Last week’s 4-12 record against the spread was the worst mark in this columns history! Ouch. What planet am I on? I’m still feeling dizzy from the rear-end kicking the NFL handed me, but the football calendar waits for no man. All we can do is take a huge whiff of smelling salt, and forge ahead to week three, burdened by an unsightly 13-19 ATS total.
The road to redemption is simple, re-evaluate everything we thought we knew about the NFL in 2014. We’ll do so by using our favorite Donald Rumsfeld Secretary of Defense strategy. There are three categories, “The Known-Known”, “The Known-Unknown”, and “The Unknown-Unknown”.
We knew the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, and New England Patriots would be good and despite a couple early season blips on the road these teams “look” like they’ll still be relevant four months from now. The Jacksonville Jaguars are still terrible at football. So are the Oakland Raiders. At least there’s some sanity left in the NFL.
Through two weeks I still don’t have a great feel for expected contenders in Green Bay, San Francisco, and New Orleans. The Saints are an inexplicable 0-2, blowing late leads in both affairs. Colin Kaepernick looks like a shell of the average quarterback he was two years ago, and the Cheese-Heads were grated two weeks ago in Seattle before sneaking by Geno Smith and the New York Paper Airplanes at home last Sunday.
Are the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers really this good? I thought both teams would take a step backwards this season after losing several contributors at key positions, but both enter week three undefeated. Will the Buffalo Bills run the table and finish 16-0? That’s still in play as crazy as it sounds. Nobody had the Bills at 2-0 through two weeks. We don’t know how long injured stars like Robert Griffin, Jamaal Charles, and A.J. Green will be out of action. There’s virtually no limit to the unknown-unknown. What we do know is that the list of things I don’t know is a known-unknown.
OK, I’m confused. Maybe using the Donald Rumsfeld method to make sense of things was a poor course of action. Let’s just move on…
Tampa Bay Bucs @ ATLANTA FALCONS -6.5
Abandon ship! The pirate ship is taking on water after the Bucs dropped two straight at home to start the year. Tampa pinned its hopes on passing gypsy Josh McCown, but so far the results have not been positive. Atlanta was flying high after a dramatic opening week win against the New Orleans Saints. A win that doesn’t look nearly as impressive now in light of the Saints early season struggles. The Falcons offense was grounded by a professional Cincinnati Bengals defense last Sunday. Divisional games on a short week are always challenging to predict. Falcons win 24-16
San Diego Chargers @ BUFFALO BILLS -2.5
The lowly Buffalo Bills are favorites over a San Diego Chargers team that just topped the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks? How can this be?! The Chargers will be the hot side in this contest. Vegas books know where the money will land and siding with the books is rarely fool’s gold. The Bills have enough pop on offense with Sammy Watkins and C.J. Spiller to puts points on the board against a good but not great Chargers defense. Circle the wagons! Bills win 27-23
DALLAS COWBOYS @ St. Louis Rams +2.5
Has Cowboys coach, Jason Garrett, finally realized the formula for keeping quarterback Tony Romo upright in a safe passing position? Running back DeMarco Murray has carried the pig 51 times for 285 yards in two contests. Averaging a whopping 5.6 yards per carry. Those are numbers that would make Emmitt Smith proud. With defenses focused on stopping the run, Romo will likely complete passes to his own team, something he has famously struggled with at times during his career. The Rams won’t be able to keep up on the scoreboard with third string quarterback Austin Davis under center. Cowboys win 28-17
WASHINGTON REDSKINS @ Philadelphia Eagles -6.5
Robert Griffin is out with a dislocated ankle. The Redskins season is over! That’s what the Twitterverse would have you believe. To borrow a phrase from Lee Corso, “not so fast!” All the doom and gloom is missing the point. Griffin isn’t very good. At least the hobbled ghost of Griffin’s past isn’t. I don’t anticipate any dropoff going with backup Kirk Cousins at quarterback. The Eagles look fantastic, opening the year 2-0, but there is some kind of cosmic force working against the embattled Griffin in Washington. Cousins playing well would seal his fate. Redskins win 30-27
HOUSTON TEXANS @ New York Giants +2.5
The New York Giants will find a way to lose this football game. This Giants team has that kind of feel to it. One week the defense will fall apart, the next Eli Manning will complete more balls to the opponent than his own receivers. Houston is led by Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick which is great for solving math equations, but not always conducive to winning football games. However, the formula has the Texans at 2-0 after two weeks of play. Texans win 24-20
Minnesota Vikings @ NEW ORLEANS SAINTS -9.5
I have no clue. The Saints were a strong play to battle for the number one seed in the NFC just a few weeks ago, but those hopes are in real jeopardy after the team dropped its first two contests. An opening week loss in Atlanta is passable, but letting the Cleveland Browns drive the length of the field in the final minute for a gamewinning field goal? Inexplicable. Which Matt Cassel will be playing quarterback for the Vikings this week? The bad one or the terrible one? We won’t even go into the Adrian Peterson mess and how that will affect the team’s performance. Saints win 38-14
Tennessee Titans @ CINCINNATI BENGALS -7
I love this Bengals team in the regular season. Andy Dalton will choke in the playoffs, but we don’t have to worry about that for months! The Bengals can run the football and they have an underrated defense. Remember, this Titans team was carved at home last Sunday by Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys. If the Titans fall behind early and become a one-dimensional passing offense look out. Things could get ugly. Bengals win 30-9
Baltimore Ravens @ CLEVELAND BROWNS +2
Believe in the Browns! Actually don’t do that, that wouldn’t be smart, but maybe this Cleveland team isn’t as awful as initially anticipated? Somehow the Browns, minus Josh Gordon, Ben Tate, and Jordan Cameron on offense put 26 points on the board last Sunday. Do that again this week and the Browns will move to 2-1 on the year. Baltimore looked great against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers last Thursday, but traveling to Cleveland will be their first road test of the season. Ravens passer Joe Flacco has a tendency to follow up good performances with duds. If Flacco struggles the Browns could pull off the mild home upset. Browns win 24-21
Green Bay Packers @ DETROIT LIONS -1
Last Sunday, in a battle of vicious cats, the Carolina Panthers made the Detroit Lions look like kittens chasing a laser light. Detroit heads home this week to host their rivals from the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers. The Packers are hard to judge. Green Bay looked like molded cheese for the first six quarters of the season before rallying in the second half to top the paper airplanes a week ago. Favor the home side in a coin flip. Lions win 33-28
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS @ Jacksonville Jags +7
After falling to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Colts have lost two games in a row for the first time in wunderkind quarterback Andrew Luck’s career. Of course, the Colts have played as tough a schedule as any team in the NFL having faced the Denver Broncos and the Eagles already. Fortunately, for the Colts playoff aspirations, the road to hoe is about to get much easier. Jacksonville is awful at American football. After racing out to a 17-0 lead in their opener the Jungle-Kittens have been outscored 75-10. Colts win 30-7
OAKLAND RAIDERS @ New England Patriots -14.5
The Oakland Raiders…Great uniforms, fantastic logo, rabid fans, terrible football team. I fully expect the Brady Bunch to smash Oakland into oblivion, but it’s just too early in the year to lay more than two touchdowns. Against all logic and reason I’m siding with the Silver and Black. Patriots win 28-14
San Francisco 49ers @ ARIZONA CARDINALS +3
It’s hard to pass on the Desert Bats plus a field goal at home. Even if we don’t know who the Cardinals will have under center when they host their NFC West rivals, the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday. Does it matter? Arizona’s defense has been fantastic and the 49ers are hardly clicking on all cylinders. There is something funky with Colin Kaepernick. He looks amateur at times locking on to a single receiver before throwing the ball to the opposing team. Cardinals win 21-14
DENVER BRONCOS @ Seattle Seahawks -4.5
Anytime Seattle plays at home you’ve got to be confident, but I’m concerned about this matchup. Denver will be fired up to avenge last year’s Super Bowl flop and San Diego laid a blueprint for how to beat Seattle a week ago. Denver can mimic the Chargers game plan, of course executing it in Seattle will be far more challenging. There’s a little bit of anti-jinx policy in play here, but I’m taking the Broncos and the points. Seahawks win 27-24
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS @ Miami Dolphins -5
Last season’s darlings, the Kansas City Chiefs, are in danger of falling back to mediocrity on the heels of a 0-2 start to the year. Now the Chiefs head to Miami with star running back Jamaal Charles’ injury status unknown. The Dolphins will be without their top rusher as well, Knowshon Moreno has been ruled out with an elbow injury. I wouldn’t buy stock in either team. Dolphins win 17-14
Pittsburgh Steelers @ CAROLINA PANTHERS -3.5
The Carolina Panthers might be the biggest surprise of the season so far. After trading or releasing every wide receiver that had caught a pass from Cam Newton over the off-season I thought the Panthers would take a step backwards, but through two weeks the team looks very strong. Pittsburgh survived their opening week matchup against the Cleveland Browns before stumbling in Baltimore a week ago. Asking an aging Steelers team to travel to Carolina and get a win is a reach. Panthers win 24-10
CHICAGO BEARS @ New York Jets -2.5
Geno Smith and the New York Jets return home to face the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football. If you follow this column you already know how I feel about Geno Smith. Jay Cutler and the Bears offense appeared to find their rhythm in the second half of last week’s surprise victory over the San Francisco 49ers. If the Bears can get an adequate performance from their defensive front seven they’ll win this football game. Bears win 30-23