NFL WEEK 3: We’re only two weeks into the 2017 NFL season, but everywhere we turn it seems like there’s a brewing quarterback controversy, a coach on the proverbial hot seat, a star player on the verge of being benched, or some other fresh catastrophe. From New York to Cincinnati, Jacksonville to Indianapolis, Chicago to Los Angeles and many places in between, the chaos is already in midseason form.
With that in mind, we’ve decided to rank, in no particular order, the five most pitiable figures to emerge from a wild first two weeks:
- Andy Dalton, Bengals quarterback- Dalton is a 3-time Pro Bowler who holds 18 Bengals franchise records and has led the team to the playoffs in 4 of his 6 seasons as the starter. And yet, after two bad games the calls for his benching are getting loud, and not just from the guy in the beer-stained shirt in Section 305: it’s been reported this week that some of Dalton’s own teammates want him replaced by— wait for it— political activist and ex-NFL QB Colin Kaepernick. Maybe Dalton should find his own cause to champion… Ginger Acceptance, possibly? (see what I did there..) The Red Rifle has dealt with detractors before, but somehow this feels different, doesn’t it?
- John Fox, Bears head coach- Fox is a respected, veteran coach who had great success at previous stops in Carolina and Denver, leading both teams to the Super Bowl. But he’s now 9-25 in two-plus seasons in Chicago, and the outlook for the Bears over the next 14 games is extraordinarily grim: they’ve lost their first two games by 28 combined points, the offense has been ravaged by injuries, a rookie seems destined to take over at quarterback very soon (sooner than Fox would like), and the team ranks 25th in total defense. And considering the state of the roster, which seems to have deteriorated over the past three years, it starting to feel like the joke’s on Fox. The unemployment line awaits.
- Philip Rivers, Chargers quarterback- Though he’s in no danger of losing his job— indeed, Rivers is as secure in his position atop the depth chart as any quarterback in the league— it’s beginning to look like the end will not be pretty for the longtime Chargers signal-caller. The much-publicized move to Los Angeles is not working out as planned: Rivers, who will turn 36 in December, is now playing in a half-full, rinky-dink stadium in front of fans who couldn’t care less about the Chargers. The mayor of Los Angeles himself came out this week and said the city never really wanted the Chargers (really!), so I guess the team knows where they stand, anyway. And for Rivers, it’s personal: he decided not to move his large family from their home in San Diego, so he now makes the commute from San Diego to L.A. twice weekly— a commute so hellish and gridlocked that you wouldn’t wish it on your mother-in-law. Throw in an 0-2 start, a roster that can’t compete with the elite teams, and a new coach who has his own ideas about the offense, and things aren’t looking so rosy for Rivers.
- Leonard Fournette, Jaguars running back- So let’s say you’re Leonard Fournette: freakish talent, top-5 pick in the draft, maybe the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. What’s your reward? How about a one-way ticket to Jacksonville, where you get to run behind a godawful offensive line, play with one of the worst QBs in the league, and repeatedly face 8 man fronts and situations where everyone in the stadium knows you’re getting the ball. And, of course, you often lose and lose big, as the Jags did in their home opener on Sunday. Fournette has received 45 touches through the first two games, and that workload ain’t slowing down anytime soon. Doug Marrone is absolutely going to wear the tread off this kid.
- Regular Readers of this column- Let’s face it, 3-5 on the picks through two weeks just isn’t good enough. In baseball there’s the Mendoza Line, in sports handicapping it’s what I call the Simian Standard— Coco the Monkey could get half of ‘em right, so you’ve got to do better than that. But you can’t keep a good man down for long and our past record speaks for itself, so I have full confidence that we’ll get things turned around in the coming weeks.
Here are my thoughts on a few Week 3 games:
NEW YORK GIANTS @ PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (Phi -6, 43.5)
Recommendation: New York +6 at 1.9
Both of these teams are coming off losses, but things are especially ugly in New York, as the Giants have scored just 13 combined points in two games (both losses) and the heat is beginning to turn up on both head coach Ben McAdoo and quarterback Eli Manning. The utter ineptitude of the offense is really difficult to explain— McAdoo got the job due to his reputation as an offensive guru, and the offense was in-sync throughout much of last year with Manning at the helm. But Odell Beckham is just getting back from his ankle injury and is working his way into game shape, and Eli has certainly bounced back from poor performances before, so I’m going to wait a couple of weeks before pushing the panic button.
The Giants may have a good matchup on the other side of the ball, as the Philly offense has been very one-dimensional thus far, almost totally ignoring the running game while letting quarterback Carson Wentz air it out. The undisputed strength of the New York team is their secondary, and that is especially true if Janoris Jenkins returns from his one-week absence, as most expect him to. I’m not sure it’s wise to let Wentz repeatedly test that secondary, but the Eagles offense seems to be locked in pass-first mode right now. Something tells me this game will be closer than some experts are anticipating… I’ll gladly take the points.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS @ TENNESSEE TITANS (Ten -2.5, 42.5)
Recommendation: Tennessee ML at 1.69
The Titans responded to a disappointing Week 1 loss with a dominating road win in Jacksonville last week, churning out 180 rushing yards against a good Jaguars defense and totally shutting down the anemic Jacksonville offense. They return home now to face the Seahawks, a team that has been struggling mightily on offense through the first two games, scoring just 9 points in a Week 1 loss to Green Bay and only 12 in a closer-than-expected victory over San Francisco last week.
It remains to be seen whether the Seahawks can fix these offensive issues, as their o-line is an obvious weak spot and they don’t have a whole lot of dynamic skill-position talent. They still have Russell Wilson, of course, and an excellent defense, but we might be veering towards “living on reputation” territory now, at least if their performance over the first two weeks is any indication. These ‘Hawks are still treated like an elite team by most oddsmakers and fans, but is that the reality? I have serious doubts about their ability to go into Tennessee and beat a good, rising Titans team that was clicking on all cylinders in the second half of last week’s game. This could be a statement win for the young Titans, and I like their chances.
OAKLAND RAIDERS @ WASHINGTON REDSKINS (Oak -3, 54.5)
Recommendation: Washington ML at 2.36
The Raiders are off to a fast start, with double-digit wins in each of their first two games, but this has the potential to be a difficult matchup for them. Their secondary was dreadful last season and most expect it to be the team’s biggest weakness again this year, and while they faced a decent Tennessee passing attack in Week 1 (giving up 256 passing yards to Marcus Mariota), they were not tested in last week’s win over the punchless Jets.
Well, I can assure you they will be tested on Sunday night in Washington. The Redskins offense is multi-dimensional, but their bread-and-butter is the Kirk Cousins-led passing attack, which produced 297 yards per game last season and ranked second in the NFL behind only New Orleans. Cousins has struggled thus far with incorporating offseason acquisition Terrelle Pryor into the offense, but Pryor is a premier deep threat and he’ll be matched up with rookie Gareon Conley for much of this game, so something tells me Sunday night might be Pryor’s official “welcome to Washington” moment. The Oakland offense will put up plenty of points as well, but I like the ‘Skins here in a shootout.
DALLAS COWBOYS @ ARIZONA CARDINALS (Dal -3, 47.5)
Recommendation: Over 47.5 at 2.0
Both of these teams have been a little shaky to start the season: Arizona lost the opener to Detroit and then barely escaped Indianapolis with a win in Week 2, and Dallas is coming off a humbling 42-17 defeat at the hands of Denver. After watching Trevor Siemian throw 4 touchdown passes and lead a thoroughly mediocre Broncos offense up and down the field, it makes you wonder— is this Cowboys defense any good? And the same could be asked of the Cardinals stop unit, which surrendered 35 points and 4 TD passes to Matt Stafford’s Lions in Week 1. But at least Arizona has Pro Bowl personnel, particularly in the secondary. The same can not be said of the Cowboys.
What Dallas does have, however, is one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and a young, dynamic running back who will be hungry for redemption after his worst game as a pro. And the Cardinals have Carson Palmer, who finally found a rhythm in the 4th quarter of last week’s game and finished with 332 passing yards. Palmer has an excellent opportunity to keep the momentum going against a defense that Trevor Siemian just picked apart. I believe he will, but I also expect Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott and Co. to respond to last week’s failure with a good performance. This should be a fun, high-scoring game that goes over the posted total.