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Kyle Hess/Atlanta Falcons

Week 2 NFL Game Picks 2020

Last week: 11-5


CIN (0-1) @ CLE (0-1) | THU 8:20 PM ET | NFL Network

No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow isn’t into moral victories, but Cincinnati fans have to be encouraged by what they saw in his career debut against a tough Chargers defense, and I fully expect the reigning Heisman winner to be ready for primetime. A.J. Green seeing a team-high nine targets last week in his first game since 2018 is a great sign, and the chemistry Burrow has with his talented receiving corps will only improve as the season progresses; it’s somewhat surprising that the Bengals are touchdown underdogs for Thursday Night Football. That said, the Browns will have a much better shot at controlling the game compared to last week in Baltimore, and they simply have to give Nick Chubb more than the ten carries he handled in Week 1—especially with defensive tackles Geno Atkins (shoulder) and Mike Daniels (groin) out. I have a lot more confidence in Burrow than I do in Baker Mayfield, but Cleveland should run the ball at home to get to 1-1.

Winner: Cleveland Browns


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

Tennessee made good on their desire to give the ball to Derrick Henry last week, as he handled a whopping 34 touches on Monday night, and it will be fun watching the strategy pushed to the limit this year (similar to Christian McCaffrey, Henry almost doesn’t seem human in terms of a monster workload affecting him). Of course, recent matchups against Jacksonville have meant huge days on the ground for Henry, but it feels like A.J. Brown (if he plays through a knee injury) could be the one to explode after he was not targeted for two would-be touchdowns and overthrown on another in Week 1; Ryan Tannehill may want to correct that on Sunday. For the Jags, they won’t be slept on this week—not to say that’s what happened with the Colts—so we’ll see if Gardner Minshew can stay hot against a banged-up cornerback group. With Jadeveon Clowney and Jeffery Simmons causing havoc up front, Jacksonville needs to clean up their pass protection after Minshew was sacked four times in the opener.

Winner: Tennessee Titans


CAR (0-1) @ TB (0-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

Although they weren’t the favorites, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers are undoubtedly angry about starting the season with a loss in New Orleans, but I don’t think it will take long for them to figure things out to be viewed as one of the NFL’s best teams (and offenses). Bruce Arians being tough on Brady shouldn’t come as a shock, and I’d bet it’s nothing compared to the pressure the six-time Super Bowl champion puts on himself—which is part of why he is who he is. Especially with Donte Jackson (ankle) banged up, the Panthers are the perfect team to get on track against, though Chris Godwin (concussion) being out would have Tampa Bay at less than full strength. Either way, the Bucs should put up points, and Todd Bowles’ improving defense will provide a bigger challenge for Teddy Bridgewater than the Raiders did in Week 1. Carolina is hoping that Christian McCaffrey can have more success than he did in 2019 when Tampa Bay bottled him up with 55.0 total yards per game.

Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers


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

A lot was made of the offensive core built around Drew Lock this year—and rightfully so—but the second-year quarterback putting up a fight with Courtland Sutton (shoulder), K.J. Hamler (hamstring), and Albert Okwuegbunam (ankle) all out on Monday night should only help when the supporting cast is suddenly boosted. Fortunately, it sounds like the reinforcements are coming for Denver against a Pittsburgh defense that looks every bit as good as they did in 2019, but it will be important for Lock to continue avoiding mistakes on the road. On defense, the Broncos were able to bottle up Derrick Henry in the opener (comparatively speaking), and I doubt the Steelers will have the same kind of patience trying to run with James Conner (shoulder) and/or Benny Snell, particularly since Ben Roethlisberger will feel they can air it out against a Denver secondary that will be without A.J. Bouye (shoulder). Overall, Pittsburgh probably has too much firepower on offense and too many playmakers on defense.

Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers


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

The Eagles have been a team under Doug Pederson that can look average (or much worse) one week and then quickly turn things around the next week, but will that remain the case in 2020? Anyone who watched the loss to Washington knows that Carson Wentz did not play well, and it’s a concern that his usual holding onto the ball too long was combined with forcing throws into coverage on the perimeter. Perhaps the returns of Miles Sanders (hamstring) and Lane Johnson (ankle) will be enough for Philadelphia to play up to expectations, but Aaron Donald might single-handedly dominate in the trenches if last week was any indication, and Leonard Floyd was quietly excellent in his Rams debut. For the Eagles to avoid an 0-2 start, I think Fletcher Cox needs to come alive and force negative plays before Sean McVay and Jared Goff are able to push the tempo; Week 1’s showing didn’t inspire much confidence in that happening.

Winner: Los Angeles Rams


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

49ers-Jets will be a battle between two teams decimated by injuries for it being so early in the season, and the respective coaching staffs each have a lot of work to do in order to get their offenses on track. The 49ers will at least have Brandon Aiyuk making his career debut this week, and I’d expect him to be used in a variety of ways to create chunk yardage (somewhat similar to how Kyle Shanahan utilized Deebo Samuel in 2019, but with more of a vertical skillset). I think it’d also be a good idea to feature Tevin Coleman—who had six touches on six snaps last week—as a downfield receiving threat, which Shanahan hasn’t really done since they were in Atlanta together. In terms of star power, New York doesn’t come close to San Francisco regardless of health situations, and not having Le’Veon Bell (hamstring) and likely Jamison Crowder (hamstring) really slants the balance towards the road team. To win, the Jets need Quinnen Williams to finally flash the big-time upside that made him a top-five pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Winner: San Francisco 49ers


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

You know the Josh Allen haters have lost when they transition from “COMPLETION PERCENTAGE!” to picking out a single inaccurate throw and circulating it on Twitter (as can be done for any quarterback), but I guess it’s not surprising based on the shallowness of their usual analysis. Week 1 showed that Buffalo has the makings of a powerhouse team, and Allen—after combining for 60 throws/carries in the opener—should be able to have another big game against a Miami defense that he shredded twice in 2019 and just allowed Cam Newton to rush for 75 yards and two scores. Even if the Dolphins are able to contain Stefon Diggs and John Brown with their star cornerback duo, the Bills have enough ways to beat teams. On the other side of the ball, Miami should build a game plan around Jordan Howard and Mike Gesicki with Buffalo potentially being without linebackers Tremaine Edmunds (shoulder) and Matt Milano (hamstring), but I’m going with the team I picked to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LV to get another decisive victory.

Winner: Buffalo Bills


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

The Colts are in a rare position in that an unfortunate Achilles injury suffered by starting running back Marlon Mack isn’t a crucial blow to their running game, as second-round pick Jonathan Taylor is more than capable of handling a featured workload, and Nyheim Hines (two touchdowns in the opener) is a very good change-of-pace option. That said, Taylor needs to be focused on holding onto the ball (which was really his only negative as a prospect), and for this week in particular, you can be sure Mike Zimmer is telling his guys to test the rookie’s ball security. In general, Minnesota’s defense has a lot of work to do after being torched by Aaron Rodgers, and T.Y. Hilton has probably been dreaming about what he can do against the young secondary. Indy also has some things to work through after letting Gardner Minshew pick them apart, but Xavier Rhodes should be determined to top his former team. I like the Colts at home because they’re better in the trenches right now.

Winner: Indianapolis Colts


DET (0-1) @ GB (1-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

In three years under Matt Patricia, the Lions have opened the season with a blowout loss to the Jets (2018), a blown lead to tie the Cardinals (2019), and another blown lead where they allowed 21 fourth quarter points against the Bears (2020)—all of which had to be morale crushing. To their credit, Detroit bounced back last season before the officials arguably cost them a 3-1-1 start and derailed the season (the game happened to be against the Packers), but an 0-4 start ahead of a Week 5 bye is now starting them in the face this year, and Aaron Rodgers obviously won’t be showing any mercy on Sunday. With star wideout Kenny Golladay (hamstring) set to miss another week, the Lions need to run the ball with their collection of backs and keep a confident Rodgers off the field. I am honestly just hoping Jeff Okudah doesn’t lose confidence if tasked with defending Davante Adams, who ripped Minnesota for a 14/156/2 line.

Winner: Green Bay Packers


ATL (0-1) @ DAL (0-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

Atlanta wasn’t expected to play as well defensively as they did down the stretch last year, but allowing Russell Wilson to complete 88.6% of his passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns was an undeniable disappointment, and it looks like the weight will fall on Matt Ryan and the offense again for the Falcons in 2020. This week, the Cowboys could be just as challenging because of the aerial assault they bring with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb, but Atlanta has the personnel to match them, and I would be shocked if these offenses don’t make it a shootout. Maybe the mistake-free football of Dak Prescott should give them the edge at home, but the Falcons are the more desperate team in the first half with all four games versus New Orleans and Tampa Bay coming after the Week 9 bye; I could see tight end Hayden Hurst being the difference on Sunday with Leighton Vander Esch (collarbone) out for Dallas.

Winner: Atlanta Falcons


NYG (0-1) @ CHI (1-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

I know the turnovers remained an issue on Monday night, but how can you not be impressed with Daniel Jones to start his career? Despite still not playing with his full supporting cast yet, the 23-year-old has averaged 2.0 touchdown passes per game over his first 13 starts, and he’s shown zero fear in the pocket while getting routinely hit behind an improving offensive line; that’s not normal for any quarterback, let alone a young one. The Chicago defense isn’t as opportunistic as the Steelers were in Week 1, but Sunday will be another difficult draw for New York, so it’s important that they can open some holes for Saquon Barkley to take the pressure off Jones and the skill-position talent as they potentially add Golden Tate (hamstring). I think we will get a down-to-the-wire finish, but the Bears have the players to control the game up front with Khalil Mack, and Mitchell Trubisky has momentum after three touchdowns passes in the fourth quarter of last week’s comeback win.

Winner: Chicago Bears


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

Both the Cardinals and Washington Football Team had very impressive showings to being the season 1-0, and this week will be a clash between an Arizona offense that can score points in a hurry against a defensive-minded team led by Chase Young and the deep front four. The size/speed combination of Young will get on Kyler Murray in a hurry if pass protection fails, but the Cardinals are fortunate to have just successfully installed a game plan to neutralize San Francisco’s defensive line, and we should see more of the same this weekend. However, Ron Rivera isn’t going to sit back and allow Murray to do the same things he did last week, and Washington was very opportunistic when it came to sitting on routes against the Eagles. Even if Kliff Kingsbury’s offense is stopped, though, the Arizona defense is already one of the game’s most underrated, and their core of Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, Budda Baker, and Isaiah Simmons can all present unique problems as Washington looks for consistent contributors behind Terry McLaurin.

Winner: Arizona Cardinals


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

Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the most impressive player on the field in the first NFL game of the season, and it’s a scary thought when you consider he didn’t even make an impact in the passing game after being a major piece as a receiving option for Joe Burrow at LSU. Sammy Watkins was also tremendous last Thursday night, and Mecole Hardman basically being a non-factor shows how unbelievable the supporting cast is for Patrick Mahomes. The Chargers have their work cut out for them to pull off an upset this weekend, but Joshua Kelley’s contributions in his career debut was a best-case scenario for the team’s long-term outlook, as Anthony Lynn can trust him already, and his versatility makes him much more than simply an early-down complement for Austin Ekeler. Still, I would bet Mahomes is going to have a lot more success through the air than he did against Los Angeles last year (178.0 yards per game), and Andy Reid getting a few extra days to prepare is another advantage for Kansas City.

Winner: Kansas City Chiefs


BAL (1-0) @ HOU (0-1) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS

Baltimore completely destroyed the Texans in 2019, and—so long as John Harbaugh’s squad doesn’t come in too confident—I’m not sure the mini bye will be enough of an edge to reverse those fortunes for Deshaun Watson and Bill O’Brien. Now, the Ravens aren’t unbeatable, and the biggest weakness they showed in the opener was against the run, as Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 132 yards on 23 attempts (5.7 YPC); we’ll see if that means plenty of David Johnson touches coming off a standout Week 1 performance. The other difference compared to last season will be the Texans hopefully having J.J. Watt (hip) in the lineup, as he showed he can still wreck plays by getting in the backfield, and Baltimore’s offensive line is notably weakened on the interior compared to 2019. All that said, there are too many weapons for Lamar Jackson to be slowed down, so I hope I’m wrong in thinking Sunday could be another double-digit loss for Houston after their 41-7 defeat in the last meeting.

Winner: Baltimore Ravens


NE (1-0) @ SEA (1-0) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC

They have only faced off three times over the past 11 years, but Patriots-Seahawks is definite cross-conference rivalry, and Cam Newton’s own battles with Russell Wilson will add another layer to the Sunday Night Football matchup. Seattle will probably be wise to many of the designed runs for Cam, but the ground game in general will again be relied upon for New England, and Sony Michel seems primed for a solid game with increased touches. Also, Julian Edelman knows how to find spaces against zone coverage like few receivers in the league, so Sunday night will be a great test for the chemistry built with Newton. Defensively, the Pats have the personnel to stop D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett at receiver, but the playmaking ability of Russell Wilson—who Bill Belichick called perhaps the best player in the NFL—is something that’s basically impossible to game plan for. I’m expecting nothing less than a one-possession game that comes down to the final minutes, but no homefield advantage could allow New England to escape with a victory.

Winner: New England Patriots


NO (1-0) @ LV (1-0) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN

Las Vegas was able to put up 34 points in the opener as Josh Jacobs led the way with three touchdowns, and Jon Gruden’s offense could be among the best in football when you look at all the skill-position talent combined with an elite offensive line. Derek Carr is the key, though, so if he takes care of the football while opening things up with downfield shots to Henry Ruggs III and others, the Raiders will be a dark horse contender in the AFC. This week, Drew Brees’ attempt to ruin the first game at Allegiant Stadium will likely have to be accomplished without his favorite weapon in Michael Thomas (ankle), but the Saints still have plenty of talent on the roster, and Sean Payton could decide to give Taysom Hill more snaps/touches if the offense needs a spark. This might be the toughest pick of the week, but Gruden should have some specific plays in place for Ruggs III against New Orleans’ man coverage, and I have the Raiders coming out on top as they open the NFL’s version of the Death Star.

Winner: Las Vegas Raiders


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