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NFL Picks Week 2: Dark-Horse Contenders That Will Earn Close Victories

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 08:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers against the Seattle Seahawks during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 8, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Maxwell OgdenCorrespondent IIISeptember 12, 2013

In Week 2 of the 2013 NFL regular season, the league's elite are once again prepared to line up and battle for supremacy. After an opening week of action in which some of the top stars shined and best teams received early scares, numerous squads revealed themselves to be of a higher caliber than expected.

The question is, which dark-horse postseason and title contenders will earn close victories in Week 2?

In any other sport, it'd be fair to assume that our evaluations of teams are premature with just one game completed. With that being said, there are only 16 games in an NFL season and every win and loss counts.

Here are the teams who will earn a big victory in Week 2 and move one step closer toward achieving dark-horse contention.

 

Carolina Panthers (at Buffalo Bills)

Date: Sunday, Sept. 15, at 1 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

Betting Line: Panthers (-3)

Prediction: 24-20, Panthers

The Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills are two teams that made incredible statements during Week 1 losses to Super Bowl favorites. Carolina lost 12-7 against the Seattle Seahawks, while Buffalo fell 23-21 to the New England Patriots.

In the end, both teams established that they have bright futures ahead of them. This game will establish which team has the best chance of competing in 2013.

Expect Carolina to rise to the occasion.

The Panthers have one of the best front sevens in the NFL, led by the linebacker grouping of Jon Beason, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Complemented by top-tier pass-rushers Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, as well as rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, Carolina has elite upside.

The potential rise of Kawann Short makes it all the more intriguing to speculate.

Buffalo has quality defensive pieces of its own with rookie linebacker Kiki Alonso and safety Da'Norris Searcy playing behind a strong defensive line, led by Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams. But this one comes down to how well each team's quarterback plays. EJ Manuel was supremely efficient during Week 1, but Cam Newton is a star-caliber player waiting to break out.

Expect Newton to shine and lead Carolina to a close win over a fellow rising squad, improving its postseason odds.

 

Chicago Bears (vs. Minnesota Vikings)

Date: Sunday, Sept. 15, at 1 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

Betting Line: Bears (-6)

Prediction: 17-14, Bears

The Chicago Bears are one of the best teams in the NFL when it comes to the first half of the regular season. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings have the best running back in the league but a wildly inconsistent quarterback.

Chicago is 12-4 during its first eight games of the past two regular seasons, which includes a 7-1 start in 2012. Unfortunately, Chicago is also 6-10 during its final eight games of the past two regular seasons.

The Bears opened up 2013 with a 24-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, bringing in the Marc Trestman era in a positive manner. The issue for Chicago hasn't been coaching or the ability of its players, however; instead, it's been injuries.

If this team can stay healthy, don't be shocked to see the Bears in the hunt for the Super Bowl.

Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall are one of the league's premier pass-and-catch tandems, and Alshon Jeffery is displaying the potential to be a No. 2 option. Matt Forte is a world-class all-around running back while Chicago's defense remains elite.

As long as Lance Briggs, Cutler, Forte, Tim Jennings, Marshall and Charles Tillman are healthy, the Bears will be a dark-horse Super Bowl contender.

 

Indianapolis Colts (vs. Miami Dolphins)

Date: Sunday, Sept. 15, at 1 p.m. ET

TV: CBS

Betting Line: Colts (-3)

Prediction: 20-17, Colts

The Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins are rising teams with promising defenses and young quarterbacks flashing star-caliber upside. Both teams are fresh off of Week 1 victories and both are looking to challenge Super Bowl favorites in their respective divisions.

In the end, it will be the Colts who take a three-point win.

The Colts started the season with a 21-17 win over the Oakland Raiders and the result won't be much different here. Andrew Luck is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL and his go-to receiver, Reggie Wayne, seems to age like wine.

With a close game on the horizon, it'll be more of the same in Indianapolis.

Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson can deservedly take the headlines and the commercials, but Luck owns the fourth quarter.

Miami will get after the quarterback, with Cameron Wake leading a lethal pass rush, and that is concerning for Indianapolis' inconsistent offensive line. When it comes right down to it, however, the Colts have a fourth-quarter maestro and a defense that can give Ryan Tannehill fits.

It'll be another grind-it-out game in Indianapolis, as the Colts move to 2-0 and continue on as a dark-horse contender.

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