I’m glad that I didn’t go out of my way to pat myself on the back over a good Week 1 in the picks, because Week 2 was pretty rough. I knew I was in trouble when I picked so many road dogs and it came back to bite me.
Picking games early in the season is always tough with young players in key spots performing inconsistently and trying to figure out which teams are legitimate and which are frauds (see Cowboys and Jets).
Grantland.com’s Bill Simmons, who owns a far greater breadth of gambling knowledge than me, said on his podcast this week that the trend for the past several seasons has been that the road underdogs cover considerably more often than home favorites.
This trend has shifted this season to the home favorites. It’s only been two weeks but it will be interesting to see how it plays out over the totality of the 2012 season.
With as bad as my picks were this week they weren’t nearly as bad as the replacement refs were this week. I know most NFL fans are outraged by the incompetence and utter buffoonery of these refs, but I’m actually kind of enjoying them. They’re endless entertainment and just a joy to watch as they flounder around like a fish out of water, unable to perform what seem to us as even the most basic of procedures. I say this of course with the caveat that if they cost the Browns a game, I immediate retract this whole paragraph.
Speaking of the Browns, they gave us an entertaining game this past weekend and even though it came in a loss, there was a lot to be excited about with the way that Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson performed.
The reaction from fans was also a clear example why in football, as in most sports, offense rules. We probably should have been more encouraged by a one-point loss to Philadelphia than a seven-point loss to Cincinnati, especially considering that most national pundits believe the Eagles are a better team than the Bengals.
But because we’ve been so starved for offense in Cleveland and because Weeden and Richardson were both so downright atrocious in the opener, there was very little hope to be drawn there.
But even though the defense struggled mightily against Andy Dalton and the Bengals, we came out of that game with loads of hope after the offense looked like something that actually resembles what other teams are running out there on a weekly basis.
They haven’t arrived by any means. There’s still improvements that can and will be made.
Weeden will continue to improve his pocket presence and will learn to not lock in on his receivers as much. This won’t be the most popular opinion, but the guy he should emulate in that aspect is Ben Roethlisberger, who put on a masterful display against the Jets of making slight movements within the pocket to avoid the rush and open up better passing lanes.
I believe we only saw the tip of the iceberg with Trent Richardson. I won’t spend too much time on his game on Sunday other than to say that I’m giddy with anticipation about the freak of nature that he appears to be. He’ll continue to get more playing time and an increased role, even to the point where he may play on third down.
One thing I would love to see out of Pat Shurmur and Brad Childress with their offense is having both Richardson and Chris Ogbonnaya on the field in shotgun, third-down situations. With the exception of the fumble, I thought Ogbonnaya had a great game and he continues to prove me right as a player that I believe is quite underrated.
But you also want Richardson on the field as much as possible. Simple solution: switch out Owen Marecic for Richardson. Marecic has fairly well established his inability to catch passes and Richardson appears to be every bit as good at pass blocking. Other than just giving him a blow, I don’t see any reason whey they can’t make this switch. Pat and Brad, make it happen.
I'm less worried about the Browns' defense from a long-term viewpoint than I am at this point after a poor showing against the Bengals. They have several injuries/suspensions on that side of the ball right now that is adversely affecting their performance.
The defense did not play well last Sunday and I'm worried about them over these next few weeks. But I feel that there is a lot of talent on Dick Jauron's squad; they just need to get healthy.
Let's go to the Week 3 lines.
(As always, gamble at your own risk. Home team in CAPS. Lines from SportsBook.com.)
BROWNS (+3) over Bills
There are legitimate reasons that a smart person could make the case that the Browns will lose on Sunday. Mario Williams is going to be going up against rookie Mitchell Schwartz. The Browns DB's last week were pretty terrible and the Bills like to spread it out on offense. Oh, and C.J. Spiller is averaging 10.1 yards per carry and the Browns have not demonstrated that they are able to stop the run.
But other than that...I believe the Browns will win.
The offense looked good enough against the Bengals to make me believe that they could get similar production against a Bills defense that is not as good. Richardson will have a big game and the Bills will need to load up to stop the Browns rookie running back, opening up the passing game for Weeden.
I think the Browns defense will give up their fair share of yards but will force Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has been underwhelming since signing his big contract, into multiple turnovers.
Also, the Browns played close, winnable games against playoff-caliber teams in Philadelphia and Cincinnati. There's no reason why, if they play at that level, that they can't beat the Bills, who are not playoff-caliber.
BEARS (-7.5) over Rams
I really don't like this line at all. I would feel a lot better if it was a straight 7, but I'll go with the Bears anyway.
I know they struggled last Sunday against the Packers. But that was the Packers, not the Rams who have actually played surprisingly well through two games.
However, Jay Cutler does not often have two bad games in a row, and I don't think the Rams have the talent at this point to hang with a seasoned team like the Bears.
Buccaneers (+8) over COWBOYS
Tampa Bay is my pick for "Sneaky Team of 2012," and that trend will continue in Dallas. I think the Cowboys will probably still win the game, but it won't be easy.
Josh Freeman and the Bucs let a golden opportunity slip last week against the Giants, they'll come out ready to play and will keep the game close against the Cowboys, who are coming off an embarrassing loss in Seattle.
Cowboys by a field goal.
49ers (-7) over VIKINGS
San Francisco has been pretty much hands-down the best team in the NFL this season, with impressive wins against the Packers and Lions. They should have little trouble handily dispatching the Vikings.
TITANS (+3.5) over Lions
The Lions have been one of the most disappointing teams so far this season. Coming off a very good year in 2011 that included a trip to the playoffs, they looked poised to explode in 2012. That has not been the case.
Tennessee is not going to be a pushover, and this could be one of the most exciting games of the weekend. Lions win a close one.
REDSKINS (-3) over Bengals
It is abundantly clear through two games that Robert Griffin III is an exceptional player. He has had a bigger impact on his team than any new acquisition has had in the entire NFL this season. Though they lost last week, it was hardly his fault.
The Skins defense has some pretty significant shortcomings, especially now with the injuries to Brian Orakpo and Adam Karriker. But the Bengals defense hasn't exactly looked up to form through two games, either.
I don't know Rey Maualuga's opinion of him, but I believe RG3 will have another big afternoon carving up the Bengals defense both through the air and with his legs.
Jets (-2.5) over DOLPHINS
The AFC East is pretty down this season. Even the Patriots haven't looked like world-beaters thus far. While the Dolphins won last week and the Jets' magic-carpet ride came crashing down, I still think the Jets are the better team.
I don't really like either of these teams and don't believe either will make the playoffs, but New York is just a better team at this point.
SAINTS (-8.5) over Chiefs
Even the interim to the interim who is currently coaching the Saints is probably better than Romeo Crennel. The Chiefs are terrible and while I think the Saints are going to have a rough season, I don't think they'll have any trouble with Kansas City.
Drew Brees will rally the troops for an emotional win that will have the talking heads pontificating about "Are the Saints back?" I love the oversaturation of media attention on the NFL.
COLTS (-3) over Jaguars
Ugh...this will probably be a push but for the sake of making a pick, I'll take Andrew Luck over Blaine Gabbert any day. Maurice Jones-Drew could have a big day running the ball though.
CARDINALS (+3.5) over Eagles
This is maybe the second most interesting match-up of Week 3. Here we have two undefeated teams that most people believe aren't as good as their record (even if it has only been two games). The Eagles didn't look very good at all in either of their two wins, while the Cards surprised most people with both of theirs.
Arizona's defense has been pretty good for several years now and gave Tom Brady and the Patriots fits last week. I can only imagine the issues that an Eagles team that has turned the ball over nine teams in two games.
Falcons (+3) over CHARGERS
I tweeted early in the third quarter Monday night that it was probably about time that I started believing in the Falcons. By the end of the game, I was back to not believing in them. They completely dominated that first half forcing turnovers seemingly at will, reducing Peyton Manning to a mere shell of his former self.
But many people believe that if there were five more minutes to that game that the Broncos would have completed the comeback. The Falcons lack the ability to completely finish off their opponent when they have them down. They have tons of talent, but I don't they have a championship pedigree.
With that said, I still believe in them more than I do the Chargers.
Texans (-2) over BRONCOS
If the 49ers are the best team in the NFL, then the Texans are the second best. This will be their first real test of the 2012 season, but I believe they are up for the task.
Houston has such a great balance on their team with a very good defense, two stalwart running backs, and a formidable passing attack. The Broncos are a good team, but they don't have the firepower on offense or strength on defense to handle the Texans.
Steelers (-4) over RAIDERS
This line could probably be 20 points and I'd still take the Steelers. I know they haven't looked great and if Roethlisberger weren't half-Houdini, they'd be in really rough shape.
I don't enjoy picking the Steelers, but I don't see any way this is even a close game.
Patriots (+3) over RAVENS
I can't wait for all the overblown media coverage for the loser of this game, who will fall to a "surprising" 1-2 start. This is probably the best game of the week and it will be fun to watch how these two teams respond after disappointing losses.
But if I had to bet on anything, I'd bet on Tom Brady not losing consecutive games. The line suggests that these the Ravens and Patriots are dead even, and the AFC championship game last season certainly bore that out. I can't wait for this game. I think the Patriots pull out the win.
Packers (-3.5) over SEAHAWKS
I certainly wouldn't put it past Seattle to cover or even get the win outright. They have a rising team and will be tough beat all year, especially at home.
But even with the issues that the Packers have had, they're still coming off a 15-1 season a year ago and Aaron Rodgers is due for a huge game. I think it happens this week.
Feels like a good bounce-back week for the picks...
Last week: 4-9
You can follow Benjamin Flack on Twitter @ClevelandFlack.