Thursday, NY Jets @ Cleveland Browns: This one really depends on which Sam Darnold shows up. It’s obviously a bit early to come down one way or another on how he’ll show on a given week, but the knowns still have the Browns at home and a more veteran and versatile QB in Tyrod Taylor. The Browns’ defense is also more consistent week to week, especially against the run, and the Jets need bigger things from former Brown Isaiah Crowell to make a dent. Brownies on top, but not by much.
San Francisco @ Kansas City: Is Patrick Mahomes II really THAT good? No. But unfortunately for the 49ers, he is very close to that good. The record-setting 2nd year QB (10 TDs in 2 weeks) has too many weapons that Andy Reid and company can wield like scalpels – and if that wasn’t enough, the KC QB has an arm like a cannon (unlike his predecessor, Alex Smith, who did pretty darn well himself) . Combine this with the fact the Niners are improvising offensively on the ground and in the air. It won’t be a rout, but the Chiefs win convincingly anyways.
Buffalo @ Minnesota: Oh my. The NFL prides itself on parity. “On any given Sunday, any team can win.” Meet the exception to that rule. Take one of the best teams at this point in the young NFL season, both offensively and defensively, have it host a team blown out twice, and have that visiting team forced to start a raw rookie not even the team thinks is ready to start. As the Vikes’ Kirk Cousins gets more comfortable with his receivers, these guys will just get scarier. This game has the Vikings a 17 point favorite. They might win each half by that much. Vikings by…well, if the NFL had a Slaughter Rule, they’d need it here.
Denver @ Baltimore: Denver’s a team that needs to “not lose,” more than it has to actively win. Their defense tends to take care of business pretty consistently. Case Keenum, so far at least, has done just that. No one will ever confuse Keenum with John Elway, or even a geriatric Payton Manning. And while Baltimore has more offensive weapons than they’ve had in years, their usually vaunted defense has been up and down in the first two weeks. Keenum manages fewer mistakes than the Ravens’ Joe Flacco, and Denver edges their hosts in Baltimore. Barely.
Oakland @ Miami: I don’t usually have so much trouble picking a winner when an 0-2 team is on the road against a 2-0 team. Not so here. This Raider team is moderately better than 0-2, and Miami is moderately worse than a 2-0 team. If the Raiders can actually bring pressure to the QB, the Miami offensive line is sketchy at best. On the other hand, if Miami is able to protect Ryan Tannehill, Miami will look like a Super Bowl team. Neither circumstance is that likely. Let’s call this one Miami in a squeaker at home.
Tennessee @ Jacksonville: The last couple of years, the Jaguars have left tantalizing clues about how good they can be. Then invariably, QB Blake Bortles suddenly reverts to the guy they used to spend every week tying to replace. Or the defense inexplicably collapses. Last year the Jags collapsed against this very team (Tennessee). Twice. But last week’s win against the Patriots looked great for the Jags. Do they regress again, or stomp on the underdog like the Titans are (saddled with either a gimpy Marcus Mariota or a talent-free Blaine Gabbert)? I’m guessing the former, especially with Mariota’s/Gabbert’s best receiving option, TE Delany Walker, sidelined for the year. Jacksonville by double digits.
Indianapolis @ Philadelphia: The good news if you’re a Colts fan: Andrew Luck is upright with both shoulders intact. The bad news if you’re a Colts fan: They’re visiting an Eagles team getting Carson Wentz back that is pretty ticked off after getting embarrassed by a surprising Tampa Bay team (see the Monday Night prediction below). Either of those things (Wentz’ return or the embarrassing loss) would normally be enough to beat the Colts, even with Luck. Both? Well, it won’t be the rout that the Viking game will be, but it should be convincing nonetheless. Luck will be facing a great front seven and a decent secondary and while his numbers won’t be bad, they’ll be “blowout inflated.” Eagles by 12.
NY Giants @ Houston: 0-2 is a surprise for both of these teams, perhaps the Texans the most. But last week they played without Jadeveon Clowney on that vaunted defensive front 7. If he plays, and if he plays at close to 100%, neither of which is even close to a sure thing, then Eli Manning will spend the game on his backside or throwing out of bounds. If Texas’ pass rush is contained, Eli will dismantle the Texans. Best guess? Houston’s defense comes back with a vengeance and the Texans finish on top by a TD.
New Orleans @ Atlanta: They’re well-coached, they’ve got one of the best QBs in the league in front of a dynamic offense running and passing the ball, they’ve got an up-and-coming defense. And they’ll probably lose. Meet the New Orleans Saints. They have everything going for them except their actual execution. Tyrod Taylor and Antonio Callaway nearly beat the Saints last week. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are more than a wee bit scarier. In Georgia, make this one a back and forth thing that the Falcons outlast New Orleans. ATL by 3 in a game that’s still in doubt until the final seconds.
Green Bay @ Washington: Aaron Rogers is a strange athlete. It’s entirely possible that he plays better on one leg than he does on two. Game one against the Bears: Reasonably healthy Rogers: halftime score: Bears 17, Packers 0. 2nd half score, balancing-on-one-leg-Rogers: Bears 6, Packers 24. Washington looks better on paper than on the field. Washington QB Alex Smith may have led the league last year in passer rating, but he couldn’t even maneuver through a pretty bad Colts secondary last week. Neither defense has been anything to write home about, but the Pack has a lot more chance of putting up big numbers on Washington than the inverse. Packers by a touchdown.
Cincinnati @ Carolina: This is another tough one to call. Is this finally the Bengals team that fans have been expecting for the better part of 10 years? It looks good on paper, and Carrot Top (a.k.a. QB Andy Dalton) is finally beginning to move the Bengals up and down the field without the mistakes that created the “Bungles” label that dogged them throughout the Marvin Lewis-coached era. The Panthers, in contrast, almost always get reliable production from their QB, Cam Newton. The difference is in the improving run game (highlighted by Christian McCaffrey) and the up-and-down Panther defense that ran into trouble last week against Atlanta. If the Panthers aren’t able to clamp down this week, Dalton and WR A.C. Green will fly past them. Even at Carolina, I think they will. Bengals by 3.
L.A. Chargers @ L.A. Rams: The Rams pushed their chips all in this past year with big money, especially to their defense. While three games is hardly a lock sample size, so far, these Rams look to be competing for the title of best team in the league. The Chargers are no slouches either, and both clubs are able to bring the heat offensively. The Rams however, have a much more consistent-behaving defense, and while Phillip Rivers has made a career out of engineering 4th quarter knockout blows, there still seems to be a lot less in the “miracle bin” for this game for the Chargers. Rams by 8.
Dallas @ Seattle: The Good for Seattle: MLB stud Bobby Wagner is due back. The Bad for Seattle: Doug Baldwin probably won’t be back, and Russell Wilson as listed on the injury report. The Ugly for Seattle: Not one, but 2 members of an already horrible OL may miss this game. Dallas, on the other hand, while not looking great against the Giants last week, looked better than they had in week 1. The offense was decent, but it was the defense that battered the Giants’ offensive line. And that just happens to be the Seahawks worst feature right now. The “12th man” factor playing in Seattle, and some Russell Wilson home cooking (assuming the injury isn’t serious) is all that keeps this one from being a rout. Dallas by 4, but it won’t seem that close.
Chicago @ Arizona: Last year the Cardinals had an excuse: their best RB (and one of the best in the league) David Johnson, was out, and they were hamstringed at QB. Well, they have a proven QB now in Sam Bradford, and Johnson is healthy. Unfortunately, have looked even worse this year. Go figure. And the Bears are coming off what may be their best offseason in franchise history. At least on paper. The defense, already well-regarded last season, added arguably the best defender in the league now (Khalil Mack), as well as the LB generally considered the best defensive prospect in the last draft’s class (Roquan Smith). And the offense got better too, all behind a coach brought up in a great offensive system (Matt Nagy). Assuming there isn’t a huge turnaround in what the Cardinals have shown so far, this one may well be a rout by halftime. Chicago by 9.
New England @ Detroit: All other things being equal, I would have given a decent chance for the Patriots’ former Defensive Coordinator and now Lions’ Head Coach, Matt Patricia, at winning this game. Or at least keeping it close. That was before the Jaguars beat the Patriots last week. Bill Belichick will be his usual terse self, and QB Tom Brady will have an even bigger chip on his shoulder than usual. They will probably chew up the Lions defense. Lion QB Matthew Stafford has the talent to take advantage if the Patriots have a sub-par secondary performance like they did against the Jags. I just don’t think they will. Patriots by 10.
Pittsburgh @ Tampa Bay: For so many years, the Tampa Bay Bucs have been underachieving, maladjusted, losers. And in those same years, the Steelers have been professional, solid, well-run winners. Welcome to Bizarro World. This year the Bucs have well-traveled journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’s been compared more often to Marcia Brady than Tom Brady suddenly beating the tar out of well-regarded teams like Super Bowl contender New Orleans and defending Super Bowl champs Philadelphia. And in Pittsburgh, they can’t convince the (arguably) best RB in the game to actually PLAY the game, and their All Pro WR seems to be in a Trump-like TwitterSnit™ at either his QB, his coach, a fan, or all of the above. The Steelers legendary defense has been porous too. The Steel Curtain has devolved into The Shower Curtain. Bucs win. Again. This time by 5.