Week 1 in the NFL told us a lot about the upper-echelon teams and exposed holes in others. A couple of projected playoff teams that got off to fast starts are among this week’s five pack of picks, and we’re playing the road team Monday night.
Dallas covered three straight in Washington before it lost straight up last year with an offensive dud, a setback that helped propel management to acquire Amari Cooper from Oakland. The Cowboys won seven of their last eight regular-season games, and the offense has continued to improve in 2019.
Let’s start with new hires Kellen Moore (offensive coordinator) and Jon Kitna (quarterbacks coach), a pair of rising stars in the coaching ranks who have been brought in to get the most out of Dak Prescott. It is working, and Prescott appears poised to emerge like Russell Wilson did in his third season, and he completed 25-of-32 passes for 405 yards, four touchdowns and a perfect passer rating in Dallas’ opener. The Cowboys didn’t need Ezekiel Elliott, who joined the team days earlier, and he will play better Sunday.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) September 11, 2019
Prescott, who improved to 25-3, was pressured only three times behind a superb offensive line that missed Travis Frederick last year. With Michael Gallup and Blake Jarwin emerging as stars, the addition of Randall Cobb and Jason Witten’s return from retirement, this offense may score twice as many points as last year. The defense remains awesome, with outstanding linebacker play and pass rushers, and Washington’s Case Keenum will come back to earth after he ripped Philadelphia for 370 passing yards.
The Redskins offensive line misses holdout Trent Williams. Washington couldn’t run the ball effectively last week (28 yards rushing) and lost Derrius Guice to a knee injury. Dallas won’t make the same mistakes as Philadelphia, which applied little pressure, missed tackles and allowed a suspect Washington receiving corps to run free in the first half. The Cowboys are on a mission, with the personnel and coaching upgrades to make a Super Bowl run, and will continue to set the tone against Washington.
Pick: Dallas -5.5
We’re backing Baltimore for the second consecutive week, following an impressive performance from Lamar Jackson, who completed 17 of his 20 passes for 324 yards and five TDs. The Ravens have significantly upgraded their roster from a skill-player perspective, with additions Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Mark Ingram making an immediate impact in opener, and the offensive line remains elite.
Miami didn’t provide much opposition, but Jackson has improved as a passer and will keep developing in an offense built to exploit his talents. Baltimore is prepared to beat you by air or ground. Strong defense remains a staple, and with one of the AFC’s top secondaries, the Ravens play aggressively. They’ve drafted well in recent years, have built a deep roster of fast defenders and Baltimore appears to have seamlessly replaced a pair of starting linebackers from last year.
Kudos to Arizona for coming back and tying poorly coached Detroit, but the new offense was ineffective for three quarters. The defense gave up plenty of yards until Arizona’s offense suddenly woke up in the final stanza, as rookie Kyler Murray completed 15 of his 19 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns, and the Cardinals erased a double-digit deficit to force OT. Look for a letdown, as rebuilt Arizona hits the road in a difficult setting. M&T Bank Stadium will be rocking after a 59-point outburst last week.
Pick: Baltimore -13
Both teams were sluggish offensively in their openers, but Seattle has more upside. Empirical evidence shows a Pittsburgh secondary in shambles, as New England receivers were running wide open on nearly every passing play last week, and the same defense was torched late last year. The Steelers lost four of their last six games to miss the playoffs and the defense continues to put too much pressure on 37-year-old Ben Roethlisberger and limited offensive weapons.
Pittsburgh can’t replace the production of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell with the current roster, and the only quality threat, Juju Smith-Schuster, is dealing with a toe injury. The Steelers have been terrible for bettors, at 4-9 ATS in their last 13 home games, 1-5 ATS in their last six September games and 2-5 ATS in their last seven games overall. Expect more of the same this week, as road warrior Seattle (5-1 ATS in its last six away from home) takes it to a reeling opponent.
The Seahawks added a valuable presence in Jadeveon Clowney, an outstanding run stopper who now understands the defensive system after he arrived late, and the Seattle pass defense can clean things up after it surrendered too many short throws last week. Both teams will try to get the ground game going after sub-100-yard performances and we’ll take Seattle’s Chris Carson, who will be tough to hold down for a second straight week. Russell Wilson makes key plays late in competitive games, and this is too many points for Pittsburgh to be laying.
Pick: Seattle +3.5
After it coughed up three turnovers last week, Atlanta’s prolific offense can get back on track, and Matt Ryan will lead them to victory. It’s a revenge game for the Falcons, who lost at Philadelphia in heartbreaking fashion in the last two years.
Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense remains special, but concerns surround an aging defense with linebacker and secondary issues. Philadelphia’s linebackers are particularly thin compared to recent seasons, with starter Kamu Grugier-Hill out with a knee injury, and the secondary looked out of sorts as it took a beating from Washington. The injury bug continues to plague Philadelphia, with defensive lineman Malik Jackson (signed for $30 million in offseason) lost for the season in the opener.
#Eagles DT Malik Jackson is expected to miss the season with a Lisfranc injury suffered Sunday vs. the #Redskins, sources tell me and @RapSheet. Jackson will have surgery next week. Tough one for Philly despite their DL depth.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) September 10, 2019
Atlanta fell behind with early turnovers, which forced the Falcons to abandon Devonta Freeman and the ground game, but Ryan still managed to complete 33-of-46 passes for two TDs. The offense will keep making strides forward, and Atlanta’s well-regarded defense must play the run better as it continues to round back into form after an injury-ravaged year. We expect an inspired effort at home.
Pick: Atlanta +2
Neither team was well coached in the opener, but we still have faith in Cleveland’s playmakers against inferior teams like the Jets. The Browns were embarrassed by 18 penalties last week, and Baker Mayfield has something to prove after he tossed three interceptions in fourth quarter.
The Jets have lost a staggering number of key players, are 0-5-1 ATS in their last six home games and lack confidence after they blew a 16-0 lead in second half against offensively challenged Buffalo. Defense is still a strength, but the Jets have probably the worst offensive line in league. The offense was sluggish in the opener, despite addition of Le’Veon Bell, who played well but can’t block for himself.
Cleveland, 6-2 ATS in its last eight games after an ATS loss, will put its offensive weapons on display and pull away to a comfortable win over the limited Jets.