Warner will win again

Sep 21, 2004 8:42 AM

Two weeks is still to early to draw definitive conclusions about most teams, but we have seen signs of how team personalities have changed from season’s past.

Or, in some cases, remained the same.

Teams often show great improvement between Games 1 and 2, but in actuality there are always adjustments being make as teams and opponents continually react to past events.

The 0-2 starts by Arizona and San Francisco don’t come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the NFL in recent seasons. But several teams expected to challenge for the playoffs or at least show significant improvement are in the same boat.

The biggest surprise is Kansas City although Tampa Bay and Miami each had winnable games their first two weeks but lost both. Buffalo and Houston, each expected to show improvement, are also 0-2.

The 2-0 start fashioned by Seattle is surprising only to the extent that both wins came on the road, where the Seahawks struggled in 2003. That strong start could signal the Seahawks as a legitimate title contender.

Perfect starts by Jacksonville and Detroit are small surprises since the Lions were an underdog in their opener and the Jaguars were dogs in both games. Atlanta and the New York Jets are also 2-0, but their starts are not as surprising. Both the Jets and Falcons were favored in each of the first two weeks.

Philadelphia and Minnesota were each unbeaten heading to the Monday night clash.

The winner would join defending Super Bowl champ New England at 2-0.

Scoring on Sunday was about a 1½ points lower per game than the opening weekend. Week 1 totaled nearly a field goal less per game than the recent NFL average. This is somewhat surprising considering the attention paid to enforcement of the illegal contact rules that, in theory, favors more offense.

The "unders" held a 9-6 edge, while home Favorites were just 4-5 against the spread. Home underdogs covered just two of six games. In one of the largest pointspread moves in many seasons, the Indianapolis Colts were bet from +3 to -2½ at Tennessee. That 5½-point move proved correct as the Colts overcame a sluggish first half to post a solid 31-17 road win to avoid an 0-2 start.

The annual tradition of byes, which started more than a decade ago, begins this week. Buffalo, Carolina, New England and the New York Jets will not see action.

Sunday, Sept. 26

Steelers (+1) at Dolphins (34): Both teams are offensively challenged. Pittsburgh is likely to start rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger in place of Tommy Maddox who was injured at Baltimore. Mistakes should outnumber touchdowns in a game between a pair of fundamentally sound defensive teams. UNDER.

Jaguars (+6) at Titans (36): Tennessee’s edge on offense is offset by Jacksonville’s edge on defense. Tennessee’s defense does have a significant edge over the Jaguars offense which has really struggled. Both teams like to run and this should be a game played between the 20s. UNDER.

Browns (+2½) at Giants (38): Kurt Warner won his first game since 2001 when the Giants upset Washington last week. However, New York benefited from seven Redskins turnovers. Cleveland was outgained more than 2-to-1 in its loss at Dallas and was very vulnerable to the pass. At a FG or less, the value is with the host. GIANTS.

Ravens (-2½) at Bengals (36½): Baltimore played a solid game in defeating the Steelers but benefited from a +3 turnover margin. The Ravens did establish the run on offense and held the Pittsburgh running game in check. Cincinnati gained just 210 yards in its win over Miami and Baltimore’s defense is every bit as tough. UNDER.

Texans (+9½) at Chiefs (48½): Houston’s offensive line did not perform well in last week’s loss in Detroit. Thus, the weak Kansas City defense might not be as vulnerable. One of these teams will fall to 0-3. Both defense are pretty porous, but the Chiefs have a decisive edge on offense. Look for the host to bounce back big. CHIEFS.

Saints (+7) at Cards (48): The Saints withstood the early loss of RB Deuce McAllister to come from behind and defeat San Francisco in a back and forth game. The Rams were shockingly thrashed in Atlanta as star RB Marshall Faulk was limited to just 12 carries. Both offenses have big play capabilities. OVER.

Bears (+9) at Minnesota: Chicago put forth a great effort in winning at Green Bay last week in a game that turned on one play that resulted in a 14-point swing. The Bears were outgained by nearly 100 yards in the win. The Vikes could win up a 10-point favorite. After Green Bay, it would not be a surprise if the Bears are flat. VIKINGS.

Eagles (-3) at Lions: For the second week in a row, Detroit was outgained by its opponent in a winning effort. Often that leads to line value since winning teams with negative yardage differentials ultimately fall prey to that vulnerability. Philadelphia’s edge on defense plus the more experienced QB gives them the nod. EAGLES.

Cards (+10) at Falcons (42½): Arizona’s offense struggled again in last week’s loss to New England, gaining just 167 total yards. Atlanta QB Mike Vick had an outstanding game running the ball against the Rams. That will create problems for a Cardinals defense facing the pressure of having to make big plays. FALCONS.

Chargers (+10) at Broncos (46): Denver has won 11 of the last 14 meetings against San Diego, including a pair of lopsided victories last season. Yet the Chargers appear to be improved. Denver outplayed Jacksonville in last week’s 7-6 loss, limiting the Jaguars to just 176 yards. Both teams like to run, suggesting a shortened game. UNDER.

Packers (+6) at Colts (49): This is a preview of our projected Super Bowl matchup. Both teams have big play capability and strong running games. Turnovers deep in opposition territory would be all that keeps this game from being high scoring. Should be entertaining and high scoring. OVER.

49ers (+11) at Seahawks(44): Seattle already equaled last year’s road victory total (2). The offense was held under 200 yards in last week’s 10-6 win at Tampa Bay. The defense held the Bucs to under 300. The 49ers have played well in defeat in two losses. Don’t be surprised if San Francisco puts in another 60-minute effort. 49ERS.

Bucs (+3) at Raiders (35): Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden returns to Oakland for the first time since bolting the Raiders and defeating them in Super Bowl XXXVII two seasons ago. Tampa has struggled on offense. Oakland is improved defensively. Tampa’s defense is still above average. Oakland is the more confident team. RAIDERS.

Monday, Sept. 27

Cowboys (+1) at Redskins: The questionable status of Washington QB Mark Brunell will be a big part of this game. Despite seven turnovers, Washington lost by just six to the Giants. Dallas has won 12-of-13 against the Skins, covering 11 of the last 12. But those Redskins were coached by Norv Turner and then Steve Spurrier. Expect that trend to reverse with Joe Gibbs and a rabid Monday night crowd, even if Patrick Ramsey gets the QB start. REDSKINS.

Last week: 7-8

Season: 17-14