After one week I am in the top 20% of the Westgate Supercontest at 4-1. My only loss was a big one. I took the Saints to win at home by 10 or more over the Buccaneers and they proceeded to lose by 8. My expectation was off by 18 points - embarrassing. But still, only 168 of 3,123 people had a better first week. I hope to keep the momentum in week two.
Every year this week is the hardest. There is some new information, but we don't know how valuable it is. Ryan Fitzpatrick rolled all over the Saints, and the entire Bills organization just rolled over. Were those trends or aberrations? Sam Darnold looked great as a rookie QB in a night game on the road - is he good, or is beleaguered Lions Coach Matt Patricia just embarrassing as expected? I don't know. I never know what to make of week one results.
Vegas knows what to make of the results - money. This week the bookmakers will look to take advantage of the confusion. They'll learn from last week and take advantage of the public's overreactions. To stifle them, I'm going to take a conservative approach - stick to my preseason thoughts unless otherwise proven wrong. To change my expectations a team had to overcome expectations against good competition or disappoint against dregs. A quarterback I don't like that played great against no pass rush is still not good in my book. I am looking at you Ryan Fitzpatrick. I do now consider the Saints D much worse since they let that happen.
I'm confused, but I will not get crushed on overreaction week. Small sample size bias will not distract me. Here is my attempt at 3-2 or better this week.
PICKS: RAMS, REDSKINS, 49ers, EAGLES, Chiefs
RAMS over Cardinals -12.5
Sam Bradford is 38-46-1 in 81 career starts with four different teams since 2010. Despite his record - and his poor performance that created it - he keeps getting new jobs because he can make all the throws. But he keeps needing new jobs because he restricts those throws to within ten yards of the line scrimmage. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, last week Bradford threw 26 of 34 passes less than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. I assumed David Johnson - who excels slipping out of the backfield for catches and eluding tacklers for yards - would pay off Sam Bradford's check downs. But even the best possible check down option proved to not be enough against the Redskins at home in Week One.
This week is going to be worse. Bradford deteriorates under pressure and he will be under pressure all day. Ndamukong Suh, Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers looked mortal against the Raiders in Week 1, but the interior linemen blocking them were an accomplished - and expensive - trio. The Raiders have the sixth most expensive offensive line in the league and their spend is concentrated at Guard and Center. They are one of the only groups in the league that could expect to contain the Rams pass rush. The Cardinals on the other hand have the third cheapest offensive line in the league and start a 3rd round rookie at Center. The Rams will feast on Sam Bradford on Sunday.
12.5 points is a ton to cover. But the Rams under Mcvay will run up the score in games they get ahead. They've won 7 of the 17 games he's coached by at least 16 points, including both games against the Cardinals last year and week one of this year. Rams win in a blowout 38-10.
REDSKINS over Colts -6
Alex Smith is like white rice. He is astonishingly boring on his own, but he won't ruin a dish with the right pieces. The Redskins have those pieces. The defense is good - they led the league in QB pressure rate last year and picked up right where they left off in week one. The offensive line is better than they looked last year when they missed one and a half linemen out of five on average each week. And he probably won't last the year, but right now star TE Jordan Reed is healthy. All Alex Smith needs to do is what he specializes in - not lose this game.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Andrew Luck needs to play a perfect game for his team to have a chance to compete. That's because his team is bad. They have nearly zero talent. I watch countless hours of football and have never heard of their two primary running backs. Their defense is also not any good. But my biggest concern this week is their young offensive line. Last week, the line - with 3 high draft picks from the past two drafts - held the Bengals to only two sacks at home. But Andrew Luck still got hit nine times. This week is their first game together on the road against the crowd noise and a defense that pressures quarterbacks regularly.
Andrew Luck is going to throw an interception or two while being chased around all day by the Washington front seven. Alex Smith is going to take advantage of the turnovers and not give the ball back himself. Redskins win 31-17.
49ERS over Lions -6
Last week the 49ers Vikings game matched my expectations. Jimmy G. looked ordinary against that great defense playing with its home crowd. I think Garropolo is good, but that was a spot where most quarterbacks would fail. And he did fail. He went 15-33 and threw three interceptions for a QB rating of 45. But I'm not overreacting to that performance because it was expected.
This week Jimmy G. is in a situation where most quarterbacks would succeed. He is playing at home against Matt Patricia's Lions. I can't say this enough - Matt Patricia is a terrible coach. Last week in his head coach debut, Matt Patricia's defense let Sam Darnold look like a ten year vet in their home stadium. Darnold completed 76% of his passes at 9.4 yards per attempt with a 116 QB rating. It looked easy. By the fourth quarter the Lions had quit.
I doubt they are going to turn things around this week against a better team in a worse situation. After facing the most well coached defense in the league, Jimmy G. is going to cut through this unorganized bunch for a huge day. Lions will be out of the game by halftime and Patricia will be on the hot seat early after two blowout losses to start his career.
Eagles -3.5 over BUCCANEERS
Ryan Fitzpatrick's career as a journey man and back up quarterback in the NFL for the last thirteen years will only be remembered for it's mediocrity. He is 49-70-1 with an 80 QB rating. Last he week he broke his mold and threw 4 touchdowns and no interceptions against the Saints. Yet he is probably not on the cusp of a new superstar phase of his career.
Fitzpatrick has a history of following up excellent games with his typical stuff. The Ringer's Sunday Watchability article by Riley McAtee had the best stat to express this, "Before Sunday, Fitzpatrick had seven total games in his career in which he threw for at least 350 yards. In the games immediately following those outings, his average statline is 187.9 passing yards, 0.7 touchdowns, and 1.3 interceptions." Mediocre Fitzpatrick is the Fitzpatrick I expect this week.
Last week was an anomaly. He faced no pass rush - he wasn't sacked and was only hit twice. This week, he'll face pressure from my Philadelphia Eagles. They've got a stable of defensive linemen that rush the quarterback in shifts and a versatile secondary with six very good defensive backs. Against the Falcons last week they hit Matt Ryan 14 times and sacked him 4 times.
The Eagles have veteran savvy and do what it takes to win. Despite a stagnant offense in the last game, Doug Pederson called a trick play to kick start the winning touchdown drive. He'll be creative when necessary again and the defense is going to trample Fitzpatrick. Eagles win 20-12.
Chiefs +4 over Steelers
The Steelers -4 points in Pittsburgh implies that Vegas believes the Steelers are slightly better than chiefs. Perhaps at the end of the season this will be true, but not for this game in week 2. The Steelers are not in full form yet - Leveon Bell is not with the team and Ben Roethlisberger is a slow starter. Look at Roethlisberger's record by month:
The Steelers in September are never the juggernaut they transform into later in the year.
This Chiefs team is a juggernaut right now. Last week I picked the Chiefs because I thought Pat Mahomes and his weapons would be awesome this whole year and I saw nothing to disprove that. Tyreke Hill had two long TD's and according to NFL Next Gen Stats he moved the fastest of any player last week on each of them. Nobody can catch him. They put up 38 points without including star TE Travis Kelce and barely got RB Kareem Hunt going.
If the Steelers look to slow down Tyreke Hill they will leave opportunities open for the other Chief skill position players. Ben Roethlisberger is still warming into the season and will not be able to keep up. Chiefs win outright 41-31.
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