I have to tip my hat to Greg Schiano. I bet against the Bucs last week, and I can't help but feel I got the rope-a-dope treatment. Leading up to the game, he came out and publicly said that the wasn't even bothering to game-plan and was more focused on talent evaluation. Instead, his team came out fired up for the new season and promptly whipped up on the Dolphins in the first half. Losing David Garrard at the last minute only added insult to injury.
Granted, not many coaches go out of their way to draw up a detailed game plan to open the preseason, but I was left with a different impression nevertheless. It's clear that his new disciplined attitude is resonating with the roster, and picking against them again this week is playing with fire.
Speaking of fire, Mike Munchak ignited the same kind of optimism and fire into his team in last year's preseason. The Titans finished 3-1 en route to an overachieving season. Last week, Tennessee ran into another fired-up team on the rise in Seattle. I'm downplaying the results of Week 1, which I'll get to in a minute.
The upstart Bucs opened as (-3) point favorites (odds courtesy of SBR Forum) for Week 2, and there are hints that some action is coming in on the Titans as the juice is creeping in that direction.
This is where the meat of the pick stems from. Against Miami, Josh Freeman marched down the field to cap off an opening-drive touchdown. Dan Orlovsky followed that up with another touchdown drive and finished 8-of-8 for 91 yards.
That's it? Pop the cork and pour the champagne?
Not so fast, my friends.
Let's not get too carried away after one exhibition game. If you scan the local papers in Tampa, you'll walk away with the impression that the Bucs are punching their ticket for the postseason. In reality, Orlovsky's 44-yard completion came against a safety who misplayed the pass. Freeman looked comfortable, but he had a lot of help from a potent running game and a Dolphins defense that came out flat.
The misconceptions don't stop there.
Matt Hasselbeck threw two interceptions and no touchdowns in Seattle, but the first was a fluke play that came off a bad bounce, and the second was a deep ball on a third and long.
For this game, Mike Munchak has said that Jake Locker is going to get the start and that he wants both QB's to get 20+ reps each.
"You want to give them enough to where you can get some drives going. You hope you're out there longer. You want to get them in the 20s as far as plays," Munchak said. "It's a position he hasn't been in yet. Obviously, we started Matt last week, and we'll do the opposite this weekend."
This means that Locker could come close to playing the entire first half, depending on how the game plays out. I'm not sure that there is a bigger QB battle going on in the league right now (Arizona doesn't count—they have two backups fighting it out). Munchak went on to say that Locker has closed the game on Hasselbeck.
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"I don't know if there was a big gap," Munchak said. "Obviously, Jake doesn't have the experience Matt has, so I think that gap you can never really close if you are a young quarterback. But I think overall, as the season progressed last year, we thought that Jake was coming on real strong. So yeah, he has closed the gap, and they are obviously both doing well."
I really like the idea of Hasselbeck entering the game and playing into the second half to save his job. I'd be shocked if he got outperformed by Orlovsky in this spot.
Rounding out the rotation is Rusty Smith and Brett Raitliff. This matchup should be a wash, but Smith comes in with more experience.
Fans in Tampa are pretty excited about what they have going on at running back. Drafting Doug Martin has inspired LaGarrette Blount, and both should see significant time again this week.
The Bucs defense isn't what it once was, but they did make a bunch of tackles for a loss versus Miami. However, they also missed 12 tackles and faced a fairly anemic offense.
Chris Johnson is getting a lot of heat for dropping balls and running tentatively versus the Seahawks, but this shouldn't be front-page news. CJ was held out of NFLX entirely at times by Jeff Fisher, and he played the same way when he did get in there for limited reps. Javon Ringer and Darius Reynaud are better options for exhibition play.
Overall, it's not hard to see why the Titans should be tougher competition than the Dolphins. A competition headlined by two capable QBs should spearhead a good road effort into the third quarter. During the regular season, I rarely implement "trends" into my handicapping, but they can be useful in certain spots in the preseason.
Underdogs and road teams coming off a Week 1 loss have done very well against the spread over the last number of years—71.3 percent and 61.4 percent respectively. Teams coming off a Week 1 win are only 41.1 percent against the spread in Week 2. We have both dynamics at work in this matchup. The underlying theme here is how much the markets overreact to their first glimpse of teams after a long offseason.
NFL Pick: TEN +3 (SBR Forum).
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