Early NFL games critical to playoff hopes

Sep 22, 2009 5:00 PM
Pigskin Picks by Andy Iskoe |

We hear these clichés every season, especially when it comes to teams that have gotten off to disappointing starts. It’s a long season. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. In other words, there is no need to panic. No sense of urgency.

But the history of the NFL suggests otherwise when it concerns a team’s chances of making the Playoffs following an 0-2 or 0-3 start. Very few teams are able to overcome such starts in a season in which only 16 games are played.

Of course for some teams, starting 0-2 and playing respectably may be a cause for optimism. Little is expected of Detroit, Kansas City, Tampa Bay or St. Louis so even any competitive efforts are reason for celebration among their fans.

But two teams that made the Playoffs last season have started 0-2 (Carolina and Tennessee) and a third, Miami, was expected to join them as they were underdogs to Indianapolis on Monday night.

It’s hard to think of a week three game as a “must win” but clearly for those teams expected to contend for the Playoffs an 0-2 start puts great pressure on those teams in week three. How these teams perform in week three may give us some good insight as to what to expect from these teams down the road.

Here’s a preview of week three.

Tennessee (+2½) at N. Y. Jets (Over/Under 37½): After going 13-3 last season the Titans have started 0-2 with each loss by a FG. The Jets have surprised many with their 2-0 start including that very satisfying win over Division rival New England. A bit of a letdown for a young QB and first year coach would not be surprising. Preference is for TENNESSEE.

Jacksonville (+4) at Houston (46): Jacksonville appeared ill prepared for Arizona last week and may have been adversely affected by what seemed to be a half empty stadium. Preference is for OVER.

Kansas City at Philadelphia (No Line): The uncertain status of Philly QB Donovan McNabb keeps this game off the board early in the week but expect the Eagles to be about 10-point favorites. Preference is for PHILADELPHIA.

Cleveland (+13) at Baltimore (39): It’s been a full half season since the Browns have scored an offensive TD and that drought could continue here against one of the league’s top defenses. Preference is for the OVER.

N. Y. Giants (-7) at Tampa Bay (42½): The Giants continued their remarkable ability to play well on the road with their last second win at Dallas. Preference is for N. Y. GIANTS.

Washington (-6) at Detroit (38½): At some point the Lions will do enough things right to end what is now a 19 game losing streak. Preference is for the UNDER.

Green Bay (-6½) at St. Louis (41): This is a good situational spot for the home underdog Rams who played their first two games on the road. Meanwhile the Packers hit the road for the first time after splitting their first two games at home. And the Pack did not look too sharp in either of those contests. Preference is for ST. LOUIS.

San Francisco (+7) at Minnesota (40½): Both teams are 2-0 but the 49ers have played a pair of better teams (Arizona and Seattle) than have the Vikings (Cleveland and Detroit). Preference is for SAN FRANCISCO.

Atlanta (+4½) at New England (44 ½): Atlanta steps up in class and plays their first road game of the season after defeating Miami and Carolina at home. Preference is for NEW ENGLAND.

Chicago (-1½) at Seattle (37): Chicago has been involved in a pair of low scoring games decided in the final seconds. Their defense has played well but the offense continues to lag. Preference is for SEATTLE.

New Orleans (-5) at Buffalo (52 ½): Both teams have potent offenses and suspect defenses, which is reflected in the first Total above 50 this season. Despite the high Total that’s the only way to look as the Saints have scored 93 points in two games and the Bills 57. Preference is for OVER.

Miami (+7) at San Diego (45): Miami is off of a short week after playing Monday night and must travel cross country. San Diego was again ill prepared against Baltimore last week, a trademark of Norv Turner coached teams. The situation favors San Diego but the status of RB LaDanian Tomlinson remains questionable. Preference is for UNDER.

Pittsburgh (-4½) at Cincinnati (37):The low Total shows respect for an improved Cincinnati defense while also recognizing the struggles of the Steeler offense, especially in establishing the run. PPreference is for the UNDER.

Denver (+2½) at Oakland (36): You could have gotten long odds that these teams would be a combined 3-1 after two games. The Raiders were outgained 409 to 166 last week in Kansas City but scored a late TD to win. Denver statistically dominated in last week’s 27-6 home win over Cleveland. Preference is for OAKLAND.

Indianapolis (-1) at Arizona (47): Scheduling dynamics work against the Colts here who played Monday night and now travel cross country to play in the heat of the desert. Despite some flaws, Arizona should be given a bit more respect than the lines maker is showing in the early line. Preference is for ARIZONA.

MONDAY

Carolina (+9½) at Dallas (45 ½): This is a critical early season game for 0-2 Carolina. And at 0-2 a repeat of their Playoff appearance from last season is in jeopardy so expect an all out effort against a team that repeatedly shows an inability to close out game. Preference is for CAROLINA.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe