Week 2 is upon us, and if this is your first look at the schedule, then you're going to like what you see. Heck, you might be all hot dogs and apple pie about it.
There are plenty of divisional games on the docket: Jets-Patriots, Vikings-Bears, Browns-Ravens, Saints-Buccaneers, Titans-Texans, 49ers-Seahawks, and Steelers-Bengals. That's seven games that matter in the standings now. This week will paint a picture of how the AFC North stacks up -- let's hope they don't turn the ball over 680 times, like the NFC East did in Week 1.
OK, Rory. Does Dolphins-Colts count? That matchup has my curiosity piqued. Otherwise, it's a tough call between the latest installment of the Manning Bowl and Niners-Seahawks when it comes to the premium game of Week 2. Of course, it's also cool whenever Dallas and Kansas City get together. You history buffs might recall that those franchises both were based in Dallas once. In fact, Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm and Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt secretly met at Love Field Airport (which had its own eerie history in the 1960s) to help forge the AFL-NFL merger. But that's a column for another day.
So let's dive into the here and the now with this weekend's games. As always, your take is welcome. We read 'em all ... @Harrison_NFL is the storefront for such things.
Elliot Harrison went 12-4 on his predictions for Week 1. How will he fare in Week 2? His picks are below, with home teams listed second:
If there's one potential true upset pick of the week with which you could impress your friends, taking the Rams here might be it, as most are expecting the Falcons to be fired up to get back on track. Too bad I don't have the guts. This will, of course, be an interesting affair for veteran Falcons running back Steven Jackson, who ran for over 10,000 yards and caught 407 passes in a Rams uniform. He should be relied on often by Atlanta, both through the air (five catches for 45 yards against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1) and on the ground. Going to the run will be the most appropriate way for the Falcons to keep Matt Ryan off his back, considering how effective the Rams' front four can be -- after all, Robert Quinn had three sacks against the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday by himself. The feeling here is that Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez will present matchup problems in the red zone. ... Oh, and Sean Payton doesn't coach the Rams. So that just upped the Falcons' chances of winning by about 350 percent. #STLvsATL
Cleveland usually plays Baltimore very tough ... that's why I'm predicting a blowout. Actually, my sense is that the Ravens -- particularly their defense -- will be extremely fired up to put kickoff night in Denver behind them. New Browns coach Rob Chudzinski is going to get this deal turned around eventually -- just not in Week 2 against an angry Terrell Suggs-fueled pass rush that will aim to do what the Dolphins did to the Browns in Week 1: collapse the pocket around Brandon Weeden. So Chudzinski will have to "max protect", which means either leaving tight end Jordan Cameron in to block more or choosing to not send the backs out. Figure on the latter scenario, as Cameron was the most heavily used target in the passing game last Sunday (nine catches for 108 yards). What a bright spot for the Browns he's becoming. #CLEvsBAL
Against the Seahawks last Sunday, the Panthers couldn't get their offense going. They ran the fewest plays in the league in Week 1 (49); by contrast, New England ran 89 in Buffalo. If Carolina picks up the tempo, that could prohibit the Bills' defensive line from making plays, thus putting the game on a depleted secondary. Buffalo, meanwhile, will have trouble scoring against this defense, which allowed Seattle to gain just 2.69 yards per carry. Challenging the Panthers' secondary and throwing the ball to running back C.J. Spiller is the Bills' best bet; get the Carolina linebackers out in space. At the end of the day, though, I'm thinking Cam Newton will have to win this one for the Panthers. #CARvsBUF
The Bears had more trouble stopping the Bengals last Sunday than you might've thought. The key? Turnovers. Thus, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder can't throw three picks again, while Adrian Peterson can't revert to his fumble-prone self of 2008 and '09. Vikings receiver Jerome Simpson had a huge game against the Lions (seven receptions for 140 yards), but I don't see him doing the same against Bears cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman. Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph should be pertinent to the outcome of this NFC North battle. Can Bears linebacker D.J. Williams stay with the tall tight end? How much will Chicago safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright be covering him and not staying over the top of Simpson and Greg Jennings? If Williams can shut down Rudolph, it'll be "game over," because Peterson isn't winning this one by himself. Meanwhile, expect a moderate but effective day from Bears quarterback Jay Cutler -- something like 22-of-30 passing for 244 yards and two touchdowns. #MINvsCHI
All signs point to a shootout in Green Bay. One wonders if
Mike McCarthy is going to go up-tempo with
Aaron Rodgers. Actually, don't wonder -- he will. Here's why:
A) With the Packers' pass protection and Rodgers' tendency to hold the ball, Redskins pass rushers Ryan Kerrigan (who was all over the field against the Eagles on Monday) and Brian Orakpo have the potential to do some real damage -- unless you can tire them out.
B) Washington's defense is in prime position to be run down, as it will be operating on a short week.
C) The Packers have the personnel to do it.
After all, even Jermichael Finley looked good against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1 -- though he did, of course, hurt his toe. If he can avoid missing much time, Finley has a chance to put up over 800 yards and eight touchdowns this year. What is Robert Griffin III going to put up? It's a fair question, as neither he nor his support system -- the Washington ground game -- overly impressed on Monday. But let's not overreact until we see more from RGIII. #WASvsGB
It won't surprise me if Tennessee comes out ballin' en route to an early 14-0 lead. Houston sometimes has a tendency to come out of the gate slowly; over the last nine games (including the postseason), the Texans have been outscored 127-93 in the first half. That's not what you want to see from a " Super Bowl contender." Now, let's hope the Titans don't spot this week's opponent a quick two because their kick returner needs Google Maps to figure out where the goal line is. ( Was that strange or what?) The interesting aspect of this game will be how Jake Locker handles the Texans' rush. Can he make Houston pay for sending five and six by completing accurate throws, like Philip Rivers did Monday night? In the end, Tennessee is going to find the Houston running back tandem of Arian Foster and Ben Tate to be a hair better -- and tougher to stop -- than the Isaac Redman-LaRod Stephens-Howling train was last Sunday. #TENvsHOU
Indianapolis does it to Miami again. When these two AFC clubs hooked up last year, the Colts stopped a last-gasp Dolphins drive. At that time, the matchup was a battle of rookie quarterbacks. Now, in Year 2, Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill presumably will take a step forward. What does that entail? For Tannehill, it hopefully means throwing more touchdown passes; in 17 career games, he has just 13 scoring strikes. Tannehill also has to get Mike Wallace more involved -- throw it deep twice and make the Colts defend the whole field. That will at least loosen things up for what was an awful running game in Week 1. Look for Luck to sprint out of the pocket more this week than he did against the Raiders last Sunday, as the Dolphins' pass rush is pretty doggone good (six sacks to open the season) -- and the secondary isn't much worse. #MIAvsIND
If Miles Austin can repeat the results of his first career start -- 10 catches for two touchdowns and a franchise-record 250 yards in 2009 at Arrowhead Stadium -- then the Cowboys will be in good shape. Austin will probably be matched up against Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith, which should be an advantage for a bruised -- if not battered -- Tony Romo. Dez Bryant, who isn't fully healthy, will be on the other side, where perhaps the most underappreciated corner in the game ( Brandon Flowers) resides. Cowboys tackle Doug Free will have his hands full with Justin Houston; it should be interesting to see how the Dallas offense fares. Kansas City should be able to move the ball, but the Chiefs will need a better outing from Dwayne Bowe, as Dallas' defense > Jacksonville's defense. This should be one of the best games of Week 2. #DALvsKC
San Diego's defense is better than the Redskins unit that Philadelphia faced on Monday; of course, we shouldn't anticipate the Eagles tapping the brakes in the second half this time, either. Philip Rivers has to avoid the costly turnover. Look, the pick by Texans linebacker Brian Cushing in San Diego's Monday night loss to Houston was spectacular, no doubt ... but it was not the result of a boneheaded play by Rivers. Still, the more he turns the ball over, or the more the Chargers go three-and-out, the more tired that San Diego defense will get. If Manti Te'o returns to action, this will not be a fun debut for the rookie linebacker. San Diego could do a lot for its defense by turning to Ryan Mathews in the second half. The starting tailback got all of three carries after halftime on Monday. Chip Kelly's offense should get a lot of 7-yard slants and out-routes to DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper, as Chargers corners tend to give up too much cushion. Eagles win. #2-0Chipmania #SDvsPHI
This is certainly a tough one to call. Reggie Bush is not going to put up 190-plus yards again; after tweaking his groin on Sunday, Bush wasn't feeling the best. Of course, it's always nice to have a soft pillow to land on ... like your head coach saying, "It's life in the big city." Hey, if it were your groin, you wouldn't want to do so much as the NordicTrack. But we digress. This game truly will test Matthew Stafford's mettle, as Arizona's linebackers and back four are more talented than the Vikings defenders Stafford faced in Week 1. If Bush can't get it going for Detroit, then Nate Burleson and guys not named Calvin Johnson will have to come through. Arizona, meanwhile, must protect Carson Palmer. Though the Cardinals gave up four sacks last Sunday, Palmer had enough time to hit his top three wideouts ( Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd) 20 times. This should be a very tight ballgame. #DETvsAZ
Not that this is going to be a recurring theme for the Saints or anything, but they came up with a huge goal-line stand the last time they played the Buccaneers in Tampa, and it was a major factor in New Orleans' 35-28 win. Does anyone remember the second matchup between these teams last season? It was decided by a score of 41-0 -- and no, the Bucs didn't take that game, either. I expect this to be simultaneously close and wide open. There's no way the Saints shut out the Tampa Bay offense. Drew Brees, meanwhile, will avoid Darrelle Revis, using his tight ends and backs to consistently make the Bucs' linebackers sprint out in coverage; Jimmy Graham could easily catch eight balls, while I could see the backs snagging something like 15. To stay with Brees, Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman has to be more accurate than he was against the New York Jets last Sunday, and his receivers have to get more separation. This is a critical game for a Buccaneers football team that has lost six of its last seven games going back to 2012. #NOvsTB
Big Blue is always capable of responding to adversity -- after all, there are few teams more resilient than Tom Coughlin's squad. But this is a bad matchup for the Giants. With the injuries in their secondary, it will be difficult for them to cover Broncos receivers Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker -- and let's not forget tight end Julius Thomas, who caught two touchdown passes in the season opener. Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten put up two scores on New York's defense last Sunday, partially because the Giants were so focused on bracketing Dez Bryant. The G-Men also mostly manned up on Dallas' third receiver, rookie Terrance Williams. Decker is a far bigger threat. The best thing that could happen for the Giants is for David Wilson to start and pop a 30-yard run early. Get his butt going. Oh, did we mention this is Peyton vs. Eli? Cool. #DENvsNYG
Neither defense is exactly dominant. But don't worry, the offenses make up for it ... by not being any great shakes, either. The question here is this: What can Terrelle Pryor give this Raiders team? Will he repeat his performance against the Colts last Sunday, when he was the only guy all day to rush for over 100 yards? It's important for Pryor to not hastily throw the ball into coverage or take some of the unnecessary risks he took versus the Colts and in the preseason. Meanwhile, Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley's defense will have the challenge of staying disciplined, so as not to give Pryor such easy escape routes. The Jags have had a week to study how the Colts responded to the athletic quarterback; remember, defense is Bradley's side of the ball. What will the Jaguars get from Chad Henne, who didn't fare well last year in Oakland, where he was sacked three times in less than a full game's worth of work? Jacksonville's best bet might be to double the number of carries Maurice Jones-Drew had in Week 1 (15). Bring the ground game back, somebody. Please. #JAXvsOAK
This NFC West showdown could easily end in a 23-20 win for the Seattle Seahawks after a Russell Wilson-led comeback, much like the Seahawks' season opener. Not feeling it, though; my sense is that the 49ers' defense will atone for the embarrassing loss in Seattle last December. Two issues arose in that defeat ... First, San Francisco abandoned the ground attack early, putting the whole game on Colin Kaepernick, who had just five career starts under his belt at that point. The second issue for the Niners was their lack of pass rush. With Justin Smith out with a torn triceps, Aldon Smith pretty much became a non-factor. Things can't go that way in Seattle this time. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are without Bruce Irvin and ( quite possibly) Chris Clemons, which is important, given how Kaepernick played last Sunday. Usually, we take Seattle at home, but we're sticking with the hot Niners this time. #SFvsSEA
When these teams last met in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh won predominantly on the strength of two factors: Jonathan Dwyer rushing for 122 yards on 17 carries in probably the finest game of his Steelers career, and tight end Heath Miller catching six balls, including a touchdown grab in tight coverage. Uh, it's safe to say neither will happen this time around. Dwyer, who was recently cut by the team, just got re-signed, but without injured starting center Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh won't gain 122 rushing yards -- total. And Miller (knee) isn't ready to play yet. The Bengals? They should be fired up after giving away their season opener in Chicago. The Bengals moved the ball effectively against a solid Bears defense (gaining 340 yards and converting seven of their 11 third-down chances), but they turned the ball over three times. Andy Dalton and Co. right the ship this week. #PITvsCIN
Stevan Ridley can't be dropping the ball on the carpet for the Patriots, who are a better football team than the offensively challenged Jets. The last thing Pats coach Bill Belichick wants to do is provide Gang Green's offense with short fields. If Ridley fumbles, expect a large dose of LeGarrette Blount. On the other side, while the Patriots' secondary can be beat, the Jets don't necessarily have the receivers to threaten it ... at least not with an unproven rookie like Geno Smith throwing the ball. That's where veteran tight end Kellen Winslow (seven receptions, including one for a touchdown, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday) becomes extremely important. The thought here is that the Patriots' short passing game wins this AFC East contest. #NYJvsNE
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.