NFL Week 3: 15 Bold Predictions

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor ISeptember 22, 2012

NFL Week 3: 15 Bold Predictions

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    Last week, there was little reason to be bold, especially when it came to picking winners. Just circle the home team on your schedule and you were in pretty good shape. Only two teams (Arizona and Houston) managed victories away from home, with the Cardinals' win in New England the only real shocker.

    So what about this week? Well, the home-field advantage didn’t mean much to the Panthers on Thursday night as the banged-up Giants throttled Cam Newton and company at Carolina. And of the remaining six teams that are 2-0, four hit the road (Texans, 49ers, Eagles and Falcons), although Philadelphia and Atlanta travel to undefeated Arizona and San Diego, respectively.

    So after a 23-9 start by the home teams this season, don’t be shocked if more than half of this week’s hosts come up short.

    A bold pick? Perhaps not. We saved those for later.

Jones-Drew vs. An-Drew

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    The Mike Mularkey era in Jacksonville is off to a winless start, but it's only been two games.

    It took Indianapolis 14 games to get win No. 1 in 2011, a string of futility that produced a 2-14 finish and a new start for the franchise.

    Things aren't nearly so dire yet for the Jaguars, mainly because of Maurice Jones-Drew, last season’s league leader in rushing yards, who since the start of 2011 has scored 12 of his team's 24 touchdowns.

    For the Colts, rookie quarterback Andrew Luck will try to lead his team to its second consecutive win.

    Traditionally, Jones-Drew has had his way with the Indianapolis defense and he will do so again. But while Mularkey’s club wins the battle, the Colts will…well, you know the rest.

Browns 'Buffalo' Bills

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    Last week, we finally saw a little life from the Cleveland offense. Rookie running back Trent Richardson ran for more than 100 yards and scored touchdowns running and receiving in a loss at Cincinnati.

    Buffalo, on the other hand, despite winning 35-17, surrendered 422 total yards against the Chiefs, 150 on the ground. While Bills defenders did sack Matt Cassel five times, there is obviously some work to be done stopping the run.

    Would it be a shock to see both Richardson and Buffalo’s red-hot C.J. Spiller put up big numbers on the ground? Of course not.

    But you may be a bit surprised when Pat Shurmur’s club puts 30 points on the board for the first time in nearly two seasons and breaks into the win column for the first time this season.

Take the Under...

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    There’s symmetry…then there’s the early 2012 edition of the Chiefs and the Saints.

    Off the way the Chiefs responded to Romeo Crennel in the final three games of 2011, in which they allowed 33 points and beat the playoff-bound Packers and Broncos—handing the Packers their only regular-season loss—big things were expected. But the Chiefs have allowed 75 points in losses to the Falcons and Bills.

    The Saints were looking to become the first team to win back-to-back NFC South titles, but had an offseason unlike any other. Quarterback Drew Brees did return after signing a lucrative contract. But the Saints have also allowed 75 points in losses to the Redskins and Panthers.

    You might think all will be right after the Cajuns roll Kansas City in front of the home fans. After all, after a perfect 9-0 mark at the Superdome last season (including playoffs), the Saints wouldn't lose two in a row in their own backyard, would they?

    Last season, Crennel found a way to defuse that Green Bay attack. Look for a repeat performance against Brees and company, with more field goals than touchdowns in an upset victory.

Push Comes to Love?

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    Can’t we all just get along?

    We wound up with a few extra days to discuss the Bears' 23-10 Thursday night loss at Lambeau Field in Week 2, and isn’t it amazing what one setback can do?

    After Chicago’s 20-point win over the Colts, Lovie Smith’s team looked to be in the thick of the NFC North race. Four interceptions, seven sacks of Jay Cutler and a highly publicized sideline confrontation between Cutler and tackle J'Marcus Webb later, things have blown up in the Windy City.

    And now the Rams, these days led by Jeff Fisher, arrive at Soldier Field. Their first round-laden defensive front can’t wait to add to its numbers at the expense of the beleaguered Bears’ quarterback.

    But here’s a vote for a different kind of game plan for Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice. After Webb and his linemates keep Cutler upright and the St. Louis defense without a sack, perhaps we can start suggesting that Chicago has the best offensive line in the league.

    Welcome to the ultimate in “what have you done for me lately?”

Holmes Sweet Holmes

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    Four years ago, Santonio Holmes' finest NFL moment occurred in the state of Florida, as he caught the game-winning touchdown pass and earned Super Bowl XLIII MVP honors in the Steelers' 27-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Tampa.

    Last January’s appearance in the Sunshine State wasn’t nearly as much fun for the Jets’ receiver, who had his issues in Miami in the Jets’ regular-season finale, a 19-17 loss that was the topic of discussion with the team for quite a while (or until Tim Tebow arrived).

    There’s no denying the talent of the Jets’ leading pass-catcher two games into this season.

    Last week at his old stomping grounds at Heinz Field, he and the Jets got off to a tremendous start. His 14-yard touchdown reception gave New York a 7-3 lead. But the rest of the afternoon proved to be a little rough as the Jets fell to the Steelers, 27-10.

    Now Holmes returns to Miami, and you can expect him to prove that last year’s debacle at Sun Life Stadium was an anomaly. Let’s say he'll have 120 yards and three touchdowns on only six receptions.

Life Without Brian

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    Last Sunday, the Washington Redskins not only lost a 15-point lead to the St. Louis Rams, they also lost the game.

    More importantly, they lost a pair of starters—veteran defensive end Adam Carriker and fourth-year outside linebacker Brian Orakpo—for the season.

    The loss of Orakpo has drawn more attention. With 29.5 sacks in 49 games, the former Pro Bowler is one of the better pass-rushers in the league. But with fellow former first-rounder Ryan Kerrigan at the other outside linebacker spot, Washington still expects to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

    Whether Orakpo's replacement is  2008 seventh-rounder Rob Jackson or veteran Chris Wilson, who actually had four sacks in his rookie season in 2007, look for one or both to take advantage of a Bengals’ offensive line that has surrendered 10 sacks in two games.

    Bengals right tackle Andre Smith might be the player under the most pressure on Sunday.

Remember the Titans’ Defense?

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    Mike Munchak’s head coaching debut in Nashville a year ago brought some promise.

    The Titans started out 3-1 and, despite a few bumps along the way, finished 9-7 and just missed the playoffs. It was a three-game improvement from 2010, when the club lost eight of its last nine games after opening 5-2.

    But for the most part, Tennessee played pretty respectable defense despite the worst pass rush in the AFC. Munchak’s team held nine of its 16 opponents to 17 or fewer points and all but two to fewer than  30.

    That's not been the case this season. The Titans allowed 390 yards in a 34-13 loss to New England and 416 yards in a 38-10 loss to San Diego last week.

    Now the Detroit Lions, more than capable of lighting up the scoreboard, come to Tennessee. But it’s been a less than spectacular start for Matthew Stafford and company. Just  when you thought this would be more trouble for Munchak’s club, look for Jerry Gray’s defense unit to come up big as the Titans get their first win of 2012.

Record-Setting Day for Peyton

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    Everyone who watched last Monday night’s Broncos-Falcons game at the Georgia Dome had to be shocked.

    In a prime-time win over the Steelers in his first game as a Bronco, Peyton Manning was his usual self and played a pretty good game for someone who had not taken the field in a meaningful NFL contests in 20 months.

    But it was a different story against the Falcons. Three first-quarter interceptions left many scratching their heads and helmets. What’s wrong with Manning (if anything), they wondered?

    Frankly, we don’t know. What we do know is that he faces the Texans this week, a franchise that he tortured while with the Colts, going 16-2 against them while throwing 42 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions.

    But this is a different Houston team and certainly a different Houston defense.

    For the record, Manning has never been sacked more than five times in any game. But in two games this season, the Steelers (2) and Falcons (3) dropped him five times.

    That number will be bested by at least one on Sunday in Denver. And don’t be shocked if Manning suffers through another first, losing a game at home to the Texans.

A Rolling Moss…

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    Only Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice has caught more touchdown passes than one-time Vikings, Raiders, Patriots and Titans wideout Randy Moss, who is now snaring passes from Alex Smith in San Francisco.

    But this Sunday, the veteran performer, who is looking to become the ninth player in NFL history with 1,000-plus receptions, will do something he’s never done in his pro career.

    Face the Vikings.

    Incredibly, Moss has never gone head-to-head with the organization that drafted him in 1998. He came close in 2010. But after being dealt by New England back to Minnesota that season, he wound up facing the Pats.

    Today, he’s part of a team that stresses the run and plays tremendous defense, a far cry from being a member of two clubs that put points on the board through the air in record-setting fashion. The 2007 Patriots (589) own the NFL mark for scoring in a season, and the ’98 Vikings (556) are third in the same category.

    So far this season, Moss has caught only five receptions for 61 yards and a score. On Sunday at the Metrodome, he may not pile up many receptions, but look for a hat trick of touchdowns from the prolific receiver.

More Turnovers for the Birds

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    There are cliffhangers, then there are the Eagles.

    No team in the league has gained more total yards than Andy Reid’s club, and no team has more turnovers (9). That contradictory start has resulted in one-point victories over the Browns and Ravens.

    The Eagles are one of only six unbeaten teams, but their opponent on Sunday is one of the others. And the Arizona Cardinals know something about winning close games. Dating to last season, Ken Whisenhunt’s club is 9-2 and those victories have come by a total of 33 points, including four wins in overtime.

    They also know a little something about turnovers, coughing up the ball twice in each of their first two games, including a nearly devastating fumble at New England last week.

    So look for a familiar formula on Sunday. Only this time it’s the Cardinals who provide the Eagles with extra opportunities. Kevin Kolb will have problems holding onto the football as the Philadelphia defensive line pours in on him.

Turner over Turner

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    After two weeks, the Atlanta Falcons have been nearly perfect in many people’s eyes, beating the Chiefs and Broncos and not committing a turnover.

    Over the same period, the San Diego Chargers are also 2-0, but it’s more a product of who they played and not how.

    Sometimes you can’t win for winning.

    While the Bolts’ victories have come over the winless Raiders and Titans, Norv Turner’s club has won both games with a lot of new faces and minus an important one.  And it appears that running back Ryan Mathews will make his season debut against Atlanta after a broken collarbone sidelined him for a number of weeks.

    Given the Falcons’ defensive issues against the run, you can look for the return of Mathews to be the difference in a Chargers’ victory that will spoil the return of running back Michael Turner to San Diego.

Chances of a Patriots’ Win at Baltimore? Ngata

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    You can flip a coin when deciding the more surprising outcome last week in games involving last season’s AFC Championship Game participants.

    How big of an upset was it that the Arizona Cardinals came to Foxborough and beat a Patriots’ team that usually makes easy work of NFC teams (except for the Giants)?

    How surprising was it that the Ravens gave up 486 total yards and blew a 17-7 lead despite forcing four turnovers in a one-point loss at Philadelphia?

    Barring a tie on Sunday, either Baltimore or New England will be 1-2.

    However, the bigger number is four, as in the times Tom Brady was sacked last week by the Arizona defense.

    Now the Pats’ much-maligned offensive front will have to deal with the Ravens’ defense and, in particular, the relentless Haloti Ngata, who could have a field night against this unit.

    By Monday morning, the cries of “What’s wrong with the Patriots?” and “The dynasty is over” will ring throughout the land.

    Bet the over, as in reaction.

Bush League

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    This is simple.

    1. Look for Dolphins running back Reggie Bush to rush for more than 100 yards for the sixth time in seven games, but for Miami to fall short at home against the Jets.

    2. Look for Bears running back Michael Bush to score three touchdowns and the Chicago offense to bounce back after the loss at Green Bay with a victory over the Rams.

    3. On Monday night, look for Packers’ cornerback Jarret Bush to pick off Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson twice and returns one for a score in a victory over Pete Carroll’s team.

    That’s it for me on this page. I’m bushed.

Aaron Rodgers vs. Matt Flynn

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    In case you were wondering, it was the Packers who sacked Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler a week-and-a-half ago (there’s been so much Bears talk about that game you almost forget who they played).

    There’s your PSA. But on Monday night, it’ll be Clay Matthews chasing Russell Wilson from the field to the Space Needle.

    Would it be a shock to see the rookie quarterback struggle or get knocked out of the game? The feeling here is that one or the other will happen.

    And when it does, we’ll see former Packers’ backup Matt Flynn (he of six touchdown passes vs. the Lions in Week 17 of 2011) try his hand at solving Green Bay’s defense (which it's safe to say he knows pretty well).

    So as karma would have it, we will get that Rodgers vs. Flynn clash most anticipated when the schedule was announced in the spring. At least for a little bit…


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    Last week, as everyone knows, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (down 41-34) gave it their best in trying to get the ball back from the New York Giants on the final play of the game, even though Tom Coughlin's team was in the victory formation.

    This past Thursday, the defending Super Bowl champions rolled the Panthers, 36-7, but didn’t have the ball for the final play, hence Carolina tried to make something happen on their final possession.

    That means Tom Coughlin’s team didn’t get an opportunity to practice any club’s favorite formation.

    So we’re setting the over/under for teams taking a knee in the final 15 games of Week 3 at six.

    As far as any team looking to attack the line in hopes of dislodging the ball, the over/under is zero.