2018 NFL Picks Week 2: Walking the Line Between Over-Reaction and Obstinance
Last Week: 6-4 (like the Browns, a depressing “best start in some time” result)
Takeaways from Week 1 of the NFL season are treacherous. This time last year, the Patriots managed just 27 points against the Chiefs, the Raiders won by double-digits over the playoff-bound Titans, and the Bears and Browns both kept games close against teams who finished with 10+ wins. Of course, the Rams also announced their new-look (and Jeff Fisher-less) offense with a 46-point outburst, the Jaguars’ defense looked dominant, and the Eagles looked like a complete team. In making these Week 2 Picks we’ll examine the Week 1 results to see what’s gold and what’s pyrite.
Washington Redskins -5.5 vs. Indianapolis Colts
All Colts fans could hope for last week was a strong performance from Andrew Luck, seeing their franchise QB regain his pre-injury form. They got what they hoped for, but they shouldn’t get greedy. Their defense still looked poor (24th in DVOA) and gave up an average of 5.0 yards per carry while their own running backs managed 3.2. Neither bodes well as they pack up and head to Washington, where their best hope may be a freak storm rendering the field slow and sloppy. Washington looked dominant in a 24-6 road victory over last season’s 4th-ranked defense, racking up 182 yards on the ground and, on the other side of the ball, holding David Johnson under 5.0 yards per touch. I’m buying into Washington’s Week 1 performance, and Indianapolis has too many holes on their roster to measure up.
Carolina Panthers +5 at Atlanta Falcons
I made this pick before I realized Keanu Neal and Deion Jones were both on the IR, and since then the line has shifted to…Carolina plus-6? Was everyone else watching a different Matt Ryan than I was? The one I saw was dreadful in the red zone (again) and generally inaccurate (like, below 50% inaccurate). The Falcons have owned this matchup of late, winning four of the last five meetings and each of the last two in Atlanta by double-digits. I thought something was missing in their Week 1 loss to Nick Foles, and with the injuries to their defense I don’t see them staying a touchdown ahead of Cam Newton and Co. even if they get an early lead.
Kansas City Chiefs +5 at Pittsburgh Steelers
I actually think both teams put on “real” performances in Week 1. The Chiefs offense is electric with their skill-position players and Andy Reid calling plays, and the Steelers look like an inconsistent mess (especially on the road) for the second straight year. Roethlisberger was sloppy, and while he’s been better at home in years past, I don’t like banking on sudden turnarounds for 36-year old quarterbacks with new offensive coordinators. I won’t be surprised if the Steelers win (they’ve won 4 out of 5 against Andy Reid in K.C.) but I think the Chiefs can keep up.
Philadelphia Eagles -3 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I’m pretty sure Ryan Fitzpatrick’s performance in New Orleans last week was an illusion; perhaps you prefer the term “fitzmagic”. Whatever your tastes, the Harvard (did you know he went to Harvard?!) grad has bounced between surprising effectiveness and Peterman-esque comedy for years. The Saints defense was bound for some regression after improving dramatically last year, and the Eagles won’t be blowing as many man-on-man assignments. I’m not thrilled about picking Nick Foles on the road, but at least he’ll be facing 2017’s 32nd-ranked defense. I wonder how the Bucs grade out on covering quarterbacks…
New Orleans Saints -8 vs. Cleveland Browns
Speaking of the Saints, this slow start on defense business has become a bit of a trend. Luckily, the Browns offense can make anyone look competent. Cleveland had a turnover margin of +5 against Pittsburgh last week, and they scored just 21 points. How, you ask? By averaging less than 5.0 yards per rush and per pass attempt. Their offensive line gave up seven sacks, and they only converted five of eighteen third downs. Myles Garrett is a stud, but this defense has a ways to go before they can lock down an offense like the Saints’ enough to keep pace.
Los Angeles Chargers -7 at Buffalo Bills
Buffalo’s performance last week was real. They started Nathan Peterman and grew tired of him by the end of the first half (sound familiar?). Their defense gave up 47 points (40 through three quarters), the most Baltimore has scored since 2014. Now they face another team with playoff hopes, albeit one with a recent history of massively underwhelming. Still, until Josh Allen hits a guy in the chest with a screen pass or the Bills stay within a touchdown of an opponent, I’m comfortable giving them a touchdown.
Minnesota Vikings +1 at Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is very real, to my dismay. He’s also really injured, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who watched his knee bend uncomfortably in Week 1 under the weight of a very large man. Minnesota’s defense hardly needs help, and if DeShone Kizer gets extended playing time this week I don’t see it going much better than it did against the Bears. This week the Packers defense will be playing against a legitimate NFL quarterback and one of the best wide receiver tandems in the game instead of Mitch Trubisky. I’d be hesitant with Rodgers at 100%, but I love the Vikings as underdogs with him on one leg.
Los Angeles Rams -13 vs. Arizona Cardinals
I don’t know if we saw anything encouraging from the Cardinals in Week 1, and the Rams haven’t treated them kindly under Sean McVay; Los Angeles won their two meetings last year by a combined score of 65-16. Aaron Donald will be shoving offensive linemen backwards into the skittish feet of Sam Bradford from the jump, and the Rams’ offense should pick up right where they left off last year.
San Francisco 49ers -5.5 vs. Detroit Lions
The Niners kept their game in Minnesota closer than the final score would indicate, but ultimately they were undone by big turnovers. Detroit’s defense is okay in the takeaways department, but their pass rush and overall talent level is miles away from Minnesota’s. I expect Jimmy GQ to bounce back with the help of a massive coaching advantage (Kyle Shanahan’s offense against Matt Patricia’s defense? Where have we seen that before…) and it will be up to Matt Stafford and Jim Bob Cooter to keep pace. Unless they make some drastic adjustments, they won’t be able to. Did I mention Stafford had to leave the game in Week 1 as well? I don’t doubt his toughness, but taking hits like this have to add up.
New England Patriots -3 at Jacksonville Jaguars
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick against the NFL’s best defense. Blake Bortles and Doug Marrone against the NFL’s worst defense. These were the matchups in last year’s AFC Championship game, and not much has changed. Leonard Fournette is injured again, the Jaguars’ defense is responsible for carrying them to victory, and the Patriots dispassionately dispatch their foes with unstoppable offense and just enough defense. Of course, there’s reason to believe the New England defense has improved some (for one, Matt Patricia is gone), and I don’t see anyone suggesting Bortles has made a leap. Until further notice, keep taking the Patriots when they’re favored by three points or fewer.
Yax’s Contrarian Take: A common gambling adage says not to bet against a home underdog. Usually these sorts of rules are just guidelines that you can choose to follow, or if you think you know the game better, you can spit in the face of.
After the Jets and Fitzpatrick-led Bucs came out and looked like world-beaters, I've given up thinking that I understand football. All I know is this adage.
Therefore, why wouldn't Bortles and Co. lay the smack down on the Pats in The Swamp? They almost beat them at Gillette last year. Also apparently Ramsey has been in Patriot flavor of the week, Phillip Dorsett's, head for like six years
Revenge of the Jags. Also the Patriots need that one game this year where everybody asks themselves if Tom Brady is just too dangum old to do this any more.
I got the Jags OUTRIGHT.
Seattle Seahawks +3 at Chicago Bears
The Bears looked great against DeShone Kizer last week and pretty okay against Aaron Rodgers. Russell Wilson is closer to the latter than the former, though I’m concerned for his health after watching Mack play in a Bears uniform for the first time. Really this comes down to the Bears’ quarterback, and I still have no faith in Mitch Trubisky. I hope he proves me wrong, but averaging 4.89 yards per attempt against last season’s 20th-ranked defense doesn’t bode well. I think the game stays close, and between Russell Wilson’s scrambling and a revenge game for Brandon Marshall, the Seahawks come out on top.
Yax’s Contrarian Take: Shame on the author for this one. Not one week ago we were talking about the demise of said Seattle Seahawks. "Their defense is old and porous," we said. "They have no offensive line," we muttered. The Bear's defensive front is going to win this game because Khalil Mack is a monster-man. Also it's being played in Chicago's Spaceship (see above adage-following,) and I don't think any amount of Jordan Peterson lectures are going to save that Seattle offense.
Wilson was sacked 6 times last week, and I expect something similar is in store for him this week.
That's all for my picks. Also whatever the line on the DET @ SF game is, I'm taking the 49ers. Curse football. Curse it forever.
Cincinnati Bengals +1 vs. Baltimore Ravens
I was bullish on the Bengals last week, and it took a late fumble-six to really put the Colts away. The Ravens, meanwhile, decimated the Buffalo Bills in a way that made people wonder again if Joe Flacco is good. The 2018 Bills aren’t a useful measuring stick for anything NFL-related, so I’m comfortable looking past their easy victory and focusing on the matchup. The Bengals have won five of their last six home games against the Ravens, and seven of the last nine overall. I’ll take the solid defense getting points at home against Joe Flacco ten times out of ten.
Yax’s Contrarian Take: I'm going Baltimore here. They get me every year. I think I know Baltimore. I watch Joe Flacco and try not to puke. I think the Ravens are terrible, and that they're getting worse every year. But, not this week. This has been the week of my internal Lee Corso telling me, "NOT SO FAST, MY FRIEND."
I'm already over the adage. It doesn't work for this home dog. The "home dog" strategy is a thing of the past now.
Cincinnati beat down maybe the worst defense in history last week. Andy Dalton still threw a pick to "K Moore" on the Colts. It wouldn't surprise me if that was Kellen Moore. You can't say FOR SURE that it wasn't him because you can't name a single player on the Colts defense.
Baltimore has an actual defense and they will win by 7. I'm getting more specific. My perceived knowledge of football is returning. Glory be!
That's all for this week! Kick back, grab a drink, 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.