NFL Week 2 Predictions: The Good Life Edition

I’m not going to say that Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season sucked, but when the first two full games I watched live were Falcons-Eagles and Steelers-Browns, it didn’t get off to the best start. The Week 2 schedule looks really good, but it didn’t take long for injuries to start having an impact. Some of the players missing in action this week include Devonta Freeman, Greg Olsen, David DeCastro, Olivier Vernon, and basically every long-time Seahawk not named Russell Wilson or Earl Thomas. We’re also waiting to see if Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Marcus Mariota are good to go this week at quarterback. We still must wait to see the 2018 debuts of Joey Bosa, Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffery, and Jack Conklin.

Game of the Week: Vikings at Packers

I really hope Aaron Rodgers plays this one, because it is a huge game for playoff seeding despite it only being Week 2. The Vikings knocked Rodgers out early in the first matchup last year and didn’t have to see him for the second one. They shouldn’t get that advantage again this year. They also have Kirk Cousins now in what is arguably the second-biggest game of his NFL career when you think about it. His only playoff game was also against Green Bay and Rodgers, a 35-18 loss at home in the 2015 Wild Card.

Over the last three seasons in Washington, Cousins was 3-10 on the road against teams that finished the year with a winning record. You’d expect Green Bay to be that kind of opponent this year. However, that 3-10 mark includes wins last season in Seattle and LA (Rams). Cousins also should have had a signature win in Kansas City, but Josh Doctson dropped a game-winning touchdown in the end zone. He can function in these spots and his Minnesota debut last week was solid.

Mike Zimmer’s had some decent success against Rodgers in his career, and this should be the most talented roster he’s taken into a Green Bay game yet. As I pointed out in FOA 2018, Zimmer entered this season with the best record against the spread (44-23) among active head coaches. Last week, his defense forced Jimmy Garoppolo into the worst start (and first loss) of his young career, and covered the spread.

HCATS

We don’t know what the spread is yet for this one because of Rodgers’ health, but clearly he isn’t 100 percent. I think a lack of mobility can be troublesome against such a talented Minnesota defense, and the Vikings should have scoring opportunities on the other side of the ball. That’s why, regardless of Rodgers’ status, I like the Vikings to pull this one off on the road with a superior roster. I know I’m already going against my season predictions where I had these teams splitting the series with each home team winning, but I also didn’t anticipate another Rodgers injury situation so soon.

Chiefs at Steelers

Under Andy Reid, Kansas City has beaten just about every contender in the NFL over the last four years. That includes wins over six of the last eight Super Bowl teams: 2014 Seahawks, 2014 Patriots, 2015 Broncos, 2016 Falcons, 2017 Patriots, and 2017 Eagles. (They didn’t play against the 2015 Panthers or 2016 Patriots, but notched wins against those teams the following season.)

One team Kansas City has not beaten is Pittsburgh, or at least not the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. They won a game at Arrowhead in 2015 when Landry Jones had to start. But Reid is 1-6 in his career against Roethlisberger going back to 2004 with the Eagles. That’s not even necessarily impressive for Ben, because he doesn’t play defense and the number that stands out in those seven games is 16. Reid’s teams never scored more than 16 points against the Steelers in those games.

That could really change on Sunday after the Chiefs come in hot behind new QB Patrick Mahomes after scoring 38 points in LA as underdogs. Mobile quarterbacks have been giving the Steelers fits as of late with Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer (Week 17), Blake Bortles and Tyrod Taylor (he actually stunk passing, but still ran well) hanging pretty good scoring numbers on the defense. Now the Steelers could be without Joe Haden and Artie Burns in the secondary, which is bad news with Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins coming to town. This isn’t Mahomes’ first road start either so they can’t hang their hat on that advantage, though Heinz Field is a different beast from the Chargers’ small park. He looked pretty poised last week and this is one of the most talented offenses in the league. It just hasn’t clicked in the past against Pittsburgh, though James Harrison is no longer there to own Eric Fisher. T.J. Watt is coming off a huge multi-sack game, and the pass rush looked quite good in Cleveland albeit a very indecisive game from Taylor.

If Mahomes can avoid the turnovers on the road, then the Chiefs have a great shot to win this one. It’s a bad week for Roethlisberger to be questionable and missing practices with an elbow injury, because this defense looked really vulnerable for the Chiefs last week. Philip Rivers had huge numbers that would have been even better without so many drops. Roethlisberger should have success with his weapons at home where the Steelers obviously play much better. I think the conditions played a factor in several of the turnovers last week, a game that Pittsburgh almost certainly wins without the rain leveling the playing field.

It could be a really fun game, but I think the Steelers get a tight win at home to avoid an awful 0-1-1 start to what was supposed to be another season with Super Bowl aspirations.

Patriots at Jaguars

I wish this rematch of the AFC Championship Game was the Sunday night game instead of Giants-Cowboys, but you know we can’t let a September or October go by without getting that matchup at night. When you try to pick out one of the few games the Patriots are going to lose this season, you always start with road matchups against playoff-caliber teams. This should be one of those, though the Jaguars didn’t scream “playoff lock” to me coming into the season. The offense scored 13 points last week against the Giants.

Much of that has to do with Blake Bortles, who lost the two Allen’s (Robinson and Hurns) at WR, and Marqise Lee is out for the season with a torn ACL. I’m just not sure this team has enough firepower to keep up with the Patriots, who aren’t as loaded themselves right now, but still have the best TE in the game. For all the talk Jalen Ramsey did this offseason, I’d like to see him match up frequently with Gronk in this one. Walk the walk, if you will. That’s really the key to slowing them down right now without any Welker clones left (Julian Edelman is suspended for three more games).

It would take an excellent performance from the defense, which has the talent to pull it off, to keep the Patriots under 20 points (preferably under 17). I think that’s what the Jaguars must do to win this one, because I just don’t see Bortles putting up many points. NE played the Texans and Deshaun Watson well last week.

Alas, it doesn’t sound good for RB Leonard Fournette playing this week. I actually think that could help Jacksonville. Maybe they won’t lean so heavily on him, because in that playoff game, the Jaguars tried to run out the clock way too early and weren’t aggressive enough on early downs. Also, Corey Grant had three early catches for 59 yards in that game. Maybe this lets Jacksonville get more people involved and opens up the playbook instead of just trying to grind things out with Fournette.

NFL Week 2 Predictions

I started 10-5-1 for both ATS and SU last week, but fell victim (like many) to the Buccaneers’ shocking upset in New Orleans, the season’s first double-digit favorite to collapse. Starting next week I’ll post a fancier version of my results, but for now, here are my Week 2 picks with a Twitter update to come on my MIN-GB pick (likely going Vikings regardless of spread).

2018Wk2

My three favorite picks: NO -9.5, ATL -6, NYJ -3.

NFL Week 11 Predictions: “Tire Me” Edition

This easily could be an epic rant about the MVP race, or the Patriots/Eagles in general, because I like to do that from time to time on here. 140 280 characters on Twitter just doesn’t do it sometimes, especially when people take one part out of context and jump into something they don’t understand.

However, you can even try to have a conversation about these things and still get stuck in the mud. Yes, I went on WEEI in Boston on Thursday, and instead of getting a debate about where things stand in 2017, I felt like I never left 2003 when Patriots fans started using W-L record to justify Tom Brady’s greatness. It’s been 14 years of lousy “count the rings/wins, ignore the individual performance” arguments ever since, and it does get tiring at times to keep reading them. I also had a busy week with an ALEX update and another FiveThirtyEight article.

Just like how I don’t really read my articles after I write them, I don’t listen to my radio appearances. All I know is after it was over, I didn’t understand why I was accused of jumping all over the place when my point was the same beginning to end. Brady has not given the Patriots an edge at quarterback since 2001 that would be any greater than if a handful of his peers were in his position and provided the same advantages and breaks he’s had. The key to NE’s success is that the gap between Bill Belichick and the other coaches remains the largest in the NFL, and it only seems to have increased in recent years. It’s a plug-and-play system in NE. You provide a Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees with the best coaching, the best clutch kicking, the hardest team to score 30 points on, the hardest defense to crack in the fourth quarter, a sad division that can’t find a worthy rival at QB/HC, and you damn well should expect similar, if not greater success.

But I’m going to stop right there, because it’s not like these stories are going away any time soon this season. This could be 2004 all over again with the Patriots, Eagles, and Steelers as the top three teams.

To be continued.

There are actually a few games I’m interested in looking at this week.

Jaguars at Browns

Really, this one? I’ve designed a career (recap close games, preview big games) where I can avoid covering games like this one that are crap on paper, but I can’t help but smell an upset here. While I gave the Browns this win before Week 1 when I picked the whole schedule, it is clear that Cleveland has been worse than imaginable and the Jaguars are better.

However, I like the matchup. Cleveland’s offense doesn’t really match up with any defense in the league, let alone one we’ve been calling the best in the NFL this year. But look at the contrast of styles here. The Jaguars shut down the pass, prefer not to pass with Blake Bortles, and are 30th in DVOA against the run. The Browns’ best trait is stopping the run, would like to run the ball on offense, and you can always get some takeaway opportunities from Bortles, who really cheated the football gods last week when he threw two picks after the two-minute warning and still got the win in overtime. Sure, the Jaguars have kicked some ass at times this year, but they’ve had their asses kicked too. Hell, Jacksonville already lost on the road to the Jets this year, albeit an overtime game. Cleveland lost by just 3 to the Steelers in Week 1 and played better than the final score suggests in Detroit last week.

The Browns are at home, and do you really want to pick an 0-16 season when there’s only been one in NFL history? A shaky, turnover-prone QB on the road with an injured crew of weapons sounds tempting to me. The fact that Jaguars are saying they’ll win in a shutout can’t sit well with the Browns. Hue Jackson needs a win in the worst way to save face.

Sure, the Jags may win 30-6 when it’s all said and done, but I like my gut enough on this one to go with Cleveland.

Rams at Vikings

This is the “Jeff Fisher Can’t Coach Bowl.” Case Keenum and Jared Goff had a terrible time in the Los Angeles offense a season ago, but give them real coaching and teams that understand how to use their talent, and both are in the top 5 in DVOA right now. This is a cool battle of 7-2 teams that probably no one expected to be 7-2 at this point.

I wrestled a lot with a winner in this game. In the end, I’m going with the Rams for arguably their most impressive win yet this season. I think Keenum is heavily dependent on Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, while the Rams can use a larger variety of weapons. Both defenses are really good, and haven’t been playing the best of offenses, so it’s a step up in competition for both. Admittedly, the two games I focused most on with Keenum this year the two losses (Steelers and Lions), so I’m probably looking at him in more of a negative light than someone who would have focused more on his two huge games against the Bucs and Redskins. But even last week he had a couple of picks in the second half, and I guess I’m rooting for some chaos where putting Teddy Bridgewater back at QB1 is a reality.

I will say that this is a game where Goff needs to show us something good. He’s getting MVP consideration after shredding the Giants and Texans the last two weeks, but he’s really been given an “EASY” button this year. He has the best starting field position, the highest play-action rate, doesn’t have to throw into tight windows, and gets the most YAC of any QB. If he can play some great games down the stretch I’ll change my mind, but he has probably the most misleading stats of any QB this season. I’m just glad he’s shown he can play competent football after last year, but I wouldn’t go all in on him being MVP caliber right now. He struggled with Seattle and special teams did much of the damage in Jacksonville. Let’s see how Goff does with this good road test this weekend.

Patriots vs. Raiders

I guess for six months I assumed this was a Monday night game, because that’s when Oakland played Houston in Mexico City last year. But it’s a 4:25 start, and it’s not nearly as interesting as we thought it would be for Oakland. Sure, the Raiders can prove something with a win, but I give the No. 32 pass defense that still doesn’t have an interception little chance here. The Patriots are starting to roll again offensively, and the defense hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in any of the last five games. You’d like to think Derek Carr can move the ball in this one to keep it close and exciting, but his red-zone performance has been brutal this season. You can’t win by settling for field goals against the Patriots. Brady tears up Jack Del Rio defenses regularly, but this is one of the weaker units yet that he’ll see. With losses already to Buffalo and Baltimore, Oakland slipping to 4-6 is just another step closer to an irrelevant rest of season.

Eagles at Cowboys

This should be a much bigger game, but things have gone really sour recently for Dallas. Never mind the Jerry Jones saga that is amping up. Actually, that could be uncomfortable this week with Dallas in high-profile games (SNF and Thanksgiving). But let’s not worry about that. On the field, Dallas could be without three of its very best players in Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, and Sean Lee. Hell, kicker Dan Bailey being out is a problem too.

This is why it’s annoying to hear the “Dak can’t score without Zeke” narrative when clearly there is far more missing than Elliott. Last week, Adrian Clayborn had six sacks with Smith out. He even admitted to having “one move” after the game, and Dallas failed to adjust for that. Regardless of who is on the field, a quarterback needs better protection than that, and the Dallas defense really struggled with Atlanta. It was a 10-7 game at halftime, but while Dallas missed a field goal in the third quarter, the Falcons added two long touchdown drives to take a 24-7 lead and blow that one open.

Philadelphia comes in  hot, fresh off a bye, and with one of the better defenses in the league at getting to quarterbacks. It’s a really tough matchup for Dallas, and I don’t expect the Cowboys to win this one. It would have been tough even with those players available.

2017 Week 11 Predictions

So I started picking against the spread last week. I went 6-8 compared to 12-2 straight up. This is a weekly thing now from me, and hopefully better weeks to come. Off to a good start with the Steelers impressing on Thursday night.

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  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Week 7: 11-4
  • Week 8: 12-1
  • Week 9: 6-7
  • Week 10: 12-2 (Spread: 6-8)
  • Season: 89-57 (Spread: 6-8)

Daunte Culpepper and Having the Worst Game of Your Career in the Biggest Game

Daunte Culpepper played in 109 games in his NFL career (including the playoffs), which spanned 11 seasons (1999-09).

It’s easy to figure out the biggest game of Culpepper’s career given he only made the playoffs twice (2000, 2004). It was the 2000 NFC Championship against the Giants in New York. Minnesota was a 1-point favorite.

It was a disaster. The Vikings lost 41-0 and were outgained 518-114 in yards. It’s one of the most lopsided playoff games in NFL history.

Culpepper completed 13-of-28 passes for 78 yards. He threw three interceptions and lost one fumble. He was sacked four times.

It’s easy to say this was the worst game of Culpepper’s career. The 13.7 passer rating was the lowest out of the 108 games in which he attempted a pass. It was just one of only two starts in his career where Culpepper was shut out. It was the only time he was the only QB to throw all of his team’s passes. It was 34-0 at halftime alone and Culpepper was just 6/14 for 24 yards and an interception.

Culpepper was not given a fair shake as the Giants took a 14-0 lead before he even took the field. The Giants scored an opening-drive touchdown, then the Vikings fumbled the kickoff and Kerry Collins threw another touchdown pass. Not many teams ever come back from a 14-point deficit on the road in the playoffs. Still, Culpepper gained a first down on just two of his first 20 drop backs.

So you can easily conclude that Daunte Culpepper had the worst game of his NFL career in the biggest game of his NFL career.

That doesn’t sound like something that happens too often, yet it actually happened to Kerry Collins just two weeks later. It was as if Culpepper passed a bug to him. In Super Bowl 35 against the vaunted Ravens, Collins completed 15/39 passes for 112 yards and 4 INT. He had a 7.1 passer rating, which was probably modest. The only score for the Giants was a kick return. Collins had a pick six to Duane Starks. Collins was the QB for the Titans in the 59-0 rout in New England in 2009, but even that day he arguably didn’t play as bad as he did just two weeks after being so brilliant against Minnesota.

Craig Morton also probably fits the bill. Pick either one of his Super Bowls.  If you’re expecting more research on it, I’m empty right now, but we can talk about it on Twitter or I can look into it down the road. Or Chase Stuart can just tackle it when his vacation’s over.