What did we just witness? After a hectic offseason, we had high hopes of an entertaining season, but what just happened in Week 1 was beyond that. After all, there were almost three 20-20 ties! A 16-point fourth-quarter comeback, two games that took the full overtime for an outcome to be decided, and a bizarre 64-yard field goal attempt that will be remembered for a long time; what else could you want? Let’s just say Week 2 has a high bar to clear.
Welcome, everybody! Every week for the NFL season, we’ll be going over every matchup, analyzing storylines, key matchups, and, most importantly, making predictions. To help with this, having a strong foundation is paramount. Thus, using previous research on what facets of play, as measured by Pro Football Focus, leads to NFL wins, as well the effect of each offensive/defensive play-caller, I was able to create a statistical projection model that has been a feature on this site before. By factoring in each team’s projected PFF grades in each significant area based on their personnel, and than using a multi-variable formula to project a unit’s expected points added per play, and, thus, their points per game/points allowed per game, we can then project their expected point differential. Essentially, all of this can be leveraged to predict the winner of every NFL game, the margin of victory, what the actual betting line (spread+total) for each game should be, and much more!
As helpful as the model can be, though, something I’ve come to learn is the significance of added context upon it. In 2020, for instance, we perhaps leaned too much on the statistical projections at the expense on how each teams matched up against each other, losing significant predictive power. At the end of the day, it’s up to us to use all information at hand to make the most calculated decision, so cutting out any source of information puts us at a disadvantage. How else would you know that nobody came to a quarterback’s birthday party.
Kidding, of course- consider that part from Draft Day one that has always puzzled me. Regardless, whether you have a vetted interest in the game as fan of a specific team, are a sports better, or just a fan of football, there is nothing more fun than going through every game to find any sort of edge in terms of predictive power. Having betting lines give us a strong foundation for an expectation of the game, but nobody’s perfect, and you never know when the upset of the world (see Jets over Rams 2020) is going to happen.
Speaking of which, we already saw the Bears (+6.5 vs 49ers), Steelers (+7 at Bengals), Seahawks (+7 vs Broncos), and Giants (+5.5 at Titans) pull off noticeable upsets in Week 1, and that’s not counting the Texans (+7 vs Colts) technically not losing- why do ties exist? Week 2 provides us with our first double-digit spread of the week, yet, for the most part, features of flurry of even matchups that could legitimately go other way. So, what should we takeaway from each team’s Week 1 performance, and what does that mean for their outlook heading into Week 2? Let’s dive right into it!
Stats via Pro Football Focus and rbsdm.com
Before we start, let’s go over a few key points of data that can help us shine a light on prior weeks in other to forecast future events. Let’s start with the most important position in all of sports- the quarterback. We recently delved into a method to project quarterback production, measured by adjusted expected points added per play (adjusted EPA/play), using several key peripheral metrics, and although this is more meant to project a full season output, there is great benefit of monitoring the performance of the players that almost entirely dictate the outcome of an individual game:
CPOE: Completion Percentage Over Expectation
BTT%: Big-Time Throw Rate
TWP: Turnover-Worthy Play Rate
Think of these as quarterback composite ratings for how they’ve performed, rather than an actual ranking of how they’ll do moving forward. Regardless, knowing which quarterbacks may have over/underperformed based on the overall data is significantly important for analysis sake, and allows us to paint a better picture.
So does knowing which team’s success is the most sustainable. Turnover luck is an easy way to measure this, but there is another underrated facet. See, third-down performance has been found to be much more unstable compared to production on early downs, yet success on third downs make a major difference in an individual game’s production. Alas, when projecting for the future, we want to focusing on how teams are performing in more stable areas of play:
Performance in specific situations is measured by EPA/play, and then converted to a percentile ranking. A positive difference on offense or defense means the team was better on early downs than third downs, and, thus, could be in line for positive regression, while the opposite is true vice versa. From there, the offensive and defensive ratings are combined for an aggregate ranking; the chart is sorted by the overall amount of positive regression a team can expect based on their production on early downs compared to that on third downs.
From here, we can clearly see the Washington Commanders relied extensively on third-down success on both sides of the ball, something that probably won’t carry over in the future. On the other hand, their opponent, the Jaguars, performed well in much more stable areas of play. The Bucs, meanwhile, may have not had the most impressive offensive showing, but unless you expect them to continue to perform at an abysmal level on third downs with Tom Brady (you shouldn’t), then their talent will show out very soon. For a one-week sample, being able to decipher between stable and unstable situations ends up being quite beneficial.
Now, onto the previews!
Los Angeles Chargers (1-0) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)
Spread: KC (-4)
- Projected Spread: KC (-7.22)
- My Pick: KC (-4)
- Projected Total: 55.42
- My Pick: Over
- LAC: 28.13%
- KC: 71.78%
Score Prediction: Chargers 24 Chiefs 31
- Can the Chargers’ Right Side of The Offensive Line Show Signs of Improvement?
- Andy Reid vs Brandon Staley: a Coaching Masterclass
- How Do The Chargers Compensate For The Loss of WR Keenan Allen?
Just when you thought the NFL couldn’t wow us anymore, they give us this matchup top open up Week 2. Realistically, outside of the Bills, we may be looking at the two top teams in football, featuring arguably the game’s top-two young quarterbacks. Buckle in folks- this is going to be a fun ride.
If there is anything to take away from the Chargers in their win against the Raiders, it’s that Justin Herbert remains quite good at the game of football. How a quarterback can be under pressure on 44.1% of their drop-backs and still not take one single sack is absolutely remarkable, and he did so while willingly pushing the ball down the field when needed and demonstrating superb accuracy. The problem? His situation remains with some warts. Between the addition of rookie guard Zion Johnson and development from right tackle Trey Pipkins, the Chargers were hoping for a much-improved right side of their offensive line. Instead, Pipkins struggled mightily all-around (48.6 PFF RBLK grade, 56.1 PBLK grade), while Johnson (50.4 RBLK grade). Johnson simply demonstrating competence in pass protection as a rookie is encouraging, yet can Pipkins fill the main hole in their offense from last season, thus allowing for more chunk plays through the air? That remains a notable question.
To make matters more complicated, with receiver Keenan Allen sidelined with a hamstring injury, it’ll be up for the likes of Josh Palmer and DeAndre Carter to step up alongside Mike Williams. For the most part, it was Carter and tight end Gerald Everett who contributed the most in the passing game in Week 1, but it’ll be an adjustment for Herbert without his consistent top read in any chain-moving scenario. The Chiefs defense is coming off a week where they in pass coverage (2nd in PFF COV grade), though we’ll see if seventh-rookie rookie Jaylen Watson can continue to perform at a high level with first-round rookie Trent McDuffie going on injured reserve. For what it’s worth, Herbert has had his fair share of success against defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, though a lot is going to be on his plate to stay engaged in a shootout with Kansas City.
A lack of ideal weapons was once a concern for many regarding the Chiefs, but, fortunately, that is now a thing of the past. I mean, you’d hope that’d be the case after Kansas City was the most-efficient offense in the NFL last week, with tight end Travis Kelce (3.78 yards/route run) and free-agent acquisition Juju Smith-Schuster (2.47 yards/route run) thriving. In particular, Smith-Schuster, who was used on a much deeper depth of target (10.3 average depth of target) than he became accustomed to in Pittsburgh, could continue to be the impact player that keeps the Chiefs at a top-notch level for this year sans Tyreek Hill, and that’s without considering the immense amount of rushing efficiency they’ve been able to consistently create with needed. The Chargers run defense already showed similar cracks to last year in Week 1, and if Kansas City has that to go along with attack a secondary that may once again be without top cornerback JC Jackson, another 30+ point showing could easily be in store.
In many ways, this isn’t a game where we may learn a lot, but, rather, will simply get to sit back and watch two elite teams led by generational quarterbacks go to work. Of course, given the divisional ramifications, the significance of this game is notable, and there isn’t any reason not to expect a highly-contested matchup. In the end, with no Allen or Jackson, the Chargers are likely dealing with too many limitations to keep up with the Chiefs, but would it be shocking if Herbert pulled off any sort of wizardry here? Not at all! There’s a reason Amazon fought hard to be able to broadcast this game.
New England Patriots (0-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)
Spread: PIT (+2)
- Projected Spread: PIT (+6.17)
- My Pick: NE (-2)
- Projected Total: 43.92
- My Pick: Under
- NE: 68.71%
- PIT: 31.29%
Score Prediction: Patriots 20 Steelers 14
- The Steelers’ Pass Rush Sans TJ Watt
- Can The Patriots Offense Show Any Signs of Life?
- Bigger Bounce Back: Patriots Secondary or Steelers’ Receiving Corps?
Well, this isn’t quite like the Patriots-Steelers matchups we’ve become accustomed to. Once upon a time, between the Tom Brady-led Patriots and the “killer B’s”, these two teams were the cream of the crop in the AFC, though Pittsburgh could never get over the hump against New England; in fact, they’ve lost six of their past seven games against them. Now, though, Brady is on the Bucs, Ben Roethlisberger is retired, and very few players from the 2017 AFC Championship Game remain for either team.
To say that the Patriots had a rough first week to the season would be a massive understatement, and comes after a turbulent training camp in which the offense, now led by Matt Patricia, struggled mightily. Fast forward to Week 1, and they were the second-least efficient offense in the NFL on early downs and scored as many points (7) as the Dolphins did defensively. Fortunately, there are reasons for hope. For starters, they actually graded out as the eight-best offense from Pro Football Focus, shining particularly in pass protection (2nd) and with their receiving corps (t-8th). Mac Jones, furthermore, had a much higher estimated EPA/play (.177) than he actually had (.01), which speaks to a combination of strong accuracy, zero turnover-worthy plays, and the ability to get rid of the ball quickly (2.33 time-to-throw) and pushing the ball down the field (9.3 average depth of target). It wasn’t pretty, but that’s what three turnovers will do to you.
Speaking of which, no team benefitted more from turnovers (5) last week than the Steelers, which they used to pull off an overtime victory in Cincinnati. Of course, this is not something a team can consistently rely on, which could be difficult for an offense that had the second-lowest success rate in all of football last week; Mitch Trubisky averaged just 5.1 yards/pass attempt while they ran for just 3.8 yards/carry. With zero productivity on the ground and little explosiveness through the air, there’s a reason the model believes this is the worst offense in football, which presents a great bounce-back spot for the Patriots’ secondary. Or, given how poorly (2nd-worst PFF COV grade) they performed last week, is this a bounce-back spot for a still-talented receiving corps of Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and George Pickens? The sheer reputation of Bill Belichick and the talent they have on the defensive line and safety group would suggest New England as more likely to win that battle, though it’s the question that may determine this game.
Building a defense through a select group of star players can be risky, and that’s going to show in Pittsburgh for the immediate future. The butterfly effect that TJ Watt has simply based on the attention an opposing offense has to dedicate to him goes beyond even his level of elite production, and, now, the Steelers will have to rush the passer with a much-thinner defensive line, also allowing for teams not to feel forced into getting rid of the ball as quickly as previously. Considering how strong New England’s offensive line has already demonstrated to be, Jones should have plenty of clean pockets to work with here, which is where you’d expect him to be efficient.
Let’s put it this way; the idea that these two teams are going to remain on the opposite end of the spectrum in turnover luck once again is quite unlikely, which, when you consider the Patriots were the better-regarded team coming into the season, is notable. It may seem surprising at first glance New England is favored in Pittsburgh on first glance, but there’s a reason the money is on the Patriots here.
Indianapolis Colts (0-0-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1)
Spread: JAX (+4)
- Projected Spread: JAX (+3.84)
- My Pick: IND (-4)
- Projected Total: 43.86
- My Pick: Under
- IND: 61.65%
- JAX: 38.35%
Score Prediction: Colts 22 Jaguars 17
- Is Jacksonville’s Success In Stable Situations (When Kept Clean, Early Downs) a Sign of Things To Come?
- Can Matt Ryan and the Colts Settle In Offensively?
- The Need For a Massive Bounce-Back From Indianapolis’ Pass Defense
Everything seemed to be going as planned for the Colts heading into Week 18 last season. Just win against the team with the league’s worst record, whose fans were literally wearing clown masks to make a mockery of the organization, and a postseason berth would be secured. What could go wrong? Well, a meltdown in Jacksonville prevented that from happening, and after a disappointing tie in Houston, it’s time for them to exorcise their demons.
A major reason the Colts chose to move on from Carson Wentz and acquire Matt Ryan was to get more stability under center, yet that didn’t show up in Houston. His four turnover-worthy plays were as much as Wentz had in any game last year, with only one of his 50 pass attempts going for 20+ yards down the field- this offense clear lacks explosiveness. On the bright side, we saw Michael Pittman used as the intermediate slasher over the middle of the field where his skill-set is likely best suited for, and he’s likely to command a notable target share this year. The problem? That might be just as indicative of the team’s lack of receiving depth. The team’s other two starting receivers (Parris Campbell and Alec Pierce) combined for just 0.46 yards/route run, with their running backs and tight ends taking a great portion of the targets. Unfortunately, that’s naturally going to cap the ceiling of a passing offense based on how condensed the depth of target is, and, now, Pierce is in concussion protocol. At this point, it may be time to get Ashton Dulin, a pure vertical threat, more involved in this offense.
Defensively, there are also plenty of reasons to be concerned in Indianapolis, considering they were a below-average defense on early downs against a poorly-regarded Texans offense. With Gus Bradley as the defensive coordinator, it’s going to be a static defense that doesn’t blitz and sticks in cover-three, which places a lot of pressure on the talent at hand. Unfortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case in Week 1, though bounce-backs from some relied-upon players (nickel corner Kenny Moore II, edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue) would go a long way to helping those matters.
The Jaguars, on the other hand, may have not come away with a victory in Washington, but had a lot to be encouraged about; they were the second-most efficient team on early downs last week, while Trevor Lawrence (83.1 PFF grade) performed well from a clean pocket, and was only sacked on two of his 21 pressured drop-backs. With strong performances from Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, as well as what Travis Etienne can bring as a legitimate receiving threat and the absurd comeback for running back James Robinson in his first game back from a torn Achilles, the Jaguars have to feel much better about how they’ve surrounded Lawrence, especially if growth can be expected with more time for him and head coach Doug Pederson to mesh together. Now, this isn’t enough to completely miss the fact that this, on paper, looked like arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL coming into the season with no ability to create after the catch. Still, this was a good start.
In the end, you’d expect the Colts, a consensus preseason AFC South favorite, to get into a groove and make good on those expectations. Should you believe Jacksonville has a strong chance of pulling off an upset, you are definitely justified in that, though it’s important for us not to completely write off what we thought of every team after one week of the season. Ultimately, we’re likely looking at a lower-scoring affair without many explosive plays from Indianapolis or consistency from the Jaguars. I mean, how else would things go down in the AFC South?
Carolina Panthers (0-1) at New York Giants (1-0)
Spread: NYG (-2)
- Projected Spread: NYG (-3.95)
- My Pick: CAR (+2)
- Projected Total: 38.5
- My Pick: Under
- CAR: 38.03%
- NYG: 61.97%
Score Prediction: Panthers 16 Giants 14
- Can This Year’s Top-Two Drafted Offensive Tackles Show Signs of Improvement?
- More Efficiency Needed From Panthers Passing Attack
- Will The Giants Remain as Run-Heavy Under Brian Daboll?
Who are these two teams? Honestly, given how Week 1 went and all of the moving parts, this is a viable question. Hopefully, we’ll start to have a better of understanding of that after this week.
The Giants come into this game riding quite high after an upset victory in Tennessee, featuring a two-point conversion that ended up winning them the game. It was a tremendous way to start off the Brian Daboll, and given their upcoming schedule, one could wonder if they could surprise this season. Still, let’s pump the brakes for now; there are still a lot of kinks to work out. For starters only four teams had a lower EPA/play (-.255) on dropbacks last week, meaning that the team had to rely on the second-most efficient rushing attack, led by a resurgent performance with Saquon Barkley. Clearly, this is something that showed up in the team’s play-calling:
That’s not a lot of confidence in your quarterback. With the fifth-lowest PFF grade from a clean pocket, it’s easy to see why Daniel Jones didn’t instill any faith in him, nor did it help that he was under pressure on over 50% of his dropbacks; the combination of a poor offensive line, particularly on the interior, with Jones’ limitations and a questionable receiving corps (can Kadarius Toney please play more?) makes it very difficult to produce a productive offense. Given Daboll’s roots from Buffalo, a pass-heavy approach was expected here, but it’s not surprising to see him adjust to the personnel he has. Now, we’ll see what Week 2 has ahead.
On the bright side, the Panthers come into this game with the third-lowest projected run defense, so maybe the “just give it to Barkley” strategy can work for one more week? Derrick Brown and Matt Ioannidis is going to be a mighty test for an interior offensive line that struggled mightily, though, and this would figure to be a strong bounce-back spot for a defense that, coming into the year, had reasonable high expectations. Ultimately, talent likely wins out here; when your entire offense is based on a select group of explosive plays without a deep-passing element, you’re facing an immense amount of difficulty.
Thus, the onus is on the Giants to hold their own defensively, which, with Wink Martindale at the helm, is going to mean an incredibly aggressive defense featuring one-safety looks, an extraordinary amount of blitzes, and a lot of man coverage. We’ll see if the Panthers, with the league’s third-lowest success rate last week, can be less-reliant on explosive plays this time around, but for a pass-heavy team with a quarterback (Baker Mayfield) who wants to push the ball down the field, the combination of Martindale’s defensive scheme and concerns in the back seven (third-lowest COV grade) make the Giants the perfect fit for them. Of course, not having to face Myles Garrett and the Browns pass rush again is also tremendous news for Mayfield and rookie tackle Ikem Ekonwu- perhaps we see a more efficient offense simply based on Mayfield not being under consistent duress after he was pressured on 42.4% of his drop-backs. With how out of sync they were offensively, though, it’s hard to see them completely flipping the switch here.
Ultimately, this game comes down to talent versus coaching. When that talent also includes a better-regarded quarterback, it’s very reasonable to see a strong case for them winning as an underdog, even if the Panthers aren’t exactly the model of functionality at this current moment. In games like this, one or two blown coverages that lead to an explosive play here or there can be the difference, and it’s pretty obvious to see which team would benefit from that. Really, I just want some answers here!
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) at New Orleans Saints (1-0)
Spread: NO (+2.5)
- Projected Spread: NO (+1.81)
- My Pick: TB (-2.5)
- Projected Total: 46.61
- My Pick: Under
- TB: 55.49%
- NO: 44.51%
Score Prediction: Buccaneers 21 Saints 17
- Is The Tom Brady versus The Saints Narrative Real?
- More Consistency For The Saints Offensively?
- A Needed Bounce-Back For The Saints Defense Versus a Questionable Interior Offensive Line
Since joining the Bucs, Tom Brady hasn’t exactly had things go as planned against the Saints in the regular season
- 0-4 Record, 6.4 yards/pass attempt, 8 interceptions
Here’s a fun nugget; Brady’s four games with the Bucs featuring his highest turnover-worthy play rates have come against the Saints, which includes a rough showing (6 yards/pass attempt, 5.9% turnover-worthy play) in his loan win against them in the postseason. Now, is there anything to this, or just pure coincidence? New Orleans has experienced a lot of success playing two-high coverages and applying pressure with four rushers, yet Brady has actually performed very well (8.4 yards/attempt) in those situations, and the Saints are coming off a weak where they had the worst pressure rate (10.8%) in the NFL despite facing a questionable Falcons offensive line. Even without Chris Godwin, Julio Jones (3.14 yards/route run) certainly looked like his old self, Mike Evans (3.09 yards/route run) was a notable factor, and Russell Gage should get more involved over time. Only the Chiefs were more efficient on early downs last week than the Bucs, and with mere competence on third downs, we should still be looking at one of the league’s most high-powered offenses.
Now, that’s assuming further growth from Robert Hainsey (36.8 PFF PBLK grade) and Luke Goedeke (31.8 PFF PBLK grade), both of whom were making their first career NFL starts on the interior offensive line. That, along with tackle Donovan Smith missing this game due to an elbow injury, is a place for the Saints to gain an edge, though no quarterback got rid of the ball quicker than Brady last week, so how much of an effect will that ultimately have? There’s a pathway to this going like every other Bucs-Saints game, though there’s no clear reason to expect that to be the case again, outside of the issues on the offensive line.
Through three quarters, no team was less efficient when they dropped back to pass than the Saints. Then, they fourth quarter came along, and they were the league’s most productive offense (1.063 EPA/play), scoring 17 unanswered points to pull off a 16-point comeback in Atlanta. From a total game standpoint, the final results (third-highest PFF offensive grade) are very encouraging, with the receiving duo of Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry, and first-round rookie Chris Olave giving Jameis Winston plenty of weapons to push the ball down the field to. Now, could they perhaps show that promise for an entire game? Given Winston’s historical woes under pressure, what Tampa Bay can bring up front with Shaquil Barrett, Vita Vea, and Akiem Hicks – the interior duo specifically could cause problems with Andrus Peat and Cesar Ruiz’s pass-blocking issues, which, if so, could lead to things once again going well off schedule.
Most likely, Bucs head coach Todd Bowles will go back to his roots and blitz Winston at will, hoping to induce the type of inefficient play that he’s been certainly prone to at times. This will be a great test for New Orleans, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, and the hope is that their early struggles were merely a matter of them getting into sync with a re-made receiving corps and Winston’s first game back from a torn ACL. That being said, though, the margin for error is quite well when facing the Bucs, and that’s not an easy tightrope to walk on. At some point, the quarterback with the most Super Bowl championships of all time will be able to take down his kryptonite, right?
Washington Commanders (1-0) at Detroit Lions (0-1)
Spread: DET (-1.5)
- Projected Spread: DET (+2.55)
- My Pick: WSH (+1.5)
- Projected Total: 44.6
- My Pick: Under
- WSH: 57.73%
- DET: 42.23%
Score Prediction: Commanders 22 Lions 20
- How Hard Does Third-Down Regression Hit Washington?
- Anticipated Progression For Second Overall Pick Aidan Hutchinson
- So This Washington Receiving Corps May Be Very Fun?
Folks, history has been made; for the first time since November 2020, the Lions enter a game as the betting favorites. Theoretically, it’s a sign of progress and hope for the future, and also demonstrating the faith in them remaining competitive this season- in fact, more than 3/4 of the public money is on Detroit’s side here. Wait, are we talking about the same Lions?
On one end, it’s easy to look at the 35 points the Lions dropped against the Eagles Week 1 as a sign of optimism, especially since they finished sixth in EPA/play. At the same time, they relied upon an otherworldly performance on the ground (3rd in rushing EPA/play) to get there, with only three quarterbacks grading out worse from PFF as a passer than Jared Goff. Interestingly, while the team had a lot of success on third downs, they finished in the bottom-ten EPA/play on early downs, and they continued to show a lack of faith in Goff with the second-lowest early-down pass rate. There is a lot to be intrigued about with new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson bringing a lot more motion and play-action concepts to this offense, while also specifically making it a priority to create favorable looks for second-year receiver Amon-Ra St.Brown. Still, though, it’s quite difficult to perform consistently as an offense without a quarterback you have the utmost confidence in.
Meanwhile, it was not an ideal defensive showing for the Lions, with the defensive line specifically disappointing. Yes, the Eagles offensive line is a difficult challenge, but having your second overall pick (Aidan Hutchison) ranking as PFF‘s second-lowest graded pass rusher off the edge, with Charles Harris (14th-lowest) not far behind him, is not ideal in any which way. The Commanders, with the fourth-best projected pass-blocking offensive line, aren’t a much easier test for Hutchinson and co., though there isn’t any reason to expect him, in particular, to not make a much more notable impact moving forward.
Washington, in fact, enters this game off of four passing touchdowns from Carson Wentz and a win against the Jaguars, which would seemingly be extremely encouraging. At the same time, though, no team had a greater negative difference between their EPA/play on early downs and their EPA/play on third downs than the Commanders, and only the Bills converted third downs on a higher rate than them. This led them to a victory against Jacksonville, but is it something you can count on a weekly basis? Certainly not. On the bright side, between what Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson bring down the field and having Curtis Samuel work in the slot as a weapon after the catch, this is a receiving corps that not only looks exciting on paper, but quite explosive as well, and they now get to face a Detroit defense with the second-worst projected coverage grade. Thus, even if they aren’t converting third downs at an absurd rate, they also should simply remain a productive offense with better efficiency on early downs.
Defensively, it was a similar story for the Commanders, who relied on the league’s sixth-best third-down defense to compensate for their lack of success (third-worst) on early downs. Notably, the lack of communication in the secondary that they had seemingly put behind them with more continuity was once again on display, while second-year linebacker Jamin Davis (29.3 PFF COV grade) continued to struggle holding his own in coverage. There is reason for hope moving forward based on the investments they’ve made in the secondary, though Week 1 was not promising in that regard.
Ultimately, the Commanders seemingly have the more dynamic offense and more talented defense, thus giving them the theoretical edge despite coming into this game as underdogs. Simply being outplayed by the Jaguars, though, isn’t a sign of optimism, and there is enough young talent in Detroit for it to continue to come together. Hey, I guess that’s why they play the games! It may not seem like it at first, but given the questions needing to be addressed and the non-quarterback talent on both teams, this is a game to keep a close eye on.
Miami Dolphins (1-0) at Baltimore Ravens (1-0)
Spread: BAL (-3.5)
- Projected Spread: BAL (-3.07)
- My Pick: BAL (-3.5)
- Projected Total: 45.63
- My Pick: Under
- MIA: 40.68%
- BAL: 59.32%
Score Prediction: Dolphins 13 Ravens 20
- A Major Test For Mike McDaniel, Tua Tagovailoa, and the Dolphins Offense
- Do The Ravens Have Enough CB Depth?
- Will Baltimore Continue To Operate With a More Pass-Heavy Approach Than Expected?
Want a fun initial test as a first-time head coach? How about having to face Bill Belichick in your debut, and then immediately following that up with a road game in Baltimore, facing one of the league’s most stable franchises? Let’s put it this way; Mike McDaniel certainly is in another tough spot here, and it’s unclear if the team around him is up for the task.
One could look at the Dolphins’ 20-7 victory against the Patriots as a sign of things to come, but would you want it to be? When you exclude turnovers, they were a bottom-12 team based on EPA/play on both sides of the ball, relying mainly on three takeaways (one of which was a fumble recovery for a touchdown) to come out on top. Tua Tagovailoa may have averaged 8.2 yards/pass attempt, but his underlying numbers (52.8 PFF passing grade, 0% big-time throw, 5.4% turnover-worthy play) would not support that. Now, some of that is due to how much Miami can create after the catch between Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, something that also has been true in most Shanahan offenses. That being said, the Ravens are going to throw a lot at Tagovailoa, and have the type of players in the secondary (Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Williams, Chuck Clark) to make things much more complicated for the Dolphins- they aren’t going to simply be able to rely on yards after the catch here.
That’s assuming the Ravens have enough depth at the cornerback position? They already lost Kyle Fuller for the year due to injury, though it’s looking like Marcus Peters will make his season debut, which would help matters significantly. We already saw new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald run a much more conservative defense with less man coverage and slightly fewer blitz packages, which ought to make the team much less vulnerable to the types of explosive plays through the air that come back to bite them. As such, they’re perhaps in a much better position to adapt to the “new shift” in NFL defenses- more two-high coverages, lighter boxes – and with the investments they’ve made in the secondary, that could result in a top-ten defense.
The major point of curiosity with the Ravens, however, is what they bring to the table on the offensive side of the ball. Coming into the season, the team’s investments at the tight end position indicated a desire to run much more heavy personnel sets while also getting back to being one of the league’s most run-heavy teams in the NFL. Instead, they ranked second in early-down pass frequency, and were in the bottom-five in rushing efficiency. Perhaps that had to do with the team’s problems at running back, but does that change with JK Dobbins in his first game back from a torn ACL? The Dolphins possess a strong projected run defense, but it’s their lack of depth in pass coverage without cornerback Byron Jones and holes at linebacker where a team can take advantage of them. In theory, that should mean great things for Baltimore, with them passing frequently out of two tight end sets with Mark Andrews and fourth-round rookie Isaiah Likely. Still, can Rashod Bateman or Devin Duvernay provide something from the outside?
Based on their reliance on turnovers last week, there’s a lot of red flags to be concerned about in Miami, whereas the combination of continuity, roster depth, and much more confidence in the quarterback give the Ravens a notable edge in their home opener. If Week 1 is any indication, we’re looking at a low-scoring grudge match here, though we’ll know a lot more about who these teams want to be after this week. If the Dolphins truly fancy themselves as an impact playoff contender, now is the time to show it.
New York Jets (0-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-0)
Spread: CLE (-6.5)
- Projected Spread: CLE (-5.19)
- My Pick: NYJ (+6.5)
- Projected Total: 41.13
- My Pick: Under
- NYJ: 34.28%
- CLE: 65.72%
Score Prediction: Jets 14 Browns 19
- Can Either Of These Passing Offenses Be Viable?
- A Needed Bounce-Back For The Browns Secondary
- A Major Test For The Jets Defensive Line
Well, this game will be something, to say the least. If you’re a fan of the forward pass, this might not be your cup of tea, though, if you can stomach that, there are a lot of exciting players to watch for both teams.
Want to know what type of offense the Browns feel compelled to be with Jacoby Brissett, look no further for them gashing the Panthers for 217 rushing yards while passing for just 138. Let me put it this way; the only team that passed for fewer yards was the Bears, and they attempted half as many passes! That’s what happens when your quarterback has the lowest yards/attempt (4.3) in football, combining a lack of any sort of willingness to pus the ball down the field with still too many turnover-worthy plays and poor accuracy (66.7% adjusted completion percentage). Alas, the onus is placed on a stellar offensive line and the running back duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, which is a nice start, but can’t be the only basis of offensive success.
To their credit, the Jets more than held their own in run defense (6th in EPA/play allowed) against a strong Ravens rushing attack, though it’s also a one-game sample size and they theoretically don’t have the personnel to sustain that level of success. Where the Browns ought to look to exploit them, though, is their linebacking corps. CJ Mosley and Quincy Williams both struggled mightily struggled mightily in pass coverage last year, and that opens up the pathway for tight end David Njoku and running back Kareem Hunt to have a field day through the passing game; with Brissett under center, these are the matchups you need to exploit, especially when dealing with the extremely productive cornerback duo of DJ Reed Jr. and Sauce Gardner.
Meanwhile, when your running backs are combining for 16 targets, that tells you all you need to know; Joe Flacco attempted a pass 20+ yards down the field on just one of his 59 pass attempts. It’s going to be a very condensed passing attack reliant on yardage after the catch, which isn’t ideal against a defense that allowed the fourth fewest yards after catch per reception last year. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, they’re down to their third left tackle, fourth-round rookie Max Mitchell, who’ll have to go up against Myles Garrett. Good luck, I guess?
How points will be scored in this game is beyond me, and given the severe limitations with both of these two quarterbacks, we’re likely looking at a closer game than the current spread would indicate. Ultimately, Cleveland likely gets away with a reliance on their running backs for another game, though how that works when the schedule gets tougher is a mystery. For now, though, they’ll take any win they can get.
Seattle Seahawks (1-0) at San Francisco 49ers (0-1)
Spread: SF (-8.5)
- Projected Spread: SF (-6.88)
- My Pick: SF (-8.5)
- Projected Total: 45.21
- My Pick: Over
- SEA: 29.15%
- SF: 70.85%
Score Prediction: Seahawks 17 49ers 27
- A Rebound Spot For Trey Lance
- Are The Seahawks Going To Continue To “Let Geno Smith Cook”?
- 49ers Pass Rush vs Seattle’s Rookie Tackles
Well, this game looks a lot different than one would assume it would have a week ago. After all, these two teams were involved in the two largest upsets in Week 1! Generally, the same doesn’t happen two weeks in a row, though let’s just say things got much more interesting in a hurry.
Is the sky falling in San Francisco? When you invest three first-round picks in a quarterback, you do so believing they have what it takes to lead you a Super Bowl, though that’s not exactly how things played out in Week 1 for Trey Lance, who finished in the bottom-five amongst starting quarterbacks in adjusted EPA/play, while also averaging just 5.9 yards/pass attempt. The good news? The sky likely isn’t falling. Through the first three quarters in Chicago, Lance’s adjusted EPA/play (.153) ranked right in the middle-half of the league, which is particularly impressive when that numbers wasn’t boosted by a single touchdown. However, it wasn’t until the fourth quarter where things when south, and when looking at the field conditions, it’s easy to see why:
Not ideal, to say the least! Lance certainly doesn’t project as an MVP candidate, nor will this offense be as on schedule has it has been in the past. At the same time, he already demonstrated the sheer big-play ability (6.9% big-time throw rate) that made him such an appealing draft prospect, and there’s not much that can be truly taken away from what happened in Chicago. We’re still looking at a quarterback coached by Kyle Shanahan working with an elite group of weapons headlined by Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and, in the future, George Kittle. We’ll see how the rest of the year goes, but one game shouldn’t immediately cause panic for the 49ers.
Plus, this is quite a bounce-back spot for Lance. Currently projected as the least-productive defense in the NFL, Seattle ranked in the bottom-three in EPA/play allowed last week when excluding turnovers – getting two fumbles at the goal line isn’t exactly sustainable – and also finished in the bottom-ten in PFF grade for pass coverage and run defense. Generally, that’s not a strong combination for success, and it’s easy to see Shanahan exploiting the matchup advantages he has here, mainly with regards to the Seahawks’ back-seven. There’s a legitimate chance that the narrative about this offense changes dramatically by Monday morning.
Now, will that be the case in a negative way for Seattle? With Geno Smith finishing as a top-eight quarterback in adjusted EPA/play and finishing as the second-highest graded quarterback by PFF, it could be reasonable to surmise Seattle’s offense could continue to surge moving forward. Yet, there’s this:
- The Seahawks ranked just 21st in EPA/play on early downs
- Smith’s production under pressure (9.5 yards/attempt) was much stronger than it was in a clean pocket (6 yards/attempt), which is something that a quarterback should not be banking on consistently.
Smith took care of the football in Week 1, but no quarterback had a lower average depth of target (5 yards) than he did, with just one of his 28 pass attempts going beyond 20 air yards. With that being the case, there’s such limited upside present with the team’s passing attack, especially when they aren’t benefitting from 100+ yards worth of penalties like they did on Monday Night. Then, you factor in rookie offensive tackle Charles Cross (31.8 PFF pass-blocking grade) going up against Nick Bosa, and it’s easy to see things going south in a hurry. Remember; no team had a lower EPA/play in the second half than Seattle, and that may be a sign of things to come.
In many ways, this is the perfect Week 2 game, featuring two teams whose performance would be very easy to overreact to from Week 1. As evidenced by the -8.5 spread, though, the betting markets are trying their best not to do so, and they’re justified in that action. Nothing in football ever goes as planned, but expect a course correction here.
Atlanta Falcons (0-1) at Los Angeles Rams (0-1)
Spread: LAR (-10)
- Projected Spread: LAR (-7.46)
- My Pick: LAR (-10)
- Projected Total: 44.74
- My Pick: Over
- ATL: 27.38%
- LAR: 72.62%
Score Prediction: Falcons 20 Rams 31
- Is It Back To Business For The Rams Against a Team That Can’t Simply Pressure With Four?
- Kyle Pitts and Drake London Against a Very Talented Rams Secondary
- Can Allen Robinson Become A Key Part of The Rams Offense?
Speaking of NFC West teams with surprising Week 1 performances that may garner a potential overreaction, losing by three touchdowns isn’t usually how you want your season to start as the reigning Super Bowl champions. For many, the struggles of the Rams offense, as well as some issues in the back-end of their defense would potentially suggest a much season than 2021. Yet, with 10 days of rest and a perceived favorable opponent ahead in Week 2, can they prove for that to be a minor blip in the road?
When diagnosing what went wrong for the Rams in Week 1, there is a pretty reasonable place to start- they simply got man-handled up front. Despite not being blitzed one time, Matthew Stafford was sacked a league-leading seven times, and it goes back to an offensive line that earned the second-lowest PFF pass-blocking grade of the week. When you’re getting pressured 38% of the time while the other team can simply rush four and have perfect coverage on the back end, you’re going to have your fair share of issues- Stafford’s numbers against the blitz have been much stronger than when not blitzed, where he has a tendency to be impatient and make more mistakes (4.1% turnover-worthy play in 2021).
Fortunately, there aren’t many defenses that can rush the passer effectively with just four rushers while also being sound in the secondary; what the Bills accomplished may be less of a blue-print rather than the perfect outcome for any defense. The Falcons, meanwhile, certainly won’t be able to get by in the same way. In fact, they blitzed Jameis Winston 35% of the time last week in attempt to compensate for a thin pass rush, and also played man coverage over 40% of the time as well- both marks are near the top of the league. If they go to this game with a similar approach, then they’re just playing into Stafford’s strengths, but, if not, Stafford could have as many clean pockets as imaginable. It’s a tough predicament for defensive coordinator Dean Pees to be in, yet either decision looks out quite well for the Rams.
Meanwhile, while Los Angeles may not have seemed to hold their own defensively against the Bills, it is worth noting they had the fourth-best EPA/play allowed on early downs last year but were simply bit hard by the Bills’ incredible third-down conversion rate. It’s easy to be optimistic about what the Falcons offense showed in Week 1, ranking 10th in EPA/play against one of the league’s better defenses in the Saints. At the same time, head coach Arthur Smith had the luxury of utilizing play-action passes on 48.6% of Marcus Mariota’s drop-backs based on the game script at hand, which really covered up some potential warts. For starters, let’s take a look at Mariota’s splits with and without play action:
- With Play Action: 7.6 Yards/Attempt, 73.6 PFF Passing Grade
- Without Play Action: 5.5 Yards/Attempt, 43.1 PFF Passing Grade
That’s quite a notable difference, and that’s not all; no quarterback was pressured on a fewer amount of their dropbacks than Mariota. In theory, that sounds encouraging, yet this was last year’s second lowest-graded pass-blocking offensive line, and with no major changes, it’s hard to see them suddenly in position to handle Aaron Donald on the interior, particularly with the interior offensive line being a notable deficiency for them. Should the game script or their rushing efficiency play in a way where Atlanta isn’t in position to thrive on early downs and feel as able to succeed off of the play-action passing game, trouble could ensure. It’s also quite possible that Smith’s offense continues to put Mariota in a position to succeed, allowing the physical playmaker combination of Kyle Pitts and Drake London to shine. Against a defense many considered the league’s best heading into the season, though, the possibility may not be as strong as desired.
You don’t get much steeper of a drop-off in competition than going from facing the Super Bowl champion to a team with a 4.5-game win total, and the hope is that’s all that is needed for the Rams to get back on track. On the other end, if the Falcons once again are able to produce at a high level against another well-regarded defense, then there really needs to be more attention given to what Arthur Smith is able to accomplish as a play-caller, though it remains to seen how flexible this offense can be. In spite of the double-digit spread, there are a lot of interesting storylines to monitor here, making this quite the intriguing game. Let’s just say what stands to be gained and lost from this game are dramatically different for each team.
Cincinnati Bengals (0-1) at Dallas Cowboys (0-1)
Spread: DAL (+7)
- Projected Spread: DAL (+6.43)
- My Pick: CIN (-7)
- Projected Total: 45.8
- My Pick: Under
- CIN: 69.49%
- DAL: 30.51%
Score Prediction: Bengals 23 Cowboys 14
- Can We See Some Wrinkles From The Bengals Offense?
- Does The Cowboys Offense Stand Any Chance?
- Rookie OT Tyler Smith vs EDGE Trey Hendrickson
Initially, this looked like the potential top game of the late slate- two postseason teams from a year ago looking to bounce back from tough Week 1 losses. Sadly, that was before Dak Prescott suffered a thumb injury that will sideline him for the foreseeable future, making things much more complicated in Dallas. As such, the line for this game has shifted from the Cowboys being a 2.5-point favorite to a 7-point underdog, and, to be honest, that is very justifiable.
After all, with Prescott playing a majority of the game, no offense was less efficient in Week 1 than Dallas, and it mainly stemmed from the least-efficient offense on passing plays. Alas, this isn’t a complete surprise, and it all stems for a curious offseason from the Cowboys. With Amari Cooper being traded to save salary, the team decided not to try to find any sort of replacement, and that’s with losing Cedrick Wilson Jr. and Michael Gallup missing the beginning of the year due to injury. As such, after CeeDee Lamb, the other receivers consist of Noah Brown, who had run 385 routes in five seasons before 2022, un-drafted free agent rookie Dennis Houston, and 2021 fifth-round pick Semi Fehoko (who didn’t run a route in 2021). There’s just no avenue for success in the passing game with Lamb as the only viable option, and that’s not all. With La’el Collins and Connor Williams signing elsewhere this offseason and Tyron Smith tearing his hamstring, Dallas is without 3/5 of their starting offensive line last year, and are down even further after losing Williams’ replacement in Connor McGovern. Now, that makes the entire left side, including rookie first-round pick Tyler Smith, a major concern, making it too difficult for Prescott to operate as is.
Instead, though, it’ll be Cooper Rush starting in place of Prescott moving forward, as the team reportedly does not believe they need to look for an outside reinforcement. Rush, an un-drafted free agent in 2017, has just one career start in his five-year career, and struggled (53.2 PFF passing grade, 8.2% turnover-worthy play rate) in that one game last year. Now, he’ll have to deal with a compromised offensive line and arguably the thinnest group of weapons in the entire league, which could make things go very, very poorly.
That creates a strong rebound spot for the Bengals, who finished as the third-least efficient offense on early downs, committed five turnovers, and also saw Joe Burrow take seven sacks. Obviously, no one is expecting the initial two aspects to be a consistent theme given what we know about the talent level of the offense, but there are reasons to have some reservations. While the team did pass more on early downs, we continued to see them be very predictable – pass out of empty, run when under center – while Burrow also continued to be amongst the worst quarterbacks in preventing pressure from becoming sacks. At some point, some of the limitations of this offense that keep it from being an elite group in spite of its talent level may just be prevalent, which is fine with the talent they have, but perhaps forces us to slightly dim optimistic projections for them. It’ll be hard to gauge much considering the game script they’ll likely be playing from here, but, at some point, the entire offense can’t simply be carried by their elite trio (Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins) dragging down from the hole they tend to bury themselves into.
This may not be a game where we learn a lot simply due to what’s going on in Dallas, though it’s not as if the Bengals shouldn’t have been the favorite even if Prescott were healthy. A questionable offseason is already translating into poor results for the Cowboys, and that is only going to rear its ugly head more going forward. Still, though, any game involving Joe Burrow is a win from an entertainment purpose!
Houston Texans (0-0-1) at Denver Broncos (0-1)
Spread: DEN (-10)
- Projected Spread: DEN (-9.35)
- My Pick: DEN (-10)
- Projected Total: 43.25
- My Pick: Under
- HOU: 21.68%
- DEN: 78.32%
Score Prediction: Texans 14 Broncos 30
- Another Week For The Broncos Offense To Get Into a Groove
- A Tough Test For Rookie CB Derek Stingley Jr.
- Denver’s Edge Rush versus Houston’s Tackles- Who Has The Edge?
Is there a team more excited for Week 2 to be here than the Broncos? Losing on national television as a touchdown favorite against the team whose quarterback who you just traded for, particularly when it coms down to settling for a 64-yard field goal attempt, is not the way Denver was started to start the Russell Wilson era, and, now, they need to put it behind them in Wilson’s home debut.
To be honest, there is plenty to be optimistic about with the Broncos offense. Excluding their two goal-line fumbles, they would have finished as the second-best offense in EPA/play, ranking in the top-six both on passing and rushing plays. When it comes to moving the ball down the field, they did that quite well, and got an efficient game from Wilson (3rd in adjusted EPA/play). Of course, there were plenty of limitations in place, such as a lack of passing over the middle of the field, but you can clearly see the upside as the talent continues to mesh together.
Under head coach Lovie Smith, we’ll continue to see the Texans play a conservative cover-two defense focused on limiting explosive passes, which is the style of defense that Wilson has struggled with in the past; he’s averaging just 6.2 yards/attempt against cover-two with four pass rushers, which makes sense given his reputation to prefer to play a riskier style of play as opposed to taking what’s being given. The talent gap is notable enough here for that not to come back to bite him, but it will continue to be a question with this team against defenses where they just can’t rely on that talent.
For Houston, as per usual, this game is all about learning more about their future building blocks. Third overall pick Derek Stingley Jr. faces a notable test against a strong Broncos wide receiving corps, and, while quarterback Davis Mills was efficient last week, he did so in very conservative fashion (0% big-time throw), which remains the question for him moving forward. Theoretically, he should be protected well by tackles Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard, though the edge rush duo of Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory might have something to say about that, and we’ll see how often he has to move off his first read with Patrick Surtain Jr. likely shadowing Brandin Cooks. Thus, in a more adverse situation, how does Mills respond?
The Texans are a pesky enough team to make this a closer game than expected, but the Broncos played significantly better than the final score last week would indicate, and the talent gap is significant here. The mood in Denver may not be great right now, but consider this a spot where optimism is restored.
Arizona Cardinals (0-1) at Las Vegas Raiders (0-1)
Spread: LV (-5.5)
- Projected Spread: LV (-2.84)
- My Pick: ARI (+5.5)
- Projected Total: 49.79
- My Pick: Over
- ARI: 41.39%
- LV: 58.61%
Score Prediction: Cardinals 27 Raiders 30
- Are The Raiders The Next Team To Exploit Arizona’s Blitz-Heavy Defense?
- Can a Better Game Script Lead To More Efficiency For The Cardinals Offense?
- Which Secondary Can Hold Up More?
It’s improper to call any game in Week 2 a “must win”, but for these two teams, this is as close as it gets. It’s hard enough to make a postseason run after starting out 0-2, but to do so in the two divisions of these respective teams is immensely difficult. So, who avoids the dreaded panic that comes with an 0-2 start? As always, it all comes to the passing game.
No defense last week struggled more than the Cardinals, and it wasn’t close- their EPA/play allowed was double that of the 31st-ranked team. Their deficiencies in the secondary were already well known, but they made matters much worse by blitzing Patrick Mahomes on half of his dropbacks, and that was exposed repeatedly; they were the only team to rank in the bottom-five in PFF grade for run defense, coverage, and pass rush, which is not ideal, to say the least. Now, they’ll have to go up against a Raiders offense with Derek Carr looking for a bounce-back performance against Davante Adams, Darren Waller, and Hunter Renfrow, which does not sound like fun. Is the outcome going to be as ugly as it looks on paper for Arizona? There’s a strong chance it could be.
That’s not to say the Raiders offense doesn’t have any questions. Only one quarterback attempted a play-action pass on a lower percentage of their dropbacks than Derek Carr, who targeted Davante Adams on 45% of his attempts and was perhaps too locked in on him- his 11.4% turnover-worthy play rate and 41.5 PFF grade ranked second-worst in football. Hopefully, a rebound is in order as the offense continues to gel under new head coach Josh McDaniels, with the offensive line remaining the one concern.
On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals offense had their fair share of struggles, but they were the 11th-most efficient offense on early downs, much better compared to the Raiders, who were 28th. Kyler Murray being pressured on 43.2% of his drop backs, a situation where he averaged just 2.2 yards/attempt, did not help matters, and the receiving corps remains depleted without DeAndre Hopkins and Rondale Moore. At the same time, the Raiders struggled in coverage (11th-worst PFF COV Grade) last week, are now down even further in cornerback depth with the loss of Anthony Averett, and a better game script should also do Arizona wonders; Murray gives them such a strong baseline for production, and one would reckon one week isn’t enough to suddenly believe that has changed.
Overall, we’re looking at two strong passing attacks with very thin pass defenses, which, ultimately, makes it come down to which secondary holds up. The Raiders, with the stronger pass rush, have less need to blitz, and, thus, are more likely to get by, particularly with Arizona still so limited in terms of playmakers. Now, do I believe that the Cardinals, who actually showed much more offensively last week than Las Vegas, make this a closer game than expected? Yes, and, to be honest, it’s a coin-flip who actually comes out on top. Regardless, though, consider this arguably the highest-stakes game of the week.
Chicago Bears (1-0) at Green Bay Packers (0-1)
Spread: GB (-10)
- Projected Spread: GB (-10.68)
- My Pick: GB (-10)
- Projected Total: 45.11
- My Pick: Over
Score Prediction: Bears 14 Packers 30
- Our First Real Look At The Bears Offense
- Who Steps Up For The Packers? Is Allen Lazard Enough?
- Can The Packers Defense Live Up To Expectations?
What’s better than Bears vs Packers at Lambeau? Well, with a double-digit spread, perhaps there are more answers to that question than we would like, but there is a lot to be fascinated about. After all, it’s the Bears, not the Packers, who enter this game 1-0, and I’m not sure there’s a better way to find out how significant a problem Green Bay’s lack of skill position talent is than this- struggle here, and things are not going to look promising.
Although the Bears held the 49ers to 10 points, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. First of, no team had a lower PFF run defense grade than they did, while they also had the seventh-lowest PFF pass rush grade. Coverage on the back end held up competently, but relying on multiple rookie back-seven players is going to lead to growing pains, especially when you’re going up against Aaron Rodgers, of all quarterbacks; Chicago still has the third-lowest projected defense heading into Week 2. At the very least, the Packers may be able to simply win this game off of rushing efficiency, and as long as Rodgers retains faith in second-round rookie Christian Watson as a deep threat and fourth-round rookie Romeo Doubs while also getting Allen Lazard (someone he trusts) back, there may be enough here for them to at least to take advantage of the Bears’ clear defensive deficiencies.
Meanwhile, lost in their win last week was the horrid efficiency of the Bears offense, who had the second-lowest success rate in the league with Justin Fields being the lowest-graded passer from PFF. We already saw the team’s lack of receiving talent show up in a major way, and it’s unclear if the offensive line will continue to hold him in more true pass sets. Hence, how things could go very, very poorly. Look for offensive coordinator Luke Getsy to hopefully lean less on second-down runs, thus setting up fewer chances for obvious passing situations on third down, and, thus, giving Fields any sort of chance to succeed. Still, though, there aren’t many signs of optimism so far.
Thus, does that lead to the Packers making good on their defensive hype coming into the season? That certainly wasn’t on display with the sixth-worst EPA/play allowed in a loss in Minnesota last week, with clear problems being exposed in terms of their run defense (sixth-lowest PFF RDEF grade) and coverage (fifth-lowest PFF COV grade). Is this the spot where the reasons for optimism – an elite back-seven with a more-than-strong enough pass rush – show up in a major way. You’d hope so after just one week, though the major tests will come in the future.
Doesn’t this seem to be shaping up perfectly for a Packers convincing win? Aaron Rodgers off of an embarrassing loss now facing the Bears in Lambeau on Sunday Night? Yeah, I think we have an idea how that will go. Anything but that, however, will say a lot about these two teams, and you’d consider this an important test for Fields in a critical second season. I mean, could you imagine Chicago coming away with a victory here? I’m sure there would be totally rational reactions to that!
Tennessee Titans (0-1) at Buffalo Bills (1-0)
Spread: BUF (-10)
- Projected Spread: BUF (-11.41)
- My Pick: BUF (-10)
- Projected Total: 49.11
- My Pick: Over
Score Prediction: Titans 17 Bills 31
- Can The Titans’ Young Secondary Hold Up Against The Bills?
- Is The Quick Passing Game Going To Become a New Staple For Buffalo?
- How Strong Is Buffalo’s Defensive Front?
Should we just go ahead and anoint the Bills as the 2022-2023 Super Bowl champions? That’s certainly what the mood is in Buffalo after an impressive 31-10 trouncing of the defending champion Rams, which also goes along with preseason expectations of them being the clear-cut Super Bowl favorites. Now, in their home opener on Monday Night Football, they’ll look to make another statement.
Just when you thought you’d seen everything imaginable from the Bills, they had another wrinkle- proficiency in the quick passing game. In fact, Josh Allen had the second-quickest time to attempt in the NFL last week, allowing him to remain kept clean (81.8%) at the third-highest rate against a strong Rams pass rush. With some slight concerns on the offensive line, this is something that can take Buffalo’s offense to another level, particularly when Allen can still create out of structure as effectively as any other quarterback- the more flexibility, the better. Unfortunately, Gabriel Davis may not be able to play in this game due to injury, though consider this a mighty test for a very young Titans secondary.
Speaking of which, the Titans surely are hoping for a bounce-back performance from third-year cornerback Kristian Fulton (46.8 PFF COV grade), though second-round rookie Roger McCreary did show plenty of encouraging signs. It’s a bit concerning 2021 first-round pick Caleb Farley can’t crack a starting role, though, and the pass rush depth outside of interior defender Jeffrey Simmons remains a question mark. Regardless, though, it’s going to take a lot of points to keep up with the Bills, which is easier said than done- they also have the best-projected defense in the league and also held the Rams to the lowest EPA/play on early downs of any team in Week 1. With the ability to create plenty of pressure with just four rushers while also playing sound coverage in the back-end, they have a rare skillset no other defense can offer, which is not ideal for a Titans offense that came into the year with the lowest-projected PFF pass-blocking unit heading into the year and no longer possesses the weaponry they once had.
On non play-action situations, Ryan Tannehill’s production (64.3 PFF passing grade, 5.5 yards/attempt) was not ideal last week, and we’ll likely see much more of that in a less-favorable game script against an elite defense. Pending more snaps for first-round rookie Treylon Burks or a continued emergence from fifth-round rookie slot receiver Kyle Phillips, there are simply too many limitations for them to succeed here. Heck, even the mere fact Derrick Henry had just one rush attempt for over 10 yards (4.7% explosive rush rate) last week at a time where he has 1578 career carries, is 28-years-old, and is coming off a major injury is notable, and takes away the elite rushing efficiency needed for such a run-heavy offense. Let’s just say the loss of AJ Brown is only going to continue to be more prevalent, particularly when playing from behind against arguably the best pass defense in the NFL.
In theory, this should be a strong test for the Bills front seven to prove they can’t be gashed on the ground like they have been in the past, though it’s hard to see the Titans being able to move the ball in the air enough to keep up with them. Really, how many teams on paper can? Tennessee’s had their fair share of success against Buffalo in the past, but these are new times.
Minnesota Vikings (1-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-0)
Spread: PHI (-2)
- Projected Spread: PHI (+1.72)
- My Pick: MIN (+2)
- Projected Total: 51.45
- My Pick: Under
Score Prediction: Vikings 24 Eagles 23
- Can Minnesota’s Interior Offensive Line Handle The Eagles Interior Pass Rush?
- How Badly Could Philadelphia Get Gashed On The Ground?
- A Tougher Test For The Eagles Offense
Folks, words can describe how excited I am this game.
Right now, the NFC is wide open, and there are two teams that are getting much more Super Bowl buzz than they were just a few weeks ago. Well, what better way to find out the legitimacy with that than have them simply face off against one another?
This certainly isn’t the first time the Vikings, between Kirk Cousins’ efficiency and impact star talent (hello Justin Jefferson) has shown the capability to compete with the best NFL teams. Yet, this year may be different, and it all comes down to different coaching. In Kevin O’Connell’s first game as head coach, Minnesota was much more willing to pass on early downs, and, mainly, catered to where Cousins shines the most- in the play-action passing game. The zone-beating designs that completely broke down Green Bay’s defense last week was just an example of what he seemingly brings to the table as a head coach, and he’ll now get to face an Eagles defense that had its fair share of issues (15th in PFF COV grade) in the back-end of their secondary while allowing 35 points to the Lions last week.
In an ideal world for Minnesota, they take advantage of Philadelphia’s major run defense (2nd-worst rush EPA/play allowed) woes, while Cousins, Justin Jefferson, and co. are able to take advantage of any sort of openings that should present itself- having a completely new safety tandem doesn’t seem ideal considering how the Vikings took advantage of Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos last week. The one factor that could complicate matters, though, is their pass protection. The entire interior offensive line comes with major question marks and got rough performances from Garrett Bradbury and second-round rookie Ed Ingram last week, and, now, they have to face a deep interior pass rush headlined by Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox, while Brandon Graham will move inside as well. If forced into too many true pass sets, it’s easy to imagine a world where Cousins is pressured consistently, which is a recipe for disaster. At the same time, though, it does feel like we’re repeating a lot of what would have been said about their matchup against the Packers.
The Eagles, meanwhile, also come into this game riding high offensively, though the situation has to be considered. As things stand, the Lions have the fourth-lowest projected defense, consist of younger/unproven players, and play man coverage more than other team in the league. With the latter factor, the talent gap between them and other teams is going to show up in a major way at times, and the Eagles have the athletes to exploit it. This week, though, things won’t be as simple as Jalen Hurts merely able to take advantage of the man coverage looks to have room to scramble (90 rushing yards) or stick with AJ Brown as his first read. Rather, he’ll face a Vikings defense that ran the second-most amount of zone coverage and simply features more talented and experiences players at all levels. We’re well aware of how Philadelphia can take advantage of the elite athletes they have on offense against inferior teams, but how does that show up against a much more disciplined team? That’s the question that continues to persist over Hurts, and this would be a spot where a strong performance would serve him quite well.
With how much excitement there is regarding these two teams, it’s almost a shame one will walk away with just a 1-1 record to show for it. Or, maybe there’ll be a tie, because football has a way of simply never being predictable. The Vikings on paper would appear to have a slight edge from a pure matchups and passing game perspective, though with Philadelphia’s renewed passing aggressiveness and Hurts’ willingness to target in the middle of the field, that previous assessment may simply be underestimating the growth of the Eagles offense. Well, there is only one real way to find out.
LAC/KC: Chargers Wire
NE/PIT: USA Online Sportsbooks
IND/JAX: Jaguars Wire
CAR/NYG: Panthers Wire
TB/NO: Saints Wire
WSH/DET: Detroit News
MIA/BAL: Yahoo! Sports
NYJ/CLE: Charlotte Observer
SEA/SF: NBC Sports
ATL/LAR: Los Angeles Times
CIN/DAL: Sporting News
ARI/LV: Silver and Black Pride
CHI/GB: Chicago Sun-Times