Cam Newton was at it again this week in Carolina’s 38 to 0 shellacking of the Atlanta Falcons. Newton threw for 265 yards on 15/21, with three touchdown passes and zero interceptions in a performance that is starting to feel like deja vu.
The Panthers are now a head scratching 13-0. With one more win they will lock up home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Carolina is second in the NFL in both points scored and points allowed. It seems like they are dropping 30 points on everyone they face. And they are doing all of this with the likes of Tedd Ginn Jr., Jonathon Stewart and Devin Funchess in supporting roles.
The Carolina Panthers are the NFL’s version of grit and grind. Their offense relies on a heavy dose of running the ball, and a few big plays coming off of play action. Cam Netwon’s statistics don’t jump off the page, he doesn’t lead the league in passing or passing touch downs, but Superman is capable of making all of the throws as he showed off against the Falcons.
He has also mastered the forgotten art of the read option. There have been a slew of QB’s who have fallen in and out of stardom over the past few years trying to bring the read option over from the college ranks – RIP Collin Kaepernick and RG III – but Newtons ability to make accurate deep throws and take a beating have made him the perfect prototype for a read option QB in the NFL.
The constant threat of Netwon and Jonathon Stewart ripping off big runs, has made it possible for second and third rate receivers like Ginn Jr. and Jericho Cotchery to find openings down field. Ginn Jr. had touchdown catches of 74 and 46 yards in todays win.
A lot of the credit for the Panthers dominance this year has to go to their defense. They are currently second in the NFL in defensive DOA. They are stifling against the run and relish the opportunity to get to the QB. In today’s game they got to Matt Ryan five times, caused two turnovers off of fumbles and had two picks.
When you pair a great defense with an efficient offense good things can happen in the NFL. This years Carolina Panthers has the same kind of look that the 49ers/Seahawks have had as the best teams in the NFC over the past five seasons. It’s yet to be seen whether or not the Panthers have enough talent to make a championship run, but they have the right quarterback to make this team great.
Perhaps labeling all of my pick’em columns “sure to go wrong” hasn’t been the best way to instill confidence in myself. Sure it’s nice being right about something, because God knows I haven’t been right when it’s come to actually picking the games, but one has to wonder if all these pessimistic titles haven’t become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. So in an attempt to turn around this glorious train wreck of a season, from henceforth I shall start naming my pick’em posts “sure to do alright, maybe?”. It would be easy to employ the fake-it-till-you-make-it approach and call this posts, “totally baller picks that are sure to make it rain in this bitch,” but I don’t want to get sued for false advertising. Maybe when I get back to around .500 I’ll start dropping Kanye references in my subtitles.
So lets talk about some games that I’m excited to watch this weekend. I’m taking a flyer this week on the Vikings going into Detroit and beating the Lions straight up. Adrian Peterson has surprised a lot of people this year by playing as well as he has given the fact he’s less than a year removed from a torn ACL. Last week Peterson ran for 86 yards on the 49ers defense, which is like running for 150 yards against most teams in the league. When San Francisco played Detroit in week two Frank Gore averaged over five yards per carry against the Lions D, and I expect Peterson to have a breakout game of sorts this weekend. The Viking showed last week that they are able to play a conservative style well, the same kind of style that the 49ers used to beat Detroit in week two. If Minnesota can run the ball effectively and keep Megatron in check, there is no reason why they can’t pull off the upset.
The X-Factor in this game is Lions RB Mikel LeShure, who ran for 100 yards last week against the Titans. If LeShure can play well enough to draw extra defenders into the box to help against the run, all bets are off. It’s going to take more than an impressive performance against the Titans to get me on the LeShure bandwagon, but the Lions become a very interesting team if they can start getting consistent production out of their running back.
I don’t have much to say about Cardinals/Dolphins other than if Arizona can take care of business at home they will be 4-0 to start the season. Before the season started I would have guessed that the Cardinals would win somewhere between 4-6 games all year, when you add on the fact that Seattle could very well be 3-1 after this week, you have one very stumped 49ers fan. For God’s sake Seattle and Arizona have the two top scoring defenses in the league! For all of the hullabaloo about last weeks MNF game, everyone forgot to remember that the Seahawks sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times in the first half! The Cardinals look like they could have three or four pro bowlers on their defense in Daryl Washington, Darnell Docket, Calais Cambell, and Patrick Peterson. When was the last time you looked to the NFC West for dominant defensive ball clubs? I feel like at least one of these teams has to regress a little in the coming weeks, but until then it feels like –
Speaking of great defenses, did you know that Dallas has the best defense in football so far this year? Me neither! I found it out today when I was reading through Chad’s excellent post about this game for Gapers Block. For the Cowboys defense, everything starts with DeMarcus Ware, who has the ability to disrupt any offense on his own, either requiring opposing teams to double/triple team him or risk having their quarterback get destroyed. The Bears have one of the worst O-lines in football, and that’s as generous as I can be when talking about J’Marcus Webb and his merry band of matadors turned offensive lineman.Cutler has been sacked 11 times and has already thrown six interception in three games, now he is going to have to contend with one of the league’s best pass rushes and a greatly improved Cowboys secondary.
Brandon Marshall is going to spend most of this week being draped by Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, depending on whether the Cowboys want to alternate their man coverages. Cutler has targeted Marshall 31 times this year, when you compare that with 14 targets for rookie Alshon Jeffery and 14 for Earl Bennet you get a good idea of who Jay is looking for most of the time. The big question for the Bears is whether or not Matt Forte will play, and if he does, how effective will he be coming off of a high ankle sprain. As good as Michael Bush has been for Chicago, Forte is just a more versatile back who makes life a lot easier for Jay Cutler with his ability to make plays in the passing game.
I can’t wait to listen to people complain about how poor Cutlers attitude is next week after he was sacked three times, hit another five to ten times and at one point acted like he would rather be somewhere else, preferably where he wasn’t getting knocked into senility. We are a matter of days before the special kind of Bears fans start calling into Chicago sports talk radio stations to make the case for Jason Campbell starting. There are a lot of aggravating things about being an out of market fan, but not having to hear all of the sports stupid surrounding your favorite franchise on a weekly basis is truly a blessing.
Chicago has the fifth ranked scoring defense in football and have been holding opponents offenses to just 76 yards per game rushing. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when both teams are forced to throw the ball because I’m sure Tony Romo is not thrilled with playing a defense that has already racked up 11 sacks and six interceptions. This game could get very ugly, and if I was really a gambling man I’d stay far away from this one.
It’s going to be an interesting week of football. If the Patriots get upset by the Bills this week we are looking at a lot of people’s Super Bowl favorite starting the year 1-3.
Both the Falcons and Texans have a great shot at starting the season 4-0 and becoming the early favorites to win their conferences.
Can the Packers and my beloved 49ers get back on the right track after posting disappointing losses last week?
If Peyton Manning throws up a stink bomb at home against the Raiders I’m going to be officially worried about his prospects of ever being a great QB again. At what point do we have to stop lying to ourselves about Manning’s arm strength? Believe me, I don’t want to live in a world where Peyton has a 85.6 passer rating, fails to bring his team back in the final minutes two weeks in a row, and seems to be nothing more than the leagues mascot -but it appears we are living that nightmare right now.
Perhaps the most important question that will be answered this weekend is whether or not I will be able to troll my friends with this video after Chicago loses Monday night. Because the only thing better than listening to surly Bears fans is making surly Bears fans cry.
This weeks picks – home teams in caps.
Patriots -4 over BILLS
Vikings +6.5 over LIONS
FALCONS -7 over Panthers
49ers -4 over JETS
Chargers +1 over CHIEFS
TEXANS -12 over Titans
Seahawks +2.5 over RAMS
CARDINALS -6.5 over Dolphins
BRONCOS -6.5 over Raiders
Bengals -2.5 over JAGUARS
PACKERS -7.5 over Saints
BUCCANEERS -3 over Redskins
Giants +2.5 over EAGLES
COWBOYS -3.5 over Bears
Last Night: 0-Flacco pick in the redzone. Sigh.
A smart gambler would tell you that it’s not smart to pick a team that is giving more than ten points after they just played four days ago, but I’m not a smart gambler – so…
Ravens +12 over Browns
The Browns have not won a game this year, and their rookie quarter back, Brandon Weeden is going to have his hand full in Baltimore against the Ravens defense looking for a little bit of payback after the Partios hung 30 on them last week. In a perfect world for Cleveland fans, Trent Richardson has a over 100 yards rushing and Weedon doesn’t have to throw the ball a ton; but as anyone who lives in Cleveland can tell you that’s not the world we live in.
The Browns defense is 27th against the pass and 23rd against the run through three weeks. The Ravens offense this year has been dynamic, as we saw last week when they were able to score on three drives of over 80 yards. If you have anyone on the Ravens offense this week in fantasy you should probably be starting them.
I certainly wouldn’t consider this game a lock given the Ravens short rest time, but they played at home on Sunday which means they didn’t have to travel between games. Baltimore’s not the kind of team that takes games off, so unless we see a lot of bad turnovers or some horrible officiating out of the newly returned officials (Welcome back guys, I look forward to cursing at your incompetence soon!), Flacco and company should take care of business tonight.
It was inevitable. A lot will be said about what happened tonight, but you know that saying about a picture being worth a thousand words? Whoever came up with that saying didn’t have to deal with Twitter’s word count limit.
Yesterday Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was knocked unconscious from a helmet-to-helmet hit delivered by Steelers safety, Ryan Mundy. As Heyward-Bey laid on the field motionless for what seemed like an hour (play was stopped for 12 minutes) I couldn’t help but feel, if only for a few fleeting moments, like a horrible person for enjoying football as much as I do. I think everyone has that moment when they see something like that, but the moment was magnified that much more by the replacement refs not even throwing a flag on Mundy for the hit – which was clearly illegal. It seems like the two biggest storylines of the NFL this season have been player safety and the replacement refs, and the Heyward-Bey concussion was like a perfect storm for the league on a day rife with bad officiating and blows to the head.
Look. I’m sure I’m not the only one that cringes when a player goes down after a blow to the head. We all know the dangers of the game, and we are all starting to learn about the prolonged effects that blows to the head can have on a person. I accept the fact that these are grown men who are making a lot of money for taking the punishment they receive every week, but if/when I ever have kids it’s going to be hard to push football on them the same way my father pushed me to play when I was little. I loved playing football, but if I knew then what I know now I’m not sure I would have kept playing. I’m not saying that I think football needs to become something entirely different, I just hope that people become more aware of what the game actually is before they endorse the game to their children.
Now to the games.
I highly recommend anyone who wants to read about how the Vikings beat the 49ers to check out Barnwell’s recap over on Grantland. However as a 49ers fan I can’t help but add my two cents. The thing that impressed me most about the Minnesota’s win was their commitment to run the football. The Vikings ran the ball 46 times against the 49ers, which for most teams would be a losing strategy, but they were just effective enough to give Christian Ponder time to throw when they needed him to make a play. The 49ers had zero sacks yesterday, and if I’m being honest I’m starting to worry about their ability to pressure the quarterback in general. I’m starting to wonder if opposing teams are going to play the same way against Aldon Smith that teams played Clay Matthews last year in Green Bay.
On offense the 49ers turned the ball over 3 times and were 4-10 on 3rd down conversions. Frank Gore only got 12 carries, which is a shame because he was effective running the ball (he averaged 6 yards per rush), but the Vikings got an early lead and forced Alex Smith to win the game. The 49ers passing game is built off of run action, and without the threat of the run Minnesota was able to keep both safeties back and play everything underneath, much the same way the 49ers usually play defense again teams. I tip my hat to the Vikings, they had a solid game plan and executed it to perfection. Hell, the refs were even nice enough to give Jim Harbaugh two extra challenges and Frisco still couldn’t win the game.
Two teams that really impressed me last week were Atlanta and Houston, both played on the road against teams that looked to be tough opponents, and both came out with victories. The Falcons made their game against the Chargers look like child’s play. Matt Ryan threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns, one of them to the immortal Tony Gonzalez who caught 9 balls for 91 yards, and my mancrush Julio Jones caught five passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. They were able to run the ball for 4.6 yards per carry, and their defense held Phillip Rivers to 173 yards on 21 completions. San Diego doesn’t have much of a receiving corps right now, but to hold Rivers to a 4 yard average is pretty darn impressive. I’m starting to believe the hype around the Falcons, and if they can take care of business against Carolina and Washington in the next couple of weeks they will basically have the NFC South locked up.
Houston looked equally as good against the Broncos for three quarters yesterday and went into the 4th quarter with a 31-11 lead when they basically called off the dogs. The Texans got big performances out of all their usual suspects; Arian Foster ran for over 100 yards (when doesn’t he?), Andre Johnson caught a 70 yard touchdown bomb from Schaub, and JJ Watt recorded another 2.5 sacks in his bid to win this year’s defensive MVP. Who would have thought that Houston would be an even scarier pass rushing team without Mario Williams? The Texans get to play seemingly easy games against the Titans and Jets before a big time showdown at home against Green Bay in week five. That may be a game you want to circle in your NFL calendar. Just saying.
Last nights Patriots/Ravens game become the poster child for why we need to sign the real refs back. Nothing like tens of thousands of people chanting bullshit on national TV to get the attention of Roger Goodell and whoever is hiding the NFL Owners checkbook. It honestly got to a point last night when you were expecting there to be a flag or some kind of stoppage on every play, which is a shame because the game itself was lot of fun. The Patriots had a two chances to close out the Ravens in the fourth quarter and both times failed to execute, and allowed Joe Flacco to lead the Baltimore on two scoring drives in the final seven minutes. Tons of credit to Flacco who threw for 382 yards and to Torrey Smith who had 187 yards receiving with a pair of touchdowns on the day after he found out his brother had died in a motorcycle accident. I’m usually not a sentimental person when it comes to sports, but who didn’t feel good for Torrey Smith yesterday? After the game a big deal was made of Bill Belichick grabbing a referee, no doubt so he could tell the ref what a good job he and his team had done that night. I’m sure Belichick will get a hefty fine for what he did but I thought it put a tidy cap on what was a shaky week for the NFL.
Just want to remind anyone who may be reading this that I’m going to start writing about the NBA on Wednesday. It’s funny, as much as I love basketball I really haven’t written about it much on this website, I promise that will change this year. Basketball is by far and away my favorite sport, and with the move’s the Lakers have made in the offseason I am very interested to see how the first couple of months play out, especially with Dwight Howard rehabbing from his back surgery. So if you are a fan of the Association please check back here on Wednesday.
Week three is here, and it finally feels like the season is in full swing. It takes a couple of weeks in the NFL to get things sorted out, and to be honest it will take a few more before we really know who the contenders are and who was just a flash in the pan – I’m looking at you Arizona.
I’m going to to be honest about the picks I made this week, I feel less confident about them than Romney does about getting the 47 percenter vote. Every game feels like a trap game in one way or another. The Bears giving 7.5 at home after a long week to stew about their loss to the Packers? It’s not a good sign for Chicago fans that the best thing we got from Jay Cutler this season is a tumblr of Jay Cutler with a cig hanging out of his mouth. The Rams played a crazy game against RG 3 and the RG 3 band last week, which included one of the great first half fantasy performances you’ll ever see out of Danny “everyone just picked me off waivers” Ammendola, and Josh Morgan doing his best Josh Morgan impression at the end of the game costing the Skins a W. I fully expect the Rams to March into Chicago, get to Cutler early, force a bunch of interceptions and at least cover the spread.
I want to take a moment to thank the Buccaneers secondary for allowing Eli Manning to throw for over 500 yards and help get me a mostly unearned win in fantasy football, my team is pretty awful this year, and I really needed that assist. This week one would think that Tony Romo will have one of his “good” Romo performances leading to ESPN analyst arguing over whether or not he’s made “the leap” for the 1,000th time. Surely Jason Garrett will exploit the Bucs the same way New York did last week, because he is such an offensive minded genius. Am I right?
Sometimes I like to imagine that Taken 2 is really about Liam Neeson hunting down Chris Johnson for abducting his fantasy team the same way he has mine. There’s no amount of Eastern Europeans that can stand between Liam and his mission to extract revenge out of CJ2K on behalf of fantasy owners everywhere. Chris – Liam will hunt you, he will find you, and he will – give you a stern talking to. I honestly believe the Titans are the worst team in the NFL, and if the Lions are going to ever look explosive it will be this week. Ladies and gentleman this is my lock of the week, which means –
As far as some of the other games are concerned – I think the Falcons should be able to outclass the Chargers, and I refuse to believe a Norv Turner led team can start the season 3-0.
The Jets looked like the team we all expected them to be last week vs. the Steelers but I’m fairly certain they can shut down Reggie Bush and manhandle the Dolphins.
If the Texans can march into Denver and get a win I’ll start believing the hype. Peyton Manning is not going to have a lot of fun dealing with JJ Watt and company this weekend. I’m not sure I’m ready to live in a world where we have to question Peyton Manning’s skills week after week, it makes me sad.
Before I get to my picks sure to go wrong this week I just want to note that we are only 10 days away from the start of NBA Training Camps, which may not be as heralded as NFL camps, but has me all kinds of excited. You can expect some NBA coverage out of this site starting next week, as I mull over who makes my League Pass 5 for this year. More on that next Wednesday.
The Picks – Home Teams In Caps
BEARS -7.5 over Rams
COWBOYS -7 over Buccaneers
49ers -7 over VIKINGS
Lions -3.5 over TITANS
REDSKINS -3.5 over Bengals
Jets -3 over DOLPHINS
Chiefs +8.5 over SAINTS
COLTS -3 over Jaguars
CARDINALS +4 over Eagles
Falcons +3.5 over CHARGERS
Texans -2.5 over BRONCOS
Steelers -4 over RAIDERS
RAVENS -3 over Patriots
Packers -3 over SEAHAWKS
It’s a good thing I don’t rely on my NFL picks as a source of income, because I’ve really stunk it up so far this season. The only thing I have going for me this week, I’m 6-8-1 going into tonight’s Falcons/Broncos matchup, is that my two locks for this week (Ravens +2.5, Chargers -6) came through. It almost makes up for me thinking that the Jaguars would be able to stay within a touchdown of the Texans or the Cowboys could go up to Seattle and get a win. What a fool I am.
The first game I’d like to talk about in detail from yesterday’s games is the Ravens loss to the Eagles. This game was, shall we say, a little chippy. The officiating was less than superb, but if you want to read about poor officiating you can probably get your fill of that on any other football related site on the internet today. What I find confusing with this game was Baltimore’s reluctance to hand it off to Ray Rice on a consistent basis. Rice carried the ball 16 times yesterday for 99 yards, 46 of them coming on a long run in the second quarter that set up a Ravens touchdown. I understand that Baltimore wants to open up their playbook more this year to keep defenses guessing, but when you are facing a defense with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers Cromartie starting at cornerback, there’s no shame in relying on your run game to get a W.
Philly got great performances out of DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek yesterday. The two combined for 15 catches and 271 yards receiving, and seemed to make a big play for the Eagles every time they needed one. Mike Vick only threw one interception, and maybe more impressively was only sacked twice for for a loss of 14 yards. Andy Reid must have been listening to the shouting throng of angry Eagles fans because LeSean McCoy got 25 carries, and even though he only had a 3.3 yard average, the threat of the run was enough to keep Baltimore’s defense honest. It wasn’t a pretty win for Philadelphia by any means, but they all count the same in the NFL, just ask Arizona and Seattle.
I think now’s as a good a time as any to bring up my utter disgust for Chris Johnson and his 1.1 yard average through two weeks of the season. I made a big deal of trading for CJ2K in my fantasy football keeper league because I was sure that his second half numbers (he was on an 1,800 yard per 16 game pace in the final eight games of last year) would carry over to this year. Boy was I wrong. There’s an argument to be made that the Chargers defense has the potential to be stout against the run this year, they held Darren McFadden to 22 yards on 11 carries last year. It’s also not as if Jake Locker has been inspiring any fear into the hearts of his opponents, bad shoulder and all. Still, there’s no worse feeling than completely whiffing on a player in fantasy sports, especially when you make a trade for that player that helps someone else in your league win a championship. I can just imagine Chad is sitting somewhere laughing his arse off. I think I may be sick.
Back to football that actually matters, the 49ers played their special brand of football to beat the Lions 27-19 last night. I don’t mean to make this a 49ers centric blog, but you’ll have to excuse me these first couple of weeks while San Fran is actually the most relevant team in the league. For the second week in a row Jim Harbaugh designed a game plan tailored specifically to take away the opposing teams best player. The 9ers defense ran man cover 2 the entire game against Detroit, and had one of their two deep safeties shadow Calvin Johnson and every play.
Detroit tried to counter by running the ball 26 times, but San Francisco’s front seven is so dominant that they never had to bring a safety into the box to help with the run. While Megatron did end the game with 8 catches for 96 yards, the only big play he made was late in the game when he was able to get open over the middle for a 26 yard gain. Every other catch Johnson made were on underneath patterns, that led to short gains.
On offense the 9ers relied on a heavy dose of inside trap plays to keep Detroit’s hefty front four on their heels. San Fran ran the ball 27 times for 148 yards and a touchdown, and once again the run set up play-action nicely, with the key score of the game coming on a play-action bootleg pass from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis for a 23 yard touchdown.The 9ers also got a great game out of Michael Crabtree who made big catches on three consecutive third-and-long plays that were intrumental in setting up the above mentioned Davis touchdown.
The 49ers have been executing their offense to a T in the first two weeks, but I have a feeling they are going to hit some speed bumps down the road. The fact that they had to get three third-and-long catches out Crabtree in the first place is less than optimal, and I’m still not sure what their offense will look like when they are down two scores instead of up by two scores.
A few worries aside, it’s tough to find a whole lot to complain about right now in the Bay Area – unless you are a Raiders fan.