St. Louis Rams at Atlanta Falcons
This is one of my favorite matchups of the day. These are two very good teams that offer intriguing matchups within the game. The matchup is the Rams’ defensive line versus the Falcons’ offensive line. This is a matchup that falls heavily in favor of the Rams. The Falcons will have to scheme with backs, tight ends, and slide protection to help keep Matt Ryan clean. Reports are that Julio Jones isn’t 100% healthy and Roddy White has missed practices this week. This is a very good Rams defense and they matchup well in just about every unit on defense.
On offense, the Rams’ addition of Jared Cook adds an element they haven’t had in a long time. He’s a dynamic threat that can attack the middle of the field. If the Falcons can’t roll coverages and get in place fast enough, they will have serious issues keeping Cook out of the seams and between the hashes. The Falcons’ safeties will need to remained disciplined and not sneak forward against the run like they like to do. If they do, Cook will hit them over the top for a big play. The Falcons’ young corners played well for rookies last week and face a good test versus Chris Givens and Tavon Austin.
This game is in Atlanta is the only reason I hesitate in picking St. Louis, but I think the matchup advantages are too great in favor of the Rams. If they play a clean game, I think they can’t help but to win this game.
Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills
EJ Manuel is supposed to be the next Cam Newton, or so the Bills hope. This is a matchup of two underrated front sevens. The Bills looked very good last week in defending Tom Brady and the Patriots but also benefited from some of their sloppiness. The Bills kept EJ Manuel on a leash for much of the last game. This is the ideal game to let him off that leash and test a poor Carolina secondary. He’ll have to deal with a tremendous defensive line that will be in his face all day. LT Cordy Glenn played a great game last week against Chandler Jones and didn’t allow a pressure all day. That should be a fun matchup to watch whether it’s Charles Johnson or Greg Hardy that lines up across from him. EJ is likely to see more pressure in his face because of this. Panthers’ MLB Luke Kuechly is already one of the best in the league in his 2nd year and will play a big role in keeping EJ in the pocket and not allowing Spiller to get to the edge. Kuechly can cover and flies sideline to sideline. He’s a weapon on defense.
On offense, the Panthers and Cam Newton will need to stay away from safety Jairus Byrd. He’s a hawk when the ball is in the air and has a knack for coming up with big plays. The Patriots had a tough time finding running room against the Bills last week and I would expect Carolina to do the same. Cam will be so important in the ability to get consistent 1st downs. The Panther WRs will need to work hard to find separation against man coverage. If they can’t, Cam might have 15 rushes today to try to keep the offense moving downfield.
These teams are very close in how they’re built and in talent level. Scheme will mean everything today and right now, I trust the Bills’ staff more than I trust the Panthers’ staff. Bills win a close one.
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
After Adrian Peterson broke off a 78 yard run against the Lions last week, he did nothing else of note. The offensive line didn’t look nearly as dominant as they did last year but that is to be expected against a phenomenal Lions’ defensive line. Christian Ponder still looked pretty bad against a Lions secondary that had been torched in the preseason. The Bears are too good of a defense in all phases for the Vikings to need to go to Ponder. The blueprint against Minnesota is the same: sellout against AP, let Ponder make his mistakes. Jerome Simpson looked like a different wide receiver last week so I’m interested to see how he fares this week.
The Vikings defense struggled last week. They really seem to be susceptible to speed. Reggie Bush eviscerated them for nearly 200 yards from scrimmage and was the big key. Matt Forte isn’t the same type of back but the Vikings will have a hard time covering him should he be a target in the pass game. The Vikings may sellout against Brandon Marshall but that’s going to leave a lot of room for Martellus Bennett and Alshon Jeffery to run. Cutler should be familiar with this defense and as long as the offensive line holds up like they did last week, he should be fine.
Turnovers by Cutler could be a killer today, but if he plays smart, there’s no reason the Bears shouldn’t win this game by 10 points or more.
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
Brandon Weeden didn’t have a good game last week against Miami but it wasn’t a travesty like you might think by looking at the box score. He’s very boxed in in this new offense and isn’t comfortable. His missed a number of reads because he didn’t come off his primary to see better options. The receivers are below average right now and the offense really misses Josh Gordon. Trent Richardson is one of the best running backs in the league and with a QB like Weeden it’s inexcusable that he didn’t receive more touches. Richardson needs a heavy workload for this offense to be successful. TE Jordan Cameron continued his hot play from the preseason. Cameron seems to be Weeden’s go-to target when Weeden needs to make a play. There’s some rapport there and the Ravens are sure to take note of it. The Ravens will likely focus on Cameron and let the game come to them on defense otherwise. They’ll wait to see if the Browns are going to continue to air it out or try to find some rhythm running the ball early.
On defense, the Browns looked really good. If Mingo plays today it will certainly help DC Ray Horton get even more versatile. He’s so good at creating matchups and confusion. He’s able to use different concepts to create advantages while only rushing four. If they can create some turnovers, this is a game they can win. The Ravens looked a bit lost on offense last week. They looked like a team trying to find its identity after losing playmakers in various forms. Many expected the Ravens to use Ray Rice in the slot and in receiving patterns more but that certainly didn’t seem like a priority last week. The Ravens didn’t stretch the field much as we are accustomed to seeing. It may be a few weeks before they figure out exactly how they want to approach the offense but in the meantime they could rely heavily on the run and on Torrey Smith. Marlon Brown is a name to watch. He looked smooth and effective in the preseason and fits what the offense wanted to do last season. If he lines up opposite Torrey Smith, he could see some decent matchups.
If the Browns had Josh Gordon, this would be a game that would be much closer than most would think and possibly even a Browns win. As it is, the Ravens should still be able to manipulate a Browns offense that lacks playmakers. Ravens should win.
Dallas Cowboy at Kansas City Chiefs
This is an intriguing matchup against two good teams. The Chiefs were smooth and efficient against a very lackluster Jaguars defense last week. Alex Smith continued his good play from his time with the 49ers. Even in a new offense he looks accurate and smart with the football. He’ll still struggle with accuracy on deep throws but that’s not really what the design of the offense was about last week. Against a Dallas defense that is base cover 2 but does multiple things, Smith should be fine with the short to intermediate throws again. The Cowboys’ safeties proved to be a liability last week against a Giants’ offense that could attack the deep parts of the field. Jamaal Charles is a matchup nightmare for the Cowboys. LBs Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are going to need to play well today to keep Charles from running wild. Charles is probably the key to the Chiefs winning, not Smith. If Dallas can’t stop Charles, I’m not sure they can win.
The Chiefs’ defense last week was just as impressive as the offense. KC is so much better coached on both sides of the ball and it showed. Dontari Poe, Justin Houston, and Tamba Hali make this a defense that is super tough to scheme against. Brandon Flowers isn’t a CB that typically follows WRs all over the field so Dallas will be able to dictate that matchup with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. The Giants chose to roll coverage over Bryant last week which led to Austin having favorable matchups all game – and winning them. The run game is the key to the Dallas offense. When they’re balanced, they’re almost impossible to stop. Derrick Johnson will see a lot of Jason Witten and that’s a matchup that really favors neither.
This game boils down to home field advantage. It’s in KC and I think that gives them enough of an advantage that they can win this game. If the game was in Dallas, I’d pick Dallas.
Washington Redskins at Green Bay Packers
Robert Griffin III looked shaky for 3 quarters last week in his first game back from a torn ACL. He looked like a different QB in the 4th quarter. For the first three he was timid, didn’t plant his back foot when throwing, and even was falling off his throws. He can’t do that against very good Green Bay corners. The Packers last week switched from their normal man coverage schemes to playing mostly zone to help keep their defenders’ eyes in the backfield to help combat the run. The problem is that GB’s back seven aren’t fantastic in zone coverage. There were gaping holes and QB Colin Kaepernick was able to find the voids. It will be interesting to see if the Packers take the same approach. They could pick their poison and decide whether they’re more comfortable with a man scheme with a spy in the middle, try zone coverage again, or they could try to mix it up and confuse Griffin. The latter option seems the best but the hardest to call and execute at the right time. After last week, I am thinking GB goes back to man and uses a spy for the most part while mixing in some zone coverages just as a confusion tactic. For personnel matchups, this one is pretty even. The Packers need to stop the run game and the linebackers will be instrumental. If they get too aggressive, RG3 will start hitting the middle of the field behind them.
On defense, Washington really doesn’t have an answer for all of the weapons that Green Bay has. Kerrigan and Orakpo will need to get to the QB and Aaron Rodgers will need to get rid of the ball fast. Putting pressure on Rodgers is really the only way that Washington can avoid giving up big plays. EJ Biggers as a safety is crazy to me. There are too many personnel matchups in favor of Green Bay and they have a coach and QB who knows how to use them.
This could end up being a shootout. The first team to 35 wins. And I think that team is Green Bay. If Washington ends up turning the ball over a couple of times, this will get ugly.
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans
Jake Locker looked like a capable quarterback last week but I’m still not falling for it. The Titans did a great job of hiding him as much as possible. The offense runs through Chris Johnson and I think the Texans know that. They’ll load the box and try to bottle up Johnson while making Locker think. Brian Cushing made the best play of the week last week in a diving interception that he turned into a TD. He’s so important to this defense. He and Watt should create havoc for Locker and force him into a couple of mistakes.
The Titans defense is probably a little underrated. They’re solid on the edges of their front seven and have solid LB play. The cornerbacks are young but physical and decent in coverage. Houston will take advantage of slot matchups and using their athletic TEs. If Tennessee can stop the run, they have a shot. They really don’t have an answer for Andre Johnson, but they can roll coverage and load the box against the run. That’s fine except that leaves a lot of space for the rest of the offense.
I just don’t trust Jake Locker to put together the same performance this week that he put together last week. He also plays a much better defense this week. Houston should win but probably a little closer than it should be.
Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts
Miami’s offense looked average last week against a very good Browns defense. Tannehill played well but the lack of running game is concerning. I was surprised at how the offensive line played as they held up well against a solid pass rush. The Colts still have plenty of question marks on defense but Miami’s OC Mike Sherman isn’t likely to take advantage of them.
The Colts offensive line still had issues holding up last week against the Raiders. If they don’t have a better performance against Cameron Wake and company, it will be a long day for the Colts. Andrew Luck has magnificent pocket presence but he’s had to do too much work to stay clean. Brent Grimes is likely to shadow Reggie Wayne for most of the day. That’s going to be a better matchup than many probably expect. TY Hilton poses a problem for Miami as they really don’t have anyone who can matchup against him. The Colts will probably operate with some screen and draws most of the day to slow down the pass rush.
I think the Colts are the better team but the matchups dictate that Miami wins this. Andrew Luck is the better QB and he’ll have to be flawless to win. That’s possible but not likely. Miami wins a VERY close game.
San Diego Chargers at Philadelphia Eagles
There was a lot made about the Eagles’ new high octane offense. They ran 55 plays in the first half and then slowed it to a crawl in the second after being up. I would expect them to keep the pedal to the floor a little later this week as Washington almost came back against them late on Monday night. Vick seemed comfortable and the receivers really bought in, especially in the blocking aspect of this offense. LeSean McCoy looked like he belonged in a video game and the spacing he got was incredible. He operates better like that and San Diego is likely to try to compact it. The issue is this offense is made to use the entire field and that makes it very hard to defend. The up tempo means that the defense is usually running a very vanilla type of defense. Then it puts pressure on the defenders to make quick and smart decisions. That’s a lot to contend with. I’m not sure the Chargers have the personnel to keep up with that.
The Chargers looked better on offense last week due to the addition of Mike McCoy. He has these guys going in the right direction but the schedule early doesn’t setup well for them to get off to a good start. Flying across country to try to keep up with the Eagles’ fast pace is tough. If they can pull this off, the Chargers are a formidable opponent for anyone.
The Eagles might win this one going away. There is just too much for the Chargers to contend with this week and this early in the year.by