Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 14:02 PM
Essentials - Week 2
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Indianapolis at Washington (-6/48), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: : Andrew Luck will try to build on a decent debut against a ‘Skins defense that should generate pressure since they’ve got the edge up front. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo will sit again due to a hamstring injury and last week’s starting right tackle, J’Marcus Webb, landed on IR with his own hammy issue. Denzel Good remains sidelined too so rookie Braden Smith and Joe Haeg will line up at tackle. Washington had just two sacks of Arizona’s Sam Bradford but will have a crowd behind it to help try and rattle Luck, so getting rid of the ball quickly is going to play a major role. RB Marlon Mack missed Week 1 but returns form a hamstring injury to take some carries from rookie Jordan Wilkins.
While Indy’s backs may be toying with rattles and pacifiers, 33-year-old Adrian Peterson comes off a 96-yard outing in Week 1 and teamed with Carlos Thompson to go over the 200-yard mark in Glendale. The Colts ranked 26th in rushing yards per game allowed last season and were gashed some by Joe Mixon in the season-opening home loss. Indy keying on the run should give Alex Smith opportunities to look good for the locals in his home debut. Although this location is closer to the damage caused by Hurricane Florence than most venues hosting games this week, rain isn’t expected to be in the forecast.
Carolina at Atlanta (-6/44), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Cowboys’ inability to block up front or create much downfield via the passing game helped mask the fact that the Panthers didn’t exactly set the world on fire in their Week 1 win. We did see Cam Newton calling his number on straight draws more than we’ve seen over the past few years, something he’s referred to as getting back to what he does best. The Panthers want to keep him healthy and fresh, but if the opener was any indication, are going to let him do his thing. With Greg Olson out with a foot injury and unlikely to contribute, it’s on Newton to cultivate new weapons and help them emerge. With guard Trai Turner out with a concussion, the offensive line is down yet another body after already losing tackles Matt Kalil and Daryl Williams for at least two months.
These NFC South rivals know each other well and can console one another since they’ve been among the unluckiest teams in the league thus far, records aside. While Carolina comes in 1-0, Atlanta lost a winnable game in Philly and added injury to insult, twice. Terrific young LB Deion Jones (foot) and safety Keanu Neal (ACL), both starters, were lost for the season, so Dan Quinn and coordinator Marquand Manuel will have to rebuild on the move. Top RB Devonta Freeman hurt his knee and will be out at least a few weeks, leaving duties to the very capable Tevin Coleman but nevertheless adding to the team’s depth issues. Atlanta is heavily favored, perhaps moreso than many expected, but its recent history against the Panthers at home may factor in some since it has won eight of the last 10 (SU and ATS) played between the Georgia Dome and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Falcons are 14-2 (13-3 ATS) in their last 16 September home games.
Minnesota at Green Bay, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Aaron Rodgers practiced Saturday to increase the likelihood he’ll suit up for this huge early NFC North game against the team that ended his 2017 season prematurely. He wasn’t moving around well at all during last week’s epic comeback against Chicago, so an appearance here would mean he’s going to try and beat one of the top defenses in pro football with only his brain and arm. He won’t be very mobile and faces a healthy Vikings defense that harassed Jimmy Garoppolo into three picks in handing him his first loss as an NFL starter.
Rodgers would be replaced by DeShone Kizer if he decides to exercise caution and take the week off, which is one reason the SuperContest went to a 7-point spread favoring Minnesota when those lines came down Wednesday. Kizer just joined the team in March and was picked off in addition to fumbling after taking over for Rodgers against the Bears. Keep that in mind given the possibility that Rodgers starts but doesn’t last all four quarters. Davante Adams will be out there despite shoulder pain, so Green Bay will at least be able to challenge the Vikes secondary at full strength. Rookie Mike Hughes made the biggest play in Minnesota’s Week 1 win over San Francisco, striking for a pick-six.
L.A. Chargers (-7.5/43) at Buffalo, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: For a team that doesn’t have a homefield advantage, playing on the road is no big deal. That was the case last year for the Chargers, who went 4-4 outside of their “home” in Carson, winning games on both coasts since they beat each of Met Life Stsdium’s residents once. They were 5-2-1 ATS in true road games last season and won both games they were favored in outright. Philip Rivers will have to get it done without tackle Joe Barksdale’s protection since he left the game last Sunday with a knee injury and won’t return. Second-year Joe Tavi (Utah) will make his second career start.
If there’s a way the Bills are going to reverse course after being the league’s biggest embarrassment in Week 1 by winning their home opener, pressuring Rivers into mistakes is their best bet. Shaq Lawson won’t play due to a bum hamstring, but end Jerry Hughes and tackles Kyle Williams and Star Lotulelei could still prove formidable for an L.A. offensive line that’s thin on bodies. The defense will have to help pick up Kyle Allen, who is making his first career start and becomes the second rookie in this class to start, falling in behind New York’s Sam Darnold. The Bills aren’t expecting a special debut since he’s got a lot of work to put in and is far more raw than his Jets’ counterpart, but if he can keep plays alive with his feet or hit a big play with his arm, they’ll be able to hang around. That would be a step up from last week. L.A. pass rushers Joey Bosa (foot) and Corey Liuget (suspension) won’t play, aiding Allen’s cause.
Houston (-3/43) at Tennessee, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Deshaun Watson isn’t dealing with any lingering effects after being beat up by the Patriots last week, or if he is, he’ll be playing through them in Nashville. He didn’t look like the version who took the league by storm for a few weeks before being injured. His first snap resulted in a fumble. He was picked off. Passes sailed. He never got comfortable, so between rust and pressure, he looked awfully rough against New England. Act 2 gets underway against a Titans defense that he had his coming out party against, albeit in Houston. Watson threw for four scores and ran for another in a 57-14 rout last October 1, beginning his brief run of world domination. Right tackle Seantrel Henderson broke his ankle last week, but Watson will have De’Andre Hopkins (foot) and Will Fuller (hamstring) to throw to.
The Titans saw Marcus Mariota get beat up in Miami in between lightning delays and came up a big loser in the longest game in league history. Beyond the Week 1 setback, of greater importance was the loss of Delanie Walker to a gruesome ankle injury likely to end his season. The Titans enter this home opener with starting tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin in addition to backup Dennis Kelly, Kevin Pamphile and undrafted Tyler Marz will be tasked with protecting the franchise. Mariota has been dealing with a pinched nerve in his elbow that has caused numbness in his fingers, so Blaine Gabbert has also been prepared to play this week. The Titans are 1-5 in their last six September home games and are 4-10 SU (3-11 ATS) against the Texans since 2011, so it’s no surprise to see them open as a home ‘dog given all their issues.
Kansas City at Pittsburgh (-5.5/53.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Ben Roethlisberger is on the list of quarterbacks to be concerned about entering Sunday since he was dealing with an elbow injury. Josh Dobbs took first-team snaps in case he’s needed to pinch hit but Roethlisberger is likely to gut it out despite the fact that he wasn’t sharp at all after getting clocked late in the fourth. Luckily, he’ll have Le’Veon Bell to shoulder the load… oh, right. James Conner did have an excellent debut as the fill-in as Bell continues his holdout, but the offensive line that does the heavy lifting in Pittsburgh won’t be as formidable if guard David DeCastro can’t play after breaking his hand in a costly tie in Cleveland.
The Chiefs couldn’t have asked for a better season debut for Patrick Mahomes II, making his second NFL start after getting his feet wet in a meaningless Week 17 game last week when he was still serving his apprenticeship. It’s his show now, and he displayed full control with some jaw-dropping throws showing off zip that you can’t teach. He lit up the Chargers despite Travis Kelce finishing with just once reception, so don’t be surprised if feeding his All-Pro tight end is on today’s agenda. He’ll be starting his third straight career road game but facin a secondary that may be missing starting corners Joe Haden (hamstring) and Artie Burns (toe), though the latter is expected to play. Expect to see plenty of veteran Coty Sensabaugh and second-year man Cameron Sutton, which means we’ll see how well Mahomes identifies mismatches. Numbers favor the Chiefs here too since the Steelers haven’t covered in any of their last five home games despite winning four outright – all one-possession games decided by four points or less.
Miami at N.Y. Jets (-3/42.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: One of these teams is going to be 2-0 and the greatest threat to the Patriots’ throne at the end of this one, which obviously doesn’t mean all that much. Still, don’t be Debbie Downer. Considering where these franchises have been of late, stuck in hopeless mediocrity or the miserable state of being the perennial butt of a joke, being perfect through two would be cause for cautious optimism in New York or South Florida. The Jets were last 2-0 in ’15, while you have to go back to ’13 for the last time the ‘Fins got there. Ryan Tannehill did some good things in his long-awaited return but did throw two interceptions while Darnold threw a pick-six on his first pass, then settled in to put on a show on a Monday night. We’ll see whether the short week affects the rookie and his Jets teammates but it likely won’t, home opener and all. LB Josh Martin (concussion) and safety Marcus Maye (foot) will be absent but the defense that picked on Matthew Stafford relentlessly returns mostly intact.
The Dolphins are relatively healthy everywhere but up front, where they had to put guard Josh Sitton on IR with a torn rotator cuff and have starting tackles Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James nursing hamstring injuries. New York is favored in a game for the first time since December 2016 and have covered seven of their last nine home games. Miami has won three of four in the series.
Philadelphia (-3.5/45) at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Eagles survived the Thursday night season opener thanks to fabulous defense in the red zone, which, let’s face it, they got an assist from the Falcons on. The Bucs didn’t require help in pulling off the biggest Week 1 upset in a 48-40 shocker at New Orleans. Ryan Fitzpatrick may be sparking himself up a QB controversy if he builds on a 4-touchdown performance in which he threw for 417 yards. Jameis Winston can only watch for another two games due to suspension, but De’Sean Jackson may prefer Fitzpatrick, who threw him two long TD passes and lets him go and get it in a way Winston hasn’t been able to. He’ll play after clearing concussion protocol, but corner Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves have been ruled out.
A depleted secondary that Drew Brees tore up has a much easier task since Nick Foles hasn’t been able to get the passing game on track and will again be missing top threat Alshon Jeffery due to a shoulder injury. The Eagles will have WR Shelton Gibson back, but versatile threat Darren Sproles won’t play after his strong Week 1 return was spoiled by a hamstring tweak. Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz will need to find ways to exploit the Bucs. It’s going to be a hot, humid day in Tampa, so we’ll see which team is better conditioned come second half. Have the defending champs rested on their laurels? At times throughout this preseason, that allegation was heard. A 2-0 start without Carson Wentz, whether it’s pretty or not, would be a strong rebuttal.
Cleveland at New Orleans (-9.5/49), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Saints join the Packers and Broncos as teams that get to spend the first two weeks of the season at home, so there’s some pressure not to completely waste this opportunity to get off to a good start. Sean Payton’s former defensive coordinator and brother in “Bountygate,” Gregg Williams, will bring his aggressive defense into the Superdome after they created the miscues that allowed Cleveland to leave a stadium without a loss for the first time since 2016. Rookie Denzel Ward picked off a pair of passes and former No. 1 pick Myles Garrett is certainly capable of doing some damage if he’s ever able to get to Brees, who threw for 439 yards and three scores in the upset loss to Tampa. It wasn’t his fault.
“Take your pick,” was Payton’s response to the question of where blame actually did lie, which included being in the right frame of mind to start the season. New Orleans has been experimenting with its linebacker rotations and will have to see if a secondary that made tremendous strides last season can rebound from a sluggish start. The Saints will be facing Jarvis Landry, rookie Antonio Callaway and tight end David Njoku among others, but Josh Gordon tweaked a hamstring at a non-team event and will be released on Monday, ending a tumultuous chapter with Cleveland. The Browns will be missing starting linebackers Christian Kirksey (shoulder) and Emmanuel Ogbah (ankle), which certainly can put the team in a bind with options like Alvin Kamara, Ted Ginn and the newly healed Cameron Meredith to contend with. Michael Thomas had 16 catches in the opener and will run into Ward, making for an attractive matchup to key in on.
Arizona at L.A. Rams (-13.5/45), 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX: After feeling their way through the first half in Oakland, the Rams flexed their ample muscles in putting away the Raiders, scoring the final 23 points and controlling the game from all angles. The pass rush, stacked with bodies to ensure guys stay fresh, was fierce and menacing. Putting Ndamakong Suh out there with Aaron Donald has to speed up a quarterback’s internal clock. Newly acquired Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters used to be AFC West but are now thick as thieves as one of the league’s top cornerback tandems. Jared Goff knows where all his receivers are supposed to be at all times, which means Sean McVay has brought him along exactly as desired. Robert Woods is playing the role of the No. 1 receiver, allowing Brandon Cooks and Cooper Kupp to play to their strengths. Todd Gurley and the attention he commands makes it all work. So, where’s the flaw? It’s no wonder the Rams have become the first favorite of over 10 points, a rarity this early in the season.
The Cardinals could get steamrolled if they’re not able to get started earlier than they did at home against Washington. David Johnson finally found the end zone over 54 minutes in Arizona joined Buffalo and Dallas as teams that failed to score in three of four quarters. The Bills failed to find the end zone and enter Week 2 as the lowest-scoring team but the Cards bring up the rear in the NFC East, drawing little spark from Sam Bradford, who threw for just 153 yards and was picked off once. He hooked up Larry Fitzgerald seven times and tried to feed Johnson but really could never find a rhythm. Johnson is considered probable despite a back issue but tackle Andre Smith has been ruled out with an elbow injury.
Detroit at San Francisco (-6/48), 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX: Jimmy Garoppolo hadn’t lost a real game as a starter since his days playing for current Syracuse head coach Dino Babers at Eastern Illinois. He was the reason the 49ers lost too, throwing three interceptions and failing to connect on a number of big plays that were available through tight end George Kittle or rookie Dante Pettis. Entering his first full season as a starter and wit h a full training camp under his belt, Garoppolo can now begin to cultivate connections and should be able to make better use of his talent at home against a much less imposing defense than he saw in Minneapolis. Deep threat Marquise Goodwin won’t be available, but between the names mentioned above, veteran Pierre Garcon, slot receiver Trent Taylor and another tight end, Garrett Celek, he’ll have plenty of targets to help him avoid a losing streak.
Detroit will start Matthew Stafford despite how banged up he looked after getting roughed up by the Jets, who sent him to the bench for a spell and then victimized him via interceptions when he decided to return despite clearly looking limited. The hope is that he’ll be able to bounce back despite the short week situation that is compounded by a trip out to the West coast. Matt Patricia faces the challenge of keeping this team he basically inherited from fracturing since the word is they’re not particularly fond of his methods as it is. The defense will have its two standouts since DE Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder) has been upgraded to probable and top corner Darius Slay wasn’t even included on the injury report despite hurting his knee and exiting during a key stretch where the Jets took over.
New England (-1.5/44) at Jacksonville, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: We didn’t have to wait long to get this AFC Championship rematch, so it will definitely register on the Tom Brady mortality meter how pumped he is to try and send a message here. After being harassed by one of the league’s top defenses into taking whatever he could, finishing with 290 yards on 26 completions, the master ultimately got the better of an athletic Jaguars defense that’s among the best he’s seen over the past decade by rallying the Patriots from a 14-3 deficit thanks to a 14-3 fourth quarter where he threw a pair of touchdown passes. Considering this game won’t be played in friendly Gillette Stadium and he’ll take on a healthy Jags defense with what’s essentially a rebuilt receiving corps, Gronk aside, this should be an excellent challenge for him.
New England’s defense started incredibly slowly under Patricia last season, so Bill Belichick has to be pleased that this year’s group has taken to new leadership and an aggressive scheme so nicely, having enjoyed a strong preseason and largely controlling Houston’s Watson and a dangerous offense that really couldn’t get going in Foxboro. The Patriots will look to hassle Blake Bortles into mistakes and errant throws the way the Giants were able to last week and probably won’t have to deal with Leonard Fournette, who is considered doubtful with a hamstring issue. This is one of the few games on Sunday’s slate that may be affected by weather since thunderstorms could become part of the story in the second half.
Oakland at Denver (-6.5/46), 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: Social media trolls had a lot of fun with Jon Gruden during that second-half beating he was powerless to stop. Maybe he would’ve been more comfortable in a cozy press box on Monday night, but ESPN wasn’t going to be paying him $100 million over the next decade to sit there. Plus, he got the itch, and there’s only one way to scratch it, even if it will ultimately involve a lot of losing. Oakland has a unique timetable in that it is moving to Las Vegas and ultimately rebuilding but doing so with hand-picked veterans Gruden is counting on to help him set a foundation. Derek Carr made an awful second-half mistake and Amari Cooper was invisible again, playing decoy as Jared Cook emerged as the Raiders’ most effective weapon. Marshawn Lynch found the end zone and ran as hard as he ever has, albeit not as effectively as when he had a different, younger version of beast mode engaged. The Broncos intercepted Russell Wilson twice and Von Miller created a fumble, so despite losing Talib, the defense still has teeth and could be formidable again.
Case Keenum threw three interceptions and still managed to win, hooking up with veteran Emmanuel Sanders 10 times and hitting mainstay Demariyus Thomas for the game-winning score, but this team is loaded with young guys and new faces on that side of the ball, riding Devontae Booker and rookies Royce Freeman and Philip Lindsay, all Pac-12 products. Rookie receivers DaeSean Hamilton and Courtland Sutton figure to factor in the passing game as the season progresses, but a veteran Raiders secondary may have a few advantages to tap into. It was surprising to see the line creep up near seven points given the Broncos’ freefall last season, but Oakland’s road struggles probably factored in some since the Raiders have only one once in their last seven excursions away from the Black Hole, going 1-5-1 ATS.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]