NFL Predictions Week 2: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Projections

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 17, 2015

NFL Predictions Week 2: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Projections

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    Once is a fluke. Twice is a trend.

    For every Week 1 surprise that rightfully rewrites our expectations going forward, there's an outlier we can safely ignore. Separating the usual bounces of the oblong ball from meaningful results can be terribly tricky. In the second weekend of football, though, we can connect one data point to another—and get a much clearer picture of who's trending up and who's falling flat.

    Bleacher Report's hardy band of NFL experts have sorted through their preseason projections and prognostications, then reviewed the results of a typically wacky Week 1.

    They ran through the usual gamut of upsets and blowouts, unders and overs, unit matchups and positional battles. They voted on their bests and worsts, heroes and goats, sleepers and flops. Through their consensus projections, Bleacher Report readers will get as close as anyone possibly can to knowing what will happen before it happens.

    The ballots have been collected, the results tabulated and now they're up for the footballing world to see.

Biggest Upset

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Expert Consensus Pick (tie, two votes each): Buffalo Bills (+2) over New England Patriots, Houston Texans (+3) over Carolina Panthers.

    "I didn't pick an upset because I don't think there will be one," NFL lead writer Mike Freeman wrote. Indeed, the pickings were slim; opening lines left our experts with few attractive matchups. In the hangover of Week 1, neither Vegas nor the betting public is quite sure what to make of the wildly underperforming or overperforming teams.

    In the end, only two favorites received more than one vote—and they got just two each.

    NFL analyst Gary Davenport explained why the Bills are primed to take down the Patriots:

    After dismantling the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1, it's another huge home game for the Bills against an AFC powerhouse—the hated New England Patriots. Maybe I'm drinking too much of the Buffalo Kool-Aid, but the Bills' front seven has the juice to get after Tom Brady, and you know that Rex Ryan will have this team chomping at the bit to get after it against his archnemesis in Darth Hoodie. Besides, the AFC East has become the most predictable division in football. Time things were shaken up a bit.

    The Houston Texans took an early beating against Kansas City in Week 1, but a quarterback change led to two quick touchdowns; the blowout in progress became a one-possession game. Two of our experts believe Houston will surf across the country on that wave of momentum and beat the Carolina Panthers.

    Others receiving votes: Atlanta Falcons (+2) over New York Giants, Tennessee Titans (+3.5) over Cleveland Browns, Kansas City (-2) over Denver, no upset will occur.

Biggest Blowout

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    Expert Consensus Pick: New Orleans Saints (+9.5) over Tampa Bay Buccaneers—three votes.

    A blowout usually happens when a really good team meets a really bad one, and a lot of the teams generally regarded as good are going up against a lot of teams generally regarded as bad. But Week 1 threw a monkey wrench into the works, and as a result, our experts are all over the place.

    The Dallas Cowboys were trying to make a Super Bowl push this season—but without star receiver Dez Bryant, NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller sees little to like about their matchup in Philadelphia.

    NFL analyst Brad Gagnon weighed in with why he voted for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the San Francisco 49ers: "The 49ers aren't good—the Vikings were just really bad Monday night. Now, on the road on short rest against a Steelers team looking to get back on track, they're about to get crushed. That no-name defense won't know what to do with Antonio Brown and co."

    Ultimately, the crew went with last year's worst team, who also took the league's worst beating in Week 1: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Their opponent, the New Orleans Saints, isn't overwhelming, but has enough firepower to rout the struggling young Bucs.

    Others receiving votes: Baltimore Ravens over Oakland Raiders—two votes, Arizona Cardinals over Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers over San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles over Dallas Cowboys.

Higher Total: Tom Brady TD Passes or Buffalo Bills Sacks

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    Expert Consensus Pick: Buffalo Bills sacks—six votes.

    Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes in the season-opening Thursday Night Football match against the Pittsburgh Steelers, tight end Rob Gronkowski running rampant over the rebooted Steelers back seven.

    The Buffalo Bills sacked Andrew Luck just twice in their win over Indianapolis, but they pressured him plenty in a masterful defensive effort that held his talent-laden Colts scoreless until deep into the third quarter.

    Logic dictates Brady will have a tougher time putting up points against one of the NFL's best defenses, and surely the Bills will sack Brady more often than the Steelers did (twice). Our experts emphatically agree, with six of the eight expecting the Bills defense to bring Brady down more often than he scores on them.

    Two experts—NFL lead writer Mike Freeman and NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller—disagree, expecting Brady and the Patriots to work their magic Sunday afternoon.

    Others receiving votes: Tom Brady touchdowns—two votes.

Biggest Mismatch

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    Expert Consensus Pick: St. Louis Rams defensive line versus Washington offensive line—four votes.

    There were some intriguing votes for biggest mismatch this week. NFL lead writer Mike Freeman's nomination of Jameis Winston against an amped-up Superdome crowd was the furthest out of the box but potentially the most clairvoyant.

    J.J. Watt is a mismatch against whomever he lines up across from, and the Carolina Panthers offensive line is weaker than most at the edges. 

    In the end, it's sheer numbers: There was too much size, talent and depth in the St. Louis Rams defensive line for the Seattle Seahawks to handle, and the Seahawks surrendered six sacks to the Rams. Washington's perennially rebuilding line earned Pro Football Focus' fourth-worst pass-blocking grade from Week 1 and threatens to be overrun in Week 2.

    Others receiving votes: J.J. Watt versus Carolina Panthers offensive line—two votes, Miami Dolphins defensive line versus Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line, Jameis Winston versus Superdome crowd.

Sleeper QB Performance

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Expert Consensus Pick: Andy Dalton—two votes.

    If there's one thing about Andy Dalton you can count on, it's that you can't ever count on him. If you think he'll be good, he'll turn in a terrible game. If you think he'll be terrible, he'll blow the next team's doors off.

    After four years in the NFL, during which he's started every single game his team has played, we still can't get a bead on him. He played a perfectly fine game against the Oakland Raiders in Week 1, throwing for 269 yards and two touchdowns, but, well, it was the Raiders.

    Against the San Diego Chargers, Dalton will either flop or soar—and two of our experts think he'll soar.

    NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller believes Ryan Mallett will build off of his impressive off-the-bench performance in Week 1 and hang some points on the Carolina Panthers. If he gets the start—still an open question—he'll have the tools and the opportunity to pull it off.

    Others receiving votes: Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Mallett, Marcus Mariota, Carson Palmer, Tyrod Taylor, Jameis Winston.

More Passing Yards: Tony Romo or Sam Bradford

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    Scott Kane/Associated Press

    Expert Consensus Pick: Tony Romo—five votes.

    Before Week 1, this matchup looked like a battle of titans: Romo commanding a talented Dallas Cowboys offense against Bradford, a preseason darling running a Chip Kelly offense full of preseason darlings.

    After the Eagles struggled mightily against the Atlanta Falcons, and Romo lost top target Dez Bryant to a broken foot, this matchup is no less interesting. Nor is it less equally matched. The problem is it looks like it won't be nearly as high-scoring.

    Five of our experts took the more proven veteran, Romo, who'll certainly be throwing to Terrance Williams, Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar and his huge stable of running backs as often as possible.

    Three of our experts took Bradford, whose young weapons will get to run sprints against a Cowboys defense whose secondary has taken some major hits.

    Others receiving votes: Sam Bradford—three votes.

More Turnovers: Nick Foles or Kirk Cousins?

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Expert Consensus Pick: Kirk Cousins—six votes.

    Kirk Cousins has gained a reputation for being a bit of a turnover machine, even when he's playing well. Week 1 was no exception, when he completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 196 yards and a touchdown—but also throwing two picks.

    The interceptions were great defensive plays, of course, but interceptions they were. The Rams secondary isn't nearly as talented as the Dolphins', but as Russell Wilson discovered, it's hard to avoid mistakes when you can't avoid the league's best pass rush.

    Nick Foles only got one vote, with NFL analyst Ty Schalter believing he'll struggle harder against the Washington defense than Ryan Tannehill did in Week 1. NFL lead writer Mike Tanier thinks they'll tie with a whopping three interceptions each.

    Others receiving votes: Nick Foles, PUSH.

Sleeper RB Performance

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    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    Expert Consensus Pick: Bishop Sankey—three votes.

    Sleeper running backs are the hidden jewels of fantasy football—but because everyone's looking for them, they're hard to find. Our experts looked at the schedules and matchups and liked the cut of Tennessee Titans running back Bishop Sankey.

    The Titans are riding high off of a huge Week 1 win, and the Browns are in free fall after a disastrous opener. Sankey averaged a whopping 6.2 yards per carry, racking up 74 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries.

    Unless Week 1 was a total fluke, Sankey and the Titans will get the better of the Browns in Week 2—and Sankey's stats will continue to pile up.

    NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller likes Carlos Hyde to build off of his outstanding Monday Night Football debut, and NFL analyst Sean Tomlinson thinks Chris Johnson still has something left to prove in the Arizona desert. Two of our experts, though, liked Justin Forsett to bounce back from a slow opening outing when his Baltimore Ravens play the Oakland Raiders.

    Others receiving votes: Justin Forsett—two votes, Alfred Blue, Carlos Hyde, Chris Johnson.

Sleeper WR Performance

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Expert Consensus Pick: Steve Smith—three votes.

    Steve Smith got headlines for his Week 1 performance—not for his meager two catches and 13 yards, of course, but for his stone-cold drop of what would have been a game-winning touchdown against the Denver Broncos. Now, the hero-cum-goat gets a much, much easier matchup: the Oakland Raiders.

    Three of our experts picked Smith to have a breakout game against D.J. Hayden—whom Pro Football Focus ranked 95th out of 97 Week 1 cornerbacks.

    With superstar receiver Dez Bryant out, two of our experts jumped on the Dallas Cowboys' third option, Cole Beasley, as a sleeper. 

    NFL analyst Sean Tomlinson must have been watching the Tennessee Titans closely this preseason because Harry Douglas was looking compatible with quarterback Marcus Mariota well before Mariota's Week 1 outburst.

    Others receiving votes: Cole Beasley—two votes, Nelson Agholor, Harry Douglas, Stevie Johnson.

Sleeper TE Performance

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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press

    Expert Consensus Pick: Gavin Escobar—three votes.

    Gavin Escobar, a deep sleeper and Jason Witten heir apparent since he was drafted in the second round two years ago, finally may have found his time to shine.

    He scored a touchdown against the New York Giants in the season opener, and now his Cowboys will be without No. 1 target Dez Bryant. In a game that has all the earmarks of a shootout, Escobar will be a great sleeper for fantasy owners everywhere.

    Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert got two votes, facing a San Diego Chargers defense that struggled to contain Eric Ebron in Week 1.

    Jordan Cameron, the new Miami Dolphins tight end, got a nod from NFL analyst Brent Sobleski for his obvious connection with quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

    Others receiving votes: Tyler Eifert—two votes, Jordan Cameron, Greg Olsen, Jacob Tamme.

Best Defensive Performance

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    Expert Consensus Pick: J.J. Watt—six votes.

    We could just give up and call this category "Don't Forget J.J. Watt Exists," but two of our experts are going to go out on a limb and pick someone else—perhaps just for a change of pace. 

    NFL analyst Sean Tomlinson went with Aaron Donald, who ravaged the Seattle Seahawks interior offensive line in Week 1: The second-year standout had five tackles, four assists and two sacks.

    NFL Analyst Ty Schalter threw a bone to Ryan Kerrigan, whom Pro Football Focus credited with a sack and three hurries against Ryan Tannehill. He will target the significantly less mobile Nick Foles in Week 2.

    Others receiving votes: Aaron Donald, Ryan Kerrigan.

Over/Under: 4.5 Combined TDs from Peyton Manning and Alex Smith

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Expert Consensus Pick: UNDER—five votes.

    Trying to throw our pickers off by including the half-touchdown in our over/under line, we ended up with voting tallies nearly split right down the middle.

    Buoyed by Alex Smith's big opening day but sunk by Peyton Manning's depressingly pedestrian debut, our experts barely decided the total number of touchdowns these two quarterbacks will throw against their mutually excellent defenses will fall below 4.5.

    On the other side, three experts must expect Smith to approach, if not match, his three-touchdown day against the Texans and Manning to bounce back with a vengeance after being held scoreless in Week 1.

    Others receiving votes: OVER—three votes.

Flop of the Week

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Expert Consensus Pick: Johnny Manziel/Cleveland Browns quarterback/Cleveland Browns anything—three votes

    Flop, collapse, implosion: Whatever you want to call it, that's what happened to the Cleveland Browns in Week 1. Starting quarterback Josh McCown knocked himself out of the game with an ill-advised headfirst leap into the heart of the Jets defense. Backup Johnny Manziel was eventually overwhelmed by his lack of options, protection and ability.

    Regardless of whether McCown or Manziel gets the start in Week 2, our experts don't like either's matchup against the high-riding Tennessee Titans.

    Our experts also cast two blanket votes for whichever Texans quarterback gets the nod against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2.

    We had one vote for a true Week 2 flop: NFL analyst Brad Gagnon expects San Diego Chargers wideout Keenan Allen to come back to earth after his mind-boggling opening game against the Detroit Lions.

    Others receiving votes: Houston Texans quarterback—two votes, Keenan Allen, Denver Broncos offense, San Francisco 49ers offense.


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