Much like the Miami Dolphins, my picks went into the first week with a lot of hype and expectations. Like the Miami Dolphins, I eked out a tough win with more misses than expected. However, week two brings new hope for a 16-0 sweep of the picks. Let's get right to them.
Denver at Kansas City
Kansas City survived a late rally by the Texas to earn a victory in week one. QB Alex Smith played well, going 22-33 and 3 TDs (still none to a Chiefs WR). TE Travis Kelce was the offensive star with 6 catches, 106 yards and 2 TDs. They appear to have a potent offensive now to go along with their tough defense. The Chiefs defense picked up an INT and 5 sacks against the Texans. Their opponent also won, but in a much different fashion. The Broncos squeaked by the Ravens in a game where no offensive touchdowns were scored. That's rare and unusual, especially for a Peyton Manning led offense. Many speculated that Manning could be nearing the end of his career and it looked that way for much of that game. He finished 24-40, 175 yards (4.4 YPA), and 1 INT. The Broncos will have to hope Manning fares better this week, though the Chiefs can and will make him uncomfortable in the pocket. The Broncos faced a weaker Ravens offense last week, but still showed up defensively with 2 picks, 2 sacks, and limited the Ravens to 3.2 YPC on the ground. They'll have a tougher test this week. On a short week, defenses usually show up more and both teams are tough there. It's been a bad idea to pick against Manning in prime time games over his career, but after last week, you have to wonder if those days are over. The Chiefs look like the better team right now.
Chiefs 24 - Broncos 20
GAME OF THE WEEK
New England* at Buffalo
The Patriots* put up 28 points against the Steelers. That phrase used to mean something, but the Steelers may have the worst defense in the NFL. The Patriots* had no problem moving the ball and scoring against a considerably overmatched defense. That will NOT be the case against the Bills. The Bills' defense took it to the Colts, forcing QB Andrew Luck into various bad throws - 2 picks and a couple of dropped INTs. The Bills defense is strong on all levels and head coach Rex Ryan always seems to have a solid game plan against Belichick*. The Steelers were missing some offensive pieces, but were still able to move the ball against the Pats*. The Bills offense faced a similarly weak defense, but still put up some points, led by QB Tyrod Taylor, who went 14-19 for 195 yards and a TD. The TD was a 51 yard toss to Percy Harvin. The Bills added a rushing TD by rookie Karlos Williams (6-55-1). Starting RB LeSean McCoy had 17 carries, but only mustered 41 yards (2.4 YPC). The Pats* gave up plenty of yards to Deangelo Williams, and I'd expect that trend to continue against a better backfield. Add in the hype from beating the trendy Super Bowl pick Colts, another home game against a hated rival, the Bills could pull off a big win against the Pats*. The Pats* offense is better, but the Bills have the better defense. This game should be a fun chess match to watch.
Bills 21 - Patriots*20
Houston at Carolina
Brian Hoyer starter the game for the Texans but Ryan Mallett finished it. Mallett led the Texans on two scoring drives, but fell short against the Chiefs. He will get the start this week. The Panthers put up 20 points against the Jaguars but lost defensive star Luke Kuechly to concussion in the second half. The Panthers offense was just ok against the Jaguars. Newton threw a TD and an INT. The rushing attack was held to 3.0 yards per carry. The Texans face a weaker offense and a solid defense this week, but much depends on their offense. As a team, they rushed for 98 yards on 21 carries (4.7 YPC), so I would expect they'll try to use that to their advantage this week. Home teams were 10-6 last week and this game appears evenly matched, so home team gets the nod.
Panthers 20 - Texans 17
Arizona at Chicago
The Bears stayed competitive against Green Bay - holding a lead into the 4th quarter - before finally falling in the end. However, it was a division game and the Packers are without star receiver Jordy Nelson. The Bears still aren't a good team, but they should stay competitive in most games. The Cardinals beat the Saints at home with QB Carson Palmer looking strong, throwing 3 TDs. Their defense gave up a lot of yards, but that was to Drew Brees. They should have an easier task against the erratic Jay Cutler. The Bears will look to establish the ground game with Forte, who gained 141 yards and a TD on 24 carries. The Cardinals limited the Saints to 54 yards on 20 carries (2.7 YPC). The Cardinals are the better team right now and they should prevail against the Bears.
Cardinals 27 - Bears 17
San Diego at Cincinnati
The Bengals were the only AFC North team to win a game last week, beating up on the Raiders (literally). Running back Jeremy Hill scored two rushing TDs and tight end Tyler Eifert caught 2 TDs en route to a 33-13 victory. The Raiders lost starting QB Derek Carr and played backup Matt McGloin, so it's tough to judge the quality of the Bengals defense. San Diego prevailed in a tough contest against the Lions. QB Philip Rivers threw 2 TDs and 2 picks, while WR Keenan Allen racked week one leading 166 yards on 15 catches. The Charger defense yielded 21 points in the first half, but held Detroit scoreless until a garbage time TD late in the 4th quarter. This game could be a shootout and once again, I'm going with the home team.
Bengals 28 - Chargers 27
Tennessee at Cleveland
If breaking news, the NFL has canceled the 2015 season and given all of the awards to rookie QB Marcus Mariota. In all seriousness, Mariota had a phenomenal debut, throwing 4 TDs and earning a perfect passer rating (158.3) against the lowly Buccaneers. But that's the caveat: against the Bucs. The Titans face another lowly team in Cleveland this week, which lost to the Jets last Sunday. Unlike the Bucs, the Browns have a decent defense and should offer more of a challenge to the rookie QB. The Titans' defense picked off 2 passes, picked up 4 sacks, and held the Bucs to a 3.5 YPC average. Cleveland had a high YPC average as a team, but that came from the QBs. The RBs didn't account for many yards per carry, with primary back Isaiah Crowell getting 20 yards on 12 carries (1.7 YPC). Johnny Manziel will have to improve upon his performance if the Browns offense expects to get going. On defense, the Browns allowed 4.3 YPC, earned 0 sacks, and got one INT, that they promptly turned right back over to the Jets. The Browns are the home team, but the Titans look like the better team right now.
Titans 24 - Browns 21
Detroit at Minnesota
Minnesota was picked by many as a sleeper for the playoffs this season. They looked like anything but against the 49ers. Teddy Bridgewater looked very sharp towards the end of last season, but was making poor decisions and poor throws against what most considered a depleted Niners defense. Adrian Peterson missed most of last season and looked more than rusty. He wasn't running with the same vision or power that made him an elite back. The offense only scored a FG. Minnesota's defense gave up 230 yards on the ground at a 5.6 YPC average. That's not going to cut it against the Detroit backfield that has a new weapon in Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah only got 50 yards, but earned them on 7 carries, including a 24 yard scamper up the middle. The Lions have a ton of receiving weapons and the Vikings will have to find a way to generate pressure against Detroit's revamped offensive line. Despite losing most of their defensive front this offseason, the Lions allowed only 95 yards on 30 carries (3.2 YPC). They did allow 404 yards through the air, but can Bridgewater and the Vikings duplicate that. In this close division matchup, I'll stick with the home team in a close one.
Vikings 21 - Lions 20
Tampa Bay at New Orleans
The Bucs looked bad against the Titans. Jameis Winston's first NFL pass was a pick 6. They allowed 42 points to a 2 win team from last year and 4 of those TDs came through the air via the arm of a rookie QB. Now they go into the Super Dome to face Drew Brees and the Saints. The Saints defense isn't very good, but the offense should make this easy on them.
Saints 38 - Buccaneers 13
Atlanta at New York Giants
Atlanta surprised me on Monday night. I expected their offense to be solid, especially Julio Jones. But their offensive line, supposedly a major weakness, only allowed 1 sack and 3 QB hits against an aggressive Eagles defense. Rookie RB Tevin Coleman picked up 80 yards on 20 carries (4.0 YPC), but Atlanta's other rushers averaged less than 2 yards per carry. Atlanta finished last in defense last season, but only allowed 24 points to an Eagles team that looked poised to be an offensive juggernaut this season, getting two INTS and holding the Eagles to a 3.9 YPC average. The Giants meanwhile snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against division rival Dallas when Eli Manning forgot that scoring points is the primary, secondary, and tertiary goal of an offense. They wasted an otherwise decent defensive performance that picked off Tony Romo twice, a fumble returned for a touchdown, and held Dallas' rushing attack to a 3.5 YPC average. They didn't generate much pressure thanks to the Cowboys' offensive line, but they held a lead late in the game. The Giants offense wasn't particularly great as Manning went 20-36 for 193 yards. Odell Beckham Jr. had 5 catches for 44 yards. The Giants ran well, averaging 4.1 YPC, with Reshad Jennings leading the way (13-52-1). The best individual matchup in this game will be Desmond Trufant vs. OBJ. I think Atlanta does enough to steal a win on the road.
Falcons 27 - Giants 21
San Francisco at Pittsburgh
I said last week that the Niners had the worst offseason. While that's true, they overcame it to get a big home win against the Vikings. They ran the ball well, picking up 230 yards, led by sophomore RB Carlos Hyde (26-168-2). Colin Kaepernick wasn't special, but was efficient enough to move the sticks and let Hyde do the work. They stifled the Vikings aerial attack, but did allow the Vikings to average 4.1 yards per carry. The Steelers, as mentioned, have and will struggle on defense. They allowed Dion Lewis to pick up 69 yards on 15 carries (4.6 YPC) and they couldn't cover anyone. The Steelers will move the ball on the Niners and should be more effective in the red zone this game. This one could be a shootout, but the Steelers' defense is so bad and I don't see how they'll contain Hyde.
49ers 24 - Steelers 21
UPSET OF THE WEEK
St. Louis at Washington
Are you ready for a take so hot, it burns blue? The Redskins aren't as bad as people think. We all know what the Redskins did against the Dolphins, so I won't rehash it. They'll face another scary defensive front, so expect more of the same: lots of rushing and quick passes. The Rams picked up 6 sacks on the Seahawks en route to a huge upset win over the NFC champs. The Seattle O-line is terrible though and was overmatched against the Rams front. However, the Seahawks top two RBs, Marshawn Lynch and Fred Davis averaged 4.1 and 4.3 yards per carry respectively. Washington will be without DeSean Jackson, but Pierre Garcon should take up some of the slack. The Rams moved the ball through the air pretty well against Seattle's vaunted secondary, though it was clear that Kam Chancellor was missed. Washington likely won't have that kind of success. So why the upset? Because Washington looked competent against the Dolphins with Kirk Cousins at the helm. They will use the same strategy and run against the Rams. Meanwhile, the Rams are coming off a huge home win against a division opponent, have a matchup against the Steelers in week three, and therefore may overlook the Skins.
Redskins 17 - Rams 14
Baltimore at Oakland
The Ravens offense was atrocious against the Broncos. Joe Flacco is currently the owner of the lowest passer rating in the league at 38.2 (if he threw the ball in the dirt on every attempt, his passer rating would have been 39.6) and the lowest yards per attempt average in the league (3.66). Needless to say he was ineffective against the Broncos. Against Oakland, that probably won't be the case. The Raiders boast a pair of excellent pass rushers, but overall the defense is limited. The Ravens have limited options on offense, but they will likely use Forsett as much as they can. The Raiders may or may not have Derek Carr available and if not, McGloin isn't going to scare the Ravens. The Ravens will be without Suggs the rest of the season, but that shouldn't be an issue this week.
Ravens 20 - Raiders 10
Dallas at Philadelphia
Nothing says "Hey guys, I told you Sam Bradford is my guy!" like having him heave 52 pass attempts. The Eagles only ran the ball 16 times against the Falcons, and they'll need to increase that total unless they want Mark Sanchez to start again. After watching high dollar free agent CB Byron Maxwell get torched by Julio Jones on Monday night, the Eagles have to be glad that Dez Bryant is out this week. They couldn't contain the Falcons passing attack and they'll likely struggle to contain the Dallas passing attack, even without Dez Bryant. Likewise, the Cowboys will have to run more successfully than they did against New York, but that O-line should keep Romo clean most of the game. The Cowboys will need to play good defense to keep the Eagles from scoring, but they did well against OBJ, so they should fare well against the Eagles receivers. It's a division game so it should be close. I'm going with the home team.
Eagles 27 - Dallas 24
Seattle at Green Bay
This game should be very exciting to watch. Seattle's secondary versus Aaron Rodgers and his pass catchers will get top billing. However, the more pertinent matchup may be the GB defensive front against Seattle's offensive line. The Rams picked up 6 sacks against the Seahawks, but they have a very dominant front. GB's front isn't as good, but they have Peppers and Matthews, who they will use to generate pressure. GB has some weaknesses in the back seven, and Wilson may try to exploit that, especially with newly acquired target Jimmy Graham. They'll also need to limit Lynch and crew as best they can. On the other side, the talented Seattle secondary looked less than great against Nick Foles and the Rams. If they struggle in a similar fashion, Rodgers will move the ball at will against them, even without Nelson. This is a playoff level game in week two. Do the Packers prevail at home? Will the defending NFC champs fall to 0-2?
Packers 24 - Seahawks 21
New York Jets at Indianapolis
The Colts were the trendy Super Bowl pick from the AFC. They look much less than that after getting beaten by the Bills. Andrew Luck was under pressure constantly and made some terrible throws as result. The Jets, though maybe not quite as talented as the Bills defensively, will try to use pressure to get after Luck. The Jets brought back the old secondary with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie and they'll be used to put the clamps on the plethora of receivers the Colts can throw at them. The Colts defense isn't great and looked out of sorts against the Bills. The Jets have some weapons that may be able to take advantage of that defense. On paper, this looks like a poor choice for a Monday Night Football game. But this one should be closer than expected. Once again, I'm going with the home team.
Colts 24 - Jets 20
Miami at Jacksonville
Expectations were high for Miami. They fell well short of those expectations against the Redskins. And though the Redskins may not be as bad as expected, they're still not good. Ryan Tannehill was off. He made some big throws and missed some throws. I'm expecting he'll clean that up. The offensive line wasn't terrible, but they can improve. The defense was terrible and there's no way around it. They gave up too many yards on the ground and too many short passes. They need to do something about that. BUT... the Dolphins still found a way to win. Isn't that what the better teams do: ven on off days, they still find a way to win? It's not much, but away teams won 6 of 16 games last week and Miami was one of them.
Jacksonville, meanwhile, weren't that great either. Sophomore QB Blake Bortles was sketchy throughout the day, throwing 1 TD and 2 picks going 22-40 for 183 yards (4.6 YPA). He was sacked 5 times. Rookie RB T.J. Yeldon got the most carries, finishing with 51 yards on 12 carries (4.2 YPC). However, 27% of that yardage came on one 14 yard run. Allen Hurns was Bortles primary target, hauling in 5 catches for 60 yards. They had success stopping the Panthers on the ground, limiting them to 3.0 yards per carry. They picked up 2 sacks against the elusive Cam Newton.
This game will once again come down to run defense for Miami. If Miami can shut down the Jags rushing game and put the ball in the hands of Bortles, then they'll gain the advantage. If Jacksonville makes like Washington and controls the clock, Miami will lose that advantage. Defensively, I think that unit will watch the game film and make all the adjustments necessary. They have too much pride to get ran over again. Offensively Tannehill needs to be sharper. We know this; he knows this. I think he's still gaining trust in the offensive line and once he's more settled in the pocket, the big throws will come. Miller will get more touches this game and the OL needs to open some rushing lanes like they did in the second half. The playcalling needs to improve as well.
I predicted a blowout victory against the lowly Redskins and that didn't happen... lesson learned. Jacksonville made mistakes last season against Miami, but that game was closer than expected. I believe that we'll see another close game this week as Miami works out the kinks and Jacksonville is at home.
Dolphins 23 - Jaguars 20
Duke's Record: 10-6-0