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  • The MMQB staff thinks different teams that suffered losses in Week 1 now have strong value and will cover the spread in Week 2.
By The MMQB Staff
September 12, 2018

After finishing with a 3-2-1 record in the season-opening slate, The MMQB staff has identified their bets for Week 2's action.

New York Giants (+3) at Dallas Cowboys

The Giants had some stumbles in the Week 1 loss to Jacksonville, but the offense was facing an excellent defense with top-tier players at every level. Still, Saquon Barkley reminded opponents to game plan for his big-play potential with his 68-yard TD run, and Odell Beckham, Jr. added a 100-yard receiving day. They'll be even better against the Cowboys. Meanwhile, the Cowboys' post-Dez, post-Witten era got off to the thud that many, including Dez himself, were expecting. Ereck Flowers needs to start reading scouting reports on opposing pass rushers, but I'd even pick the Giants straight up (and I will, in the MMQB's Week 2 staff picks, coming later this week!). — Jenny Vrentas

Cleveland Browns at New Orleans Saints (-8.5)

If you injected Saints defenders with truth serum and then asked them who the easiest offense they faced last year was, they'd tell you it was Tyrod Taylor's Buffalo Bills. 

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Correction: You don't even need the truth serum. They were all saying it after that game, a 47-10 victory (seven of the Bills' 10 points, by the way, came courtesy of a Nathan Peterman-led drive) in Buffalo last November. Cam Jordan afterwards: "What was there, 16 defensive snaps in the first half? I was contemplating running extra half gas just to keep my conditioning. I knew that Tyrod Taylor would try and scramble and we pretty much eliminated that except we got a little hungry on some sacks and he spun out and did exactly what we knew he was going to do. We kept him in the pocket and made him a quarterback."

Perhaps you are down on the Saints defense after last week's disaster. Say what you will about Ryan Fitzpatrick, who toggles between Aaron Rodgers and Peterman with his performances (but usually falls closer to the latter on the Rodgers-Peterman scientific scale). But he's aggressive. He takes chances. When things are going good, he makes plays and his team scores points. Taylor, as we saw once again last week against Pittsburgh, does not take chances or try to score points. The Browns, like the Bills a year ago, are trying to win games by dominating the turnover battle. The fact that they were +5 a week ago—with four of the Steelers' six giveaways giving Cleveland the ball in Pittsburgh territory, and the only points the Browns scored off of a turnover were when they took over at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line—and it led to a humiliating (even for Browns standards) tie ... it seems unlikely Taylor has become a guy who is going to go on the road and outscore a Drew Brees offense. Or even come close. (Yes, weather was bad last week, but Pittsburgh played most of the second half without No. 1 corner Joe Haden, and Ben Roethlisberger threw for 335 in the same conditions.)

And as for the Saints D overall, in this calendar year we've seen the Eagles, Vikings and Jaguars—possibly the three best defenses in football—each give up big days to opponents (Nick Foles dropped 38 on the Vikings, the Jags allowed 42 in Pittsburgh and the Eagles gave up 33 in Super Bowl LII). Maybe the Saints are going to slide back a bit defensively this season, but there's a ton of talent and the core of the unit has been together and improved together (plus, they looked shaky in last year's opener, a loss at Minnesota, too). The path to a close game would be a bunch of New Orleans turnovers early, with the Browns bleeding clock after that. The more likely scenario is the Saints, after a wake-up call last week, bouncing back with an easy double-digit win. — Gary Gramling

Cleveland Browns at New Orleans Saints (-8.5)

Taking a big favorite isn’t fun. However, it beats missing out on an easy W. Somehow, the Browns enter this game with a better record than the Saints—but the somehow here is important. Both results last week stemmed from irreproducible events, the types of flukes that savvy observers can capitalize on.

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Let’s start in Cleveland. A tie with Pittsburgh has fans hoping the franchise’s dark days are behind it, but the numbers aren’t so optimistic. The Browns offense managed 3.8 yards per play and put together only two drives over 50 yards Sunday. The weather is partly to blame, but the Steelers still put up 472 yards of offense and four long drives. Cleveland was only able to stay in the game because of its 6-1 turnover advantage.

Meanwhile in New Orleans, whether the Saints weren’t fully motivated to face Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Buccaneers or Fitzpatrick just had a magical day, the results were disastrous for the home team (and nearly a third of survivor pool players). Last year, the N.O. defense started slowly as well, surrendering 470 yards to Sam Bradford and the Vikings, before improving from bad to average. This isn’t an elite unit. But it should have a much easier time this weekend. Both Tyrod Taylor (33.6 rating) and Jarvis Landry (40 yards) struggled against the Saints in 2017. 

Lost in the Saints’ upset defeat was the offense putting up 40 points and nearly 500 yards once again. And that was without the benefit of much of a running game (only 13 total carries) after Tampa scored on its first four possessions, and despite New Orleans losing the turnover battle 2-0. Some turnover regression and more control over the game should lead to success for the Saints. — Jacob Feldman

Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers (-4)

The values on these teams shifted wildly after Week 1, in which the Steelers embarrassingly tied the Browns, and the Chiefs blew the doors off the Chargers in Los Angeles. As such, the Steelers are the most undervalued team on the board this week. The temptation is to look at the Chiefs’ Week 1 win over the Chargers and see a quarterback in Patrick Mahomes who’s a perfect fit for Andy Reid’s offense. I see a guy who played great, but whose numbers were inflated by a couple of jet sweeps that he pitched, which made them passing touchdowns, and a long touchdown to Tyreek Hill on which the receiver did most of the heavy lifting. I also see a defense that allowed 8.31 yards per attempt, 5.59 yards per carry and was saved by two dropped touchdowns. Remember, too, that Joey Bosa was out last week, but the Steelers defense comes into this Week 2 matchup at full strength. I’m not saying the Chiefs aren’t up to the challenge of going into Pittsburgh, and they unquestionably proved last week that they remain as dangerous as ever with Mahomes in place of Alex Smith. Still, this is an overreaction to the way both of these teams played last week. The Steelers should be able to protect home field and win this one by a touchdown. — Michael Beller

Kansas City Chiefs (+4) at Pittsburgh Steelers

Before the season I picked the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl. Last week in this space I took the Chiefs +3.5 in L.A. against the Chargers. I’m going to keep taking them until the oddsmakers give them the respect I think they deserve, so this week I’m back on Kansas City. I have felt for a while now that the Chiefs can be one of the best teams in the NFL, and their Week 1 performance against the Chargers gives me no reason to think otherwise.

Last season they went 10-7, including the playoffs. Three of those losses were by a field goal or less, and only one was by more than 7 points. Even though that includes a six-point loss to the Steelers, the point stands that the Chiefs have shown you can expect them to keep things close with anyone. I understand if you want to pick the Steelers to rebound from their tie against Cleveland to win the game outright, but giving four points seems to be entirely too much. Yes, Pittsburgh is a tougher place to play than the StubHub Center. Yes, we have a team on the road for a second straight week. But the Chiefs looked considerably better in Week 1, there’s still no sign of Le’Veon Bell and I’ll happily take the points. Again. — Mitch Goldich

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Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers (-4)

Smart bettors love Week 2 because of how easy it is to fade the annual Week 1 overreactions. Patrick Mahomes is an MVP candidate! The Steelers tied the Browns, they’re doomed without Le’Veon Bell!

Let’s dive deeper into these claims. Chargers pass rusher Melvin Ingram was able to generate a few pressures, but Kansas City’s offensive line was able to protect Mahomes pretty well. Los Angeles, though, dearly missed defensive end Joey Bosa, and his presence would have made things a lot tougher for Kansas City’s entire offense. For all the talk about the Chiefs’ otherworldly offense, Kareem Hunt only averaged 3.1 yards per carry and Travis Kelce caught one ball for six yards. Two of Kansas City’s five touchdowns came from special teams gifts: a Tyreek Hill 91-yard punt return for a TD and the Chargers fumbling a punt that the Chiefs recovered at L.A.’s 2-yard line.

Additionally, the Chiefs defense was still a train wreck. The unit allowed an average of 49.62 yards per drive last weekend, which ranked dead last in the NFL. Only New Orleans and Tampa Bay surrendered a higher YPP than Kansas City’s 7.3. The pass rush wasn’t great either, as its 15.4 pressure percentage via ESPN was the fifth-worst mark in the league.

On the opposite end of the defensive spectrum, and granted it was against the Browns, but the Steelers allowed 18.95 yards per drive—the second-best mark in Week 1 outside of the Ravens’ 6.60, thanks to getting to face quite possibly the worst quarterback to ever start multiple NFL games in Nathan Peterman. The fact that the Steelers limited the damage to 21 points despite the Browns starting in opposing territory on four different drives due to Pittsburgh turnovers is rather remarkable. The Steelers finished second in the NFL with a 52.8 pressure percentage, led by the ferocious T.J. Watt, and that pass rush will give the Chiefs and Mahomes some major issues compared to last week.

Ben Roethlisberger didn’t look like himself in Cleveland, but his home/road splits are well documented and the weather conditions didn’t help. Roethlisberger on the road since the start of the 2015 season: 63.1% completion rate, 27 touchdown throws, 26 interceptions, 83.9 QB rating and 6.77 adjusted yards per pass attempt. At home over that span? 67.3% completion rate, 52 TD passes, 20 INTs, 103.6 passer rating and 8.27 adjusted yards per pass attempt.

James Conner performed admirably in Bell’s place running the ball, and added five receptions for 57 yards. Per Warren Sharp, Kansas City allowed a whopping 10.5 YPA to Chargers running backs, and Conner should be able to exploit that matchup as well. Oh yeah, and the Chiefs have to worry about defending Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Chiefs surrendered a league-high 90.3 yards per game to opposing No. 1 wideouts last season, and gave up a juicy 8-108-1 line to Keenan Allen last week.

Apologies for the wordy explanation. But if you don’t take advantage of the Steelers only being a four-point home favorite against the Chiefs because of Week 1 overreactions, I'm not sure what to tell you. — Max Meyer  

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