Friday, September 16, 2011

Week Two NFL Picks

If Tom Smykowki of Office Space lore had ever successfully introduced his “Jump to Conclusions Mat,” to the market, this week would be like the Christmas rush for it. After being starved of football for so long, it returned in glorious fashion last week. Now going into Week 2, we have to decide which teams are good and which are bad just on what happened last week on Thursday, Sunday, and Monday. Like Tom’s mat, the league filled with various “conclusions” that many people are wont to “jump to.”
 Among them are these: The Patriots are juggernauts who may indeed repeat their undefeated dominance of the regular season as they did in 2007, The Steelers defense is old and slow, The Ravens will be the only challenge in the AFC to said Pats, The Lions really are legit, The Bucs really aren’t, Call the kids for dinner; The Chiefs are done, This may be the year the Bills surprise everybody, The Colts will have to make a hard decision between Manning and Andrew Luck at the next draft, The Eagles are the powerhouse everyone thought they’d be, Atlanta is over-hyped, The Bears are under-hyped, it’s finally the 49ers year in the NFC West and my Redskins might actually be decent this year. After Week 1, all of these assertions seem to be completely plausible.
But every year we do this. We see what happens in the first week of football, and take these results as the gospel truth with which can be extrapolated to the rest of the season. While burning off calories jumping furiously around on Tom’s genius invention, called by Michael Bolton (no, not that one), “the worst idea I’ve ever heard in my life,” we forget that teams do have good days and bad days, matchup particularly well or poor against a given team and one performance does not indicate how a team will play the rest of the year.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some results from the opening week last year. The four most impressive wins of that week were the Texans over the Colts 34-24, Giants over the Panthers 31-18, Titans over the Raiders 38-13 and the Seahawks over the 49ers 31-6. Of the teams that won that day, all missed the playoffs but the Seahawks who snuck in with a historically pathetic 7-9 record as a division winner.
Injuries happen. Teams fall apart. Starting quarterbacks have emotional breakdowns (sorry Vince Young). Nothing is certain.  It is way too early to make any definitive decisions about any one team. After all the reading and research we’ve done before the season, we should not throw all that away now just because we have seen every team play once. With this in mind and a calm, level head, and my own “Jump to Conclusions Mat” and the Office Space DVD back in their box in the closet; LETS GO TO WEEK 2!





LAST WEEK 7-9 SEASON 7-9
Lines taken from bodog.com
My pick in bold.
Sunday 1:00 PM EST
Raiders @ Bills -3.5
I really like the Raiders. I like how they controlled the line on both offense and defense. I like how they ran the ball. I like that Jason Campbell is still in the league, if just for the nostalgia. However, there are things I don’t like as well. Mainly, it’s the fact that they’re flying cross country to play an early game after playing in the late Monday night game which didn’t finish until well after midnight on the East Coast. An extra short week for the Raaayyyyyyyyyyduuuuurrrrrzzzzzzzzzz + a delirious crowd at the Bills opener+ the Bills offensive and defensive lines also playing well against the Chiefs + a Harvard graduate at QB who threw four touchdowns last week=me taking the Bills.
Bears @ Saints -7
If the Bears can blow out another play-off team from last year, then I’ll be forced to think about it, but I still don’t think the Bears are a good team. A big part of the win was Chicago recovering the ball all five times it hit the ground (Bears fumbled three times, lost none, Atlanta twice, lost both). As Bill Barnwell of Grantland constantly reminds us, recovering fumbles is a chance operation and not a skill. Any team that recovers a majority of fumbles will be bound to come down to the median. They were actually outgained by the Falcons despite their huge lead on the scoreboard. New Orleans offense looked scary last week, and although their defense wasn’t great, their biggest weakness, the defensive line (one of the worst ranked units of the whole league in Pro Football Focus’s rankings),  matches up with the Bears biggest weakness, their offensive line. Plus Cutler isn’t quite Rogers. Give me the Saints to win and cover big, and Bears fans to go back on suicide watch. Urlacher is the wild card here as he pretty much willed them to the victory last week. After the untimely passing of his mother, the Bears could rally around him, but I think the Bears’ luck has just about run out.
Browns -2.5 @ Colts
That is not a typo. The Browns are favored, on the road, in Indy. After making the playoffs every year for the past decade, the Manningless Colts have a rough year ahead of them. There has to be other good players on the team, right? Let’s look how the Colts used their first round draft picks the past five years. 2006- Addai, 2007- Anthony Gonzalez, 2008- traded for Tony Ugoh, 2009- Donald Brown, 2010 Jerry Hughes. We’ll reserve judgment on this year’s first pick, tackle Anthony Castanzo, but from this group we have a guy no longer in the league (Ugoh), two average at best running backs (Addai and Brown), and two guys that can’t get on or stay on the field in Gonzalez and Hughes. All this from a team that built its foundation by drafting so well in the past. Furthermore, the elite players they have left are marginalized by the loss of their franchise QB; Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark because he can’t throw the ball to them, Freeney and Mathis because the pass rush becomes less important when you’re not playing in high scoring games as the Colts are used to. Over the same span of years, the Browns have added Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Joe Hayden, Phil Taylor, and yes, Brady Quinn, too, in the first round of the draft. All, except for Quinn who’s currently fighting Tebow to the death for relevancy, are young, athletic, talented building blocks for the future. If Colt McCoy turns out to be good, the Browns will be a team to watch, despite a humiliating loss to their equally recently putrid in-state rivals last week. Give me the team that is younger, more talented, and hungrier; yes, the yungrier team, in this one. Everyone sing with me, “Ding Dong! The Colts are dead!”
Jags +9 at Jets
This feels like a trap game for the Jets. They were really lucky to get a win against Dallas last week. The Jags shut down Chris Johnson last week to the point where fantasy owners were checking the net frantically to see if he got hurt. Nope, sorry CJ2K owners. I expect the Jags to try to do this again, and make the Sanchize be the one to beat them. By the way, Jaguar QB Luke McCown completed ten of his first eleven passes through three quarters last week and seventeen of twenty-four overall. With McCown managing the game, MoJo and Deji Karim running, and the Jags defense good enough, I think this game will be close and low scoring.
Chiefs @ Lions -8.5
 So, the Lions are favored by more than a touchdown over a playoff team from last year. Maybe the world really is ending in 2012. I wanted to take the Chiefs here, but just can’t do it. The Chiefs ran the ball better than anyone last year, but the Lions have that nasty defensive line that shut down Blount and any attempt Tampa made to run the ball last week. The Chiefs refused to give the ball to their best player, Jamaal Charles had only ten carries, last week and if they get behind early against the Lions like they did last week against the mighty Bills, things could get ugly again. Expect Stafford and Megatron to light it up again.
Packers -10 @ Panthers
This game shows the biggest problems with jumping to conclusions based on Week 1. The Panthers, particularly wunderkind QB Cam Newton, looked exciting and competitive in a loss against the Cardinals. Could the Panthers be decent, or was it that the Arizona defense was that atrocious? Are the Packers that good after beating the Saints in dramatic fashion? I’m sticking to what I know in this one: The Packers are the defending Super Bowl champs, have a much better defense than the Cardinals, and are facing a team that won two games last year and is starting a rookie at quarterback. The Packers win by a couple touchdowns while Cam Newton puts up a million fantasy points in garbage time.
Ravens -6.5 @ Titans
The Ravens are maybe the team I was most wrong about last week, I think. Ray Rice is going to be a nightmare to a Titans defense that gave up over 150 yards rushing last week and the Ravens will probably employ the same strategy Jacksonville had of suffocating Chris Johnson at the line of scrimmage and daring Hasselbeck to go over the top. I still have reservations about this Ravens team, mainly can Flacco put up enough points to win a game when their defense isn’t dominating the opponent? but not in this one.
 Buccaneers +2 @ Vikings
I read a couple interesting stats about the Vikings offense in Week 1. They ran the ball on first down 15 out of 19 times and threw the ball deep just once in their loss to the Chargers. McNabb is done as a useful quarterback in this league and I’m glad at least one team didn’t figure this out before the Redskins. He passed for 39 yards last week! The Bucs aren’t as bad as they looked last week, but still not as good as we thought they were last year or coming into the season. They should be able to run the ball better against the Williams Wall-less Vikings, and Legarrette Blount will redeem himself to his fantasy owners after a veritable no-show. As long as the Bucs make it their mission to shut down AP, they should get their first win on the road.
Seahawks @ Steelers +14.5
Here we have the Steelers huge favorites at home just as everyone, led by Warren Sapp, I pity whatever mat he’s hopping around on, is jumping to the conclusion that they’re no good this year. This huge line tells me one thing: This is just what Vegas wants us to think and they want us to put our money on Tavaris Jackson on the road. Ha, nice try, Vegas. The Steelers offensive line is bad, and has been getting worse by the week since August, but luckily, they’re not playing against the Ravens defense again this week. The Steelers need to make an impression after being embarrassed last week by their biggest rival. I think this impression will be made on TJax’s grill. The Seahawks started the youngest, most inexperienced offensive line the league has seen in 15 years last week. I expect sacks, defensive touchdowns, a Charlie Whitehurst appearance and a collective sigh of relief by Steelers Nation on Sunday.
Cardinals @ Redskins -4
The Cardinals needed a 98 yard punt return from 2011 Sam’s Simmons/Freeman-esque Man Crush, Patrick Peterson, to beat the hapless (last year anyway) Panthers in Week 1. The Redskins played a balanced, efficient game on offense and defense and beat the Giants, who have had the Skins number in recent history. The part of the Redskins game that struck me most? The fact that we scored four touchdowns and no field goals. There was one missed attempt by Gano, but for the most part, the Redskins took advantage of their opportunities and turned three long drives into seven points each instead of three. Redskin fans know all too well that scoring touchdowns inside the red zone has long been a constant issue for this team. I like what I see from them so far and I think I’ll just keep picking them until they give me a reason not to. Just don’t throw at Peterson and punt the ball out of bounds. Dude is a beast. I<3PP.
Sunday 4:05 PM EST
Cowboys -3 @ 49ers
I don’t care that the ‘Boys are giving points, on the road, on the West Coast. I picked them last week and they covered and should have won on the road against a much better team than San Fran. The 49ers blew a sixteen point lead last week at home against THE SEAHAWKS. Read that sentence one more time and then let it sink in. They might have lost the game if not for two touchdown returns from the enigmatic but blazing fast Ted Ginn.  Plus, any win that comes against the NFC West should only count for half of a win anyway, and if you add in the circumstances in which they won, and that Tavaris Jackson was the opposing starting quarterback, I would give them a current record of .125-0. It will almost surely be .125 wins and 1 loss by Sunday evening.
Sunday 4:15 PM EST
Texans @ Dolphins +3
The Texans are chronic underachievers and disappointers. They seem a lock to win the AFC South as their only competition is the Titans, Jaguars, and the Manningless Colts. I don’t like them being favored on the road against a team that somehow kept their game against the Patriots somewhat close. If you take out two plays, a failed 4th down from the Pats’ one and the 99 yard Welker TD that ensued, the Dolphins are still in that game. I still think the Fins’ defense is a top 5 unit, at least when not playing against Tom Brady, and “Checkdown Chad” Henne looked better last week than I ever thought he could. Although overshadowed by Brady’s monster night, Henne accounted for over 450 yards and three touchdowns running and passing the ball. Anyone else remember how dreadful the Texans pass defense was last year? Yeah, they have Jonathan Joseph now, but apart from him, it’s still pretty much the same guys. Take the Dolphins to win outright.
 Bengals +3.5 @ Broncos
The Bungals showed me two things last week; they can run the ball and they can stop the run. I don’t expect either team to score a bunch of points, so I’ll take the points, the better run game and the better defense. The Bengals also have a pretty decent offensive line. After the disastrous season last year, I think a lot of people forgot how the Bengals rode their young talent on the o-line and defense, and the immortal Cedric Benson who is like the George Burns of starting NFL running backs at this point, to the playoffs the year before. Maybe Carson Palmer was washed up and was actually holding this team back? Crazier things have happened. Expect to hear more Tebow chants and to be impressed by Bengals players that you’ve never heard of.
Chargers @ Patriots -7
Sorry Bolts, not going to doubt the Pats again and get smoked two weeks in a row by betting against  one of the few inductees of Sam’s Man Crush Hall of Fame, Mr. Brady. But Sam, you say, the Chargers held the Vikings to 39 yards passing. Their pass defense must be awesome. Nope, move along, nothing to see here, these are not the droids you’re looking for. McNabb IS THAT BAD, and the Dolphins have a better secondary and pass rush than San Diego and they couldn’t even slow Brady down. This could be a high scoring affair and the over seems a lock. I’m worried about Rivers can do against a New England D that got shredded at times by Chad Henne, but Pats still win by more than a touchdown.
Sunday 8:20 PM EST
Eagles -3 @ Falcons
This is the hardest game of the week for me to pick. I still like the Falcons and under any other circumstances would jump on the chance to take them as an underdog at home. Over the past two years the Falcons have gone 13-4 at home, including the playoff loss to the Packers last year, just 9-7 on the road, and 2-1 in road dome games. The Falcons are just better inside, especially at home, and we already covered their lack of luck in the lost at Chicago last week. I think they will still be a contender for the NFC South crown, but I gotta take 2010 Sam Man Crush Michael Vick (I’m a sucker for bad boys and redemption stories, what can I say?) in his first starting appearance as a visiting player in the Georgia Dome. The fast track of the dome might help Atlanta, but it doesn’t exactly hurt Vick either. When there are emotional factors involved, a game gets much harder to predict. Vick has something to prove, and will want to put on a show against his old team. This could lead him to force the issue too much, taking off with the ball too much or too fast and exposing himself to hits, and thus, injury. Or it’s possible he could throw some picks trying to fit balls into tight windows. But I don’t think so. I still have concerns about this Eagles team as well, Vick only completed 42% of his passes last week despite another awesome fantasy performance, and the offensive line will cause them problems as the year goes on, but I still say they roll here. After a big win, people will be convinced the Eagles on well on their way to winning the Super Bowl, and that the Falcons should be left for dead. These “people” will be wrong on both counts.
Monday 8:30 PM EST
*note: because of Bradford’s injury there is no line posted on bodog. Bradford will play so I’m using the line from the ESPN’s Pigskin Pick –Em Game
Rams +6.5 @ Giants
I’m making this pick for one reason and one reason only: I think Sam Bradford is better than Rex Grossman. Rex Grossman abused the Giants secondary last week for a very un-Grossman like line of 21-34/306 yards/ 2 teeds/ no pickles. This tells me that, to mangle another Chappelle Show quote, what, as Silky Johnson said at the Haters’ Ball, can you say about the Giants’ defensive backfield that hasn’t already been said about Afghanistan? It’s bombed out and depleted.  The Rams struggled to put up points last week, but Bradford won’t be facing corners like Asomugha and Asante Samuel this week. The Rams receivers also dropped a league high six passes last week. Against such an Afghani secondary, I think Bradford will have a career day much like Sexy Rexy, as long as he can find someone catch the ball when he throws it to them. If the Giants struggle again to run the ball, as they did against Washington, they could be in a whole lot of trouble Monday night.
So there’s my Week 2 picks. Again, please remember I want to know what you think so leave me any comments, tips, doubts about my heterosexuality, or threats to my person and well-being on the blog or send them to me on Facebook.com/samthemantis or on Twitter @samthemantis

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