By Rich Levine
I finished 6-8-1 last week.
Not great, obviously. But not horrible. I mean, that'd be good enough to compete in the NFC West this season, right?
Anyway, Week 2 is a different game.
On one hand, we now know a little bit more about these teams. We've seen them in action. We know what they have.
And that's where it gets dangerous. When we start to think we know anything.
How many Week 1 performances were actually convincing enough to take with us into Week 2?
Are the Pats, Chiefs, Texans and Titans that much better than we thought?
Are the Niners, Bengals and Cowboys really that bad?
How great is Arian Foster? How awful is Mark Sanchez?
For one week, they all showed us flashes of what they might be, but for now we can't be sure which teams and players will catch that flash in a bottle (or in Sanchez's case, mishandle the bottle, get sacked, fumble and then pout on the sidelines for five minutes).
When the games finally end on Sunday, the picture will be a little clearer, but for now identities are still up for grabs.
So heres what I think I know about Week 2. (Crap, did I just turn into Peter King? Time to re-evaluate.). Most of these picks feel good, or at least better than the feeling that I probably dont know anything at all.
The Game: Kansas City at Cleveland (-2)
The Ex-Patriots: My unofficial count is 14.
Chiefs players Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel. Chiefs coaches Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Anthony Pleasant and Otis Smith. Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli. Browns players Ray Ventrone, Benjamin Watson and Billy Yates, and Browns coaches Eric Mangini, Brad Seely, Rick Lyle and Bryan Cox.
Thats quite a collection, and it got me thinking. One of the biggest issues people seem to have with the Patriots these days is that theyve lost that "Patriot Way," that overriding sense of pride and team that always surrounded the organization and helped them consistently overcome the grind of your average NFL season.
Obviously, that was bound to happen as players from the Dynasty moved on or retired, but wouldn't one way to offset that have been to bring back some of those players as coaches?
I know it's not that easy, and who knows if any of these guys are even that great on the job, but imagine if Bryan Cox was coaching the linebackers right now, and Anthony Pleasant was coaching the defensive line and Otis Smith was with the secondary. Wouldn't they have been able to work with Belichick to make sure that Patriot ideology never died? Who better to teach them?
(By the way, My Man Otis Smith has the coolest job title in football: The coach of "defensive quality control." I have absolutely no idea what that means but would like to think its just My Man periodically ducking into defensive meetings, asking "Everything under control in here?" and then whistling his way out the door.)
The Hypnosis: Vegas doesn't want you to believe in the Chiefs' big win on Monday. Either that, or they dont think anyone really does believe. Otherwise, we wouldn't be having this conversation.
Yeah, maybe KC isnt quite as good as the one that owned the Chargers (although I think they might be), but the Browns either lost to the worst team in the league last week, or are the worst themselves. There's always a chance for a letdown, considering that this Chiefs roster isnt exactly accustomed to success, but take another look at the list of coaches from the ex-Patriots section, I dont see KC flaking.
The Gut: I predicted the Chiefs to make the playoffs, and Im not letting the line scare me off.
The Pick: Chiefs (2)
The Game: Buffalo at Green Bay (-13)
The Back-Up: Has any position lost more street cred than the starting NFL running back? One guy goes down, another guys plugged in and the team doesn't miss a beat.
Obviously, different guys bring different skill sets, but it's just amazing how a title contender like the Packers can lose Ryan Grant, its starting running back, but not lose much in the way of their Super Bowl aspirations. It's "All right, just bring in Brandon Jackson and return to your regularly scheduled offense."
For a lot of (not all) teams, losing their starting running back just amounts to losing depth; the production remains constant.
The Second Chance to Make a First Impression: How are you feeling about that "CJ Spiller in the fourth round" pick? Sad? Depressed? Feel like hurting yourself? Come on, stop it.
The Bills offense was the wrong kind of offensive last Sunday, but its only a matter of time before Spiller breaks out.
Just wont be this week.
The Schedule: If youre a Bills fan, the worst part of last weeks tight loss to the Dolphins (aside from the useless safety that cost me a well-earned push) was that that game was the Bills' only real chance to avoid an 0-4 start. They go to Green Bay this week, then New England for Week 3, and host the Jets in Week 4. Its about to get real ugly for Buffalo. Sunday we start to find out just how bad they are.
The Pick: Packers (13)
The Game: Baltimore (-2) at Cincinnati
The Jokers: The media is usually quick to blow anything about Terrell Owens out of proportion . . . except when its most warranted.
(Now putting on media hat and preparing to blow proportions):
Why wasn't there a bigger deal made about TO leaving the field early in the first half last week?
It's not that people ignored it, but didn't that move represent everything that has been, and is, wrong with employing Terrell Owens? Isn't that an awful sign? And it's only Week 1.
It's going to be fun watching how fast this OwensOchocinco friendships deteriorates into a bitchy blood bath, and Carson's about to get caught in the cross fire.
Speaking of Carson . . .
The Comfort Zone: If Palmer had trouble getting comfortable against the Patriots' 'D', its terrifying to think what might happen against the Ravens. The Bengals need to score early here. Im sure they want to score early every game, but if they get in a position like they were last week where they have to pass and everyone knows it Ray Lewis will be burping up Carson bits for three days after.
The Early Tests: I'm sure John Harbaugh loved getting this year's schedule and seeing that the Ravens were opening up with two road games against the conference runners-up and the defending North Division champs, but with their first test already passed, Baltimore has a chance to do something special on Sunday.
Not only would they emerge with the most impressive 2-0 record in the league, but after Sunday, Baltimore plays only one more road game against a 2009 playoff team. The Patriots in Week 6.
The Pick: Ravens (-2)
The Game: Pittsburgh at Tennessee (-5)
The Broken Seal: So, with Steelers at 1-0, Dennis Dixon can relax a little. He can't relax much, but now he doesn't have to worry about going 0-4, ruining the season or completely playing his way out of the league. He still has a ways to go, but that first win was big, no matter how sloppy it all played out. But can he get that first win on the road? I'm sure, but maybe some other time.
The Dreads: History and common sense tell us that theres no way Chris Johnson can top 2,000 yards again, but last week Johnson tasered common sense and stomped on it until it died. He made the Raiders look silly, which, I know, isn't the worlds greatest accomplishment, but the ease in which he did it makes you think anythings possible for him this year.
The Facts: 1. Pittsburgh's offense is in trouble. 2. Tennessee has a much better defense than the Falcons. 3. The Titans are about to improve to 2-0.
The Pick: Titans (-5)
The Game: Philadelphia (-6) at DetroitThe Monkey Off His Back: I realize its against the law to be a Michael Vick fan these days. But cant we make a distinction between liking a guy personally and appreciating the fact that hes still one of the most exciting players in the league? I can. I have no choice. It's either accept Vick for who and what he is or don't watch the Eagles this year. Because it's impossible to see him run circles around the best athletes in the world and think about anything except how much I enjoy his game.
The Curse: The Lions just can't catch a break. Actually, they almost caught one once, but Calvin Johnson decided to only use one hand. It's bad enough that Detroit lost that heartbreaker in Chicago, but losing their quarterback will burn longer and deeper. This was supposed to be the year the Lions turned things around, or at least took a big step in that direction. But with their blue-chip QB on the bench, and trips to Green Bay and Minnesota on tap, its quickly turning into another lost season in Detroit.
The Pick: Eagles (-6)
The Game: Chicago at Dallas (-7.5)
The Potential S-Storm: The Cowboys will be on a short leash in this one. The fans will already be testy, and the novelty of a season opening celebration wont last very long. If the offense isn't clicking, the boys are going to hear it. And considering how well they react to adversity, I'm sure it will all work out just fine.
Da Bears: An unimpressive home win over the run-of-the-mill Lions won't do much to instill confidence in this year's squad. Cutler had the numbers against Detroit, but where were the points? Someone other than Matt Forte needs to start catching the ball.
The Roller Coaster: Every Dallas season is defined by its many ups and downs. Its dramatic victories and crushing losses; the few weeks where everyone's picking them to win the Super Bowl and then the many more when those same people are obsessing over the teams demise. After last Sunday's loss, the 'Boys are due to temporarily turn things around. They'll win, and do so in a fashion just impressive enough to make everyone forget about Washington. (But we won't really forget.)
The Pick: Cowboys (-7.5)
The Game: Tampa Bay at Carolina (-3.5)
The Concussion: It's bad enough when you're betting on Matt Moore, but it's borderline insane to bet on Matt Moore when hes not 100 percent and rookie Jimmy Clausen's the guy holding the clipboard. It looks like Moore will start, and as that becomes more solidified, I imagine the money will go on Carolina, but until then its the idea of Clausen thats probably scaring some people away.
No one feels comfortable betting on a 22-year-old rookie wearing uniform pants filled with pee.
The Overreaction: Lets remember something the Bucs are a bad team. Very bad.
Last week they stole a win (at home, in their season opener) against an awful Cleveland squad. Meanwhile, the Panthers fought hard, but ultimately lost to a very solid Giants team that was celebrating the opening of a brand new stadium. They were playing on completely different planets. Maybe the Panthers are that much better than Vegas is giving them credit for, but Tampa is definitely much worse.
This ones a lock.
Pick: Panthers (-3.5)
The Game: Arizona at Atlanta (-6.5)
The Mess: I wouldnt bet on Derek Anderson right now if he were playing in an abandoned cornfield. Put him in a hostile dome, against a solid defense and with a hurting ground game and I'd be better off feeding 100 to my turtle.
By the way, as much as Anderson sucks (is there any other way to describe it?) you know hes still going to have three or four monster weeks this season. Like maybe a few 350 yardthree TD days. Theyll probably all come in losses, but still, it's only a matter of time.
The Hammy: Let Mike Smith be a lesson to all you coaches out there. Gotta stretch those creamy hamstrings.
The Homer: Home teams were 12-4 outright in Week 1. Just another reminder of the power of the home opener.
For the Cardinals, this is road home opener No. 2 on the season. They barely escaped last week in St. Louis, and doubt they have it in them against Atlanta, who cant afford to fall to 0-2.
The Pick: Falcons (6.5)
The Game: Miami at Minnesota (-5.5)
The Revenge: Its the reunion weve all be waiting for: Greg Camarillo vs. the Dolphins!!! Boom!
Or maybe the Dolphins have already forgotten his name ("Oh, hey Craig!"). Either way, by the end of the day the Dolphins are going to be kicking themselves. Sundays the game when Camarillo develops into Favre's number one target, while they await the return of Sidney Rice.
The Onus: Much like the Texans, the Dolphins have a chance to establish themselves as a solid 2-0 team. It takes a good team to win back-to-back games at Buffalo and Minnesota. With a win, no one will doubt their legitimacy. But for the purpose of this column, we have to make our decision now: Are the Dolphins legit? I'm on the fence. I'm a believer in Henne, and don't think Minnesota is quite as dangerous as it might seem. But when you look at what the Vikings' defense did to the Saints in the Superdome, you have to think theyll be up to stuff Miami at Minnesotas own dome party.
The Pick: Vikings (-5.5)
The Game: St. Louis at Oakland (-3.5)
The Bare Minimum: Thats all this game deserves. For what its worth, the Rams couldn't have an easier schedule to work Sam Bradford into the NFL with. They opened at home against the Cardinals, now they go to Oakland, followed by two home games against the Seahawks and Redskins and the a trip to Detroit. Man. Can the Patriots get some of that?
Had the Rams pulled it out last week, the stage may have been set for the most fraudulent 5-0 start in NFL history. But no, for now it's just the same old Rams. Or is it same young Rams. Either way . . .
The Pick: Raiders (-3.5)
The Game: Seattle at Denver (-3.5)
The Bandwagon: The Seahawks bandwagon is currently accepting applications for the 2010 season. Call within the next 15 minutes and receive a free fist pump courtesy of Pete Carroll.
Act now before its too late!
The Pick: Seahawks (3.5)
The Game: Houston (-3) at Washington
The Wait Is Over: So, they finally slayed the beast. After numerous close calls and choke job after dumbfounding choke job, the Texans beat the Colts and really kicked their butts in the process. But what will that win mean if Houston can't take to the road and take care of business against the very beatable Redskins? How far will the Texans have actually come?
No matter what happens this season, theyll always have that Colts win. That might have been the most important win in their franchise history. But if the Texans drop this one to Washington, I don't see how we can take them anymore seriously than we have in the past. They'll still be that young team with a ton of potential that can never quite string it all together.
The Pat on the Back: Listen, Ill admit when Im wrong, but was I right or was I RIGHT about Arien Foster? I knew everyone was way too quick to jump on that bandwagon. The guy still hasn't shown us anything! Really, Arien? Not even 250 yards? Keep plugging away, kid. Youll get it some day.
The New Era: The McNabbShanahan Era began with a dramatic win, but it was just about the ugliest win a coach could imagine. With another week in the books, you wonder if McNabb is ready to find a happier place within his new office, although I guess it will be a little difficult with Mario Williams is ripping Donovans arm off at the shoulder. I'm not sure if the offense will be there quite yet, but the defense picks up the slack for now, and the Texans cant clear the hurdle.
The Pick: Redskins (3)
The Game: Jacksonville at San Diego (-7)
The General: It's hard to like a guy on the Chargers, but it's even harder not to be a fan of the way Philip Rivers plays quarterback.
The Embarrassment: You see that this game's going to be blacked out in San Diego? What happened to all those fans from last year? Let's just remember this for the next time Chargers fans start yapping during the playoffs. If they even make it.
The Expectations: The Jaguars will be content to start this season 1-1. The Chargers will be in chaos if they drop to 0-2. If the Jaguars had a little more to offer this year, then Id be tempted on the upset, but theres just not enough firepower. There's too much on the line for San Diego.
The Pick: Chargers (-7)
The Game: New England (-3) at New York Jets
The Trick: Can it really be this easy? After an entire preseason of hearing how great the Jets were and how ill-equipped the Pats would be, two games can just change it all? Even when the Pats win came against a team in disarray, and the Jets lost to a Super Bowl contender by one point? Why I am still asking questions?
It just can't be this easy.
The Island: The MossRevis match-up will be fun to watch, but it wont decide the game. Lets be honest, the Pats have to feel pretty confident in the fact that Moss will be very limited in his production on Sunday. It's not that they dont believe he can do it, its that it would be stupid for them not to be prepared for that. For all of Revis' ridiculousness, he's still the best corner in the league; he still has the upper hand. That's where Welker, Edelman, Tate and Faulk come in. The schemes that Pats use to get those involved (especially either Tate or Edelman) will be the game-changer.
The Final Answer: Im taking the Pats to win, but not cover, 17-16.
The Pick: Jets (3)
The Game: New York Giants at Indianapolis (-5)
The Red Zone: Poor Eli. Hes already down one red zone binky this week thanks to Kevin Boss' concussion. And now Hakeem Nicks, who only caught three touchdowns last week, is struggling through practice and questionable for Sunday night.
The Win-Win: (noun) Anytime you're watching a game where theres a guarantee that one of the Mannings is going home unhappy.
The Resurrection: It's hard to call it a resurrection when its only been one week, but people sure have been quick to bury the Colts. They have no defensive line. No running game. They have no Bob Sanders! Come on, Bob Sanders is hurt every week! Maybe the Colts aren't heading back to the Super Bowl, but you still dont want to play them at home, ever, but especially when Peyton's attempting to fend off the first 0-2 start since his rookie season.
The Pick: Colts (-5.5)
The Game: New Orleans (-6) at San Francisco
The Spotlight: After last weeks shoddy showing, Im sure the last thing Alex Smith wants is to take the field against the defending champs with half the world watching, blogging and tweeting about every little (and big) mistake.
The Hangover: This has to have been the longest non-BYE break in NFL history. The Saints played the first game of the Week 1 last Thursday night, and now they play the last game of Week 2, 11 days later. They could rest. They could relax. They could watch Sunday's 49ers game with absolutely nothing else occupying their attention. Its ideal.
But Monday night will also serve as a reality check for the Saints. The party is finally over and the target is now squarely on their backs. I think theyre ready to defend, but will initially get caught be surprise on Monday. Theyll probably pull it out, but not by much.
The Pick: 49ers (6)
Last week: 6-8-1&8232;