As incredible as this might seem, considering it feels like football just started up again: we’re already just about 1/8th of the way through the 2016-217 NFL season.
With that in mind, here are eight thoughts about the 2016 season to date, plus my Week 3 Lines and Picks:
1. Sunday’s Main Event: Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Josh Norman — the Redskins and Giants match up might be the overall event, but the Josh Norman vs. Odell Beckham is the titlefight that everyone is looking forward to watching the most.
Interestingly, Beckham is off to an uncharacteristically slow start to the 2016 season. So far, in two games, he’s only tallied a total of 12 catches for 159 yards and zero touchdowns. The last time he went two straight weeks without a touchdown reception was November of 2014; he’s never gone three straight weeks without catching a touchdown. Dating back to last season, he’s now at four consecutive games where he’s failed to hit to exceed 90 receiving yards in a game; the last time he went three straight games without a 100-yard receiving game was the first three games of his career.
It’ll be interesting to see how Washington chooses to deploy Norman against Beckham. The Redskins have been steadfast in maintaining that Norman only plays on one side of the football field (the left side), instead of traveling with the opponent’s top receiver. But, they’ve basically let it leak out that they intend to have Norman follow Beckham as much as possible.
Expect both players to come out fired up, perhaps leading to some early fireworks. This is going to be worth the proverbial price of admission.
2. Kirk Cousins Won’t Find His Mojo in New York — the Redskins are in the midst of trying to put Kirk Cousins back together, after he’s struggled through the first two games of 2016. The problem is, MetLife Stadium might be the absolute worst NFL venue for Cousins to try and get things turned around, considering it’s been nothing short of a house of horrors for Kirk Cousins (and the Redskins in general). The Redskins are 2-7 when playing the Giants on the road, over the last nine games. The last time the Redskins won at MetLife Stadium was 2011, when Kirk Cousins was still at Michigan State.
3. My Apologies to Jimmy Garoppolo — Time for me to help myself to some crow. I previously referred to Jimmy Garoppolo as “happy feet” and thought he’d struggle mightily. Turns out, like on lots of things, I was dead wrong. For the six first meaningful quarters of his career in 2016, he was fantastic. Playing on the road in Arizona, against one of the best secondaries in the NFL, Garoppolo completed almost 73% of his passes, throwing for 264 yards and a touchdown. Last week, against Miami, he was carving up the Dolphins defense before leaving the game in the second quarter with a right shoulder injury. In just one half, he threw for 234 yards and three touchdowns.
Now, given what we witnessed from the Patriots dismantling of the Texans yesterday evening, it does raise the question of whether New England can make anyone look good playing quarterback. After all, look what happened to Matt Cassell when he left. It’ll be interesting to see whether Garoppolo — and the Patriots — are willing to wait for the day Tom Brady retires and turn the reigns over to Garoppolo, or whether they’ll both realize there are opportunities to see with other teams that will likely pay a hefty sum to acquire Garoppolo.
4. The Offensive Seattle Offense — Since the start of the 2015 season, the San Francisco 49ers are allowing 33.1 points per game on the road. Since the start of the 2016 season, the Seattle Seahawks have scored a grand total of 15 points all year, the lowest total in team history. So clearly, something has to give on Sunday.
The Seahawks have started the season by allowing Ndamukong Suh, Mario Williams, Aaron Donald, and Robert Quinn to perform criminal-levels of assault and battery on Russell Wilson over the last two weeks. Seattle’s absolutely wretched offesnive line has allowed nine quarterback hits in each of the last two games. They’re clearly the worst such group in the league, and it’s not particularly close. One of those hits allowed (by Suh) ended up in Wilson getting his ankle stepped on; that injury has clearly hampered his mobility in the pocket, which in turn has hampered his — and the offense’s — potency overall. You can have all the toys at running back and wide receiver you want, but it won’t matter if you’re getting your quarterback killed. The Seahawks rushing attack — one of the cornerstones of which this team has been built upon in recent years — is floundering, with Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls splitting carries (with the latter nursing an injury). So far, Seattle is averaging less than 90 yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry as a team.
But, as bad as Seattle looks right now, i’m still taking them even while they’re laying almost 10 points. That’s how much worse the 49ers are.
5. Gus Bradley Might Want To Start Updating His Resume — Jacksonville is one more loss away from officially having a “Gus Bradley watch.” They’ve never held the lead in either of their games this season. The Jaguars allowed 150 rushing yards and four passing touchdowns to the Chargers; at one point, they were down 35-0. The offense was supposed to be the Jaguars strength this season, and through two games, it has badly underperformed. To date, they’re ranked 31st overall in offensive DVOA.
The young offensive talent was supposed to help keep the team in games haven’t showed up this season. Through two weeks, Allen Robinson has 126 yards receiving and zero touchdowns; last year, he had 155 yards receiving and two touchdowns in week two alone. Blake Bortles led the team with 34 yards rushing last week. TJ Yeldon led the team with 39 yards rushing the week before, but it took him 21 carries to get those 39 yards. Considering that Gus Bradley is 12-38 through his first 50 games, it’s not like he has a cache of winning to bank on. It’s entirely possible that the Jaguars could be 2-6 or 1-7 after the first half of the season is over, which is entirely unacceptable for a team that’s this talented. At least as of right now, he’s right up there with Rex Ryan, in the race for “first head coach to be fired this season.”
6. The Titans’ “Better Half” — Here’s a little secret that nobody outside of a 50 mile radius of Nashville realizes: the Tennessee Titans’ defense is actually pretty good. Entering this week, they ranked 14th in overall defense, 14th in rushing defense, and tied for 13th against the pass. They only allowed teams to convert 50% of their third down attempts, which ranked tied for sixth. ” They’ve allowed six possessions inside their 20-yard line and just one touchdown. In the team’s 57-year history, this marks only the 5th time the defense has allowed no more than one touchdown through the first two games of the season.
7. My Lock Of the Week — Yes, i’ll admit that Carson Wentz — the rookie quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles — has looked fantastic so far, especially when you consider the facts that: 1) he’s making the leap from North Dakota State University in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS); 2) he’s only playing in his second NFL game; and 3) he was supposed to start the season as a third string quarterback, behind Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel. But, clearly, things have changed. Wentz’ performance is even more impressive when you add in the fact that he’s throwing to a band of Chip Kelly holdovers and misfits at the receiving positions.
Still, i’m absolutely baffled as to why the line moved from the Steelers laying 5.5 points, down to 3.5 points as of Friday morning. Pittsburgh has dispatched two teams that won their respective divisions in 2015, beating both teams by more than seven points. Ben Roethlisberger leads the NFL with six touchdown passes. Le’Veon Bell is one of the three most dynamic running backs in the NFL, but even while he’s serving his suspension, the Steelers running game hasn’t missed a beat with DeAngelo Williams filling in; Williams’ 58 carries and 237 yards both lead the NFL. Martavis Bryant was supposed to be the electric playmaker opposite superstar Antonio Brown, but while he’s serving a season-long suspension of his own, guys like Eli Rogers (a former undrafted free agent who played in an NFL game until September 12th) and Sammie Coates (who has three catches of 40+ yards already) are more-than-capably filling in. Pittsburgh’s defense wasn’t supposed to be nearly as strong as the offense, but they’ve only allowed two offensive touchdowns all season.
Take the Steelers this week. I think they beat the doors off the Eagles.
8. Random Parting Thoughts —
* The Los Angeles Rams are 1-1, meaning they’ve won a game without having scored a single touchdown this season. If that isn’t the most Jeff Fisher-est thing ever, then I don’t know what is.
* Cody Kessler becomes the third quarterback to start for the Cleveland Browns in a matter of three weeks. That’s sadly par for the course in Cleveland, as he’s the 26th different starting quarterback for the Browns since the team returned to the NFL in 1999. It’s also the ninth time the Browns will have started at least three different quarterbacks in a season
* Through two weeks, Matt Ryan leads the league in quarterback rating (121.4), completion percentage (72.6%), and yards per attempt (10.0), and ranks second in passing yards (730) and touchdowns (five). You know, just like we all expected. Hopefully you ignored any of those idiot bloggers who said you should avoid Matt Ryan in fantasy football this season. They’re clearly clueless.
* We all know about the big, “brand name” cornerbacks like Norman, Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, and Darrelle Revis (even though he’s been getting burnt than a bag of popcorn in a college dorm). But, there are two cornerbacks that 98% of NFL fans have never heard of, who are off to great starts in 2016 and will be mentioned among the very best in the game by the end of this season: Jason Verrett of the San Diego Chargers, and Darius “Big Play” Slay of the Detroit Lions.
* I really liked the Chicago Bears heading into this season (please pardon the god-awful formatting & UI of the site that link points to), and so far, it looks like I couldn’t have been more wrong about them. Chicago flat out mailed-in that performance last Monday evening. It was an embarrassing performance for a home opener; speaking as a Redskins fan, that should really resonate. They way they’ve looked so far, they could very well be a darkhorse in the race for “who drafts Deshaun Watson next May.”
* Speaking college football quarterbacks, shameless self-promoting plug forthcoming: check out my thoughts on whether Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is the favorite to win the 2016 Heisman Trophy.
Week 3 Lines and Picks
Houston at New England (Pick ‘Em) — pick made yesterday.
Washington at NY Giants (-4.5)
Denver at Cincinnati (-3)
Oakland at Tennessee (-1.5)
Arizona (-4) at Buffalo
Baltimore (-1) at Jacksonville
Cleveland at Miami (-9.5)
Detroit at Green Bay (-7.5)
Minnesota at Carolina (-7)
San Francisco at Seattle (-9.5)
Los Angeles at Tampa Bay (-5)
Pittsburgh (-3.5) at Philadelphia
NY Jets at Kansas City (-3)
San Diego at Indianapolis (-2.5)
Chicago at Dallas (-7)
Atlanta at New Orleans (-3)
Last Week: 10-6
Season To Date: 17-15