I’m not sure I can ever remember a week quite like this one in the NFL, where one story seemed to completely overshadow all else, including the post-mortems of the league’s opening week and the buildup for the games to come in Week 2. But that was the reality of Ray Rice’s shocking demise in Baltimore and its multi-faceted aftermath.
I’m tempted to predict all that will change once Sunday arrives, with the focus returning fully to the field, but I’m not convinced it will. It’s a pretty weak slate of games on tap in Week 2, and the Rice story isn’t going away any time soon. The significance is simply too far-reaching, and the consequences for the NFL too weighty.
The Ravens turned the page to some degree with an impressive win at home against rival Pittsburgh on Thursday night, but it remains to be seen if the rest of the league will follow suit on Sunday and Monday.
- Last week: 10-6; Season: 10-6 (.625).
- Best pick in Week 1: Jets 20, Raiders 10 (actual score Jets 19-14).
- Worst pick in Week 1: Patriots 28, Dolphins 23 (actual score: Dolphins 33-20).
Below are my Week 2 picks. (Here was my pick for the Thursday night game between Baltimore and Pittsburgh.)
Both of these teams kicked off the season with an upset victory, but one is about to get its bubble burst and lose its momentum. Both the Dolphins and Bills got it done on defense last week, but I’m buying the Bills’ staying power on that side of the ball a little more than I am the Dolphins’. Buffalo’s home opener should be a chance to celebrate the tentative sale agreement of the team to Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, but wouldn’t it be just like the Bills to underachieve at the worst possible time?
The Jaguars' fast start in Philadelphia last week raised my hopes that choosing Jacksonville to earn an AFC wild-card berth wasn’t completely foolish. But then came the Jags' second-half collapse. Gus Bradley’s on-the-rise team still hasn’t learned to close the deal, but rest assured that Washington doesn’t have the firepower to score 34 unanswered points against anyone. I’d like to pick the Jaguars to get to .500, but if Jay Gruden’s team has any designs on playoff contention this year, this is a home game Washington has to win.
Last week it looked like Cowboys' Tony Romo hadn't completely put his offseason back surgery behind him (see what I did there?) in that three-interception loss to the visiting 49ers. But there’s a stat that’s getting a lot of play this week that suggests he’ll bounce back in Nashville: In the 10 games after he has thrown for three or more interceptions, Romo has tossed 15 touchdowns and just eight picks. But I’m actually much more bullish this week on Titans quarterback Jake Locker, who was accurate and efficient last week in the win at Kansas City. Locker looks like he might thrive under the play-calling of new coach Ken Whisenhunt, and after a rough start to his career, he has fought his way to a 10-10 starting record in Tennessee. He’ll make it 11-10 when he exploits that soft Cowboys defense this week.
Preseason results are meaningless, until they’re not. Nobody can say they didn’t see New York’s dismal Monday night offensive showing in Detroit coming. The Giants are who we thought they were. At least for now. As for the Cardinals, their fourth-quarter comeback at home against the mistake-prone Chargers showed their resiliency and ability to hang around long enough for something good to happen. I foresee another late rally from Arizona and a second consecutive win over an opponent led by a 2004 first-round quarterback.
The sky is always falling in New England after a loss. But if Bill Belichick’s team starts 0-2 for the first time since 2001 (didn’t they win the Super Bowl that year?), you’ll hear Patriots Nation coming apart at the seams. I predicted the Vikings would exceed expectations this season and be a pesky and competitive opponent under first-year head coach Mike Zimmer, but I’m not sure they’re quite ready to slay one of the NFL’s giants just yet. Tom Brady losing to his ex-backup Matt Cassel? I can’t see it.
Isaiah Crowell was a true revelation last week for the Browns in their last-second loss in Pittsburgh. The undrafted rookie running back announced his arrival on the NFL scene with a pair of second-half rushing touchdowns and some very physical running. Ben Tate’s Week 1 knee injury isn’t quite as damaging as we presumed. Between Crowell and fellow rookie Terrance West, Cleveland’s backfield should still remain a threat without the services of the team’s lead ballcarrier. The plucky Browns will be competitive yet again, but they’re catching the Saints at the wrong time, coming off an overtime Week 1 loss at Atlanta and in full-blown make-amends mode.
With the quality Bengals pass rush on tap, the Falcons' banged-up offensive line will have its hands full if rookie left tackle Jake Matthews can’t play due to a Week 1 ankle injury. Atlanta offensive line coach Mike Tice must be starting to understand why his current position was vacant this offseason, given the challenges his section of the depth chart has already endured. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan needs to be at his best once again this week if the Falcons are to get out of the Queen City with a win. Cincinnati knows how to protect its house, though, and will jump to 2-0 and in sole possession of the AFC North lead.
Cam Newton is back, so let’s see if he can shake off the rust and play as clean a game as Derek Anderson did last week in the Panthers’ win at Tampa Bay. There’s really no reason the Lions’ high-powered offense should be held to a lousy 10 points in any game this season, but that Carolina defense is legit. It will carry the Panthers to a so-ugly-it’s-beautiful victory and a 2-0 start in 2014 for the defending NFC South champions.
No pressure, Tampa Bay, but this game has to be a win if Lovie Smith’s first Bucs squad has any intention of living up to its turnaround-team expectations. Bucs quarterback Josh McCown can’t wait until the fourth quarter to make something happen this week against a Rams defense that looked utterly underwhelming at home against Minnesota in Week 1. With a three-game road trip to Atlanta, Pittsburgh and New Orleans looming just ahead, the Bucs have no room for error against St. Louis.
Oh, you Chargers. You choked away a very winnable game Monday night in Arizona, showing those self-destructive tendencies for which you were once so well-known (At least until that late-season run to the playoffs a year ago). I went to bed early Tuesday morning with San Diego in firm control at 17-6, thinking I was putting up an 11-5 Week 1 picks record on the board. Unfortunately, I woke up to a 12-0 Cardinals fourth quarter and a less-satisfying 10-6 mark for my initial effort. With only six days to get ready for a Seattle team that has been off for 10 days, San Diego won’t have to worry about blowing any leads in Week 2.
I bet Matt Schaub had this one circled on his refrigerator magnet schedule all offseason long. However, he forgot to play well enough to lock up the Raiders starting quarterback job, losing the gig to rookie Derek Carr and with it his chance for revenge against the team that traded him away to Oakland this spring. The Raiders have enough defense to get the victory, but I’m not sure Oakland is going to score enough against that J.J. Watt-led Texans defense that won’t suffer too much in the absence of rookie Jadeveon Clowney.
Here’s another chance for the middle of the Packers defense to test itself against a quality running game, after doing little to distinguish itself last week in Seattle. The Jets' defensive front seven was dominant against Oakland, but Aaron Rodgers will have New York’s shaky cornerbacks turning in circles all day. The Packers can’t afford an 0-2 start with division games at Detroit and Chicago looming on the horizon, and they’ll get to .500 with a just-good-enough showing in their home opener.
I’m guessing Denver is going to get a lot of suicide pool action against the Chiefs, because this mismatch looks like the lock of the week for the Broncos. It’s mid-September and it already feels like a long -- and potentially lost -- year in Kansas City. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but Week 3 holds the promise of 2-0 Denver at 2-0 Seattle, in that somewhat anticipated Super Bowl rematch.
The 49ers get to show off their new Levi’s Stadium on Sunday Night Football, and as long as the turf holds up, they’re going to get this started the right way -- with a victory that reminds us Jim Harbaugh’s team is still in discussion in the NFC elite class. On the other hand, the Bears are not. They’re still a maddening team with potential but not enough resolve and resilience. Jay Cutler was said to be a more mature version of himself this preseason, but he sounded like an excuse-maker again after the home-opening overtime loss to Buffalo in Week 1.
Monday, Sept. 15
The season-ending Achilles tear suffered by Robert Mathis might very well take the Colts out of serious Super Bowl contention, which shows how much his big-play talent means to Indy’s defense. But in the short term, with Mathis serving a four-game league suspension that would have seen him miss this game anyway, I see Andrew Luck and Co. finding a way to beat the fast-break Eagles and even their record at 1-1 with their AFC South schedule about to commence.