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2021 NFL Game Picks: Week 2

Last week: 10-6


NYG (0-1) @ WAS (0-1) | THU 8:20 PM ET | NFL Network

New York has had Washington’s number with five consecutive victories in the NFC East rivalry, but will that streak continue tonight? Taylor Heinicke is more than capable stepping in for Ryan Fitzpatrick (hip), and the defensive line was able to get Daniel Jones for five sacks in the second matchup last season, so left tackle Andrew Thomas—coming off a strong opener—and the entire group up front will be tested again. Furthermore, Evan Engram (calf) has already been ruled out, and Saquon Barkley (knee) is likely to have a limited workload on a short week. I’m expecting a close game and for Kenny Golladay to be an impact player after making some tough grabs last week, but Heinicke and the home team get the edge to put my pick to win the division in immediate hot water at 0-2 (I’d go with the Eagles if given a mulligan).

Winner: Washington Football Team


NE (0-1) @ NYJ (0-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

New England would likely be 1-0 if not for a couple of costly fumbles, though you have to like what you saw out of them with Mac Jones playing well, Nelson Agholor making a couple of contested catches, and the defense holding Miami to just 17 points. I think getting the ball into Jonnu Smith’s hands more should be a priority to create potential chunk plays (he caught all five of his targets for 42 yards and rushed once for six yards), but biggest point of emphasis will undoubtedly be taking care of the ball after the offense put it on the ground four times in Week 1. For the Jets, Zach Wilson battling back from adversity was encouraging, but I already have serious concerns about the offense with Elijah Moore recording negative-three yards and Denzel Mims not even seeing the field until the final five minutes (hauling in a 40-yard catch on his lone target). Look for the Patriots to improve to 1-1.

Winner: New England Patriots


DEN (1-0) @ JAX (0-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

I don’t think Urban Meyer will be taking the USC job (unless maybe it stays vacant into 2022), but I’m definitely skeptical about a long-term stay in the NFL, and the lack of an offensive identity from preseason action carrying over into the real games is not a good sign at all. It’s not like Jacksonville doesn’t have weapons or a decent enough offensive line; they simply didn’t run the ball enough (James Robinson having five carries is inexcusable), and the timing was off between Trevor Lawrence and his receivers—which might not have been the case if he had all the first-team reps in camp. Now, the Jags will take on a Denver team that won’t beat themselves with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, and I’d watch out for K.J. Hamler getting under a deep ball as he steps into a larger role with Jerry Jeudy (ankle) out. It will take a major turnaround for Meyer’s squad in terms of both game plan and execution for them to get on the board with a win.

Winner: Denver Broncos


BUF (0-1) @ MIA (1-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

You can’t blame a lack of preseason reps for the Buffalo offense struggling in Week 1 because Josh Allen lit it up last month, and it’s not at all time to panic with the passing attack being slightly off the mark against Pittsburgh (anyone screaming “REGRESSION!” just wants there to be). Despite having a very good defense, Miami presents a great get-right opportunity considering the success Allen has had against them with a 5-1 record and 17:4 touchdown-interception ratio, so I’m interested to see if different looks are thrown at the Bills to try to disrupt Brian Daboll’s offense. On the other side of the ball, Tua Tagovailoa gets his full complement of weapons with Will Fuller set to make his team debut, but hopefully that doesn’t mean even less of a role for Mike Gesicki—who played 39% of the offensive snaps last week and had zero receptions on three targets. Either way, this weekend is a huge test for Tua and the Dolphins against an elite AFC opponent.

Winner: Buffalo Bills


SF (1-0) @ PHI (1-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

Jalen Hurts showed extreme poise in the opener, and flashing as a “gamer” last season with a depleted offensive line and a lack of high-end talent at the skill positions should have tipped everyone off that he had a chance to be special. And this isn’t an overreaction to one week against a below-average Atlanta defense; Hurts clearly possesses the ideal new-age-franchise-quarterback blend of accuracy, athleticism, and intangibles to give Philadelphia their answer under center. The Niners should be a little more of a challenge this week due to Nick Bosa and the pass rush, but Kyle Shanahan’s moves on offense—and I know they scored 41 points against Detroit—have been curious to say the least with Trey Sermon as a healthy inactive and Brandon Aiyuk falling behind on the depth chart. Plus, I don’t think the oddsmakers are weighing the home crowd at Lincoln Financial Field heavily enough.

Winner: Philadelphia Eagles


LAR (1-0) @ IND (0-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

Matthew Stafford winning NFC Player of the Week is Exhibit A for the NFL being a business above all else, as playing in Los Angeles is the only reason he got the nod—there is no way Stafford was more impressive than Kyler Murray, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston, or even the aforementioned Jalen Hurts; and it’s exactly why I have a difficult time placing future bets on MVP winners with sportswriters that have zero clue making selections. Moving on to this week, Indianapolis should have their coverage sorted out after a couple of uncharacteristic downfield plays allowed versus Tyler Lockett, but Xavier Rhodes (calf) remains out of practice, and Darius Leonard (ankle) needs to be monitored, too. I’m excited for a battle between Quenton Nelson and Aaron Donald inside, but it might take big days out of both Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines for the Colts to put up enough points to get an upset victory.

Winner: Los Angeles Rams


LV (1-0) @ PIT (1-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

Ravens-Raiders on Monday night could end up being the game of the year, and while I was worried about a slow start for Las Vegas considering the expectations and a rough schedule, Derek Carr in particular should be more confident than ever after throwing for 435 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception—thought to be a heartbreaker at the time—in the opener. Pittsburgh is actually a defense that Carr has been able to put up numbers against in two career matchups (623 yards and a 6:1 touchdown-interception ratio), and plays were there to be made for Buffalo’s offense against them last week; also, the way Jon Gruden puts together an offensive game plan should allow them to avoid a letdown. The bigger concern comes on defense, as Ben Roethlisberger and his collection of weapons will push the coverage more than Baltimore did, and I don’t expect Najee Harris to be bottled up again. The Raiders were my pick last week, but slight nod to the Steelers here.

Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers


CIN (1-0) @ CHI (0-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

Although the game got away in the second half, Chicago kept it competitive through 30 minutes against the Rams on Sunday night, and a big reason for that was the hard running of David Montgomery. We also saw Damien Williams look good behind him, and there is hope that more forgiving opponents—starting this week—will lead to a balanced offense; I want to see Andy Dalton open up with downfield shots to Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney against his former team. On defense, Khalil Mack needs to step up after he was basically invisible last week, and there have been far too many games where the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year hasn’t made a significant impact. If he doesn’t get to Joe Burrow, I’m not sure the cornerbacks other than Jaylon Johnson will be able to cover Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd for long, but I’ll still go with the Bears at home.

Winner: Chicago Bears


HOU (1-0) @ CLE (0-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

Cleveland wasn’t able to hold on last week with a 29-20 lead at Arrowhead Stadium, but even though there are no moral victories, the team at least has to know they are close to the Chiefs and might get another shot at them in January. One thing that should change by then is rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah having an expanded role (he wasn’t involved on either Travis Kelce touchdown, including the game-winner), and Houston should present a nice opportunity for the Browns to throw him out there as a full-time player. Offensively, Kevin Stefanski has the group firing on all cylinders already, and Nick Chubb is primed for a monster day as he hopes to atone for last week’s lost fumble. You have to feel good for the Texans and head coach David Culley starting win a victory, but Sunday might be closer to preseason expectations.

Winner: Cleveland Browns


NO (1-0) @ CAR (1-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

It was only one game, but rookie cornerback Paulson Adebo appears to be another hit for the Wolf Sports draft rankings (No. 20 overall prospect)—as he not only got an interception on Aaron Rodgers, but also made a great open-field tackle, and he immediately looked like a player that will shine on the big stage. Trading for veteran Bradley Roby is still going to be a substantial help with Marshon Lattimore (wrist) set to miss time, and he fits seamlessly with a New Orleans’ defense that has the players to cause problems every week. I think a trip to Carolina could be a little more high-scoring for both sides, though, and Sam Darnold will eventually open up as he continues to gain comfortability in Joe Brady’s offense with D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Terrace Marshall Jr. at receiver. However, I’m predicting Marquez Callaway as the star of the game with Jameis Winston and the Saints coming through again.

Winner: New Orleans Saints


MIN (0-1) @ ARI (1-0) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX

I know they added J.J. Watt, but the absolute dominance of Arizona’s defensive front—against what has been a top-ten offensive line for Tennessee—was one of the biggest surprises of Week 1 to me, and now Chandler Jones gets another chance to takeover on Sunday against a Minnesota group that will either throw first-rounder Christian Darrisaw (groin) to the wolves at left tackle or start Rashod Hill again after he committed a league-high three penalties in Week 1. Perhaps a motivated Patrick Peterson (who didn’t end his tenure with the Cardinals on good terms) combined with a game plan by Mike Zimmer that slows down Kyler Murray will lead to an upset, but I can’t get past the potential game-wrecking from Jones for the second week in a row; he might be in the double-digits for sacks before October.

Winner: Arizona Cardinals


ATL (0-1) @ TB (1-0) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX

Tampa Bay winning last week despite decisively losing the turnover battle (four to one), having double the penalty yardage, and holding the ball for almost ten fewer minutes than Dallas shows just how great of a team they are, and I think 17-0 has a very real chance of happening, especially if September ends with a road victory over the Rams. In 2020, one of the most memorable moments of the Bucs’ season came in the second half of the first matchup against the Falcons when Tom Brady and the offense turned it on to win 31-27 after trailing 17-0 at halftime. That game is part of the current six-game losing streak for Atlanta (tied for the longest of Matt Ryan’s career), and hopes of a quick turnaround under Arthur Smith appear much more bleak than they were before the season. As stated ahead of Cowboys-Buccaneers, it will take a shootout to beat TB12, and opponents rarely survive those.

Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers


TEN (0-1) @ SEA (1-0) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS

It only took 23 attempts for Russell Wilson to pass for 254 yards and four touchdowns against the Colts in Week 1, and while the analytic people are obsessed with throwing the ball on every play, Seattle having balance—Chris Carson rushed 16 times for 91 yards in the opener—is the best way to “Let Russ Cook” in the new-look offense. Things are not quite as rosy in Tennessee right now, and it might be a wise move to lean on Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown, use more play-action, and get Ryan Tannehill on the move if the offensive line struggles again. That will keep the pressure off trying to get Julio Jones going, and he’s a great enough player that one day we will see an explosion out of him and the entire offense. If it doesn’t come this week, the Titans are fortunate that the AFC South might have one combined win by Sunday night if my picks are accurate.

Winner: Seattle Seahawks


DAL (0-1) @ LAC (1-0) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS

I don’t know how exactly the Cowboys will try to contain the Los Angeles offense, but Trevon Diggs versus Mike Williams would be one of the best matchups of the week if it’s a shadow situation—though the problem is Justin Herbert spreading the ball around so effectively could lead to a similar outcome to last week against the Buccaneers when everyone aside from Mike Evans went off. If so, that might force Dak Prescott to play the hero again, but he should get more assistance from Ezekiel Elliott, who I don’t believe is “washed up” despite what fantasy football Twitter says without being able to recognize how fast/aggressive Tampa Bay’s defense is. Overall, this is probably the biggest toss up of the week, and I’ll say the extra few days to prepare keeps the Cowboys from falling to 0-2.

Winner: Dallas Cowboys


KC (1-0) @ BAL (0-1) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC

Lamar Jackson is 0-3 and has been limited to four total touchdowns against the Chiefs to begin his career, so similar to Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield, it’s a major hill that needs to be climbed in the AFC. But more importantly than the big picture, Baltimore needs to get a win before hitting the road for matchups against a couple of teams that will try to punch them in the mouth (@ DET, @ DEN), and Kansas City just happens to be the opponent in the way on Sunday night. There is some concern about the depth on Andy Reid’s offense if Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce were to ever miss time as Patrick Mahomes’ go-to guys, but until that happens, the Bucs are the only team to show they can be stopped. The formula needs to be a lot of designed runs for Jackson and making Ty’Son Williams the lead back because of the juice he brings compared to Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman.

Winner: Kansas City Chiefs


DET (0-1) @ GB (0-1) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN/ESPN2

Jared Goff caught more strays on the Sunday Night Football broadcast last week than perhaps any player in history, and I frankly thought it was over-the-top and very distasteful from both NBC and the Rams themselves. If the team/media wants to throw him under the bus, that’s fine, but don’t act like he didn’t lead them to the Super Bowl in 2018 (including coming back from two ten-point deficits at the Superdome in the NFC Championship Game) or win a playoff game with a broken thumb on his throwing hand last year. I don’t know how much Detroit will be able to use the storyline as motivation—it’s kind of hard to picture them playing SNF clips in front of the entire team—but Goff has undoubtedly heard what was said about him and should have a sizable chip on his shoulder. Sadly, the Lions are catching Green Bay at the worst possible time, and losing Jeff Okudah (Achilles) leaves the cornerback group very thin against a “R-E-L-A-X mode” Aaron Rodgers. On both sides of the ball, Detroit will have to really control the game in the trenches, but the Packers have too much firepower with Davante Adams, Aaron Jones, and all the complementary options on offense.

Winner: Green Bay Packers


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