Tag:New England Patriots
Posted on: January 16, 2013 2:29 pm
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NFL '13 Conference Picks

Breaking All the Rules

First Jim Harbaugh adds Randy ‘Ipecac’ Moss to the 2012 49ers’ roster, a man washed-out & retired since being cut loose by New England, Minnesota and Tennessee in 2010.

In Week 11 he changes horses mid-stream, benching a recently concussed veteran in QB Alex Smith (6-2-1) in favor of 2nd-year man from Nevada, Col. Kaepernick.

And the piece de résistance: Jim employs a modern version of the old single-wing tail-back formation, putting Kaep Krusader’s 6’4” 230 lbs. frame and run ability to full use.

Who ever said Michigan men are too conservative?

New Landscaping or Captured by the Moment?

To borrow Pete Carroll’s post-game wordage, last weekend’s Divisionals were “exquisite.”

Colin’s record-setting play against Green Bay would win him ‘Best in Show’ by a land-slide if polling the public but the quality of competition weighs heavy and the Niners’ win just looked too darn easy. Packers lost something in that fateful trip to Kansas City in late 2011 and haven’t gotten it back, appearing completely befuddled after nabbing an early pick-6.

And I’m not so sure that Mike Vick’s 2002 win at Lambeau over the Favre crew (27-7), handing G-Bay their first ever home playoff loss, wasn’t slightly more momentous.

Best of last weekend’s performances is a five-way tie: four Ravens and a rookie Seahawks’ QB who nearly pulled off the unthinkable in Atlanta.

Joe Flacco went toe-to-toe with the NFL’s 2012 likely MVP (AP) Peyton Manning, Ray Rice churned out 131 against the # 3 rush-D in the NFL and a rejuvenated Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs scored 10 tackles each in pressuring Pey-dirt into fatal mistakes.

And while Matty Ice flirted with disaster and Mike Smith nervously worked the clock with the dreaded ’prevent-offense,’ Seattle’s Russell Wilson played cool as a cucumber in leading the Hawks’ 2nd-half surge to a late-game lead-grab before watching in agony as Ryan coolly drove 41 in final seconds to set up M. Bryant’s game-winning 49 yarder.

Absence of Good Faith

DeMaurice Smith is no slouch, that‘s for sure. The NFLPA executive director (‘09) is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, an experienced trial attorney and was instrumental in fashioning the NFL 2011 collective bargaining agreement.

He’s also quite adept at the art of pre-emptive strike.

No sooner had MLB announced agreement on expanded blood-testing for the up-coming 2013 season (“MLB” / CBS / Snyder / 1-10) when it’s reported Mr. Smith has shot off a letter to all players & agents (“DeMaurice” / CBS / Freeman / 1-11), heading-off media inquires as to why football lags behind baseball in HGH testing, by laying blame at the doorstep of, you guessed it, NFL owners.

The dispute centers on one point: Smith is demanding a right “to challenge the science underlying the hGH (sic) test (“DeMaurice”).” It’s a merit-less position, as WADA has signed-off on its reliability long ago (“WADA” / NFL / Ellenport / 12-1-11). But Mr. Smith has a trump card: players, and more importantly fans, on the whole, seem little concerned about the ethical and health issues raised by use of PEDs on the gridiron.

But a day will come when NFL players have their blood tested for HGH and its spawn. And as long as DeMaurice Smith and like minds remain in charge at NFLPA and Federal efforts remain ephemeral and toothless, you can expect the believed rampant use of PEDs in the NFL will continue largely unimpeded for years to come.

Makes one wonder, where’s Rob Parker on DeMaurice and, for that matter, Oprah Winfrey (Lance Armstrong scrub-up)?

2013 Conference Picks

San Francisco 49ers (1-0 / 2) @ Atlanta Falcons (1-0 / 1) (1-20 / Fox 3:00)

Networks choose Georgia Dome for the early game over Foxborough where the temp could dip below 30° by kickoff with wind, rain & snow? Thanks, cufflinks.

The 49ers had their way with Green Bay while Atlanta wins by a “hair on their chinny chin chin,” so San Fran is a lock on Sunday, right-o?  Wrong-o.  In the words of “a great & mighty warrior,” “Nothing is written (Lawrence of Arabia).” Jim H. found space in Capers’ D-scheme that they won’t find in the Dome. The pros are big on adjustment so expect A-birds to put all their chips on ‘Colin Containment,‘ something they’re not half-bad at, as they slowed Mr. Lynch (46), held Russell to 45 and are more than happy to test Colin’s arm with an A-grade pass-D (6 / 20 INT).

Offense and defense have symbiotic rapport. The thrill & spontaneity generated by flash-QB can also produce a volatility & unpredictability that alters the defensive flow. Niners D has given up an average 30 pts. last four (36 (-) Cards game). Kaepernick’s road-play gets mixed results, Atlanta’s run-game is clicking and Ryan’s confidence is measured, all spelling kryptonite for Kaep Krusader. Falcons win and earn a trip to New Orleans.

Baltimore Ravens (2-0 / 4) @ New England Patriots (1-0 / 2) (CBS 6:30)

At this stage of the game, numbers, match-ups, histrionics and an early rumble (BAL 31-30) do as little for predicting as urine-samples do for PED appraisal. Injuries matter but low-factor here (media double-std: Bill (Gronk) vs Mike (RG3)?). One team follows a code of silence, the other likes to chit-chat (Ayanbadejo); one’s a bit of a party-crasher, the other often holds court; and while one is a ‘jack of all trades and master of none,’ the other is multi-talented but with an Achilles heel (PD-29 NE).

Both squads will take Gillette field ‘feeling their oats’ after proud wins and Flacco can sense that brass ring. Ray’s return a big booster but that can wear-thin. This is Baltimore’s best chance at AFC title since ’01 but they’ll face a field general in T. Brady who, unlike 1-yr. Mile High mustang Peyton, is ensconced at Foxborough. Patriots win.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: January 10, 2013 1:44 pm
 

NFL '13 Divisional Picks

Aerial Artists vs. Mercury Men

Why two Conferences in the NFL? The simple answer: two places from which to draw our Super Bowl combatants.

Another might be is that they serve as good starting-point for League schedulers.

But what you may not realize it that the Conference alignment is a quaint reminder of the NFL’s tumultuous past when lucky fans in the 1960s enjoyed something called competition, i.e., AFL v NFL.

Even after the merger was complete (’70) each Conference retained its own distinct philosophy on how the game should be played, a variation that lasted well into the 1980s.

Thanks to football innovator Sid Gilman (SD ‘60-71), the AFL / AFC offered it’s fans a more wide-open game where QBs often aired-it-out and “matriculat(ed)” like nobody’s business, as opposed to the NFL / NFC who would still operate largely by the ‘3 yards & a cloud of dust’ modus operandi until Don “Air” Coryell landed in St. Louis.

I thought the homogenization process was complete but then I took a gander at this weekend’s slate of Divisional match-ups and spotted something I hadn’t seen for years, something that harkens back to those days of choice.

In this round of Division play the AFC displays a plethora of pocket-passers with Schaub & Brady, Flacco & Peyton calling the signals. No fear-flight tendency from these guys. They’ll hang tough, work their progression, read defenses, make mobile to avoid pressure, take hits on late release and avoid downfield pops by handing the ball off to rostered muscle-men who get paid to run up field.

Over in the NFC it’s a different animal where the full spectrum of mercurial quarterback play is offered up for fans to feast upon.

Matt Ryan: stand-tall, pocket passer with forward mobility but the good team-sense to slide when he gets a nice chunk (141 YDS on 34 ATT, 1-2 runs per game (RPG) );

Aaron Rodgers: pocket passer extraordinaire who likes the occasional up-field scamper to satisfy his inner Steve Young and occasionally pays the price (259 on 54, 3-4 RPG);

Russell Wilson: latest in wave of run-QBs but shows willingness to polish pass skills and curtail the fear-flight pattern in favor of air option (489 on 94, 6 RPG / 26TD-10 / 64%);

Colin Kaepernick: typical flash-QB with big arm but rabbits quick & often, seeking to carry the load like the single-wing tailback of leather helmet days (415 on 63, 9 RPG / 10TD-3 / 5RTD).

Hail Caesar!

I love history. And you can’t be a history person without developing a healthy respect for the Roman Republic (400 BC), its successor Empire (27 BC - 476 AD) and their many accomplishments, along with some serious shortcomings (See; Ben-Hur ‘59).

I’m calling for an end to the NFL’s long-running use of Roman numerals in Super Bowl classification. Clunky and dated, at first glance they’re impossible to decipher (#47 in New Orleans (XLVII)), and what little cachet they had in the 70s is long gone. Maybe a favorite of Pete Rozelle, nonetheless, it’s time the Roman numerals fell. 

Divisional Round Picks

Baltimore Ravens (4 / 1-0) @ Denver Broncos (1) (1-12 / CBS 4:30)

It’s QBs on parade come January but this is one tussle where a defender gets equal billing. Ray Lewis brought his emotions and skill (9T) in last week’s return vs Colts. Ravens run sparkled vs IND run-D (28) but Denver stuffs it (3 / 91) and the pass too (3 /199). A big test for Flacco, too bad it’s in Denver against healthy Pey-dirt. Broncos' run-by-Cmte suffices. With ESPN gig set, Ray’s comfy and won‘t return. Thanks for the memories. Denver wins.

Green Bay Packers (3 / 1-0) @ San Francisco 49ers (2) (Fox 8:00)

Since beatdown in Jersey WK12 (10-38), GB’s song of success is building to crescendo. Must take WK1 result with salt (SF-W) though it proves SF can run with the Pack. And run they do with fleet-of-foot K’nick under center. One issue of flash QB is the effect on trad’l run-game: Can Gore establish with Kaep on the move? Packers’ O-line leaky (51) but defense-minded Niners (3) quite polite (38S). GB press + cover scheme will rattle wide-eyed CK into rabbit-mode + mistakes and Packers make NFC Title game.

Seattle Seahawks (5 / 1-0) @ Atlanta Falcons (1) (1-13 / Fox 1:00)

A benefit of having top D (SEA / 4) is you can stop bleeding fast, which not only keeps your offense hopeful but secures momentum the other side may not get back (Skins). It may come in handy versus quick-strike Falcons. Hawks’ so-so QB-press (36S) can ill afford Clemons loss (12S), making Chancellor & Sherman’s jobs that much harder. Keys: guarded Ryan (69% / 28S) with bevy of top targets vs. Lynch (132 @ DC). QB League, Falcons win.

Houston Texans (3 / 1-0) @ New England Patriots (2) (CBS 4:30)

“That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger (Nietzsche).” Might tack that one above the doorway in Texans’ locker-room. Whatever helps. Out of the blocks fast (5-0), Houston never fully adapted to loss of LB stalwart Cushing. First a shellacking at home WK6 vs GB (24-42) and then 1-3 closing stretch that began with Texas-sized beating at NE (14-42). Patriots cauterized vs Niners (34-41) then grooved on cupcakes (JAC / MIA). Texans look banged-up until you see Pats' roster: quasi-MASH unit. Fool me once. New England prevails.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: December 6, 2012 11:04 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-14

Remains of the Season

“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna’ get (F. Gump)”

Winston Groom’s simple sage could’ve been talking about NFL 2012. Expect the unexpected. That’s the title on this season’s marquee.

Given that state, gauging the remaining match-ups might seem a pointless endeavor, as in, the winners are anybody’s guess. But as unpredictable as 2012 has been I’d still thrill to find the likes of Eagles & Jaguars (as opposed to Patriots & Packers) on my team’s 4-game slate.

In ranking the remainder I exclude sub-.500 clubs, though Seattle slipped into the PS at 7-9 in 2010 (a format foible the NFL has ignored) and proceeded to bump the defending champion Saints. Get that ticket punched and anything can happen.

Favorable: Broncos, Seahawks, Steelers, Redskins, Buccaneers, Bengals 
Sweet & Sour: Saints, Texans, Colts, 49ers, Packers, Patriots, Dolphins, Cowboys, Giants
Yikes: Lions, Vikings, Ravens, Falcons, Bears

And if you’re a playoff aspirant, don’t forget what the butler and the pretty housekeeper taught us in that British flick from a few years back (Remains of the Day): when opportunity knocks, you better answer ‘cause it may not knock again.

Playoff Teams You Wanta’ See

Denver Broncos: Ridin’ a mile high again, but this time around with a healthy Peyton Manning.

Patriots vs Giants III?: Reincarnation of the 70s Cowboys / Steelers Super rivalry.

Seattle Seahawks: Rookies Wagner (MLB) & Wilson (QB) display abilities usually found only in seasoned pros, making themselves key cogs in the Hawks’ drive to contend.

Washington Redskins: Like Michael, Tim & Cam, Rob Griffin disdains pocket-presence (642 yds) but very few players today (healthy Percy Harvin or pre-‘12 Devin Hester) electrify the field quite like DC’s fledgling QB-RB.

Indianapolis Colts: Not exactly Tebowmania but there’s an effort afoot in Indy that goes beyond Xs & Os, compelling this team to play with gusto and pull rabbits outta’ the hat.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1st-yr. guru Gregg Schiano got off on the wrong foot in play-calling a sucker-punch on one of NFL’s class-acts (Eli) but has clearly nudged TB into relevancy.

Atlanta Falcons: The egg & bottle-tossing types excluded, the rest of Atlanta, players & coaches of this long frustrated organization deserve a shot at the title and now have a team capable of taking good aim. Throwback helmets a nice touch.

Minnesota Vikings: These guys never really did have it in 2012 but it’d be a holiday treat just to watch Adrian Peterson & Chad Greenway (OLB) ply their trades in the PS.

Cherry Picks Week 14

Baltimore Ravens (9-3) @ Washington Redskins (6-6) (12-9 / CBS 1:00)

Beltway battle in new hot-bed of sporting fare (Orioles / Nats). Ravens falter vs Ben-less Pitt and media freaks. D-cline is real in crab-cake country but it’s lackluster offense that vexes: poor 1st-dwn ratio & TOP. No time for doubters as Flacco's confidence is key. DC seeks mandate after big home win vs NYG but they’d met before.  Washington needs it, but Baltimore wants it more (See; slate) and decipher RG3 riddle. This ain’t college. Ravens win.

Chicago Bears (8-4) @ Minnesota Vikings (6-6) (Fox 1:00)

Wk-12 meet exposed Vikes as pretenders (10-28), then winner proves toothless vs Seattle (L17-23). NFC North looking sad. Urlacher exit (ham) may be bad omen, while G3-LT unplugs electric Harvin. Bears’ Forte only fair last four (2.9) but Cutler solid and protected in comeback (2TD / 1S). Ponder regressing w/out top-target Percy (62) while Peterson and defense carry the load. Though former Bear knows D, Coach Frazier's scoring scheme punchless but Allen & purple people put pressure (29S) and Vikings forge a win.

Dallas Cowboys (6-6) @ Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) (Fox 1:00)

Nobody’s topic of conversation, Boys 3-1 last four. Ugly losses (SEA / CHI) were in early campaign. Tony proves critics right when forcing the issue (16-15) but, excepting Wk-13, gets little help in under-used run-game. Bengals are streakers and now run with glee (4-0). Balance on both ends impresses and Dalton’s ratio (24-13) shows matriculatory skill. Should be a dandy as both clubs rising and motivated to show PS-mettle but Bengals more polished and press (39S) the win at home.

Houston Texans (11-1) @ New England Patriots (9-3) (12-10 / ESPN 8:30)

Favorites enter marquee match-up on win-a-thons (6), both losing last in Wk-6 (GB / SEA). But quality trumps quantity. Who ya’ beat matters and these guys have feasted on nolo-contenders & pretenders. Now test time and both bucking for dean’s list with fine team-ranks but fair (HOU) to poor (NE-29) pass-D. Tom gets edge in stats & résumé but Matt’s shown 4Q-mettle in '12. Both run (Arian / Steve), gun, guard (15 / 19S) and Texans bring it (36S). Pats' C. Jones (6S) ankled but Mayo (118T) covers and New England wins nigh pick‘em.

Note: Life can turn on a dime. Those directly affected by tragedy try to find a grounding, the rest of us move on because life moves on. The speed & manner by which that happens in sport has been fodder for debate since ‘63 (JFK) and was no different this weekend. Sympathy goes out to family & friends of victim Kas Perkins and murderer-suicide Jovan Belcher in Kansas City on Saturday, and then also to those near to basketball coach Rick Majerus who died in Los Angeles later that same day after losing his battle with heart disease.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: October 18, 2012 7:01 pm
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-7

Welcome to the Surge

A pendulum swinging back n’ forth. One team starts out like gang-busters, jumping to a huge, seemingly insurmountable lead, then, just when you’re about to stick a fork in ‘em the other guys start surging back and there's still half a‘ quarter left on the clock! Amazing…or maybe not.

What happened in last Monday night’s Broncos / Chargers game would’ve been a story for the ages ten years ago, but today, it’s just another wild weekend in the NFL. I’m not keeping records but the power-surge (front & back) seems as commonplace in the National as a failed PED test and a Drew Brees rant. And I’ll be damned if I can explain why.

Some clues: 1) turnovers will often trigger the rise & fall; 2) sticky-gloves and the unbelievable grabs they enable can feed the rush, and 3) as the rally builds, the team-in-disarray loses all its scoring punch until the final minutes when they sometimes tie it up and then win in OT.

Chargers, don't despair, you‘re in good company and it's growing.

‘Strange But True’ Department

He’s been one of the most fined defensive players in the NFL during his 10-year tenure, most levied for dangerous helmet hits. And when penalties are announced, rather than show the slightest concern for long-term, player-safety he’s used the occasion to rag on the League in a dismissive joviality.

The man’s name is James Harrison (Steelers) and he’s now joined the ranks of safety advocates, his own safety, to be exact. James spoke to the issues of concussions & helmets Tuesday (“After double-digit” / CBS / 10-16), sounding more like a spokesman for Unequal Technologies, developer of a new pad product line (CRT) Harrison is using and which UT hopes the NFL will soon incorporate into all its helmets. My comment: You’ve got a lot of nerve, James, a lot of nerve.

Cherry Picks Wk-7

Seattle Seahawks (4-2) @ San Francisco 49ers (4-2) (10-18 / NFLN / 8:20)

If I gambled and owned a farm I'd bet the homestead on this one. Your typical ‘exposed pretender’ (Seattle) and ‘rebound’ (49ers) game. Seahawks’ strengths: 1) when rookie QB Wilson hangs tight and fights urge to rabbit (5 / NE), he distributes well and the offense is capable; 2) Carroll built a defense along 49ers’ lines with maybe best inside tackle-corps in NFC (Chancellor / Wright / Wagner). But 49ers are no fluke, their top D will pressure the kid and profit in the secondary. 49ers bounce back and win.

Dallas Cowboys (2-3) @ Carolina Panthers (1-4) (10-20 / Fox / 1:00)

As usual in the Romo era, Boys are best losing team in football (6-O / 2-D). As both are eager for victory (rough stretch awaits Dallas (NYG / ATL / PHI) and frustrated Cats losing close contests), this is sleeper GOTW. A Dallas loss and Jerry starts ‘wheels in motion’ while Camster & Co. coming up short puts Rivera on warm-seat. Cowboys win.

Baltimore Ravens (5-1) @ Houston Texans (5-1) (CBS / 1:00)

Test game for both, coping without centerpiece players: Ravens’ Ray Lewis and Texans’ Brian Cushing. Near carbon-copies, both squads are balanced on both sides of ball, no flash and should adjust well enough. Besides WK1 (CIN), Ravens squeak by, but too much squeak and wheels fall off. Like Niners (NYG), Texans got shamed last week (GB) and are rip-roaring for bounce-back. Texans win.

New York Jets (3-3) @ New England Patriots (3-3) (CBS / 4:25)

It’s nice work if you can get it, playing in the AFC East. And for a team coming off the Super Bowl, Patriots' schedule looks a little tame (Jets too). They’ll take it. If Dallas is best losing-team, Pats are best .500-team with all three Ls coming as nail-bitters. Jets should feel good about trouncing a team they’re suppose to trounce (IND), that doesn’t mean they are good, yet. Patriots win.

Detroit Lions (2-3) @ Chicago Bears (4-1) (10-21 / ESPN / 8:30)

Black & Blue bout. Lions 2nd-best struggler (2-O / 9-D), all loses coming in close ones. Bit more balance in Detroit than Chicago (20-O / 3-D), both have run games as QBs work to find rhythm with as many picks as TD tosses (tipped-pass INTs gotta go, NFL statisticians). Road-wins are sweet (CHI 2-1), but Bears’ one loss was against the one team they must dominate to show growth and hoist the hardware: GB. Lions ride Philly high (26-23) with heavy hearts (Alex Karras) and pull off upset in Windy City.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: September 20, 2012 12:27 am
 

NFL Cherry Picks WK-3

False starts.  That's been the common thread so far running through analysis of NFL 2012.

Green Bay was suppose to be in trouble after their WK1 lose to the 49ers while da’ Bears were finally a burgeoning power. “Maybe no” to both, as "Furio Giunta" would say (The Sopranos).

The Patriots were suppose to be unbeatable, then the mighty Cardinals flew into town.

Peyton was suppose to be back in form after a nice start. That’s a work-in-progress.

Giants were suppose to be defending champs and then loose right outta’ the gate, at home, to a Dallas squad that in WK2 proceeds to get beat-up in, of all places, Seattle.

And some folks thought the wildcat would work wonders in Jetsland.  It's still early.

One common take that’s so far proving wise is the confidence many had in draft dandies Misters Luck and Griffin. But hedge your bets accordingly. While Andy’s schedule befits a team deep in rebuilding mode, Rob’s slate of games gets a tad wicked as the season matures.

Biggest win to date in NFL 2012

It’s the 49ers 30-22 take-down at Lambeau opening weekend. While they came in as slight underdogs after coming within a hair’s breadth of SB46, strong-arming the Pack in GB is always a feather in your cap. And with the Giants returning to their enigmatic, post-SB form, this win could set the tone for all 2012 with San Fran the team to beat in the NFC.

The NFL schedulers might know what they’re doing after all.

Biggest surprise through WK-2

Arizona Cardinals topping the lordly New England Patriots last Sunday in Foxborough, no less (20-18). The fact the game was decided by a late, missed field goal attempt by a normally reliable Steve Gostkowski doesn’t detract one iota from its significance as the Cards and Kev Kolb were in control most of the way.

Biggest bore in September

That would have to be all the cry-babies on the substitute referees. Once the regular zebras and NFL packed up their negotiation-tents and the replacement refs were signed-on, you knew the whining would come fast & furious. “Whatever happened to Gary Cooper, that’s what I wanta’ know (Tony Soprano)!?"

Cherry Picks WK-3:

New York Giants (1-1) @ Carolina Panthers (1-1) (9-20 / NFLN / 8:20)

The G-men are defending NFL champs but you might not know it. Getting outplayed by equally enigmatic Dallas in WK1 and barely outlasting the lots-to-prove Buccaneers, the Giants like to keep us guessing. I’d guess victory in Charlotte as NYG defenders flush-out run-rabbit-run Cam Newton who’s back to his college-ways with double-digit scampers (13 v NO). Cam might be trying to carry the run-game that was as nowhere-to-be-found in Tampa as the mysterious lost colony of Roanoke (NC) in 1587. Giants win.

San Francisco 49ers (2-0) @ Minnesota Vikings (1-1) (9-23 / Fox / 1:00)

An early season test-game of Coach Leslie Frazier’s retention value. Niners come in with former Viking, Mr. Ipecac, Randy Moss, as NFL’s top-ranked club. It should provide slow-outta-the-gate Jared Allen reason to revive and Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf a good measure of his team’s progress. Are Vikes respectable rankings (O16 / D12) and QB numbers (Ponder / 76% / 2TD / 0-INT) sign they’ve turned the corner, or merely mirage of a program on the wrong track? 49ers win, exacting revenge for Favre & Lewis ‘09.

Atlanta Falcons (2-0) @ San Diego Chargers (2-0) (Fox / 4:00)

Ryan, Rivers & Romo: 3-Rs of quarterback frustration. All hat and no cattle, meaning, playoff busts. Cowboys & Tony took a step back in Seattle, but all three signal-callers are playing with high confidence and generally pleasing their fans. San Diego stuffs the run like nobody’s business (1 / 42 ypg). Without a balancing run-game (Turner was off kilter pre-DUI) to compliment Matt Ryan’s arm, Falcons strong-suit is a capable tackling corps of Weatherspoon, Moore and Nicholas. Home-team Chargers bolt to 3-0.

Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) @ Arizona Cardinals (2-0) (Fox / 4:00)

Eagles are a mixed bag: nice passing-rank (2) with a QB (Vick) who rates low (67%) and throws picks like he needs glasses (6). Defense is stout (4) but with only Nate Allen in top 50 tackles (15). So much for stat-worship. Bird Bowl turns on QB pressure and who handles it best. Eagles’ D is good-to-fair (P4 / R15) while Cards can bring the bodies (Washington / Lenon / Campbell). Michael’s gonna’ like working in Arizona, whether they retract the roof or not (U of Phoenix Stadium). Eagles by a bird-beak.

Houston Texans (2-0) @ Denver Broncos (1-1) (CBS / 4:20)

Everyone and their grandma loves the Texans. Me, I’m no Sooner but more like a Missourian (Show Me). Houston’s got the troops: field general (Schaub); run-attack (Foster / Tate); hands (Johnson / Daniels) and team-spirit (O-10 / D-1), now they’ve gotta’ act like Romans (Empire) and grab the booty. Peyton Manning is a problem-solver. If it’s broke, he’ll fix it, fast. Expect cleaner play from PM, a featured McGahee (20+RA) and D-emphasis on run-stuff. Broncos win and slow the Houston love-train.

New England Patriots (1-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (1-1) (NBC / 8:20)

Both teams look for bounce after close losses. If Pats are unsure of themselves they shouldn’t be, with Brady & Ridley (196). Like Ravens, they should be 2-0. Rank wise, Ravens are in new territory: top-10 O (8P / 10R), low-10 D (25P / 20R). Joe Flacco wants better distribution and comp-% (60), while Ray Rice is a workhorse (167 / 6.4) with nice hoofs / hands (9). When you’re good, home field’s a decided edge. Ravens are good and victorious.

Steven Keys

NFL Hunch Line
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com