Thursday, September 19 8:25 PM ET – TV: NFL Network
Kansas City Chiefs 2-0 @ Philadelphia Eagles 1-1
All the hype and attention will be circulating around former Eagles head coach Andy Reid and his new gang, the undefeated Chiefs. Both coaches have brought new looks and ideas through the playbook. You have Chip Kelly’s speedy up-tempo offense that’s gashing defenses with the run by feeding the rock to running back LeSean McCoy, while quarterback Michael Vick is in a system that best fits his high-level of athletic ability. Through the first two games, McCoy is averaging 5.6-yards per carry, a vital part of the offense the Eagles need if they want to be contenders down the road. What I like most about Kelly’s system other than keeping opposing defenses on their heels is getting receiver DeSean Jackson the football. Jackson is coming off a 9-catch, 193-yard and a score performance in a losing effort to San Diego. He has 16 catches, for 297-yards and 2-touchdowns through the first two games. Kelly understands that he needs to get the ball to his most talented players to make plays, and I always wondered why a player as talented as Jackson’s highest reception total in a season is only 62. As for Reid’s Chiefs, I got a good glimpse of the read-option, the Alex Smith version of the deal last week in their win over Dallas. The Chiefs have a much better attitude with Reid at the helm. Reid has a quarterback that can manage the game, not forcing the issue and a top-tier running back Jamaal Charles to set the tone and dictate the passing game. The key for the Eagles running the football in this matchup is how they can take Kansas City’s defensive tackle Dontari Poe, a monster in the middle out of his game. Poe has the ability to get a push up the middle, disrupting the running game and forcing the quarterback out of the pocket. When he’s on his game, the outside rush from Tamba Hali and Justin Houston is at its best. This is an all-around speed verses physicality game. I like Reid’s Chiefs to control the tempo, moving the football methodically with time consuming drives, a perfect plan to win on the road.
Pick: Chiefs 23, Eagles 20
Final Score: Chiefs (3-0) 26, Eagles (1-2) 16
Sunday, September 21
1:00 PM ET
Green Bay Packers 1-1 @ Cincinnati Bengals 1-1 – TV: FOX
That big and beefy D-line of the Bengals needs an A-plus performance this weekend, only generated 2-sacks in their first two games, and they get the games most dangerous passer in their house. The ground game hasn’t been anything fascinating only averaging 2.5-yards per attempt. The bright side of things in their win over Pittsburgh on Monday was rookie running back Giovani Bernard scoring two touchdowns, highlighted by a 27-yard catch and scamper into the endzone. Bernard is a big part of the Bengals offensive plans, and you should expect offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to call his number more from here on out. The offense is giving quarterback Andy Dalton time in the pocket, allowing Dalton to only be sacked once so far. In this game, Gruden knows his offense needs to open things up to outscore arguably the league’s most dangerous offense that features an extreme amount of ammo for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to play pitch and catch with. Green Bay’s defense is vulnerable to allowing big plays. They got torched in week 1 out in San Francisco and gave up over 300-yards in the air and over 100-yards on ground in their win over Washington. I like the Bengals matchups to be able to stretch the field against a suspect Packers secondary, but when push comes to shove on critical passing downs, I favor a Packers passing game that’s in sync to make a big play or two more in a nail-biter.
Pick: Packers 31, Bengals 27.
St. Louis Rams 1-1 @ Dallas Cowboys 1-1 – TV: FOX
You know, some things just give you clues and assumptions of why something isn’t working the way that it should. Let’s do some back-tracking a little here on the whole play-calling switching business between head coach Jason Garret, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan and team owner/general manager Jerry Jones’ statement on quarterback Tony Romo putting in Peyton Manning time on the job during the offseason. First, Jones tells the world that Callahan will be tacking over the play-calling duties. Then Garrett comes out and says, “We haven’t made a final decision on that yet.” Months go on before Callahan finally becomes the play-caller during the summer with an ideal plan of fixing the O-line issues and getting the running game going. Well, still an ineffective running game, troubles in the redzone, penalties and confusion floating around all over the place. What really struck me last Sunday was Romo’s audible on 3rd and goal from the Kansas City 10 with star receiver Dez Bryant singled up out wide to the left, and then Romo switching over to a bubble screen to the opposite side as if Terrance Williams was going to run it in for a score. That was abnormal to me in my book, and when is the accountability going to fall on Romo, Garret or Callahan? The offense better put it in gear somehow soon, and Dallas has a feisty young Rams team in town this weekend with a head coach like Jeff Fisher that will have his team fired up to beat “America’s Team” in front of millions of viewers. I think the Rams defensive front comes to play and harasses Romo’s pocket, but Dallas wins the turnover battle and squeaks out another one of those would’ve lost without the turnovers kind of game.
Pick: Cowboys 20, Rams 17.
San Diego Chargers 1-1 @ Tennessee Titans 1-1 – TV: CBS
The vital part of coaching is getting the best out of your personnel. The mixture of Chargers new head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is getting the better results out of quarterback Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense. Rivers has completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 614-yards with 7-touchdown passes and only 1-interception. Mainly, he’s distributing the ball around completing passes to eight different receivers. The running game will need to be part of the mix in the ‘Music City’ for them, however. So far, not good for running back Ryan Mathews as he appears not to be equipped with the Chargers hurry-up offense. Ball security has been a big issue outside of his health. They’ll need a better than subpar running game to win them some road games this season. Tennessee’s defense has been providing pressure up front and creating turnovers, 7-sacks, 3-interceptions and a defensive touchdown so far. Safety Bernard Pollard brings a tough attitude to the defense, but his ball-hawking, laying out receiver’s ways cost him last week as he was fined by the league for $42,000 for his defenseless hit on Texans receiver Andre Johnson. The problem with Tennessee is the offense. There’s no volume kicking in the passing game. Quarterback Jake Locker has completed lower than 60 percent of his passes and running back Chris Johnson has yet to break free into the open field. They need bigger plays from Johnson and the running game to open up the pass. Ultimately, San Diego has more life on the offensive side of the ball in this matchup to move the sticks on third down.
Pick: Chargers 27, Titans 20.
Cleveland Browns 0-2 @ Minnesota Vikings 0-2 – TV: CBS
Change of plans or house-cleaning? I say both. The Browns will be without two of their first round picks from last year. Quarterback Brandon Weeden is nursing a sprained thumb and running back Trent Richardson was traded to Indianapolis on Wednesday. What the Browns got in return was a 2014 first round draft pick from Indianapolis giving them two first round, two third and fourth round picks for next spring’s draft. “This was more about the moment presented itself, and based on the situation the Colts found themselves in, it wasn’t something where we could say, `Can you wait three weeks to think about this or learn more?’ We thought it was a move to make us better,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said. The Browns will start third string quarterback Brian Hoyer instead of veteran backup Jason Campbell against a desperate for a win Vikings team in the dome. Can you say the sweepstakes for Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has begun in Cleveland? Look for the Vikings to give running back Adrian Peterson a heavy-dose of work, keeping the cold arm of quarterback Christian Ponder out of third and longs.
Pick: Vikings 24, Browns 9.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0-2 @ New England Patriots 2-0 – TV: FOX
With receiver Danny Amendola (groin) likely to miss action again and tight end Rob Gronkowski’s (back/forearm) status still up in the air, quarterback Tom Brady will most likely be throwing footballs to an inexperienced group of receivers again. Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson was suspended Monday for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Saints running back Darren Sproles last week, but the league overturned his suspension Wednesday making him eligible to play Sunday. Clearly, the Patriots had a bulls-eye on that part of the Tampa Bay defense before they got word that he’ll play. Despite the concerns within the Patriots offense, injuries and Brady only averaging 5-yards per pass attempt, the Buccaneers are far more filled with issues hovering around the locker room and head coach Greg Schiano. You have Schiano and cornerback Darrelle Revis’ twitter exchange along with quarterback Josh Freeman missing the team photo because of oversleeping. Then there’s the stir within the team that was under the assumption of Schiano playing around with the voting of team captainship on Freeman. To make matters worse for Tampa Bay, they need to avoid falling to 0-3 in the house of a head coach and quarterback that don’t lose at home very often. Bottom line, dysfunctional teams don’t win must win games.
Pick: Patriots 27, Buccaneers 17.
Arizona Cardinals 1-1 @ New Orleans Saints 2-0 – TV: FOX
Arizona star receiver Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring) has hinted this week during practice that he has no plans on missing this Sunday’s game. Quarterback Carson Palmer will need Fitzgerald, a sure-handed target on passing downs against the hostile crowd of screaming Saints faithful’s at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Look for Rob Ryan’s coordinated Saints defense side of the deal to waste no time by sending the kitchen sink at the non-mobile Palmer. Arizona’s defense is aggressive and will play press-coverage on the outside testing New Orleans’ talented receiving core that quarterback Drew Brees has constantly dissected defenses with. Don’t expect much from the run game from ether squads, so this boils down to a battle of two quarterbacks to deliver on third down, and you have to favor Drew Brees and company to up the Cardinals on being able to stretch the defense with favorable one-on-one matchups downfield.
Pick: Saints 31, Cardinals 21.
Detroit Lions 1-1 @ Washington Redskins 0-2 – TV: FOX
Reggie Bush (knee) returned to practice Friday and is listed as probable. How effective Bush will be is a key factor for the Lions offense to exploit a dismal Washington defense that’s allowed more than 500-yards per game. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and Lions offense presents matchup issues for Washington’s secondary that will have to double-team the amazing Calvin Johnson. If Washington’s defense is going to turn things around, they’ll need Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo to drink three or four cups of coffee to wake them up to be fully energized. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has been known for sending heat by manufacturing pressure, and if Washington’s D-line doesn’t come to the party, it’ll be gambling time for his defense. But, with all the concerns of quarterback Robert Griffin III’s rustiness of coming back from ACL surgery, I’d expect head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to focus on getting the ground game going with running back Alfred Morris running off the edges early and often. They need to do this to keep a (down in the dumps) defense off the field, and I see them doing just that.
Pick: Redskins 27, Lions 24.
N.Y. Giants 0-2 @ Carolina Panthers 0-2 – TV: FOX
I’m not sweeping Eli Manning and the Giants turnover issues under the rug. Outside of the negativity that’s cost them majorly in their first two games, I see a much more talented receiving core with Hakeem Nicks healthy, second year receiver Rueben Randle being part of the mix and what the addition of tight end Brandon Myers brings to the table. If they hold onto the football and correct their mistakes, they’ll score lots of points. On defense, they need defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul at 100 percent. Pierre-Paul had back surgery in June, sat out the preseason and didn’t resume practicing with the team until the first week of the regular season. “I’m getting healthier, and it’s getting better, but it isn’t there yet, said Pierre-Paul.” They need him effective against Carolina elusive quarterback Cam Newton by not allowing Newton to beat them with his feet running the read-option around the edges outside the tackles. This is a must win game between two clubs, and I’m going with the team that usually comes through with their backs against the wall that will be inspired to win for their head coach Tom Coughlin. Coughlin lost his brother in a tragic accident this week, and I send my sincere condolences to him and his family. Sorry for your loss.
Pick: N.Y. Giants 27, Panthers 20.
Houston Texans 2-0 @ Baltimore Ravens 1-1 – TV: CBS
It looks like former Baltimore safety Ed Reed might make his Texans debut in the house he made himself famous as a future Hall of Famer. Reed also made a bold statement earlier this week heading up to the game on why he chose to play in Houston. “I knew where I wanted to be. You remember me saying, ‘I wanted to repeat.’ And I still will repeat, it just will be with a different team,” said Reed. Reed will also witness ex-teammate Ray Lewis getting inducted into the Ravens’ Ring of Honor. That’s just the storyline factors of deal here. But, what this game comes down to matchup wise is how the Ravens will do things with Ray Rice (hip) doubtful for action against the Texans defense. Bernard Pierce will carry most of the load and the Ravens are thin at receiver with Jacoby Jones (knee) still out and Marlon Brown in his replacement. Texans star receiver Andre Johnson (concussion) was cleared to play Friday and that’s huge for quarterback Matt Schaub who now has two reliable targets out wide with rookie DeAndre Hopkins showing last week he has what it takes to be a go-to reliable target in crunch time. Houston has better things aligned within the passing game on third down and the running game behind Arian Foster and Ben Tate to get positive yardage on first down. No Ray Rice, no Joe Flacco check down passes or anything to stretch the opposition’s defense, vertically.
Pick: Texans 23, Ravens 16.
4:05 PM ET
Atlanta Falcons 1-1 @ Miami Dolphins 2-0 – TV: FOX
Mettle tester for Miami over their next three games, they get Atlanta at south beach this weekend, then to Louisiana to play Drew Brees and the Saints, then back to south beach to play defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore. The Falcons are heading into Miami hobbled, however. Running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) is out, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (foot) was placed on short term injured reserve, and receiver Roddy White (ankle) is questionable. The Falcons aerial attack is still stretching defenses with White being a non-factor, as quarterback Matt Ryan is connecting big with White’s star sidekick receiver Julio Jones. Needless to say that Miami will be focusing on getting after Matt Ryan. They have the talent upfront on the defensive end to pressure the pocket that’s anchored by standout pass-rusher Cameron Wake. The 340 Lbs. Paul Soliai (knee), a key factor at clogging the middle is questionable. Soliai isn’t the only force in the middle. Randy Starks and the rotation of Jared Odrick are key parts of the Miami D-line as well. The Falcons offensive line is vulnerable, and Miami’s front needs to disrupt the timing of Matt Ryan who gets rid of the ball quick. Rarely do you see Ryan hold onto the football in the pocket. The Tannehill to Wallace connection took place for Miami’s passing game in their win over Indianapolis. Wallace set the tone with a first quarter touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill and finished the day with 9-catches for 115-yards and a score. Miami moves the football methodically, a key element to keep the big-play Falcons offense off the field. If Roddy White’s bum ankle was fully healed, and if Steven Jackson was available, I’d like Atlanta in this one, but I see Miami shadowing a safety over the top on Julio Jones, limiting Matt Ryan from connecting big.
Pick: Dolphins 23, Falcons 20.
4:25 PM ET
Buffalo Bills 1-1 @ N.Y. Jets 1-1 – TV: CBS
I’m pretty sure Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has been whispering sweet words into his rookie QB Geno Smith’s ear on being aware of Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams’ heat he brings off the edges. Watching Williams on tape sacking the elusive Cam Newton 4.5 times last week has to be ringing of bad thoughts in the head of Mornhinweg and Smith. That’s the key factor in this matchup, Smith will have more heat coming after him to be forced into mistakes, and Buffalo’s offense has more substance with the run to setup the pass. There’s a big difference between both rookie QB’s situations, Buffalo’s EJ Manuel is completing passes at a much higher percentage than Geno Smith, 68.2 to 53.4. Manuel is more poised in the pocket knowing that he can feed the football to running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson to keep him out of long distance passing downs. And Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell running the football just doesn’t fit the bill to give Smith any comfort running the Jets offense.
Pick: Bills 19, N.Y. Jets 16.
Indianapolis Colts 1-1 @ San Francisco 49ers 1-1 – TV: CBS
The life of “the Horseshoe comes first” ran organization begins for Trent Richardson at running back for the Indianapolis Colts after he was traded from Cleveland. That’s the motto of the organization team owner Jim Irsay has set in Indianapolis, and Trent will learn that soon as the days go on. He begins that road on the road in the bay area, a place 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh will have his squad geared up to take out their frustration of last Sunday’s thumping-embarrassing loss to rival Seattle in the pacific northwest. 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith’s off the field issues added more dirt to the pile after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and marijuana possession earlier this week. That’s not the motto of the organization coach Harbaugh has set for his team. Coach still expects Smith to play after he was released from jail Friday, and most importantly, you can bet the house of him telling his troops all week long during practice, “WE DON’T LOSE AT HOME, UNDERSTOOD?”
Pick: 49ers 34, Colts 19.
Jacksonville Jaguars 0-2 @ Seattle Seahawks 2-0 – TV: CBS
I’m pretty sure the money line for gamblers has been shut down for this one. But, there’s still a 19.5 spread with Seattle favored. Gus Bradley, Jacksonville’s head coach and former Seattle defensive coordinator that had lots of influence on building the Seahawks top flight defense is in town. And I’m sure late in the game with Seattle comfortably ahead, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll pulls the plug on his starters to not run up the score on Bradley. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) is expected to play, and that’s the only hope the Jaguars have in this matchup, if someway, somehow, he can have a breakout game. And Seattle’s defense knows that’s the only concern they have and will commit to shutting him down.
Pick: Seahawks 28, Jaguars 9.
Sunday Night Football in America 8:30 PM ET – TV: NBC
Chicago Bears 2-0 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 0-2
Pittsburgh Steelers legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau faces an improved Bears offensive line, and most importantly a glued to the playbook Jay Cutler version quarterbacking the Bears offense under Marc Trestman. Cutler has only been sacked once, unlike getting sacked 9 times through his first two games in 2012. The addition of tight end Martellus Bennett gives Cutler an option in the middle that has already matched the total of touchdowns by Bears tight ends of 2012 with 3, including the game winning touchdown last week. The Steelers offense has been plagued by injury, and the matchups they face this week looks on the downside of things for them to muster points on a ball-hawking Bears defense. Look for LeBeau to throw a mixture of blitz packages at Cutler and send heat from all angles to try to disrupt the timing of the Bears passing game. And even though the Steelers offense has struggled, the defense is still playing with an aggressive attitude. This will be a field position type of battle and which offense will take advantage of having a short field. I like Chicago to be able to pound the rock with running back Matt Forte and continue to utilize him out of the backfield as a receiving option, something that will keep Pittsburgh’s linebackers on their heels. And when in the redzone, look for Trestman to tell Cutler to dial 1-800-fade-route-to-Brandon-Marshall. There’s no extension numbers, but a decisive fourth quarter Touchdown catch does exist.
Pick: Bears 20, Steelers 13.
Monday Night Football, September 23 8:30 PM ET – TV: ESPN
Oakland Raiders 1-1 @ Denver Broncos 2-0
You would think losing Elvis Dumervil to Baltimore and being without Von Miller due to a suspension, the Broncos defense would take a backseat. Not so fast, the Broncos have intercepted the football 6 times, including 4 against Eli Manning in their blowout win over the Giants. Offensively, everything expected out of a well-oiled machine is smoothly being operated by the great Peyton Manning at quarterback. Manning now has another added dimension to his wide-load of talented receivers with tight end Julius Thomas who found his way into the endzone again last week. It’s no secret, you need to pressure Manning or your defense gets ambushed by a swarm perfectly timed passes for four quarters. So it’s up to the Raiders 5th ranked defense to provide pressure upfront by any means. Denver’s defense will get a taste of the new-look Raiders offense running the read-option with Terrelle Pryor under center. The Raiders are averaging nearly 200-yards rushing a game with Pryor’s influence on offense. He’s also completing over 60 percent of his passes, but no long distance plays from his arm. The Raiders certainly will try to control the tempo by running the football, but they’ll need Pryor to make big plays with his arm, and he doesn’t have enough weapons to dissect an opportunistic Broncos secondary.
Pick: Broncos 34, Raiders 13.
Massimo’s Record by Week:
Week 1: 11-5
Week 2: 12-4
Week 3: ?
Overall Record: 23-9