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NFL Week 2 Picks - The most important week (statistically) of the season

Seth Dunlap picks every game against the spread, and straight up

Seth Dunlap
September 13, 2018 - 7:19 pm
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There are a lot of old football clichés thrown around in the early NFL season; “You can’t win a championship in week one,” or, “It’s only one game!”

By literal definition, those statements are true, but modern analytics show that it’s Week 2, yes this coming week, of the NFL season that is the most statistically meaningful This is especially true for the 16 teams that lost their season opener. 

As laid out by FiveThirtyEight, teams who enter Week 2 at 0-1 can improve their expected season win total by 2.5 win with a victory, the highest jump in win expectancy for any victory during the season. 

FiveThirtyEight.com

Additionally, we can track playoff expectancy by record, and how a win or a loss in each game throughout the season can affect that.  Teams starting 1-1 make the playoffs 41% of the time, while teams who start 0-2 make it at just a 10% clip.  That 31 percent difference in a team’s playoff expectancy is among the biggest jump a team can make throughout the season by winning one game.

FiveThirtyEight lays it out like this:

“Each of the first two weeks tells us roughly as much about who will or won’t make the playoffs as four win-or-go-home games, which would decide eight teams’ fates. So it’s almost as if the season starts off with two rounds of playoffs — except that all the excitement is spread thin across the entire league.”

FiveThirtyEight.com

This is a long way of saying that team who want to make the NFL postseason have just as much to play for in Weeks 1 and 2 as they do in Weeks 16 and 17.   The Saints managed to dig themselves out of a 0-2 hole last year to make the playoffs last year, as did the Dolphins in 2016.  About one team per season makes that climb from 0-2 to the playoffs, but it’s not a tightrope that most teams would prefer to walk.

So here we are entering the second week of the 2018 season.  Preseason favorites like the Saints, Falcons and Chargers all faltered last week and find themselves in a near must-win situation already.  

Let’s get to the picks.   As always the picks below are against the spread, with final score predictions as well. 

 

Picks listed are against the spread

*Home teams in BOLD

Bengals (+1) over Ravens

Yes, Angry Flacco could be a real thing.  With Lamar Jackson peeking over his shoulder it seems like the Ravens quarterback is as motivated as he was in 2012 when he felt disrespected when he was playing with an expiring contract and no long term deal in place with the Ravens.  All Flacco did that year was have the greatest playoff run by a quarterback in NFL history while leading the Ravens to an improbable Super Bowl.   He looked really good last week against the Bills, as did the team in a 47-3 curb stomping of what could be the league’s worst team.

However, Flacco hasn’t been good against Cincinnati historically, throwing just 19 touchdowns against 23 interceptions in his career with a paltry 72.3 rating.  Plus, this is a short-week game on the road on Thursday Night.

I’m getting a point with the Bengals here?  We’ll take it every time.

Bengals 23, Ravens 20

 

Panthers (+6) over Falcons

Carolina hasn’t won in Atlanta since the 2014 regular season finale, but this spread feels too high.  

The Falcons have lost two of their most important defensive players to injured reserve, safety Keanu Neal and linebacker Deion Jones.  How the defense contains Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, and company without those two Pro-Bowlers is a bit of a mystery.  Also a mystery is the disappearing act of the Falcons offense and, more specifically, quarterback Matt Ryan who hasn’t looked like the guy who won the 2016 NFL MVP the past season and change.

Speaking of former MVPs who have fallen, Cam Newton certainly hasn’t looked anywhere close to elite the past two seasons after winning the 2015 award, but he did seem to play more confidently last week against Dallas in his first game with new offensive coordinator, and noted quarterback whisperer, Norv Turner. 

I like the Panthers to keep this close, and perhaps even steal a division game on the road and send the Falcons into full panic mode.

Falcons 27, Panthers 23

 

Jets (-2.5) over Dolphins

Sam Darnold looked like the quarterback the Browns should have picked first overall in this year’s NFL Draft.   They didn’t and Darnold is better for it.  

I’ve preached extreme patience with coach Todd Bowles through this Jets rebuild, and so far the Johnson family has given him that.   If Darnold is able to consistently complete 70%+ of his passes and stay away from turnovers (he had one against the Lions) then the Jets should be competitive in a terrible division and a conference without a good middle.

If you’re looking for a sneaky Wild Card pick, they might be it.

Jets 26, Dolphins 20

 

Vikings (+1) over Packers

The Vegas consensus on this game entering this morning still had the Packers as a home favorite.  The looming uncertainty over Aaron Rodgers health has a few sports books scared, including the Las Vegas Super Book who dropped the Packers to +7.   

I actually like the Vikings to win outright here in either case.  This is a defense that has given Rodgers fits the last few seasons and they made an absolute statement last week against a very good 49ers team.   Kirk Cousins certainly looks like he’s worth every penny of that new contract he was given by Minnesota.

Take the Vikings at +1 even if Rodgers plays, and I’m probably still taking them at -7 if he doesn’t.

Vikings 24, Packers 17

 

Saints (-8.5) over Browns

Our friend Ralph Michaels (@CalSportsLV) told us last night on my program, ‘The Last Lap’ 8-11pm CST on WWL Radio, that teams who have lost as double digit favorites come back to cover the next week two thirds of the time. 

There’s numerous layers of concern here for New Orleans, from the back end of the defense that looked completely lost, to the front four that couldn’t generate any kind of pass rush on Ryan Fitzpatrick.  There’s also that Browns defense that terrorized the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger last week in generating a +5 turnover differential.

The Saints are just 4-13 against the Browns all-time, but they are just too talented to do anything but run away from the Browns at home this week, right?

Saints 34, Browns 20

 

Steelers (-4.5) over Chiefs

Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes could be the most talented passer Andy Reid has ever coached.   The offense, as Tyreek Hill predicted, looks like it will be one of the most explosive in the league.  I had both of these teams in the playoffs in my preseason predictions and I believe that the Chiefs may wind up by that surprise team that winds up in conference championship, or even a Super Bowl. 

However, the Steelers are always a different group when backed up against the proverbial wall, and they beat Kansas City last year at Arrowhead.   I like them at home this week to rebound after an ugly performance against the Browns.

Steelers 34, Chiefs 28

 

Buccaneers (+3.5) over Eagles

The Bearded One swashbuckled his way through the Saints defense last week in the most impressive performance of his career.  Now, when Bucs quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick says he’s playing as well as he ever has we might actually have to believe him.

It’s not completely unprecedented for an aging quarterback to break out late in his career.  Rich Gannon was 34 before he became a star in Oakland, and Gannon’s MVP season happened three years after that.   I’m not saying Fitzpatrick is going to go all Gannon on us, but he certainly looked comfortable in Dirk Koetter’s offense and he does have weapons to throw at. 

I’m a bit of a sucker for controversy, so I’d low key rooting for Fitzpatrick to play lights-out the first three weeks and then force the Bucs into a full scale, capital letter Quarterback Controversy when Jameis Winston returns after Week 3.

It’s hard for me to comfortably take The Champs to cover at -3.5 with Nick Foles looking like Charlie Whitehurst under center the past two months. 

Eagles 23, Bucs 20

 

Patriots (-1) over Jaguars

This is supposedly where we finally find out that Bill and Tom are no longer the undisputed rulers the AFC.  The upstart Jaguars with, what could already be, a generationally great defense, are ready to succeed House Bradychick. 

They may be but, as the Lannisters can tell you, power isn’t wrested away easily from those who’ve held it, and clinged to it, for this long.

The Patriots have some notable regular season blemishes recently, but those almost always come when we least expect it.  The Texans at home or the Dolphins in the early season.  When New England faces another conference power things usually go their way.  Just ask Peyton Manning.

I’m high on the Jaguars Super Bowl chances.  Really high.   This game will give us a good chance to see if a challenger to the Patriots throne is finally worthy.  I suspect it doesn’t happen quite yet.

Patriots 26, Jaguars 20

 

Giants (+3) over Cowboys

How ‘bout them Cowboys?

Fans in Dallas are acting like they didn’t see this anemic offense coming.   Dak Prescott isn’t Tom Brady.  He needs weapons to throw the ball to.  No Jason Witten.  No Dez Bryant.  There’s Cole Beasley and a bunch of dudes on the outside.   As much as John Gruden and Pete Carroll would like you to think, you’re not going to win in this league with NO weapons on the outside.  The Seahawks had Beast Mode, but they also had Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and a quarterback light years ahead of where Dak Prescott is.

The Giants should have an explosive offense, even with Eli Manning doing his best Trent Dilfer impression in the waning stages of his career.  Dallas is going to have a hard time keeping up.

Giants 27, Cowboys 20

 

Seahawks (+3.5) over Bears

Two teams that some people (see: not me) had as possible dark-horse Wild Card teams in a stacked NFC now play essentially an elimination game in Week 2.  Let’s face it, neither of these teams is climbing out of a 0-2 hole to make the playoffs. 

The Bears still have major issues on offense.  They can’t simply rely on Khalil Mack looking like peak Reggie White mixed in with a little Lawrence Taylor every game.   He’s good, but no defensive lineman can carry a team himself.  Ask J.J. Watt.   They’re going to need to have Mitch Trubisky and the Bears offense scoring more points than the two field goals they scored in the second half against Green Bay.

For Seattle, their defense is not in complete rebuild mode and the offensive line is still a liability.  But, they’ve got the better quarterback, and their record on Monday Night Football, especially under Pete Carroll is absurd.   Russell Wilson in prime time usually is money.

Seahawks 24, Bears 23

 

 

Other picks against spread, with outright winners in CAPS (home team in bold):

  • CHARGERS (-7.5) over Bills
  • Titans (+2.5) over TEXANS
  • Colts (+6) over WASHINGTON
  • Cardinals (+13) over RAMS
  • 49ERS (-6) over Lions
  • Raiders (+6) over BRONCOS

 

LAST WEEK AGAINST THE SPREAD:  3-3

LAST WEEK STRAIGHT UP:  4-2

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