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Here are my Week 2 matchup breakdowns and predictions in the NFL. This week’s headlines … With Julio Jones and the rest of Atlanta’s dynamic receivers healthy in 2014, Matt Ryan and the Falcons look primed to erase last year’s debacle and return to playoff form. The night cap features Jay Cutler and the Bears taking on NFC powerhouse San Francisco, followed by the Eagles and Colts set for Monday night.
Thursday Night Football, September 11 8:25 PM ET – TV: CBS/NFL Network
Pittsburgh Steelers 1-0 @ Baltimore Ravens 0-1
It’s imperative that Baltimore moves on without Ray Rice. Rice was released by the team and suspended by the league due to a new video that leaked out regarding a domestic violence incident. Although this could be a distraction at such an early stage of the season for John Harbaugh’s team looking to get back to championship form, the Ravens’ plan on the offensive end still remains getting the running game to improve from a year ago.
Bernard Pierce’s fumble in the second quarter against Cincinnati led him to the bench, and in his replacement, 29 year old Justin Forsett filled the void effectively rushing for 70 yards on 11 attempts and a score while also being an option as a pass-catcher. It’s still hard to trust Forsett, a back that’s never carried the ball more than 118 times in a season to shoulder lots of work, and I’d expect Baltimore to use Pierce, Forsett and their fourth-round draft pick Lorenzo Taliaferro, whom coach Harbaugh on Monday stated “will be a big part” of Baltimore’s backfield against rival Pittsburgh.
The Steelers, on the other hand, don’t look uncertain about what they have cooking in their backfield. Le’Veon Bell, a second year runner, looks more explosive and quicker at everything he did from a year ago, carrying the rock and as an option in the screen-game. His 197 yards from scrimmage in Pittsburgh’s opening day win is the “Golden Key” to opening things up for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense that now has a balanced attack.
Here’s why I like Pittsburgh to come out on top: The Ravens’ secondary is banged up and were without their top three cornerbacks for much of the preseason. Asa Jackson (ankle), Chykie Brown (chest) and Lardarius Webb (back) all missed multiple weeks during the preseason, but all three were expected to suit up in their opener. Webb has practiced this week, but even if Webb gets the go, you know Roethlisberger will test Webb’s rustiness by getting the ball to his speedy and reliable receiver Antonio Brown that will be matched up against him. Add second year receiver Markus Wheaton to the mix that Roethlisberger said he’s building confidence in and Pittsburgh’s offense should up Baltimore’s offense in redzone opportunities.
Pick: Steelers 27, Ravens 23
Final Score: Ravens (1-1) 26, Steelers (1-1) 6
Sunday, September 14
1:00 PM ET
Miami Dolphins 1-0 @ Buffalo Bills 1-0 – TV: CBS
The last time the Bills and Dolphins both had winning records going against each other was during the 2000 season, and the last time both squads were tied for the division lead was in 93. With the addition of Knowshon Moreno to Miami’s backfield, the Dolphins, like Buffalo have a one-two punch at running back. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are a change-of-pace force when healthy for Buffalo and Miami gashing and dashing with Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno was viable for Miami’s success in their impressive win over New England on Sunday.
Last season, Miami had issues dealing with Buffalo’s talented defensive front that’s anchored by Mario Williams. In both meetings in 2013, the Bills derailed Miami’s offensive line and often brought Ryan Tannehill to ground, including sacking him seven times in their December matchup, a game the Bills defeated Miami 19-0, holding the Dolphins’ offense to just 103 yards of total offense.
The emphasis of the ground game will be the key to victory in this matchup. Miami has a solid group of their own upfront on the d-line, with Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon rushing off the edges that I like to keep Buffalo quarterback EJ Manuel in check from doing anything exotic with his feet from the pocket. Both defenses face non-prolific offenses in differential to what was presented to them to open the season…so we should get a more run-to-pass ratio battle rather than lots of pass attempts in a game expected to come down to field position and turnovers. Miami’s offensive line looks revamped from a year ago that I see coming prepared on the road and muscling out a W behind the legs of Miller, Moreno and methodically moving the sticks as the better offense that has more for Tannehill to work with on passing downs.
Pick: Dolphins 20, Bills 16
Jacksonville Jaguars 0-1 @ Washington Redskins 0-1 – TV: CBS
When examining RGIII’s first start under head coach Jay Gruden, I noticed most of his passes were in the intermediate and shallow areas of Houston’s defense. Primarily, the comfortableness just isn’t there at the moment. You could make a case of Gruden trying to transition him into doing things from the pocket more, but that’s just not Robert. Pressuring defenses with his ability outside the pocket and making plays with his feet is everything that we’ve seen on the upper during Griffin III’s rookie campaign.
However, I’m not ignoring Robert’s recovery from a knee injury and the nightmare that took place in his sophomore season, but Washington needs to get back to what helped them win the NFC East in 2012 and that’s grounding and pounding the pigskin with Alfred Morris to help setup the play-action pass. A 40-pass-to-20 run approach they displayed in their loss against Houston isn’t going to be Washington’s cup of tea for winning games going forward.
The main matchups in this contest will be on the outside on the defensive side of the deal. Both of Washington’s OLB’s Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan going up against Jacksonville’s tackles Luke Joeckel and Cameron Bradfield will be critical on passing downs. Jacksonville got two big scores in the first half when Chad Henne connected with rookie Allen Hurns for two touchdown passes against Philadelphia, but the downside of things was Jacksonville’s third down efficiency, and being placed in third and longs is a recipe for an offense to back-peddle.
Look for Washington to keep things honest by committing to the ground game from the start with a heavy dose of Alfred Morris and a little bit of Roy Helu to spell him — a pedigree that will open things up against a Jacksonville secondary that might be missing safety Johnathan Cyprien (concussion). And after seeing safeties Josh Evans and Chris Prosinski getting torched by Philadelphia’s speedsters, you better believe Washington will formulate a favorable matchup downfield. And I see some deep-ball scores from RGIII to DeSean Jackson — who scores in his home debut as a Washington Redskin.
Pick: Redskins 31, Jaguars 20
Dallas Cowboys 0-1 @ Tennessee Titans 1-0 – TV: FOX
Here’s something positive for Dallas’ defensive woes: According to Pro Football Focus, based on Week 1 performances at the inside linebacker position, Dallas’ Rolando McClain was graded second out of all 53 ILB’s, only behind arguably the best linebacker in the game, Carolina’s Luke Kuelchy. And what an intriguing story McClain is, a player that was brought back to the game from the hands of Jerry Jones to replace the injured Sean Lee, trying to rejuvenate his career into the stud linebacker he was supposed to be after being drafted in the first-round in 2010 before stints of walking away from the game.
Here’s the bad news: Coming off of back surgery, Tony Romo looked like he woke up from a 20-year coma and was told to go beat NFC powerhouse San Francisco. I saw it all, everything, the look upon his face, his body language, his throws looked like he was throwing a 50 pound football…and what really caught my attention was him ignoring wide open targets and throwing the ball into triple coverage that nearly got Dez Bryant killed on a crossing route. You can pin-point the fact that he missed playing time during the preseason and didn’t get enough reps…I get all of that. But, this switching out of the run thing needs to be looked at closely. No way can HE or anyone tell me that he didn’t see a wide open Dwayne Harris in the endzone off a play-action pass that resulted in an interception — as Romo held onto the ball far too long and instead threw the ball to blanketed Jason Witten.
Things just get corky at times, and I don’t know if it’s Romo not listening to his coaches or if there’s some kind of a “throw it to me no matter what” thing going on in Big D. And standing behind door number 2 on Dallas’ docket are the feisty Titans that have a healthy Jake Locker at quarterback and a defense that shut down Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs running game to start their season off with a bang.
Dallas’ offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and head coach Jason Garrett better make DeMarco Murray aligned to get 30 touches, because if they think Romo’s going to run circles on Tennessee’s defense by chucking the football 50 times, awaiting at their doorstep is beginning their season with two straight losses. Don’t be slipping on the banana peel here. Somehow, I see Dallas doing just that.
Pick: Titans 23, Cowboys 20
Arizona 1-0 @ N.Y. Giants 0-1 – TV: FOX
New York’s offensive line is an utter mess, and as they prepare for their matchup against Bruce Arians’ physical Cardinals, the shuffling on the New York offensive line, particularly at right guard with James Brewer (back) out continues. John Jerry, Brandon Mosely and newly acquired Adam Snyder are in the lead-run to play guard this weekend at MetLife.
Rookie Weston Richburg will likely start at left guard until Geoff Schwartz returns to action at the beginning of the second half of the season. Mind you, Eli Manning and the Giants’ offense are still trying to grasp new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s west coast system. In fact, the o-line concerns has forced the offense to throw tight end Larry Donnell in the backfield as an extra blocker for Eli Manning on passing downs.
If the Giants’ offense is going to generate some comfort for Eli in the pocket, a once known solid rushing attack needs to start plugging holes for their new runner Rashad Jennings, who had only 46 yards on 16 carries in New York’s blowout loss on Monday to Detroit. Arizona’s running game fared better in their come from behind win over San Diego in the second game of Monday Night’s double header, but may be without starting running back Andre Ellington (foot) that’s been in a walking boot this week. If Ellington is absent, the Cards will elect to run by committee with Stefan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer, both backs that provide a mixture of speed and power and capable of being receiving options in the screen-game.
Look for both defenses to contain the running game and not allow big plays on the ground. So it comes down to passing downs and The Giants are lacking a vertical attack through the air with their offensive line’s inability to buy time in the pocket for Eli. And other than Victor Cruz, the passing game doesn’t spark serious threats and they don’t have rookie Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring) that might miss the entire month of September. Arizona’s slinger under center Carson Palmer, on the flip-side of the tape, has three reliable targets (Larry Fitzgerald/Michael Floyd and rookie speedster John Brown working in the slot). Fitzgerald and Floyd’s physicality match up well against New York’s grimy defensive backs, and I like them to win their one-on-one battles. And Eli, don’t be testing Arizona’s Patrick Peterson, for the love of God, just DON’T do it.
Pick: Cardinals 24, N.Y. Giants 17
New England Patriots 0-1 @ Minnesota Vikings 1-0 – TV: CBS
After being ranged up for 191 yards to Miami’s rushing attack, New England’s defense catches a break as Adrian Peterson has been deactivated for the game due to him being indicted of a felony charge. Even with Peterson out, coach Belichick’s defense needs to be more disciplined on squeezing cut back lanes, something they failed miserably at in their loss to Miami.
They’ll have to account for Minnesota’s versatile threat at receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who Minnesota’s offensive coordinator Norv Turner has introduced some new wrinkles of using Patterson as a runner. Look for New England to be more aggressive defensively in this matchup by bringing defensive backs near the tackle box to key on Patterson against the fast motion the Vikings are using with Patterson on sweeps.
Without Logan Mankins at guard, a key veteran the Patriots traded away, their o-line unit is searching for the right mix on the interior and it showed out in Miami. The Vikings have a solid group of d-lineman that features Linval Joseph, Brian Robinson, Everson Griffin and rookie Anthony Barr at Strongside Linebacker also will be used as a rusher.
Coach Zimmer knows his defense needs to pressure Tom Brady with different looks and the game plan will be to attack the vulnerable interior of New England’s o-line to move Brady out of his comfort zone. Zimmer also knows his defense needs to take away the seams from New England’s dynamite tight end Rob Gronkowski, and how they apply this will be important to stopping New England when they move Gronkowski and Shane Vereen around. I like New England’s offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to utilize Vereen and Gronkowski in different spots on spread alignments to keep Minnesota’s defense guessing all afternoon long. Brady and the Pats play sound offense and avoid dropping to 0-2.
Pick: Patriots 31, Vikings 21
New Orleans Saints 0-1 @ Cleveland Browns 0-1 – TV: FOX
Sigh of relief for Cleveland, maybe. The vote among the NFLPA reps on a new drug policy may reduce the suspension time for Cleveland’s star receiver Josh Gordon. And in the days that remain ahead with Brian Hoyer as the current starter at quarterback, head coach Mike Pettine is still surrounded by questions of when or will “Johnny Football” ever take over under center for Cleveland’s offense.
One thing is certain – running back Ben Tate (knee) will be sidelined and is expected to miss an extended period of time. That leaves the ground work duties up to rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. West and Crowell helped the Browns’ offense in the second half of their near comeback win over Pittsburgh by sparking a good deal of volume on the ground to help Hoyer work off the play-action pass.
They’ll need to keep the pace going this week between them both to keep Drew Brees and the Saints’ high-powered offense on the sidelines.
The Saints averaged near 5 yards per carry against the Falcons but went toe-to-toe with Atlanta and lost 37-34 in an aerial attack showcase-showdown. Look for New Orleans’ head coach Sean Payton to roll into FirstEnergy Stadium with more of a balanced attacking game-plan by utilizing their trio of running backs Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson to set the tone and then opening up things for Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and a new addition (rookie WR Brandin Cooks) that will be a huge factor for Drew Brees on third down. The Saints avoid their road losing ways and pull out a tight one.
Pick Saints 27, Browns 24
Atlanta Falcons 1-0 @ Cincinnati Bengals 1-0 – TV: CBS
Cincinnati’s running game should fare much better than it did against Baltimore with Atlanta’s lackluster defense coming to town. Having a runner like Giovani Bernard that can do it carrying the football and as a viable option for Andy Dalton in the screen game takes lots of weight off the shoulders for any quarterback when his targets downfield aren’t getting separation. I don’t see anything for Cincinnati to worry about much in terms of moving the football, but they need to be better when their offense is the redzone and muster touchdowns, not field goals.
Big part of that in this matchup is Atlanta’s offense having a healthy bunch of dynamic options (Julio Jones/Roddy White/Harry Douglas and Devin Hester now in the fold) for quarterback Matt Ryan to dissect defenses back ends with. The Falcons’ offense might be better than what we saw in 2012 when they reached the conference title game, and as good as Cincinnati’s defense is all-around, the Falcons sport a tandem of ammo that can make plays with the football in their hands from all angles.
If I had more confidence in Steven Jackson and Atlanta’s running game on the road to negate a talented Bengals defensive line, I’d pick them to come out on top, but I see Cincinnati’s linebackers Emmanuel Lamur and Vincent Rey getting the job done stuffing the run. Things will be even brighter for Cincinnati in that department if Vontaze Burfict (concussion) plays. The Bengals have more balance on offense for Andy Dalton to turn to his running backs Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill to keep him out of long distance passing downs — Matt Ryan doesn’t and will be placed in lots of passing downs against a core of playmakers the Bengals’ defense possesses. Cincy wins the turnover battle and time of possession.
Pick: Bengals 27, Falcons 20
Detroit Lions 1-0 @ Carolina Panthers 1-0 – TV: FOX
Carolina has the proper talent upfront on the defensive line that can disrupt the timing and rhythm of Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. They need to – Detroit has a wide range of targets for Stafford to distribute the football. Led by Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and now Golden Tate stretching defenses on the opposite side of him, Stafford is primed to have a stellar season and it showed on Monday night against New York.
Carolina’s secondary doesn’t hold much speed on the deep end of their defense, but their linebackers Luke Kuechly, Tomas Davis and Chase Blackburn are exceptional along with their defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson at cutting off the edges, making it hard for the oppositions running game to get anything going outside the tackles.
With that being said…the Lions need Reggie Bush and Joique Bell to be physical at the point of attack and be able to pound the football between the tackles. Carolina’s d-line is much more well-rounded than what they faced against New York and the pressure Stafford will face needs some breathing room…he won’t be able to improvise as good as he did on Monday.
Cam Newton (ribs) has been declared by head coach Ron Rivera as the starter this week after Newton missed the season opener. Backup Derek Anderson did his part throwing for 230 yards and two touchdowns in Newton’s absence to help guide the Panthers with a win on the road over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Lions have a talented front defensively of their own and with Newton not really at 100 percent, my guess would be he’d take caution on using his feet.
Here’s what he has going for him, however: All that talk about Carolina losing ammo in the passing game during the offseason has been overlooked. 6’ 5,” 240 lbs. rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin is already showcasing his athleticism and scoring ability, and in my opinion, they found a star in the making. Veteran Steve Smith may have been the heart and soul of playmakers for Carolina’s passing game, but they went out with the old Smith and added in the young and needy redzone option the big and tall Benjamin provides. My verdict of this contest has me favoring Carolina’s pass rush that’ll be buzzing like a swarm of Killer Bees in the direction of Matthew Stafford, making a key stop in the closing minutes of a slobber-knocker battle.
Pick: Panthers 20, Lions 17
4:05 PM ET
St. Louis Rams 0-1 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0-1 – TV: FOX
The cruelty of the game: I feel for head coach Jeff Fisher – he loses his starting quarterback Sam Bradford (ACL) for two consecutive seasons, his backup Shaun Hill (thigh) isn’t practicing this week that has him rolling with third stringer Austin Davis under center. The Bucs may have lost to a backup last week, but Derek Anderson has much more spunk than what they’ll be facing this week.
Time for the Rams to lean heavily on the legs of running backs Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham…unless Davis is some secret in the works at quarterback, I can’t see any sustained drives from St. Louis to punch the Bucs’ defense for enough scores.
A bad offense can also make a good defense look bad, and I’m going with Tampa Bay’s offense to get things going this week against a (non-fresh, constantly on the field Rams’ defense) behind the arm of Josh McCown to connect with his basketball-player-sized receivers Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans to put on a show in the sunshine state.
Pick: Buccaneers 30, Rams 13
Seattle Seahawks 1-0 @ San Diego Chargers 0-1 – TV: FOX
The Chargers went 9-2 when they rushed for over 100 yards or more last season, and they’ll certainly need to negate Seattle’s consistent pass rush. Catching a glimpse of Arizona’s approach towards the non-mobile but sharp thrower, San Diego’s Philip Rivers – I noticed Arizona using a combination of 5-to- 6-man rushes with some blitzes to disrupt Rivers’ timing.
San Diego’s interior line better buckle their chinstraps against Seattle’s muscle and speed they sport on the d-line. Guards Chad Rinehart and Johnnie Troutman’s performance against Arizona didn’t help Rivers when the Cardinals blasted him through the gaps when Larry Foote deflected a pass to seal the deal for Arizona, and the Chargers better keep a bulls eye on Seattle’s rising star linebacker Bobby Wagner, who’s much better than the 34 year old Foote.
All the underneath things the Chargers like to use with their running backs Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead in the screen game won’t work against the speed of Seattle’s back seven that’s extremely disciplined and incredible tacklers. So…the Chargers not only need to be able to run the ball effectively – they need to be creative and throw tight end Ladarius Green in the mix and make the speedy Eddie Royal a versatile factor. The tall Malcom Floyd is healthy coming off a broken neck and caught a touchdown pass last week. Floyd’s height and ability to stretch the field and win the jump-ball battles can also be factor against Seattle’s top-flight secondary.
It’s going to be interesting to see how John Pagano, San Diego’s defensive coordinator approaches this contest against a Seattle offense that’s one of the best in the league at grinding defenses out with Marshawn Lynch gashing defenses between the tackles, Russell Wilson working off the play-fakes, bootlegs and now a healthy Percy Harvin working off some fast motion sweeps as a runner. He knows stuffing Lynch is a main priority, but blitzing can come at huge price to pay, knowing that Russell Wilson is so elusive and can get away from a million rushers and extend plays to find his targets downfield singled up. We should see the Chargers’ defense bring safety Eric Weddle down in the box to help stop the run, but my overall outlook will be how San Diego’s front can keep Russell Wilson from making plays with his feet and I favor Wilson over Rivers in this matchup to be the better improviser on passing downs.
Pick: Seahawks 26, Chargers 16
4:25 PM ET
Houston Texans 1-0 @ Oakland Raiders 0-1 – TV: CBS
Derek Carr gets to feel the J.J. Watt experience in only his second career NFL start at quarterback for the Raiders. He gets to see him moving around from the interior of the line helping Houston’s defense stuff the run and then line up on the outside as an end to rush him on third down. Derek will be ducking for cover, and he’ll be without Maurice Jones-Drew (hand) and rely on the often banged up Darren McFadden at tailback.
It doesn’t look that great for a youngster learning the ropes going up against a Houston defense that shut down RGIII and the Redskins to a slim six points in Week 1. The Texans lost rookie edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney (knee) for four to six weeks, but they’ll still be a solid unit going forward. More importantly for Houston, running back Arian Foster looks healthy in 2014, an important element of Houston’s offense that spiraled downward when they lost him for the season in 2013 due to injury.
The winner of this matchup will come down to both front sevens that provide variety of ways to rush the passer, but I have to stack my chips on Ryan Fitzpatrick to make a play or two more than the rookie Carr in a sloppy game full of turnovers and non-disciplined offense.
Pick: Texans 16, Raiders 13
N.Y. Jets 1-0 @ Green Bay Packers 0-1 – TV: CBS
It’ll be a home sweet home game for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers here. Just the sight of not seeing Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom Defense” should make Rodgers feel like he just won the lotto and have his fantasy owners at ease. I’m not saying that New York’s defense is some slouch, but the press-coverage they apply isn’t up to par like Seattle’s and I see Rodgers’ prime targets (Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb) along with his C, D and so on options getting much better separation this week.
And even though the Jets got the win at home over the Raiders — watching New York’s cornerbacks getting beat in man coverage, looking dazed and confused against Oakland’s Rod Streater and James Jones, they better be ready for them back shoulder throws on the outside that Rodgers and Nelson work better than anyone in the league at doing.
It’s no secret Rex Ryan’s Jets like to run the football, and the ideal plan will be to sustain drives and keep Rodgers and the Packers’ prolific-offense off the field for most of the afternoon. Green Bay’s defense struggled out in Seattle, but lots of that had to with Seattle sending Percy Harvin in motion and keeping the Packers’ defense guessing on all the play-fakes (bootlegs, screens, jet-sweeps and the play-action pass while Marshawn Lynch powered them between the tackles).
That’s where New York’s ground-attack should aim at with both Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson in the backfield, trying to gash Green Bay’s defense on the interior. New York’s defense will also have to account for Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy that’s looking to bounce back after a 12 carry for only 34 yard performance on opening night. Lacy suffered a concussion against Seattle and has changed helmets, going back to his rookie one. Speaking of change…I’m going all in on Green Bay to look much better than what they looked like out in pacific northwest.
Pick: Packers 31, N.Y. Jets 14
Kansas City Chiefs 0-1 @ Denver Broncos 1-0 – TV: CBS
Only seven carries for Jamaal Charles? I’d assume that total for a running back like Charles will move up the charts in Denver this weekend. Kansas City’s dismal performance at home against Tennessee was a prime example of Charles not being effective and making Alex Smith the focal part of the offense. Not good — and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson and head coach Andy Reid’s preparation has to be on the emphasis of what makes things move properly for the Chiefs’ offense.
Not to mention, dealing with Denver’s offense that throws a large number skilled-position players at your defense (with a passer like Peyton Manning, whose ball placement is immaculate) has to be driving defensive coordinator Bob Sutton mad in the film room. And watching a much lesser talented quarterback (Jake Locker) run Tennessee’s offense efficiently for 243 yards through the air with 2 touchdown passes and no interceptions on Kansas City’s secondary – you can only imagine Peyton Manning and his new speedy target (Emmanuel Sanders) stretching defenses on deep crossing-routes off the play-action will zap Kansas City’s defense that’s struggled, dating back to the second half of last season.
Tennessee’s running game blasted Sutton’s defensive-unit and I like Monte Ball to gain positive yards on early downs and for Peyton Manning to have a clean pocket for most of Denver’s passing-plays. Whoever you have on Denver’s offense, fantasy football related, you should get a good chunk of points.
Pick: Broncos 41, Chiefs 20
Sunday Night Football in America 8:30 PM ET – TV: NBC
Chicago Bears 0-1 @ San Francisco 49ers 1-0
Both of Jay Cutler’s top receivers Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) and Brandon Marshall (ankle) might not be active for this Sunday’s showdown at the new Niners’ Levi Stadium under NBC’s bright lights. That spells “bad news” for Marc Trestman’s Bears that are looking to avoid a 0-2 start. Regardless if Marshall or Jeffery plays or not, Matt Forte will be called upon to shoulder a heavy workload.
San Francisco’s 17 game streak of not allowing a 100 yard rusher was snapped last week when DeMarco Murray ran for 118 yards on 22 carries. That was just about the only negative part of the NaVorro Bowmanless and Aldon Smithless San Francisco defense to start their season. The other Smith, however, Justin recorded two sacks on Tony Romo as the 49er defense picked off Romo three times in route to their statement win in convincing fashion over the Dallas Cowboys.
With the suspended Smith out, the 49ers used Dan Skuta, Corey Lemonier and rookie Aaron Lynch as rushers on passing downs in nickel packages, and without the departed Donte Whitner, veteran safety Antoine Bethea and second-year safety Eric Reid fared well in Week 1 and should be a solid tandem ahead from now. Reid has potential to become one of the better known players at his respective position this season.
So…with all that jazz going on in Frisco during the offseason with off the field issues, suspensions and chit-chat about head coach Jim Harbaugh losing the team (please stop it everyone). The 49ers are still a loaded team, and offensively, they have more weapons at Colin Kaepernick’s disposal. And Frank Gore has a back (rookie Carlos Hyde) behind him that will give him a breather – and as the days go on, Hyde will get more reps and keep Frisco’s ground game the focus of their offense.
Chicago’s defensive coordinator Mel Tucker’s days are on notice. The front office didn’t wheel in Jared Allen to have issues on defense and his unit better show up to the party, because they’ll have their hands full on Sunday night. San Francisco’s rushing attack will have their way with Chicago’s defense and will keep Kaepernick in comfortable down and distance situations when the 49ers elect to pass.
Pick: 49ers 31, Bears 17
Monday Night Football, September 15 8:30 PM ET – TV: ESPN
Philadelphia Eagles 1-0 @ Indianapolis Colts 0-1
Thank goodness for Andrew Luck, the Colts will always have a chance to win games and be able to fight their way back when trailing, but at some point in the near future, they need to install things much better down the running game street. They ran the ball only 9 times out in Denver. You can say that trailing big early on was the case for them being forced to throw often, but, still – they need to learn how to establish the run from the get-go, and they have Ahmad Bradshaw healthy enough to do his (running the ball with authority things and catch passes in the screen game).
Trent Richardson has yet to do anything spectacular to prove the trade they made for him was worth it, and without Robert Mathis rushing the passer for Indianapolis’ defense, you can pencil in a speedy Eagles’ offense that features LeSean McCoy, the games most shifty and elusive runner that now has an X-Factor (Darren Sproles) spelling him to drive Indianapolis’ defense into an abyss.
The smart route for Indianapolis would be keeping the Eagles’ offense off the fast track of Lucas Oil Stadium by trying to establish an effective ground attack. But, I can’t trust them in that avenue, and as expected, this game has the making to be a shootout full of talented receiving options both offenses have to put on a show. And zooming in on this extravaganza before our eyes, it’s going to be an important factor of how the Colts defend Philadelphia’s zone running game.
The Eagles’ zone-blocking and execution with all the wrinkles they use creates lots of confusion for opposing defenses linebackers and defensive backs. Nick Foles has options at the snap: he can take an outside running lane or throw the ball on a quick screen pass out to Jeremy Maclin or fake the screen one way and dump it off to one of his dangerous backs in the opposite direction.
The zone read can get you caught in a pickle and force defenses to bring a defensive back down near the box, and that can open up the deep pass like it did for Philadelphia against Jacksonville. Luck should be able to find holes in Philadelphia’s secondary, but what the Eagles have going up against a weak defense the Colts have, I like Zach Ertz to get open lots and for McCoy and Sproles’ double-combo of rushing and receiving to up the Colts in seesaw fight.
Pick: Eagles 38, Colts 31
You can follow Massimo Russo on Twitter @NFLMassimo and SilverandBlueReport.com @SilverBlueRpt