It was stunning, frankly, to click on our NFL Experts Picks page and see just two people, myself included, taking the 49ers and the points on Sunday night. I understand the theory, maybe: the Seahawks are very good at football and they're even better at home, going undefeated in front of the 12th Man last year. Marshawn Lynch is capable of making the earth move in Seattle. Russell Wilson is a cucumber marinating in ice water when the fourth quarter rolls around.
But did you see the 49ers last week? Colin Kaepernick cut through the Packers secondary like a machete through beer cheese. Seattle's defense is substantially more stout than Green Bay's, I'll grant you that. But in preparing for the season this Week 2 game was on the radar for Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll as much -- if not more -- than their respective Week 1 matchups. No one was overlooking the Packers or Panthers, of course, because we're talking about professionals here. But this rivalry, arguably the top one in the NFL, has simmered Cold War-style all offseason.
Seattle and San Francisco weren't engaging in a series of subtle chess moves this offseason. One day Trent Baalke walked out on his back porch and saw John Schneider sitting on a 30-foot deck. So Baalke built his own 40-foot deck with a fireplace and a pool. So Scheider expanded the deck and added a pool with a FIREPLACE INSIDE. (Unfortunately fireplaces in pools usually don't work so it was broken when it arrived and won't be working again until Week 11 at the earliest.) This extended metaphor isn't that far from being accurate. I doubt Baalke and Schneider dislike each other but there was clearly some purposeful, shots-fired roster manipulation going on this offseason.
And the competitiveness extends through the rosters as well. While the young starting quarterbacks might be friendly off the field, there's no question about the animosity between these two teams. The fan bases are equally insecure when it comes to their position in the NFC West hierarchy and the two coaches have been feuding -- in glorious "WHAT'S YOUR DEAL BRO?" fashion -- ever since they went head-to-head as rival Pac-10 coaches.
Harbaugh and Carroll are high-octane competitive freaks and that energy carries over to their respective rosters and preference for how to play football. Anthony Dixon called Seattle the SHE-HAWKS and so naturally the Forty-WHINERS got an answer back on Twitter. This is some fourth-grade playground stuff here people and it's what makes football rivalries so great.
We're talking a divisional showdown between two teams with similar styles. For all the hype surrounding Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson and their unfortunately-not-to-be-shorn eyebrows, this is actually a pretty meat-and-potatoes matchup.
Seattle and San Francisco play stupendous defense. Justin Smith and Aldon Smith are a terrifying tandem up front for the Niners, while the strength of the Seahawks is in the defensive backfield thanks to Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas.
Seattle and San Francisco prefer to pound the rock. Lynch is a carry hog and Frank Gore might be the most underrated running back in the NFL (for the fifth straight year).
Both teams are built primarily from the draft, captained by a quarterback who fell further than he should've because of some physical oddities, college playing style or NFL Draft misperceptions.
The similarities are striking enough that it would be fair to make this game a pick 'em even if it weren't on a neutral field. Obviously the Hawks get the edge from Vegas because the showdown's happening in Seattle. That's why I'm taking Seattle straight up for the win. But by no means do I think it'll end up being by more than a field goal.
The last time they met -- a blowout victory for Seattle on national television -- has to be ripe in Harbaugh's mind, especially considering the 49ers still went on to win the division. This is the first half of a knock-down, drag-out battle royale for the NFC West. Someone will survive but it's going to come down to the last play of the game.
49ERS (+3½) at Seahawks
DOLPHINS (+3½) at Colts: If Miami emerges from Week 2 in a tie for first place in the AFC East it's huge for them. But please don't be fooled: That division is not open for business. The Pats are down, yes. They're not out. Tom Brady lacks weapons but eventually Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins will get on the same page as QB1. Rob Gronkowski is coming back. Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen will return. The lack of experience for New England might actually help over the long run. The inexperienced players will improve and create a stocked depth chart by the time the veterans return. Really the only thing anyone should be scared of right now with Miami is the pass rush. Cameron Wake, Randy Starks and Dion Jordan got after it last Sunday. I would like to see the offense perform at a high level before declaring this open season on the Pats' divisional championship belt.
RAMS (+6½) at Falcons: Matt Ryan is a ridiculous 33-5 at home in his career. He doesn't lose at the Georgia Dome. And I think he wins Sunday against the Rams, but like I said Thursday, don't sleep on St. Louis. The Falcons' weakness right now is their offensive line and the Rams' strength is their defensive line. Robert Quinn is a monster -- although his nickname-creating skills could use some work -- and Ryan is dealing with a pair of elite wideouts who are banged up. Roddy White has all but said he'll be a decoy and Julio Jones only returned to practice Thursday. Too many points here and it has upset potential despite Ryan's record.
CHARGERS (+7½) at Eagles: Do you want to know what Chip Kelly's offense is really about? It's not about speed, it's not about a ton of plays, it's not about going plaid. It's about misdirection and the actual chess-match nature of football. Sheil Kapadia of PhillyMag.com broke down All-22 film to look at Kelly setting up the Redskins by using the same play five times in the first quarter. (In fact, he called that same play three times in the span of two minutes.) The idea of packaging plays together and deceiving the defense is only amplified when you crank up the tempo. So why the hell am I taking the Chargers? Somehow I think they can bounce back a bit and keep it within seven points. They'll do so by countering that tempo with fewer turnovers on offense. It's a nightmare game for San Diego -- East Coast, early start, not much film of Kelly's offense, coming off a Temple of Doom-style loss on a short week -- but Mike McCoy's no slouch himself.
PANTHERS (-3½) at Bills: I'm rolling Panthers even though I'm beginning to think that Mike Shula might be Bizzaro World Chip Kelly. Instead of using a bunch of similar plays to set up defenses and fool them for big gains, he might be using the same formations/plays over and over again because they work. That's a bad thing. It's what happens when your 12-year-old cousin gets a hold of the Madden sticks and finds out that the slant is a really easy way to gain 10 yards. Until he throws it for the 30th time and you pick him to the house to win 40-10. If Shula doesn't let Cam Newton get vertical he's not doing his job properly.
COWBOYS (+3½) at Chiefs: Do not take this the wrong way -- because Redskins is far more offensive than Chiefs -- but I dig my colleague Matt Moore's point that it would be worth considering a name change for the Kansas City franchise as well.
As someone born in Kansas City and a third generation Chiefs fan, I'd support a name change there, too.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) September 13, 2013
It's not No. 1 on the to-do list of NFL nicknames; Redskins needs to go first and foremost when we're talking about offensive NFL nicknames. And I'm sure this idea will rattle Chiefs fans. There's no caricature with Chiefs and there's no specificity with chiefs. But just like Braves, Indians and any other mascot-themed name derived from Native American culture it serves the purpose of degrading a race of people. I await your screaming in the comments.
BROWNS (+6½) at Ravens: Sports Illustrated is currently in the middle of releasing a 40-part* scandal slideshow** story on Oklahoma State (they've somehow decided that Sex and Drugs don't mix?) and while there are all kinds of issues at stake here -- amateurism, the future of the NCAA, media witch hunts of media already on witch hunts -- what I'm most concerned with is whether or not this ends up as a movie. Why? Because I'm hoping we can convince Ben Afflect to reprise the role of O'Banion in order to play Brandon Weeden, the 40-year-old quarterback who just refuses to leave campus.
This is what Kickstarter was made for right? Oh, P.S., Weeden isn't a fan of this scandal, calling Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated "a clown" recently. So that's fun.
Redskins at PACKERS (-7½): Ironic, don't you think, that the Packers spent all offseason preparing to defend the read option and, in the span of seven days, might end up seeing less than seven plays worth of the read option from Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III combined? Jim Harbaugh purposely turned Kap into a pocket passer against Green Bay in Week 1; Mike Shanahan has no choice with RG3 in Week 2 because he's simply not healthy enough to pull off a ton of read-option plays. Maybe he and son Kyle (his OC) will try and use the read option a little more but for the sake of their quarterback he might have to get right as a pocket passer first. At least Mike McCarthy gets the Eagles in Week 10.
Vikings at BEARS (-6½): This is my survivor pick of the week, which means it won't be nearly as easy for the Bears to win as I expect. But here's my thinking. Adrian Peterson can -- *gulp* -- be bottled up by a good defensive line. We saw that from the Lions. Christian Ponder won't cut the ball loose, even if Bears have 11 men in the box. The Lions could've hung a 50 burger on Minnesota if they hadn't made a bunch of mistakes. Jay Cutler looked good -- and wasn't sacked -- by the Bengals, who are way more dynamic on offense than the Vikings. Taking Cutler, who's obviously prone to some Jekyll/Hyde days, in a survivor league is risky at best. But sometimes living dangerously is fun.
TITANS (+9½) at Texans: Confession: when -- if -- I'm 90 years old I want to be just like Bud Adams. Not that I want to move a football franchise and enrage half the state of Texas, though that would be somewhat enjoyable, right? No, I want to be a bourgeois version of Yosemite Sam who gives exactly zero eff's about anything and spends his time flying around the country, watching football and flipping off opposing fanbases from a luxury box.
Tell me that doesn't sound awesome. Also tell me you think this guy hasn't provided strict orders to keep things close against Houston. Please.
Lions at CARDINALS (+1½): Everyone saw how good the Lions offense ran with Reggie Bush in the backfield, right? Unstoppable juggernaut, basically. Except the Cardinals, if they're smart, might be able to bust out kryptonite against Bush, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson in the form of the Honey Badger. My thinking is this: Beef up the line against the run, have Tyrann Mathieu spy Bush on anything resembling a passing down and double up Megatron using Patrick Peterson and a safety. That's not locked to completely shut down Detroit's offense and Arizona still has to worry about scoring to beat Detroit. Or, more specifically, Carson Palmer still has to be worried about Ndamukong Suh sacking him, roasting him over a spit at midfield and then devouring his organs whole before being fined $5,000 by the NFL for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Saints at BUCCANEERS (+3½): What the hell is Greg Schiano thinking? When I married my wife she owned a condo. It's a nice condo but it's in a different city than we live now and I would prefer, if I had my druthers, that we didn't own it. But that doesn't mean I spent our entire engagement complaining about the condo and it sure doesn't mean that once we got married I was going to take away the condo's captaincy and do everything in my power to undermine the condo, including drafting another condo in the third round and saying public things that make it sound like I hate the condo. I mean, I guess I already did the last one but unless Schiano's trying to use hatred as a motivation tool for Josh Freeman it doesn't make a lot of sense. Play out his contract and then buy a new condo, dude.
JAGUARS (+5½) at Raiders: The truly amazing thing about this game is that you couldn't possibly create a more unwatchable matchup. (It's a CBS game, which would be awkward but we've got a little Manning Bowl going on at the same time so I don't mind insulting it.) And how miserable is life if you're the Jaguars and getting a touchdown on the road to a team that looked as if they could go winless before this year? Answer: very miserable. But the Jags have one advantage here. They're not rolling with Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert going forward. The Raiders could still be suckered into Terrelle Pryor if he keeps playing well and tossing up 200/100-club numbers every game. As much as I think Pryor could ultimately end up doing well in Oakland, what if he does so much good that it passes on a sure-fire quarterback prospect? That's terrifying. At least with the Jaguars you know you're getting a full-blown reboot. You also know you'll get a team that's going to actually be prepared for Pryor running all over the place. No one should be dogs by six to the Raiders.
Broncos at GIANTS (+4½): I have a younger brother. I beat him up for many, many years. One day Charlie came home from school and suddenly was seven inches taller than me. He looked at me, said "What's up punk?," picked me up and slammed me on the ground. We haven't been in a fight since. I doubt very much that Eli Manning is going to grow half a foot between now and Sunday but, as much as we older siblings don't want to admit it, there comes a time when a little brother has to step up and kick his older brother's ass. Eli's already squatting on two Super Bowl rings so it's not like he doesn't have justifiable cause for flexing his muscles. Sure the older brother version of "old man strength" terrifies me. And Peyton's 2-0 in Manning Bowls. But dogs at home is a slap in the face to Lil' Elisha. Of course, ignore all this if Eli spends his Saturday kicking Cooper around the living room.
STEELERS (+7½) at Bengals: The common theory on the Steelers offensive line is they haven't invested in it because Ben Roethlisberger's such a strong, mobile quarterback. He keeps plays alive, doesn't need great protection, injury only makes him stronger, etc., etc. But you know what the reality is? They've pumped a TON of resources into their line in the past few years. Maurkice Pouncey is a first-round pick and so is left guard David DeCastro. Left tackle Mike Adams was a second-round pick and so was right tackle David Gilbert. Over the past three years Pittsburgh has selected four-fifths of its offensive line in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. That's using the draft to attack a weakness that, well, shouldn't be a weakness any longer. Pouncey's done for the year so there's somewhat of a built-in excuse for the Steelers struggling here. But this line, which was putrid against Tennessee, has to get it together and has to do so quickly before cameras catch Ben choke-slamming Todd Haley on the sideline. Taking Pittsburgh's scary but they're getting a touchdown in a little-brother divisional game in prime time.
No it wasn't subterfuge, me trying to throw everyone in my picks league off. I actually went 3-13 last week. You're welcome. Good news is these colors don't run.
Week 2: 1-0