Urgh. Time to stick my neck (Reputation? ... What do you mean "what reputation?"?) on the line again with my week 3 picks. Starting with...
Patriots @ Bills
Oh boy. That's a kicker to start with. Two teams that are off to flying starts, literally, as they sling the ball all over the shop in pursuit of victory. I was actually watching the Pats/Dolphins game the other day, or at least the offensive snaps for the Patriots, and noticed something I've never noticed before about Tom Brady; the guy stares his receivers down like nothing you've ever seen before. He doesn't even bother to make it subtle. He must pick a side pre-snap and just work that one side of the field. On the odd occasion that he does come back to the opposite side of the field, he invariably throws the ball incomplete.
Do I think the Bills are smart enough/talented enough to exploit this? Nope. In fact I think their entire defense is ill prepared for an attack as diverse as the Patriots. They just don't have the pass rush or coverage men to cope. The Patriots on the other hand do have a chance of slowing down the Bills Offense, so in what still might prove to be a shootout, I think the Patriots have the slight upper hand. Patriots win.
Jaguars @ Panthers
Great. Two rookie quarterbacks who I hate, bundled together in one game. Actually, hate is a strong word. I only dislike Cam Newton (As a quarterback. He seems like a jovial kind of guy when not playing). Question is, who do I think will stink it up more? I say Gabbert! The Panthers don't exactly have a burning hot pass rush, but then if there is one thing that people should have taken away from Gabberts college tape it's that he only needs a three man rush - even one that doesn't look remotely like it will get home - to spook him.
Newton at least is a slight bit more solid in the pocket. I say that tentatively, because despite the huge numbers he's racked up and the effusive praise he's received in the media, I still don't see a pocket passer. I see a guy who moves around a lot and occasionally steps into some wild throws. Now I could be wrong, it might just be that his throwing style is a little... shall we say 'unique'? To me though he looks very much like a guy who just lofts the ball up there and then thanks God when someone in a Panthers jersey comes down with it.
Unlike the multiple picks from his last game which everyone seems to be conveniently glossing over. Whatever. The Panthers under Newton suck slightly less than the Gabbert lead Jaguars (I see they gave Luke McCown a fair crack at the whip; a whole two games). So Panthers win.
49ers @ Bengals
Somehow the 49ers have managed to win one game and take another to over time. As a 49ers fan part of me is pleased. But then part of me thinks this is just the 49ers building peoples hopes, so they can mercilessly crush them again in due course. The beginning of that road could be here.
The Bengals are by no means hot contenders for the playoffs. They don't need to be though. They're a semi coherent football team, with some good players and a quarterback who is about average. That's basically all you need to beat the 49ers these days. Bengals win.
Dolphins @ Browns
Ah. Now. This, this is a conundrum game. The Browns and the Dolphins. Two teams who fit the tag 'under achieving', nicely. Colt McCoy is better than he's otherwise shown this season. And so is Chad Henne. Neither offense seems to be able to get going though (pounding the Colts in the fourth quarter doesn't count), for whatever reasons.
The trouble is that neither defense has stepped up either. The Dolphins especially are failing to live up to expectations, with Cameron Wake falling well below the standard of performance he set for himself last year. And what of Karlos Dansby? Or Koa Misi? Will Allen? Yeremiah Bell? Names that cropped up often last year but have shrunk into the background in 2011.
All things considered, I'm still leaning towards Miami. I just think they have a little more to bring to the game, in terms of the potential of both their units. It's a tough choice and I'm really not all that confident, but I say Dolphins win.
Lions @ Vikings
I'm not even entertaining this one. Matthew Stafford has been really sharp, the Lions are starting to actually get something out of Jahvid Best, and the front four on defense is helping to ease the pressure off the secondary. The Vikings are faltering though. While Adrian Peterson is in his usual "angry running" form, Donovan McNabb is in his usual, highly erratic "pitching the ball wildly into the floor or stands" form. Lions win.
Texans @ Saints
Jeez, loving all the easy picks today...
Texans and Saints huh. Two real good offenses, backed by defenses that are a little up in the air still. The Saints have a very creative mind in Gregg Williams running the show, but physically they don't have the talent just yet. The Texans also have a creative coordinator in Wade Phillips, while also possessing some really talented and promising players.
I think for me the critical factor is how well that Texans offense plays inside the Superdome with all the noise and stuff going on. They'll need to keep up the pace, even as good as their defense is. I expect to see points on the board for both teams, though it may be more in the 20's than 30's. On balance I think the Texans just have the edge. Texans win.
Giants @ Eagles
Rivalry game anyone? For me this boils down to one simple question; how many mistakes will Mike Vick make. Because I know the Giants will make some. They'll fuck something up, they always do. If Mike Vick can just keep it together and avoid the turnover fest that was last weeks Eagles/Falcons game, then the Eagles should wrap this one up. I just don't think the Giants are playing up to their abilities right now, more so on defense than anywhere else. Eagles win.
Broncos @ Titans
Blurgh! Broncos and Titans? This is difficult because while the Titans have had an ok start, I'm still not totally convinced that they're ready to roll just yet. Chris Johnson is playing like he doesn't care anymore, missing holes and just ploughing into the pile every time. Matt Hasselbeck is getting to grips with the offense, but whether he's good enough to offset the lacklustre running game week in and week out is up for debate. The defense has found some of its old form, but hasn't really faced a big challenge through the air yet.
Meanwhile the Broncos remain and enigma. They've put up 44 points on offense and conceded 45 in their two games so far, losing one and winning one by just 3 and 2 points respectively. They got handled roughly by the Raiders rushing attack, then handled the Bengals a little better. They seem to be like a bus teetering back and forth over a precipice; they could either finish on safe ground or they could fall off a cliff. I think this time they teeter back on to safe ground. Broncos win.
Jets @ Raiders
Last time this game came up the Jets set a record for the most rushing yards... in a losing effort. Since then the Jets have moved on. Rex Ryan still likes to talk about "ground and pound", but these days that seems to just be a metaphor for comparing his teams toughness to that of an MMA fighter, because this team certainly doesn't ground and pound anyone anymore. They've climbed into bed with Mark "Sanchise" Sanchez, and now they're riding the passing game express.
Which to be fair, suits them better. It's a better use of their skilled receiver corps and it helps that they have a tough defense that seems to be gradually climbing up through the gears as the weeks start to trundle by. It's more than the Raiders have, let's put it that way. Yes, the Raiders offense has been quite prolific so far, but they simply haven't faced anything like the Jets D as yet. They will on Sunday afternoon and I think they'll get a sharp awakening. Jets win.
Chiefs @ Chargers
Last year the Chiefs caught a few breaks in the kicking game and found a way to beat the Chargers. This year I'll be dumbfounded if they can do the same. The Chiefs basically have Thomas Jones on offense and a few players up front on defense like Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson. But nothing more. Matt Cassel is not the answer and the Chiefs are in a real tight spot. The Chargers still have some kinks that they need to work out of their system, but they should still walk this. Chargers win.
Ravens @ Rams
Ravens offense, meet the Rams D. Rams offense, meet the Ravens D. And meet they shall tomorrow afternoon, where I can't look past the Ravens. I'm not a Joe Flacco fan, but I do like Ray Rice and I do like that Ravens defense to bring the heat on Sam Bradford. Without Steven Jackson he has no support really in the running game and I just think the Ravens D will zero in on Bradford mercilessly. Ravens win.
Packers @ Bears
Strap on your helmets, pull your pants and your socks up, then hold on for the ride as the Packers take on the Bears. This is a rivalry game if ever there was one, except this time around there is recent history lurking to help stoke the flames. This is a rematch of last years NFC Championship game and a chance for the Bears to prove that they can rumble with the biggest and baddest teams in the league, including the previous champions.
They wont though. I don't mean to be a pessimist, but the Bears are not as good as last year made them out to be. They have a pass rush, when it decides to show up, and they have some players dotted around the defense who occasionally step up and make plays. The consistency isn't there though and that's before we even get to the offense.
Jay Cutler can make plays. "Can" being the operative word, instead of "does". His receiving corps still needs work and as this is a Mike Martz team you can fully expect to not see enough of Matt Forte and the ground game.
Compare and contrast with a Packers team that is practically over flowing with offensive playmakers and has more than enough quality on defense to contain the Bears, what with Clay Matthews and company upfront rushing that terrible Bears line, while a broadly good secondary pins down his receivers. On that note, Packers win.
Cardinals @ Seahawks
This might just be the worst game this week. And the Seahawks might just be the worst team in the NFL right now. At least the Cardinals have some promise. Kevin Kolb has talent. He has some decent players around him. His defense can just about make the odd play. All of which is more than the Seahawks have. Cardinals win.
Falcons @ Buccaneers
This could be a tough one right here. Both teams have had success, but both have demonstrated weaknesses along the way. For the Falcons it's predominantly been their O-line, which hasn't really shaped up as well as some might have hoped before the regular season began, while the Buccaneers D is still struggling despite a raft of high round picks spent up front.
Personally I think I favour the Falcons a little more in this one. I don't think the Buccaneers really have the defensive clout to exploit the Falcons weak line, while the Falcons pass rush does have the players to get after Buc's QB Josh Freeman and give him a tough ride. Falcons win.
Steelers @ Colts
Like stealing sand from a beach; often you can do it without even having to try. Steelers win.
Redskins @ Cowboys
I hate picking games like this, because much depends on the injury status of certain players. We know Miles Austin will miss the game, but what about Tony Romo and Dez Bryant? If they miss the game, then the Cowboys are in for a rough night. If they make it, then they have a decent chance.
I suppose I should commit one way or the other though so I'm going with... the Redskins. This is not a confident pick and if it collapses around my ears then so be it, but I just think that even if Romo plays then you still have the possibility of the Redskins pass rush making a meal out of him. That part of their defensive unit is really heating up and by suppressing the oppositions passing game, it gives Rex Grossman a chance to make plays to win games. Which is what I think will happen here. Redskins win.