For those of you keeping track, welcome to part two of week two in the local NFL preview.
Cardinals at Patriots – It’s no surprise that Tom Brady is back in the saddle with a wealth of receivers, especially the big ones; and another young, healthy back from LSU to take the load off. We all kind of expected that to happen. What we didn’t know was what the defense would be like. While still not the best around, it’s much improved over last year’s pretty weak unit (ranked 31 out of 32 in yards per game but better than that in terms of scoring defense, which is more definitive anyway). Remember how they barely lost in the Super Bowl? That’s some weak, yeah.
Arizona has Larry Fitzgerald who can make any play downfield that you want. Kevin Kolb now has a chance to rejuvenate a career that was foundering after last season’s disasters. But they need a running game and without a healthy Beanie Wells, they have no chance. Even if they did, they’re not winning on the road. Besides, West Coast teams never beat East Coast teams at home.
Buccaneers at Giants – Defending Super Bowl champions do not lose two at home to open the season, especially not when there’s a 10-day gap between them. It’s just not going to happen. Eli Manning will get more protection and find his receivers more able to hold onto the ball this time. Though Tampa Bay’s defense appears plenty stout, it’s not quite as fast as what the Cowboys showed up with last week, but here’s some free advice to young Manning (like he really needs it): Find Ronde Barber and then go the other way. A determined Giants defense should bottle up the Bucs’ limited offense, provided turnovers don’t force them into too many short field situations. Tampa Bay’s rushing offense will be the biggest threat New York has to deal with. This won’t be anybody’s blowout game, that’s for sure, but New York should get by at home.
Redskins at Rams – St. Louis still suffers from limited talent. They cannot afford mistakes. While I’m not ready to hop on the Washington bandwagon yet, the Shanahans are certainly further along in their team building project than Jeff Fisher is at this point. Coach Fisher is big on team discipline and making the most of limited opportunities, and Sam Bradford paired with Steven Jackson gives you some abilities to move and control the ball, thus limiting mistakes. They have a chance at home, but if the Redskins continue to play improved defense (controlling Drew Brees even for a little while is no easy task) the Rams are still out-talented so I can’t find a good reason to vote for an upset here.
Cowboys at Seahawks – Dallas has had 10 days to enjoy their successful coming out party. Because the Cowboys have often been a rather undisciplined bunch, extra time always seems to work against them. They get distracted. Either that or they spend three extra days gazing admiringly in the mirror. On the other hand, Seattle needed a win last week, should have won, but let it get away in a maddening display of poor offensive execution. If Pete Carroll is to prevent his guys from seizing another opportunity to slip up and thus start a promising season at 0-2 then he had best address their penchant for attracting yellow flags. Take Seattle in a mild upset at home.
Titans at Chargers – Last week San Diego was limited in offensive production to mostly short throws and little in the run game, but Tennessee showed even less with almost no running game and a starting quarterback who was injured making a tackled following an interception (now there’s adding some injury to the insult). It’s been awhile since Tennessee was a reliable road team. That’s a reflection of the decline in the quality of their defense. Even if Philip Rivers does nothing more again except dink and dunk, the Chargers will be productive enough to outgain and outscore the ploddingly predictable Titans.
Jets at Steelers – Pittsburgh gets nearly its entire complement back on defense, which is enough for them to win just about anywhere, but especially at home. Those guys were sorely missed at crunch time in Denver last week. Somebody (not quite sure who) recently commented about how old the defense was getting, which is true, but the great benefit of being old is that you make fewer mistakes and this squad is still plenty young enough to play the game hard. Big Ben could stand to be a little less hard-headed but his running backs, who certainly weren’t bad, should be even better this week against a defense that takes chances and opens holes if you know where and when to look.
New York allowed others to play up the poor-mouth angle for them during the preseason, so Rex Ryan’s skills at sandbagging will not be allowed to extend into week two, and certainly not at the expense of a real defensive schemer like Dick LeBeau.
Lions at 49ers – Week two of these Sunday night NFL showdown features on NBC are taking a step down, but that was probably inevitable. Detroit was a borderline fraud last week, eking out a squeaker against a decidedly less-talented but more disciplined St. Louis team. If they were that uncertain at home, the Lions have no shot against one of the most adept defenses in the league that also enjoys the services of what appears to be the most balanced offense going. Take the home team, and you can even shake hands on it, just no exuberant back-slapping please!
Broncos at Falcons – As good as this matchup looked in the preseason, it’s even better now that it’s here. Both teams greatly exceeded expectations on opening week. Look for Atlanta to feature more offense on the ground against the Denver defense that is especially good in the secondary. It all comes down to how well Atlanta’s defense can perform against Peyton Manning’s control passing game.
Manning’s neck is on the line still but his arm looks strong enough, if a little wobbly, and there’s not a thing wrong with his head. To beat Manning, you have to limit his choices and rattle his mind; either/or won’t get it done. So can Atlanta control the ball and keep Manning on the sideline (thus limiting his opportunities) and when he’s on the field can they get the pressure to him while covering receivers in the short field? I believe it’s a qualified “yes,” but this game needs more than one week’s worth of examples to evaluate properly. It’s a home team pick, but I’m squeezing the ever-lovin’ squeak out of this mouse.