NFL WEEK 2: The first NFL Sunday of the season provided a much-needed dose of normalcy for many of us, and though the empty stadiums and haunting quietness (occasionally interrupted by pumped-in sound) gave the proceedings a bit of a dystopian feel, I actually adjusted to the “new normal” quicker than expected. My 9-year old son said it best: “It’s like every game is a Vanderbilt game, dad”. Indeed.
We saw a couple of genuine surprises in Week 1, like the Jaguars beating the Colts and the Cardinals topping the defending NFC champion 49ers, but the craziness that some had predicted following truncated training camps and a washed-out preseason didn’t really materialize, and the games in general were surprisingly watchable and well-played. Perhaps this has something to do with the refs swallowing the whistle (there were 18 holding penalties called throughout the league in Week 1, compared to 82 in Week 1 last year), or maybe the ultimate uselessness of the preseason has finally been revealed. Whatever the reason, we’re not complaining, and with an intriguing Week 2 slate on tap, let’s hope the trend continues.
Our own fun was dampened a bit last week when the Titans failed to cover on Monday night by a half-point, leaving us with a 2-2 split. Let’s see if we can kick off a little early-season hot streak with these four selections:
Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins (BUF -5.5, 41)
Recommendation: Miami +5.5 at 1.94
The Bills looked every bit the AFC contender they’re purported to be in last week’s rout of the Jets, as quarterback Josh Allen posted his first career 300-yard passing game while the defense held the New York offense to just 254 total yards. But that vaunted Buffalo defense suffered some bad luck– starting linebackers Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds both went down with injures, and neither is expected to play this week. The loss of Edmunds, a 2019 Pro Bowler who is the team’s top tackler, will be especially impactful, and I expect Miami QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to have success in the short-to-intermediate passing attack. Fitz should have his full complement of weapons with DeVante Parker now expected to play, and the Dolphins collection of skill position talent, with guys like Parker, Jakeem Grant, and Preston Williams, is one of the more underrated groups in the league. This is a sneaky-tough spot for the Bills; a September road game in hot, sticky South Florida, facing a veteran quarterback wth a good history against them (his former team) and a defense that should be better than it was in 2019. Gimme the Fins and the points.
Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TB -8, 47.5)
Recommendation: Tampa Bay -8 at 1.94
The discontent was palpable in Tampa this week as the team dealt with the aftermath of last week’s disappointing loss to New Orleans, with Bruce Arians going to the media and directly criticizing Tom Brady– something No. 12 never had to deal with in New England. But both men know that the best way to stave off the media jackals is with a resounding victory, and fortunately for them they’ll be seeing a Carolina team this week that boasts the NFL’s most inexperienced defense, one that featured a whopping four rookies in the starting lineup in last week’s loss to Las Vegas. Unsurprisingly, the young Panthers weren’t very successful in slowing down the Vegas attack, as the Raiders put up 34 points on better than 6 yards per play. I expect Brady and the talented Bucs offense to come out firing on all cylinders in this one, testing the green Panthers secondary early and often. A double-digit Tampa win is the likeliest outcome.
New York Giants @ Chicago Bears (CHI -5.5, 42)
Recommendation: New York +5.5 at 1.93
The Bears are riding high after a come-from-behind win in Detroit last week, but boy was it ugly for awhile: through 3 quarters, Mitch Trubisky and the Chicago offense produced a mere two field goals in 8 possessions, and the Bears trailed 23-6. Trubisky improbably rallied the team in the 4th quarter and temporarily quieted the calls for his job, but his body of work over the past couple of years places him squarely among the worst QBs in the league, and the Chicago offense can not be trusted with him at the controls. His counterpart in Sunday, New York’s Daniel Jones, threw for 279 yards and a pair of touchdowns in last week’s loss to Pittsburgh, and the Giants will look to get the game’s most explosive running back, Saquon Barkley, on track against a Chicago defense that just surrendered 138 rushing yards (4.8 ypc) to a pedestrian Detroit rushing attack. I think New York has an excellent shot at the outright upset here and should be backed enthusiastically as a 5.5-point ‘dog.
Baltimore Ravens @ Houston Texans (BAL -7, 50)
Recommendation: Houston +7 at 1.99
After ripping through the regular season last year and stomping the Browns in Week 1, the Ravens are riding a wave of public adulation unmatched this side of Kansas City. It should come as no surprise, then, that over 90% of public money in this game have come in on Baltimore -7 at multiple sportsbooks around the world, as has been widely reported this week. But I’d be careful about spotting a team like Houston a touchdown at home– the Texans were outclassed by the Chiefs on opening night, but Deshaun Watson clearly got more comfortable in the new-look offense as the game wore on, and the unit found a rhythm in the second half. The Ravens, meanwhile, struggled to get their patented rushing attack going against a middling Cleveland defense, with RBs Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins, and Gus Edwards combining for just 68 yards and 3.4 yards per carry. Lamar Jackson was able to make up for it by burning the Browns through the air, but as we’ve seen occasionally, most notably in the playoffs last year, Jackson’s downfield passing can be a bit…err… spotty. I expect the Houston offense to have some success here and keep this one competitive, making the Texans awfully tempting as a fat home ‘dog. I’m not turning down the 7 points.