Winning from the Dog House: Week 2
Well, Week 1 was a moderate success for this new column. As a quick rehash in case you predictably scrolled past last week's edition, this running column will highlight what each underdog team needs to do to win outright each week. Throughout the article I will predict three teams that will do just that.
Last week I predicted Carolina to upset Las Vegas (they didn't,) the Rams too upset the Cowboys (they did) and Green Bay to upset Minnesota (they did...handily.) The season long goal is a 40-percent win rate, considering I'm foregoing the spread. So a 2-1 start isn't too shabby. Let's get to it!
Cincinnati +6 @ Cleveland
Key #1: Forget last week. Cincinnati lost in heartbreaking fashion after a fairly admirable debut for Joe Burrow. That loss stings, but you can't let that loss spill over and spoil a pretty winnable Week 2 tilt.
Key #2: Contain the two headed monster in the Browns' backfield. Baker Mayfield from 2019 appears to be spilling into 2020. I don't know as if he's better than Joe Burrow is right now, let alone in the long run. However Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt can wear down a defense in a hurry.
Will it happen? Not quite. I expect this to be a very close game, and I wouldn't be surprised if I'm wrong here. I think this one comes down to the final few minutes, with experience being the difference maker. I don't know if this Bengal roster can overcome so much youth to win these type of close divisional games on the road just yet.
Philadelphia +1 vs. Los Angeles Rams
Key #1: Protect Carson Wentz. The Eagles' offensive line was terrorized by Washington last week. Washington has a pretty solid front, but they don't have Aaron Donald. Having Lane Johnson back should be a huge boost to the group, but Donald ends up in the backfield on most plays against even the best offensive lines.
Key #2: Contain the air raid. The Rams don't really want to be an air raid offense, but Sean McVay knows how to take advantage of a defense's weakness. I don't think you rely on the young backs this week. I expect the Rams to get the ball to their established play makers in Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Keep them at bay and the Eagles should pull this out.
Will it happen? Yes. This is a really tough pick for me, but there's not a lot of underdog picks to be confident in this week. I still believe in Wentz, and I don't see them letting their season get out of hand already. The addition of breakout candidate Miles Sanders to the lineup this week ends up being the difference.
Carolina + 9.5 @ Tampa Bay
Key #1: Feed Christian McCaffery. This has to be a key for the Panthers every week. He's one of, if not the most explosive players in the game. Let him do his thing.
Key #2: Keep Tom Brady from finding his rhythm. The Tampa offense that looks so pretty on paper struggled mightily against the Saints in Week 1. I don't expect that to happen all season, but Carolina is going to need it to last one more week.
Will it happen? No. I think it's more likely that Brady figures out his new surrounding cast faster than Teddy Bridgewater, who's also donning new colors this fall. A few big plays from father time to take an early lead, and Carolina not being built to play from behind end up deciding this one.
Denver +7.5 @ Pittsburgh
Key #1: Keep the Steelers front seven on their heels. This may be the best defense in football. You can't allow them to pin their ears back and come at Drew Lock from all angles like they did last week to Danny Dimes.
Key #2: Spread the ball around. I'm not a huge believer in Lock, but he's surrounded by playmakers. Get the ball into the hands of all that talent and minimize mistakes, and they could pull off the shocker.
Will it happen? No. The Steelers look primed for a playoff run this year on the backs of their elite defense, and Denver struggled to score on a lesser defense in Tennessee in Week 1. I see this one getting away from the Broncos early enough for Mason Rudolph to be taking snaps halfway through the fourth quarter.
Atlanta +4.5 @ Dallas
Key #1: Keep the Dallas offense from getting behind the defense. Atlanta allowed far too many big plays from Russell Wilson last week, and Dak Prescott has better playmakers. Keep everything in front of you and hold Dallas to under 30 points.
Key #2: Get the ball to Julio. Your weekly reminder that the veteran future hall-of-famer is good at football. Feed Jones early and often.
Will it happen? No. Dallas was upset last week, and with a bad taste in their mouth and their home opener coming up, against a struggling defense, Dallas takes this one as Dak Prescott looks more like the potential MVP candidate he looked like early last year.
New York Jets +7 vs. San Francisco
Key #1: Take advantage of a beat up squad. The Niners are obviously the better team, but they're banged up everywhere. The wide receivers are decimated. George Kittle is questionable, and Richard Sherman is headed to IR. The Jets can't beat them at their best, but this is far from their best.
Key #2: Make a big play early. The Jets just don't have any established playmakers you can rely on to win a game like this. They need a big score early. A pick-6, a blown coverage, a busted run by Frank Gore against his former team. Something to gain momentum, and then ride it for dear life.
Will it happen? No. The Jets might be the worst team in football. I can't predict them to win against the reigning NFC champions, banged up or otherwise.
Miami +5.5 vs. Buffalo
Key #1: Score three touchdowns. Not brain surgery here, but Buffalo is a big time defense, and I don't think they're going to give up 20-plus points very often this year. Miami needs this to be one of those times.
Key #2: Force mistakes from Josh Allen. The Jets couldn't do it last week. But Allen can be pressured into errant throws. And Miami has a fantastic corner tandem in Byron Jones and Xavier Howard. Snag a big play off an Allen miscue, and this one might be close.
Will it happen? No. The Bills are good.
Minnesota +3 @ Indianapolis
Key #1: Get early momentum. Possibly the most disappointing performance of Week 1 was the Minnesota Vikings. They never had a chance in that game. Get an early lead and prevent a here-we-go-again mentality.
Key #2: Play sound zone coverage. The Vikings don't have an elite secondary. The Colts and Phillip Rivers love to get their fast wide receivers running away from man coverage on crosser routes. Play zone, don't lose gap control and make them sustain long drives to beat you.
Will it happen? Yes. The Colts got upset in Week 1. Alongside that they lost Marlon Mack for the season. Jacksonville was able to move the ball at will against this defense with Gardner Minshew completing 95-percent of his passes and undrafted rookie running back James Robinson debuting for nearly 100 yards from scrimmage. You would think Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook can be effective against this team as well.
Detroit +6 @ Green Bay
Key #1: Air it out. Green Bay looked immaculate last week. They're gonna score. Matt Stafford and company are going to have to keep pace. They have the receivers to do it, but they need to be aggressive early and often. This is really the only key here. Try to win a shoot out, and you may have a punchers chance.
Will it happen? No. This wouldn't be the biggest upset of the week, but it's close. It's really hard to see Rodgers letting their home opener and a chance to go 2-0 in the division slip away.
New York Giants +5.5 @ Chicago
Key #1: Find a way to get Barkley the ball in space. Last week that was a tough ask of a young offensive line against the best defense in football on Monday night. But whether it's up the middle, screen passes, sweeps, SOMETHING to get Barkley going. Six yards is utterly unacceptable for such a talented back. Figure it out Jason Garrett. Your job depends on it.
Key #2: Blitz Mitch Trubisky. I still don't believe in Mitch, even after a fantastic showing in the fourth quarter of last week's game against the Lions. Pressure him and he will turn it over.
Will it happen? Yes. This actually should happen. The Giants have the better quarterback, the better running back and the better tight end. They should be able to score, and they should win the turnover battle. The Giants are supposed to be an improved team. They need to show it here.
Jacksonville +9 @ Tennessee
Key #1: Forget about last week. The Jags pulled the biggest upset of Week 1, beating the Colts as eight-point underdogs. They have to be feeling good about themselves, but that was one game, they can't get complacent. Tennessee has had their number in recent years. Stay focused Duval.
Key #2: Stop Derrick Henry. Derrick Henry puts on an absolute clinic any time he plays Jacksonville. This defense is an almost entirely new squad. They must contain Henry to under 120 yards to have a chance.
Will it happen? No. I REALLY wanted to pick my Jags to win last week, but trying not to be biased I went with the more experienced team. This will be an even tougher battle, and I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think this young squad is ready to win games like this... just yet.
Washington +6.5 @ Arizona
Key #1: Contain Kyler Murray. Murray put on a fantastic show with his arm as well as his legs in San Francisco last week. This Washington defense has to be feeling good about themselves, pitching a second half shutout against division foe Philadelphia last week, roaring back from 17 down. But Murray is a different beast. Oh and Hopkins is pretty good too i guess.
Will it happen? No, Arizona was just too impressive last week, on the road, against a much better team. I see them riding that momentum and putting together a nice win streak to start the 2020 season.
Houston +7 vs. Baltimore
Key #1: File a grievance with the NFL scheduling committee. Opening up against Kansas City and Baltimore back to back? Sheesh. They have to play both teams due to winning the AFC South last year, but back to back? Yikes.
Key #2: Protect Deshaun Watson. By any means necessary. The Texans appear to have the worst offensive line in football. Watson was running for his life far too often against a subpar pass rushing unit in Kansas City last week. This isn't just about this week. This is to protect your whole franchise. Keep the running backs and tight ends in block. Run a quick passing offense. Anything to keep Watson upright.
Will it happen? No. Due to a stout front seven and a struggling head coach/general manager in Bill O'Brien, Houston will not be able to protect Watson. Ravens big.
LA Chargers +8.5 vs. Kansas City
Key #1: Feed Keenan Allen. When the Chargers have the ball, Allen is the best player on the field. He needs 10-plus touches and multiple scores for Los Angeles to have a prayer in this one.
Key #2: Pressure Patrick Mahomes on every play. Sell out on the pass rush. Why not? The Chiefs can beat you 15 different ways. Don't sit back and let them do it easily. Bring Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on every play and see if you can create enough havoc to slow them down.
Will it happen? No. The Kansas City Chiefs are too good to predict losing to anybody right now.
New England +4 @ Seattle
Key #1: Shut down the Seattle passing game. Russell Wilson was damn near flawless last week. Google his stat line if you don't believe me. The New England secondary is far superior to Atlanta's so he shouldn't be able to completely route this defense. Seattle isn't the best running team. Stifle the receivers and you can slow this offense way down.
Key #2: Protect the ball. The Patriots have enough pop on offense to keep up in this game, but the young playmakers are turnover prone. Play smart, protect the ball, and win with the defense this week.
Will it happen? No. The addition of Cam Newton turned my Patriots record prediction from 5-11 to 9-7. Seattle is still better than that. And they're home.
Las Vegas +6 vs. New Orleans
Key #1: Be physical. The Raiders are nowhere near as talented as the Saints, even with Michael Thomas out. But the Raider way is to be the more physical team. Wear the Saints defense down with 25 touches for Jacobs, win the time of possession, and keep it close.
Key #2: Force a few three-and-outs after sustaining long drives. Going hand in hand with key #1, the Saints strike fast. The caveat to that is they have the potential to put their defense back on the field too soon after short drives. If the Saints' defense gets gassed, Vegas could pull this off.
Will it happen? Not quite. I actually predict this to be close. And I think the Raiders will threaten in the fourth quarter. But they come up just short at the end.
That's it for this week. Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to @ me in the comments!