Week 2 Picks Against the Spread

I am the blogging equivalent of Stevan Ridley, David Wilson and Alfred Morris. In 2012 I burst onto the scene as a legitimate weapon (in my case a football prognosticator), and my fans were incredibly high on me going into the 2013 season. Big things were coming. Perhaps picking games correctly in the 75% range.

But it was all lost so quickly. My lack of preparation during the week and inability to execute on game day resulted in my worst week of football picks ever. I ruined my reputation, lost the faith of my fans and crushed my own confidence in the process.

While I might have metaphorically fumbled away my career, those three running backs threatened to literally fumble away theirs.

I think what I’m feeling is empathy towards them. But just like those young men are probably chomping at the bit to have their number called so they can show the world they’re capable of holding onto the friggen football, I too am desperately seeking redemption. Unlike those players, however, I don’t have a Tom Coughlin or Bill Belichick in my life who can stick me in the doghouse. So who knows when we’ll see some of the fumbling trio again (or how much we’ll see them), but like it or not, you’re stuck with me for another 21 weeks.

All I can promise is maximum effort.

Actually I can promise one more thing: I’m not going to overreact to week 1. By all accounts, this was the worst weekend in gambling history for many bettors. The Vegas sports books probably made an entire NFL season worth of profit in one weekend. I refuse to believe I should scrap all my preseason projections just because the opening 16 games almost unanimously finished with the exact opposite result of what I was expecting.

But there are some lessons to be learned from week 1, such as:

  • Just because I think Brandon Weeden might be an average QB eventually doesn’t mean he’s currently an average QB.
  • Just because Ben Roethlisberger was healthy going into the season doesn’t mean I should ignore the quality (and age) of the 52 players around him.
  • If you’ve been worried about Josh Freeman from the start of preseason like I have, maybe give it a week or two before you buy into the Tampa hype and wager 60% of your net worth on them.

I’ve taken my deep breath, thought through where I went wrong last week, and I’m ready to take that handoff and break off an AP-like 78-yard run for my readers.

Here are the week 2 picks:

NY Jets @ New England (-13)

I know I’ll end up getting this wrong, but I’m taking the Jets to cover for so many reasons. The Patriots struggled mightily to put up points on the Bills (two touchdowns, three field goals), and that was with the luxury of getting huge contributions of Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola. They’re both out for this game, Gronk’s still out and Stevan Ridley is one fumble away from being available to the other 31 teams on waivers. And the Jets defense is probably better than the Bills.

Here’s another thing I discovered this week: The Patriots lose a game early in the season almost every year to a divisional opponent or a weak opponent in general. Here’s the list of those losses: Week 2 vs Arizona in ’12, Week 3 @ Buffalo in ’11, Week 2 @ the Jets in ’10, Week 2 @ the Jets in ’09, Week 3 vs Miami in ’08, Week 3 vs Denver in ’06, Week 2 @ Carolina in ’05.

So in seven of the past eight years they’ve lost at least once early, usually to an inferior team. Three of those seven times it’s been at home. I’m not saying the Jets are a lock, but with this recent history of the Pats stumbling early (usually while they’re still figuring things out and seeing what they have in some younger players), and the seemingly endless list of players who are hurt, I just can’t pick the Patriots to win by that much. If this game was in New Jersey, I’d be picking the Jets to win outright. Since it’s at Gillette, I’m taking New England to win 26-20.

San Diego @ Philadelphia (-7.5)

A team that was 4-12 last year is favored by more than a touchdown in week 2 against a team that finished last season at 7-9. That probably doesn’t happen too often, but people are HIGH on this Eagles team. How high? Think about smoking a blunt then immediately taking a gravity bong rip and washing it down with a pot brownie. That high.

My instinct is to say this line is ridiculous (it actually opened at Philly -9, even more ridiculous), but part of me could totally see the Eagles winning big. The teams that are going to slow down the Eagles are the ones who can sustain long offensive drives and give their defense plenty of time to recoup on the sidelines. I don’t see the Chargers being that team. Maybe Philip Rivers is done as an above average quarterback. All I know so far is that I’m unlikely to back the Chargers on the road at any point this season.

I don’t believe in the Eagles as a Super Bowl contender, but I believe that they can handle an inferior AFC team at home quite easily (at least over these final few games before Michael Vick gets injured). Philly wins 31-17.

Cleveland @ Baltimore (-7)

In week 1 the Browns were able to completely shut down the Dolphins’ running game (23 carries for 20 yards total) and WR1 Mike Wallace (who channeled his inner T.O. and managed to ruin a good team win with his selfish bitching afterward). But it was the combination of WR2 Brian Hartline coming up big and Brandon Weeden coming up really small that allowed the Dolphins to get the win. Let’s say the Browns run defense is solid and Ray Rice is a non-factor in this game. And we can definitely make the argument that the Ravens’ current WR2 (whichever unqualified player they decide to stick there) is worse than Hartline so the Browns have a chance to really shut down the Baltimore passing game too. So as usual the pick comes down to Weeden. Maybe if he can turn the ball over just once and the defense performs how I think it could, Cleveland can keep it close and maybe even steal a road win. Right?

Right. Well, sort of. They can keep it close, but they won’t win. The Browns cover but the Ravens win 17-13.

Fun Fact (stolen from ESPN.com’s Power Rankings article): Brandon Weeden was 11-of-28 with two interceptions on throws five yards or fewer downfield. Let that sink in for a minute.

Tennessee @ Houston (-10)

Sigh. Fourth game on the docket, fourth spread that’s large enough to make me feel uncomfortable. I guess what we’re trying to figure out here is how Tennessee stacks up against San Diego. Because if you think the Titans are equal to or better than the Chargers, they shouldn’t have a problem keeping it relatively close against a team that struggled against San Diego on Monday night.

But that’s the type of analysis you’d get from a jackass who only looks at the final score. When I looked further into that Monday night game, I found that Houston actually put up 449 total yards of offense. They held the Chargers to 263 yards. So why the come-from-behind three-point win? The Texans had a lot of drives in the first three quarters that ended weirdly. There was the interception on the first play from scrimmage, a failed 4th & 1 attempt when they could have kicked a field goal, a missed 51-yard field goal and a drive that ended because of halftime. All these things are their own fault, of course, but with a couple breaks they probably win that game by 7-10 points.

In my week 1 preview, I took Pittsburgh over Tennessee and said they’d easily put up points and shut down the one weapon on the Titans, Chris Johnson. I’d like permission to use that same rationale again because this time I really do think the Titans’ opponent has too many offensive weapons and a defense that can limit Johnson. I’m terrified of large spreads all of the sudden, but I do think Houston can win by 10. I’m taking Houston to win and cover, 28-17.

Miami @ Indianapolis (-3)

The scariest thing about that opening weekend Colts-Raiders game if you’re an Indy fan? The Raiders pretty much dominated. They had more 1st downs, more total yards, a significant time of possession advantage and they got to Andrew Luck more successfully than the Colts got to Terrelle Pryor. Why did Oakland lose? Two turnovers (to Indy’s zero) and eight penalties.

What I’m trying to say is the Colts didn’t exactly inspire confidence based on their week 1 play. But hey, the Dolphins weren’t looking like Super Bowl contenders in their win against the Browns either. They received the unexpected gift of Cleveland head-scratchingly letting Brandon Weeden throw the ball 53 times.

I’m taking the Dolphins to cover, but the Colts to pull out the win 24-23. I believe the Colts are good, but they’re not on the same page yet. It’s essentially Chuck Pagano’s first real season of being the head coach. Pep Hamilton is in his first season as offensive coordinator (I spent roughly 17 minutes on Google trying to find out what Pep is short for, because it’s obviously a nickname, right? Couldn’t find a damn thing disproving his legal name being Pep). I’m just not confident in Indy…yet.

Carolina (-3) @ Buffalo

It’s impossible to judge any team after one week, but that’s especially true for the Panthers, who may have been facing the best defense in football in Seattle. It looks like Buffalo will still be missing key defensive backs Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd. So the Panthers go from facing arguably the best defense in the NFL to matching up against a middle-of-the-road AFC defense that’s missing a couple key players. Hmm…is that enough to stop the analysis right here and pick Carolina? Yup, it is. Carolina wins 20-16.

Remember we’re not abandoning our preseason projections. A mediocre NFC team trumps a mediocre AFC team every time.

St. Louis @ Atlanta (-7)

I think Roddy White’s injury is detrimental enough to the Falcons’ chances that I went the extra mile and looked up the latest on him. What I found was unsettling…not about White, but more importantly the rest of his teammates. Just look at this injury report.

Holy crap. Key players on offense and defense banged up already. And obviously the name that jumps out is Julio Jones. Can you imagine this team trying to compete with a hampered White and Jones? Fuck no.

Of course, those guys will still play, even if they’re not 100%. And the Falcons still have an incredible home record in the Matt Ryan era. I won’t pick them to lose outright, but I will pick the Rams to cover. Atlanta sneaks by 27-25.

Fun fact: Wipe the notion of Atlanta dominating at home out of your head. They won seven games at home last year, but only two of those wins came by seven or more points. Not exactly killing it at home.

Washington @ Green Bay (-8)

Can we take the Redskins off the board in all pick ‘em leagues? It just doesn’t seem fair to be forced to make a decision on this team when nobody knows what RGIII will bring to the table. Was that 2nd half against Philly legit? Or was it simply the Eagles taking their foot off the gas after going up 33-7? I’m in the camp that thinks the 2nd half Redskins was closer to the real thing offensively.

Meanwhile, over in Green Bay the Packers are kinda sorta facing a must-win game. They travel to Cincinnati in week 3. What if the Packers are 0-3 after that game? And what if the Bears (hosting Minnesota in week 2, at Pittsburgh in week 3) are 3-0 at that point? Mass panic in Wisconsin, right?

I don’t think the Packers start 0-3. I don’t even think they start 0-2. I’ve got Green Bay winning this game but not covering, 30-25.

Dallas @ Kansas City (-3)

Wow. Week 2 and already we have a matchup that could be a Super Bowl preview.

Joking. Technically every NFC vs AFC game this time of year could be a Championship preview.

As happy as the fans for both of these teams must be after their week 1 performances, the objective analyst knows both wins were a bit of a mirage. The Chiefs were handed the gift of facing Jacksonville, specifically Blaine Gabbert and his 1.2 QBR (seriously, on a scale of 0-100, he put up a solid 1.2 in the quarterback rating department). And the Cowboys actually got six gifts from the Giants on Sunday night, three interceptions and three fumbles.

We also have what should be competing philosophies in this game: You’d expect the Chiefs to go with a ball control, run heavy offense, and the Cowboys should probably spread the field and throw, throw, throw.

I’m falling back on the old NFC trumps AFC when comparing two middle-tier teams. The Cowboys pull off the win, 23-17.

Minnesota @ Chicago (-6)

This Chicago team is probably better than last year’s team, right? Sure, their defense can’t possibly put up the same jaw-dropping turnover and touchdown numbers as the 2012 edition, but their offensive line is better, their coaching is presumably better and their running back is healthy. The Vikings are…worse than last year? The same as last year?

I’m unwilling to overthink this one. Detroit dominated the Vikings last week (even if the score doesn’t look that bad), and I just can’t trust Christian Ponder to even elevate his play to a Sanchezian level. The Bears win this one easily, 27-13.

Warning: Adrian Peterson had 308 total yards in two games against Chicago last year. There’s at least a 2% chance he takes this game over and carries his team to victory, yet again, in spite of Ponder.

Fun Fact: Against Detroit, Christian Ponder was 3-of-6 for 68 yards and two interceptions against at least eight men in the box. So good luck, AP, because eight in the box is your new normal.

New Orleans (-3.5) @ Tampa Bay

Prior to week 1 I had the NFC South beating the snot out of each other with the home team almost always coming out on top. For some reason I strayed from that when I picked the Saints to lose at home to Atlanta last Sunday. I’m skipping over all statistical analysis and reverting to preseason thoughts once again. The Bucs could win this. Just think, if that guy on Tampa (not important enough of a player for me to remember his name or look him up) hadn’t gotten called for questionable unnecessary roughness for his “late” hit on Geno Smith in the closing seconds of the Bucs-Jets game, we’d be talking about the gritty road win that Tampa got up in New Jersey. And the Bucs would probably be a one-point underdog at worst against the Saints.

I’m going with the Saints to win but not cover, 30-28.

Detroit (-2) @ Arizona

I wish I was a real football analyst. Or I wish I at least had access to one. I’d just like to know if Patrick Peterson is actually one of the best cornerbacks in the league. I feel like we’ve heard that he is, but no one ever talks about him anymore. I’d like someone to tell me if Peterson has a chance to minimize Calvin Johnson in this game. If so, I could see the Cardinals keeping it close.

Since I don’t have that info, I’m just going with what I saw last weekend and gut instinct. I saw the Lions absolutely pummel the Vikings. I swear Detroit put the ball in the end zone 12 times, even if they only got credit for four touchdowns (there was a Calvin Johnson catch that was called back, the defensive TD that was wiped away because of Ndamukong Suh, a dive over the pile by one of their RBs where the ball popped up about 30 feet into the air).

But you know what, I just selected this game to be my Aaron Memorial Pick of the week. As a refresher, this is the pick where I get to a logical conclusion of who should win and then make the exact opposite prediction at the last moment. I think Detroit could go into Arizona and do some damage, so I’m going with Arizona to win and cover, 26-24.

Jacksonville @ Oakland (-6)

Oakland should not be favored against anyone by six points.

Chad Henne, who is starting this week for the Jaguars, is better than Blaine Gabbert.

Maurice Jones-Drew is far better than the running backs on the Colts who just so happened to average about 5 yards per carry against Oakland last week.

There is now tape of Terrelle Pryor for coaches to study.

Jacksonville covers but loses the game. The Raiders take it 15-12, no touchdowns scored.

Denver (-4.5) @ NY Giants

This game would be a must-see if both teams just completely abandoned the running game in favor of each quarterback throwing the ball 60 times. But you know that jerk Tom Coughlin won’t do it. Even though his running backs did everything in their power to get running plays eliminated from the Giants’ playbook in week 1, Coughlin will try to do the strategic “run the ball to kill clock and keep Peyton off the field” move.

C’mon, Tom. Just let the “football on your phone” dorks throw the damn thing.

I’m picking the Giants to cover (though they’ll ultimately lose 34-30) with my only hope being a furious late-game rally that falls just short when they decide to finally utilize their three stud WRs, which is all we want out of them the rest of the year.

San Francisco @ Seattle (-3)

Part of me thinks the 49ers will go 16-0 this year. But see, that’s week 1 overreaction Ross writing that absurdity. After all, no team comprised of mere mortals could ever go 16-0.

Preseason I thought these two teams were mirror images of each other and the home team wold prevail in their two head-to-head matchups.

The thing that scares me about that is Colin Kaepernick. What if he is a huge step above Russell Wilson, RGIII and Andrew Luck? That’s a huge advantage if all other things are equal. But I’m giving the Seahawks a chance before I crown the 9ers in the NFC. Seattle wins and covers 27-23.

Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati (-7)

By picking Cincinnati to cover, I’m not just reacting to week 1. I always thought the Bengals would win all of their home AFC North games, and a touchdown really isn’t that much to win by. But week 1 is certainly reinforcing my pick because how in the hell is the Steelers offensive line supposed to block one of the best pass-rushing teams in the NFL? And the dirty little secret with Pittsburgh is that they no longer have any Pro Bowl caliber players on offense. How do you stay competitive with a team like that?

I’m not ready to say Pittsburgh will be in the running for the #1 draft pick in 2014, but they might be closer to that level than a playoff level.

Wait, is it bad that I’m totally glossing over Andy Dalton? I still don’t think he’s that good, but with A.J. Green making plays and their defense potentially being one of the best in the league, does it matter?

I say no. Cincinnati handles this game easily 31-21.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 2 I’m taking:

  • 6 Favorites & 10 Underdogs
  • Of those 10 Underdogs, I’m taking 3 Home Dogs and 7 Road Dogs

Still feels like too many underdogs, especially the ones on the road. Oh well, things can’t get worse than last week, right?

Season record: 2-13-1

Enjoy week 2.

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