Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Week 2 picks: Patriots will scheme for Sanchez

Mark Sanchez graduates from his NFL debut to facing bill Belichick. And this week, Tom Brady plays with renewed confidence. Plus, picks for all this weekend's games.
Vinnie Iyer
The opening week of the NFL season provided a handful of surprises, but the New York Jets were responsible for two of them. First, Mark Sanchez turned in a great debut in guiding their offense to a big day in Houston. On the other side, another rookie, Rex Ryan, coached the defense to give up no points to a good Texans offense.
Now the Jets return home triumphant, just in time to take on their division nemesis. Sanchez and Ryan both have plenty of work to do to get ready for the ...

AFC Game of the Week

New England Patriots at New York Jets
What can you expect when a rookie quarterback, even one as skilled as Sanchez, goes against a Bill Belichick defense? The Patriots are hoping the poised first-round pick from Southern Cal makes mistakes in reading coverage, and they can occasionally frustrate him with a pass rush.
The Pats' defensive focus typically is on what the offense can do best. Against Buffalo, it was taking away the home-run pass to Lee Evans and Terrell Owens. This week, it will be working to shut down the power running of Thomas Jones and make Sanchez beat them.
This week, the Pats can take more chances with their secondary, until the Jets prove they can stretch the field with Jerricho Cotchery or Chansi Stuckey. That will allow them to squeeze the line of scrimmage to slow Jones and come after Sanchez.
Offensively, the Patriots used the Bills to shake off rust. Even though it won't be easy to move the ball on Ryan's defense, Tom Brady once again will make the right throws at the right time. Patriots 20, Jets 16

NFC Game of the Week

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
This has been a hard game to pick in recent years. Home-field advantage has gone out the window, and there have been some unpredictable finishes. The Cowboys showed they were just fine offensively without T.O., but their defense gave up plenty of yardage to a run-heavy Bucs team.
The Giants have a similar offensive M.O. to Tampa, and defensively, they can bring the heat on Tony Romo. But look for Dallas' two-tight end sets to be a big help this week. It will help keep New York from being overaggressive, knowing that Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett can both quickly get open as receivers when they get off their blocks. DeMarcus Ware will then make sure Eli Manning doesn't finish a late comeback. Cowboys 20, Giants 19

AFC-NFC Game of the Week

Pittsburgh Steelers at Chicago Bears
The identity of both blue-collar cities comes through in their football teams' hard-hitting, Black and Gold, Black and Blue defenses. Each unit, however, will be missing a vital all-around playmaker, with both Troy Polamalu and Brian Urlacher on the shelf.
So then it's up to which offense can better exploit a notable absence. You can count on there being little running room, which puts the games on the arms of Ben Roethlisberger and Jay Cutler. Roethlisberger has more consistent downfield weapons, and his elusiveness will help him avoid Chicago's rush and deliver the ball. As for Cutler, expect him to be often swarmed by James Harrison and friends. Steelers 27, Bears 20

Shootout of the Week

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles
Donovan McNabb likely won't play, meaning Kevin Kolb will be in charge of the offense, with Jeff Garcia standing by. Don't expect play-calling to change -- the key will be still getting the ball to Brian Westbrook in open field and stretching the field with speedy wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Kevin Curtis.
All that will be important against a red-hot Drew Brees. Brees won't have it nearly as easy, however, against Philadelphia's defense, which will bring the heat and also have its safeties and cornerbacks in position to capitalize on Brees' few mistakes. The Eagles might need to score on defense to get ahead, but they will also succeed in containing the Saints' passing game. Eagles 28, Saints 24

Lock of the Week

Green Bay Packers over Cincinnati Bengals
Cincy is a frustrating team to watch. It looks like it has good offensive talent, with Carson Palmer throwing to Chad Ochocinco, Laveranues Coles and Chris Henry. Heck, even Cedric Benson has looked good running in a Bengals uniform. Yet, the team could manage only one late touchdown, allowing Denver a shot at the miracle victory.
Part of the struggles may come from frequently facing 3-4 defenses: The Broncos have one; so does every other team in the AFC North. The Packers just installed theirs, led by 3-4 maven Dom Capers. It had immediate results against the Bears up front, and it only helped a top ball-hawking secondary. That means more pressure on Palmer, and more blanket coverage on his receivers. That should also lead to some big defensive plays. Packers 31, Bengals 13

Upset of the Week

Baltimore Ravens over San Diego Chargers
The Ravens had to work hard to avoid being upset by the Chiefs last week, but at the same time, they sent a message: They can now beat teams when throwing the ball often with Joe Flacco. With their usual level of big-play defense and running game prowess, that makes them an even stronger AFC contender.
It seems like the talented Chargers are overdue to take their throne as conference champs, but that won't happen if their defense remains confused, their offensive line falls apart and there's no consistent running game to take pressure off Philip Rivers. The Ravens still have the better D, and their much-improved offense makes the difference in a key intra-conference clash. Ravens 27, Chargers 24

Rest of the Week

Arizona Cardinals at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags turned in a good defensive effort to force takeaways and slow down the Colts, so the Cards can't afford to come out sloppy again. Their focus should be protecting Kurt Warner and early passes downfield to get a lead. The Jags, with Maurice Jones-Drew as their only consistent offensive outlet, lack the firepower to catch up. Cardinals 21, Jaguars 12
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons
Jake Delhomme gets a big chance for redemption at the home of an NFC South rival, one that looks poised as the division favorite. Although Steve Smith and the running game will provide him support in the Georgia Dome, it won't be enough to keep up with Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and one of the league's most potent, balanced offenses. Falcons 27, Panthers 20
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans
The Texans' high-flying offense was grounded by the Jets, and the Titans will relentlessly go after Matt Schaub and physically rattle his supporting cast. Andre Johnson may be the only saving grace, but he'll get few opportunities with Chris Johnson and LenDale White working over Houston's front seven on the other side. Titans 24, Texans 17
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
When he was in Green Bay, Brett Favre got used to having his way with the Leos. His return won't be good news for the Ford Field faithful, especially now that he gets to hand off to Adrian Peterson. Look for Peterson to run wild against the Lions, making it a quick, easy day for Favre. Besides, isn't beating up on Detroit more fun than retirement? Vikings 27, Lions 10
Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
Both teams played inspired football for two coaches entering their first full season, and the nature of this longtime rivalry should keep up the motivation. Still, it comes to which team wins the battles up front. Oakland has the big offensive line to open holes Michael Bush and Darren McFadden, and the defensive line with Richard Seymour to put pressure on whoever starts at QB for KC. Raiders 20, Chiefs 17
St. Louis Rams at Washington Redskins
It looks like a gimme for the Redskins to rebound from their tough, typical NFC East-style loss at the Giants, but they lost this exact matchup last year when the Rams' defense surprised with a few game-changing plays. This season, they must be no-nonsense with Clinton Portis and the running game, and then put St. Louis away with Brian Orakpo and Albert Haynesworth getting in Marc Bulger's face. Redskins 21, Rams 6
Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos
The Broncos must take advantage of drawing the AFC North's Ohio also-rans in consecutive weeks. Here, at home, they can afford to commit extra men to run support and blitzing Brady Quinn, knowing cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Andre' Goodman can handle the Browns' receivers one-on-one. Denver should also have a good chance to get its rushing attack on track. Broncos 20, Browns 13
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
The winner jumps into early sole possession of first place in the weak NFC West. The 'Hawks came out with a bang in the Jim Mora era, and the 49ers have also been pumped up to deliver for Mike Singletary. There's something much improved about the Niners' defense, and Shaun Hill will find a way to push the ball downfield without making mistakes. The home team sneaks away, giving the Bay some hope. 49ers 22, Seahawks 20
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Buffalo Bills
Terrell Owens wasn't happy about the tough last-minute loss to New England, but he needs to regroup, knowing how the receivers he left behind in Dallas burned Tampa Bay's secondary last week. Owens should make his first big scoring play, and the Bills should continue to be effective in moving the ball with efficient offense. The Bucs have proved they will just keep on running, which will only keep them in the game for three quarters. Bills 26, Bucs 14
Indianapolis Colts at Miami Dolphins
It's amazing how the Colts just keep winning, no matter what happens. Peyton Manning always saves the day, even if offense seems like a struggle, and the defense keeps on bending without breaking all that much. The Dolphins didn't show the trademark discipline and fundamentals from last season against Atlanta, and although much of that will return at home, they won't quite keep up on the scoreboard. Colts 23, Dolphins 16


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