NFL Analysis: The Four National Showcase Games Of Week 2

The marquee games of NFL Week 2 are highlighted by three divisional showdowns that are each important in their own unique way, along with the next installment of the Manning Brothers Civil War. Let’s focus on each of the four big games that the entire country will see.

Besides each team is its wagering number of the moneyline, the odds for an outright win, which serve as the basis for TheSportsNotebook’s weekly forays into handicapping. I’m (+82) after the first week, a minor miracle which I’m certain will self-correct very quickly.

NY Jets (+450) at New England (-600) (Thursday, 8:25 PM ET, NFL Network): I’m not going to always include the Thursday night game as part of our weekly focus on the big national games, because as fans have learned, this time slot often gives us clunkers. But Week 2 isn’t one of those times, and the results of each team’s first game have given Jets-Patriots from Foxboro a little more intrigue.

The notion held by many—including me—that Tom Brady can make most any receiving corps look good is really being challenged. In addition to Rob Gronkowski being out, it also looks like Danny Amendola won’t play due to a groin injury. Shane Vereen, who keyed a good rushing attack in a narrow escape at Buffalo is also out.

Stevan Ridley, who had a good year in the backfield last season, but apparently fell into Bill Belichick’s doghouse this year, now has the chance to restore himself to the coach’s good graces. The receiving corps just has no real threats. It’s imperative that New York’s corners—Dee Milliner and Antonio Cromartie—be able to dominate and lock up their receivers man-on-man.

If that happens, Rex Ryan can feel more confident in bringing the house after Brady and trying to force some big plays, be they sacks or interceptions. Or, if nothing else, just to prevent the Patriot quarterback from getting into a comfortable rhythm. Then it’s up to the Jets offense to try and establish some kind of running game, keep the game close and then see if Geno Smith can make an improvisational play in the fourth quarter that turns the tide.

We know that at some point, the Brady-Belichick era is finally going to crash. It’s a reasonable guess that it will take place while both are still active. And while I don’t forecast it being this year, it can’t be ruled out, particularly as the help at the skill positions keeps hitting the injury list. It’s that sense of caution that leads me to at least think this game is going to be worth watching. But in the end, even at that hefty (-600) I’m still picking the Patriots on their homefield.

Denver (-210) at NY Giants (+190) (4:25 PM ET, CBS): It’s the first doubleheader weekend for the Jim Nantz-Phil Simms broadcast team, and they’ll get Peyton and Eli going to head-to-head. But what’s likely to decide this game is if either team can generate a rushing game.

The Broncos didn’t get a running game in Week 1’s win over Baltimore and with Peyton tossing seven TD passes, didn’t really need one. New York could have used a rushing attack, but David Wilson played poorly in a loss to Dallas. I see no reason to expect any better from Denver, but with the Giants’ offensive line still mostly a veteran, intact group, you have to think they can eventually find someone who can hit a hole. Whether “eventually” means late Sunday afternoon is obviously another question entirely.

Eli Manning threw for 450 yards on Sunday night in Dallas, but he also tossed three interceptions, including a hideous one on the first play from scrimmage. His inconsistency is such that you can’t assume he’ll automatically be sharp on Sunday, but Eli does have that track record of getting up for a big game. I expect him to play well, because, if nothing else, he won’t be under a lot of duress. Denver will not likely get much of a pass rush.

It’s that issue—Denver’s defense—that leads me to take the Giants, the second straight week I’m grabbing Big Blue as an underdog. If they lose a second straight at home, in a situation that requires at least modest insurgency, they’ve got problems.

San Francisco (+125) at Seattle (-140) (8:30 PM ET, NBC): A lot of teams in the NFL didn’t run the ball well in Week 1, but none were more disappointing than the failures of Frank Gore for the Niners and the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch to get anything going on the ground. These are teams that need to control the line of scrimmage if they’re going to be the Super Bowl contenders everyone anticipates.

Without the running of Gore and Lynch, both offenses become susceptible to a defense that can be more comfortable in turning it’s pass-rushers loose. I think this is a bigger problem for Seattle. While Russell Wilson is mobile, he’s not nearly as explosive a run threat as Colin Kaepernick. Nor does Wilson have the kind of bail-out target that Kaepernick does with Anquan Boldin.

On the flip side, the Seahawks do get defensive end Cliff Avril back this week, so their chances for some pressure will be better. But in the end, if this game comes down to a battle of quarterbacks dropping back, look for San Francisco to win it. Seattle needs Lynch to control the pace of the game.

The presence of Boldin also highlights the advantage at the receiver position San Francisco enjoys. While the Niners lack a downfield threat, Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis at least give Kaepernick two good options. Wilson does not have that, with the ballyhooed acquisition of speedy Percy Harvin predictably ending with Harvin getting hurt.

Seattle’s homefield advantage is substantial and this is a good, playoff-quality team. This is a spot, though, where I’m going to let the moneyline make my pick. I don’t think Seattle merits (-140) confidence, so I’ll take a flyer on the road underdog, especially when that dog made the Super Bowl in 2012.

Pittsburgh (+270) at Cincinnati (-310) (Mon, 8:30 PM ET, ESPN): The Bengals were a disappointment in their 24-21 loss at Chicago. Pittsburgh was an absolute disaster in their 16-9 home loss to Tennessee. The focus is going to understandably be on the Steeler offense, but I think we have to start with their issues forcing turnovers.

The famed Pittsburgh defense doesn’t make big plays anymore, and they have to here. The big weakness the Bengals have is Andy Dalton’s ability to turn it over at a moment’s notice. Something’s gotta give here, and if Pittsburgh can’t get a couple interceptions on Monday night, where exactly are they going to?

This is not to minimize Steeler offensive woes. They need to find a running game, something that the season-ending injury to center Maurkice Pouncey made even tougher. But if the Bengals’ talented and aggressive front seven doesn’t respect the run, they’ll be teeing off on Ben Roethlisberger with no fear.  Roethlisberger is physically strong enough to limit the damage, but he no longer has a downfield threat to make anything really big happen outside the pocket.

On the Cincinnati side, we have to see if A.J. Green can get deep against the Steeler secondary. The Bengal receiver is always productive, but if this game ends up tight and low-scoring, akin to last year’s 13-10 win by Cincy in Week 16 that settled a playoff berth, a couple strikes down the field to Green could be the difference.

I have no reason on paper to feel confident in Pittsburgh, but I do believe Mike Tomlin is a head coach that competes, and he’s going to have his team emotionally ready to play this game. Normally that wouldn’t be enough, but the track record of Cincinnati over the years is one who lets rivals up off the mat. And the moneyline is very heavy on what promises to be a game that will be interesting, if not necessarily “good.” I’ll take the Steelers.

TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysis also reviews the dozen games of the Week 2 undercard