NFL Week Two Previews

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THE NFL WEEK #2 PREVIEWS GETS YOU THE PRIME-TIME MANNING BOWL II (OF COURSE) PLUS WE CHECK ON SOME HIGH-PROFILE WEEK #1 LOSERS (THAT'S THE COWBOYS, VIKES & JETS) THAT REALLY NEED TO WIN

By Jim Hurley:

If you've tuned into any of the sports talk radio shows in New York City this past week than you know there's a state of panic revolving around the New York Jets - but "gang green" is not the only NFL high-profile team that came up a loser in Week #1.

Look around the league and you sense early-season dismay in Cincinnati, Minnesota and Dallas too - egads should any/all of these teams stagger out of the starting gate at 0-2 SU (straightup) but anything is possible and so we'll focus our Jim Sez NFL Week #2 attention on a handful of "name" teams that didn't win their season-opening games last week and now are already close to panic-button time.

Hey, it's easy for folks sitting on the outside looking in to tell these teams that they ought to relax and not get in a tizzy because of a slow start but let us reminder you that last year the Tennessee Titans started off the season 0-6 SU and then wound up finishing 8-8 - obviously, a better start there could have spelled a playoff berth.

And don't forget about the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers - yes, the at-the-time defending Super Bowl champions - who dropped two of their first three games of the year, rallied for a 6-2 mark but then finished 9-7 and without a post-season berth. Two-of-three wins - instead of two-of-three losses - at season's start might have been all the difference in the world to last year's Steelers.

So, here's the bottom line:

If you're an NFL team with real-life aspirations to getting to Super Bowl XLV in Arlington this season then you don't want to come skidding right at the start - duh! - but for many clubs this Week #2 is ultra-important stuff.

Must-win time? Maybe not that strong just yet but losses by any of teams we feature here could prove deadly down the road ... we'll see.
  
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NFL WEEK #2 PREVIEWS

BALTIMORE (1-0) at CINCINNATI (0-1) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Ravens showed that they could "talk the talk" and "walk the walk" with ultra-physical 10-9 triumph over the mouthy New York Jets last Monday Night but now the $64,000 question is whether John Harbaugh's club can sustain a 60-minute effort on the road off a short week.

Okay, so Baltimore's battered secondary never really was tested by the Jets (only three catches by NYJ wide receivers) but here expect Cincy slinger Carson Palmer to throw it 35-plus times with WRs Chad Ochocinco (12 catches last week in never-in-doubt 38-24 loss in New England) and Terrell Owens (7 grabs for 53 yards) at the ready.

If there's a not-so-secret key to this game for Baltimore it's the all-important time of possession stat:

The Ravens kept the ball on offense for more than 38 minutes last Monday Night and really flustered the Jets with some key third-down conversions - it says here that if the QB Joe Flacco-to-TE Todd Heap combo can strike for three or four plays that produce first downs, then Baltimore could snag that rare quinella of back-to-back NFL road wins to open a season ... we'll see.

Spread Notes - Baltimore has failed to cover eight of its last 11 head-to-head AFC North showdowns against rival Cincinnati but did you know the Ravens are a snazzy 4-1-1 ATS (against the spread) in divisional road games the past couple of years? Meanwhile, Cincinnati is 24-40-2 ATS at home since the start of 2002 (that's a wobbly .375 winning rate).

    
CHICAGO (1-0) at DALLAS (0-1) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Take your pick as to what the Dallas Cowboys found the most galling aspect of their 13-7 loss last Sunday Night in Washington:

The end-of-the-first-half bonehead play that resulted in RB Tashard Choice getting stripped of the ball for a 'Skins touchdown was one thing but how about all those penalty flags?

The 'Boys committed 12 fouls for 91 yards - it could have been worse had the officials flagged incompetent RT Alex Barron even more! - and so no there's no margin for error here what with Dallas playing at state rival Houston next week (could Jerry Jones' club really start off 0-3 this year?).

On the flip side, the Bears are counting their blessings following that 19-14 non-cover win against Detroit last week - at this point Chicago's players don't want to hear any more about that WR Calvin Johnson non-TD pass in the game's final 30 seconds last weekend at Soldier Field - but will Lovie Smith's club need QB Jay Cutler to throw for more than 372 yards to win this game (that was last week's passing yardage figure which was Cutler's high as a Bears slinger)?

The Cowboys are keeping fingers crossed that RT Marc Colombo (knee) can play here and thus bench Barron but the real key here might be less pass protection than how Dallas fares via the ground game - it's time to trap Bears' DE Julius Peppers as often as possible.

Spread Notes - Dallas is 10-4 vig-wise at home since early in the 2008 season plus note the Cowboys have covered 13 of their last 20 games played against NFC competition. On the flip side, Chicago is a rotten 5-10-1 versus the vig in road games since the start of the 2008 season and the Bears are 4-11-1 ATS as underdogs the past two-plus seasons.


MIAMI (1-0) at MINNESOTA (0-1) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
It's been a long time since the Minnesota Vikings have found themselves in the winner's circle - the NFC Championship Game loss in New Orleans ended their 2009 season and their 14-9 loss in the same Superdome building began the 2010 season - so no wonder everyone in the Twin Cities is getting a little antsy regarding their pro football team.

The Vikes continue to strain for the proper run/pass balance but expect QB Brett Favre - who didn't lose a single game inside the Metrodome last year (9-0 including the playoff win over Dallas) - to continue to look for underrated TE Visanthe Shiancoe who snagged four passes and scored Minny's lone touchdown last Thursday night against the Saints.

No real mystery on the other side of the ball: The Vikes want their "Williams Wall" - that's D-linemen Kevin and Pat - to stuff a Miami ground game that last year ranked fourth in the league (139 ground yards a game) and last week came close to that per-game average with 132 rushing yards in the 15-10 win at Buffalo.

Spread Notes - Miami exited last week's win in Buffalo with a spiffy 12-5 spread mark in away games since the start of the 2008 season but the Dolphins are an ugly 7-14 ATS versus non-divisional opponents the past two-plus seasons. Minnesota, meanwhile, is fresh off last year's 6-2-1 ATS home mark that included a cover versus AFC opponent Cincinnati. The Vikings also registered a solid 9-5-1 spread log as betting favorites last year that featured a 5-2-1 spread mark as home chalk sides.
 
    
NEW ENGLAND (1-0) at NEW YORK JETS (0-1) - 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Now that the New York Jets know this isn't gonna be a 16-and-oh season for them, it's time to set their minds right with the archrival Patriots coming into town - and all of a sudden New England is gaining everyone's support/faith as the price tag on this AFC East clash has gone from Pats minus a point to minus three points.

Last week New England was a precise machine in all aspects as QB Tom Brady completed 25-of-35 passes for 258 yards and three scores while the Patriots defense and special teams added a TD apiece - and now they go against a Jets crew that didn't dent the end zone once in that 10-9 hammer-and-nail loss to Baltimore last Monday Night. The Jets never did get the ground game in gear (and it looks as if RB Shonn Greene has zero confidence after a key lost fumble and a dropped pass) while QB Mark Sanchez was tarred-and-feathered on sports talk shows and tabloids all week long following his 74-yard passing game.

Put it this way: If the Jets don't step it up here than the Hard Knocks squad could be upon hard times all 2010 season long. Just remember that only three NFL teams have ever won the Super Bowl after getting off to 0-2 SU starts.

Spread Notes - New England is 11-6 versus the Jets since late in the 2001 season and the Patriots are 23-12 ATS away the past four-plus seasons too. Note that the J-E-T-S have covered 10 of their last 15 games when in the underdog role and that includes last season's 16-9 home win against the 3-point favored Pats (also a Week #2 game).

On Sunday Nite, it's ...
    
NEW YORK GIANTS (1-0) at INDIANAPOLIS (0-1) - 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC
Here's a strange-but-true factoid about the Mannings: The last time the Indy Colts started off a season at 0-2, QB Peyton Manning was a rookie in the NFL and little brother Eli was chuckin' the pigskin as a high schooler in New Orleans.

Now, a Colts loss in prime time here would push Indianapolis to its first 0-2 start in 12 years and so no wonder there's been a big-time sense of urgency in "Nap-Town" this week and not so much buzz regarding the fact it is "Manning Bowl II".

Remember that the Colts swiped the first Manning Bowl bash back in 2006 (see below in our Spread Notes) and that just so happened to be the year Indianapolis won its one-and-only Super Bowl crown - Peyton threw for 276 yards in that tilt but last week he threw it for 433 yards (40-of-57 passing) and that's not a true recipe to win here.

Note that the Giants - coming off an uneven 31-18 win against 5 ½-point road underdog Carolina in Week #1 - have taken to a whole slew of new schemes on defense and first-year defensive coordinator Perry Fewell even has one alignment entitled NASCAR as the Giants play four speedy defensive ends at the same time - va-va-voom!

No doubt the Manning Brothers will be the center stage players here but keep your eyes on two different "non-Manning" items:

The Giants' special teams was a real mess last week and punter Matt Dodge - a rookie from East Carolina - was so bad that the New Meadowlands Stadium crowd serenaded him with chants of "Feagle, Feagles" as in former Giants P Jeff Feagles;

Finally, the Colts defense last week allowed a franchise-worst 257 rushing in that 34-27 loss at Houston - now who steps up at LB/DB with S Bob Sanders out (torn triceps) ... stay tuned.

Spread Notes -- Indianapolis is 30-18-1 spreadwise versus non-AFC South clubs the past four-plus seasons and that includes the 26-21 win/cover at the 3-point underdog Giants back in 2006. Note that the NY Giants are 26-11 ATS away the last four years and the NFC East crew is a healthy 13-6 ATS as point-grabbers since the start of the 2007 campaign.

NFL WEEK #2 POINTSPREAD TIDBITS

Here's some around-the-league facts/figures regarding more NFL Week #2 games:

  • The Atlanta Falcons have covered their home opener five times in the past six years;
  • The Carolina Panthers are 10-4 ATS versus archrival Tampa Bay the past seven seasons;
  • The Denver Broncos are 9-22-1 ATS at home since the start of the 2006 season;
  • The Houston Texans have failed to cover six of their last nine post-Indianapolis Colts games;
  • The Philadelphia Eagles are 23-14 ATS away the past four-plus seasons;
  • And the San Diego Chargers have lost five of their last seven home openers spreadwise dating back to the 2003 season.

NOTE: Make sure to get all the weekend roundups in the NFL and NCAA Football in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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