Game Predictions for Week 2 of the NFL season promise to disappoint those whose teams soared to unexpected heights and to uplift fans of clubs that laid an opening weekend egg.
Thursday Night Football
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers. Green Bay WR Greg Jennings may not play due to a sore groin and Aaron Rodgers was forced to run five times last week.* No one in Wisconsin wants to see him rushing the football. Cedric Benson got nine snaps. Mike McCarthy signed a power runner in order to not give him the ball?
Bears QB Jay Cutler is on his way to the Pro Bowl. Write it down. He threw for 333 yards and two scores. Brandon Marshall racked up 119 yards and a score -- he loves playing with Jay.
The Bears creamed the Colts, while Green Bay lost by eight points to one of the best teams in the NFC.
Prediction: Green Bay wins by three.
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers. Sunday was a surprising loss for the Panthers as Cam Newton passed for over 300 yards, but gave up two interceptions. Meanwhile that expensive backfield gained ten yards. Ten. Drew Brees had one of his worst days as a Saint (but he did increase his string of consecutive games with a TD -- look out Johnny U!). Rusher Pierre Thomas tallied 17 yards. Reinstated LB Jonathan Vilma went directly to the PUP list. That's not helpful.
Prediction: The New Orleans Saints rally and win by a touchdown.
Arizona Cardinals at New England Patriots. John Skelton began his year with a high ankle sprain. Kevin Kolb came off the bench -- and won. Maybe that's the secret: no practice reps and no time to over-think the position? LaRod Stephens-Howling is the Darren Sproles-type player that no one is noticing, but Ken Whisenhunt and friends must find a way to move the ball more effectively on the ground. Soon, it's going to be Tom Brady and ten tight ends on offense. Brady was hit in the nose and America held its breath as his modeling career hung in the balance. That's okay, he's still a pretty darn good quarterback, completing 23-of-31 passes for two scores and zero picks. Another ho-hum day at the gridiron for No. 12 on his way to becoming the fifth QB to reach 125 regular season victories. Stevan Ridley cemented the RB job with 125 yards and new WRing toy Brandon Lloyd came down with five balls.
Prediction: Patriots by two scores.
Oakland Raiders at Miami Dolphins. This is not the game that will inspire your children to play football. Miami's rookie QB Ryan Tannehill's three second-quarter interceptions were catastrophic. Obviously, being intimately familiar with Mike Sherman's offensive system isn't enough when facing the Texans D. Worse, Tannehill's 219 yards were almost the total offense as Miami's high-priced RBs couldn't get anything started.
Tannehill was resolutely positive: "I felt like we hurt ourselves more than they really just stopped us." Keep telling yourself that.
Prediction: Raiders by a touchdown.
Minnesota Vikings at Indianapolis Colts. In a couple of years, this should be a great game. For now... Andrew Luck's professional debut resulted in 23 completed passes, 309 yards, a touchdown and three turnovers. Reggie Wayne will be the Sterling Sharpe to Luck's Brett Favre. Viking QB Christian Ponder's second NFL season began with a win, although the offense struggled against the Jacksonville D. Ponder's connection with TE Kyle Rudolph is building and Adrian Peterson made good on his promise to return for Week 1. He even scored. Twice. Keep an eye on rookie Safety Harrison Smith.
Prediction: Indianapolis by a field goal.
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals. Browns rookie QB Brandon Weeden had a rating of 5.1, but Cleveland still almost beat Philadelphia. Unfortunately, star CB Joe Haden is suspended. LB Scott Fujita is back on the roster, which should fill out a LBing corps that sported two promising rookies. Third overall draft pick, RB Trent Richardson, did not have much success in his first start. He was hampered by a lack of preseason work--and some less-than-overwhelming blocking. The Bengals battled Monday night against a superior Ravens team. Their three new offensive linemen played admirably and the defense is solid, though the secondary is a bit on the, um, mature side.
Prediction: Cincinnati by a touchdown. Don't get carried away since Cleveland has a legitimate D.
Baltimore Ravens at Philadelphia Eagles. Baltimore was on fire Monday while the 'Iggles played below their ability in Cleveland. Andy Reid had better give the ball to star runner LeSean McCoy, or Ray Lewis and company will eat Michael Vick for Sunday brunch.
The Ravens look like a team still angry after being robbed of the AFC Championship. Joe Flacco's new no-huddle offense was sparkling. TE Dennis Pitta has chosen 2012 to be his breakout year, Anquan Boldin is healthy, Ray Rice is happy and Torrey Smith is... fast.
Prediction: Baltimore Ravens by a field goal.
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville QB Blaine Gabbert was calm and focused for most of his 260-yard, two-touchdown performance. However, he's no Ben Roethlisberger and the Jags don't have much time to lick their wounds after the overtime loss in Minnesota. Maurice Jones-Drew scampered and burrowed for 77 yards on 19 carries. Business as usual. If they give him 25 carries, Gabbert will have a better chance of finding first-round WR Justin Blackmon. The team lost three O-linemen during the Week 1 game. Oh dear. The Houston Texans are Super Bowl contenders, but you couldn't have proved it by their lackluster first quarter of the year. They woke up to score four times in the second period against Miami.
Prediction: Houston by a touchdown.
Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills. Matt Cassel was responsible for three turnovers. Whether he's off to a bad start or the Falcons D is much improved remains to be seen. Regardless, the Chiefs need Peyton Hillis to carry the ball more than four times. The state of the Chiefs defense is equally murky, since the squad was minus four starters last Sunday. Three of them will return. As for Buffalo, is their defense really that bad? QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has hopefully used his Harvard financial degree to move some of that huge contract off-shore or the Bills are going to want it back. The Ivy-Leaguer may have scored three TDs, but he also threw three picks and totaled less than 200 yards passing. With Fred Jackson out two to four weeks, C. J. Spiller needs to prove that he was worthy of that rookie money. WR David Nelson tore his ACL -- which is not going to improve Fitzpatrick's mood or stats.
Prediction: Matt Cassel will put it together and Buffalo will not. Chiefs win by three.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants. Newly slim Josh Freeman was unspectacular but successful Sunday and rookie safety Mark Barron is a keeper. Ronde Barber has cornered the fountain of youth and recorded his second career game with both an interception and a sack. The Bucs scored another rookie bulls-eye with RB Doug Martin, who rolled up 95 yards on 24 carries. Top free agent WR Vincent Jackson needs to step it up. As for Big Blue, Eli is still elite, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks will return to form and the D-line still gives any sane person the willies. The matchup to watch will be Freeman and receivers Mike Williams and Jackson versus the paper thin Giants secondary. It would be helpful if New York ran the football more than 82 yards. Yeah.
Prediction: New York Giants by nine.
Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks. Poor rookie QB Russell Wilson. He couldn't get it across the plane in the waning seconds Sunday and now the 'Boys are coming to town. "Russell, meet DeMarcus -- Demarcus, Russell." Wilson completed 18-of-34 passes, scored one touchdown and threw one interception. Marshawn Lynch contributed 85 yards. Despite the loss to a mediocre Arizona team in Week 1, the 'Hawks defense is a strong unit.
Tony Romo continues to prove his value to anyone with a dispassionate eye and Demarco Murray is a rushing talent. Wilson's WRs must rise to the occasion against the Lone Star's much-improved secondary.
Prediction: Seahawks by one. (Disclaimer: I am somewhat allergic to the Cowboys and this may impact my judgment.)
Washington Redskins at St. Louis Rams. Do you know that if you put your fingers on the wrong keys, RGIII's name comes out as Robert "Friggin?" Defenders are going to relate. Robert Griffin III completed 19-of-26 passes for 320 yards, two scores and zero (null, zip) interceptions! Rookie rusher Alfred Morris had 96 yards and two touchdowns. Pierre Garcon is Griffin's top weapon, but he is questionable. The Redskins defense held New Orleans to a handful of rushing yards and gave Drew Brees fits. Jeff Fisher, in case anyone has forgotten, is a really good coach. This team fell over its own feet for years and Fisher has them suddenly scoring a pick six on Matthew Stafford (courtesy of former Titan, Cortland Finnegan). In fact, the D scored 13 points. Sam Bradford is easing his way back, with a 17-of-25 performance that included a touchdown. Keep your eyes on Brandon Gibson, who is turning into a full-fledged WRing threat for the Rams.
Prediction: Washington by a field goal.
Tennessee Titans at San Diego Chargers. Titans QB Jake Locker separated his shoulder on a tackle, but intends to play. Locker performed reasonably well, going 23-of-32 for 223 yards, a score and a pick. He was without star wideout Kenny Britt, who returns this week. On the other hand, Chris Johnson rushed 11 times for four yards. Be afraid, Titans fans. San Diego RB Ryan Mathews is still questionable for Week 2. Based on the fact that the entire team rushed for 32 yards in his absence, Bolts fans eagerly await his return. San Diego is favored by 5.5 points. If they can't beat a team whose mega-millionaire RB has forgotten how to run... You see where I'm going with this.
Prediction: San Diego by three.
New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers. Mark Sanchez is coming off an "in your face" standout performance and Ben Roethlisberger just lost in Denver for the second time. Roethlisberger has the fourth-highest winning percentage in NFL history.* Defensively, NT Casey Hampton is still a formidable force. Note to Jets rushers Shonn Greene and Joe McNight -- run at someone else. Mark Sanchez may never get any Big Apple media love, but if he keeps playing like this, he'll get plenty from Gang Green fans. WR Jeremy Kerley became the first Jet to score as both a WR and a punt returner. Now that we all feel better about the Jets, there is no way they win this game. Sanchez is no Peyton Manning, the Broncos had a running game and Pittsburgh will regain the services of S Ryan Clark and LB James Harrison.
Prediction: Pittsburgh by a touchdown.
Sunday Night Football
Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers. Matthew Stafford had to throw for 355 yards and stage last-second heroics to overcome his three interceptions, but the Lions ultimately won on opening day. San Francisco Kicker David Akers looked more surprised than anyone when his 63-yarder actually succeeded. 49ers RB Frank Gore should wear a sign: "Tackle at your own risk." Much maligned Alex Smith stormed into 2012 with 20 completions on 26 attempts, 211 yards, two scores and no interceptions. The defense sacked Aaron Rodgers three times. The media is hyping this game as a grudge match, but the real contest will be Matthew Stafford versus the San Francisco defense. That's a gang no QB would ever want to find in a dark alley -- or on a football field.
Prediction: San Francisco by three or less
Monday Night Football
Denver Broncos at Atlanta Falcons. This should be a high-scoring affair, with two passing offenses backed by good-but-not-great defenses. Both teams have the "destiny" bells ringing in their heads with two HOF players nearing the ends of their storied careers. The Falcons should have the edge since they have been together longer and are in the Georgia Dome where Matt Ryan is practically perfect. Falcons rusher Michael Turner is younger and more powerful than Willis McGahee. Then there's Tony Gonzalez. 'Nuff said there.
However, Denver's defense is in their second year under John Fox. And NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth nailed the quote of the week on Sunday Night Football: "Well I don't know how Peyton Manning's neck feels, but his brain is fine."
Prediction: Denver Broncos win by three.
*Statistics gleaned from nfl.com, espn.com, NBC's Sunday Night Football, the NFL Network's Gameday Final and ESPN's NFL Primetime.