After picking the Seattle Seahawks to beat the Dallas Cowboys last week, I get a little "upset special happy" this week. I also identify Green Bay's key ingredient. But first, let's acknowledge a new star quarterback in our latest Schein Nine.
1) San Francisco's star
The San Francisco 49ers are the best team in football with the best defense in football. That's not up for discussion. Yet somehow, even as the Niners keep winning and dominating, my guy keeps getting lost in the shuffle.
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Too strong? Then you haven't been watching. Did you see him make clutch throws, survive poor officiating and endure a busted nose while beating the Detroit Lions in primetime? Did you see Smith establish connections with Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis and make big plays in the telling win against the Green Bay Packers to start the season? Do you remember how he outplayed Drew Brees and made huge plays down field in the playoff win against the New Orleans Saints?
I don't care about his yards or where he went in your fantasy draft or if he's even on a team in your league. Alex Smith has defeated Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford in three of his past four games. He was a Kyle Williams fumble away from potentially adding Eli Manning to that list. Smith has gone 216 straight passes without a pick, a franchise record in San Francisco. You might recall that Joe Montana and Steve Young played for the Niners.
(You also might have noticed Peyton Manning, the quarterback San Francisco flirted with this offseason, threw three picks on Monday night.)
"Alex Smith is our guy," Willis said. "We believe in him. He doesn't go outside the box. He exists to win. If it is best for him to throw for 300 yards, that's what he will do. If the best option is a check down, he will. He doesn't get caught up in statistics like other quarterbacks. That man has been through a lot. It is a blessing to see this. I truly admire him. Our team admires him. He loves a challenge."
Willis then gave my favorite Alex Smith quote ever when he dropped, "He has a silent but deadly swag."
The fact that Smith has swag of any kind is rather remarkable. This is the same quarterback who was publicly humiliated by the overmatched Singletary, slung through the mud and branded as a bust. For the transformation, you credit Harbaugh pumping him with confidence -- and Smith for responding. You credit Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman for being smart play callers. Smith finally has stability in his head coach, play caller and offensive system in consecutive years.
You correctly read the NFL.com Power Poll with the Niners sitting on top because of the best defense in the game. You don't worry about San Francisco overlooking the Minnesota Vikings this weekend because they take a "one game at a time" approach and have a championship feel to them. Harbaugh gets his props. So does the run game. The Niners are a potential champion, and Smith is a main reason why.
You call Smith a game manager. I call him a star who makes plays, sets the tempo and leads. The silent but deadly swag can come up and bite you. If you don't believe me, ask some of the quarterbacks with the gaudy stats who have recently lost to Smith. They'd advise you to stop overlooking him, too.
2) Upset Special I
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I'd say I don't like to toot my own horn, but that's a lie. I'll tell you when I'm wrong. I'll tell you when I'm right. I've been all over this Arizona Cardinals defense for a long time. As I wrote Tuesday, Michael Vick has been playing hot potato with the football. Kevin Kolb has gained a lot of confidence. And he wants a piece of Vick, who took his job. Give me the Cards over the Eagles.
3) Upset Special II
Last time I picked against Robert Griffin III, I did so in historically wrong fashion. This time around, it is more about questioning a Washington Redskins defense that has to start playing without Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker for the rest of the season. Andy Dalton bounced back from the Baltimore disaster. Mike Zimmer exploded on his defense to send a message for this week. Give me the Bengals over the 'Skins in D.C.
4) Upset Special III
The Tennessee Titans are not just winless, they have looked awful in this 0-2 start. Chris Johnson has been horrible. The defense has been worse. It's not hyperbole to call this game against the Detroit Lions a must-win. I think they will play like it. Chris Johnson gets going. Jake Locker and Kendall Wright make big plays in the passing attack.
5) Fits the Bill
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The Buffalo Bills showed me something about their makeup by bouncing back from the New York Jets drubbing to drop the Kansas City Chiefs. And there was nobody who impressed me more than C.J. Spiller. The Bills collapsed last season when Fred Jackson got hurt. Jackson is injured again, and Spiller vowed he would be ready. Talking to Spiller on SiriusXM, he said he spent the offseason working on improving his craft as a "North-South" runner and in pass protection. The Bills didn't miss Jackson last Sunday and won't against the Browns this week.
6) Commitment to tackling
7) 12th Man magic
I enjoyed catching up with Russell Wilson this week on SiriusXM. The Seahawks quarterback stressed that he isn't fueled by the doubters who said he couldn't start because of his height. Wilson said, "My height doesn't define my skill set." He's super comfortable in the Seahawks' offense, having played in the West Coast offense at N.C. State and in a vertical passing attack at Wisconsin. Wilson played in several fantastic environments in college, but he confessed, "There's nothing like Seattle. It's electrifying in that stadium. So strong. So powerful. It's one of a kind."
Wilson gets it. He's been solid thus far as a rookie. He's going to be entrenched as the Seahawks quarterback for a long time.
8) Green Bay's key ingredient
While I love Wilson, and the Seahawks made me look good for my upset special over Dallas last week, I do like the Packers in Seattle on Monday night.Aaron Rodgers and his offensive cohorts haven't hit their stride yet, but the Green Bay defense made major progress against Chicago with the pass rush and making plays on the back end. As I wrote in training camp, Tramon Williams is the key. The corner was an elite player the season the Packers won the Super Bowl. Last season, injuries derailed his campaign. His stellar performance on NFL Network last Thursday against Chicago was telling.
9) Survivor pick
Hope you listened to me and picked Cincinnati last week. I can't write about Alex Smith and not take the Niners in Minnesota.