As the first wave of NFL games rolled in on Sunday, I could have sworn I heard sleigh bells. Anticipation had been building for months over what feels like it should probably be a national holiday by now. This was Football Christmas morning and these games, yet to kick off, loomed like beautifully wrapped presents beneath a tree. Much like the holiday it felt like, this day would soon shed its good tidings and shower us all with anxiety and contempt. Now we sit, pretzel style a midst the shredded paper of potential that once wrapped the bare realities before us, left only to tally up our respective hauls and figure out who got screwed. Here are your first weekly Odds and Endings.
At Halftime on Sunday, it was Philadelphia that looked like a better candidate for my first “Ending” of the season. Alas, this game told us less about Philly than it did about Jacksonville, who collapsed in spectacular fashion en route to a devastating defeat. 34 unanswered points spelled a soul-crushing second half for the Jags and their fans who have 16 weeks left to sift through the wreckage of their once hopeful season. Sorry, guys.
Pittsburgh (+3) @ Baltimore
There’s no way. There’s just no possible way that a football team could have a worse week to prepare for a football game against a hated, physical division rival. Baltimore opened their season with an ugly loss to Cincinnati in which Joe Flacco was asked to throw the ball 62 times. By now we are all well aware of the distractions that sandwiched the loss regarding a team captain and locker room leader. If history has shown us anything, it is that these situations can bury teams. Couple that with an unrealistically short turnaround and I’d have taken the Steelers to win this game in Baltimore and given 10 points. The Ravens and Steelers always seem to play close games, but if Pittsburgh can’t buck that trend in this one, it’s hard to imagine their season extending very far into January.
Miami (-1) @ Buffalo
I could not have been more certain, at halftime on Sunday, that the Patriots were about to rout an opponent. I’ve seen that game too many times over the years to believe in anything different. When the Dolphins corrected course and ran it down New England’s throat, it felt like I was seeing something important. Nobody imposes themselves on a Brady-Belichick team. Not that way. But Miami did and they aren’t going to apologize. Buffalo may have secured an unexpected win of their own, but the Bears aren’t the Patriots.
Jacksonville @ Washington (-6)
As an Eagles fan, I had the opportunity to watch a lot of Jacksonville this Sunday. Let me rephrase: I had no choice but to watch a lot of Jacksonville, and was not surprised to find out that they are not a competent football team. Even an average NFL team could have closed that game out in the second half, but the Jaguars certainly aren’t that. Incessant Chad Henne designed roll-outs aside, Allen Hurns won’t be quite so blatantly ignored in Washington, where the ‘Skins have just enough weapons to score the 24 points it will take to put away Jacksonville.
Dallas @ Tennessee (-3.5)
On paper, the Cowboys looked like one of the worst teams in the NFL coming into this season. Their performance on Sunday did nothing to alter that perception in my mind. Tennessee looks like they’re going to be one of those early season juggernauts who sputters after week 10. Bad luck for Dallas on the road this week.
Arizona (-3) @ New York Giants
You’d never think a 35-14 score could make a game seem closer than it was,but the Giants were worlds apart from Detroit on Monday Night Football. Arizona comes rolling into town with a fast, athletic defense and a competent deep passing game, capable of shredding that week New York secondary. I expect this game to be far closer in the first half than it has any right to be, but Arizona will pull away late in the 3rd quarter.
New England (-3) @ Minnesota
This week will be the ultimate test for Tom Brady, facing the second of two early season juggernauts in the Vikings in Minnesota. While the Vikings put together an impressive win on the road in week 1, the Patriots simply don’t lose back to back games. I’d rather be the guy who hopped off this bandwagon a week late than the one who jumped off 19 weeks too early. New England gets things together in a tough spot and wins 27-20.
New Orleans @ Cleveland (+7)
I was never a believer in the Saints this season. I have no idea where all of this hype came from, but somehow I’m in a position to take 7 points and a solid home team against the saints outdoors. I won’t hesitate. Remember, this New Orleans defense was the worst in NFL history just two years ago. A lot has changed since 2012, but not enough.
Atlanta @ Cincinnati (-5)
Ignore the mirage of Matt Ryan’s monster performance in week 1. Granted, he did what should be expected at home against a hapless defense, but the Bengals are playing tight, efficient football on offense and defense. The line of scrimmage will belong to the Bengals all afternoon and the Falcons will be pushed up and down the field.
Detroit +3 @ Carolina
Carolina wrestled a win away from the hilariously overvalued Buccaneers last Sunday. That’s cute, but the Lions are a real, complete team on a mission and Matthew Stafford looks completely locked in. How many years of dominance did this Lions’ core waste under the questionable leadership of Jim Schwartz? It’s more than a little depressing to think about.
St Louis @ Tampa B– you know what, who the hell cares?
Seattle @ San Diego (+6)
Now here’s a compelling game. If you’re a real football fan, interested in figuring out this season’s direction as soon as possible, this is your barometer game. It’s got stakes, personality, proximity and 2 great defenses fighting for their footing in a league with no room for error. The Chargers have home field advantage and too much to lose, and the 6 points being afforded to the Chargers is too much to pass up on in a game as close as this one should be. I think San Diego wins outright by a score of 23-20.
Houston @ Oakland (+3)
I cannot, in good conscience, take Ryan Fitzpatrick and lay 3 points on the road under any circumstances. Having rookie, Derek Carr under center may actually work to the Raiders’ advantage as they are forced not to test the will of madman, J.J. Watt. Hand-offs, hand-offs, and more hand-offs are in store if either of these teams know what’s good for them.
New York Jets (+8) @ Green Bay
Again, I’m in the strange position of asking why everybody thinks the Packers are suddenly supposed to be good. Almost a mirror image of the Saints, this team is living off of the reputation of its Quarterback. In a sport where it takes 53 men to fill a roster, that plan is becoming increasingly difficult to justify. Rex Ryan defenses are always better than they have any right to be and they always travel. I don’t know if the Jets can win this game against a desperate Aaron Rodgers but I’m fairly certain they won’t lose by more than a touchdown, even if the final score is 7-0.
Kansas City (+13) @ Denver
By and large, double-digit favorites don’t cover. By and large, Andy Reid doesn’t field awful football teams. By and large, Division rivals don’t blow out division rivals. There are just too many rules that would have to be broken for the Broncos to run the Chiefs out of the stadium on a short week this Sunday, though I must say I was tempted. Kansas City looks awful and they probably aren’t a playoff team, but they won’t lose this game by 13 points.
Chicago (+7) @ San Francisco
I won’t give the 49ers a medal for beating up on what might be the worst team in the NFC this season. The way that game started, San Francisco probably should have won by a much wider margin. Meanwhile, the Bears come into this game 0-1 and desperate. They cannot afford this loss and they won’t. The Niners are declining and this is the week we start to notice. The Bears win this game 30-27.
Philadelphia (+3) @ Indianapolis (-3)
You’ll notice I didn’t actually make a selection for this game. That’s because this is a clear-as-day push if I’ve ever seen one. Indy is at home and needs this win exponentially more than Philadelphia does. Neither team’s secondary is playing particularly well right now. On Monday Night Football, the Eagles and Colts are going to move up and down the field, making each other look helpless. The Over/Under is 53.5 and it makes me chuckle. I’ve never been more sure of an exact score in my life. Colts make me sad and win 37-34.
Week 2 of the magnetic theater that is the NFL begins tonight on Thursday Night Football. How many endings will this week bring?