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Peek at the Week: Something to prove in Philly; Steelers face 0-2 vs. Jets

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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Game of the week

Baltimore at Philadelphia, 1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Preview

The line: Eagles by 2½

The story: One week into the season there aren't many teams that seem stronger than the Baltimore Ravens. But tell me when you've heard that before. Yep, it was last year after Baltimore blew out Pittsburgh in the season opener -- which, like the Week 1 beatdown of Cincinnati, was at home. But remember what happened? The Ravens went out and lost to Tennessee, and, suddenly, expectations were reeled in.

I know, they went to the AFC Championship Game and should've gone to the Super Bowl, but I'm talking about the here and now ... and they had a letdown the past two seasons after a Week 1 victory.

Trust me, that hasn't been forgotten.

The Ravens know what they're up against. Philadelphia stunk in its opener, yet somehow won -- which is a plus. That victory counts as much as Baltimore's. But the Eagles have something to demonstrate to a home crowd -- namely, that they're not as bad as they appeared last weekend. They can't commit five turnovers. They can't allow Michael Vick to get pounded. And they can't have Vick throw another 56 passes or have the team commit 110 yards in penalties.

"I don't plan on having that kind of game again," Vick said.

Basically, this is something of a litmus test for both clubs. We know Baltimore should be good, and the Ravens proved it. We think Philadelphia will be good, too, but it sure looked a lot like the error-prone club of a year ago. So they must prove they can beat a playoff team, which is where Baltimore comes in. The Ravens have been to the playoffs in each of coach John Harbaugh's four seasons, reaching the conference title game twice, and are a trendy choice for this year's Super Bowl.

The problem for Philadelphia is that it may be handicapped. Receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson are hurt, and both missed practice Thursday. Jackson is the more likely of the two to play, but there's no guarantee either suits up ... and, yeah, that's a problem because the rest of the cast at wide receiver looks like this: Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson and Mardy Gilyard, who was signed this week.

A problem for both teams, however, could be left tackle. Baltimore's Michael Oher will try to hold off Jason Babin and a pass rush that last year produced a league-high 50 sacks. Oher looked good against Cincinnati, but the Bengals are not Philadelphia. The Eagles' King Dunlap struggled vs. Cleveland, and he will struggle here if he doesn't get more help. Philadelphia must find someone, something, to plug a hole left by Jason Peters, and so far Dunlap looks like an accident waiting to happen ... for Vick.

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The back story: The Ravens and Eagles each produced 19 plays of 10 yards or more in their season openers, putting them one ahead of Chicago for most in Week 1. The Ravens had 14 pass plays and five runs, and the Eagles 13 pass plays and six runs. Baltimore also had six plays of 20 or more yards, all on passes.

Three games I'd like to see

Dallas at Seattle, 4:05 p.m. ET

The line: Cowboys by 3½

The story: I'll tell you why I like this game: Because we're going to find out something about both these teams. Seattle is a tough place to play because of the 12th man -- aka, the home crowd. The Seahawks always have been a tough out there, and I can't imagine this year will be different -- not with that defense Pete Carroll has assembled.

But the defense isn't the concern. The Seahawks' offense is. It didn't do much vs. Arizona, and it might not do much here. All I know is that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has Dallas playing better, much better, than it did in 2011, with the cornerbacks improved and the linebackers active.

That will be a problem if Seattle has to rely on Russell Wilson to pull off the victory. Nothing against Wilson, but I just don't trust undersized rookie quarterbacks. He was OK vs. Arizona, but OK won't cut it here. At some point, he must prove why he won the job.

Most people consider this a slam dunk for Dallas, but I don't completely trust the Cowboys -- especially in a stadium that can be a house of horrors for visitors. I remember a few years ago when the Giants rolled into town and piled up 11 penalties for false starts. With Tyron Smith at left tackle, the Cowboys might achieve similar results.

I know, Dallas has more talent. I like the experience they have in Tony Romo, too. And I love what Ryan has done with the defense. Nevertheless, it's never easy to go to Seattle and win, and Dallas is about to find out.

The back story: Romo aims for his fourth straight win over Seattle and his fourth straight, period, with a 100-plus passer rating. Romo has eight touchdown passes and one interception in his past three starts vs. the Seahawks.

N.Y. Jets at Pittsburgh, 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)

The line: Steelers by 5½

The story: Fireman Ed, brace yourself. The Steelers don't usually start a season with two losses, and they usually don't lose at home -- especially when it's a home opener. That means ... uh-huh, the Jets better be as sharp on offense and defense as they were a week ago.

Only that was Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buffalo Bills. This is Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, and Big Ben is 44-13 in the regular season at Heinz Field, while the Steelers are 8-1 at home vs. the Jets, including the playoffs.

If you're looking for a key matchup, start outside, where the Steelers throw wide receivers Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders (aka, "Young Money Crew") at a Jets secondary led by Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. Only there's one speed bump: Revis won't play, still suffering the affects of a concussion.

"We aren't scared of anybody," said Wallace.

Oddsmakers apparently aren't, either, making the Jets the underdog not because they like Wallace & Co. so much but because they don't trust the Jets. Not here, they don't. They figure the pass rush Mark Sanchez didn't see a week ago will materialize, with or without James Harrison. They also figure that Roethlisberger won't throw to the first open defensive back as Fitzpatrick did.

The Jets scored 24 points off turnovers last weekend, and that won't happen again. What will is a game between opponents that think they're playoff-worthy. Yeah, I know, the Jets won't say it, but when coach Rex Ryan tells you this may be the best team he has had you connect the dots.

The back story: Roethlisberger is 5-0 in home openers, completing 74 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns, three interceptions and a 111.9 passer rating.

Detroit at San Francisco, 8:20 p.m. ET

The line: 49ers by 7½

The story: I just wish Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz could shake hands before this game so we can dispense with the drama. Seldom do I remember a game ... any game ... where people were as focused on what happened afterward as they were on what happened before.

"I don't think there's been so much attention paid to a handshake since Grant and Lee shook hands at Appomatox," Ravens coach John Harbaugh told the Baltimore Sun.

How about Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini? Or Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin? Maybe Adrian Peterson and anyone? Nope, this is the Overhyped Overgrip, with Harbaugh and Schwartz in their corners ... on their sidelines ... until forced to do what they could not a year ago -- namely, shake hands and go home quietly.

That followed a San Francisco upset of the Lions, and that won't happen again ... because there are no more San Francisco upsets. People recognize the 49ers for what they are, which is one of the best ... if not THE best ... team out there.

They run. They pass. They play suffocating defense. And their special teams are among the best. In short, they have the board covered, one reason they're an overwhelming favorite here.

I know Matthew Stafford can throw for a zillion yards. But I also know Matthew Stafford threw three interceptions last week and came within 10 seconds -- depending on which official controls the clock -- of losing to St. Louis. Calvin Johnson is bothered by a foot injury. His running game is negligible. His defense is little more than adequate. Basically, his chances for the upset aren't good.

That doesn't mean it can't happen. Stafford's the guy who led the Lions to three wins last year after trailing by 17 or more. It just means it's not likely. So let's shake on that and get on with a game.

The back story: In his past 11 home starts, Alex Smith is 10-1, with 19 touchdowns and three interceptions.

Monday night lights

Denver at Atlanta, 8:30 p.m. ET

The line: Falcons by 3½

The story: With all the attention given Peyton Manning, it's easy to forget that Matt Ryan wasn't all that bad in his season opener. He had more touchdown passes than Manning. He threw for more yards. His completion percentage was higher. His passer rating was higher. And he won.

Matt Ryan is off to a fast start with the Falcons' new-look offense. (Getty Images)  
Matt Ryan is off to a fast start with the Falcons' new-look offense. (Getty Images)  
Yet this is all about Manning's return, and I get it. The guy's one of the game's best, and we missed him last season. Nobody was sure what he would look like when he returned, but now we know that virtually nothing has changed -- especially when Manning steps into the no-huddle.

But that was in Denver. This is Atlanta, and, yes, this will be a tough place to win. With Ryan at quarterback, the Falcons are 25-4 at home, and they're 37-2 under coach Mike Smith when leading at halftime, 34-1 when they're ahead at the end of the third quarter.

Most of those teams had a nice balance of Ryan's passing and Michael Turner's running, but with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter these Falcons tilt more to Ryan -- way more, and it's easy to see why: Look at his targets. I don't know that there's a better combination of receivers than Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, but I do know the Broncos are sunk if they can't get to Ryan or can't cover his targets.

The back story: Ryan is 7-1 vs. the AFC at home, with 16 touchdown passes and two interceptions. He's aiming for his sixth straight game vs. the AFC with a passer rating of 100 or better.

Crummy game of the week

Oakland at Miami, 1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Preview

The line: Raiders by 2½

The story: The Raiders are supposed to be more disciplined under new coach Dennis Allen, yet they committed stupid penalties, bounced two long snaps and had a punt blocked vs. San Diego. In short, they were a lot like the old Raiders, and, yes, that's a concern. One of these days these guys are going to make it over .500, but not if they play as they did Monday.

And that was at home. Now, they have to cross the country to play a team known best for its appearance on Hard Knocks. If I'm Allen, I rewind that videotape for my defensive linemen and see if, like Houston's J.J. Watt, they can get the hang of Ryan Tannehill's snap count.

Watt had 1½ sacks in the season opener.

The Raiders should have wide receiver Denarius Moore back for this game, and that's good news for Carson Palmer. His favorite receiver vs. San Diego wasn't a receiver at all but running back Darren McFadden, with 13 catches. Oakland needs playmakers like Miami needs shade, and Moore is one of Palmer's preferred targets. His return is a plus for an offense that struggles to score, but it doesn't guarantee anything other than maybe McFadden can concentrate on running the ball.

The back story: The Dolphins have won six of their past seven at home vs. Oakland.

Upset of the week

St. Louis over Washington, 4:05 p.m. ET

The line: Redskins by 3½

The story: I know, Robert Griffin III was so good last week some were asking why Indianapolis didn't draft him. Please. It's one game, and for one game he was remarkable. But he's a rookie, and rookie quarterbacks will have their ups and downs ... and this could be one of those downers.

I understand St. Louis has injuries on its offensive line, with center Scott Wells sidelined an estimated eight weeks and tackle Rodger Saffold iffy for this game because of a neck injury. But I also understand St. Louis came this close to knocking off Detroit last week ... in Detroit, no less.

Jeff Fisher will make these Rams tougher, more physical and more competitive, and I give them a shot here. Granted, they couldn't stop Stafford when it counted a week ago, but they also intercepted him three times -- including one returned for a touchdown. A similar performance here could produce the upset.

Fan Poll

What will be Week 2's best game?

Ravens at Eagles
19%
Jets at Steelers
12%
Cowboys at Seahawks
6%
Lions at 49ers
30%
Broncos at Falcons
33%

Total Votes: 15,103

The back story: In his past 13 home games, the Rams' Chris Long has 13 sacks.

Five guys I'd like to be

1. Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick: In his last start vs. Kansas City, he completed 17 of 25 passes with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 133.

2. New Orleans QB Drew Brees: Not only has he won his past five vs. Carolina; he threw for five touchdowns and one interception in his last appearance vs. the Panthers.

3. Houston LB Connor Barwin: He had a career-best four sacks the last time he faced Jacksonville.

4. New England QB Tom Brady: He has victories in 35 of his past 36 regular-season starts at home, with 75 touchdown passes, 18 interceptions and a passer rating of 106.2. He also has a touchdown pass in his past 33 games.

5. N.Y. Giants QB Eli Manning: He's 3-0 vs. Tampa Bay, with five touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Five best matchups

1. Robert Griffin III vs. the team that could've drafted him: That would be St. Louis, and there are a lot of Washington fans who would like to send thank you notes to the Rams. They're the guys who peddled away the second choice of the 2012 draft for picks galore, with Washington turning that choice into you know who.

2. Cleveland RB Trent Richardson vs. Cincinnati LB Rey Maualuga : It was Maualuga who said Richardson "didn't do nothing spectacular" last weekend, which Richardson didn't. But that got Richardson hot and bothered, with the rookie saying, "Most definitely, that sparks up something." Good. Something should.

3. Pittsburgh LB LaMarr Woodley vs. history: When Woodley this week was reminded that the Steelers haven't started 0-2 since 2002, he cautioned his listener not to pay attention to history. "We won't be 0-2," he said.

4. N.Y. Giants running back David Wilson vs. Tom Coughlin's doghouse: Wilson's fumble in the Giants' opening loss cost him and the team. First, it ruined a sure scoring drive. Second, it put Wilson on the bench. This week the rookie went through extensive ball security drills, hoping to win back Coughlin's confidence, and it seems to be working. "He's a little bit out of the doghouse," said the head coach.

5. San Francisco OT Anthony Davis vs. Detroit DE Cliff Avril: Hey, if their coaches can feud, why can't these guys? And they did, on Twitter, following last year's 49ers victory. "He doesn't like me," Davis told the San Jose Mercury News. "I don't know why. I don't need any new friends. It's cool."

Five things that may interest only me

1. Since realignment in 2002, 70 of the 120 playoff teams (or 58.3 percent), including the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, were 1-1 or 0-2 after two weeks. That's the good news. The bad: No playoff team the past two years has lost its first two starts.

2. New England has won 15 of its past 17 home openers and is 10-0 in home openers at Gillette Stadium.

3. With a 350-yard passing performance, Detroit's Stafford can become the first quarterback in league history to string together five consecutive 350-yard passing games.

4. Only four quarterbacks have won their first two starts as rookies. RG3 could become the fifth with a defeat of St. Louis. Of the four already there, two (Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez) made it to the conference championship game as rookies.

5. With a defeat of Arizona, New England's Bill Belichick will have won 10 straight regular-season games for the sixth time in his career.

Numbers to remember

7.4: Jamaal Charles' rushing average in four games vs. Buffalo
8: Straight games where Drew Brees has thrown for 300 yards
9: Straight home openers won by Pittsburgh
11-3: Peyton Manning on Monday Night Football
18: Rob Gronkowski touchdown catches in his past 17 games
37-11: Philip Rivers' regular-season record at home
44: Straight games where Drew Brees has thrown a TD pass
50: Victories (including playoffs) for Joe Flacco
67-13: New England's regular-season record at home since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002

Sunday weather

 Buffalo: Mostly sunny, high of 73
 Charlotte, N.C.: Mostly cloudy, high of 78
 Cincinnati: Mostly cloudy, high of 79
 Indianapolis: Mostly cloudy, high of 77 (retractable roof)
 Jacksonville, Fla.: Isolated thunderstorms, high of 85
 Miami: Scattered thunderstorms, high of 86
 Foxborough, Mass.: Sunny, high of 69
 East Rutherford, N.J.: Sunny, high of 74
 Philadelphia: Sunny, high of 75
 Seattle: Sunny, high of 72
 St. Louis: Dome
 Pittsburgh: Mostly sunny, high of 74
 San Diego: Sunny, high of 80
 San Francisco: Partly cloudy, high of 70

Where we will be

 I'll be in Philadelphia to collect your Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame write-in votes for Upper Darby's Todd Rundgren.
 Pete Prisco will be in Jacksonville because he lives there.
 Mike Freeman will be in San Francisco to broker a handshake deal between Harbaugh and Schwartz.

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