2017-09-14 13:35:02
N.F.L. Week 2 Picks: Cowboys, Packers and Steelers Face Tough Opponents

13:35, September 14 96 0

Every team that won last week is Super Bowl-bound, and every team that lost is convinced it was a fluke. That is the beauty of Week 2; the predictive nature of Week 1 is entirely dependent on how your team fared. Unlike last week, when Hurricane Irma forced a postponement of a game between Miami and Tampa Bay, all 32 teams will play. Here’s how we think things will play out.

Record against the spread in Week 1: 8-7

Cowboys at Broncos, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Cowboys by 2.5

Teams often talk about rebuilding through the draft, but most of them do not mean they are going to do it in one year. That’s what the Dallas Cowboys (1-0) did in 2016. Coming off a 4-12 season, the Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliott, a running back, with the fourth pick of the draft, and watched as he was named first-team All-Pro after leading the N.F.L. in rushing yards. Dak Prescott, a quarterback taken 135th, played so well as a fill-in starter that he was able to steal Tony Romo’s job even after the former Pro Bowler was healthy. Maliek Collins, a defensive tackle drafted 67th, started 14 games and registered five sacks. And Anthony Brown, a cornerback drafted 189th, started 10 games.

It was already an embarrassment of riches, but last week, Jaylon Smith, a linebacker whom they took a chance on with the 34th pick in that draft, returned after missing all of last season with a knee injury, and made up for lost time with seven tackles and a forced fumble. Smith’s career was once considered in jeopardy, and there was no guarantee he would regain his explosiveness, but if Week 1 was any indication, the Cowboys have added a fifth starter from a single draft, and potentially a third superstar.

While Smith talks about learning the nuances of the game from his teammate Sean Lee, he will also get an up-close look at one of the most dynamic linebackers in the N.F.L. this week in Denver’s Von Miller. The Broncos (1-0) are not nearly as scary as they were a few years ago — egos, age and free agency have a tendency to break up Super Bowl-winning teams — but Miller is still one of the game’s best players, though he will have to be creative to find any openings against Dallas’s formidable offensive line.

There is still some ambiguity as to Elliott’s status going forward, as he and the N.F.L. continue to battle in court over a suspension he received at the end of a lengthy domestic violence investigation. Should his availability change, Dallas’s prospects become far less strong. But with the offense at full strength, and Smith adding explosiveness to the defense, the Cowboys are nearly unbeatable. Pick: Cowboys

Packers at Falcons, 8:30 p.m., NBC

Line: Falcons by 2.5

Any mention of last year’s N.F.C. championship game is likely to induce cringing from the Packers and their fans. With a depleted secondary that was not that good when it was healthy, the Packers were crushed by the Falcons, losing, 44-21, while allowing Matt Ryan to throw for 392 yards and four touchdowns.

The Packers, who have typically buttered their bread with offense rather than defense, understood they had a flaw in need of serious correction, and if last week was any indication, they are moving in the right direction. Shutting down Russell Wilson of the Seahawks is a far easier task than dealing with Ryan, but with LaDarius Gunter, the goat of last year’s playoffs, having been demoted from No. 1 cornerback to the waiver wire (he was picked up by Carolina), Green Bay will at least be able to offer a different look, potentially slowing Julio Jones & Co.

On the other side of the ball, Aaron Rodgers sits just two touchdowns short of 300 for his career, a feat he will almost assuredly accomplish faster than any other player in terms of passing attempts. Rodgers has 4,699 career attempts, and the low is by Peyton Manning, who threw his 300th touchdown on his 5,306th attempt. When he hits that mark, which could come this week, Rodgers will be the 11th N.F.L. player to do so, but he will still be 142 short of Green Bay’s franchise record, which is held by his immediate predecessor, Brett Favre. Pick: Packers

Vikings at Steelers, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Steelers by 6

Everyone knew the Vikings (1-0) had a good defense, but on Monday night, they looked like a team that could do some serious damage offensively as well. Sam Bradford had his pick of open receivers, as Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen burned the New Orleans Saints. Perhaps more important, Dalvin Cook appeared to cement himself as the Adrian Peterson replacement the team has been looking for since before Peterson even left. It was actually fairly awkward considering Peterson was right across the field, stalking up and down the other sideline, seemingly unhappy with his playing time. The wins will not all be that easy, but if Bradford can make the offense respectable, and the defense continues to have “make Drew Brees seem like a backup quarterback” potential, then preseason predictions for the team may have been well short of its capabilities.

Pittsburgh (1-0) walked away from Week 1 with a victory, but shouldn’t be too happy about it. The Steelers managed only 21 points against the woeful Browns despite returning a blocked punt for a touchdown in the opening minutes, a memorable debut from the rookie linebacker T. J. Watt and 182 receiving yards from Antonio Brown. If that combination leads to only a 3-point victory over Cleveland, they are going to need to make some serious changes. Pick: Steelers

Eagles at Chiefs, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Chiefs by 4.5

Alex Smith of the Chiefs (1-0) started the season with a bang last Thursday, repeatedly throwing deep and finding success against the heavily-favored Patriots. It was understandable for New England to lose track of Smith as it struggled to contend with Kareem Hunt, a third-round pick who set an N.F.L. record with 246 yards from scrimmage in his debut. Hunt topped the previous mark of 217, which was set in the debut by Billy Sims in 1980 and matched by Anquan Boldin in 2003. Kansas City has a tough test this week against Philadelphia (1-0), whose defense is particularly strong in the front seven, so expectations for Smith and Hunt should probably be lowered, even if a win is likely. Pick: Chiefs

Patriots at Saints, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Patriots by 6.5

Tom Brady was the most efficient quarterback in the N.F.L. on deep throws last season, and if Week 1 was any indication, he intends to take advantage of that long-range accuracy. He led all quarterbacks for the week with 17 pass attempts of 15 or more yards (no other quarterback had more than 10), and he made his receivers work hard to indulge his Daryle Lamonica impersonation: According to Sportradar, the receivers Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks sprinted more than 600 yards apiece over the course of New England’s loss to the Chiefs. Hogan led all players in the N.F.L. with 665.67 yards of sprinting, but came away with one catch for 8 yards to show for it. It will probably be more of the same this week against the Saints (0-1), but considering how poorly New Orleans did at slowing Minnesota in Week 1, the results should be a lot prettier. Pick: Patriots

Dolphins at Chargers, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Chargers by 4.5

Jay Cutler has his flaws, but at his core, he is the type of quarterback who wants to throw into tight coverage, find receivers who cannot be found and create touchdowns that seem impossible. Even in an injury-plagued season a year ago, he never lost his aggressiveness, finishing fifth in the N.F.L. in percentage of passes thrown into tight coverage, according to the league’s Next Generation Stats data. Against all odds, on the heels of a very short retirement, he may have finally found the team that turns his aggressiveness into a good thing. This week will offer the first glimpse of him trying to make use of a Dolphins offense loaded with Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills at wide receiver, each of whom can go up and get those gunslinger-style passes. The talented triumvirate is more accustomed to the nonaggressive style of Ryan Tannehill (who was third from the bottom in percentage of passes thrown into tight coverage), and they will have to readjust their expectations of what constitutes being open. Pick: Dolphins

Redskins at Rams, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Rams by 2.5

The Rams (1-0) romped to a 46-9 win over the lowly Colts last week, thanks to an improving offense and a defense that contributed two touchdowns in the form of pick-6s by Trumaine Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner. Beating up on Scott Tolzien does not have much predictive value, but the Rams are fired up and playing at home for the second consecutive week, and will get Aaron Donald back in some capacity. For Kirk Cousins and the Redskins (0-1), that should be a scary thought. Pick: Rams

Bills at Panthers, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Panthers by 7.5

The Bills (1-0) got a win to start the season, and apparently that counts in the standings even though they played the Jets. Against the Panthers (1-0), a team of quality N.F.L. players, the going might be considerably tougher. If Sean McDermott learned of any deep flaws of the Panthers during his time there as defensive coordinator, now would be a good time for the Redskins coach to share the information with his players. Pick: Panthers

Titans at Jaguars, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Titans by 2.5

Calais Campbell is a terrific football player, and probably worth the $30 million in guarantees that he got from Jacksonville, but it’s reasonable to assume a game in which he got four of his team’s 10 sacks is going to be the high point of the deal. It will be hard to reel back in the expectations of Jacksonville fans, many of whom have talked themselves into the team as a contender, but the fact that it is not favored at home against a team that lost last week should be a strong indication of how far the Jaguars have to go to persuade the naysayers. Pick: Titans

Bears at Buccaneers, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Buccaneers by 7

No one knows what to expect from the Buccaneers, thanks to their Week 1 game being postponed until Week 11. There is no doubt they are fresh (their only entry on the injury report is Devante Bond, a backup linebacker), but they barely practiced and might be badly out of rhythm, no matter how much film they dissected. Pick: Buccaneers

49ers at Seahawks, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Seahawks by 13.5

The Seahawks are known for defense, but the offense has typically done its part with a run-heavy, clock-chewing style that lets Russell Wilson thrive with just a few big passing plays a game. That all falls apart when the team’s running backs cannot find traction, and last week, the team was stuck in the mud against a Green Bay Packers defense that is not considered stout. If Reuben Foster, the 49ers’ promising rookie linebacker, is able to play through a sprained ankle, Seattle may find it difficult to run once again, which would make the enormous point spread difficult to cover. Pick: 49ers

Browns at Ravens, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Ravens by 8

The memory of Week 1 for the Browns (0-1) really should be the emergence of DeShone Kizer as a potential gem of a second-round pick. But the enduring image of the game, for better or worse, is Britton Colquitt lining up for a punt on his team’s opening drive and seemingly not noticing as Tyler Matakevich of the Steelers blocked the ball into the end zone. Anthony Chickillo recovered it for a touchdown, and another indelible moment was added to one of sports’ least competitive rivalries. This week, the Browns will face the Ravens (1-0), who crushed a Bengals team with a lot more talent than Cleveland has. Pick: Ravens

Cardinals at Colts, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Cardinals by 7

Kerwynn Williams is being asked to replace David Johnson, and the Cardinals running back is tempering expectations, telling reporters, “All I can be is the best me.” In his fifth season, Williams is unlikely to make anyone forget Johnson, but he has enough talent, and Arizona (0-1) is deep enough at running back, that there is no reason to panic. If the Cardinals want to panic, they should focus on Carson Palmer, who threw three interceptions last week, had a fourth one come back because of a penalty, and may be in steep decline. Pick: Cardinals

Jets at Raiders, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Raiders by 14

There is nothing wrong with the Raiders (1-0), who seemed to pick up right where they had left off when Derek Carr was lost for the season with a broken fibula last year. But a game against the Jets (0-1) should be viewed as no different than the college football games where big programs pay little programs to lose to them. The only thing preventing Oakland from covering the enormous point spread will be boredom. Pick: Raiders

Texans at Bengals, 8:25 p.m. (Thursday), NFL Network

Line: Bengals by 6.5

Considering how poorly Houston’s offensive line played in a Week 1 loss to Jacksonville, the team’s change at quarterback midway through the game from Tom Savage to Deshaun Watson seemed to have less to do with Watson’s ability to throw the ball, and more to do with his being fast enough to sprint away from unblocked defenders. The Texans (0-1) will be trying to forget that debacle while facing the Bengals (0-1), who were embarrassed in a loss to Baltimore, shut out for just the second time in Andy Dalton’s 94 career starts. Pick: Bengals

Lions at Giants, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Line: Giants by 3.5

Eli Manning is urging patience as people overreact to the Giants being easily dispatched by Dallas in Week 1. The offensive line needs a lot of work, the team needs Odell Beckham Jr. back to legitimize the offense and the Giants defense provided little in the way of resistance as the Cowboys won easily. But it was still only one loss. Bouncing back by finding a way to slow Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ offense would go a long way toward calming everyone down. Pick: Lions.