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Thursday, 11 September 2014

NFL Week 2 Picks 2014 (September 11-15)

The NFL was back last weekend and it was great to watch competitive Football again, although the number of surprise results through the League wasn't the best for my picks. The underdogs barked loudly through Week 1, although there were plenty of teams guilty of losing huge leads and Jon Gruden made a strong point on Monday Night Football that it could be an early season conditioning thing.

With the slate of Thursday Night Football games through the season, hopefully my Week 1 form, which has been poor for three straight years, can be turned around.

Week 1 Thoughts
Ray Rice out of the NFL?: For all the anticipation for Week 1, the biggest news story actually broke on Monday when the Ray Rice video of him hitting his fiancĂ© was released by TMZ.

Understandably, there was a host of people voicing their displeasure about the video and Rice's two game suspension was once again highlighted as a joke by the NFL, something which had been said when the suspension was first announced.

The Baltimore Ravens had no choice but to release Rice with rumours suggesting the Running Back hadn't been forthright with his version of events compared to the video, but the NFL then took things a step further by banning Rice indefinitely.

That was soon followed by an email sent to the other 31 teams in the NFL that any contract with Rice would not be ratified and the Canadian Football League making a statement that they would be honouring the suspension set out by the NFL too.

It does seem that Rice's career is now over in the NFL- he looks certain to sit out this season and I already had my doubts about how effective he could be after his struggles in 2013. The video is damning and it will make it very hard for a team to give Rice a second chance whenever the suspension is lifted, but this is a League that has forgiven the likes of Michael Vick in the past.

Seeing is always harder than imagining though and that video will haunt Rice for the rest of his life, but I have a feeling someone will end up taking a chance on him in the future, even if the Back is never going to be the same player again.

Will there be a repeat of Super Bowl XLVIII: The Seattle Seahawks were dominant in their win over the Green Bay Packers and the Denver Broncos held off the Indianapolis Colts as both teams remain the favourite to win their respective Conferences and set up a repeat of the last Super Bowl.

In answering this question, a simple yes will suffice- Denver will be visiting Seattle next week, but that might be the only repeat of the Super Bowl XLVIII that we will see this season.

Out of the two teams, I still think the Denver Broncos are in the stronger position in the 'weaker' AFC, but their schedule could mean having to win on the road to make it back to the Play Offs.

On the other hand, Seattle looked very good in Week 1, but they too have a schedule that might mean needing to win away from the comforts of home and there hasn't been a repeat Super Bowl since the end of the 1993 season when Dallas beat Buffalo in the big game again.

The odds are against a repeat happening, while it has will also be 10 years by the time the Super Bowl rolls around that a team that played in the Super Bowl the year before returns for another crack at the Championship. That was New England who won back to back Super Bowls as Seattle look to be come the first team to retain their title since the Patriots.

Try not to overreact to Week 1 results: Teams are rarely as good, or bad, as what they have displayed in Week 1 so I wouldn't go overboard on statements like the 'Atlanta Falcons are a dark horse for the Super Bowl' or 'there is a new order in the AFC'.

We won't have a better idea about where teams stand until after Week 4, but I wouldn't rule out teams like New England because they had a poor first game and similarly wouldn't read too much into Atlanta's win over a Divisional rival at home.

There is some excitement in the fan bases of teams like the Miami Dolphins who surpassed most expectations, but those have to be tempered until the team shows some consistency, especially after opening 3-0 last season before falling away.

The New York Giants could be in for another tough season: The Detroit Lions are rightly getting a lot of praise for how they played on the first Monday Night Football game of the season, but the New York Giants were absolutely terrible in that game.

The new West Coast Offense didn't look right in the pre-season and wasn't much better on Monday as Eli Manning and his Receivers continue reading different pages. Eli summed that up with this reaction during the loss on Monday Night.

New York couldn't run the ball that effectively, while the Offensive Line seemingly allowed Detroit to pressure Manning all evening and I don't know if this team is capable of turning things around from a poor 2013 season. Defensively they also blew too many coverages and allowed the Lions to make some big plays and Tom Coughlin may not be long for the Head Coach role here.

Some Giants fans may also feel it is better their team has a hard time in a Quarter Back heavy class coming up in the next Draft and I wouldn't be surprised if the Giants are thinking of the future already. Eli Manning doesn't look like he has a lot left in the tank, but his and the teams only benefit is playing in a weak looking NFC East where none of the teams impressed this weekend.

Everybody was kung-fu fighting: One of the most bizarre plays of the week was this one involving Antonio Brown and the Cleveland punter Spencer Lanning.

Top Five
1) Seattle Seahawks (1-0): Super Bowl Champions and blasting one of the top teams in the NFC by 20 points at home.

2) Denver Broncos (1-0): Still look the class of the AFC, even if they almost blew a 24 point lead in their win over the Indianapolis Colts, especially with a Defense that looks improved.

3) San Francisco 49ers (1-0): Rumours that players have lost faith in Jim Harbaugh which will be an interesting story line to follow if the 49ers lose a couple of games in a row.

4) Cincinnati Bengals (1-0): That could be a critical Divisional win on the road at the Baltimore Ravens.

5) Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0): The Steelers almost blew a big lead against Cleveland at home, but they have won 7 of their last 9 games now and will be looking to heap more misery on the Baltimore Ravens.

Bottom Five
32) Washington Redskins (0-1): It was a poor performance from the Washington Redskins, but they won't have a better chance to bounce back in Week 2 than by hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars.

31) Oakland Raiders (0-1): It's tough playing on the East Coast in an early game, but Oakland really struggled against the New York Jets.

30) New York Giants (0-1): Another poor Offensive showing and the Giants looked tired despite it only being the first game of a long season.

29) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1): Losing to the Carolina Panthers is one thing, but losing to a team missing Cam Newton and starting Derek Anderson at Quarter Back has to be disconcerting to the locals.

28) Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1): Feels harsh putting them here, but the Jaguars blew a big lead in their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and two missed Field Goals while leading by 17 were critical mistakes.

Week 2 Picks
I was feeling very disappointed in Week 1 with the way some of the picks went down as New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Denver all blew double digit leads in the first half of their games and failed to cover.

I had a bit of fortune go my way with the late Philadelphia cover, but I would have ended with a winning record if the luck had gone the other way and teams that should have covered did, and those that shouldn't have covered didn't. Some may have noticed that I limited the picks to minimum stakes as Week 1 has not been kind to me over the last couple of seasons and that worked out for the best with the way the games ended up coming up.

It was also a week where the majority of turnovers went against the teams I picked, but I will take the positives in seeing my picks get into strong positions even if they failed to cover in the end.

Hopefully Week 2 will prove to be much more productive.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens Pick: What a terrible week it has been for the Baltimore Ravens- they lost their opening game of the season at home, to a Divisional rival no less, and then the video showing exactly what Ray Rice did to his fiancĂ© came out on Monday morning.

That has overshadowed the entire Week 1 schedule and it was no surprise when Rice was released and the NFL decided to suspend him indefinitely from the League as I have discussed above.

How will the Ravens respond to the entire furore that has been surrounding the organisation on a short week as they get set to face another Divisional rival with the prospect of falling into a 0-2 hole. The game is at home so I expect the fans to come out and really get behind their team, but Joe Flacco needs to play better and the entire Defense has to pull together if they are going to see off Pittsburgh.

The loss of Rice is a big story, but Baltimore would have been preparing for this game without him anyway, and I do think Justin Forsett and Bernard Pierce have the chance for surprising success in this one. The Steelers were shredded by the Cleveland Browns using the run and the no-huddle Offense and I expect Baltimore to try and follow that second half blueprint set by the Browns and not make Flacco throw it 62 times as they did on Sunday.

That should open the passing lanes for Flacco if the ground game is established and I do think the Ravens have enough playmakers to certainly score points against this Defense.

There will also be the belief that Le'Veon Bell won't have the huge game he did in the first half against Cleveland as the Ravens shut down Giovani Bernard effectively on Sunday. I figure Baltimore will find a way to get some pressure against this Offensive Line if they can keep the Steelers in third and long situations, although the Ravens barely got near Andy Dalton in the Cincinnati game. However, they should be fired up to put this week behind them and give Ravens Nation something to smile about.

I do think Big Ben makes plays, as he always does, and the Steelers have a 3-0 record against the spread in the most recent games in this series. They are also 3-1 against the spread in this stadium, although I haven't forgotten seeing Mike Tomlin prevent a Touchdown last season by interfering with Jacoby Jones on a kick return which prevented a Ravens cover ultimately.

However, I think the public are pounding the Steelers and Baltimore may surprise by covering tonight. They should keep Flacco in manageable situations more than Pittsburgh do for Roethlisberger and the weather is calling for rain which means the Ravens superior run Defense could make all the difference.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Washington Redskins Pick: Before I go any further, I am not one of these RG3 fan boys that won't hear anything bad about a Quarter Back that is beginning to look like another bust in the NFL.

He was supposed to be much happier with Jay Gruden as Head Coach, but the confidence looks shot at the moment, although I do think this match up with the Jacksonville Jaguars could help Griffin. Alfred Morris should be able to establish a decent ground attack and Griffin will find some seams in the Secondary that can be exploited.

Of course, Griffin will have to show a lot better mobility against a Jaguars pass rush that will give this Offensive Line fits, but I do think the Redskins will find a way to move the chains. Another benefit for Washington is a Defense that played pretty well last week against Houston facing Chad Henne and a Jaguars Offense that took advantage of Philadelphia miscues last week.

Back to back road games against non-Conference opponents are tough to get yourself ready for and Jacksonville could be focusing on their home opener against the best team in their Division, the Indianapolis Colts which is played next week. The Jaguars also dropped to 1-5-1 against the spread against non-Conference teams on the road in their last 7 games in that situation and I think Washington are worth a small interest to get back on track despite a lot of people perhaps losing faith in them.

Dallas Cowboys @ Tennessee Titans Pick: Before the season started, the loss of Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware weakened a Dallas Defense that was miserable last season, but that unit actually played pretty well against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1.

It was actually the poor play of the Offense, which many expected to at least score enough points to make Dallas competitive, that lost the Cowboys the game with three killer turnovers in the first half. Tony Romo made some bad throws, but I expect Dallas to bounce back and keep this game competitive this week.

DeMarco Murray ran hard enough to suggest he can at least establish a running game and I do think the Offensive Line will also play better when they are not being forced to throw early in the game. Romo has another week to get himself comfortable, although Tennessee have gotten decent pressure up front against Kansas City to think they could have a field day on Romo if Dallas fall into another early hole.

On the other hand, I do expect Jake Locker to have success throwing against this Dallas Secondary, although his Offensive Line didn't play well in pass protection last week. Granted that was against a Kansas City team that has a far more consistent pass rush than Dallas, but the Cowboys can take heart from that performance.

Like Dallas, I expect Tennessee to establish a decent running attack, but I just feel there has been an overreaction to the way these two teams played last week. The Titans benefited from the turnovers, while Dallas missed a couple of chances to pick up an Interception or two themselves and this has the makings of a field goal result to me.

New England Patriots @ Minnesota Vikings Pick: Overreaction to Week 1 results can't be escaped, especially when some are talking about the New England Patriots and Tom Brady as being 'over the hill' and having no chance of reaching the Super Bowl... It makes such little sense considering they have struggled in Miami many times over recent years and the Dolphins are certainly a more improved team than some may want to believe.

The second half saw the Patriots wilt in the heat as the Dolphins took control, but those conditions are not an issue this week and New England should be much more ready for the Minnesota Vikings.

It will be interesting to see how the Vikings respond to the Adrian Peterson situation- it is different to the Baltimore Ravens who played hard in the light of the Ray Rice release, but that Running Back wasn't scheduled to play anyway against Pittsburgh.

I am sure Peterson was going to be a big part of the Offense for the Minnesota Vikings after seeing Knowshow Moreno dominate the Patriots last week, but now they will need Matt Asiata to fill in effectively or it could quickly become a long day for Matt Cassel. I expect the Vikings to continue using Cordarrelle Patterson with sweeps and coming out of the backfield as a form of establishing a running game, but those moves should be less of a surprise to New England than it was to the St Louis Rams.

Cassel is a familiar face to the New England organisation and could be tempted into making mistakes that the likes of Darrelle Revis can highlight.

I would also be surprised if Tom Brady doesn't have a big comeback game after the talk of the last week in the media and the Patriots should be fully focused with an 'easy' game against Oakland next on deck.

New England are 14-9 against the spread with Tom Brady at Quarter Back when they are coming off a loss and I think they good enough to beat Minnesota despite the difference in performances last week. The spread has moved up three points thanks to Adrian Peterson missing the game, but I still think the Patriots can find a cover.

Atlanta Falcons @ Cincinnati Bengals Pick: This has all the makings of a shoot-out with two Offenses that should be able to move the chains all day long, although the key to the game will be whether Cincinnati's pass rush can get enough pressure to disrupt Matt Ryan from finding the time to hit his big time Receivers.

I do think Cincinnati will have the most success with the ball in their hand as they should have a strong balance between the run and the pass, while I think Atlanta may have a harder time establishing Steven Jackson.

The game is also in the middle of a NFC South sandwich for the Falcons so might not be as important as their Thursday night game against Tampa Bay, while the Bengals are 8-2-1 against the spread as the home favourite over the last two seasons.

Of course any team that has Julio Jones and Roddy White are going to be able to move the ball through the air and will always have a chance in a high-scoring game, but the Falcons also have to pick themselves up from an emotional win last weekend. Again, this game shouldn't mean as much to them compared with the one coming up in four days time against Tampa Bay and I think Cincinnati win this by a Touchdown in what could be a game decided by whichever team has the ball last.

New York Jets @ Green Bay Packers Pick: It is easy for people to overreact to what they have seen in Week 1 of the new season, but I have little doubt that the Green Bay Packers are far better than they showed in Seattle. The injury to Bryan Bulaga stunted what they wanted to do on Offense and the game quickly got away from them after a close first half in which the Packers went in to the dressing room with the lead.

While the New York Jets can get some pressure up front, I still expect Aaron Rodgers to bounce back with a much bigger performance throwing the ball against a Secondary that is missing a number of starters. Even the return of Dee Milliner for a few snaps won't be enough to slow down Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, while Eddie Lacy should be starting and is capable of banging out a number of yards on the ground.

With the expectation Green Bay are going to move the chains against this Jets Defense, the big question is how long can New York rely on their rushing Offense to stay in the game. The Jets should find room to move the ball with Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory in the absence of BJ Raji, but Geno Smith has to avoid the mistakes that have cost him at various times through last season.

I do like the Packers this week to bounce back with the additional time they have had to prepare for this game. With big NFC North road battles in Week 3 and 4 to come, Green Bay can't afford to take the Jets likely and I think the Packers will prove to be too strong.

They are a strong home favourite when Aaron Rodgers is playing behind Center, while the Quarter Back is 6-2 against the spread as a favourite of more than a Touchdown when coming off a loss.

Green Bay should find a couple of turnovers in this game by bamboozling Geno Smith under pressure to keep the Jets in the game and that should lead to a win by double digits.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Denver Broncos Pick: It was extremely frustrating to see the Denver Broncos score the first 24 points in the game against the Indianapolis Colts last week, but still need to stop the Colts from tying the game in the second half with time running out.

The 7 point win saw the best of the Offense, but that side of the ball stuttered in the second half and saw their own Defense worn down as they were on the field for far too long.

However, I think the difference between Andrew Luck and Alex Smith is night and day when it comes to trying to lead a comeback of that side and I think the Kansas City Chiefs will be in big trouble if they fall into a hole like that. Smith is a game manager and is not the Quarter Back you want to see leading a huge comeback, although I don't think he will make the mistakes that cost the Chiefs the loss against Tennessee last week.

I would also be more than a little surprised if Jamaal Charles isn't asked to do a lot more work this week, but it might not matter with the Defensive injuries that Kansas City are working through.

Even the pass rush might not be that effective with the speed in which Peyton Manning gets the ball out of his hands and I think Denver will be able to move the chains all day. They should surpass the 27 points they scored at home last season against the Chiefs and get closer to the 35 they scored on the road as the Chiefs Secondary is just not as good as a season ago.

Denver failed to cover at home last week, but remain a very strong home favourite against the spread, while they are 9-3 against the spread as a double digit favourite over the last two seasons.

If the Broncos get to 34 points or better, I think they will beat the Kansas City Chiefs by at least two Touchdowns and will back them to cover a big number.

Chicago Bears @ San Francisco 49ers Pick: This is a big game for both teams who have real ambitions of going deep into the Play Offs as the San Francisco 49ers open their brand new Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.

I think both Offenses will feel they can rely on an effective running game to set up their teams and I do believe Frank Gore, Carlos Hyde and Matt Forte could all put up decent numbers in the game.

The big difference may be which of the teams can look after the ball best and Jay Cutler showed off his 'bad' side again last week with a crucial Interception thrown in the Fourth Quarter. However, it was the terrible decision to throw across his own body straight at one of the huge Defensive Linemen that would have worried the Bears fans and they are desperate to avoid a 0-2 hole.

San Francisco have shown they can still get pressure on an Offensive Line in the absence of Aldon Smith and the Chicago one is banged up so this could be a tough night for Cutler to avoid the pressure and the mistakes that have blighted his career.

Both Quarter Backs do have big time Receivers that can make plays, but I think Colin Kaepernick will be throwing from a cleaner pocket, while also having more mobility than Cutler to pick up first downs on the ground. Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin are all capable of finding their seams to keep the chains moving and all are very good at bringing in the ball.

The 49ers have dominated the Bears when the latter have come out to California, including a 25 point win in Kaepernick's first start for the 49ers, and they have been a strong home favourite.

They are also 13-5 against the spread when favoured by between 3.5 and 9.5 points under Jim Harbaugh, while the Bears are 2-6 against the spread as the road underdog over the last two seasons.

Picks from Games Without Unit Interest: Miami Dolphins + 1 Point, Arizona Cardinals - 1.5 Points, Cleveland Browns + 6.5 Points, Detroit Lions + 2.5 Points, St Louis Rams + 5.5 Points, Seattle Seahawks - 5.5 Points, Oakland Raiders + 3 Points

MY PICKS: Baltimore Ravens - 2.5 Points @ 1.92 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Washington Redskins - 6 Points @ 2.00 Pinnacle (1 Unit)
Dallas Cowboys + 3.5 Points @ 1.92 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
New England Patriots - 5.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Cincinnati Bengals - 5.5 Points @ 1.92 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Green Bay Packers - 7.5 Points @ 1.97 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Denver Broncos - 13 Points @ 2.02 Pinnacle (2 Units)
San Francisco 49ers - 7 Points @ Sporting Bet (2 Units)

Week 1: 3-6, - 3.18 Units

Season 2014: 3-6, - 3.18 Units
Season 201386-70-2, + 22.27 Units
Season 2012- 4.78 Units

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