a comfortable lead, but only for a moment before taking down the Ravens. My big thing right off the bat is Atlanta being a much worse team outdoors. They were firing on all cylinders with quarterback Matt Ryan setting a franchise record in passing yards with 448. Quick wide receivers Harry Douglas and Devin Hester had 11 catches for 168 yards. Outside I do not see those guys being as deadly. Plus, there is only one way to go after a record-setting performance.

It was a pretty steady performance for Cincinnati, and I look for a similar effort this week. There is nothing Atlanta does on defense that will hold them back. On the other hand, I do think the Bengals can limit the Falcons with their defensive scheme. Last week I thought it was troublesome for them to have two new coordinators. This week I have seen their performance and realize they are okay. Hue Jackson will pound the rock more in this one, and keep control of the game. Obviously Ryan is always a threat when the game is close, as he just proved a week ago. Again, outdoors is their kryptonite and I expect nothing different here: Cincinnati 26, Atlanta 21 (ATL +6/under 49)

New Orleans (0-1) @ Cleveland (0-1): Well, here is another dome team known for struggling outdoors. The Saints have a lot on the line here because starting 0-2 stacks the odds against them. Their goal is not just managing a playoff berth, they want to win a division and gain home field advantage. The Browns must be feeling strange. They were getting creamed by the rival Steelers, then had a huge rally only to lose at the end. Does that give them some confidence? When it was 27-3 at the half, their former coach and current broadcaster Bill Cowher mentioned, perhaps in jest, it might be time for Johnny Football. Brian Hoyer was not spectacular in the comeback, but he limited mistakes and helped them tie the game up. 

My main concern with Cleveland is their defense allowing over 500 total yards. New Orleans poses more of a threat than what they just faced, outdoors or not. Sure, rookie Brandin Cooks is not going to be as effective outside the dome because his speed is lessened. However, tight end Jimmy Graham should be able to do his thing and take over this game. What's that? Oh, right. the Saints allowed even more total yards (568) last week. They get a consider break though because the opposing skill players are less talented than their last opponent. I do not see either offense getting anywhere close to 500 yards in this one. Both offenses will make their path on the ground. Turnovers are key for the visitors, and help them slug this one out: New Orleans 28, Cleveland 24 (CLE +7/over 47.5)

Dallas (0-1) @ Tennessee (1-0): The Cowboys are in trouble. Their defense might not be as bad as I expected, but the offense is not looking like a group capable of making up for their inability to stop anyone. The Titans are trending up in a big way. I would describe them as a sound football team. There are not a lot of players on their roster who stand out, but collectively they get it done. Quarterback Jake Locker's biggest issue has been staying healthy. He can get the job done just fine. His opposite number Tony Romo seems destined to never get over the hump and become a truly elite player. Turnovers follow him around, and when faced with a deficit it only gets worse. Dallas does not look to me like a team ready to hit the road and show the grit required to beat a team playing well together. If I had more to say, I would. There is no need. This feels like the right pick: Tennessee 27, Dallas 17 (TEN -3/under 49.5)

New England (0-1) @ Minnesota (1-0): I was wrong about both of their results last week, and what a difference it has made in my outlook on this game. The Vikings suddenly look like a competent team capable of doing some damage. On the scoreboard they swamped the Rams 34-6, but statistically it was not that one-sided and their defense is not facing the combination of Shaun Hill and Austin Davis here. They now have to deal with a ticked off Tom Brady and a Patriots team that does not lose consecutive games, like, ever. It has been almost two years since they lost consecutive games. Their focus is razor sharp coming off a defeat.

I wonder how this temporary stadium situation will play out. Minnesota might get a slight boost here since it is the first game, but their home field advantage is probably lessened here. New England certainly was pushed around in the second half last week and will be out for blood whereas their opponent could be slightly overconfident. I like that combination for the visitors to put a serious whipping on the home team actually. Adrian Peterson would have been excited to go up against a team that just got pounded on the ground, but that was in Florida and now he has bigger problems on his mind. This is a different environment and a much different result, especially with AD on the sidelines. Matt Cassel is facing his former team for the first time and tries to keep them in it, but Brady goes off and his running game generates some help as well: New England 28, Minnesota 17 (NE -3/under 49)

Arizona (1-0) @ NY Giants (0-1): It will be a short work week for both teams coming off MNF, but the Cardinals have to travel across the country. Of course, they are coming off an exhilarating comeback win whereas the Giants were flat out smoked. New York does not look like a team ready to perform on a weekly basis. Arizona showed the resolve required to fight past a very good opponent. When I look at these veteran quarterbacks, I see Carson Palmer trying desperately to will his team to victory, having struggled through so many losing seasons during his career spanning to other franchises. Then there's Eli Manning seemingly out of answers and frustrated. He has his two rings, so where is the fire?

On defense, clearly New York was swamped by a very talented Detroit team in their building. This week they get an offense without quite the same weapons at their disposal, and without the hostile environment. Arizona is not as good on defense as they have been, at least not yet. However, they have plenty of answers for an offense trying to get out of their own way. In the NFL most games are close and this will not be an exception. The better team wins here I think though: Arizona 23, NY Giants 19 (AZ +2/under 44)

Jacksonville (0-1) @ Washington (0-1): Turnovers helped the Jaguars build a 17-0 lead on the road against an NFC East foe last week, but they blew it in a big way allowing Philadelphia to score the final 34 points of the game. The Redskins struck first in their road game at Houston, but missed the extra point. Take that Bill Belichick it's not automatic! It was not a vital mistake on special teams, but one of a few that ultimately did them in overall. The blocked punt returned for a touchdown turned out to be the crucial blow. Overall they were not awful in the game, but against a team coming in having lost their last 14 games much more was expected.

I have a tough time gauging this one because I feel as though halfway through the game Jacksonville was the scrappy team I thought they could be this season. Tanking the rest of the way has me wondering about their resolve. Washington was flat, but coming home could change things. Both teams have a lead running back to lean on. Robert Griffin III is feeling the pressure whereas Chad Henne has none whatsoever. He knows he is just holding the job until rookie Blake Bortles is ready to go. The Jags got to the quarterback 5 times and the 'Skins never did, but mobility figures to level those odds this week. It should be a tight, low-scoring game. In situations like this I generally lean on quarterback and home field. There is enough here for me to call it this way, but barely: Washington 20, Jacksonville 17 (JAX +7/under 43.5)

Detroit (1-0) @ Carolina (1-0): I cannot wait for this one. The Lions have to be feeling pretty good about themselves after trashing the Giants on MNF. The Panthers wrestled a road win with Derek Anderson filling in for Cam Newton. I did not see that coming. Their defense is still strong, and now I have to wonder if the one they face is as good as they showed against a really bad offense. Personally, I am not sure Carolina has much pop in their offense even with Newton at the controls. Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin gives them a spark, but now he is a focus of the opposing game plan. They can run the ball a little, nothing special.

Including the Vikings, who left their dome, five of the six indoor teams are playing outdoors this week. Detroit has so many options on offense I think they will be fine. Their defense should still be able to apply pressure up front and make life miserable for Newton assuming he answers the bell. Greg Hardy, who has a likely suspension looming over his head, will be a critical factor because they have to pressure Matthew Stafford or it is over. I could be talked into either side here. The Lions are better with Jim Caldwell as head coach though. They might have lost a game like this last year. He can be the difference in a close win in this spot versus a close loss: Detroit 21, Carolina 20 (DET +3/under 44)

Seattle (1-0) @ San Diego (0-1): First off, this is not nearly as easy a call as it appears at first glance. The Chargers are a solid team capable of hanging with everyone in the league. The Seahawks were pumped for the opening showcase game and played as if it was an extension of their Super Bowl romp. Their biggest edge here is several extra days to prepare since they played on a Thursday and their opponent played on a Monday. Life is not fair and the NFL is not fair. They do have to travel and away from their fans. Last year they were a solid 6-2 on the road, but needed OT in Houston and escaped St. Louis with a 14-9 win. In other words, anything can happen here.

Faced with an 0-2 start, Philip Rivers has to be his absolute best against a sinister defense. One turnover or sack can be enough to turn the tide against him irreversibly. Russell Wilson has it better than any quarterback in the league. His job is not to turn it over and if he does, the defense has his back. This year he is going to be opening it up because the defense cannot be as dominant as it was a year ago. I still like their chances. Barring injuries this is a final four team at worst. The same cannot be said for San Diego. They need things to go right in order to win a huge game like this. Keenan Allen will be held silent by Richard Sherman, and as we saw last week the secondary is stifling when the opposing quarterback throws to the opposite side of the field. It is a battle, but the champs are not ready to lose yet: Seattle 20, San Diego 17 (SD +7/under 45)

St. Louis (0-1) @ Tampa Bay (0-1): I had a sinking feeling the Rams were in serious trouble when quarterback Sam Bradford was lost for the season. Then I started to think they might be able to ride the defense and get something out of veteran Shaun Hill. Now that defensive end Chris Long is done, I realize my initial visceral reaction was probably right. My first impression of the Bucs this season was buying the "sleeper" hype. I am probably wrong on that one. Their offensive line is not good, and against a good front like they faced last week in the Panthers, it is a big problem. This week should be almost as tough, and if they lose to another soft backup quarterback their season is heading in a very bad direction.

Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin might be on the shelf, again and the "savior" of their line Logan Mankins might be too. Picking this game is a bit like figuring out which team has fewer weaknesses. Where are the strengths? St. Louis has a good defense even without Long. Tampa Bay has to feel good about their ability to contain an offense that was just stifled on their home field in the opener. We should be heading for a low scoring duel here, the way I see it. The Bucs have the home advantage and with a week to settle in quarterback Josh McCown is going to settle down a bit. He has the big targets on the outside and will get them the ball just enough to get this win: Tampa Bay 17, St. Louis 13 (STL +7/under 37)

Kansas City (0-1) @ Denver (1-0): Last year this was a huge matchup in the AFC West playing out twice late in the season. A lot has changed. Now it looks as if the Broncos are every bit as dominant, but the Chiefs are closer to the 1-15 version from 2012 than the 11-5 performance they just turned in. I realize it is just a week into the season and yes I am really writing off Kansas City. Alex Smith got the money in the nick of time because they are going to be 0-2 going nowhere after this game. Peyton Manning has that assassin look in his eyes. He was upset when an onside kick allowed his young replacement Andrew Luck to close within 31-24 on SNF, but the reality is that he helped them smoke a good Indianapolis team. If the Chiefs cannot rush the passer, it is over so I will leave it at that. Game over: Denver 33, Kansas City 14 (DEN -11.5/under 51.5)

NY Jets (1-0) @ Green Bay (0-1): It feels like so long ago that the Packers played their opener against the defending champs. The extra days off are going to help them prepare for this game. The Jets have to feel pretty good about their defensive effort in an opening win over the Raiders, but going from a rookie quarterback to arguably the best in the game with their secondary issues has to be worrisome. Venue is huge in this one. In New Jersey, maybe I figure Rex Ryan can cook up a game plan to keep his team in this game. With the "cheeseheads" in full throat, it is a different story. Geno Smith is no Russell Wilson, and while New York had a good rushing effort in their opener it will not be repeated here. At best they hang around, at worst they get blown out of the stadium by a team that is better than they showed in the first game: Green Bay 27, NY Jets 13 (GB -7.5/under 46)

Houston (1-0) @ Oakland (0-1): Rookie quarterback David Carr gets to face the team his older brother was drafted by with their first ever selection as a franchise. In his home debut no less. At least he gets some relief not having to face this year's top overall pick as pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney was hurt in the opener. Unfortunately, J.J. Watt is like going up against a character out of Game of Thrones. Even if the Raiders game plan for him with constant double teams, their offensive line is ordinary at this point so the going will be rough. On the other side, Ryan Fitzpatrick has already shown an ability to torch this defense. Last year with the Titans he came to this stadium and threw for 342 yards including the winning touchdown with 10 seconds remaining.

He is with a different team and the situation has changed. His passing numbers last week, 206 yards, were bolstered by a big 76-yard touchdown play. He only threw the ball 22 times in a game they were in control of most of the way and won 17-6 over a mistake-prone Washington team. Oakland faced a more sound New York opponent that dominated their offense in a way I am pretty sure the Texans are incapable of doing this week. Maurice Jones-Drew is already nicked up, but that clears the way for a potential Latavius Murray sighting as he teams with Darren McFadden in the backfield. Murray is a hard runner and rare fantasy sleeper if you are into that sort of thing. The Black Hole is going to be rocking. They have had so little hope at quarterback over the past decade that I believe a win is a matter of destiny: Oakland 20, Houston 17 (OAK +3/under 40)

Chicago (0-1) @ San Francisco (1-0): When the schedule came out, I was wondering if the 49ers might be in trouble opening their new stadium against this dynamic offense considering their defense is missing so many parts from last season. After watching the opening weekend, not so much. The Bears lost at home to a team with an offense led by one of the worst quarterbacks in the league, and with less talent at the skill positions. Their defense is not going to hold up in this environment. On offense they are dangerous, there is no question about it. However, we just saw last week what happens when San Francisco builds an early lead against a talented offense and it is not pretty.

My take on this game is that, while we do not know how much of an advantage Levi's Stadium will provide for the home team playing almost an hour away from the old Candlestick Park, the place is going to be crazy on SNF and provide a huge boost. Chicago trying to dig their way out of an early 14-3 or 10-0 deficit with Jay Cutler has me wondering how many turnovers the wild card is good for. Two or three I would think. If Cutler can control the turnovers, anything is possible here, including a shocking upset. I am in the business of predicting the most likely outcome as opposed to hoping for an outlier result. The home team rocks out: San Francisco 31, Chicago 14 (SF -7/under 48.5)

Philadelphia (1-0) @ Indianapolis (0-1): On paper this looks like a fun MNF matchup. Both teams were down by 17 last week, but the Eagles were facing a far less talented opponent and rallied to win on their home field against the Jaguars. The Colts were on the road in Denver against the defending AFC champs, and their spirited comeback fell short. The key thing I saw from the opener for Philadelphia was the fact that quarterback Nick Foles is not going to have another near-perfect season. He is going to turn it over this year as teams figure out his weaknesses and game plan for him more. Andrew Luck is not perfect either, but he is quickly becoming an elite passer in the league and I do not see Foles ever reaching that level.

Defensively, Indianapolis was not going to have Robert Mathis in this game anyway, but their pass rush has to figure something out knowing they will be without him the entire season. Luck might have some insight into this fast-paced offense to offer his defense since he faced it in college playing Oregon. Knowledge is one thing, executing against this kind of speed is another. Both teams are going to score here. The Colts cannot run the ball, and that hurts them because they will be unable to sustain as many long drives. They will have fewer chances to score and have to finish with touchdowns. The Eagles have more talent in their backfield by a mile and are going to use them here. The common sense factor tells me they win as a result, but Luck trumps logic: Indianapolis 24, Philadelphia 23 (PHI +3/under 54)

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