It's Cassel's ball

Sep 9, 2008 7:05 PM

Pigskin Picks by Andy Iskoe |

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For much of this decade the New England Patriots have been the class of the NFL, the model organization others would try to emulate in an attempt to achieve a comparable level of success.

The Pats’ early success was a combination of some unlikely factors, beginning with the insertion of ex-Michigan quarterback Tom Brady into the starting lineup after starter Drew Bledsoe was lost early in the 2001 season.

The Pats made the playoffs that season and Brady was at the center of the infamous "tuck" rule in their overtime win over the Oakland Raiders that sent Brady and mates to the AFC Championship game against Pittsburgh.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Three Super Bowl wins and one Super Bowl loss later ex-USC quarterback Matt Cassel now gets to play the role of the next Tom Brady after Brady was lost in the Pats’ opening game win over the Chiefs to what has been reported to be a season ending injury. Those are the three most dreaded words in sports, especially in the NFL where teams have only 16 chances to fashion a successful season.

Cassel, who never started a game while at USC, does have several years of experience as Brady’s backup but it’s an entirely difference situation when you are called upon to run the offense.

Brady’s injury was not the only headline of the opening week of play. Although we have just one week of results to go on, a case will be made that the gap between the AFC and NFC has been narrowed, especially at the top.

New England’s close escape against Kansas City can be excused given the Brady injury but several of the elite AFC teams lost and those losses came to NFC teams.

A pair of nearly double-digit favorites (Indianapolis, San Diego) were upset at home by Chicago and Carolina respectively. The Colts and Chargers are considered, along with the Patriots, to be the teams to beat in the AFC on the road to Super Bowl XLIII.

The odds are extremely in favor of one of those three teams to make it to the Super Bowl.

Neither Carolina nor Chicago is considered a contender in the NFC although there is some support for Carolina to make the Playoffs. The team to beat in the NFC is Dallas. And the Cowboys started the season with an impressive win over an AFC team that was 10-6 in 2007, Cleveland.

Only Buffalo made a statement for AFC superiority with its 34-10 demolition of a banged-up Seattle squad that has rarely fared well when traveling across the country.

As was the case in Week 1, half of Week 2’s games are divisional contests, including what might well be a preview of the NFC Championship when Dallas hosts NFC East rival Philadelphia on Monday night. Both the Cowboys and Eagles were very impressive in winning their opening games.

Here’s a preview of the second week of NFL action:

Sunday, Sept. 14

Raiders +2½ at Chiefs (NT): KC had defeated the Raiders nine straight times before dropping their second meeting last season to Oakland on this field. With both defenses seemingly improved, points may be hard to come by. UNDER.

Titans +1½ at Bengals (39): The Bengals have the better overall talent and this is an early season must-win game. BENGALS.

Colts -2½ at Vikings (NT): Indy QB Peyton Manning was clearly rusty after not having played in training camp. He will face another tenacious defense as the Vikes upgraded a defense that led the league against the rush last season. UNDER.

Saints +1 at Redskins (42): The Saints have the better offense while Washington has the edge on defense. The Redskins struggled with their new offense in losing at the Giants and the extra days of practice should result in better execution. REDSKINS.

Packers -1 at Lions (37½): Green Bay has won five straight and 7 of 8 in this series but Aaron Rodgers was not behind center in those games. This will be his first regular season road start and the Lions will be more focused here. LIONS.

Bears +3½ at Panthers (37): Kudos to both teams for impressive road upset wins against elite AFC teams last week. Both of these teams rely more on defense than on offense for their success and this should be a very physical game. UNDER.

Giants -8 at Rams (42): The Giants were impressive in the first half of their opening game win over division rival Washington. The Rams lost to Philly 38-3 and allowed over 400 passing yards. Points should be scored early and often. OVER.

Bills +6½ at Jaguars (38): After throwing just three interceptions in all of 2007, Jaguar QB David Garrard tossed a pair in the loss. Buffalo’s outstanding special teams rarely put them at a disadvantage and the generous points are worth taking. BILLS.

Falcons +8 at Bucs (38): Michael Turner ran for over 200 yards as the Falcons upset Detroit. Tampa is not thought of as a team capable of winning by margins, but they defeated Atlanta by 24 and 34 points last year. BUCS.

49ers +9 at Seahawks (40): Seattle has have been strong at home over the years. After being swept by the 49ers in the season series two years ago, Seattle won both games last season by 20 and 24 points. SEAHAWKS.

Dolphins +7 at Cards (40): The Cardinals have a well balanced roster and Miami’s limited offensive capabilities are likely to provide as limited a test to its defense as the 49ers did last week. CARDS.

Patriots +2½ at Jets (37): The Patriots are without QB Tom Brady for the first time in seven seasons. With the overall talent edge of the Patriots, it may be concluded that the huge line movement has been an overreaction. PATRIOTS.

Ravens +5 at Texans (37): Baltimore’s rookie QB Joe Flacco was impressive with both his arms and legs. Houston should perform better at home this week, but the Ravens still have the edge with an experienced defense. RAVENS.

Chargers -3 at Broncos (NL): There is no doubt that the Chargers are the more talented team. Denver does enjoy a huge coaching edge with Mike Shanahan over San Diego’s Nervous Norv Turner. The Chargers come in banged up. BRONCOS.

Steelers -6 at Browns (45): Pittsburgh was as impressive in their opening day win over Houston as Cleveland was unimpressive in their loss on this field to Dallas. It’s easy to overreact to one game’s results and such may be the case here. BROWNS.

Monday, Sept. 15

Eagles +6 at Cowboys (47): The Eagles have won 13 of the last 18 meetings but the teams have split the last six meetings. Under coach Andy Reid the Eagles have been road warriors, with winning straight up road records in 7 of the last 8 seasons. EAGLES.