NFL Picks Week 2: Predicting Winners of Key Divisional Matchups

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIISeptember 12, 2012

Can Andy Dalton help the Bengals avoid an 0-2 start against another tough AFC North pass defense?
Can Andy Dalton help the Bengals avoid an 0-2 start against another tough AFC North pass defense?Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Week 2 of NFL action offers some intriguing divisional matchups that will be key to keeping the early season momentum flowing.

The NFL has a knack for encouraging fans to crawl back for more every week, and the latest slate is no exception.

Here is a breakdown of marquee contests across four different division between bitter rivals, with picks for each game.


Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals

Are we looking at the same ol' Browns? Nothing about their opening offensive debacle against the Philadelphia Eagles did much to disprove that implied notion.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati got blown off the field in Baltimore by an inspired Ravens team paying tribute to their recently deceased owner Art Modell.

Chances are the Bengals are going to take out their frustration on the lowly Browns. Last week, rookie QB Brandon Weeden couldn't muster anything orchestrating Pat Shurmur's West Coast attack, and the Browns wound up losing by a point.

Andy Dalton might have unspectacular numbers for the second game in a row, but it shouldn't be indicative of a sophomore slump.

As long as BenJarvus Green-Ellis can continue picking up yards between the tackles and Dalton makes smart decisions—i.e. chucking it somewhere near A.J. Green—the Bengals will be fine.

Barring a second consecutive dominant defensive performance, which seems unlikely with the Browns missing stud corner Joe Haden because of a suspension, Cincinnati should roll to victory at home.

Final score prediction: Bengals 17, Browns 6


Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers

Here's an intriguing duel between the NFL's oldest rivals.

Incredibly, the Pack could fall to 0-2 this season after going 15-1 last season and winning the Super Bowl in 2010.

Jay Cutler suddenly has two big-time playmakers to utilize to his heart's content: his go-to guy in Brandon Marshall, and stud second-round pick Alshon Jeffrey.

One game is a very small sample size, but it doesn't appear that Green Bay's talented defense has recovered from last season's disappointing performance. They were consistently gashed by the San Francisco 49ers on the ground and through the air.

Another discouraging trend that has carried over for the Packers is that Aaron Rodgers has not even a hint of a running game to turn to. Well, unless you count Rodgers himself, who was the team's leading rusher against the 49ers.

Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Tice has the personnel to attack the Pack from both dimensions of the offense as well, as he called a relatively balanced game against the Colts.

Unless Rodgers can outgun Cutler, last year's NFC regular season champion will have a nearly insurmountable hole to climb out of just to reach the postseason.

Dom Capers' aggressive scheme will force Cutler into mistakes, though, and the Green Bay offense will take advantage of multiple turnovers to barely get back to .500.

Final score prediction: Packers 31, Bears 23

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars

Before the beginning of the year, this would be argued as the biggest mismatch of the Week 2 divisional games.

However, Jags QB Blaine Gabbert showed signs that he was in fact worth the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 draft with a career-best outing against the Minnesota Vikings last week.

Gabbert even completed a bomb to Cecil Shorts for a 39-yard touchdown that nearly won the game. He not only answered critics who said he couldn't hang in the pocket, but he also displayed some clutch ability.

As promising as the second-year quarterback looked with new weapons and a new coordinator in Bob Bratkowski, he is facing an entirely different beast when the Texans come to town.

Houston's front seven is loaded with threats to disrupt Gabbert's rhythm, not to mention limit the effectiveness of last year's leading rusher Maurice Jones-Drew.

Defensive end J.J. Watt and linebackers Connor Barwin, Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed form a terrifying unit, and the back end is well-covered thanks to lockdown corner Jonathan Joseph.

It remains to be seen how the Minnesota Vikings will fare this season, but the Jags did allow Christian Ponder to go 20-of-27 for 270 yards this past Sunday. The superior talent on the Texans roster may result in an offensive explosion against the Jags.

There are definitely signs of life in Jacksonville, and the team will want to prove its worth against one of the most complete teams in the NFL.

Unfortunately for the home team, this one's still a mismatch.

Final score prediction: Texans 31, Jaguars 16

New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers

Another perennial contender in recent years has a chance of falling to 0-2, and a young, hungry Carolina team may be the worst opponent at the worst time for the Saints.

With Drew Brees, it's almost guaranteed that the offense will gain 300 yards through the air every week. The Panthers defense is talented, but there isn't adequate evidence thus far to show that they've improved from their abysmal 2011 display.

Translation: this one's going to be a shootout.

Cam Newton faces a New Orleans defense that just allowed rookie Robert Griffin III to light it up at the Superdome. As good as Griffin III already is, Newton's dual-threat success in his first year was unprecedented.

The Saints will continue to march as if the bounty scandal and coaching change won't cause the team to skip a beat, but the Panthers will hand them another loss in the most entertaining game of Week 2.

Final score prediction: Panthers 42, Saints 38


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