15 Bold Predictions for NFL Week 2

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor ISeptember 15, 2012

15 Bold Predictions for NFL Week 2

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    If Week 1 of the National Football League season is a time for over-analyzing, then perhaps it’s safe to say that the season’s second week usually turns into a reality check.

    Case in point was Thursday night at Lambeau Field. The Bears entered that tilt off a 41-point performance against the Colts, while the Packers’ defense was being pushed around by the 49ers. Most expected a shootout at Green Bay and instead saw Jay Cutler once again struggle against that defense.

    Picking the Pack to beat the Bears a few days ago would hardly be considered bold. But we did take this time to make a few other suggestions in terms of the unexpected this weekend.

Browns Offense Scores a Touchdown (Maybe)

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    With last week’s 17-16 loss to Philadelphia in which the team’s only trip to the end zone came via linebacker D’Qwell Jackson's interception return for a score, the Browns’ offense was able to keep pace with Eagles running back LeSean McCoy.

    You see, dating back to the start of last season, the Pro Bowl performer has scored 20 touchdowns, the same amount that the Cleveland offensive unit has managed in its last 17 contests dating back to the start of 2011.

    Now Pat Shumur’s team heads to Cincinnati to face an angry Bengals’ club that comes off a long Monday evening at Baltimore, which saw the Ravens go on a 27-0 run to close the game.

    So look for Marvin Lewis’ team to make amends for last week’s blowout loss in Baltimore by putting the clamps on Browns’ rookie running back Trent Richardson.

    And sorry. The Cleveland offense will have to wait another week to score a touchdown.

Three-Win Vikings from 2011 Open 2-0 in 2012

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    It’s safe to say that it’s been lean times in Minnesota, where last season the Twin Cities saw only a trio of victories.

    How bad. The Vikings’ 13 losses tied the franchise record for setbacks in a season set originally in 1984 under then-head coach Les Steckel.

    Last Sunday, quarterback Christian Ponder came up with a little late-game magic to send his team into overtime and Leslie Frazier’s club held on to beat the Jaguars.

    This week, Ponder, running back Adrian Peterson and Co. turn their attention to a Colts’ team that got off to a promising start at Soldier Field but found themselves on the wrong side of a 41-21 score. And you can look for the Vikings’ prolific rusher to key a win against a new-look Indianapolis’ defense still looking to find itself.

Michael Vick on the Reverse

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    You would have thought the Eagles lost at Cleveland last week.

    Granted, they appeared to be trying. Andy Reid’s club moved the ball with regularity but Vick (with an assist on occasion from his receivers) served up four interceptions (and also fumbled twice) while Pro Bowl runner LeSean McCoy coughed up the ball as well.

    Enter the Ravens, fresh off a 44-13 Monday night rout of Cincinnati, but also a team that if you include last year’s AFC title game loss at Foxborough, was a mere 4-5 on the road. If you recall last season, Baltimore opened 2011 with a 35-7 dismantling of the Steelers, only to fall at Tennessee the following Sunday.

    So look for Vick to make amends, only this time you can expect four touchdown passes and a pair of picks (which will enable Ed Reed to get to an even 60 interceptions). And John Harbaugh’s regular-season return to Philadelphia, where he coached under Reid, proves to be a disappointing one.

Saints Are Marching...Out

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    Of course, one of the stunners from Week 1 was the Saints’ 40-32 loss at the Superdome to the Redskins and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.

    Washington rolled up 459 yards of total offense, more than any other team on the opening weekend of play.

    We’ll go out on a limb and predict that Drew Brees and Co. are a little miffed. But Brees and the New Orleans’ offense could use a little assist from their running backs considering the Saints ran for only 32 yards on 10 carries against the ‘Skins.

    But that rushing total was staggering considering what happened to the Bucs in Tampa, as Ron Rivera’s club managed a dismal 10 yards on the ground.

    So will the defending NFC South champions fall to 0-2 this season? It certainly won’t be a shock when the elusive Cam Newton gives Steve Spagnuolo’s defense the same issues as did Griffin III.

The Bucs Aren't Stopping

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    We all saw the Buccaneers in free fall, losers of their last 10 games last season and many of them in embarrassing fashion.

    And we all saw the Panthers a year ago, a much-improved offense led by the arm and legs of quarterback Cam Newton.

    So how does a team that gave up a combined 86 points and 433 yards rushing in a pair of losses to its division rival hold that same club to 10 points and 10 yards on the ground?

    It’s safe to say that the Greg Schiano Era in Tampa arrived with a bang rather than a whimper. And if that defense, which was last in the NFL in 2011 in points and rushing yards allowed, as well as sacks, can continue to make strides, this will be an interesting team in an always-interesting division.

    The talk after Week 1 in Tampa was that defense. The discussion after Sunday’s surprise of the defending Super Bowl champions will be rookie Doug Martin and the ground game as Schiano enjoys a pleasant return to New Jersey.

Zero to Zero

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    In 2005, the Patriots used a seventh-round pick (230th overall) on Southern Cal quarterback Matt Cassel.

    And 20 selections later, the Rams took Harvard signal-caller Ryan Fitzpatrick with the 250th pick.

    It’s been an interesting journey for the pair as they get ready to square off once again at Orchard Park.

    Interesting may be perhaps a little kind. Both of these quarterbacks have had their struggles as of late.

    Cassel, who missed the majority of 2011, has thrown 11 interceptions in his last 10 appearances, quite a change from the quarterback who was picked off just seven times in 15 games the previous season. Last week vs. the Falcons, the Chiefs’ quarterback turned over the ball three times in a 40-24 loss.

    Fitzpatrick, one of the catalysts during the team’s 3-0 start last season when he threw three times as many touchdown passes (9) as interceptions, has been his own worst enemy as of late. In his last 14 outings, the Bills are 3-11 and he’s served up 23 interceptions compared to just 18 scores.

    So what about this matchup? Look for both teams to rely on the ground games even more this week, with Kansas City having the edge due to their two-headed monster of Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis. With Fred Jackson sidelined, explosive C.J. Spiller gets the nod for Chan Gailey’s team.

    More importantly, you can expect zero turnovers from both Cassel and Fitzpatrick. Since the Chiefs have the edge at depth in the running game this week…

    Kansas City 2, Buffalo 1.

Patriots 47, Kolb/Fitzgerald 21

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    Most will certainly remember the last time the Cardinals flew east to face the Pats.

    Led by starting quarterback Matt Cassel, Bill Belichick’s team rolled to a 31-0 halftime lead en route to an embarrassing 47-7 win at snowy Foxborough.

    It proved to be a turning point game…for Arizona. Led by quarterback Kurt Warner, the Cards didn’t lose again until Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes did their late magic in Super Bowl XLIII.

    This week, there’s another unlikely starter behind center as injured John Skelton sits in place of Kevin Kolb, who lost his job during the preseason. But last week against Seattle, he came off the bench to rescue his team, his touchdown pass to Andre Roberts the difference in a 20-16 win.

    On Sunday, you can expect him and Larry Fitzgerald to play a little pitch and catch and score three touchdowns. But it won’t nearly be enough against a New England team that can put points on the board regardless of the conditions.

Not so Luck(y)

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    Let's go back to Indianapolis for a moment.

    Andrew Luck certainly took his lumps against the Bears last Sunday, sacked three times in the 20-point loss at Soldier Field. And the No. 1 overall pick this past April was forced into four turnovers, including three interceptions, in the Windy City.

    Via free agency and trades, the franchise has assembled an interesting offensive front and given it the job of protecting the first overall pick in April’s draft. The newcomers include veteran center Samson Satele as well as former Eagles’ guard Mike McGlynn and tackle Winston Justice, the duo anchoring the right side.

    While Chicago’s pass rush is on the come, the Vikings arrived some time ago.

    Last season, the Purple Gang piled up 50 sacks and last week dropped Jaguars’ quarterback Blaine Gabbert twice.

    You can look for that total to at least triple vs. Luck on Sunday. 

What Will Be Wrong with the Giants?

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    One loss doesn’t ruin a season, but fans of Big Blue have certainly had some time to mull over that 24-17 setback to the rival Cowboys about a week and a half ago.

    Tom Coughlin’s team became the first defending Super Bowl champion to lose its first game since the 1999 Denver Broncos opened that season minus retired John Elway.

    But it was also how the Giants lost. Dallas’ offense produced a 100-yard rusher (DeMarco Murray) and receiver (Kevin Ogletree) and a 300-yard passer in Tony Romo. Coughlin’s club gained just 269 total yards and scored 17 points, while the Pokes totaled 275 yards and the same amount of points in the second half. And protecting Eli Manning became an issue.

    And what of the Giants’ bottom-ranked running attack in the league last season? New York totaled just 82 yards rushing vs. Dallas (the Cowboys rolled up 86 yards in penalties).

    Reiterating, one loss is hardly a cause for panic. But when the G-Men fall to Tampa on Sunday, there will be some concern if the team opens 0-2.

    Then again, we all remember the last time Manning and Co. lost their first two games of the season…

It's the Pitts?

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    It’s funny how short the summer suddenly got for the J-E-T-S.

    Much maligned throughout the preseason for their inability to score touchdowns, Rex Ryan’s team did little wrong in a 48-28 rout of the Bills as the offense, defense and special teams all found the end zone last Sunday afternoon.

    But that was Buffalo. And this is Pittsburgh.

    It wasn’t long ago that the Jets and Steelers were squaring off in the 2010 AFC title game, a contest won by the Steelers after they built a 24-0 second quarter lead and held on for a 24-19 triumph.

    Earlier that season, the Jets had managed to win their very first game in the city of Pittsburgh, but their record (including a pair of playoff losses) stands at 1-8 in the Steel City.

    Make that 2-8.

    Are we making too much of Ryan and Co.’s performance against the Bills? If you’re now considering this Jets’ team to be some sort of offensive juggernaut, yes. But a game like that can do wonders for a team’s confidence.

    And while you can’t expect Mark Sanchez and the Jets to put 40-plus on the board at Heinz Field, they will have enough to take advantage of a Pittsburgh team not quite itself on defense yet.

Alfred Morris I

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    While Robert Griffin III was wowing the nation with his performance in the surprise of the Saints, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner was not a one-man show.

    Enter Morris, the former Florida Atlantic standout and the first of the team’s two sixth-round picks in April. The rookie runner totaled 28 carries for 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the 40-32 win at New Orleans.

    Let’s see. Mike Shanahan and a sixth-round draft choice at running back.

    We promise not to get ahead of ourselves, but there are some interesting comparisons here. Morris is one of three tailbacks on the roster, joining Roy Helu, a fourth-round pick in 2011 and the team leader in rushing yards last season, and classmate Evan Royster, a sixth-round selection in ’11.  

    Now flashback to Shanahan’s successful days in Denver. Super Bowl XXXII MVP and 1998 league Most Valuable Player Terrell Davis was a sixth-round pick, as was running back Mike Anderson in 2000. And former 1,000-yard rusher Olandis Gary was a fourth-round choice in 1999.

    Those are some pretty interesting coincidences. And we’ll hear even more about that stable of backs after the Redskins “run” their record to 2-0 this weekend.

Chris Johnson (4 Carries, 11 Yards)

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    It wasn’t long ago, 2009 to be exact, that the Titans’ workhorse was not only busy becoming the sixth player in NFL history to rush for 2,000-plus yards, Johnson set a new league record that season by totaling 2,509 yards from scrimmage.

    But that was then and this is…how?

    As in how one of the most explosive running backs in the game could be held to a mere four yards on 11 attempts?  That was the case at Tennessee last week as the Patriots’ defense put the clamps on Johnson.

    It also marked the seventh time the Titans runner had gained 50 yards or less on the ground since the start of 2011, equaling the figure managed by Johnson in his first three seasons.

    However, this week at San Diego, look for Mike Munchak’s star back to reverse those numbers, literally. But it will be just the start of a productive afternoon against that new-look Chargers’ defensive unit. 

Romo's Revenge

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    It’s been pretty easy picking for the Cowboys in their three encounters with the Seahawks over the past four seasons, Dallas more than doubling Seattle’s output on the scoreboard (95-39), with all of those games in Big and now Bigger D.

    And Romo has put up impressive numbers in those wins, throwing eight touchdown passes and only a single interception in those contests.

    But that was in Dallas.

    Now the Cowboys’ signal-caller heads to the Pacific Northwest for the first time since the ’06 NFC Wild Card Game, a memorable 21-20 loss that was the start (fair or unfair) of Romo’s legacy of not coming up big when it counted most.

    As many will recall, a certain game-winning field goal for the Pokes never came to light as holder Romo couldn’t handle the long snap.

    Even with rookie Russell Wilson at his best, the Seahawks just don’t have the artillery to keep up with Jason Garrett’s club these days.

49ers Win, 30-22 (Deja Vu)

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    Last Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, Jim Harbaugh’s team would be hard-pressed to be more impressive than they were in a sound 30-22 win over the Packers.

    It was less about the final score and more about the way the Niners handled last season’s team which scored the second-most points in a season in league history. That Green Bay squad ranked third in the NFL in passing and just 27th in the league in rushing yardage.

    This week’s opponent for the 49ers is Detroit, who last season was fourth in the league in passing while only three teams gained fewer yards on the ground.

    The similarities between last year’s Lions and Packers are eerie. Such will be the case when it comes to Sunday night’s final score.

Tracy Porter Scores Again

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    How happy is Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning these days?

    Last week, he helped launch a new era in Denver and played very well in the process, leading his team to a solid victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    The cherry on the sundae in that win was Porter’s 43-yard interception return for a touchdown at the expense of Ben Roethlisberger.

    Of course, Manning knows all about Porter’s big-play ability courtesy of that stirring pick-six the then-Colts’ quarterback served up in Super Bowl XLIV while his current teammate was with the Saints.

    So watch on Monday night, when Porter makes Matt Ryan his latest victim, which would be quite a feat considering the Falcons signal-caller has thrown 13 touchdown passes without an interception in his last five regular-season outings dating back to last season.