2017 NFL Picks: Week 2
Last Week: 2-6 (recap to come)
I was too slow to get my picks summarized and posted for Week 1, largely due to exemplary hospitality on a trip Kat and I made with some friends to Napa Valley last weekend. I've written multiple QQ pieces with some liquid assistance, especially our Bachelor content, but neither NFL picks nor gambling mix well with alcohol (that's why Vegas gives you free drinks!). My results from last weekend reflect that. I somehow fell victim to both Alex Smith and Sam Bradford throwing deep, and the Cardinals fell apart after an early pick-six against the Lions. 2017 continues to be weird.
There are two pieces of good news, though: first, the wine in Napa really is delicious, as is the fried chicken (I know, I was surprised too). Second, Week 1 games open the door for wild overreactions, leading to some of the most interesting lines of the season. If you don't believe me, go back and look at that Washington-Los Angeles line; you're getting points against Jared Goff. If you have the chance to pick a real team getting points against Jared Goff, take it. Let's dive in!
Houston Texans +5.5 at Cincinnati Bengals
The Thursday Night Football game this week lived down to expectations in a spectacular way. Pitting one team with a rookie quarterback against another with a quarterback playing like a rookie, both behind shoddy offensive lines, sounded like a nightmarish demonstration of incompetence, hopefully punctuated with defensive or special teams touchdowns for flavor. We got a 49-yard touchdown run from Deshaun Watson, but otherwise this game was a slog. Neither team topped 300 yards of offense, we got just one turnover (a fumble on a WR reverse), and 16 punts. At least I got the pick right!
Tennessee Titans -1.5 at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Titans were preseason darlings before losing to Oakland by 10 points at home. The Jaguars were off-season winners (again) mired in mediocrity by virtue of their quarterback, Blake Bortles. Their Week 1 result, a 29-7 win over the Texans, has this line almost even. Let's throw some cold water on the face of public opinion by digging into that performance more closely.
Houston finished 30th in offensive DVOA last year and played last week without Duane Brown, their best offensive lineman. The Jaguars registered 10(!) sacks and recovered three fumbles. On the other side of the ball, rookie Leonard Fournette looked competent, but Blake Bortles went 11-for-21 for 125 yards (under 6 yards per attempt) with one touchdown. Tennessee was a demonstrably better team than Houston last year (13th in total DVOA versus 29th), and they are this year, too. They'll get their season on track with some help from Bortles.
Washington Redskins +2.5 at Los Angeles Rams
The Rams beat the Colts 46-9 last week, and I'm indebted to their defense for sparking my fantasy team to a Week 1 victory. More intriguingly, second-year QB Jared Goff went 21-for-29 for 306 yards (over 10 YPA) and didn't turn the ball over. I'm very happy for the five Los Angeles Rams fans in the world who now have a glimmer of hope that the 2016 #1 overall pick might not be a complete bust; unfortunately, beating a Colts team that finished 29th in defensive DVOA last season and started Scott Tolzein at quarterback barely counts. Washington wasn't exactly inspiring in their loss to the Eagles last week, but underdogs against L.A.? Let's go ahead and suplex that hype train. Show us the way, Captain Kirk!
New Orleans Saints +7 vs. New England Patriots
Last week the normally-potent Saints offense was held in check by the Minnesota Vikings while the Patriots lost in stunning fashion to the Kansas City Chiefs. I got burned by Alex Smith and Sam Bradford, which I just can't bring myself to think I could have seen coming. The Saints defense appears to be trash yet again, unsurprising to anyone who has followed the NFL in the last ten years. The Patriots inability to corral Andy Reid's offense is more surprising, and I think the Saints will take advantage. I expect the Patriots to win, but covering seven points in New Orleans without generating pressure on Drew Brees? Give me the home team and the touchdown.
Arizona Cardinals -7 at Indianapolis Colts
I picked the Cardinals last week, and they lost both the game and David Johnson. It's about as bad a start to the year as Arizona could have had. Luckily for them, if you scroll up a bit, you'll see my evaluation of the Colts; the Cards' defense is still stacked with talent, and they'd have to be hit by the Space Jam aliens to struggle against Scott Tolzein or Jacoby Brissett. This one will turn into a blowout early.
Philadelphia Eagles +5.5 at Kansas City Chiefs
The Eagles and Chiefs both impressed in Week 1, and I don't think the gap between them is enormous. Philadelphia's defense is miles ahead of New England's, and their pass rush coupled with a more conservative game plan from Andy Reid could force Alex Smith to revert to his old check-down ways. On the other side of the ball, Eric Berry's absence will give Carson Wentz a little more wiggle room to keep the game close. If the game is low-scoring, and I think it will be, I'll take the points.
Minnesota Vikings +5.5 at Pittsburgh Steelers
Sam Bradford is not turning the corner at the age of 29. With the defense they've assembled in Minnesota and the addition of rookie Dalvin Cook, though, he doesn't need to in order to keep the Vikings in games. Last year, Minnesota started the season 5-0 before offensive line injuries and strange drama in the secondary submarined their season. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, dealt me a Week 1 loss, edging the Browns by just three points (the spread was nine). Much has been made of the Steelers' offense being at full strength for the first time since 2015, but their offense has quietly been just okay since the middle of last season, and Martavis Bryant had to sit out all of the 2016 season. They'll need to recapture the magic of the 2015 season to beat the Vikings by more than a touchdown.
Dallas Cowboys -2 at Denver Broncos
Dallas picked up right where they left off, easily vanquishing their 2016 nemesis, the Giants, in Week 1. They still boast what is likely the best offensive line in football, and Dak Prescott looked comfortable working behind them and their powerful run game. Denver's defense is still great, but they've slipped a bit since their 2015 Super Bowl heights in terms of both on-field talent and coordinator pedigree. They still finished #1 in defensive DVOA in 2016, but slipped from 4th against the run in 2015 to 21st last year. I'm not a huge fan of Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, but I expect him to be smart enough to take advantage of that disparity unless the game starts to get out of hand. Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian...hasn't proven himself capable of making that happen.
Green Bay Packers +3 at Atlanta Falcons
A rematch of the 2016 NFC Championship game, in which I picked the Packers +4. They lost by 23. This version of the Packers is much healthier, though, and the Falcons are without last season's offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Evidence of a "Super Bowl hangover" effect is dubious at best, but I wasn't blown away by Atlanta's near-loss to Mike Glennon and my Bears last week. I think this game will more resemble these teams' Week 8 meeting from last season, but with Aaron Rodgers coming out on top.
Detroit Lions +3 at New York Giants
Growing up in Michigan, I've spent a large chunk of my life telling my friends to temper their expectations for the Lions while marveling at their stubborn optimism. I'll be doing the same again this season, but the Giants without Odell Beckham, Jr. are a complete disaster (5.1 yards per play) on offense. Couple that with a bit of regression from the Giants defense that jumped from 30th in DVOA in 2015 to 2nd in 2016, and I think the Lions will win this one. Besides, starting 2-0 sets Detroit up to crush their fans in a more painful way than 1-1 would!
That's all for this week! Kick back, relax, and feel free to blame me if you put money on these picks and come out behind. I won't compensate you, but maybe your significant others will send their wrath in my direction instead of yours.