Week 1 of the 2013 NFL season featured some textbook performances by consummate pros (Peyton Manning, Reggie Bush, Charles Tillman), some incredible opening acts (Chip Kelly) and some matchups showcasing play at an atmospheric level (San Francisco and Green Bay). Week 2 promises more of the same as the Mannings face off, the Eagles try to capture lightening twice in a row and the 49ers head north to face the 12th man (and the Seahawsk too).
The return of National Football League games proved yet again what superlatives athletes play this game. In 2012, defensive players and analysts universally bemoaned all of the new rule changes prohibiting high hits, low hits, hits with the helmet. Defenders feared they would no longer be effective which such limitations.
Last weekend, in game after game and drive after drive, NFL defensive athletes delivered bone-jarring, fumble-causing hits that upheld the rules while ending drives and causing turnovers. In the six months since the Super Bowl almost every defender in the League adjusted their playing technique to an entirely new emphasis without losing an ounce of ferocity. That's body control, folks!
New York Jets at New England Patriots. Fans will feel sorry for the Jets this week as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick take out all of their tweaked pride from the near-loss in Buffalo on a rookie QB. If Geno Smith can come out of this game looking anything other than inept, consider it a good sign for Gang Green's future. Smith put up a respectable 24-of-38 passes for 256 yards with one score and one INT (and 47 rushing yards). He'll have one less target now that WR Jeremy Kerley is out for the game.
Without Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen, the Patriots offense will suffer a bit. Tom Brady will once again be forced to score with B-level ballcatchers. He's done it before. The Jets' D always tries to play New England tough: if they have any success, New York can cover but probably not win.
Straight Up: New England
Against the Spread: New York Jets +13.5
San Diego Chargers at Philadelphia Eagles. While San Diego fans continue to malign their QB, it was the defense that let down the side on Monday night. Their lives will continue in misery as they travel east to chase Michael Vick around on a short week and jetlag. Oh goodie.
The Eagles' defense may well be better than expected and they'll probably be holding a lead again going into the fourth unless the Chargers' running backs can put together about four eight-minute drives. I'd like to hold out some hope for beleaguered Chargers fans, but unless Vick gets hurt (which is entirely possible -- perhaps even probable), Philly should win and cover.
Regardless of the outcome, fans should tune in just to watch incredible RB LeSean McCoy fly down the field in Chip Kelly's offense. The unit was running plays at seven seconds to spot the ball and six seconds to the snap. Wow. It probably won't last, but catch it while you can -- it's worth a look.
Straight Up: Philadelphia
Against the Spread: Philadelphia -6.5
Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills. Those criticizing Carolina QB Cam Newton for captaining an offense that managed only 253 yards did not see the game. Firstly, he was facing the Seahawks' defense, which is rapidly becoming a perennial nightmare for opponents. Secondly, Newton showed poise and discipline in his opening day performance. It's not his fault that he only has one WR. Okay, not literally, but you know what I mean. Newton stayed almost completely in the pocket in Week 1, so don't be surprised if offensive coordinator Mike Shula lets him run a bit in this game against a weaker Bills' D.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers' front seven came out roaring. However, LB Jon Beason is questionable and that could be a problem against Buffalo's formidable two-headed rushing attack. Unfortunately, the secondary couldn't hold up their end of the bargain in the second half against Russell Wilson. Rookie Bills' QB E.J. Manuel's performance against these DBs will be the key matchup in this contest. Can he duplicate his surprisingly strong debut against the Patriots? Center Doug Legursky is questionable, which won't help the rookie's campaign.
Straight Up: Carolina (but only if Beason plays)
Against the Spread: Carolina -3.5
St. Louis Rams at Atlanta Falcons. Steven Jackson versus his old team: Rams fans get a dose of their old medicine at the hands of the studliest rusher in the league. The Falcons suffered a tough loss on the road in N'awleans. Expect Matt Ryan to get his groove back in the Georgia Dome. WR Roddy White is somewhat hobbled, though, so the Rams' D just might slide coverage towards Julio Jones. Good luck with that to a St. Louis secondary that is the single weakest link on this improved team.
The Rams appear to have finally taken a significant step forward, with an offense that looked like it had a clue and an even tougher D. But Falcons' coach Mike Smith is 18-3 after a loss and Ryan rocks in the Georgia Dome.
Straight Up: Atlanta
Against the Spread: Atlanta -6.5 (no higher)
Washington at Green Bay Packers. Washington fans wish that the Packers had prevailed last weekend. As it is, they have to go into Lambeau and face angry Cheesheads and their angrier football team. If the Washington team that rallied in the second half against Philly can take their show on the road, they have a chance (though I may be the only one who thinks so). Robert Griffin III will probably shake off the last of the rust against the Packers defense (whose secondary fizzled in Week 1 after teasing us with signs of life in August). Alfred Morris should return to form as the offense settles down.
However, Aaron Rodgers did not play up to his usual standards against the 49ers and will be determined to right the ship and his own reputation as the league's best QB. The Washington defense probably cannot handle all of the Green Bay WRs -- especially if rookie rusher Eddie Lacy has any success at all. In fact, if Lacy can live up to the potential he showed against San Francisco, the Pack may have their first real rusher since the days of Dorsey Levens and Ahman Green. And you know where their seasons used to end up in those days.
Straight Up: Green Bay
Against the Spread: Washington +7.5
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens. One wonders if Norv Turner is on a mission to redeem his QB-guru reputation. Why else would he allow one of the best backs in the league only 14 carries, while forcing his virtually unprotected QB to keep passing?
The Ravens may have given up over ten yards per reception in Week 1, but that was against Peyton Manning. One wouldn't expect a repetition versus Brandon Weeden, even with TE Jordan Cameron finally emerging as the star his drafters (real and fantasy) expected him to be. Help us, Trent Richardson -- you're our only hope.
The Browns have a generally stout defense (this week featuring the possible debut of heralded rookie Barkevious Mingo) that will have to contend with a determined and embarrassed Joe Flacco. Flacco won't have WR Jacoby Jones on the field, but expect Torrey Smith to have Cleveland's secondary cursing early and often. Baltimore' biggest problem is not their humiliated defense, but the injury to RT Michael Oher. QB Joe was harried practically to death the moment No. 74 left the lineup. If Baltimore rushing star Ray Rice can succeed against a very good Browns' linebacking corps, Baltimore wins going away.
Straight Up: Baltimore
Against the Spread: Baltimore -6.5
Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts. The 'Fins have an excellent defense, but Andrew Luck seems able to rise to almost any occasion -- especially on third down. The key will be whether or not Indy's defense can stop Ryan Tannehill as he takes charge in his second year under center for Miami. Expensive addition WR Mike Wallace was reportedly "miffed" at his lack of targets in Week 1. If Tannehill throws to him, the Dolphins can win. Otherwise, the Colts will probably prevail in a close one.
The tipping point may well be the running game. Last weekend, Miami average .9 yards per rush. Well that's excruciating. Coach Philbin will doubtless remind the 'Fins' linebackers that many of the Colts' rushing yards were courtesy of their deceptively athletic quarterback. You'd think by now teams would remember that he just looks big and clunky -- he's really quite gifted physically as well as having a tremendous football IQ. Indy fans must just live right: Peyton Manning followed by Andrew Luck.
Straight Up: Indianapolis
Against the Spread: Indianapolis -3.5
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans. Jake Locker seems like such a nice young man. It's too bad he is still one of the most inaccurate passers in the NFL. He averaged 5.9 yards per pass in Week 1 and led his offense to only 229 total yards. How did they win that game again? Oh yeah -- the defense only gave up 195 yards to the Steelers. That D will have to score this weekend for the Titans to win this one. Three quarterbacks later and Tennessee hasn't recovered from pushing Steve McNair out the door.
Meanwhile, the Texans pulled off the biggest upset of the Chargers since Peyton Manning brought Denver back last year from 24-3. Maybe San Diego should just eschew MNF altogether. Matt Schaub may not be exactly a powerful quarterback, but he is blessed with WR Andre Johnson, under-appreciated TE Owen Daniels and two of the best RBs in America. Oh yeah, his defense isn't bad either.
Facing a reputation for not being able to handle elite quarterbacks, the Texans let Philip Rivers pass all over them -- for a half. Then they hit another gear and shut the Chargers down with a vengeance. It shouldn't be nearly that difficult against Locker and company.
Straight Up: Houston
Against the Spread: Houston -8.5
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears. Brian Urlacher may have retired, but his spirit lives on in this Bears' D. If Christian Ponder isn't having anxiety attacks, he isn't as smart as rumored. Adrian Peterson can be as stellar as always, but unless Ponder can elevate his game (despite all evidence thus far to the contrary), this could be an ugly afternoon. Even Peterson could have a rough day against a nine-man box of grizzlies.
The Vikings' passrushers may find it a bit more difficult to reach Jay Cutler than in years past. Not a single one of the Lions' sacked the much-battered Chicago signal-caller in Week 1. Given time, he'll destroy the weaker Minnesota DBs -- once he gets accustomed to seeing the field from is feet rather than his backside.
Straight Up: Chicago
Against the Spread: Chicago -6.5
Dallas Cowboys at Kansas City Chiefs. Tony Romo cannot be happy about hauling his bruised ribs into Arrowhead to face the Chiefs' front seven. Maybe the Cowboys should take a page out of the Giants' book on re-signing a veteran. Like O-lineman Larry Allen, maybe. I don't care hold old he is, he couldn't play worse than the current guys up front. If you're going to expect your QB to commit like Peyton Manning, you might want to commit to his safety the way the Broncos have dedicated themselves to protecting No. 18.
You're going to see a lot of Chiefs' highlights this season if RBs Dexter McCluster and Jamaal Charles can stay healthy. Clearly, Andy Reid sees McCluster as LeSean McCoy light -- which isn't a bad comparison if you're a Chiefs' fan. Extremely underrated rusher Jamaal Charles only toted the rock 16 times, and caught merely three passes (low for a Reid offense that favors RBs as receivers). McCluster also caught three balls -- and turned those catches into 43 yards. Uh-huh. A sign of things to come.
Alex Smith and company turned in an impressive Week 1 showing, but it was versus the Jaguars. This week will be a much better test against the newly ferocious Dallas D. (Let's hear it for maturity as the architects of this revitalized defensive attack are 73-year-old Monte Kiffin and 64-year-old Rod Marinelli.)
Fans will see if Alex Smith remains the dependable QB of recent years or reverts to the mistake-prone pre-Harbaugh incarnation.
Straight Up: Dallas
Against the Spread: Dallas +.5
Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals. The Lions finally have a rusher and the Cardinals finally have a passer. However, Detroit's Reggie Bush (who single-footedly accounted for almost 200 yards) tweaked both his thumb and his groin in Week 1 and Arizona's O-line isn't really up to the task of protecting true pocket passer Carson Palmer. Oddly, in a game featuring two classic deep-ball passers, it will be rushing success that determines the outcome. If Bush can outlast and out-produce Arizona's 12 running backs (alright, five), Lions' QB Matthew Stafford should carry the day. Nevertheless, tune in to see two of the best WRs ever to lace 'em up in Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald. Cardinals' fans are hoping that Andre Roberts has developed into a real No. 2 WR. We'll see.
The Lions' defense has some injuries and was not terribly frightening in Week 1 (large fines aside), while Stafford has to face a secondary manned by CB Patrick Peterson and rookie sensation Tyron Mathieu. If Mathieu can keep it together off the field, the Cardinals may have hit the jackpot.
Despite their talent, the Lions barely prevailed over the Adrian Petersons -- I mean the Minnesota Vikings. Home field should make the difference in a close -- and high-scoring -- affair.
Straight Up: Arizona
Against the Spread: Arizona +1.5
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As long as Drew Brees avoids passing in the direction of new Buc CB Darrelle Revis, the Saints should win somewhat handily. Yes, even on the road, even on grass and even with that rather terrifying Tampa Bay pass rush. There is no contest in this contest when it comes to coaching and quarterback play. Rob Ryan's new New Orleans' defense may have a letdown after battling with Matt Ryan and his offensive juggernaut last week, but unless Tampa Bay RB Doug "Muscle Hampster" Martin can run the ball 35 times and keep possession for 40 minutes -- it won't matter.
Straight Up: New Orleans
Against the Spread: New Orleans -3.5
Jacksonville Jaguars at Oakland Raiders. At first glance, one is tempted to advise these teams to "not and say they did" this Sunday. However, Terelle Pryor's fireworks in Week 1 provide a (slight) reason to watch. QB Pryor justified his starting job by leading the entire league in rushing yards last weekend. He didn't lead quarterbacks -- he led everyone when it came to carrying the ball. Hmmmm. Since the Raiders are generally dreadful, ownership no doubt hopes that starting raw Pryor over more (probably) dependable Matt Flynn will please the fanbase. For at least one week, it appears to have been the right choice.
Chad Henne will start for the Jags in place of injured Blaine Gabbert. He's a bit steadier than Gabbert, to damn him with praise so faint it's transparent. Like Peterson in Minnesota, Jacksonville rusher Maurice Jones-Drew will face a wall of Silver and Black when he tries to be the entire Jaguar offense. The only bright spot is a legitimate defense that only gave up 291 yards to the improved Chiefs last week. Now if only the offense could come up with better than 3.1 yards rushing and (wait for it) 2.6 yards per pass. Ouch.
Straight Up: Oakland
Against the Spread: Oakland -5.5
Denver Broncos at New York Giants. Big Blue is so desperate for a rushing attack that they re-signed 31-year-old RB Brandon Jacobs a year after making no attempt to keep him from joining the 49ers. Fumble-afflicted young rusher David Wilson displayed his off-field immaturity by tweeting that the Giants fans were "irrelevant to me." Hmmm. Not the best choice, dude. Expect an, uh, interesting welcome in the Meadowlands this week. Manning the Younger was incredibly gracious in his post-game press appearances, but one assumes he wasn't quite as charitable when drilling his young teammates this week.
On the other side of the ball, despite playing well against the Ravens critics still accuse the depleted Denver D of being unable to rush the passer. If this turns out to be true in New York (okay, technically New Jersey), Denver's DBs beware. Eli does have a tendency to be clutch down the field when necessary. Just ask the Patriots.
Manning the Elder should have a productive outing versus the New York secondary -- as long as his O-line achieves their purpose for living, i.e. "protect. the. quarterback." Broncs' fans could hope for something in the way of a running game -- but why be picky?
Straight Up: Denver
Against the Spread: Denver -3.5
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks. At this point in 2013, these may be the two best teams in the NFL. Tough, hard-hitting and fueled by two hot-as-you-know-what young quarterbacks. San Francisco appeared unbeatable in Week 1, but the Seahawks faced a far stronger defensive team in Carolina and still pulled off the win. Russell Wilson-to-Golden Tate is turning into a dangerous combination as the Notre Dame WR has become both tough and reliable. The 49ers' rush will try to get past a 'Hawks O-line that was surprisingly weak versus the Panthers and Seattle will try to keep the ball away from Colin Kaepernick by pounding it with Marshawn Lynch.
Kaepernick couldn't have had a more dazzling season opener if he'd been on a red carpet. He shredded Green Bay with the sparkling help of Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. After months of being virtually ignored in the San Fran offense, Davis is back on display as one of the league's best TEs. 49er coaches probably had a loop playing on Kaepernick's iPod: "Find No. 85, Find No. 85." Seems to have worked.
If this were a fistfight, both sides would be reduced to flailing away on their knees by the closing bell. Seattle gets the nod only by virtue of the raucous 12th man. Warm up your voices, Seattle fans -- your team needs you.
Straight Up: Seattle
Against the Spread: Seattle -2.5
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers lost their running back, their star linebacker and their All-World center last Sunday. The Bengals should have won in Chicago. They should win this week at home. However, it's never wise to expect the Steelers to stink. Especially with an 0-2 start to the season on the line. Ultimately, Cincy's youth on D should prevail against an offense that relies entirely too much on the invincibility of Big Ben Roethlisberger.
Straight Up: Cincinnati
Against the Spread: Cincinnati -6.5
Enjoy the games!