You have to hand it to those NFL big wigs in corporate offices in New York. Likely more by design than by accident the league known for parity does its best to achieve just that through scheduling dynamics.
Although a team’s schedule for a season is known immediate after the conclusion of the prior season, the sequencing of the games on that schedule is left up to league officials. In their wisdom to facilitate policy the NFL gave us some very attractive matchups in week one.
To argue that a team faces a “must win” game in week three is absurd and obviously premature. Yes, it is important for an 0-2 team to avoid an 0-3 start but it’s too soon for any team to hit the panic button. Having cause for concern, however, is a different issue. And several teams have ample reason to be concerned.
Fans of Dallas and Minnesota have a right to be concerned, especially those in Big ‘D.’ The Cowboys have lost a pair of games in which they were favored against teams that were considered by the majority of observers to, at best, have shots at .500 seasons and were longshots to make the playoffs. At least the Vikings’ losses have been to a pair of teams with legitimate playoff chances, Miami and defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans. Of course that’s of small consolation to the Vikings and their fans.
Several surprise teams are 2-0, including Chicago, Kansas City and Tampa Bay. Of the trio the most likely to ride this start to a successful season is Chicago. They have a talented QB in Jay Cuter who disappointed in 2009. And they have a solid defense, especially up front. Kansas City was fortunate in beating both San Diego and Cleveland. But often those kind of wins can instill confidence in a team and momentum can build.
Here’s a look at the last full schedule of 16 games for a while as Byes begin next week for a quartet of teams.
Tennessee (+3½) at New York Giants (Over/Under 43): Both teams are off of losses last week but the spot greatly favors the Giants. Tennessee is playing their first road game of the season and just played a very physical game against Pittsburgh. Although QB Vince Young was pulled for Kerry Collins due to his ineffective play, Young should remain the starter. Add in that the Giants are off of a humiliating national TV loss at Indianapolis Sunday night we can expect a much better effort from the hosts. Although Tennessee has stud RB Chris Johnson the Giants have averaged just 7 fewer rushing yards per game through the first two weeks. NEW YORK GIANTS.
Buffalo (+13) at New England (42): Based on the first two weeks Buffalo may have the weakest offense in the NFL. True, they have faced the strong defenses of Miami and Green Bay. But the Bills’ offensive line appeared very overmatched and QB Trent Edwards is rather ordinary at best and Ryan Fitzpatrick may well be the starter for this contest. Buffalo is averaging just 176 yards per game. New England will be in an ornery mood after being shut out in the second half at the Jets last week and seeing a 14-10 halftime lead result in a 28-14 loss. As one would expect, the Pats have dominated the Bills over the past decade, winning 18 of 20 meetings and covering in 14 of them. They’ve won 13 in a row, covering in 10 of them including 6 of the last 7. Going against such a weak offense, expect New England to be extremely aggressive on offense. NEW ENGLAND.
Cleveland (+10½) at Baltimore 36½): All the hype surrounding Baltimore’s improved offense has yet be evident but opening the season against the solid defenses of the Jets and Cincinnati will mask that potential. You can’t give away wins in the NFL as the schedule is a very short 16 games. The Cleveland QB situation is questionable due to starter Delhomme’s injury that sidelined him last week but the Browns will be facing one of the league’s better defense. Under coach John Harbaugh the Ravens are 4-0 both straight up and ATS against the Browns, winning a pair of games last season by scores of 34-3 and 16-0. Off of a tough loss last week, expect a fully focused effort in the home opener. BALTIMORE.
Pittsburgh (-2) at Tampa Bay (34): Uncertainty surrounding the Pittsburgh QB situation keeps this game off the boards at many books on Monday morning as veteran Charlie Batch replaced Dennis Dixon in last week’s win at Tennessee after Dixon was injured. Both teams are 2-0 although the Steelers have beaten a pair of playoff quality teams (Atlanta and Tennessee) while the Buccs’ wins have been over Cleveland and Carolina. Both teams have been adept at creating turnovers this season and this game has all the makings of a game decided in the trenches with multiple time consuming drives by both teams. UNDER the Total.
Cincinnati (-3) at Carolina (39): After a one sided loss at New England to open the season the Bengals played an impressive game in defeating Baltimore last week, especially on defense. The Bengals are just 1-6 ATS as a road favorite since 2007 with 5 outright losses. The Panthers are desperate for a win and the Bengals have not fared well outside their Division. CAROLINA.
Atlanta (+6) at New Orleans (51): New Orleans returns home after playing at San Francisco Monday night. Atlanta rebounded from their OT loss at Pittsburgh with a resounding home win over Arizona last week. This had long been a series dominated by the road team but over the past decade New Orleans has won 13 of 20 meetings although the pointspread results have been more balanced. The Saints won both meetings last season but failed to cover in either as they were double digit favorites both times. Atlanta RB Michael Turner was banged up against Arizona but is listed as probable for this game. The Saints play an aggressive defense that when successful creates turnovers but when beaten gives up big plays. Both teams have well balanced offenses with Atlanta QB Matt Ryan maturing into the class of QB status that the Saints’ Drew Brees has already attained. The Total is high but the last 5 meetings have each produced between 48 and 62 points. OVER the Total.
San Francisco (pick ‘em) at Kansas City (38):San Francisco hosted New Orleans Monday night, seeking to rebound from an embarrassing season opening loss at Seattle. Alex Smith has yet to justify being the top draft choice in 2005. He has strong surrounding talent in RB Frank Gore, TE Vernon Davis and WR Michael Crabtree and perhaps Smith can still develop. But until then it’s best to look at the 49ers as a team that will win with defense. UNDER the Total.
Detroit (+10½) at Minnesota (42):While disappointing, Minnesota’s 0-2 start is understandable after facing a pair of quality teams (New Orleans and Miami). Now they step down in class to face a Division rival they’ve beaten 18 times in their last 20 meetings. While Detroit has been competitive in covering a number of recent encounters, and does appear improved this season, this is a poor spot for the Lions. The Vikings still have concerns at WR and QB Brett Favre showed his age last week against Miami. But things should be a bit easier here as the more time Favre has to work with his receivers to compensate for time missed over the summer, the better the results shall be. MINNESOTA.
Dallas (+3) at Houston (47): Though not a “must win” game for Dallas, a win here may be critical to Dallas’ success this season. A loss here could tear apart a locker room that seems void of leadership, certainly from supposed team leader QB Tony Romo. Dallas has moved the football but has had problems turning those yards into points. Houston is vulnerable on defense and the Cowboys should finally have success finding the end zone with some frequency. OVER the Total.
Washington (-3½) at St. Louis (38): This is a rematch of last season’s “thrilling” 9-7 win by Washington (yawn). This is also Washington’s first road game of the season and McNabb returns to Philly with his new team next week. The Rams should show improvement week to week behind rookie QB Sam Bradford although the offensive line needs to do a better job in protection. There are few winnable games on the Rams’ schedule this season. This is one of them. ST. LOUIS.
Philadelphia (- 3) at Jacksonville (44): There may be a QB controversy brewing in Philly although coach Andy Reid has proclaimed Kevin Kolb the starter this week even though Mike Vick performed exceptionally well after Kolb was injured in the season opener. RB Maurice Jones-Drew is an elite RB which should open things up for the Jags’ passing game against the Eagles and this could end up as the most entertaining, and highest scoring, game of the day. OVER the Total.
Indianapolis (-5) at Denver (48): To the surprise of nobody other than the bettors who bet the Colts down last Sunday, Peyton Manning led Indianapolis to a resounding win over the Giants following an opening loss at Houston. Reports of the Colts’ demise appear premature as long as Number 18 remains behind center. Denver rebounded from their week one road loss with an impressive home rout of Seattle. Against the Colts the game plans are usually to keep Manning the Indy offense as much as possible. Denver has had problems finding healthy running backs to establish ball control but they’ve developed an effective passing game as an alternative. Colts games almost always have higher than average totals but this game might not feature as many big plays and points as anticipated. UNDER the Total.
San Diego (-5½) at Seattle (44) :Both teams are 1-1 after San Diego routed Jacksonville last week in a game that featured 9 turnovers. Seattle was outclassed on the road in Denver after they’d upset San Francisco on this field in their opener. The Chargers are clearly the more talented team. Divisional rivals prior to 2002 realignment, they’ve not faced each other since 2006 but there is a long history of very competitive games. When healthy, Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck is as solid a quarterback as any in the game. Despite the win over the Jags, San Diego remains a notoriously slow starter under coach Norv Turner which makes laying points on the road in what is historically a strong home field a risky proposition. SEATTLE.
Oakland (+4) at Arizona (39): After a dull win at St. Louis and a blowout loss last week in Atlanta, the Cardinals open their home season this week. Oakland also has a narrow win over the Rams which followed a one sided loss in their opener at Tennessee. Oakland’s savior QB, Jason Campbell, was pulled in the 16-14 win over St. Louis and thus perhaps creating yet another controversy in one of the NFL’s most dysfunctional locker rooms. Established class, more playmakers and an edge in coaching all point towards the Cards putting forth a huge effort following that embarrassing 41-7 loss in Atlanta. ARIZONA
New York Jets (+1) at Miami (35): This game involves some very interesting scheduling dynamics as Miami plays their first home game of the season and the Jets take to the road for the first time. The Jets got a much needed confidence boosting win over New England on Sunday, the team Miami hosts next Monday. Miami started the season with a pair of road wins and has had the Jets’ number of late, winning and covering the last 3 in the series after the Jets had won 8 of 9. The line suggests that on a neutral field the Jets are the better team but over the entirety of the roster these teams appear pretty even. MIAMI.
Green Bay (-3) at Chicago (47): :This early season showdown has these long time bitter rivals tied at 2-0. Chicago’s offense has already felt the impact of OC Mike Martz as Jay Cutler is averaging over 300 passing yards per game. Converting those yards into points was less an issue in Dallas last week than it was at home vs. Detroit in the season opener. Green Bay has one of the league’s most potent offenses but has concerns about their running game after RB Ryan Grant was lost for the season in week one. The Bears defense has been outstanding against the run and given the Pack’s issues in this area could allow the Chicago pass defense to be more aggressive. A weaker Bears team lost by just 6 and 7 points to Green Bay last season in a competitive series that has seen the teams split their last 8 meetings. CHICAGO.