Posts Tagged ‘record’

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Many times, it takes a breakout performer to complete the turnaround every team dreams of. (Photo credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Back in August before the season kicked off, I took a look at one of the most interesting recent trends in the NFL. It’s a trend that certainly plays a part in making the NFL the most engaging sport year after year and it’s repetitive as hell:

In eight of the past nine seasons, at least one team with four wins or less made it to the playoffs the very next season.

In short, it’s the epic turnaround. A terrible team turned great in the span of one offseason. We love these comeback stories whenever they occur and the best part is, it happens all the time. Only one time in nine seasons did this remarkable trend fail to repeat itself and that happened to be last year (2014-15 season). That made this past season all the more interesting: will the trend get back on track?

You bet it did.

The “terrible” teams from 2014 were the Jets, Jaguars, Raiders, Titans, Buccaneers, and Redskins. In the preseason, it was seriously hard to imagine any of these teams playing past December. The Titans and Bucs were just starting to rebuild with rookie QBs, the Jets and Redskins seemed to lack legitimate “playoff talent,” and the Jags and Raiders were just so bad for so long that we were getting used to it. As you know by now, the team that extended the trend to nine out of ten years was the Washington Redskins.

Washington took advantage of an awful division to clinch a playoff spot as NFC East champs. They only went 9-7, but that’s a 5-win improvement from their 2014 campaign. Kirk Cousins will be the person most people credit for this jump and rightfully so. Cousins had a breakout year, throwing a touchdown in every single game this season (playoffs included) and ending the year with a top-5 passer rating (101.6). The defense should get a little credit, too, for allowing about 3.7 less points per game this season. That may not seem like much, but it can make the difference in a division where everyone is racing to finish 8-8.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Raiders, Bucs, or Jets coming pretty close to joining the Redskins. The Raiders and Bucs were in the thick of their conference’s respective wildcard races with about four weeks to go, but fell apart in the end. The Jets, on the other hand, were just a single win away. The cutthroat nature of the wildcard race didn’t let them get away with a loss in Week 17 and we saw the Steelers squeak in instead.

So, the trend lives! The Redskins were the chosen team. This, of course, now raises the question, “Who are our cellar dwellers in 2015?” Knowing how strong this trend is, can we pick a bad team to tab early and look smart when they miraculously make the playoffs? If we do, it’ll be one of only four teams that finished 4-12 or worse: Browns, Titans, Chargers, and Cowboys. Dallas is the obvious choice here, as they were playoff-hopefuls last year before Tony Romo was sidelined for the season with an injury. Unfortunately, this isn’t too exciting of a choice. The trend almost seems destined to repeat itself now. However, if you want to take a more ballsy approach, the Browns are a team nobody will be looking at. Could Cleveland be the team that shocks us all? According to the trend, they have a 25% shot right off the bat. For a city that hasn’t seen its football team make the playoffs since 2002, that’s hope.

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Andrew Luck look poised to take the Colts to the playoffs in 2015. Instead, they fell into an 0-2 hole and couldn’t find their way back. (Photo credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Waayyyy back in late September I took a look at a trend involving 0-2 teams and the playoffs. It’s probably the most repeated stat after two weeks of football, but in case you forgot, the rule is basically this: historically, around only 12% of teams that start 0-2 end up making the playoffs.

This year, we had a staggering nine teams drop their first two games. According to the rule, only one of these teams (1/9 = 11%) would end up making the playoffs. This was hard to believe at the time given some of the heavy-hitters in the group (Ravens, Colts, Seahawks, etc.). Now that the season has come to an end, we can take a look back and answer the golden question:

Did the rule hold up?

I’ll make this simple. Below are the teams that started 0-2 and then whether or not they later clinched a playoff spot:

Detroit Lions? No

New York Giants? No

Philadelphia Eagles? No

Indianapolis Colts? No

Chicago Bears? No

Baltimore Ravens? No

New Orleans Saints? No

Seattle Seahawks? Yes

Houston Texans? Yes

So did the rule hold up? No! Not exactly, anyways.

It held up in the sense that at least one of these teams would still make the playoffs, but if going to be strict with that 12% figure, then no, the rule did not hold up. Two teams (22%) managed to find their way into the postseason, showing us that an 0-2 start is not quite as deep a hole as we thought. Or maybe it tells us that the more 0-2 teams there are, the better chance there is of multiple teams making it out alive (duh). We hardly ever see nine teams start this poorly and it’ll be interesting to see how many of these teams we’re left with next season. If it’s around the number we’re used to seeing (5-7), then I don’t expect more than one team to get so lucky.

It’s worth noting that six of the remaining seven teams on that list finished with losing records, the lone exception being the Colts at 8-8. The dreaded 0-2 start may not be a death sentence, but it still remains an ominous indication of where your season is headed. Super Bowl hopefuls Baltimore and Indianapolis learned that the hard way this season. Who will fall victim to the 12% rule next? See you in eight months.

Well this isn’t what I expected. Despite 27 wins between them, 21 of which came without a loss (7-0 and 14-0), the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers were two teams I refused to buy into. Now they play for the Super Bowl.

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Peyton Manning reminded us his window is closing, not closed. (Photo credit: ESPN.com)

Denver rattled off seven straight to begin the 2015 season. Seems like a good barometer for success, but something felt off. Five of those wins were within one score and they came against relatively weak competition. They scraped by against the Ravens (5-11) and Browns (3-13), just two of many games that highlighted their struggles on offense. The defense, however, could not be ignored. They allowed under 20 points in all but one of those first seven games, forcing turnovers and absolutely punishing QBs. The defense really shined in Week 8 in a highly anticipated matchup with the high-flying Packers. In a game most–including me–expected to see Denver’s struggles catch up to them, the Broncos made a statement. They crushed Green Bay 29-10 and gained a lot of respect.

Then, things started to fall off the rails. A struggling Peyton Manning got injured, setting the scene for what would be a rocky second half of the season. Brock Osweiler filled in nicely for Peyton, going 5-3 in his eight starts, including impressive wins over the Pats and Bengals. Still, it was the defense that shined in the wins. When the defense stumbled and allowed 27 to Indy, 29 to KC, and 34 to Pitt, Denver didn’t have an answer. The offense couldn’t generate enough points to make up for any major lapses on the other side of the ball. A team that one-dimensional was hard to believe in. To their credit, the defense has shown up in the postseason and a healthy Peyton has backed them up with two decent performances. It’s strange; Denver’s problems haven’t gone away, they’ve just been able to overcome them enough to make it further than I ever would’ve thought.

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Before the season, I would’ve said a Super Bowl run for Carolina would require an MVP performance. With limited offensive weapons, Cam Newton has delivered just that. (Photo credit: ESPN.com)

My reluctance to accept Carolina into my life began well before the season started. How could I believe in a team that went 7-8-1 last season, especially after losing their star wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin? Gotta admit, I had no hope for this team. I had them going 6-10 and placing last in their division. Seven consecutive wins later, I still wasn’t convinced. Much like Denver’s hot streak, the wins were hardly dominant. One score wins over the Saints, Texans, and Colts had to be indicative of a future letdown. Seven games and seven wins later, the letdown finally came. A 20-13 loss to the Falcons finally showed the world the real Panthers.

If only.

By that time, it was clear. Carolina was a great team. A fantastic team. But a Super Bowl caliber team? My mind still couldn’t accept it. I had a red-hot Seahawks team finally exposing them in the second round of the playoffs. Instead, it was more of the same from Carolina. A vicious beatdown of both the Seahawks and Cardinals will surely have the Panthers opening as Super Bowl favorites. At 17-1 and all smiles, the Panthers cannot be ignored. It’s strange to say considering my preseason expectations, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see this Panthers team complete a near-perfect season with a Super Bowl victory.

I was wrong about these teams. All that remains to be seen is who I was more wrong about.

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Green Bay used to be the team to beat. Now they’re being beat and will have to fight for a division that looked locked up. Photo credit: ESPN.com

One of my favorite things about every NFL season is how we form a framework of the league in our heads, using what we watch and our own preconceptions to position teams. Power rankings are a perfect example of this. The standings reflect wins and losses, but power rankings try to explain who these teams really are based on what we’ve seen. Nobody in the history of the league has ever agreed on one Power Ranking list. Our frameworks are all different and they change all the time.

My absolute favorite part about all this is how soon these beliefs become deeply entrenched. After just five weeks, we think we know who these teams are. Sometimes we’re right and sometimes we’re wrong. I wish we had the ability to show our Week 5 selves what we’re saying now. Take, for example, the conversation I overheard today between a couple of guys about the Green Bay Packers:

“How about the Packers? Wow.”

“Yeah they’re awful now. No chance against Minnesota.”

Imagine telling that to somebody after Week 5! Green Bay was arguably the best team in the league at that point and looked poised to meet the Patriots in the Super Bowl after cruising to a 13-3 regular season. Now they’re “awful.” Now, that’s obviously a bit of an overreaction but it still illustrates how quick things can change. That may sound obvious, but just think about how confident you are in some teams right now. What if I told you the division-leading Vikings would miss the playoffs completely? Last year, the 7-2 NFC East leading Eagles were in the same position and ended up falling short of the postseason.

The season moves so fast and we’re unable to appreciate some of the trends and changes that form the league. Here at the start of Week 11, I think this is a good place to take a quick look back at where we were in Week 5 and then see where we might be in Week 17.

Seven weeks ago…

Real Clear Sports does a good job of gathering all the different Power Rankings from major sports sites and creating an aggregate list. This smooths out some outliers and gives us a good idea of what the public generally thinks of the league. Click here if you want to view the full Week 5 rankings yourself. Some things I noticed:

To me, the Patriots and Packers were clearly the two top dogs. They were hardly the only undefeated teams–there were six–but they were dominating opponents consistently, had two of the best QBs in the league, and performed as elite teams consistently throughout the decade. We were used to these guys being on top and they were on top again.

With Green Bay dropping three straight and relinquishing their division lead to the Vikings, who are the top dogs now? New England sure seems to have a stranglehold on the league’s top spot. While I’d agree that Carolina owns that second spot, I don’t think they’ve quite yet reached the caliber that Green Bay and New England appeared to have in those opening weeks. Green Bay is still a solid team, but their recent tumble has left the Patriots all alone.

On the other side of things, you may remember a few teams getting off to rocky starts. Chicago dropped three straight to begin the season on the way to 2-3. They were getting blown out in their losses and Cutler even got knocked out in the second week to make things look really grim. But pay attention to who some teams lose to because it could tell us something. Chicago lost to the Packers (6-3), Cards (7-2), and Seahawks (4-5), a pretty tough opening slate if you ask me. Against some easier competition, the Bears have figured some things out and have an outside shot at the playoffs at 4-5.

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All looked lost when Jamaal Charles went down for the year. Instead, Kansas City has won three straight and put themselves in contention for a playoff spot. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Minnesota and Kansas City are a couple teams in a similar position. They started slow (Vikings 2-2, Chiefs 1-4), but have strung together some wins to put themselves in contention. Minnesota is obviously in much better shape, now atop the NFC North at 7-2. But the Chiefs are quietly competing in that large pack of AFC teams gunning for a wildcard spot. They looked dreadful to start the season, but now sit at 4-5, a game out of that sixth spot.

It’s important to note that despite all these changes, most things have remained the same. Carolina, Cincy, and Arizona are still flying high while Seattle and Indy are surprisingly struggling. The NFC East was thrown into chaos with early injuries to Romo and Dez and somehow it seems like we’re dealing with even more questions today. We can expect a lot to stay the same in the next seven weeks of the season, but what has the potential to flip the script?

Seven weeks from now…

It’s all about playoffs. Seven weeks from now will be Week 17, right on the brink of deciding the final playoff spots.

Are five of the six NFC spots pretty much decided? Arizona (1) and Carolina (2) look to be well on their way to division titles, while Minnesota (3) and Green Bay (4) look to have the NFC North and first wildcard spot locked up. Atlanta (5) is two games ahead of any other NFC team for that final wildcard spot. They’ve struggled lately, but still look far more promising than the other NFC wildcard contenders. That leaves the last spot to be decided by how the NFC East shakes out. The teams in that division are so dysfunctional, there’s plenty of people suggesting that the return of Romo can propel the Cowboys to run the table and steal the division. They’re 2-7 right now and would be the first of their kind to ever clinch a playoff spot. Could we see a major change in that division? Will two teams emerge in a couple weeks or will it remain the jumble it is now by Week 17? Also, don’t count Atlanta in quite yet. I’m interested to see how Seattle competes down the stretch. They had a great second half in 2014 and another good run could launch them right back into the playoffs despite their 4-5 start. They are certainly capable of stringing together some wins.

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I’m personally most interested in the Arizona-Seattle dynamic. Has Arizona officially replaced Seattle or are we just being tricked? Photo credit: ESPN.com

In the AFC, there’s a major win equality crisis. Three teams (Cincy, Denver, New England), own 90% of the conference’s wins while the rest share the remaining 10%. Ok so it’s not quite that bad, but those teams look to have their division just about wrapped up. The fourth division, the AFC South, is in flux much like the NFCE is. The Colts, Texans, and Jags are all right there at four wins. The last two wildcard spots are where things get messy. The Steelers and Bills own them for now, but expect that to change with every passing week. There’s a pack of six other teams just one game out of that sixth spot. I’m really interested to see how this race shakes out. I expect three or four teams will remain afloat long enough to have a shot in their final game. The question is, who will it be? Keep an eye on Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Kansas City.

Every week we see a little bit more and adjust our image of the league. The playoffs are great, but try and appreciate these next few weeks of football. The race is heating up and we’re in for the best part of the NFL. Anything can change.

Are the Seahawks in trouble? No. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Are the Seahawks in trouble? No.       Photo credit: ESPN.com

I hope you’ve recovered from an insane Week 5 because we are in for a fantastic slate of games in Week 6. Vegas has placed nine games with betting lines of four points or less. We’ve got undefeated teams on the road, new coaches looking for a good start, division rivalries being settled, and heavy underdogs just waiting to pull off a shocker. With Atlanta being the latest unbeaten to fall on Thursday night, will more follow? I deliver a 4-0 squad its first loss in my Cold Hard Lock and in my Upset Pick another unbeaten is stunned on the road.

My picks are below (HOME team in CAPS):

Last week: 10-4       Overall: 53-24

Cold Hard Lock: 4-1       Upset pick: 4-1

Falcons over SAINTS (TNF)

Bengals over BILLS

BROWNS over Broncos

LIONS over Bears

JAGUARS over Texans

VIKINGS over Chiefs

Dolphins over TITANS

Redskins over JETS

Cardinals over STEELERS

SEAHAWKS over Panthers

Ravens over NINERS

PACKERS over Chargers

Patriots over COLTS (SNF)

EAGLES over Giants (MNF)

Cold Hard Lock: SEAHAWKS over Panthers; An undefeated team as the loser in the lock? If you’re playing in Seattle, you better believe it. The Seahawks have won nine of their last 10 at home and if you’ve seen them play there, you know why. Russell Wilson is even more effective and the defense gets ultra physical in front of the home fans. They’re coming off a huge letdown in Cincinnati, they’re at home, and they’re playing a division rival who they’re used to beating up. Seattle has to get back on track over Carolina in CenturyLink.

Can Cleveland extend their win streak to two games? Photo credit: ESPN.com

Can Cleveland extend their win streak to two games? Photo credit: ESPN.com

Upset Pick: BROWNS over Broncos; I can’t lie, taking Cleveland in the upset doesn’t sit well in my stomach. Heck, taking Cleveland to win doesn’t sit right with me in general. But I keep watching Denver, week after week after week, barely survive on the back of their defense. They’ve escaped nearly every game over unimpressive opponents including the Ravens (1-4), Chiefs (1-4), and Raiders (2-3). I just have to believe that one of these teams will finally get it done. Now Cleveland doesn’t exactly blow those other teams out of the water, but I do think they are better than they get credit for. Josh McCown was a laughing stock in Week 1 after his helicopter fumble, but he’s been amazing these past two weeks (70% completion/ 4 TDS/ 1203 yards). As long as Cleveland’s defense can manage a struggling Peyton Manning, McCown shouldn’t need to generate a ton of points to win this one. The key for Cleveland’s offense is to avoid that huge mistake that Denver thrives on. Denver’s top-ranked defense leads the league in takeaways (14), so take that away from them (heh) and a win at home is a real possibility.

Game of the Week: New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles; To round off a crazy week will be another chapter of the classic New York-Philly rivalry. Of all eight divisions, the NFC East is probably the one that is most up for grabs, making these divisional matchups that much more important. The Giants are on a three game winning streak after losing their first two. Sound familiar? That’s because the same thing happened last year as well as 2007. In both years, the Giants played their sixth game in primetime. Same story, different endings. Last year, the Giants lost to the Eagles on Sunday night and went on to drop their next six. In 2007, the Giants crushed the Falcons on Monday night and went on to stun the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Which fate are we in for in 2015? Another six-game losing streak or winners of Super Bowl 50? Or maybe a completely different result altogether because this is a different year and a different team? Either way, we’ll get the start of our answer when they play the frustratingly inconsistent Eagles. Many have been ready to pull the plug on Chip Kelly’s wacky experiment but then he pulls out an impressive win right before they can. After looking pitiful on offense in their first two games, Philly has seemed to progress a little each week and exploded in a victory over the Saints last week, scoring 39 points on over 500 total yards. Have they found the recipe for rolling to an NFC East title? They’ll have to get through the 3-2 Giants first. It’s one of the best rivalries in football and it all unfolds this Monday night.

Make no mistake, these Bengals are good. Just how good will be revealed in their matchup with the Seahawks. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Make no mistake, these Bengals are good. Just how good will be revealed in their matchup with the Seahawks. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Through four weeks, six teams remain unbeaten. Five of those teams are in action this week and those are the games I’ll be keeping an eye on. Both the Falcons and Packers are poised to continue their hot streaks at home against teams with 2+ losses. The Pats originally had what appeared to be a fantastic matchup in Dallas, but are now heavy favorites over the injury-riddled Cowboys. Denver faces division-rival Oakland, a team that is 2-2 but has looked much better than last year. Can Denver’s suffocating defense carry them to their fifth straight win? Finally, in my Game of the Week, the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals will host the Seattle Seahawks. More about that and the other games in the segments below. Can all of these teams remain perfect? In Week 5, I’ll be watching the unbeaten five.

My picks are below (HOME team in CAPS):

Last week: 11-4       Overall: 43-20

Cold Hard Lock: 3-1       Upset pick: 3-1

Colts over TEXANS (TNF)

CHIEFS over Bears

Seahawks over BENGALS

FALCONS over Redskins

Jaguars over BUCS

EAGLES over Saints

RAVENS over Browns

PACKERS over Browns

Bills over TITANS

Cardinals over LIONS

Patriots over COWBOYS

Broncos over RAIDERS

GIANTS over Niners (SNF)

Steelers over CHARGERS (MNF)

Cold Hard Lock: Cardinals over LIONS; It may seem obvious to lock the 0-4 Lions losing to an elite NFC team, but Arizona is only a 3-point favorite in this one. To me, this has the potential to be an ugly blowout. I could go on and on with stats showing how the Cardinals look better in every phase of the game, but just watching these two teams play has shown me enough to know that Arizona can handle this one. Other than the Rams last week, the Cards have been trouncing every opponent. I’m taking Arizona to blow that 3-point betting line out of the water and pick up their fourth win over the Lions.

With Big Ben out, the pressure now lies on Le'Veon Bell's legs to deliver wins. Photo credit: ESPN.com

With Big Ben out, the pressure now lies on Le’Veon Bell’s legs to deliver wins. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Upset Pick: STEELERS over Chargers; Everyone loved this Steelers team just a couple weeks ago. Now, after Big Ben gets taken out and they lose one close game with Vick, everyone is ready to bail? Pittsburgh still has solid players that can win. Since his return, Le’Veon Bell has rushed for nearly 200 yards. Guess who’s bad at stopping the run? I’ll spare you the time and tell you it’s the San Diego Chargers. They’ve allowed 100+ rushing yards in three straight games and you better believe Bell is poised for another huge night. With a fantastic running back and a QB that completed 73% of his passes in his 2015 debut, I’ll take Pittsburgh in the upset.

Game of the Week: Seattle Seahawks at Cincinnati Bengals; Choosing this matchup as Game of the Week was a no-brainer. Cincinnati is 4-0 and everybody loves them. This is a team with no apparent weaknesses through four weeks. Andy Dalton, largely thought to be Cincy’s trouble spot, has been playing better than ever. His 123 passer rating is 2nd in the league behind Aaron Rodgers. They have two punishing running backs in Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill. And don’t forget about the defense that is allowing an average of under 20 points. This team appears to have it all. Now, they get their first real test as one of the best defenses in the NFL will be coming to town. Seattle hasn’t lived up to expectations, dropping their first two and barely surviving Detroit at home, but everyone knows just how good Seattle can be in a huge spot. Cincinnati has been picked on a lot for not showing up in big games (primetime, playoffs, etc.) and a matchup with the Super Bowl runner-ups has all the makings of a big one. Can Cincy handle the pressure? I can’t wait to see how they stack up against Seattle.

The NFC East is there for the taking. Can Washington beat the Eagles to the punch? Photo credit: ESPN.com

The NFC East is there for the taking. Can Washington beat the Eagles to the punch? Photo credit: ESPN.com

There are some weeks where underdogs rule, like in Week 2 when the favorites went 7-9. Then there are others where logic reigns, like last week (favorites 12-4). On the surface, Week 4 looks a lot more oriented towards the latter type, though isn’t that what sets up a bunch of upsets? There’s quite a few lopsided lines this week, so I couldn’t pull the trigger on most of the upsets. Can the 1-2 Texans really upend the undefeated Falcons? Can the Niners stop Aaron Rodgers? Could Detroit shock the Hawks in Seattle? Something tells me favorites will rule again this week, but beware of the shocking upset that always seems to happen in October. Only one game features two teams with a winning record, so naturally that’s my Game of the Week.

My picks are below (HOME team in CAPS):

Last week: 13-3       Overall: 32-16

Cold Hard Lock: 3-0       Upset pick: 2-1

Ravens over STEELERS (TNF)

Jets over Dolphins (London)

BILLS over Giants

Panthers over BUCS

Raiders over BEARS

BENGALS over Chiefs

FALCONS over Texans

COLTS over Jaguars

REDSKINS over Eagles

CHARGERS over Browns

BRONCOS over Vikings

Packers over NINERS

CARDINALS over Rams

Cowboys over SAINTS (SNF)

SEAHAWKS over Lions (MNF)

Cold Hard Lock: Cowboys over SAINTS; Dallas is actually a three-point underdog in this one, so that should show you how confident I am that the Cowboys will take it. Even without Romo, Dez, and many others, Dallas is far and away the more complete team of these two. And even with Brees likely starting (as of this post), the Saints are plagued with issues and are just miserable at home recently, losing six straight in the Big Easy. Dallas was able to hang 28 in one half last week without Romo and I see them doing something similar this Sunday night. I’ll take the Cowboys as my lock in what should be an ugly game.

Upset Pick: REDSKINS over Eagles; In Week 2, Washington looked about as good as they have in years in their win over the Rams. Matt Jones and Alfred Morris combined for over 180 yards rushing, Kirk Cousins had just four incompletions, and the defense held St. Louis to 2 for 12 on third-down conversions. It was a complete and dominate win over a decent team. Now, here we are just two weeks later, and Washington is a home underdog to the Eagles? A team that looked so good a couple weeks ago should be able to handle a 1-2 team that they play twice a year. I’ll take Washington to “upset” Philly in a game that should probably have an even line.

It's clear Peyton doesn't look the same, but Denver is still winning. So does it matter? Photo credit: ESPN.com

It’s clear Peyton doesn’t look the same, but Denver is still winning. So does it matter? Photo credit: ESPN.com

Game of the Week: Minnesota Vikings at Denver Broncos; In a slate with more than a few lopsided games, this game is a diamond in the rough. At first glance, this may not seem like a super intriguing game but I’m really interested in these two confusing teams. Minnesota was, and still is, a team many expected to take a leap this year. Teddy Bridgewater showed promise in his rookie season and the return of Adrian Peterson was expected to help his progress along this season. A loss to the Niners in their opener sent the Vikes back to reality, but they’ve quietly bounced back to 2-1. Bridgewater, however, is showing some early struggles. His best game was in Week 2 when he only had 153 yards and a touchdown. It’s been really hard to tell how good this team actually is with Bridgewater struggling but Minnesota winning. In a similar situation is the Denver Broncos, who have a rapidly aging Peyton Manning. Manning, like Bridgewater, hasn’t looked spectacular but Denver is 3-0 behind some fantastic defensive performances. These are two teams I just need more games to figure out and they play each other in Week 4, so don’t miss what could be a competitive game.

Can the high-flying Jets extend their record to 3-0? Photo credit: ESPN.com

Can the high-flying Jets extend their record to 3-0? Photo credit: ESPN.com

Week 2 lived up to its reputation as a wild week, with the Jaguars, Raiders, Bucs, and Jets all pulling off impressive upsets. Beware of falling in love with certain teams after just two games, as these early looks can be deceiving. Week 3 has a nasty habit of “re-calibrating” our expectations to more sensible levels. That being said, which surprising 2-0 teams (Panthers, Jets, etc.) will continue to find the win column and perhaps more importantly, which 0-2 teams will continue to slide? If you thought an 0-2 start was bad for playoff prospects, consider that only three 0-3 teams in the history of the NFL have reached the postseason. Seattle, Indy, and Baltimore all sit on the edge of the fatal 0-3 start. My picks are below (HOME team in CAPS):

Last week: 8-8       Overall: 19-13

Cold Hard Lock: 2-0       Upset pick: 1-1

GIANTS over Redskins (TNF)

COWBOYS over Falcons

Colts over TITANS

Raiders over BROWNS

RAVENS over Bengals

PATRIOTS over Jaguars

PANTHERS over Saints

Eagles over JETS

TEXANS over Bucs

Chargers over VIKINGS

Steelers over RAMS

CARDINALS over 49ers

Bills over DOLPHINS

SEAHAWKS over Bears

Broncos over LIONS (SNF)

PACKERS over Chiefs (MNF)

Cold Hard Lock: Colts over TITANS; Even at 0-2, I just can’t picture an Andrew Luck-led Colts team losing to the Titans. I have to believe that–against a much easier defense–this will be the game the Colts seem to figure things out. Marcus Mariota has the potential to do damage against the Colts’ secondary, but it will be no match for the way I expect Luck to perform in such an important game.

Upset Pick: Eagles over JETS; If we had to pick this game before the season, Philly would have been an easy choice for most people. Now after just two short weeks we’re all ready to jump on the Jets’ bandwagon? I’ve seen how well New York has played so far and how abysmal Philly looks, but this is still the Jets we’re talking about. Let’s not go crazy after just two weeks. This has the makings of the letdown game we’ve come to expect. Philly will fix some of their issues on offense and edge out a banged-up Jets squad.

Baltimore is the perfect example of how quickly a team's season can be pushed to the brink. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Baltimore is the perfect example of how quickly a team’s season can be pushed to the brink. Photo credit: ESPN.com

Game of the Week: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens; Earlier in the week I talked about how the Ravens are competing with the Seahawks and Colts, among others, to be that one 0-2 team that can still clinch a playoff spot. If this popular Super Bowl pick wants to be that team, it has to start with a win on Sunday over the 2-0 Bengals. Cincy looks pretty great so far and that’s a little strange. Andy Dalton is spreading the ball out among his offensive weapons, avoiding big mistakes, and taking some pressure off the defense to carry the team. Are they really this good? Either way, they have a chance to sink their division rival early in the season but will have to do it on the road. Something’s gotta give–will Ravens get back on track in their home city or will Cincy drown Baltimore’s AFC North hopes?

Aaron Rodgers hopes a change of scenery will change the outcome against Seattle. Photo credit: Fansided.com

Aaron Rodgers hopes a change of scenery will change the outcome against Seattle. Photo credit: Fansided.com

Despite a couple so-so performances, Denver is the first team to 2-0 after their bizarre win over the Chiefs on Thursday. Fourteen other teams have the chance to join Denver at two wins, including the Titans, Jets, and Rams. Be wary of hot performances in Week 1 giving us the wrong impression. The Titans and Bills in particular may be in for a dose of reality. Having said that, Week 2 almost always leaves us with with a few surprise teams. Important stat to remember: only around 12% of teams that start 0-2 make the playoffs. My picks are below (HOME team in CAPS):

Last week: 11-5      Cold Hard Lock: 1-0       Upset pick: 1-0

Broncos over CHIEFS (TNF)

PANTHERS over Texans

STEELERS over Niners

SAINTS over Bucs

Lions over VIKINGS

BEARS over Cardinals

Patriots over BILLS

BENGALS over Chargers

BROWNS over Titans

Falcons over GIANTS

Rams over REDSKINS

Dolphins over JAGUARS

Ravens over RAIDERS

Cowboys over EAGLES

Seahawks over PACKERS (SNF)

COLTS over Jets (MNF)

Cold Hard Lock: BENGALS over Chargers; Not much logic to back this up, but I just have a feeling that Cincinnati will start the season well. They looked really solid in their opener against the Raiders and now they host the Chargers, a team I just can’t get crazy about. The Bengals have a pretty complete team. They don’t usually allow an absurd amount of points, they protect the QB, and they have an aggressive running attack. The only place they’re lacking is at QB and Andy Dalton is still pretty decent in the regular season. I see Dalton having another strong showing and leading Cincy to 2-0.

Upset Pick: BEARS over Cardinals; Carson Palmer is rolling for the Cardinals. He’s 14-2 in his last 16 starts, which is absurd. Arizona started the season off with a home win over the Saints and faces a lesser opponent on the road. To me, it sounds like a recipe for disaster. When everyone loves the overachieving team on the road against a half-decent team, go the other way. The Bears may be trending down but they still have some bright spots. Even approaching the big 3-0, Matt Forte is still a fantastic running back that can open up the passing game for a competent Jay Cutler. It should come down to how Chicago manages a red-hot Palmer and something tells me he’ll be a bit easier to deal with than Aaron Rodgers. Chicago managed to stay in the game against Green Bay last week and I think they steal a win this week.

Game of the Week: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers; Although I try to avoid picking the same teams for Game of the Week (Sea/Stl was GOTW last week), the storylines here are just too good to resist. The last time we saw these two teams, Green Bay was practically printing their NFC Championship shirts before a devastating meltdown in Seattle. In Week 1 of that same season, the Pack fell to the Seahawks–in Seattle, again–by a much larger margin. This time, Green Bay has Seattle right where they want them. They get them at home and unlike in the NFC Championship, Aaron Rodgers is healthy. To add even more intrigue, Seattle started 0-1 after falling to the Rams. Facing an angry Packers squad, Seattle will try to avoid falling to the infamous record that forces 88% of teams to miss the playoffs. The cherry on top? All of this will go down in primetime on Sunday night.

What insanity does the new season hold? Week 1 will give us our first look. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

What insanity does the new season hold? Week 1 will give us our first look. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Well it’s not Friday, but tradition is tradition so I’m keeping the title. It’s time to kick off the new season with some weekly picks! We know the deal by now; the season is unpredictable, we’re really excited, and everyone else’s Super Bowl pick is wrong. So let’s just get right into it. My picks are below (HOME team in CAPS):

Last year’s results: Overall- 174-81  Cold Hard Lock- 9-7  Upset Pick- 12-5

Patriots over Steelers (you’ll have to trust me that I pick the Thursday game beforehand)

Packers over Bears

Chiefs over Texans

Jets over Browns

Bills over Colts

Dolphins over Redskins

Panthers over Jaguars

Seahawks over Rams

Cardinals over Saints

Chargers over Lions

Bucs over Titans

Bengals over Raiders

Ravens over Broncos

Cowboys over Giants (SNF)

Eagles over Falcons (MNF)

Vikings over 49ers (MNF)

Cold Hard Lock: JETS over Browns; The Browns haven’t won a season opener since 2004 (1-15 all time), but that’s not why I’m going with the Jets (though it doesn’t hurt). I love the Jets in this spot. They’re starting a decent veteran in Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB, further improving their defense with the return of Revis, and playing at home against a beatable team. New York has the potential to quiet a lot of critics this year and if they do, it’ll start with a solid win in their home opener.

Upset Pick: BILLS over Colts; Indianapolis is expected to have one of the most prolific offenses this year and it’s no secret why. Andrew Luck (an early MVP favorite) gets to throw to T.Y. Hilton and Andre Johnson, as well as hand the ball off to Frank Gore. Unfortunately they’ll have to break it in against one of the best defenses in the NFL. With the crowd behind them, I think Buffalo can sneak a win out of this one by keeping Luck’s damage at bay. The deciding factor will be how Tyrod Taylor does in his first real NFL start. If he plays it relatively safe and avoids handing great field position to Luck, I think Taylor can help upset the Colts.

If St. Louis wants to take a step forward this season, the defense will have to live up to the hype. Photo credit: Foxsports.com

If St. Louis wants to take a step forward this season, the defense will have to live up to the hype. Photo credit: Foxsports.com

Game of the Week: Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams; It’s important to note here–and for the rest of the season–that Game of the Week isn’t always a game that I think will be close. I say that because while this game intrigues me more than any other, I realize the potential Seattle has to blow games open. Even so, this game has a lot to watch for. Most notably, the Rams will be debuting new QB Nick Foles from the Eagles. In recent years it appeared that Sam Bradford was the Rams’ longterm option at QB, injuries be damned. St. Louis finally decided they wanted a more stable option leading their offense and this game will be our first look to see if they’ve found one. St. Louis will also be fielding a potential top-5 defense, including what many think will be the best pass rush in the NFL. Last year at home, the Rams were able to stun the Seahawks 28-26. I bet a good number of those Seattle players haven’t forgotten about that one and really want to start the season with a statement win over a division rival. Two fantastic defenses could give us a great game that some may not see coming.