Week 2 NFL picks: Can the Chiefs stage an upset?
By MARIO MERGOLA
Prior to the first games of the NFL season, one clear theme existed throughout the league: the unknown. Is Julio Jones healthy? Are the Seahawks as good as we remember? Are the Titans as bad?
With exactly one game allowed for each team to answer these questions, the second week of NFL action holds the next logical progression of thought: overreaction.
In Week 1, the goal was to try to find the games that were most subject to flawed thinking based off last year's results. This time, we aim to tackle those skewed by only sixty minutes of football.
Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team and an asterisk denotes one of the week's most confident picks.
*Confidence Picks: 4-2 (Season: 4-2)
All Picks Against Spread: 7-8-1 (Season: 7-8-1)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5)
When looking for examples of teams being quickly labeled as 'overrated' or 'underrated', one need not look any further than this week's opening matchup. The Ravens played arguably the most despicable three quarters of football on Sunday, while Pittsburgh shined for the first half of its victory over Cleveland. Both teams balanced out by the end of their respective games and, perhaps, gave a small glimpse of what to expect when they meet on Thursday night.
Possibly the biggest factor in the Ravens' mindset going into Thursday is the media storm swirling around Baltimore following the release of Ray Rice after a video surfaced that featured the running back hitting his wife (then-fiancee) in an Atlantic City elevator. Moments of public scrutiny often give the perception of a 'distraction' for the team, but fail to materialize on the field.
Baltimore rallies around the players over-saturated with interviews in the past few days and finds a way to win by a field goal and cover on their nationally televised home opener.
Miami Dolphins (-1)* at Buffalo Bills
Responsible for two of Week 1's biggest upsets (and two of our favorite picks from last week), the Dolphins and Bills square off in this divisional matchup. It's hard to argue which victory was more impressive - the Bills winning on the road or the Dolphins knocking off the reigning AFC East champions - but Sunday's game should go a long way towards determining if either team's 1-0 start was a fluke.
Quality of Opening Day wins aside, the question deserves to be asked: which team should have the better season? A 2-0 Dolphins team seems a lot more plausible than a 2-0 Bills team. Miami wins and covers, probably by a touchdown.
New Orleans Saints (-6.5) at Cleveland Browns
For the second straight game, Cleveland finds themselves on the receiving end of six and a half points. Last week, the decision to give the points was admittedly against the trend of division underdogs on the road. Evidence of this could be found by Cleveland's ability to mount an impressive second-half comeback, only to be cut short in the final minute.
Even though the Browns will be playing in front of their home crowd, they won't enjoy the same level of familiarity as they did with the division rival Steelers. Factor in New Orleans' gut-wrenching loss in Atlanta, and you have all the makings of a big road win. Saints win by 10 and cover.
Atlanta Falcons (+5.5) at Cincinnati Bengals
Like most of the games from Opening Day, it's tough to argue if Cincinnati's defense looked as good as they did because of their own talent or Baltimore's lack thereof. Regardless, one thing that could not be overlooked was Matt Ryan's ability to keep his team alive via multiple late-game comebacks.
The Falcons are notoriously difficult to beat at home, but they could make the argument of being great wherever they play with a statement win in Cincinnati on Sunday.
Falcons win by four on a late touchdown and beat the spread.
Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers (-2.5)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quickly turned into the hot pick of the week immediately upon the report that Panthers quarterback Cam Newton would be inactive. But how did Carolina respond to this news? Suffocating defense and a three-score lead that made a Tampa Bay potential comeback fun to watch, but difficult to materialize.
Dating back to last season, the Panthers have done enough to prove that their defense is a legitimate force that should keep them in every game. After Detroit pounded the Giants on Monday night, it wouldn't be surprising for them to pull out the road victory in Carolina.
What's less surprising, however, would be for the Panthers' defense to keep Detroit in check long enough for them to pull away. Panthers win by a touchdown and cover.
Dallas Cowboys at Tennessee Titans (-3.5)
Lost in the upset in Kansas City is the hidden theory that the Titans might actually be this year's sleeper team. Tennessee might have the talent, quarterback, and coaching staff to put together a playoff-bound season, but it would have to include early wins against teams like the Cowboys.
Dallas won't be facing the same caliber offense as that of the 49ers, but they have proven to be as bad as advertised. They struggle again this week, as the upstart Titans win by a touchdown and cover.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+6) at Washington Redskins
For the first half of their game in Philadelphia, the Jaguars looked like they would not only beat the double-digit spread, but win outright. A collapse in the second half coupled with an explosion from the Eagles eventually restored order to the universe, leaving the Jaguars 17 points behind as time expired.
Turnovers by the Eagles could certainly be attributed to the Jaguars hanging around as long as they did, but there is little to think that Washington will protect the ball any better than Philadelphia. Neither team seems good enough to pull away from the other and, if one of the two showed anything about which to get excited, it was Jacksonville for a brief time.
The Redskins win by default, but the Jaguars beat the spread. Washington by three.
New England Patriots at Minnesota Vikings (+3.5)
Certainly, there is a trap brewing in Minnesota. Even if one expects the Patriots to have a down season, it is difficult to foresee a situation in which they would lose back-to-back games to the Dolphins and Vikings.
Minnesota looked dynamic and impressive as they steamrolled the Rams in the second half of their Opening Day game, but comparisons between St. Louis and New England should be made with hesitation.
Logic says the Patriots will not lose on Sunday, but the numbers say that it will be closer than people think. Patriots win by three. Vikings beat the spread by the half point.
Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants (-1)
The two teams that looked furthest apart on Monday Night Football will meet at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. The Giants' offseason storyline focused mainly on the team's new offensive scheme and their inability to execute it properly. After sixty minutes of play in Detroit, New York did little to alleviate any of those concerns.
Arizona may have opened its season with a late come-from-behind win hours after the Giants were thrashed by the Lions, but the trip to New York won't include a raucous home crowd. Without the fanfare of a Monday Night home opener, and factoring in the 1 p.m. East Coast game time for a team from Arizona, a letdown for the Cardinals is in the works.
The Giants did nothing to deserve being favored against any team, but there are too many red flags in a game featuring a team who was just embarrassed on national television. Giants win by four and cover.
St. Louis Rams (+5.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As bad as the Buccaneers looked for fifty minutes of football, the Rams outdid them for sixty. In perhaps the worst showing on Opening Day, St. Louis looks like the team least deserving to get any support in week two. Pick any player on the Rams as the key to their success. Shaun Hill? 81 yards, an interception, and an injury. Zac Stacy? 43 rushing yards on 11 attempts.
Anyone else? Penalties, interceptions, fumbles (mercifully, none lost), and five sacks allowed.
Keep in mind, however, that Tampa Bay was matching St. Louis every step of the way for the 'Worst Performance in a 2014 Home Opener Award'. Prestigious as it may be, Tampa Bay lost. But barely.
In what should be the pillow fight of the week, Tampa Bay wins, but St. Louis beats the spread.
Kansas City Chiefs (+13.5)* at Denver Broncos
The perfect matchup for the theme of the week. The Chiefs lost at home to the Titans. Call it a surprise if you will, but even if Tennessee ends up proving to be a terrible team, overreacting to Kansas City's loss is short-sighted. The Broncos looked unstoppable for much of Sunday Night, but Kansas City is no stranger to playing in Denver. After suffering two big losses at the hands of the eventual AFC West champion in 2013, Kansas City will be looking for revenge in the young season.
A division team on the road getting double-digit points is always worth a second look. A team coming off a disappointing Opening Day following an eleven-win season is even more enticing. Kansas City cannot afford to fall to 0-2, and it's hard to imagine the Chiefs don't clean up their turnovers and do a better job to establish their running game.
The confident pick here is that the Chiefs beat the obscenely large spread for a division game. They find a way to limit the Denver receivers and allow the Broncos' running game to provide the offense. While that gameplan yields a large time of possession for Denver, it also helps curb their ability to score quickly and put Kansas City away early.
The Chiefs beat the spread in a game that ultimately gets decided by a field goal. Upsets occur when a team hangs around longer than they should. Once the game hinges on a single scoring play, the teams are much more balanced than before. The Chiefs prevail and win by three.
New York Jets (+8.5)* at Green Bay Packers
Had the Jets played the same game on Sunday (11 penalties – third most in the league) against almost any other team, they would most likely be entering this week's game with an 0-1 record. Ironically, the opposite could be said for the Green Bay Packers and their 20-point loss to the defending Super Bowl Champions.
As the theme of week two continues to circle around 'overreaction', there may be no teams more impacted by public perception than the Packers and Jets. Generally speaking, it is assumed and expected that Seattle is a very good team while Oakland is not. Neither the 'real Jets' nor 'real Packers' have played their games yet.
Removing the analysis of each team's first game as a metric for how they will compete against each other, the Packers remain poised to be the better team, while the Jets have the better defense. These are simple observations, clearly, but the focus for this game is to remove the skewed results of playing teams like the Seahawks and Raiders and narrow it down to its core.
The Jets' defense is good enough – even without proven cornerbacks – to keep them in the game to the end. The Packers win by a touchdown, but the Jets beat the spread.
Seattle Seahawks at San Diego Chargers (+5.5)*
If there is one thing consistent in San Diego, it is its propensity for playing close games. In 2013, nine games were decided by one score (eight points) or less, yet the team managed to only win three. With an unforgiving starting schedule of Arizona and Seattle, the Chargers will have to pull of an upset to avoid a quick 0-2 hole to start the season.
San Diego is good enough to play this game to the end, but Seattle continues to defy conventional wisdom week in and week out. The offseason has done nothing to alleviate its dominance.
The Chargers play one of their prototypical close games and lose by a late field goal but beat the spread.
Houston Texas (-2.5) at Oakland Raiders
If the Jets are docked style points for beating the Raiders, so too should the Texans suffer for knocking off the Washington Redskins. Luckily for them, their next opponent appears to be no stronger than their last.
This week, Houston announced that its first overall pick from this year's draft, Jadeveon Clowney, underwent knee surgery and will be sidelined for approximately four to six weeks. The injury is a big blow to the overall look of the defense on a grander scale, but should have little impact on any one individual game, especially with a schedule begging for a 2-0 start to the season.
Houston was able to take care of Washington with a double-digit win, and there's no reason it can't do the same in Oakland. Texans win by two scores and cover.
Chicago Bears (+7.5)* at San Francisco 49ers
The Bears losing to the Bills, coupled with the 49ers dominating the Cowboys, set up a Sunday Night Football matchup in which all the arrows are pointing towards San Francisco. Not to be overlooked is that Sunday Night's primetime event is also the unveiling of the 49ers' new stadium. The fanfare will only add to their intensity.
Much like the first Sunday Night Football game of the season that featured the Colts and Broncos, it takes a solid team to make the Bears a touchdown underdog after only one week of action. The Bears should be better than the Cowboys this year, and they appear to be largely undervalued in this matchup.
What seals the deal is the primetime audience. Nationally televised night games get the biggest audience and the most attention. If a game seems too obvious – and it's drawing the attention of the entire nation – it probably is. San Francisco wins by six as Chicago beats a forgiving spread.
Philadelphia Eagles (+3) at Indianapolis Colts
If one takeaway existed from the Eagles overcoming a 17-point halftime deficit to the lowly Jaguars, it is that they will take nothing for granted going forward. The Colts are a far superior team to their division foes from Jacksonville, but they showed glaring weaknesses defensively throughout their game in Denver. It was only late in the game, when Denver failed to move the ball with some predictable play-calling, that Indianapolis showed some real signs of life.
With one year and one game under their belts using Chip Kelly's offense, the Eagles should have worked out most of the issues from their Opening Day stumble out of the gate. Philadelphia's offense will wear down the Colts' defense and, even though Andrew Luck will keep it close, the Eagles win by a touchdown.
Report card: How the top draft-picks played in Week 1
Second-half comebacks stole the show
Roger Goodell discusses Ray Rice suspension
Week 2 power rankings
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