NFL Week 3: Wheat from the Chaff

Week 3 of the young NFL season is upon us, sports fans, and it’s around this time at the end of September where we get our first look at which teams are merely holding up an illusion of awesomeness, and who is hiding behind a curtain of fail hoping we won’t notice.

The biggest surprises of the year so far are the Bills and Lions, both 2-0 heading into Sunday’s games. The shock isn’t so much that they’re winning, but *how* they’re winning. Buffalo is scoring points in bundles, Ryan Fitzpatrick is doing his best Kurt Warner “Bet you didn’t think I could through a touch pass to THAT GUY” impression, and the Lions are living up to the hype from last season with a solid defense and Matthew Stafford finally, you know, playing for more than three downs a game.

“But TY,” you say. “The Bills have beaten a terrible Chiefs team and an only-slightly-better-than-Kansas City team in the Raiders! They can’t really be that good, right?” [Ed. Note: “TY” is the new, trendy way we here at Three
Yards will be referring to ourselves in the third person from now on. It’s
for the kids.]

True. They did beat a JV Chiefs team that looks lost without a safety and tight end (Really? The starting tight end and safety would have prevented allowing 89 points in two games while only scoring 10? See: Peyton Manning playing defense in Indy), as well as a Raider team with some defensive struggles of their own; the Oakland defense blew a 21-3 halftime lead, for starters.

The difference is belief, methinks. The Bills have started to believe they can win. The test, though, is going to be how they fare against the Patriots this week. Win, and they’re high on life with a possible trap game against the Bungles at Cincy in Week 4 (starring Andy Dalton, newly-dubbed “The Red Rifle” by the seven Bengals fans not rooting for Colt McCoy). Lose big, and that new-found confidence is deflated, they finish the year 8-8 and they’re back to mediocrity. Lose in a nail-biter, though (as they did in Pittsburgh last year, one of my favorite games of the season), and they can keep their heads high and compete for a wild-card spot.

As for the Lions, Matthew Stafford is finally healthy and making the plays he should have been making to Calvin Johnson last year. Jahvid Best is rolling along, Marshall Faulk-style, and their defense is solid enough to hold for the offense to come back. Their first test comes in their first division game at the Metrodome in Minnesota with the suddenly swoon-prone Vikings, who can build a lead but can’t hold onto it, much like Snooki in this week’s JerseyShore disaster. (For more info on why the hell I’d put a JerseyShore reference in my column, go here.) For me to truly believe the Lions are for real this year in competing for a wild card spot (There’s no way they beat the Packers for the division unless Aaron Rogers is called up by Bart Starr into Cheesehead Nirvana) they have to win convincingly on the road against a division foe. Simple as that.

On to the picks (home team in caps):

GAME OF THE WEEK

BILLS over New England

Bills host the Pats in Buffalo, Ryan Fitz and Brady the Dick both throw for over 350, and Buffalo wins a shootout, 42-41. The Pats’ defense allowed 416 yards through the air by CHAD FREAKING HENNE of all people, as well as 378 from Philip Rivers last week. There’s no way they’ve cleaned up that pass defense in one week to hold Fitz under 350. The chances of another 99-yard drive are slim, but here’s some free advice for the Bills’ coaching staff: If you have a fourth down play at the goal line, PASS. For the love of God.

ALMOST GAME OF THE WEEK

Houston over NEW ORLEANS

Same criteria for this game as the Lions-Vikings: win convincingly on the road against a solid team, and I’m on your side. A thrashing of the Manning-less Colts proves nothing, and Miami is two sprained MCLs from recruiting players from the United Football League. New Orleans has been Jekyll-and-Hydeing it so far, getting out-gunned by the Packers to completely shutting down the Bears in the Superdome. I hear tell Jay Cutler is still running from Saints linebackers. Houston’s got the edge in this one, matching up better on offense with Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub displaying an eerie connection so far. Their O-line will protect Schaub, mostly because he’s not running a Mike Martz-patented “Doesn’t Make Sense to Anyone” offensive scheme.

EVERYTHING ELSE

PHILADELPHIA over New York Giants

This one’s pretty cut and dried: If Vick plays, the Eagles win. If Vince Young plays, he hands off to LeSean McCoy and the Eagles win. If Matt Kafka plays, he lets LeSean McCoy take the snaps and the Eagles win.

CAROLINA over Jacksonville

Finally, Cam Newton has an opponent he can throw 400+ yards against and manage to get a win out of it. Blaine Gabbert, who might start for the Jags, is only marginally better than Cade McCown’s even less-effective-at-quarterback brother, Luke.

CLEVELAND over Miami

I’m on the Colt bandwagon, no doubt about it. He’s accurate, he makes good decisions, and he’s got Peyton freakin’ Hillis to hand off to. Miami may have a better record by far on the road than at home the past 12 games (1-11 at home), but I still don’t think they’ll be able to squeeze this one out. Look for a low-scoring squeaker.

San Francisco over CINCINATTI

Alex Smith is successful? It’s BIZARRO FOOTBALL! Andy Dalton won’t be winning any playoff games any time soon, but he’s a solid rookie. Sad news for the Bungles, though, their defense won’t be able to slow down Frank Gore; unless, of course, Dalton breaks three ribs, punctures his spleen, and loses an eye. Then, the mere sight of his manliness will cause the Niners defenders to run away screaming like little girls, allowing Cincy to win in overtime.

TENNESSEE over Denver

Pretty clear choice here; Denver’s been cursed by the devious McDaniels Injury Bug. They can’t seem to keep anyone healthy, and it’s only a matter of time before Tim Tebow is punting and providing hydration for the other two active players on the roster. The Titans showed up big against Baltimore last week, and I don’t expect them to look past the Broncos.

Detroit over MINNESOTA

Like I said earlier, the Vikes can’t hold a lead, and McNabb isn’t the quarterback he was five years ago. There’s only so much Adrian Peterson you can throw at an offense before they figure it out, and Ndomukong Suh will make quick work of that. This win will establish the Lions as a serious contender in the NFC.

Baltimore over ST. LOUIS

I hate to say it, but this is going to be a bloodbath. Cadillac Williams and Steven Jackson are both questionable, the secondary for the Rams is one knee injury short of being made up of hobos, and no one can cover. Ray Rice will have 500 yards by himself, mark my words.

New York Jets over OAKLAND

The Raiders already proved they couldn’t win at home against a decent team, and the J-E-T-S are solidly more than decent. Mark Sanchez has improved, Plaxico Burress gives them a serious deep threat, and their defense is more than capable of bottling up Darren McFadden. Oakland’s Jason Campbell is also questionable, so even his modicum of talent might be missing.

SAN DIEGO over Kansas City

Really?

Atlanta over TAMPABAY

The Falcons have to keep charging ahead following their win over Philly last week. Tampa is a division rival, and the Falcons can’t afford to look past them to the Saints. Matt Ryan proved he could hang in a shootout, and Michael Turner will run all over the Bucs defense.

Green Bay over CHICAGO

If Jay Cutler thinks he had a rough week last week, wait until he gets a facemask full of Clay Matthews. The Packers will run past, throw over, and knock down the Bears while taking advantage of having to play at Soldier Field in September rather than January. The Pack are still a hip pick for the Super Bowl, and I agree until I see something different than the domination they’ve provided so far. Allowing 432 yards to Cam Newton was a fluke; the offense will be on the field much more often against the Bears.

Pittsburgh over INDIANAPOLIS

The Colts still haven’t figured out how the loss of Peyton Manning affected their defense. Methusaleh Collins isn’t getting it done at quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger still hasn’t molested anyone. What was a big prime-time showdown six weeks ago has been demoted into a snoozefest.

Washington over DALLAS

I know, I know. Romo’s gutsy. He played with a freakin’ punctured lung. He’s a gamer, a gunslinger, a man’s man. He’s still not clutch, by God. The Niners defenders were so weirded out that he came back into the game they let a no-name receiver burn them deep for huge yardage. The ‘Skins have a solid running game, and their defense has shown they can shut down mediocre quarterbacks.

CUPCAKE BATTLE OF THE WEEK

Arizona over SEATTLE

Where to begin? Seattle is God-awful. Arizona’s close. No matter how big your home-field “12th Man” mojo is, every Seahawks fan in the Pacific Northwest couldn’t provide enough positive energy to make Tarvaris Jackson not suck at football. This one will either be 7-0 at the final gun, or 70-65, simply because Ken Wisenhunt took his defensive players off the field for the second half because they wanted a latte.

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