Well, that was interesting.
Regardless of your affiliations, Week 1 presented us with some entertaining football. Without the benefit of a specific viewing package or app, I managed to see three of the four AFC North teams play, and all three were decided late; either in overtime or the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. Given the drama involved, I feel compelled to point out it’s only Week 2, which means doom-and-gloom sentiments and over-the-top, homerish endorsements aren’t welcome. Yet.
As usual, these picks are for fun and should in no way be used for actual wagering purposes. That is, unless you want to make a ton of money in a legal forum, because we know more stuff and things about football than you do or something.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Chicago Bears
Sunday, September 19, 1:00pm, FOX
The Bengals managed to eke by the Vikings last week, aided by rookie WR Ja’Marr Chase’s five catches for 101 yards and a TD. QB Joe Burrow looked reasonably comfortable in his return from last season’s IR, and RB Joe Mixon managed some tough yards at needed points throughout the game. That being said, the Bears appear to be worse than the Vikings as far as their offensive personnel are concerned. They’ll inexplicably continue with former Bengals QB Andy Dalton as their presumed starter for now, despite having promising rookie QB Justin Fields patiently pacing the sidelines until his time comes, which may be as soon as halftime of this week’s game.
Defensively, the Bears remain formidable, but the issue of being able to score at all looms large for them, as they were drummed out of Los Angeles last week by the end of the first quarter against the Rams. There’s only so much Bears LB Khalil Mack can do, after all, but I would expect the Bears to put maximum pressure on Burrow and his evolving-but-not-finished offensive line. The Vikings were able to sack Burrow five times last week, continuing a dangerous trend of 2020, and without further support, Burrow may wind up on IR again, or worse. Still, I think they hold the line this week, at least enough to collect the win on the road, but that amount of contact is something the team should try to desperately avoid.
Bengals 24, Bears 21
Houston Texans @ Cleveland Browns
Sunday, September 19, 1:00pm, CBS
The Texans managed to throttle the hapless Jaguars without embattled QB Deshaun Watson, relying on the fleet legs and sound decisions of well-traveled backup Tyrod Taylor to rack up 37 points. While the Texans didn’t look particularly good in any area, the Jaguars were worse, leading to speculation they may be the latest team to post a wholly-defeated season. The last team to accomplish this dubious feat, was, of course, the Browns, who have rebounded sharply since. The Browns managed to throw a significant scare into the 2020 AFC champion Chiefs last week, falling short in the fourth quarter due to an ill-timed turnover and shoddy special teams play.
The Browns should have little trouble securing a win in their home opener, just by doing what they do best – running the football often with the bruising tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and taking advantage of resulting play-action opportunities. Taylor provides a bit of a defensive challenge due to his mobility, but in a division featuring Lamar Jackson, it’s doubtful this scares the Browns much if at all. The Cleveland defense, somewhat maligned after last week’s losing effort, should have no trouble containing Taylor with DEs Myles Garrett and Ja’Deveon Clowney setting a solid edge. It’s going to be a long day for Houston on both sides of the ball.
Texans 14, Browns 35
Las Vegas Raiders @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, September 19, 1:00pm, CBS
Given the Steelers ‘ history of marked frustration playing the Raiders, it would be easy to view this game as a potential upset, but I’m just not seeing it this year. Having shown some excellent defense in their win over the Bills last week, the Steelers still have a bit of work to do on offense, as shown by their abandonment of the running game early, putting extra pressure on 39-year old QB Ben Roethlisberger to compensate. While “Big Ben” has been able to do that well over the years, his arm strength isn’t what it used to be, nor should he be passing the ball over 30 times per game (32 attempts last week). Drafting RB Najee Harris was supposed to alleviate some of that concern, but if Week 1 was any indication, the offensive line has a lot of work to do to establish their ground attack going forward, which does nothing for Roethlisberger right now.
The Raiders will probably attack offensively in much the same fashion as they did Monday night against the Ravens – pass early and often to matchup-averse TE Darren Waller to set up the rush situationally. The Steelers’ secondary took a couple of hits during the offseason, and while they did well in limiting all-world WR Stefon Diggs last week, Waller presents a very different challenge due to his size and underrated speed. Look for the Steelers to put as much pressure on Raiders QB Derek Carr as they can to throw off his timing and limit Waller’s chances.
Raiders 20, Steelers 27
Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, September 19, 8:20pm, NBC
Last week was a long year in Baltimore. Having spent the offseason trusting their rushing attack would be better than ever in 2021, the Ravens lost their top three rushing options beyond QB Lamar Jackson for the season, forcing internal fill-ins and hastily-added backups into a lineup they little understand and a playbook they hadn’t memorized. This, coupled with poor pass protection by the offensive line, resulted in a heartbreaking OT loss which showcased how futile the team’s offseason efforts appeared to be. It may be only one game, but the 2021 Ravens appear to be a lot like the 2020 Ravens in terms of their substandard execution and questionable efforts during key moments, like overtime.
The Chiefs won’t care. Having been somewhat humiliated in the Super Bowl, their stated mission is to reestablish themselves as the preeminent team in the NFL, with no exceptions. With QB Patrick Mahomes having already collected an Offensive Player of the Week award in 2021, the Ravens should prove to be little more than a speed bump on their return road to the Super Bowl, as too many injuries and too little execution have combined to make the Ravens ordinary. Given their current roster, I’m guessing they’ll remain that way all year.
Chiefs 41, Ravens 20