Game of the week
The line: Patriots by 7½
The story: San Diego wins its season opener, and that isn't just good; it could be huge, and here's why: Because of what it portends. When the Bolts win openers under coach Norv Turner -– which happens every other year -- they produce their best seasons. In 2007 they were 11-5. In 2009, 13-3. Now this.
OK, so there's that matter of the fine print. The Bolts have never, ever, ever won their first two under Turner, and look who's next on the schedule. New England not only is home, where it hasn't lost an opener since Gillette Stadium was built; it's 4-1 vs. San Diego in its past five games -- including two in the playoffs.
It also rolls out quarterback Tom Brady after a franchise-best 517-yard performance and dares the league's top pass defense to do to him what it did to Donovan McNabb. Fat chance. Brady and Philip Rivers will pile up big numbers, with each a 400-yard possibility. I mean, if Brady-Henne combines for over 900 yards passing, what happens here?
I like Rivers' chances of shredding the Patriots' secondary because I watched Monday's game, and it wasn't just Brady who made an impression; it was the New England pass defense. It stunk. Yeah, so the secondary is young and raw and developing and all that, but it's the pass rush that bothers me. There wasn't one until the second half.
When the Patriots couldn't pressure Henne, he found open receivers without much trouble, and so will Rivers. Only he's more accurate and more dangerous. I understand many of the yards the Patriots hemorrhaged were meaningless, produced after New England built a considerable lead, but that first half wasn't meaningless. We just forgot about the Pats' defense because when Brady is cranking out 517 yards it doesn't matter what anyone else is doing.
Only here it does. I have no doubt Brady excels again. It's the other side of the ball we have to watch. New England looks an awful lot like the team that last year led the league in scoring, with the 30th-ranked pass defense overshadowed by a quarterback who did nothing wrong. And that's great. Except when Tom wasn't Terrific in the playoffs -- when the Jets took away his weapons -- and suddenly it was up to his defense to respond.
And it couldn't. Let's see if it has an answer for Rivers.
Something to consider: New England has a 60-12 record at Gillette Stadium since it opened in 2002, including victories in all nine home openers.
Three games I'd like to see
The line: Bills by 4½
The story: I guess it's time to heed Chicken Little. Here we are in the second game of the season, and the Bills -- the freakin' Buffalo Bills -- are favored to win their second straight game. Now, the Bills are 4½-point favorites about as often as Niagara Falls runs dry. But they're favored here for a couple of reasons: 1) They won big in Kansas City, where the Chiefs were 7-1 last year; 2) The Raiders are coming off a short week, flying across country and playing an early game after playing the late one Monday.
|Peek at the Week II|
If the Chargers can take the tight ends away from Tom Brady, it should be a big help to San Diego's D. Matchups to watch >>
|Week 2 previews|
Did someone say "NFL conspiracy?"
Based on what I saw Monday, Oakland is the superior team. Only based on what I saw of the Raiders vs. San Diego, Kansas City and Denver last year, they were one of the league's superior teams then, too ... only they weren't. And they weren't because they couldn't do diddly poo against non-division opponents, going 2-8 outside the AFC West.
I can't make up my mind on this one because there was no victory more stunning than Buffalo's 41-7 shredding of Kansas City at Arrowhead. All I know is that this game should be decided at the line of scrimmage. The Raiders had five sacks last week; the Bills forced three turnovers, including one on a kickoff return. Basically, whoever has the better offensive line goes 2-0.
Oakland pushed Denver off the ball in Monday night's victory, and the Bills manhandled Kansas City at the point of attack a day earlier. Buffalo was supposed to have offensive line issues, but not if you watched that Kansas City game. The Bills protected Ryan Fitzpatrick and opened holes for running backs who dissected Kansas City for 163 yards.
Of course, that's only 13 more than Oakland's Darren McFadden put up vs. Denver, and this is where the Bills live or die. If they stop McFadden they force Jason Campbell to beat them, and I'll take my chances there -- especially with injuries reducing his options at wide receiver. If they don't, they join Denver at the back of the class.
Something to consider: Fred Jackson's career rushing average of 4.46 yards per carry is third in franchise history for backs with 200 or more carries. Only O.J. Simpson (4.8) and Cookie Gilchrist (4.52) are better.
The line: Saints by 7½
The story: This is the second in a three-part grind for Chicago. First it was Atlanta. Next week it's Green Bay. This week it's the Saints, an opponent that fell a yard short of possibly forcing overtime against the defending Super Bowl champions and has been preparing for this game for a week-and-a-half.
New Orleans is at an advantage here for a number of reasons. The Saints are at the Superdome, where they have won 18 of their past 25 games, including playoffs. They're smarting from an oh-so-close defeat. They have Drew Brees. They had nine days off. They just lost. The Bears just won. I think you get the idea.
Plus, there's the Brian Urlacher factor. Urlacher's mother passed away this week, and I don't know how anyone operates under those circumstances -- though Urlacher will try. Some do it better than others, with Brett Favre producing one of his best performances immediately after his father died. Nevertheless, it has to be tough.
Urlacher is the leader of a defense that shut down Atlanta last weekend, forcing three turnovers, with Urlacher turning a fumble recovery into a Chicago touchdown. Turnovers could play a big role in the outcome here, especially if Chicago is able to force them. Remember, Brees last year threw a career-high 22 interceptions, which means the Bears could have their chances.
They could on offense, too. New Orleans has been punctured for 83 points and seven passing touchdowns in its past two starts, both losses. Not good. But each was on the road, and I can't imagine defensive coordinator Gregg Williams not plugging the leaks that sank them in either place. If not, look out below.
Something to consider: Lovie Smith has never lost to New Orleans (4-0), and Sean Payton has never beaten the Bears (0-3).
The line: Eagles by 2½
The story: This is the homecoming Michael Vick never had. Sure, he returned here two years ago and even played as the game was winding down, but he was a second-stringer then -- more of a curiosity than significant factor. Now he's not only the Eagles' starter; he's one of the NFL's most entertaining players and the centerpiece of Philly's "Dream Team."
The Eagles are favored because they have Vick and stars galore, but the Falcons will be hard to overcome here because they're home, Matt Ryan is the quarterback and Ryan almost never loses at home. You can look it up: He's 20-2 in regular-season play.
Ryan's job is to perk up an offense that produced no touchdowns and three turnovers in a lackluster loss vs. Chicago last week. The Falcons are supposed to be better than the team that went 13-3 a year ago. Well, this is their chance to prove last weekend was an aberration.
It's also another game where offensive lines determine the outcome. The Eagles were able to sack Sam Bradford four times a week ago, and if that happens to Ryan they walk out a winner. Ryan was dumped five times, fumbled once and threw an interception vs. Chicago, and that's not how you build a playoff contender. It's time for Atlanta to tighten the protection around its quarterback, or suffer the consequences.
Something to consider: In his past three indoor games, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy has averaged 130.3 yards rushing. He also scored four times.
Monday night lights
The line: Giants by 4½
The story: Once upon a time this looked like a game of two clubs with playoff aspirations -- and it still might be. For the moment, though, it looks more like two teams auditioning for the next episode of Grey's Anatomy. There are injuries everywhere, with Danny Amendola, Ron Bartell and, most likely, Steven Jackson missing for the Rams and defensive players everywhere out for the Giants.
One of them won't be defensive end Justin Tuck, and that's bad news for quarterback Sam Bradford, another of the Rams' walking wounded. Bradford has a bruised index finger but is expected to play. But with all the guys on both sides who won't, it's easy to draw conclusions. Those touchdowns we've seen across the league so far? Well, they won't be here.
This will be a war of attrition, with the Giants favored because they're home ... and because St. Louis is not. The Rams were 2-6 on the road a year ago and are 4-22 dating back to 2007 -- so they aren't exactly in their comfort zone. But coach Steve Spagnuolo has an advantage, and it is this: He knows the Giants, he knows their tendencies and he knows how to beat an offensive line that looked shaky vs. Washington.
The question is: Does he have the people to do it? We're about to find out.
Something to consider: The Giants better hope wide receiver Hakeem Nicks plays. In his past two Monday night appearances he has had 16 catches for 204 yards and two TDs.
Crummy game of the week
The line: Steelers by 14½
The story: This is the biggest line I've seen in awhile for Week 2, and it has to do with more than just Seattle's struggles on the road. Nope, this is about Pittsburgh and proving that the Steelers are better, a lot better, than last weekend's 35-7 blowout in Baltimore.
|Bank on it: Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers will not have seven turnovers vs. Seattle. (AP)|
Anyway, I don't know how Seattle keeps this competitive. It allows too many points. It's a terrible road team (2-6 last season under Pete Carroll). And its quarterback is Tarvaris Jackson. Check, please.
The Steelers are mad, not just because of the hammering they just absorbed but because of the criticism that followed. Hey, they stunk, pure and simple. When you commit seven turnovers, you get drilled. But that's not going to happen again. Not this weekend. And not next.
Something to consider: Pittsburgh has won its past eight home openers, the second-best current record in the NFL, and is 6-0 at Heinz Field in September under coach Mike Tomlin. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are 1-10 in the Eastern time zone the past four seasons.
Upset of the week
I'll make this simple: When was the last time Atlanta lost two straight with Matt Ryan at quarterback? Try Nov. 22, 2009, and it was at Giants Stadium. Ryan has lost back-to-back games only twice in the pros, and both times the defeats were on the road. At home it's a different story. He's 20-2 in regular-season starts in Atlanta.
That's why I think the Falcons prevail. They can't be as bad as they were a week ago when the offense was blanked in Chicago. Unless, of course, that offensive line is worse than we imagined. I know Michael Vick is jacked up for his return to the Georgia Dome, and Atlanta is jacked up for Vick. But fans don't win this game for Atlanta. Ryan does, if he plays as he has in the past here.
That means no mistakes. More turnovers mean more losses. Worse, they mean the first 0-2 start under Mike Smith. I can't see it happening.
Five guys I'd like to see
1. Atlanta running back Michael Turner: He has 24 touchdowns in 21 regular-season homes games and has averaged 97.5 yards rushing per start.
2. New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning: He's 2-0 vs. the Rams, with seven touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 125.5. He has also won his past three Monday night starts.
3. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers: In the past 11 games where he has thrown 15 or more times, he has completed 71 percent of his passes with 28 TDs, three interceptions and seven straight victories. Make that eight after this weekend. He faces Carolina.
4. Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson: In four career starts vs. Miami he has averaged 106.5 yards per game.
5. New England quarterback Tom Brady: He has won his past 28 regular-season games at home, the best streak in NFL history, with 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his past five. Now he aims for his fifth straight win vs. the Chargers.
Five best faceoffs
1. New Orleans center Olin Kreutz vs. his former employer, the Chicago Bears: Kreutz was a Pro Bowl center with the Bears, who let him go this summer. Now he plays them but insists it's just another game. "None of those guys I'm playing against made a decision on me," he told New Orleans reporters. "They made me a fair offer to come back, and I didn't go back. There's no hard feelings."
2. St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo vs. his former employer, the Giants: Spagnuolo was a popular and effective defensive coordinator in New York, the guy who drew up the blueprint that stopped Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Look for him to do to Manning what he did to Brady, which is blitz, blitz, blitz.
3. Chad Ochocinco vs. the New England playbook: He had one catch in a game where Brady threw for 517 yards. He was on the field for 18 snaps. Put the two together, and what do you have? A nonfactor, that's what.
4. Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick vs. Atlanta: Vick was the face of this franchise for years, but that was before he went to prison and was released. Now he returns as a conquering hero for Philadelphia, only these Falcons are better, much better, than the club he left. Look for No. 7 jerseys in the stands. Vick may be gone from Atlanta, but he's not forgotten.
5. Washington running back Tim Hightower vs. his former employer, the Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals traded him away because he fumbled too much and because they drafted Ryan Williams. Now they see what they lost. "It's going to be a little extra sentimental," said Hightower, "and a little more emotional just because I kind of grew up there."
Five things that may interest only me
1. The Oakland Raiders have won their past eight division games. They have also lost 11 of their past 13 outside the AFC West.
2. Bill Leavy, the referee who officiated Super Bowl XL, is working the Seahawks-Steelers game this weekend. So what? So it was the Steelers and Seahawks who were in Super Bowl XL, with the Seahawks complaining that Leavy blew big calls and Leavy later admitting he "kicked two calls in the fourth quarter, and I impacted the game ... I think about it constantly." Better not think about it now, Bill.
3. Since realignment in 2002, 62 of the 108 playoff teams (57.4 percent) started either 1-1 or 0-2.
4. New England has won its past nine regular-season games. With a victory Sunday, coach Bill Belichick becomes the second coach in NFL history to produce three streaks of 10 or more consecutive victories in the regular season. Don Shula did it four times.
5. There are no intra-divisional games this weekend, the first time that has happened since the NFL-AFL merger.
14: Quarterbacks in Week 1 with at least 300 yards passing
110: Average yards per game for Adrian Peterson in September
349: Most yards by any QB in a game immediately following his 500-yard performance (Drew Brees, 2006).
1-10: Miami's record in its past 11 home games
6-1: Jets' record in September under Rex Ryan
9-17: San Diego's record since 2007 in games where it trailed at halftime
13-3: Indianapolis' regular-season record at home under Jim Caldwell
• Buffalo: Sunny, high of 70
• Charlotte, N.C.: Partly cloudy, high of 74
• Detroit: Dome
• Indianapolis: Retractable dome
• Minneapolis: Dome
• New Orleans: Dome
• East Rutherford, N.J.: Sunny, high of 71
• Pittsburgh: Sunny, high of 69
• Nashville, Tenn.: Partly cloudy, high of 81
• Landover, Md.: Partly cloudy, high of 68
• San Francisco: Sunny, high of 71
• Denver: Sunny, high of 74
• Miami: Scattered thunderstorms, high of 86
• Foxborough, Mass.: Sunny, high of 65
• Atlanta: Dome
Where we will be
• Pete Prisco will be in Atlanta to host a Welcome Home party for Michael Vick.
• I'll be in New England to follow Tom Brady's fans getting "lubed up" early.
• Mike Freeman will be at the Meadowlands' MetLife Stadium to take a pregame knee with Maurice Jones-Drew.
• Gregg Doyel will be in Indianapolis to sell T-shirts at Shapiro's.