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Archive for September, 2010

Through three weeks of the NFL season the story is starting to become clear.  We’ve got a pretty good idea of who the top level teams are (Pittsburgh, Green Bay, N.Y. Jets and a few more).  And we also have a pretty good idea of who the bottom level teams are (Cleveland, Carolina, Oakland and a few more).  But there are still a large number of teams somewhere in the middle.

Week four brings the first round of byes for the 2010 NFL season.  Dallas, Kansas City, Minnesota and Tampa Bay have the week off.  I’m not sure if it is because of the byes or maybe just a scheduling quirk but I had a hard time finding important games to highlight this week.  I’m going with only five instead of the usual six.

So, let’s take a look at the five NFL games I think are most important in week four:

49ers Coach Mike Singletary

I want winners!

5.  San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, 1:00 pm

Could this be the last stand for the 49ers?  Everything is working against them going into this game.  They are the most disappointing team in the NFL through the first three weeks of the 2010 season.  They fired their offensive coordinator this week.  They are coming off a bad loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, while the Falcons are coming off a huge win over the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome.  And to top it all off, they are a pacific time zone team traveling to the eastern time zone to play at 1:00.

The Niners win if: They can convert on third downs.  They were atrocious on third downs while being dominated by Seattle (1-15) and Kansas City (1-15)

The Falcons win if: The running game stays strong and they keep the Niners defense on the field and wear them down.

The Falcons could be in danger of a let down after an emotional win over the Saints.  The Niners should be extremely hungry for a win.  But I think they’ll still be starving after this weekend.  The Falcons are a strong team with an improving defense and a solid offense.  They should have very little trouble with a 49ers team that is still trying to figure out who they want to be.

4.  Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday, 4:15 pm

This game has already started to get the majority of the hype for the weekend.  There are plenty of storylines here but the biggest ones will be the return of Donovan McNabb to Philadelphia and the comeback of Michael Vick.  Let’s start with Vick.  He’s been impressive, but let’s put it in context.  He’s played very well against the defenses of Detroit and Jacksonville.  They could prove to be the worst pass defenses in the NFL.  The good news for the Eagles and Vick is that the Redskins pass defense has been porous as well – they are currently ranked 31st in the NFL in opponents passing yardage.  On the other sideline McNabb will have his chance to give the town that never appreciated him a reason to wish he was still there.  The Redskins currently have the seventh best passing game in the NFL and when McNabb has had time he’s been good.  Their offensive line needs rookie left tackle Trent Williams to return from injury.

The Redskins win if: Their secondary can contain the speedy Eagles receivers and prevent them from making big plays.

The Eagles win if:  Their pass rush can get to McNabb early and often.  They are currently leading the NFL with 11 sacks.

I’ve heavily considered picking the Redskins.  But after watching them play the Rams last week I just can’t do it.  I think the Eagles pass rush will exploit the weak Redskins O-line and that Andy Reid will draw up some nice plays to get his playmakers in position to blow by the slow Redskins linebackers.

3.  New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Monday, 8:30 pm

Monday night should be very interesting as these two AFC East rivals match up in south Florida.  After starting 2-0 the Dolphins bandwagon lost some weight when they dropped a home game to the New York Jets on Sunday night.  While the game was certainly close, it was surprising how freely the Miami defense gave up yardage to the Jets.  On the offensive side of the ball Chad Henne was impressive and seemed to solidify an important bond with go-to-guy Brandon Marshall that should lead to success down the road.  The Patriots lo0ked very impressive in a week one win over the Bengals but have struggled in losing to the Jets and beating Buffalo in a game that was too close for comfort.  Before the season started I thought New England’s defense would be better than expected but they’ve played to expectations and are 20th in the NFL against the rush and 25th against the pass.

The Patriots win if: They can force a couple of turnovers.  The extra possessions should gave them all they need to outscore the Dolphins.

The Dolphins win if: They limit the catches of Randy Moss.  These teams split their two games last year.  The Patriots won the first game, with Moss catching six balls for 147 yards and a touchdown.  The Dolphins limited Moss to just two catches in the second game and won it.

Miami needs this game more than New England does.  If they lose they will have lost both home games against their AFC rivals.  Having said that, I like the Patriots in this one.  Bill Belichick and his staff will have had plenty of time to prepare for the Dolphins and I think Tom Brady will surgically pick them apart.

2.  Chicago Bears at New York Giants
Sunday, 8:20 pm

This is a matchup of two teams who couldn’t be farther apart on the spectrum of happiness with their performance so far this season.  The Bears have outperformed the expectations of all but their most optimistic fans.  At 3-0, with solid wins over Dallas and Green Bay, Chicago looks like a legitimate playoff contender.  And the Giants, well disappointing and underperforming are probably not strong enough.  The Giants beat a bad Carolina team in week one before losing consecutively to Indianapolis and Tennessee.  It’s last weeks loss to the Titans that is most disturbing.  New York fell apart at the seams, self-destructed and were defeated by a team they certainly could have beaten.

The Bears win if: They can keep the Giants pass rush off Jay Cutler.  The Giants only have six sacks but that’s a misleading stat because the teams they’ve played are run-heavy (Carolina and Tennessee) or led by a superhuman at quarterback (Indianapolis).

The Giants win if: They can hold on to the ball.  They turned the ball over three times in each of their two losses.

I don’t want to overlook the Bears again, but I’ve got to go with the Giants.  They’ve historically played well with their backs against the wall.  Granted, they don’t have the leadership they’ve had in the past, but similar to what I mentioned about the 49ers above, if they lose this game it could be the last slide down the slippery slope.

1.  Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, 1:00 pm

The battle for the toughest division in the NFL starts in earnest this weekend when the Ravens travel to Pittsburgh.  The Steelers have exceeded expectations by winning their first three games without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.  Their defense, with 10 forced turnovers and 10 sacks, and their running game, ranked third in the NFL, have led the way.  Meanwhile the Ravens pass defense has been excellent, ranking first in the NFL, but they were gouged last week in the running game by Cleveland’s Peyton Hillis who ran for 144 yards on 22 carries.  Baltimore is a game behind Pittsburgh in the standings right now, but if they can steal this one they’ll have a leg up with a win on enemy soil and a return game coming at home later in the year.

The Ravens win if: They can stop the run – it’s that simple.

The Steelers win if: They can score a defensive touchdown.  They’ll need the points from the defense.

I picked the Ravens to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl and I greatly underestimated the Steelers ability to win with their defense.  I think it will catch up with them here, as long as Ray Rice is healthy.  Baltimore has the defense to play with Pittsburgh while also having an offense that should be much better than the three the Steelers have faced to this point.

Who do you like in these five games?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Photo source: SD Dirk

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Unlike many of the expected big college football matchups in 2010, the Alabama-Arkansas game lived up to the hype.  The Razorbacks played quite well in the first half, but a very determined Crimson Tide came out after halftime ready to win.  They gave the ball to Mark Ingram and let him do work.  Meanwhile the defense stepped up and made the plays they needed to win the game.

As we enter the portion of the season where conference play is now the rule instead of the exception, the games become bigger and wins and losses mean more.  The neat thing is that the five games I chose to focus on in week five represent five different conferences.  Here are the five questions I’m looking forward to getting the answers to on Saturday:

Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio

Will Mark Dantonio lead the Spartans to a victory over the Badgers?

5.  Will the return of coach Mark Dantonio inspire Michigan State to beat Wisconsin at home?

Michigan State is 4-0 after four home games with one good win over Notre Dame.  Less than two weeks after a heart attack, their head coach Mark Dantonio will return, likely coaching from the Spartan Stadium coaching box against Wisconsin.  The Badgers are also 4-0 against a pretty weak slate.  This is an important game for the Spartans if they are going to have a successful season, as they will play Michigan, Iowa and Penn State all on the road.

4.  Is North Carolina State for real?

The Wolfpack looks like they may be the cream of the crop in the ACC.  But that may just mean they are the least rotten egg in the carton.  They have a 4-0 record and are 19th in the nation in passing yardage and scoring.  There’s even been whispers about quarterback Russell Wilson joining the Heisman race.  We’ll have a much better idea of how good N.C. State is when they take on Virginia Tech on Saturday.  Although the Hokies suffered a terrible loss to James Madison, they still may be the most talented program in the conference.

3.  Will Texas make up for last week’s loss by beating Oklahoma?

 Texas football suffered a major reality check last weekend, playing very poorly in losing to UCLA at home.  Now they have to get ready for the Red River Rivalry game with Oklahoma before heading to Nebraska the following week.  The Longhorns should have no trouble getting up for this big rivalry game against the Sooners.  Texas can pay the favor of having their national championship hopes ruined forward by doing the same to Oklahoma.  The Sooners are coming off a way to close two point win over Cincinnati that was proceeded by a three point win over Air Force.  Oklahoma was considered a sleeper national championship contender before the season but they will clearly have to pick their game up to get there.

2.  Can Stanford take control of the Pac-10 by beating the Ducks at Autzen Stadium?

The Cardinal have come out of nowhere and look like a very serious challenger for the Pac-10 crown.  Potential #1 NFL draft pick Andrew Luck has orchestrated the Stanford offense brilliantly, they are fourth in the country in scoring.  On the other side of the ball the defense has been much better than expected and is 12th in points allowed.  But the road to the Pac-10 title goes through Oregon and Stanford will visit Autzen Stadium on Saturday night.  The Ducks have been just as impressive as the Cardinal, leading the nation in scoring and ranking third in points allowed.  Stanford beat Oregon at home last year behind a 223-yard, three touchdown effort by Toby Gerhart.  This could be the game of the year.

1.  Is Florida capable of taking down Alabama?

The Gators started the season on questionable ground but have seemed to settle down over the last two weeks, scoring SEC wins over Tennessee and Kentucky.  Neither of those contests can really be counted as big tests, certainly not to the level of Alabama.  The Crimson Tide have picked up right where they left off last year and are coming off a strong win over Arkansas.  Mark Ingram was back in Heisman form racking up 157 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries against the Razorbacks.  Florida and Alabama have met in the last two SEC Championship Games, with each school getting a win and then going on to win the National Championship.

What matchup are you most looking forward to this weekend?  Who do you like to win the big games?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Photo source: avinashkunnath

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It’s been a very enjoyable NFL Sunday for me.  The Rams got a solid win over the Redskins and looked pretty decent doing it.  As luck would have it I even got to watch the game due to some odd scheduling choices of our local affiliates. 

I was very impressed with Sam Bradford.  With Steven Jackson out of the lineup in the second half, Bradford took over the game.  He made good calls at the line of scrimmage and utilized quick passes in place of runs.  He showed poise in the pocket and often times threw the ball right where it needed to be even if the receiver could not hold onto it.  His touchdown pass to Daniel Fells was a beautiful play as he drew in DeAngelo Hall on the bootleg and then threw a gorgeous touch pass from a few yards out.  It’s clear to me that he is going to be a special player and that makes me extremely excited for the future.  The Rams are still missing a lot of pieces but I feel very comfortable that they are now on their way up.  It’s the first time I’ve been able to say that in a while.

On to the Average Guy’s NFL Week Three Awards (before the Sunday night game):

Most Impressive Win

Kansas City Chiefs – 31-10 over the San Francisco 49ers

Kansas City Chiefs logo psychedelic

Who predicted the Chiefs would be 3-0?

Most Important Win

Dallas Cowboys – beat Houston Texans 27-13

Worst Loss

San Francisco 49ers – 10-31 to Kansas City Chiefs

Biggest Surprise

St. Louis Rams

Biggest Disappointment

New York Giants

They Are Who We Thought They Were

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Offensive MVP

Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles – 17 completions 31 attempts 291 yards 3 TDs 119.2 QB rating 4 carries 30 yards 1 rushing TD

Defensive MVP

DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys – 3 sacks, 6 tackles, 5 tackles for a loss

Special Teams MVP

Leon Washington, Seattle Seahawks – 101-yard kickoff return TD and 99-yard kickoff return TD

Most Surprising Performance

Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns – 22 carries 144 yards TD 7 receptions 36 yards

Most Disappointing Performance

David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars (2nd week in row) – 13 completions 30 attempts 105 yards 1 interception

Offensive Rookie

C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills – 95-yard kickoff return TD 4 carries 29 yards 3 receptions 10 yards 1 TD

Defensive Rookie

Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks – 2 interceptions 6 tackles

Most Impressive Performance in a Loss

Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos – 37 completions 57 attempts 476 yards 1 TD 1 interception 89.5 QB rating 2 carries 11 yards

Quick Takes

  • One more thing about the Rams – their offensive line did a superb job of protecting Sam Bradford.  He was only sacked once and hit twice.
  • Impressive job throwing the ball by Kyle Orton and the Broncos offense.  The Colts came into the game fourth in the NFL in pass defense, giving up only 117.5 yards per game.  The Broncos hung 472 on them.
  • The Patriots defense is going to have to step their game up if they hope to achieve anything this year.  The Bills averaged 176 yards of total offense per game in their first two games but gained 374 against New England.
  • Atlanta needed to run the ball with purpose in order to beat the Saints.  They did (50 carries for 202 yards) and they did.
  • I almost chose the Baltimore Ravens as the biggest disappointment.  Their game was way too close against a Cleveland team that was missing their best defensive player, starting quarterback and starting running back.  I expected the Ravens to destroy the Browns.  They fell far short of that.
  • I watched most of the Bengals-Panthers game.  I’ve got to say that Carson Palmer was pretty awful.  I thought Cincinnati’s playoff loss to the Jets was caused mostly by a lack of options and the Jets defense.  Today I was surprised by the lack of accuracy on Palmer’s throws as well as his mismanagement of the clock to end the first half.  The Bengals have high hopes, but if they are going to go anywhere they need Palmer to recapture his lost game.
  • Good to see Beanie Wells make his season debut today.  I expected him to have a big year but injuries have slowed him so far.

One BIG Question

Is it too late for the 49ers?

After an exciting Sunday of NFL action what are your thoughts? Who scored the most important win in your eyes?  What individual performances impressed you?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Photo source: MOmilkman – Darin House

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Well my hot streak quickly came to an end.  After impressively calling (if I say so myself) all six games I picked in the NFL’s first week, I settled back into normalcy in week two, going 3-3 on my NFL picks.  Of the three games I picked wrong, I was most surprised by the way New England lost to the New York Jets.  I was trying not to overreact to week one but I really thought the Patriots were the team to beat after they dominated the Bengals.  That may ultimately prove to be true but they played poorly against the Jets, especially in the second half.

Looking forward to the third week of the NFL season there are certainly some intriguing matchups.  Here are the six games I think are most important:

Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin

Mike Tomlin deserves major credit for the Steelers 2-0 start.

6.  Pittsburgh Steelers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sunday, 1:00 pm

A matchup between unexpected 2-0 teams, the Steelers-Bucs game is not likely to include a lot of work for the scoreboard operator.  Tampa Bay is coming off a good road win at Carolina.  They have been opportunistic on defense while relying on second year quarterback Josh Freeman.  I expected Pittsburgh to lose to Tennessee last week, but once again their defense came through and got them a win.  The Steelers gained only 127 total yards but took advantage of seven Titans turnovers.

The Steelers win if: They can score in double figures.

The Bucs win if: Their defense can keep Rashard Mendenhall contained.

Before the season I picked the Steelers to start 1-3 without Ben Roethlisberger.  The one win was this game, so obviously with the way Pittsburgh has played so far I’m going to pick them as the winner.

5.  Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Monday, 8:30 pm

The Bears are another surprising 2-0 team.  After barely holding on to beat the Lions they scored a huge win over the Cowboys in Dallas last week.  They’ve relied on a stellar run-stopping defense and a well-oiled passing attack for their wins.  Green Bay’s 2-0 record is no surprise.  The Packers are among the best teams in the NFL and the one that I picked to win the NFC.  Their defense has already accumulated 10 sacks in their first two games, including six by Clay Matthews.

The Packers win if: They can exploit the shaky offensive line of the Bears and get to Jay Cutler early and often.

The Bears win if: They can win the turnover battle.

If the Bears can thrive on the emotion of the home fans, get some defensive stops and force a couple turnovers while taking care of the ball themselves they could certainly make this a game.  I just think the Packers will take advantage of the Bears less-than-solid offensive line and batter Cutler while Aaron Rodgers exploits a weak secondary for major yardage.  I’ve got the Packers.

4.  Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
Sunday, 1:00 pm

After being dominated by the Steelers in week one the Falcons rallied at home last week and beat the Cardinals.  Michael Turner was hurt during the game but Jason Snelling filled in admirably, piling up 129 rushing yards.  Now they head into New Orleans to take on the Saints who had a solid win over the 49ers on Monday night.  The Saints needed a field goal at the final whistle to win in San Francisco and their passing game still did not seem to be working at maximum efficiency.  I think that was partly due to the swirling winds in San Francisco; a condition that clearly won’t affect them in the safety of the Superdome.

The Falcons win if: Michael Turner returns healthy and they can wear down the Saints with their running game.

The Saints win if: Drew Brees consistently finds the open receiver against the untested secondary of the Falcons.

In addition to the windy conditions I think the time off affected the Saints passing game Monday night.  Brees loves to find a rhythm.  Because the season is young and the Saints had a long break between games, they have yet to find that rhythm.  I think that will change Sunday afternoon.  The Falcons have played against two bad offenses.  I think the Saints come out on a mission and overwhelm Atlanta for the win

3.  New York Jets at Miami Dolphins
Sunday, 8:20 pm

What a difference a week makes!  After being roundly ripped apart by many experts and fans due to a week one loss to the Ravens, the Jets rallied in week two and beat their big rivals, the Patriots.  Mark Sanchez looked like a completely different guy in the second half against New England rallying the team to two touchdowns, a two-point conversion and a field goal.  Some of that momentum may have been taken away when Braylon Edwards was charged with a DWI this week.  The Dolphins also got a big win in week two, defeating the Vikings in Minnesota 14-10.  At 2-0 they sit alone atop the AFC East.  Their offense seems a bit out of sync but their defense has made big plays when they were needed.

The Jets win if: They can get the ground game going.  The Dolphins let up a lot of yards to Adrian Peterson last week; the Vikings just couldn’t convert.

The Dolphins win if: They can successfully execute they short passing game and keep the Jets defense off balance.

The Jets will certainly miss Darrelle Revis.  While the Dolphins have not lit the scoreboard up in the passing game they utilize enough talent packages and varied alignments to cause defensive confusion.  Miami beat New York twice last year, but those games were only three weeks apart.  I think Chad Henne and Brandon Marshall strike a solid connection and the Dolphins win at home.

2.  Dallas Cowboys at Houston Texans
Sunday, 1:00 pm

Some Cowboys fans probably did not think the sun would rise Monday morning after their team lost to the Bears at home Sunday 27-20.  Now at 0-2, Dallas is desperate for a win.  Their running game (ranked 28th in the NFL) and their pass rush (only two sacks in two games) have failed them.  They head into Houston this weekend to battle the 2-0 in-state rival Texans.  Houston might possibly have the most dynamic offense in the NFL but they’ve also been lit up by the opponent’s passing game, giving up an average of 411 yards through the air per game.

The Cowboys win if: Their offensive line play improves allowing them to run the ball and give Romo time to throw.

The Texans win if: They can get Arian Foster powered back up and turn him loose.

The loss of starting left tackle Duane Brown to a four game drug suspension is going to hurt the Texans in this game.  Dallas has two outstanding edge rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, who will be looking to exploit Brown’s fill-in Rashad Butler.  This feels like one of those games where one team is a wounded animal backed up against the fence.  The Cowboys are the wounded animal and I’m picking them to win.

1.  Tennessee Titans at New York Giants
Sunday, 1:00 pm

Both of these teams looked tremendous against inferior competition in week one but followed that up with poor showings against superior competition in week two.  The Titans lost at home to the Steelers.  Vince Young struggled mightily, throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble.  He was pulled for Kerry Collins.  Chris Johnson was blanketed by Pittsburgh defenders, gaining only 34 yards on 16 carries. In similar fashion the Giants lost to a highly motivated Colts team on Sunday night.  There will be no shame in losing that game in Indianapolis if New York can rally for a win this week.  But, if their defense continues to revert back to the terrible form of 2009 they will find themselves in a big hole.

The Titans win if: Vince Young gets his confidence back, holds on to the football and makes good decisions.

The Giants win if: Their defense stiffens up like it did in week one and holds Chris Johnson in check.

As the season moves on I think both of these teams will be strong and will make the playoffs.  I think this game will be a real battle, but I like Eli Manning and the discipline of the Giants defensive line in the new Meadowlands.

Do you disagree with the six games I chose as this week’s most important?  Or, do you think I’m looking at one of them the wrong way?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Photo source: SteelCityHobbies

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Week four of the college football season has the potential to be huge.  There are a couple of games with national championship implications, as well as several conference battles. 

No more setup is needed.  Let’s get right to the five college football questions I am looking forward to getting the answers to in week four:

Andrew Luck Takes the Snap

With the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft the Buffalo Bills select...

5.  Will Andrew Luck solidify his NFL Draft footing on the national stage?

Stanford’s quarterback has worked his way up to the top spot on Mel Kiper’s big board.  In the first three games of the season Luck has thrown for 674 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.  This weekend he and the Cardinal head to South Bend, Indiana to take on the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on national television.  Last year he was a solid 14 of 20 for 198 yards but did not throw a touchdown pass against the Irish. 

4.  Can West Virginia earn the Big East some respect in Death Valley?

How daunting is the task for the Mountaineers?  LSU is 52-5 in night games at Tiger Stadium since 2000.  Since bringing on head coach Les Miles the Bayou Bengals are 25-1 in that situation.  Both teams come into the game at 3-0.  If West Virginia can steal a win it will go a long way in earning the Big East respect, but the likelihood of that happening is extremely slim.

3.  Which of the two trendy SEC teams, South Carolina or Auburn, will continue their joy ride?

It may not be the biggest battle in the SEC on Saturday, but make no mistake, the South Carolina-Auburn games is a big one.  The Gamecocks have been riding freshman running back Marcus Lattimore to a 3-0 record and many mentions as a challenger to Florida in the SEC East.  Auburn is coming off a big win over Clemson, bumping their record up to 3-0.  The Tigers are being held up as a challenger to their hated rival, Alabama, in the SEC West.  Whoever wins this game will make a big statement about their intentions.

2.  Will Oregon State derail Boise State’s slim hopes for national championship consideration?

Virginia Tech’s loss to James Madison all but booted the Broncos from national championship contention.  They now need a lot of things to go in their favor to get back into that conversation.  Oregon State has already had a chance to ruin the national championship hopes of a non-BCS contender.  They lost that game on opening weekend to TCU.  Will the outcome be different on Saturday night in Boise?

1.  Can Arkansas end Alabama’s 16 game SEC regular season winning streak?

This is an appointment game – so clear your schedule right now for 3:30 Saturday afternoon.  The Razorbacks have lived up to expectations so far this season going 3-0 on the arm of Heisman front runner Ryan Mallett.  Now comes the ultimate test, #1 ranked Alabama.  Arkansas hopes to rely on Mallett and the home field advantage to get a win over the Crimson Tide.  Alabama got reigning Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram back last week and he looked stellar.  Arkansas is going to have to play their best defensive game of the year to get the win. 

Did I miss the game you are most looking forward to this weekend?  Do you see these matchups in a different light?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Photo source: Monica’s Dad

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I was traveling much of Sunday so my ability to stay on top of all of the NFL happenings was limited.  By watching highlights and scanning box scores I’ve caught up on the matchups and performances of the day.  I had hoped to settle in for a great battle with the Giants and Colts playing Sunday evening, but unfortunately that game was never close.  

NFL week two was highlighted by a lot of superb individual performances on both sides of the ball.  It also featured some teams (Jets, Bengals, Colts) getting wins they really needed.  Here are the Average Guy’s NFL Week Two Awards (before the Monday night game):  

Mark Sanchez

Mark Sanchez led the Jets to a huge win in week two.

Most Impressive Win

 New York Jets – 28-14 over New England Patriots

Most Important Win

Cincinnati Bengals – 15-10 over Baltimore Ravens  

Worst Loss

Carolina Panthers – 7-20 to Tampa Bay Buccaneers  

Biggest Surprise Team

Chicago Bears  

Biggest Disappointment

Minnesota Vikings  

They Are Who We Thought They Were

Seattle Seahawks  

Offensive MVP

Matt Schaub, Houston Texans – 38 completions 52 attempts 497 yards 3 TDs 1 interception  

Defensive MVP

Jason Allen, Miami Dolphins – 2 interceptions 11 tackles  

Most Surprising Performance

Jason Snelling, Atlanta Falcons – 24 carries 129 yards 2 TDs 5 receptions 57 yards 1 TD  

Most Disappointing Performance

David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars – 15 completions 23 attempts 173 yards 1 TD 4 interceptions  

Offensive Rookie

Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions – 17 carries 78 yards 2 touchdowns 9 receptions 154 yards 1 TD  

Defensive Rookie

Sean Weatherspoon, Atlanta Falcons – 9 tackles 1 sack  

Most Impressive Performance in a Loss

Donovan McNabb, Washington Redskins – 28 completions 38 attempts 426 yards 1 TD  

Quick Takes

  • Darren McFadden has gotten off to a good start for the Raiders.  While many of his 150 yards rushing and receiving against the Titans last week came after the game was already decided, he came back in week two with 145 yards on 30 carries in a win over the Rams.
  • A couple of rookie defensive backs had excellent stats in the Chiefs-Browns game.  Eric Berry had 7 tackles, including two for losses for Kansas City.  T.J. Ward had 11 tackles for Cleveland.
  • The Dallas offensive line is really letting them down.  With the running backs on the Cowboys roster they should be embarrassed to only gain 36 yards on 20 carries against the Bears.
  • Were the Bills auditioning Marshawn Lynch for the Packers?  After getting just three carries last week he had 17 against Green Bay on Sunday.
  • I seriously underestimated the Pittsburgh defense.  The way the Steelers D has carried them through these first two games has been extremely impressive.  They only gained 127 total yards against Tennessee today but still won the game because of their defense.

One BIG Question

The Eagles allowed Shaun Hill to throw for 335 yards?  Seriously?  Shaun Hill?  

What are your thoughts on week two?  There were a lot of excellent performances – which ones would you pick for the top awards?  

Photo source: Seamus Murray

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First things first – I’m pretty excited that I was perfect in week one, predicting correctly all six winners of the most important games I had chosen!

As I look at the NFL’s week two schedule I see a real theme developing that is magnified in the games I chose as the most important.  These games are really important for one of the teams and less so for their opponent.  In the NFL that usually means that the team that needs the game will win it.  But, they can also go the other way with the team that doesn’t need the win as much wanting it more, or just plain showing their dominance.  And sometimes the team that needs the win the most is stuck in a downward spiral from which they cannot escape.

Which result will apply to which week two games?  Read on and find out my thoughts:

Pittsburgh Steelers Helmet

Can the Steelers get another big win without Big Ben?

6.  Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans
Sunday, 1:00 pm

We start with a game that does not fit into the theme I mentioned above.  With Ben Roethlisberger suspended for the first four games a 2-2 record for the Steelers would be a good start.  They should definitely beat Tampa Bay next week, so the win over Atlanta last weekend was the one they needed.  Now they are playing with house money in my eyes.  Tennessee showed their strength by destroying Oakland behind an excellent performance by Vince Young (13-17, 154 yards, 2 TDs, 142.8 QB rating, 7 carries, 30 yards) and an even better one by Chris Johnson (27 carries, 142 yards, 2 TDs).

The Steelers win if: They can consistently pick up four to five yards on first down and avoid third and long situations.

The Titans win if: They can keep their passing game going.  They won’t be able to run so easily on the Steelers.

With not a lot to lose in this one, Pittsburgh should do some gambling.  I don’t think it will help though.  I was really impressed with the Titans win over the Raiders and I think they’ll maintain their early season momentum with a win over the Steelers.  I think they’ll slow the Pittsburgh running game and force Dixon into difficult situations on third down.

5.  Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, 1:00 pm

The Ravens are coming off a really strong effort in a Monday night win over the Jets in the new Meadowlands.  Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin showed a lot of chemistry in their first regular season game together, connecting seven times for 110 yards.  Flacco showed poise in the face of frenzy, standing up to the constant third down blitzes of the Jets and helping Baltimore convert 11 of 19 third downs.  The story is a very different one for the Bengals who were dominated last Sunday in New England.  Because the game was never really close it’s hard to take anything from it to apply to future matchups.

The Ravens win if: Their pass rush can get to Carson Palmer early and make him nervous in the pocket throughout the game.

The Bengals win if: They can run the ball consistently with Cedric Benson and wear down the Ravens defense.

Cincinnati needs to win this game or risk falling two games behind the Ravens after only two weeks.  I think the Bengals will rally from their poor showing last week, work the ball to Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, and win at home in this critical AFC North battle.

4.  New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers
Monday, 8:30 pm

Clearly the 49ers are the team that needs to win this game, badly.  They no-showed in the Pacific Northwest last Sunday going down hard to a Seahawks team with much less talent.  Their defense played okay but the offense couldn’t run the ball and was not effective in the passing game.  While it wasn’t pretty, the Saints scored a solid win over the Vikings in the opening kickoff Thursday night game.  Save for their first drive of each half, the Saints offense was nowhere near as explosive as expected.  Their defense was quite good though.

The Saints win if:  They can get their passing game back on track – there’s no way the Niners can keep up with them.

The 49ers win if: Frank Gore gets rolling and they can keep the Saints offense off the field.

With 11 days to prepare and an offensive statement to make I like the Saints in this one.

3.  Miami Dolphins at Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, 1:00 pm

Miami’s defense was real strong last week against Buffalo, holding the lowly Bills to 50 yards rushing and 116 yards passing.  Their offense struggled to get the ball in the end zone though.  They scored only one touchdown and two field goals.  Brandon Marshall did catch eight balls, but for only 53 yards.  The Dolphins will need much more out of the Chad Henne-Marshall combination if they hope to challenge for the AFC East title.  Minnesota was disappointing in the Thursday night kickoff game in New Orleans.  Or perhaps I should say, Minnesota’s offense was disappointing.  The Vikings defense covered up their backfield deficiencies well and managed to hold the Saints to a pair of touchdowns.  Unfortunately for them their passing game was out of sync and they could only score nine points.

The Dolphins win if: Their offensive line can stay strong against the vicious Vikings’ pass rush and give Henne time to find Marshall.

The Vikings win if: Brett Favre can find his passing rhythm with the receivers.

Minnesota absolutely needs to win this game.  At home with an emotional crowd, I think the pass rush will be a step faster, Adrian Peterson will be a step stronger and Brett Favre will feel more comfortable after 10 more days to work with his targets.  The Dolphins could give them a run for their money, but ultimately I think the Vikings will be victorious.

2.  New York Giants at Indianapolis Colts
Sunday, 8:20 pm

The battle of the Mannings will take place in front of a national audience on Sunday night with Peyton and the Colts needing to win the game.  Indianapolis struggled mightily against the Houston running game in losing only their second game of 17 historical matchups.  The Colts also had trouble slowing down the Texans pass rush as Mario Williams and his teammates were constantly in Peyton’s face.  While the Colts were getting beaten on both lines in Houston the Giants played very well against the Panthers to open the new Meadowlands.  The New York D held the vaunted Carolina running game to just 89 yards on 24 carries.  They also had four sacks.  Eli had a Peyton-esque game, connecting with seven different receivers for 263 yards.

The Giants win if: They can hold onto the ball.  They had four turnovers last week.  They’ll get blown out if they do that again.

The Colts win if: They can turn the game into a shootout.  In that scenario the Colts will make far fewer mistakes than the Giants will.

In my preseason picks I chose the Giants to win this game.  But, I also had the Colts beating the Texans.  Because of that loss I think the Colts will come out with a heightened sense of urgency on Sunday and get the win.  I think Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will get to Eli and their receivers will make the catches they dropped against Houston.

1.  New England Patriots at New York Jets
Sunday, 4:15 pm

Widely expected to be the best team in the history of football by many “experts,” the Jets were flat out bad on offense on Monday night.  Mark Sanchez looked confused and unsettled on the way to throwing for only 74 yards.  The good news for New York is that their defense was as stout as expected, holding the Ravens to 49 rushing yards on 35 attempts.  The bad news on that front is that they’ve lost big run stuffer Kris Jenkins for the rest of the season.  After somehow managing to fly under the radar during the offseason Jets love fest, the Patriots came out like barnstormers in week one.  They jumped ahead of the Bengals 24-0 and cruised from there. 

The Patriots win if: The Jets blitz as much as they did against the Ravens.  Tom Brady will carve them up like a heart surgeon.

The Jets win if: They can get their running game on track and keep the Patriots offense off the field.

By the middle part of the season I think the Jets will be a really good team, but they are not right now.  The way they blitz and the precision with which Brady can find the open man will spell L-O-S-S for the J-E-T-S.  I really think Bill Belichick will be on a mission in this game.

Who do you like in these six games?  Is there another game that you think is more important than one of these?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Photo source: AndyeMcee

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