NFL Week 3 Predictions: The Best Week of the Year?

Whether or not it was because of fears of COVID-19 wiping this season out soon after it started, the NFL really loaded up the Week 3 schedule in a way we’re not used to seeing.

I’ve already previewed the prime-time games this week with the Packers-Saints on SNF and my Game of the Year in Baltimore between the Chiefs and Ravens on MNF. If those aren’t enough, we’re also getting the Play-Action Bowl between the undefeated Rams and Bills, the Texans travel to Pittsburgh for a Watt family reunion, and the Seahawks host the Cowboys in what could be a major shootout with huge passing numbers if those offenses let the quarterbacks run the show. Hell, even the Raiders at Patriots looks much better going into Sunday than it has all year.

It could be hard to find another week in this regular season with games as big as the ones this week. After favorites finished 14-2 straight up last week, you have to wonder if we’ll see some big upsets this time. Thursday night in Florida was already a game where two teams, Miami and Jacksonville, looked much different from what they showed us the first two games as Miami easily won 31-13.

I’m going with a few upsets this week, including the aforementioned Packers in New Orleans, and I also like the Texans in Pittsburgh. Yes, Deshaun Watson is going to face a ton of pressure against that defense, but so did Daniel Jones and Jeff Driskel and both had a shot in those games until a hit in motion interception at the goal line and a sack on 4th down for Driskel last week. Watson is a better quarterback than that and the Texans can’t afford to fall to 0-3 against the contenders in this conference. Most teams in the NFL would be 0-2 if they started the season with the Chiefs and Ravens too. I looked it up and 0-2 teams are 14-31 (.311) against 2-0 teams in the third game of the season since 2001. Not the most encouraging record, but again, these teams have played completely different calibers of competition so far.

2020 NFL Game of the Year: Chiefs at Ravens

Sure, it’s a bit early to be talking about a “Game of the Year” in the NFL’s regular season, but for the second year in a row the Ravens and Chiefs are facing off in Week 3. These teams look like the best in the league, which doesn’t come as a surprise when this was the AFC Championship Game we deserved last year. The surprise was when the Ravens had a shocking upset at home against the Titans in the divisional round. The Chiefs are the defending champions, Patrick Mahomes is 2-0 in these matchups against Lamar Jackson, but the Ravens are at home this time and are a 3.5-point favorite.

This game could ultimately decide the No. 1 seed in the AFC, which in a normal year could be more important than ever since the No. 2 seed no longer gets a bye week. In a pandemic year, it’s questionable if it’ll be as advantageous because the lack of packed stadiums has made going on the road less daunting a task.

I think the Ravens need this game more than the Chiefs. Having to come back to Baltimore in January isn’t ideal for KC, who has yet to play a road playoff game under Mahomes, but I think they’re capable of pulling that off if the repeat is going to happen. Baltimore is the team that needs some postseason confidence after dropping two straight home games the last two seasons with Jackson turning into Andy Dalton than the MVP season he had last year and the similar caliber of play he’s started 2020 with.

Plus we just need to see this Ravens team beat this Kansas City team after losing 27-24 in overtime in 2018 and 33-28 last year in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score suggests. That first game in 2018 was a really close effort to keeping Mahomes under 20 points in regulation, but his fourth-down miracle throw to Tyreek Hill led to the game going to overtime where the Chiefs won on a field goal. We can only be so lucky to get that good of a finish this week.

But it makes sense for the Ravens to be favored by 3.5 here as frankly they’ve just played better football so far this season than the Chiefs. However, Mahomes has been very good as an underdog in his career:

That means in six games he’s never lost against the spread as an underdog. It’s part of the reason why the Chiefs just set the NFL record with 47 straight games without losing by more than 7 points. The last time I pointed this record out when Seattle broke it (against Green Bay in 2014), the streak ended the very next game.

Mahomes has never lost a September start, but it’s interesting to point out that he’s really flirted with having “the first truly bad game of his NFL career” in two of his last three performances. The first was the Super Bowl until he made the play of the game on 3rd-and-15 against the 49ers. The second was Sunday in Los Angeles when a poor passing start saw the Chiefs down 17-6 before a strong rally and incredible clutch kicking from Harrison Butker led the Chiefs to a 23-20 comeback win.

You can make Mahomes look bad for a half and sometimes even three quarters, but no one has really done it for a full game yet, and the total for this game is set at 55 points so fireworks are expected on Monday night.

But if there was a team that would hand Mahomes his first “big loss” of his NFL career, it probably has to be this Baltimore team. That Tennessee playoff upset (28-12 final) gets stranger looking by the week as the Ravens have opened 2020 with a 38-6 win over Cleveland and a 33-16 win in Houston.

Baltimore has scored at least 20 points in 25 consecutive regular-season games, tied for the fourth longest streak in NFL history. But again, that’s a streak that looks over two playoff losses at home where the Ravens scored 17 and 12 points. That’s a bad look.

The Ravens have won 14 regular season games in a row while the Chiefs have won 11 games overall in a row. Baltimore has not trailed in the second half of a regular season game since Week 5 in Pittsburgh last year. I mean, holy shit. That’s insane for both Baltimore and, once again, the Titans in that commanding playoff win. Something has to give this week.

It’s too early in the season for me to get really detailed with a game preview. We don’t know yet where all these teams’ tendencies, strengths and shortcomings will be in regards to turnovers, sacks, special teams, penalties, crucial down performance, injuries etc. That’s why I enjoy writing playoff game previews when we have way more data, but these teams have been performing at a high level for over a season now so given the players and stakes involved, this should be a special one. I just think Baltimore is playing a bit better, has more balance between the offense and defense, and the more reliable running game to balance out the offense too.

Baltimore can’t win a playoff game Monday night, but it can deliver the biggest win yet of the Lamar Jackson era.

Final: Ravens 34, Chiefs 27

NFL Week 3 Preview: Packers at Saints

The NFL’s Week 3 schedule is so packed I wanted to highlight earlier than usual Sunday Night Football’s big NFC matchup between the Packers (2-0) and Saints (1-1) in New Orleans. This is the fifth and potentially final matchup between future HOF quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, who have split the first four meetings and actually haven’t met since 2014. The Saints are 2-0 at home against Rodgers with 51 and 44 points scored in those games, but this offense right now doesn’t look like anything we’re used to seeing from New Orleans.

Thanks to Minnesota’s pointless upset in last year’s playoffs, we didn’t get to see these teams play last year when the Saints lost out on a first-round bye despite a stronger regular season than Green Bay because of the tie-breaking system. So we get the matchup now in a premiere prime time slot with the Saints actually being a 3-point favorite, but Drew Brees is throwing some major red flags our way, and one problem is he’s not throwing them that far either.

Drew Brees: Is 2020 the End?

Everything else is dying in 2020, so why won’t this be the end of this peak run of HOF QB play from Brees that he’s been on since 2004?

Brees has already talked about this being his last NFL season before retirement, but it’s not going to be a happy swansong if the first two weeks are any indicator of what’s to come. Despite the Week 1 win over Tom Brady and the Buccaneers where the Saints scored 34 points, the offense actually didn’t play well. They scored 27 points on 12 drives, one of which was a late field goal after the Bucs botched a kick return. Brees struggled to throw for 160 yards, only connecting on a deep ball after a pump fake late in the game. According to ESPN, Brees’ air yards per pass are the lowest in the first two weeks of a season since Brett Favre in 2009. Now that was the great Favre year in Minnesota and not the bad one in 2010 that made his retirement an obvious decision, but this is still alarming stuff from Brees. While he’s been throwing very short passes since 2017, especially on third down where some of his efficiency has declined, he’s taking things to young Alex Smith territory so far this season and it hasn’t worked as well for the Saints with Michael Thomas suffering a Week 1 high ankle sprain.

We know Thomas doesn’t stretch the field much, but that highly efficient connection the two have that can consistently gain 5, 8, 12 yard chunks has been crucial to the Saints offense. Emmanuel Sanders has had a slow start in his first year with the team so far. It’s mostly been checkdowns to Alvin Kamara so far.

However, some took the 34-24 upset loss in Las Vegas on Monday night to extremes, proving the point once again that the scoreboard really tricks people’s minds. The Saints actually were better on offense in the Week 2 loss without Thomas than they were in the Week 1 win where he played over 80% of the snaps and had 17 receiving yards. On one hand, Tampa Bay’s defense looks considerably better than the Raiders so far. Alas, the Saints scored 24 points on 9 drives on Monday night, and that ninth drive was one in the final 65 seconds where they kind of went through the motions, conceding defeat early instead of trying to get a quick field goal, onside kick recovery and Hail Mary — that may have needed Jameis Winston’s arm — to tie the game.

The bigger problem than Brees on Monday night was the defense that allowed Derek Carr, after a rough start with some embarrassing sacks, to pick apart the defense on long, time-consuming scoring drives. The Raiders scored on six of their last seven drives, and it would have been seven straight had Jalen Richard not fumbled. Richard also scored a 20-yard touchdown run on a 3rd-and-10. That kind of terrible defense brings back memories of the Saints of old, but without the high-powered offense to do better than a 34-24 defeat.

This is bad news when Aaron Rodgers, a more dangerous QB than Carr, is coming to town with a hot hand. That’s why the Saints will have to be much better early in the game on offense. Brees was far from great on Monday night, and he did piss away a drive before halftime with a bad interception, but when you only get eight real drives in the course of the game, it’s hard to be expected to do a lot better than 24 points. Not to mention on the Saints’ only third quarter drive, they self-destructed with three penalties, including a very questionable call on Sanders that led to a 2nd-and-31 situation. That’s a tough situation even if Patrick Mahomes is your QB.

So it was a horrible night on defense that should have been the bigger story for New Orleans, but of course the attention goes to the quarterback. People are already calling for him to be benched for Winston or to retire midseason, and it just reminds me that there’s too many days in between games, so people resort to filling that time with nonsense. There are alarming issues with Brees not showing his usual pinpoint accuracy or really attacking anything past 10 yards, but he’s not at the point where he needs benched. The Saints will just have to get a bit more creative without Thomas, which is why I don’t understand Sean Payton using a great trick play at the end of a sure win against Tampa Bay and not saving it for more desperate times.

With the Saints possibly slipping to 1-2 this week, desperate times are coming quickly.

Prime Aaron Rodgers: Is He Back?

If the 2020 Saints are the 2015 Broncos because of the old quarterback, then I guess they’re going to kick Green Bay’s ass on SNF, right?

That’s a reference to the 2015 SNF game when the 6-0 Packers, coming off a bye week, played the 6-0 Broncos with Peyton Manning in his final zombie-fied season. It’s one of the weirder games in NFL history in that the Broncos destroyed Green Bay 29-10 with huge performances on both sides of the ball, including the old QB, and it really seemed to set Rodgers, who only passed for 77 yards, into a tailspin after a big start to the season.

Before that game Rodgers was on a pretty incredible run of play that included two MVP awards and a Super Bowl MVP. But look at the drop in his statistics from the start of his career and ever since he returned from that bye week to face the 2015 Broncos:

You can see the YPA drop over 1.2 yards, the win percentage and passer rating down 10 points, and his touchdown pass rate has dropped by 1.46 percentage points. Sacks have been about the same, though he’s lost more fumbles per play and his completion percentage has dropped 3.3 percentage points as he’s fallen in love with throwing the ball away, which helps lower his interceptions.

Things have just not been at the peak level for Rodgers for years, and the coaching change to Matt LaFleur last year also didn’t have the desired impact. However, maybe it’s taking two years to have an impact as Rodgers is off to his best start in years. His Week 1 game in Minnesota was arguably as good as any game he’s had since 2015.

The 2020 Packers are the first team since the 2009 Saints (Payton-Brees’ Super Bowl year) to score at least 42 points in the first two games of a season. They’re only the sixth NFL team to do so since 1940. It’s not just Rodgers as RB Aaron Jones is off to a huge start to the season and the Packers lead the NFL in rushing yards (417) and yards per carry (6.2). Now they’ve only played stumbling division rivals so far, but the Packers look to be in great shape offensively so far. By Pro Football Reference’s metrics, they had their 2nd and 3rd best games by offensive EPA under LaFleur the last two weeks, and Rodgers has the second-lowest pass pressure rate (11.7%) as his line is doing a great job of protection.

If there’s a reason to be pessimistic, it’s the hamstring injury for Davante Adams. He may not play Sunday and he’s still the most trusted receiver on the team, catching 17 of his first 20 targets this year. It would be a shame for this game to go without Adams and Thomas as each team’s WR1, but that’s possibly reality and it’s only Week 3.

While the Saints need this one more than Green Bay, the fact of the matter is it’s a new season, and the Packers look like the superior team with the better QB right now.

The Pick

Under normal circumstances, I would be all in for the Saints rebounding with a win in this game. With a loud crowd amped up for Sunday night and Brees bringing his usual prime time mastery and accuracy, this is a spot where I’d expect Green Bay to fold and allow a lot of points in a loss.

But this year is different. The crowd is empty, the Saints are not playing complementary football, Green Bay and Rodgers are hot, and Brees sadly looks like what you’d expect to see from a 41-year-old QB. Maybe he takes all the criticism this week and it motivates him to a vintage performance, but if he doesn’t, then I think we’re just seeing the early stages of a rough season for New Orleans. The Packers going to 3-0 and dropping the Saints to 1-2 with a head-to-head tie-breaker would be huge for them in a conference where the rest of the South and North don’t look imposing so far, the East might be a bigger joke than last year, and the West is going to rough each other up all year.

Final: Packers 31, Saints 24

NFL Week 3 Predictions: Greatest Plays Edition

Once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a pattern. In Week 3, nine NFL teams will attempt to move to 3-0 while nine more are looking for their first win. There’s not a whole lot about the slate that interests me on paper, so let’s start with a look back at something NFL Network completed last night before we get to the early game of the year (BAL-KC) as well as my thoughts on Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury.

100 Greatest Plays

Last night the NFL wrapped up its four-part series on the 100 Greatest Plays in NFL history (see list here). When you have more than a million plays to choose from, narrowing it down to 100 is no easy task. Okay, granted we can chop off hundreds of thousands runs for 4 yards or less, but it’s still a challenge.

For the most part, I thought they came up with a pretty solid list. The biggest omission for me was the TD pass Joe Flacco threw to Jacoby Jones with Rahim Moore blowing the coverage. That was a more stunning and ultimately more important play than the 76th-ranked Tim Tebow OT winner to Demaryius Thomas from the previous season. It’s not like the argument that one play won the game while the other forced overtime is valid either, because they put John Elway’s TD pass to cap off The Drive to force overtime at #30. In the context of highlighting singular plays rather than drives or full games, it’s pretty absurd that ranks 30th and Jones doesn’t rank at all. In short, they really botched the Denver playoff games with this list.

But I thought they did well to include perhaps the funniest play in NFL history (The Butt-Fumble), the most memorable blocked punt in NFL history (Steve Gleason in 2006), the best lateral-filled plays (River City Relay, Miracle in Miami), the most shocking punt return TD (Miracle at the Meadowlands II), and my favorite QB run ever (Steve Young TD vs. Vikings). A little too much love for RBs, but like I always say, that nostalgic love for the workhorse back dies hard with old-school fans.

There’s an error on the NFL site that attributes Elway’s aforementioned TD vs. Cleveland to being a 49ers play. So the 49ers are tied with the Vikings for the most plays (15) in the top 100. Obviously they weren’t always on the positive side of those plays, especially the Vikings with He Did What, Old Man Willie, The Hail Mary/Push Off, Tony Dorsett 99 yards, Vick’s OT TD run, Cromartie’s 109 yard TD return, 65 Toss Power Trap, and Steve Young’s TD run. The other teams in double digits were the Cowboys (10), Packers (10), Patriots (12), and Giants (12).

While they only had 9 plays, I have to say the Steelers are as well represented as any team in this feature. They have four of the top 12 plays, including The Immaculate Reception (#1), Roethlisberger to Holmes in the SB (#6), James Harrison’s 100-yard pick-six (#7), and Lynn Swann’s SB Circus Catch (#12).

I would be remiss not to highlight the six positive plays that were featured from the Patriots dynasty (2001-present):

  • No. 99 – The Butt Fumble (Mark Sanchez runs into his own teammate for a fumble returned by NE for a TD)
  • No. 85 – Brady throws an interception to Champ Bailey, but Ben Watson tracks him down 100 yards to prevent a pick-six
  • No. 84 – Randy Moss makes a one-handed touchdown catch against Darrelle Revis in 2010
  • No. 22 – In SB 51, Brady’s pass goes through Robert Alford’s hands and is caught by Julian Edelman inches off the ground for a 20+ yard completion.
  • No. 18 – The greatest FG in NFL history is Adam Vinatier’s snow kick vs. Oakland after The Tuck Rule.
  • No. 5 – The greatest INT in NFL history is Malcolm Butler at the 1-yd line vs. Seattle in SB 49.

Notice who isn’t highlighted in any of these plays: Tom Brady. He was on the sideline for three of them. As for the other three, he should have had two interceptions (including a pick-six), but was bailed out by his teammates, and Moss made a great catch for him. While it’s not like inclusion on this list is necessary for being the greatest player (Jerry Rice has zero plays too), this just shows what I’ve been saying for years. Some of the greatest plays in history have gone NE’s way because of players not named Brady, and he’s taken advantage of that to get such a surplus of rings and SB appearances.

Half the rings disappear without three of the top 22 plays in history. That’s why they’re understandably so high on the list.

Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger (elbow surgery) is out for the season. He’s had plenty of injuries throughout his career, but he’s always avoided the serious ones until now. With this season-ending one, he’s up to 29 career games missed due to injury and you can see where that ranks among active starters:

So now what? The Steelers look terrible on defense too, but NE-SEA was a tough opening slate and the schedule should ease up. Second-year QB Mason Rudolph takes over as the starter and he’s more talented than previous backups such as Dennis Dixon, Landry Jones and Josh Dobbs. The Steelers have had a significant decline in passing production without Roethlisberger in his career, but there are some reasons for optimism around Rudolph beyond just having a college rapport with WR James Washington.

For one, the Steelers might have to actually coach for a change. I think there’s a serious downside to having a franchise quarterback that no one ever talks about or has studied. It’s when your team becomes so reliant on that player that the other parts of the team slack off and don’t pull their own weight because they trust the QB can pick up the slack. You can apply this to the careers of Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers in recent years, etc. Smart organizations like Bill Walsh’s 49ers or Bill Belichick’s Patriots don’t rely on the QB as much so if Joe Montana or Tom Brady missed games, those teams didn’t just fall apart like the others did.

The Steelers got off to a sluggish offensive start this season, but there were some clear trends in the limited time that Roethlisberger was the QB. Without Antonio Brown, they have tried to field a variety of wide receivers to fill the production and things have started poorly with Donte Moncrief playing terrible football.

Basically, with Roethlisberger the 2019 Steelers tried to go with an empty backfield and have Ben throw quick, short passes to receivers who couldn’t catch or do anything with the ball in their hands. There was no running game to speak of. It wasn’t working and they only scored 3 points in NE before another slow start against Seattle. But once Rudolph came into the game, the Steelers went to the play-action attack, something they do the least in the league since last season. They called a flea-flicker, which Rudolph completed for 45 yards even if it was a little underthrown. He also got one great catch out of rookie Diontae Johnson, so those two plays accounted for more than half of his yardage last week.

Leave it up to Mike Tomlin’s staff to think that they have to make the game easier on the young QB by using play-action and getting the tight end involved more. Meanwhile, they could have been doing the same things with Roethlisberger in the game as we know play-action can be such an effective tool for anyone. Unfortunately, the Steelers have this mindset that without Le’Veon Bell no one will respect the run, but that’s just not the case with how play-action gets linebackers to instinctively pause to play the run before adjusting to it being a pass. So if the Steelers are going to call more “easy plays” to help out Rudolph, then it’s a good thing even if these are things they already should have been doing with Roethlisberger. Benching (hell, flat out cutting is the right move) Moncrief and getting Washington and Vance McDonald more involved are moves that should get the offense back on track, but it could very well be a long season.

So we’ll see how the offense changes with Rudolph, but also keep an eye on the defense. That unit can field eight first-round picks to start the game now that they traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick, so Tomlin and Keith Butler have no excuses about not having the talent. It’s not good that the game is in San Francisco and the 49ers are the only offense to not go three-and-out so far this season. 0-3 could be the reality for Pittsburgh, but I still believe the schedule has 7-9 wins if Rudolph plays well.

Ravens at Chiefs (-6)

I’m really excited about this game after it was one of the best in 2018, and these definitely look like two of the only three good teams in the AFC. So this one should be important for seeding. I’m a little surprised the Chiefs are still a 6-point favorite after being a 6.5-point favorite last season over a Baltimore team that didn’t look as good offensively as it has this year.

The quarterbacks have been awesome, but what’s it going to take for Patrick Mahomes to have a so-so game (let alone bad) in the NFL? It hasn’t happened yet, but the Ravens came the closest to keeping him under his scoring threshold (26+ points) last year. Remember, the Chiefs were down 24-17 after 59 minutes of last December’s meeting. Baltimore ran the ball a lot that day and played some keep-away from Mahomes, though he did still dazzle with the no-look pass in the first half. Harrison Butker missed two FGs that day too, but the fact is Mahomes had to convert a miracle 4th-and-9 to save this game as well as a TD on 4th-and-3. That 4th-and-9 bomb was to Tyreek Hill, who is still out injured. Eric Fisher and Damien Williams are also out so injuries are piling up for the offense. Baltimore may not be as strong defensively and CB Jimmy Smith is out, so it does suck that we’re already talking about so many injuries for a Week 3 game.

I like the Chiefs in this one because I was encouraged by Arizona’s 23-17 final in Baltimore last week. If Kyler Murray was able to throw for 349 yards and repeatedly get his offense inside the 5-yard line, I trust Mahomes to do the same and finish more drives with touchdowns instead of wimpy FGs. But don’t discredit the way Lamar Jackson has started this season, and I’m sure he’s licking his chops at a defense that is allowing 6 YPC and over 70% completions. Baltimore could go on some really long drives again that shrink Mahomes’ opportunities and force him to be close to perfect.

This should be a lot of fun.

NFL Week 3 Predictions

It’s pretty embarrassing to see spreads of 22 and 23 in any week in the NFL, let alone Week 3. I like to believe that teams take that to heart and usually cover, but I’m not sure the Jets and Dolphins care right now.

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I can’t figure out the Titans once again this year. I was probably too trusting of the team that beat Cleveland by 30, but they looked terrible in Jacksonville. They might be the worst team in the AFC South actually.

Keep in mind road teams have been killing it with 11 wins ATS in each of the first two weeks. I have a lot of home teams getting the job done this week, though that’s not on purpose.

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NFL Week 3 Predictions: Glad to Be Here Edition

After a rough couple of days personally, just time for a quick look at Monday night’s game. Just glad to still be here typing.

Steelers at Buccaneers

When I did my season predictions, I had the Steelers overlooking this one as a trap game and losing to a Tampa Bay team I had finishing 3-13. What a difference a few weeks can make. Now this game is a pick ’em and the Buccaneers are flying high behind Ryan Fitzpatrick while the Steelers are 0-1-1 and fading fast. They’re about one more bad headline away from getting their own Ronan Farrow feature.

Oddly enough, I like the Steelers to win on Monday now. I think they can put much of this drama behind them and play well against a team they should match up well with. So much of Fitzpatrick’s success so far has been nailing the deep balls. They have the weapons to do that with, but Fitzpatrick has never proven he can sustain this level of play for any extended period of time. It’s also typically not a sustainable strategy against Pittsburgh, a defense that for years is more vulnerable to spread, dink-and-dunk assaults. If Fitzpatrick holds the ball long to set up vertical shots, then I think T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward can get to him. Joe Haden returning to the secondary can help. Tampa Bay’s also dead last in rushing YPC (2.7) so it’s a pretty one-dimensional attack. Fitzpatrick came into this season with 13 TD passes of 50+ yards. He has four in two games with a pair in each win. I know the Steelers had some problems last year with giving up long scoring passes, but I really think they can avoid getting beat by the early deep balls that the Saints and Eagles couldn’t survive.

On the other side of the ball, there’s not much of a secondary in Tampa Bay. I think Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers, including Antonio Brown, can have another big game. Even if Ben and Brown aren’t on the same page yet, JuJu Smith-Schuster still looks great, Jesse James had a big game with Ben’s improvising, and James Washington caught his first touchdown last week. The weapons are there even without Le’Veon Bell. I also think the offensive line can hold up against that front seven, the strength of Tampa’s D.

It may very well have to be a shootout, but I like the Steelers to restore some order in this one and get a win before this season goes totally off the rails.

NFL Week 3 Predictions

I thought I was going to fall to 0-3 on TNF, but the Browns came through after putting Baker Mayfield in the game.

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I think this is a perfect week to do a teaser with some of the big favorites. Make it PHI -1, JAX -3.5, MIN -11, KC -1, LAR -1, NE -1. And I also like PIT +6 and ARI +12 (the latter because Steve Wilks might get fired before October if things don’t start to resemble an NFL team).

Trying something different with the weekly summary. I’m not a big fan of how the red comes through here so might tinker with it.

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NFL Week 3 Predictions: I’m Empty, Please Fill Me

Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern.

The beauty of Week 3 in the NFL is trying to figure out which of the last two weeks was more telling for each team. This may be a fool’s errand in the grand scheme of things, but it’s what we do when we have nothing else to go on.

Still, the week got off to a surprisingly good start with the Rams-49ers putting on a show on Thursday night. We really could use a great Sunday of football after a slow Weeks 1-2 and after another difficult week in “the real world.” I doubt anything this weekend can match last season’s Week 10 timely greatness after the election, because that slate had awesome matchups in Seahawks-Patriots and Cowboys-Steelers.

But I have a few thoughts to share on several Week 3 games. A main theme this week is the idea of certain teams and players being in a desperate mode to avoid an 0-3 start. A guy like Brian Hoyer had to know he needed to play better to keep his job. He did even if the 49ers still lost. I think Mike Glennon is in a very similar situation in Chicago to hold off Mitch Trubisky, and while Eli Manning is in no real danger to lose his job in New York, the Giants need to start scoring some points again after this 0-2 start. The same thing can be said about Andy Dalton in Cincinnati. So this stuff is weighing into my predictions this week.

Bengals at Packers

I like for a huge game from A.J. Green, especially with Tyler Eifert out, but how do you go against Green Bay at home after a bad loss? Look for Aaron Rodgers to be much sharper as he usually is at Lambeau. He’s never beaten the Bengals (0-2), but those were Mike Zimmer-coordinated defenses. The Bengals just seem like a broken, lost team at this point. I think firing the OC will give some boost, but a lot of that can also be explained this week by playing a GB defense instead of the Ravens or Texans.

Browns at Colts

Weird to see Cleveland favored on the road, but without Andrew Luck, the Colts really are the most irrelevant team in the NFL right now. It’s like the season hasn’t even started for them yet. However, do I really trust the Browns to win here? If not for botching a 3rd-and-20 last week, I think the Colts would have beaten Arizona. Jacoby Brissett is an upgrade over Scott Tolzien, though the offense is still obviously a problem. I just think at home, the defense can get some hurries, sacks, and takeaways from DeShone Kizer, and the run defense hasn’t been that bad so far. So I’m going to stick with the Colts in this one, as I said they’d start 1-3 with a win over Cleveland if Luck was out the whole time.

Steelers at Bears

Is this not the perfect trap game for the Steelers on the road? Remember, they’re not good in these games away from the state of Ohio. Everyone expects them to win easily, but the Bears gave Atlanta all it could handle in Week 1. Mike Glennon beat the Steelers in one of their home letdown games in 2014 with Tampa Bay. He should have more success through the air against this defense than the Bears will have on the ground. Question is will the defense show up? I don’t think the Steelers have blocked well at all for Le’Veon Bell this year, and he hasn’t been a factor in the passing game. Blame that on skipping the offseason I guess. I also don’t think Ben Roethlisberger has been sharp despite a lot of advanced metrics suggesting things are just fine. He missed a lot of throws against the Vikings and only had success with Brown and the Outlaw in Week 1. This would be a good game to get Martavis Bryant going at a high level again, but either way, the Bears don’t have the defense to match up here so Pittsburgh should win.

But we’ve seen this movie play out before, especially with a big Baltimore game looming.

Giants at Eagles

I’d like to pick the Giants to get a win, but I just think the Eagles are playing better right now, and the defense should have its way with New York’s line. The Giants struggle as it is in Philly, but this is a bad time for this matchup. I think the defense has been fine for New York, so if Eli can get anything going, they have a decent shot here. But if you can’t score 20+ anymore, then you’re not beating the Eagles (or just about anyone).

Falcons at Lions

This could easily be the game of the week, a shootout expected for sure. I’d say Atlanta’s pass protection has been spotty at times again like last year, so Matt Ryan has to watch those drive-killing sacks. Detroit’s defense has been pretty solid, but I’m just not sure Carson Palmer and Eli Manning still have “it” this year at an advanced age. Ryan is in his prime and still on that MVP roll from last year. The defense also looks better for Atlanta, but Detroit’s small ball and tendency to throw to the RBs can definitely lead to points on this defense. Like I said, shootout expected and definitely a game that should come down to the final drive with two of the most prolific QBs at leading game-winning drives. I’m still picking the road team, because I trust Atlanta more than I do Detroit. This team has been pretty hot for a good stretch now with that one massive screw-up known as the 2nd half of Super Bowl LI. But I like the way they’ve started this year in response to that.

Broncos at Bills

Could have been an interesting first road test for Vance Joseph, but I don’t like the fact that Cordy Glenn is out at LT for Buffalo. This needs to be a game where LeSean McCoy dominates, because the Bills aren’t going to have any success with Tyrod Taylor scrambling and trying to throw into this secondary with his limited receiving corps. With Glenn out, I don’t see Buffalo winning up front too much, and they already give up a lot of pressure as it is. Marcell Dareus is also out, and lest we forget, Buffalo was a team pegged to be pretty awful coming into this season after getting rid of so many young contributors. Did you see Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins go over 100 yards each on Thursday for the Rams? The Bills could use some playmakers right now.

Buccaneers at Vikings

I wouldn’t count out Case Keenun making the game at least competitive at home. He did that a lot for the 2013 Texans, but just lost every close game imaginable that year. Vikings are talented, but QB injuries really suck. Tampa Bay was really good last week. Good opportunity for a 2-0 start with a win over another team expected to be in the playoff hunt.

Seahawks at Titans

At least it’s not a 10:00 A.M. start time for the Seahawks. This is the kind of game the Seahawks tend to lose: cross-country, aggressive defense that can get after Wilson, and a team that can run the ball offensively and has a quarterback with escapability too. However, are we sure this is the kind of game the Titans win? They don’t have much of a recent track record, and already flopped at home against Oakland in Week 1. I like this matchup since it’s two preseason contenders (division winners at least) and one is going to start 1-2. I’m still leaning towards Seattle, because I can’t believe that offense won’t be better than how it’s started, and I still like the defense very much.

Raiders at Redskins

In Week 1, Kirk Cousins tied for the team lead with 30 rushing yards. In Week 2, the Redskins had 3 backs go for over 60 rushing yards, a rare feat indeed. Cousins played much more of a dink-and-dunk game manager role in that one, though we are starting to see that the Rams just may not be that good defensively this season. But what kind of offense is Washington right now? Terrelle Pryor hasn’t quite acclimated himself well to the offense yet, Jordan Reed is eternally hurt, and Jamison Crowder has been less productive than RB Chris Thompson. Under Sean McVay as offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden’s offense was pretty consistent the last couple of years, but I see a unit that is struggling to find an identity after losing McVay and the top two wideouts. I’m just not sure what to expect from Washington in any given week, while I think Oakland brings a talented offense with a favorable matchup on any play since Josh Norman can only cover one of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper at a time. These are unusual teams to see on SNF, but hey, we need some new blood in this league. I don’t think the Raiders are anywhere near being locks on the road to beat an average team, but it’s a decent test for them and not a bad way to end the day.

2017 Week 3 Predictions

I finally got a TNF right by going with the Rams, who almost blew it of course.

Winners in bold.

  • Ravens vs. Jaguars
  • Saints at Panthers
  • Browns at Colts
  • Falcons at Lions
  • Texans at Patriots
  • Broncos at Bills
  • Steelers at Bears
  • Buccaneers at Vikings
  • Dolphins at Jets
  • Giants at Eagles
  • Seahawks at Titans
  • Chiefs at Chargers
  • Bengals at Packers
  • Raiders at Redskins
  • Cowboys at Cardinals

That’s a hell of a lot of road teams to pick, but I guess we’ll just have to tune in to see how it goes.

  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Season: 19-12

NFL Week 3 Predictions

There really isn’t a Week 3 game I have any detailed thoughts on, so I’m just going to share brief feelings on each game.

WAS at NYG – Big swing game in the NFC East with the chance for the Giants to practically bury Washington at 0-3. The attention will be on Josh Norman and Odell Beckham Jr. Their matchup last year really highlights some of the problems with judging cornerback play. I don’t think Norman won the matchup. Beckham dropped a TD bomb to start the game and still caught the game-tying score over Norman late. If Beckham’s hands didn’t fail him, he absolutely won that matchup. I don’t think Eli will fear going that way again, but I just wonder if Norman will even bother to cover the slot or Beckham’s side of the field with any real frequency this week. It’s such a waste of money to bring in a corner who has to stick on one side, and it’s just not smart football at all. I like the Giants here with their 3-WR attack.

MIN at CAR – How fitting was it that the highlight game of Sam Bradford’s career was still just a 17-14 win? As my boss put it this week, it’s not like that was some vintage Joe Montana or Brett Favre kind of game where they were raining touchdowns. Minnesota’s defense scored two in Week 1. This offense needs to score more points, and while I’m not too concerned about Adrian Peterson being out, I think this is a tough matchup in Carolina when you basically go 1-deep at WR (Stefon Diggs).

DEN at CIN – Interesting matchup. I think Trevor Siemian should struggle in his first road test, and first real test against a talented secondary. Might be asking a lot for Andy Dalton to stay turnover free against this defense, but as long as he doesn’t make too many mistakes, I like the Bengals at home. They played well in Denver last year with AJ McCarron at QB.

CLE at MIA – 3 weeks, 3 QBs, that’s so Cleveland. Actually, that’s very unusual for any team, but still funny that Cody Kessler is going to start a game before Jared Goff. Good chance for Ryan Tannehill to look good in back-to-back weeks.

BAL at JAX – Jags need a good performance at home, or else the heat to fire Gus Bradley is going to amp up. At least it should. People seem to not care much about the Jaguars, but his tenure has been a huge disappointment as the team doesn’t seem to be improving.

ARI at BUF – Curious if the travel and early start time against a team that had 10-day rest and absolutely needs a win will hurt Arizona here. Again, a Carson Palmer turnover parade is the best way for the Bills to get this one, but it’s going to be a tough game with Sammy Watkins likely out.

OAK at TEN – Since 2012, the Raiders are 4-16 in early road starts. Want to see if Marcus Mariota can carve up a defense that is allowing over 50 yards per drive thru two games. That’s stunningly bad for a team that went on a bit of a shopping spree, and this has not been the year of Khalil Mack at all so far.

DET at GB – Would be most unusual to see Detroit win at GB two years in a row. Does Aaron Rodgers break his slump here? Great opportunity given the way Detroit’s defense has been playing, but I think the Lions can put up another good fight. They remember the sting of the Hail Mary defeat.

SF at SEA – Shocker: the 49es aren’t hot garbage so far. That game in Carolina was a lot better than the final score indicates. While I still think the team is headed for a lot of losses, they’re going to be more competitive than last year’s mess that overachieved by winning 5 games. Meanwhile, Seattle really needs to get healthy. Sometimes, resting an injured starter is better than trying to play him over a healthy backup.

LARM at TB – Jeff Fisher is 8-1 vs. Tampa Bay in his career, so I guess this will be the beginning of a 7-game losing streak to get back to 8-8. But man, two perplexing weeks by the Bucs. Never know what you’re going to get.

SD at IND – We’ll see if Philip Rivers still has some voodoo to work against the Colts, but I think they’ll play better at home and find a way to get that first win behind a vintage Luck performance.

PIT at PHI – I brought out all the member berries on their last meeting in Philadelphia in 2008. Hopefully the Steelers will remember to block this time, but the Eagles have knocked out two starting QBs already. I think Ben and Brown bounce back in a big way, and I still don’t get why Alshon Jeffery wasn’t a bigger part of the gameplan against this PHI secondary on Monday night. Steelers should make that correction, but it’s going to be a good game. I think the hype for Carson Wentz is absolutely ridiculous. Best rookie QB? Just look at the guy on the other team, not to mention what Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, etc. have done since 2008. I am concerned with the lack of pressure and takeaways for the Steelers defense, but they’re still keeping points down, and that’s frankly all this team needs from the D. Timely plays.

NYJ at KC – Can’t get a good read on this one, because the Chiefs are having a weird start to the season without some of their best players. Think being at home will help, but the defense is going to have to force Ryan Fitzpatrick into some mistakes.

CHI at DAL – Blah, who even thought back in April this would have been a good game? I know it’s influenced by the big markets, and they couldn’t have predicted Dak Prescott vs. Brian Hoyer, but we damn near need flex scheduling to start in Week 3 now. The Bears, arguably the most bland and aimless team in the NFL right now, getting two prime-time games in one week is a f’n joke.

ATL at NO – I was surprised to see that Drew Brees has been held to a single TD pass in each of his last four games against Atlanta. You always expect high scoring close game from these two, but it hasn’t always been like that in recent years. As much as I would like to watch this one in peace, I think I’ll be flipping over to the debate on Monday night for the real fireworks and entertainment.

2016 Week 3 Predictions

I really didn’t care that the Patriots were starting a third-string rookie QB, I still trusted them at home. The 27-0 final was a bit surprising though.

Winners in bold

  • Redskins at Giants
  • Vikings at Panthers
  • Broncos at Bengals
  • Browns at Dolphins
  • Ravens at Jaguars
  • Cardinals at Bills
  • Raiders at Titans
  • Lions at Packers
  • 49ers at Seahawks
  • Rams at Buccaneers
  • Chargers at Colts
  • Steelers at Eagles
  • Jets at Chiefs
  • Bears at Cowboys
  • Falcons at Saints

Damn, that’s some strong home love, and you know how that usually turns out.

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Season: 17-15

NFL Week 3 Predictions: Statement Games

I have always thought Week 2 was the hardest to predict in the NFL season, because you end up instinctively relying too much on what happened in Week 1.

The 49ers and Vikings were polar opposites from Week 1 to Week 2. Were the Titans really that good and were the Buccaneers really that bad as in Week 1? No. Are the Jets really that good on defense and are the Colts in some trouble on offense? Maybe. Week 1 isn’t worthless and it’s definitely important, but it is still just one data point.

This week I want to see which teams build off a good start and which ones turn around a poor beginning, because there are some really interesting names sitting at 0-2. History suggests some of those teams are not going to be successful this season. Only 24 of 199 teams to start 0-2 since 1990 (12.1%) have made the playoffs. At least one team from the hyped group of the Seahawks, Colts, Eagles and Ravens is probably not going to turn things around.

Some teams are in position to have a statement game where the winner could really put the loser in a huge hole. Those are the games I’m most interested in for Week 3.

Bengals (2-0) at Ravens (0-2)

Come on, Cincinnati. This is exactly the spot where people expect the Bengals to fall flat on their faces as they always do. They swept the Ravens a year ago, but Baltimore is at home for the first time in 2015 and will pretty much have to play with the intensity and importance of a playoff game at 0-2. With a trip to Pittsburgh looming on Thursday, the 2015 Ravens basically have their fate on the line early. You’re likely not coming back from an 0-3 or 0-4 start. The Bengals have looked good with Andy Dalton playing clean, efficient football and Tyler Eifert emerging as the team’s best weapon behind A.J. Green. I’m not sure why Jeremy Hill hasn’t been able to get things going yet, but the offense has been good and so has the defense. This team certainly has looked better than the Ravens, who had no offense in Week 1 and no defense in Week 2. I think the Bengals can limit Steve Smith’s damage and simply have too many weapons for the Ravens, who aren’t getting much pressure now without blitzing. While I think it will be another close game decided in the fourth quarter, I actually like the Bengals to pull this one out.

Colts (0-2) at Titans (1-1)

We always expect the Colts to clean up in division games (won 13 straight), but what happens if they lose? Chuck Pagano’s seat just gets that much hotter and I have to say this has been the worst 3-game stretch of Andrew Luck’s career going back to the 2014 AFC Championship Game. I’m not sure any other QB takes 0 sacks vs. 11 hits like he did in that Jets game, but the hits and pressures were still very effective at forcing him into turnovers. I think the Titans are improved on defense, though still not very good, but good enough to cause some trouble again for the Colts. Indy has won seven in a row against Tennessee, but this is a big one on the road. I have really no great reason for picking the Colts other than they need the win more, which is a scary thought for where this team is currently situated in the AFC. Can Marcus Mariota tear up a defense with a limited pass rush and several of its top corners out? Absolutely. I think Mariota has been pretty impressive so far through two weeks. This won’t be an easy game by any means for the Colts.

Steelers (1-1) at Rams (1-1)

Really not a statement game; I just feel like mentioning it briefly. The Rams are inconsistent as hell and the Steelers are getting Le’Veon Bell back. Both defenses seem pretty susceptible to having a blown coverage down the field, so this one could be very high scoring. So given it’s the NFL, expect a 13-9 game. I still worry about the Steelers in road games following a big week like the masterclass performance Roethlisberger put on against the 49ers last Sunday. Let’s see this offense sustain the good offensive line play, precise vertical passing and now the added element of Bell as a runner and receiver. The Rams have a talented front seven even if it doesn’t show up for long stretches. Bell didn’t exactly dominate good defenses on the ground in 2014. This game is very interesting as I can see 34-31 just as likely as 13-9. You never know what you’ll get from Nick Foles.

Broncos (2-0) at Lions (0-2)

Not sure it was a good idea to schedule the Broncos and Chiefs, Week 2’s TNF game, for road prime-time games in Week 3 too. With Denver all eyes will be on Peyton Manning, but I expect the Denver defense to play well against a struggling Detroit offense. This could have been a  high-scoring game in past years, but I just am not seeing it this year. With Manning, we’ll get another dose of seeing him deal with the Gary Kubiak offense versus doing what actually works (the shotgun and no-huddle offense with him calling the shots). My biggest fear all summer was Kubiak being the only coach too stubborn to let Manning do his thing, and we’ve seen glimpses of that so far. Plain and simple, I don’t think Manning has the foot speed anymore to run Kubiak’s offense from under center, then combined with the piss-poor OL, by the time Manning completes his drop he’s getting pressured or he’s throwing the ball away immediately without setting his feet. That’s why it’s not working out and he needs to be in shotgun. And let’s dump the bootleg pass with Manning going to his left. This isn’t 2006 anymore. If Kubiak can’t adjust to his players’ strengths, then he is just the shoddy coach I’ve always expected he was from Houston.

2015 Week 3 Predictions

My streak of non-losing weeks came to a crashing halt with a 6-10 finish in Week 2. I had the Giants on TNF, so let’s rebound here.

Winners in bold

  • Bengals at Ravens
  • Saints at Panthers
  • Colts at Titans
  • Falcons at Cowboys
  • Jaguars at Patriots
  • Eagles at Jets
  • Raiders at Browns
  • Steelers at Rams
  • Chargers at Vikings
  • Buccaneers at Texans
  • 49ers at Cardinals
  • Bears at Seahawks
  • Bills at Dolphins
  • Broncos at Lions
  • Chiefs at Packers

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Season: 16-16 (.500)

NFL Week 3 Predictions: Broncos vs. Seahawks, Take Two

I never wrote a formal recap of  the stunning domination that was Super Bowl XLVIII by Seattle over Denver. It’s the only time since the 2011 season I didn’t write a weekly recap of the NFL’s close games, because it’s the only week there weren’t any close games. We have been spoiled by great Super Bowls, and this one had all the right ingredients for a classic. It was the highest-scoring offense against a great defense. Then the highest-scoring offense in NFL history couldn’t execute a snap on the first play from scrimmage, and it was all downhill from there.

It’s probably the biggest disappointment I’ve experienced as an NFL fan in general. 43-8? Thanks for the unique score, I guess. Whatever happens in Week 3, where the schedule is seemingly titled to give this “rematch” full focus, won’t make up for the lack of competitiveness in February.

For me, the Seahawks need this win more, because they’re 1-1 in a tougher division and Denver is 2-0. It’s not like Seattle can’t rebound from 1-2, but some doubt will creep up for a team that’s as much of a favorite to repeat as any we’ve seen in years.

I think the Broncos need to show February was just an outlier. If these teams met 50 times, I’m not sure it would ever get more lopsided in Seattle’s favor than the one result that counted. Denver can’t afford a repeat, or else there will be major doubt in its ability to hang with this Seattle team. There’s nothing even close to a guarantee they’ll have to get through them to win a championship this year, but it’s certainly possible. Denver winning this game in Seattle, where we know the Seahawks are 18-1 with Russell Wilson at QB and have been extra dominant defensively, would be a big confidence builder and would help lower Seattle’s playoff chances in the process.

So what the hell went wrong on February 2, and what has really changed in seven months to expect a different outcome this time?

I wrote a really long preview for the Super Bowl, and some of it turned out to be relevant. Marshawn Lynch wasn’t a factor, Percy Harvin’s kick return value iced the game, and Seattle’s third-down pass defense was extremely decisive with two interceptions.

Denver had to be sick when watching the film on this game if only for the simple fact that the Seahawks wrapped this thing up on the strength of a couple of plays.

By the time it was 22-0 in the second quarter, Peyton Manning had thrown two incompletions of consequence.

Both were interceptions and both were the result of quick edge pressure. Now don’t get me wrong. Seattle made sure every yard and first down was like pulling teeth for the Broncos, but a long Denver drive was building when it was 15-0, then that fateful 3rd-and-13 happened. Cliff Avril again got the pressure, but this time he hit Manning while throwing and the ball just so happened to land in Malcolm Smith’s possession for a pick-six. That pretty much wrapped it up there, but Harvin’s kick return to make it 29-0 guaranteed the second half would be irrelevant.

The game was about pressure. Denver’s offense allowed the lowest rate of pressure all season, but Seattle’s defense generated the most of any defense in the last four years. Manning was only pressured about five percentage points more often than usual in this game, but it was extremely effective to get interceptions on third down. Meanwhile, no offense allowed more pressure than Seattle, but Wilson was not hit or sacked in this game by Denver’s defense, which also came away with zero takeaways (not even a forced fumble) in three playoff games last year.

Pressure’s not very consistent from year to year, but if Seattle can get some in key spots at home, they’re going to disrupt this offense again. The reconfiguration of Denver’s offensive line should help with a superior player like Ryan Clady at left tackle, but the noise is going to be an issue. Denver stupidly didn’t prepare for crowd noise in the neutral-site Super Bowl, despite having a head coach that’s been there before and Manning also should have known better. I’m sure a tactic like the silent count has been worked on this week and we’ll see Denver more prepared for the noise, but it’s obviously a significant factor in playing at Seattle.

Besides Clady, what else has changed? Seattle still looks very similar on paper, but the Broncos have 13 new starters compared to who started at each position in February. That includes a secondary Seattle didn’t see any of with Rahim Moore (IR), TJ Ward (CLE), Aqib Talib (NE) and Chris Harris (IR) plus rookie CB Bradley Roby. That also includes DeMarcus Ware (DAL) and Von Miller (IR), who must generate pressure on Wilson to have success in this game. On offense there’s Emmanuel Sanders, who will take over for Eric “Charmin Soft” Decker, who had a pathetic performance in the big game. That’s a lot of guys that don’t know anything about 43-8, because they didn’t play that day.

For Denver to keep it close in Seattle, this new defense must get after Wilson and continue containing Lynch on the ground. Keep in mind Seattle actually ranks second to Denver in points per drive thru Week 2 this year. Denver’s defense has had two suspect performances at home against the Colts and Chiefs. Alex Smith was moving well and dealing on third down last week. Denver’s new-look defense looks a lot like last year’s struggling unit despite all the changes. Harvin gave them some nightmares with the jet sweep, but defenses league-wide have to start getting prepared for that better. Seattle may also chill a bit after a horrible time to run it in San Diego with the game on the line last week (the play lost six yards).

Offensively, I would imagine Sanders or Andre Caldwell will occupy Richard Sherman, but I strongly disagree with the strategy to avoid him for the entire game like we saw in Week 1 with Green Bay. You can’t just surrender a side of the field to the defense like that. If the guy Sherman’s covering is open, throw it there. Philip Rivers didn’t show that fear last week and it turned out fine for him. Denver can keep Demaryius away from Sherman, but there’s no reason to purposely stay away from him all game long.

Demaryius also hasn’t played that well to start this season. He had an interesting Super Bowl with a lot catches, but not for a lot of yards, because Seattle’s defense swarmed and tackled so well. There just wasn’t much YAC, and that’s the kind of offense Denver has evolved into with “Old Peyton”. He’s going to have to try loosening them up a bit more with intermediate (15-25 yards) routes. It can’t be a lot of screens or Seattle will continue stifling this offense.

The key to this game is Julius Thomas, but after the trouble Antonio Gates gave Seattle last week, don’t you think both sides expect that? Julius has looked great this year, but I’m skeptical he can make the tough catches the veteran Gates did last week. He’s still young and learning. He wasn’t much of a factor in the Super Bowl, but for Denver to win this game, he has to play big this week. I’m not fond of Wes Welker’s return to a physical matchup like this one. He might leave with yet another concussion. No matter who Peyton targets, you know the ball is coming out very quick. It was still coming out in 2.6 seconds in the Super Bowl, but that wasn’t enough against some of that crucial edge pressure.

What Denver must do differently is stick with the running game even if it’s not that efficient. Before two garbage-time carries by C.J. Anderson in the Super Bowl, the Broncos had 11 carries for 18 yards — the same numbers Denver had in a Week 15 loss to San Diego. That’s the worst rushing support Manning’s had in his 265-game career. The score had a lot to do with that, but Denver still abandoned the run.

San Diego stuck with the run despite its inefficiency last week so that Rivers didn’t have to make every play. He also got his running backs involved with nine catches, which I think Manning needs to do more of with Montee Ball and Anderson. Attack the short middle of the field and flats. I feel like last year Denver watched San Diego shred Dallas, albeit a horrific defense, and used some of that knowledge (similar offense with Mike McCoy) in the following week in that classic 51-48 win in Dallas. The Broncos could once again learn a few things from San Diego’s trial run against Seattle.

All the talk after the Super Bowl was that Denver’s just not physical enough to beat Seattle (or San Francisco). Well, it just so happens they caught a break with the schedule and will play this NFC West this year. So the first litmus test is this week in the toughest place to play in the NFL right now. I’m not sure how a team gets “tougher” without a simple dose of more running plays. This is still a Manning-led offense, which has pretty much looked the same as it always has this season. It’s always been about execution, but rarely has the execution ever been so poor as it was that night in February, and while Seattle had a lot to do with that, there are some opportunities for Denver to make corrections and give us a more competitive game this time.

I think that’s enough analysis for a Week 3 game, so onto the prediction.

Final prediction: Seahawks 27, Broncos 20

NFL Week 3 Predictions

Can we get a Thursday game that’s not won by 20+ points by the home team? I picked Atlanta to win, but that was embarrassing, Tampa Bay. I’m glad I picked you to finish last place in the division, but 7-9 is looking far too kind.

Winners in bold:

  • Ravens at Browns
  • Chargers at Bills
  • Vikings at Saints
  • Texans at Giants
  • Colts at Jaguars
  • Cowboys at Rams
  • Titans at Bengals
  • Raiders at Patriots
  • Packers at Lions
  • Redskins at Eagles
  • 49ers at Cardinals
  • Broncos at Seahawks
  • Chiefs at Dolphins
  • Steelers at Panthers
  • Bears at Jets

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Total: 17-15

I only picked six of them, but I like a lot of the road teams this week. Ravens can certainly win, but I like Cleveland’s rushing attack right now and maybe the football gods will intervene here if you’ve been following the news.

NFL Week 3 Predictions: Crystal Blue Polian and My Dark Passenger

You may have heard the Colts traded a first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Trent Richardson this week. While still trying to process that mind-blowing trade, one speck of analysis about it did catch my eye.

The more I hear from Bill Polian as an analyst, the more I wonder how he had a 25-year successful run as general manager in the NFL. Oh yeah, he had players like Bruce Smith, Jim Kelly and Peyton Manning. Still, he made some good moves at times too. While claiming Landry Jones was the best QB in the 2013 draft because “he’s a winner” was bad from Polian, this latest thought is probably worse when it comes to the general understanding of football.

Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith’s Twitter feed had the quote from Polian: Trent Richardson’s 3.5 yards a carry is good enough because “3.5 plus 3.5 puts you at 3rd & 3. Andrew Luck can convert those.”

WELL IF IT’S 3RD-AND-3, WHY NOT RUN RICHARDSON AGAIN FOR THE FIRST DOWN? SORRY PAT MCAFEE, YOUR SERVICES WILL NO LONGER BE REQUIRED. NO WONDER THE BROWNS WERE AN UNSTOPPABLE JUGGERNAUT LED BY RICH…OH, wait.

No wonder Polian hates the “stat geeks” as he’s expressed in the past. He fails to understand simple statistical concepts. Yes, Richardson averages 3.5 YPC, which is very low compared to the league’s baseline, but that does not mean he picks up 3.5 yards every play. So far this season Richardson has gained 3 yards or less on 17 of his 31 carries.

It gets better. Since 2012, no offense has been in 3rd-and-3 more than the Colts (27 plays). They have the third-best conversion rate too. That’s without Richardson, who was in Cleveland, who had just 12 plays on 3rd-and-3. That’s tied with the Giants for next to last. D’oh.

Polian was the decision maker on deals that involved millions of dollars and the hopes and dreams of franchises’ long-term success. Yet he can’t even figure out what a 3.5 YPC average says about a running back or how that would function in an offense?

I’ve said it before but the stupidity of experts is a big reason I got into the sports writing business. If I ever hit the Powerball like some lucky jackass did this week, I would write nothing but scathing attacks on the so-called experts when they say something dumb.

I’d never run out of material.

Steelers or Dexter: Which do I hate more right now?

I have watched every Steelers game live, in its entirety, since at least the 2003 season. It may even be since sometime in the 2001 season but I seem to recall missing the first three quarters of 2002 Week 17 against Baltimore. Might have went to church or something that would be laughable now on a Sunday morning for me.  So yeah, I’ve never missed a live snap of Ben Roethlisberger’s career.

But this week when the 0-2 Steelers play the Bears in prime time, I think come 9 P.M. I am going to turn the channel to Showtime to watch the series finale of Dexter, which is another thing in my life that has gone from a favorite to a like to a “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore” chore. The writers have butchered mostly everything with this show ever since the brilliant Trinity storyline (season 4). They could have made this 8-season show into six seasons. Seasons 5 & 6 had the exact same setup at the end, but different outcomes. I hope seasons 7 & 8 do not follow that, and they better not even think about having Dexter kill Deb. Michael C. Hall’s already been in the best series finale ever (Six Feet Under), so hopefully he doesn’t regress to the mean with a dud.

After that’s over — and I probably bitch about it on Twitter — I’ll take a quick look at the game, which should be heading to halftime, then I’ll start Breaking Bad on the DVR. That’s 75 minutes this week. I’m not even going to DVR the game thanks to the brilliance of Game Rewind. I’ll just watch it later.

Will I miss the Steelers game? Not if it’s anything like the first two miserable weeks. I’m doing my dark passenger a favor as watching the 2013 Steelers puts me in a rotten mood. Of course, I’m doing the unthinkable and picking them to win, so I’ll see what happens, but not live. There’s simply better TV options, or standards, this Sunday.

Hurry-Up

I posted some records as starters on Twitter on Friday. Matt Schaub is a perfect 29-0 when the Texans allow 0-19 points, but watch me jinx him in Baltimore on Sunday in what could be a low-scoring game between two teams who do not look that impressive so far.

019

My Trent Richardson Week 3 prediction in San Francisco: seven carries for 24 yards.

Good test for Green Bay’s offense: Cincinnati has not allowed more than 24 points in its last 11 games. They allowed 31 to Denver at home last year, so the elite QB/weapons can get the job done against this defense.

Will the Jaguars cover the 20-point spread in Seattle? Yes, barely, though it will be good to see a team not named the Patriots in this situation. Seattle shouldn’t allow more than single-digit points, but the offense needs to get rolling here in 2013. I’m thinking 24-6 final.

2013 NFL Week 3 Predictions

Last year I went 4-12 in Week 3, so hopefully this will be better. Off to a good start picking the Chiefs and their defense  on Thursday.

Winners in bold:

  • Texans at Ravens
  • Giants at Panthers
  • Lions at Redskins
  • Rams at Cowboys
  • Packers at Bengals
  • Chargers at Titans
  • Buccaneers at Patriots
  • Browns at Vikings
  • Cardinals at Saints
  • Falcons at Dolphins
  • Colts at 49ers
  • Bills at Jets
  • Jaguars at Seahawks
  • Bears at Steelers
  • Raiders at Broncos

Season results:

  • Week 1: 11-5
  • Week 2: 12-4
  • Season: 23-9