How the darts landed
Bounced back just like I told y’all we would, niftying a 12-4 record straight up last week and managing an improved 7-8-1 mark vs. the bet line. Nailed our Upset of the Week with Rams over Skins (“Aawwk!”), called Indy’s upset of Minny, and had Bucs-with-points over Giants. But erred on Dolphins, which in the rearview was a foreseeable win. Week 3 has zero double-digit spreads and 12 of the 16 at four points or fewer. [Note: Thursday pick was Panthers (+1) over Giants, 34-31].
“AAAWWWK!” booms the Upset Bird. “I’m so bleepin’ tired of hearing about Tim Tebaawwk!” I say we all join in as one Sunday, Dolfans and Jets fans alike, and start a thunderous pregame “We want Tebow!” chant. Sow the seeds of controversy and beat the rush, too. Why wait till Mark Sanchez’s first interception or fumble? This is one of seven Week 3 matchups between 1-1 teams, unexciting for that, but there is interest in this game beyond the division rivalry. It’s the return of Tony Sparano and Yeremiah Bell to face their old team. It’s the traveling Tebow soap opera. It’s the fact NYJ will be hell bent to limit Reggie Bush and force the game into Ryan Tannehill’s rookie hands — all the more daunting because Planes CB Darrelle Revis is set to return from a concussion. I can see why York is favored. But I also like Bush running against a Jets D allowing 130.5 yards and 4.8 per on the ground more than I like NYJ running against a Dolphins D that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 16 consecutive games. Forcing Sanchez to win with his arm is enough to sap confidence from any Jets fan. The opponent is nothing special. Make it a venue call. “Welcome back, Tony Sparaawwk!” adds U-Bird. “Do you still do the big fist-pump to celebrate a field goaawwk!?”
It’s a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship Game and it’s worthy of prime time again. Four other games had the GOTW committee’s eye but it’s tough to ignore a mighty home team — Ravens have won 11 in a row in the BAL — against a league power out to rebound from an embarrassing (and rare) home loss. I can’t remember the last time I picked against the Crows at home and I might regret it here if they can get Ray Rice going. But Bill Belichick is 7-1 all-time in this series for a reason, and I see England’s loss to Arizona as an aberration, not the ominous beginning of a sharp decline as some suggest. Baltimore’s defense is not as vaunted as in years past, and Tom Brady does not lose two in a row. Upset!
The Dog panel actually was deadlocked on Jags-Colts and this game as the muttiest matchup of the week. So it went to the tiebreaker: Cities Where I’d Least Like To Live. Buffalo-Cleveland? C’mon. No-brainer! Buffs have a hot runner in C.J. Spiller but otherwise this game tips Brown-ward for me. (Yes, it IS another upset pick!) Rookie QB Brandon Weeden showed signs of life last week, fellow rookie Trent Richardson legged for 109 yards, and Earthtones defense is surprisingly solid and will get to Ryan Fitzpatrick.
[Bulletin: This will NOT be an upset pick.] Erratic Jay Cutler and da Bears looked awful against Green Bay last week but should enjoy a nice home bounceback. Both teams’ top RBs are hobbled (Steven Jackson, Matt Forte). So give me the better team, at home, with a long week to prepare. Plus, Cutler has won five in a row at the Soldier. Bet line seems an iota fat, though.
After his ’Boys’ big lay-down in Seattle last week, Jerry Jones is liable to storm the field if Dallas drops this one. Bucs a safe play with the points but I’m hunching a rout by the Cows. Dallas has won four in a row in series, Tony Romo is 11-0 on TDs/picks in past three meetings with Bucs, and Tampa’s defense has done little to suggest it might start here.
If anybody can find a weakness in San Fran, let me know. It’s early, but Niners were my preseason Super Bowl pick and I’m feeling good. Alex Smith is so efficient (216 consecutive passes with no INT) and that defense is terrific. WR Randy Moss plays his longtime ex-team for the first time and should leave his former home-dome with a smile on his face.
Welcome to the Disappointment Bowl. The fact one of these winless teams is the week’s biggest point-spread favorite tells you how awful the other of these teams has been. Have a feeling the desperation will make for a very entertaining game, but, for Kansas City, N’Awlins is still a tough place to bring a defense that just isn’t playing well.
Robert Griffin III is the first rookie QB since 1969 (Greg Cook) with TD passes of 65-plus yards in both of his first two games. Long-suffering Skins fans are psyched, this is their home opener, and the place should be electric. Warning, though: the Upset Bird is hovering. D.C. has some key defensive injuries, and I’m running with that dangling half-point on the bet line.
Titans tend to play NFC teams well (14-3 run), but that’s a trend to ignore. Lions coach Jim Schwartz, a former 10-year Tennessee assistant, simply brings a clearly superior team into his old stadium. Lions have a banged-up secondary, but assuming WR Calvin Johnson plays (ankle, questionable), I doubt Motown has much problem covering a modest point spread.
Here are a couple of lower-tier teams trying to find their way forward with young quarterbacks, but there the similarities end. One of those QBs happens to be a superstar-in-the-making in Andrew Luck. The other is so-so Blaine Gabbert, about whom the best that can be said is that the jury is out. Give me Luck any day. Especially this Sunday, at home.
Bird Bowl is an interesting matchup, with ’Zona trying to jump out to 3-0 for first time in 25 seasons in the desert, and Philly the first team ever to start 2-0 with two 1-point wins. Eagles also are first team since 1983 to be 2-0 despite nine turnovers. Arizona has become credible — 9-2 run since last midseason — but I don’t see Cards and Kevin Kolb (facing his ex-team) with enough punch to get past Philly’s big D.
Diego hasn’t been 3-0 since 2002 but has a great chance to get there in this one. I think Atlanta is a better all-round team, but Falcons are making a long trip on a short week, which disproportionately favors the home team. I’ll ride that factor, but I’m unsure enough that I’ll hedge my bet by taking ATL with the points. Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers could make it a shootout.
Always a risk betting against Peyton Manning at home getting points, but I’d do it. Houston’s great defense will hassle Manning, flush him out, annoy him and, yes, tip a pass or three. On the other side, Matt Schaub is 10-1 on TDs/picks in his past six road games. Bonus note: Texans coach Gary Kubiak spent 20 years as Broncos player (9) or assistant (11).
Both teams are struggling to run, so give me Ben Roethlisberger over Carson Palmer (please), and give me Pittsburgh’s defense over the Oakland D that made Miami look like a juggernaut and turned Reggie Bush into Barry Sanders. Raiders are desperate and home before their goony fans, but better team trumps intangibles almost every time.
MNF has a good one, with both teams coming off very impressive wins, Pack over Chicago and ’Hawks routing Dallas. Seattle is a strong home team with another big upset shot. Seabirds have a tough secondary and Gee Bees’ D is big on sacking, meaning both QBs will be under pressure. No offense, rookie Russell Wilson, but make mine Aaron Rodgers.