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NFL Week 3 Predictions: The Thinking Man's Guide to Week 3

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NFL Week 3 Predictions: The Thinking Man's Guide to Week 3
Al Bello/Getty Images
New England is to Baltimore what Denver was to Cleveland (1980s).

These new early-season Thursday games make it feel like the NFL week never really ends. Imagine how the New York Giants felt having to travel to Carolina for a game tonight after Sunday’s emotional comeback win.

This week, we will look at the Giants’ chances of pulling off the rare Thursday night road win, Peyton Manning’s bounce-back opportunity, the incredibly inefficient Oakland offense, which New England player Bernard Pollard will injure this time and Seattle’s not-so-great home-field advantage.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

 

Carolina Panthers Ready for Prime Time?

The Carolina Panthers return to prime time for the first time since Week 16 of the 2010 season, when they were pasted, 27-3, by the Steelers in Pittsburgh. This will also mark Cam Newton’s prime-time debut.

They have home-field advantage, which, as we looked at last week, is so key on these short weeks. The home team is now 26-12 (.684) on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football since 2006.

Quick turnarounds mean less recovery time, and that is not helping the New York Giants’ cause. After a huge comeback win against Tampa Bay, the team that beat Carolina to start the season, the Giants will be without star receiver Hakeem Nicks, who had 199 receiving yards on Sunday.

Even Domenik Hixon is out, leaving Eli Manning’s receiving corps rather thin. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw is out as well.

Defensively, the Giants have been far from stellar through two games. An offense like Carolina is a lot to prepare for on a short week with all the ways Newton can attack a defense.

Even if the Giants are the better team on paper, there is a lot to like about Carolina in this one, except if it is still a close game in the fourth quarter. Then, you have two teams that could not be more different.

Manning led his ninth game-winning drive since just Week 3 of last season against Tampa Bay while throwing for 229 yards in the final 7:41. The Giants scored 25 points in the fourth quarter; against the same opponent, Carolina managed 10 points in 60 minutes.

While Manning has so many recent game-winning drives, Newton has just one to go with nine losses in games in which he had an opportunity for more. The Panthers are one of the worst teams in the league at closing games in the fourth quarter.

Since 2009, the Carolina Panthers are 4-21 (.160) in fourth-quarter comeback opportunities. That record falls to 2-15 (.118) since 2010. You would expect better since last year with Newton, but again, his record is just 1-9 (.100), with seven straight losses in that scenario.

When it seems like every game with the Giants these days has a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity (17-of-22 since 2011), you have to like New York’s chances should this game be close.

A sluggish start offensively like we saw last week with Chicago and Green Bay could really help in making that happen. At this point, you have to trust Manning with the ball in his hands and a chance to win the game.

Carolina? We haven’t seen it yet and not for several years. This is a big game for them. It’s a chance to earn respect.

With the big injuries for the Giants and the short travel week after the emotional win, Carolina seems like the better choice. They will have multiple ways to attack the Giants defensively, and while Manning is very good, he still gives your defense a few chances every week for takeaways.

Just better hope Carolina is ahead by enough late and does not give Manning a chance (a la the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1). The Panthers must show they can close the big dogs out before anyone takes them seriously.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

 

Peyton Manning’s Bounce-Back Game

By now everyone has taken their turn dissecting Peyton Manning’s three interceptions in the first quarter on Monday night in Atlanta. The overreaction is in full force, as one week after proclaiming Denver as Super Bowl favorites, now the thought is “should they have traded Tebow?”

ESPN posted a graphic about how Manning has bounced back from three-interception games in his regular-season career.

ESPN graphic.

The results would say he’s rather average—just one game over .500 and a not-so-hot 26-to-23 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The graphic was a bit misleading, to say the least.

Manning tossed three picks in three of his first four games as a rookie in 1998. Not exactly a good comparison for, say, what will happen this Sunday.

Overall, 10 of his 15 games with three interceptions came in his first five seasons (1998-2002), when he was not the Manning we would see later in his career.

In 2007, Manning had that bizarre game in San Diego with six interceptions, yet he still should have won after a big comeback attempt. The following week, the Colts played a very sluggish game offensively against a bad Kansas City team but got the win at the end.

In 2009, Manning had another strange game in which he was brilliant early with three touchdown passes against Denver but then hit the coldest of cold streaks with three interceptions. He rebounded to throw his fourth touchdown pass of the game to cap the win.

Then, all you have left is a three-game odyssey in 2010, when Manning threw 11 interceptions against New England, San Diego and Dallas. He also threw eight touchdowns in that span, but the interceptions were damning. He corrected things afterwards, and since then, we have only seen him play two real games.

Manning’s “bounce back” started in Atlanta. It was called “Quarters 2 through 4.”  Usually when a quarterback throws three interceptions in a game, they are never distributed on the first three drives.

Even though they trailed 20-0 and 27-7 in the fourth quarter, Denver was one third-down stop away from getting the ball back and Manning having a chance to lead a game-winning touchdown drive.

Everyone should just relax over the Atlanta loss. We will get a great look on Sunday when Manning’s Broncos host the Houston Texans, a team Manning has owned in his career. His record is 16-2 versus Houston with a 110.6 passer rating, and he was even excellent in the two losses.

However, Manning did not play last year when defensive coordinator Wade Phillips revamped the defense, and there are many new faces on one of the league’s stingiest units. This will be a big test for Manning; these are not your old Houston Texans anymore.

But after hearing the criticism this week, much like all the doubts this offseason leading up to his debut against Pittsburgh, you can count on Manning to rebound with a much better performance.

The Broncos are home, the no-huddle offense will work better, and you can bet there will be adjustments made to avoid those passes to the deep middle-right of the field that Manning failed on three straight drives.

We already saw the adjustment begin Monday night.

Denver’s last nine drives ended with: Jacob Tamme coming up a yard short on a pass; Knowshon Moreno fumble; Willis McGahee stopped on a 3rd-and-2 run; touchdown; third-down throwaway after getting (legally) horse-collared; McGahee stopped on a 3rd-and-1 run; touchdown; sacked by William Moore; touchdown.

The Broncos have a lot of work to do, but quarterback is the least of their concerns moving forward*. Denver should pull out the win this Sunday.

*Unless he continues to force those passes to that danger zone like on Monday night.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

 

Oakland’s Woefully Ineffective Passing Offense

Carson Palmer is on pace for 5,360 passing yards and leading the Oakland Raiders to 216 points (13.5 PPG)…and a 0-16 record.

Where would the Raiders be right now if Jason Campbell was never hurt last year? They certainly would not have made the foolish trade for Palmer. Those draft picks sure could have helped because you can always cheaply turn to Matt Leinart if you want ineffective offense.

Instead, the former No. 1 overall pick is at the controls, and things may have never been as bad as they are now for Palmer. He may be healthier than in the past, but he sure is not pushing the ball.

In Week 1 against San Diego, Palmer was 32-of-46 for 297 yards. The Raiders scored a late touchdown and lost, 22-14. Hidden in those numbers were 13 failed completions, a league high for Week 1.

What’s a failed completion? It is based on historical research that determines a successful play as one which gains at least 45 percent of the needed yards for a first down on first down, 60 percent on second down and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

Darren McFadden alone had eight failed receptions that night. It was a pathetic display of offense for Oakland, but it may be even worse in the context of how many completions Palmer had.

 

  • The Raiders became the 37th NFL team to throw for a net of at least 275 yards with no interceptions but score 14 or fewer points. Those teams have a game record of 3-34. Only five had at least 32 completions.

 

What did Palmer and the Raiders do for an encore? They flew across the country to Miami and scored 13 points in a 35-13 loss. The last score was a field goal on a 15-yard drive that started at the Miami 25, thanks to a big punt return.

While the focus has been on how bad Miami’s receiving corps is, rookie Ryan Tannehill outplayed Palmer, who had a long completion of 64 yards for a touchdown to a running back (Mike Goodson).

Palmer was 24-of-48 for 373 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 74.4 passer rating. Volume, volume and more volume. He only had five failed completions this time, but it’s still not putting points on the scoreboard. It was another historically empty performance.

The Raiders became only the 11th team since 1940 to pass for over 370 yards but score 13 or fewer points. They rank third in the league in passing yards but 31st in scoring offense.

You could see traces of this last season. In consecutive weeks, the Raiders fell behind 34-0 in both Miami and Green Bay before scoring some garbage-time points in the second half.

Since that first Miami game, the Raiders are 1-6. What do you think will happen this week when they get Pittsburgh? On Sunday, Mark Sanchez was just 6-of-22 for 58 yards after a strong opening drive against the Steelers.

What will Palmer do this week against a defense that has a history of making big interceptions against him? The Steelers may not be getting those takeaways anymore—they have a league-low 17 since the start of the 2011 season—but you can bet they will be ready for the league’s most hollow offense.

Al Bello/Getty Images
Cundifficulties in the 2011 AFC Championship.

 

Can Baltimore Finally Close Out New England?

Lee Evans is gone. Billy Cundiff is gone. Mark Clayton has been long gone. The Baltimore Ravens are either going to find their new scapegoat for why they failed in the clutch against New England, or they are finally going to win a close game in a battle of AFC elites.

Other than the unbelievable rout the Ravens put on New England in the 2009 AFC Wild Card—it was 24-0 in the first quarter after three Tom Brady turnovers—Baltimore has always failed to close the Patriots out when it is a close game.

With both teams coming off a loss and facing a 1-2 start, this is the biggest regular-season meeting yet between the two. Expecting a tough, competitive battle, history has not been kind to Baltimore in this series.

2007: Giving the 11-0 Patriots all they can handle, the Ravens blew a chance for a two-score lead late after Kyle Boller threw an interception. Holding onto a 24-20 lead, Ray Lewis and the defense had a chance to end the game on their terms.

In fact, they had multiple chances, but the Patriots had a false start on a fourth-down stop, Baltimore was flagged for defensive holding after another fourth-down stop, and then, Brady finally threw the game-winning touchdown to Jabar Gaffney with 0:44 left.

Boller would complete a Hail Mary to Mark Clayton down at the 3-yard line, but time expired. New England escaped with a 27-24 win to start 12-0.

2009: After battling back in the fourth quarter, the Ravens trailed 27-21. Ray Rice (3rd-and-1) and Willis McGahee (4th-and-1) were stopped on consecutive runs as Baltimore turned it over on downs. Getting one more chance, Joe Flacco drove the offense down to the NE 14 with 0:32 left, but Mark Clayton dropped the pass, and New England escaped again with the win.

Mark Clayton's drop on 4th-and-4 (NFL.com)

It was just a flat-out drop, as he was wide-open for the first down.

NFL.com

2010: After playing a very strong game, as soon as the fourth quarter came around, the Ravens started falling apart. Flacco bobbled a bad snap, but he still threw a good pass to Derrick Mason, who dropped it. They settled for a field goal and a 20-10 lead.

Baltimore would get five more possessions in the game, and they failed to score or even get deeper than the NE 48 on all of them. They went three-and-out three times.

Meanwhile, the Patriots tied the game, forced overtime and won on a field goal with 1:56 remaining for a 23-20 comeback win.

2011 AFC Championship: Talk about the ultimate frustration. Driving toward a Super Bowl berth-clinching touchdown, the Ravens appeared to have it late, but Sterling Moore did enough to make Lee Evans drop the ball in the end zone.

You have to protect that ball like it's your baby, Lee Evans. (NFL.com)

But at least they can still kick the easy 32-yard field goal and go to overtime, right? Wrong. Billy Cundiff blew it wide left, partially because he completely rushed the kicking process. The Ravens lost, 23-20, after making two massive mistakes you rarely see individually, let alone on the same drive.

Baltimore gets home-field advantage this time, but that’s a lot of mental history the Ravens have to deal with when they face the Patriots. Some of the past culprits are gone, but Flacco and the core of a defense that has struggled at times with Brady’s offense remain.

This is such a hard game to predict because you never would have expected one of these teams to start 1-2 this season. They are among the very best in the league at bouncing back from a loss.

Since becoming a head coach in 2008, John Harbaugh is 16-4 in regular-season games following a loss. That includes 13 straight wins. The last Baltimore losing streak was in October of 2009.

Bill Belichick is 27-3 in games after a loss since 2003. That’s right. There have only been three losing streaks, each lasting two games, in New England in the last nine-plus regular seasons.

Could be a classic game which, by the flip of a coin, leads me to pick the Patriots to win again.

Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
One: the number of Seattle wins vs. playoff teams at home (2008-11)

 

Don’t Believe the Hype: Green Bay’s Offense vs. Seattle’s Home-Field Advantage

Expected ESPN build-up: “The Packers have an elite offense behind Aaron Rodgers! Seattle has an incredible home-field advantage with the 12th man! Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden are going to destroy the replacement referees again!”

These statements have been used often in recent years—well, the first two, at least—though neither may be applicable to Week 3’s conclusion on Monday night in Seattle.

In past seasons, this would likely be a Green Bay rout. However, the Packers have not looked like themselves on offense with Aaron Rodgers since Christmas night last season. The offense has struggled in four of Rodgers’ last five starts.

Excluding the brilliant fake field goal for a touchdown against Chicago, Green Bay’s actual offense has only scored 16 points in each game this season. After a fortunate 20 points in the playoff loss—remember, Greg Jennings fumbled on that first touchdown drive—this is the worst three-game scoring output the Packers offense has had since Weeks 5-7 in the 2007 season.

Sounds like a perfect opportunity for Seattle’s young secondary to star in prime time and get a big win at home, right?

Not so fast. The Seahawks are known for having such a great home-field advantage since opening Qwest Field—actually changed to CenturyLink Field, but we know which one sounds better—in 2002. That was once true, but that was when Seattle had a better team.

As it often works in the NFL, it is better to be a good team than to be the home team.

Since 2008, Seattle is 16-17 (.485) at home. Half of their wins have come against their ridiculed division, and none were over the few winning teams the NFC West has produced in that time. Of the 16, the lone win over a playoff team came last year when they beat Baltimore, 22-17, in a big upset.

Let’s even give them credit for the playoff win—“Beast Mode” and all—over New Orleans in 2010, and they are .500. With average home-field advantage at 57-58 percent, .500 is not cutting it.

The 16-17 record ties Seattle with Jacksonville for the 21st-best home record in the league since 2008. But to find an advantage, what if we subtract the difference in the team’s road record from their home record since 2008?

Home minus road winning percentage differential (2008-12)

Seattle does have one of the highest differentials between home and road record (as does the rest of the NFC West, minus dreadful St. Louis). Four teams actually have managed a better road record than home record.

Though you may notice Green Bay has been one of the better road teams in the league in the same time. Aaron Rodgers should find enough offense to outscore Russell Wilson in his third career start.

Go with the man wearing No. 12, not the 12th man.

 

Scott Kacsmar writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, NBC Sports, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive and can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.

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