One sentence per pick

Here are my NFL picks for Week 3. I’ve limited myself to one sentence each.

  • Texans over Ravens: The Ravens defence is not what it was, and JJ Watt and company harass Flacco and Rice enough to book the win for Houston.
  • Giants over Panthers: Though we appear headed for another season of supreme inconsistency for the GIants, their overall superiority over the Panthers gives them the win in this one.
  • Bengals over Packers: I like the Bengals’ D-Line to harass Aaron Rodgers, and the Bengals’ O does the job vs a suspect Packers defence.
  • Cowboys over Rams: Much as I’m suspicious of the Cowboys, desperation will factor in and we’ll get additional proof that the Rams are not there yet.
  • Vikings over Browns: The Browns have tanked their season, and Adrian Peterson will do his thing.
  • Patriots over Bucs: The Bucs already appear to be in too much disarray to take advantage of the disastrous situation at receiver for the Patriots.
  • Saints over Cardinals: The Saints’ offence will be too strong for the Cards’ D to stifle, and the Cards won’t score quickly enough to keep up.
  • Titans over Chargers: I need more than two games to believe that Philip Rivers has become Philip Rivers one again, plus I hate the rest of that Chargers roster.
  • Lions over Redskins: Robert Griffin doesn’t look 100% and the Skins’ D is horrific: a bad combo vs the Lions.
  • Falcons over Dolphins: The Falcons are much better than the Dolphins, and since we’re in the regular season, we shouldn’t expect them to choke. (Yes, Falcons fans, I am enjoying this.)
  • Bills over Jets: This week’s wake me up when it’s over game, with the Bills showing themselves to be not quite as putrid as the Jets.
  • Seahawks over Jaguars: Picture a hummer running over a cat…
  • Niners over Colts: Just another phase of the “back-down-to-earth” descent for the Colts.
  • Bears over Steelers: The Bears aren’t fantastic, but the Steelers simply aren’t very good.
  • Broncos over Raiders: The Raiders are working admirably not to be the laughing stock I expected them to be, but they’re out-manned in too many places against the Broncos.

Last week: 10-6

Season: 23-9

My NFL picks this week

No time for five questions this week, but I will give you my picks for the NFL.

  • Rams at Falcons: If they can keep their new acquisitions healthy, the Rams qualify as a vastly improved team. However, they don’t match up especially well against the Falcons. The Birds are vulnerable against the inside run, and St.Louis’ interior offensive line is not particularly impressive. Moreover, Sam Bradford’s receiving options are underwhelming and Atlanta’s secondary is pretty strong. Only way the Rams win is if they keep it close by piggybacking off a monster performance from the defensive line stuffing Steven Jackson and harassing Matt Ryan (not impossible). If it’s still close in the fourth, anything can happen. Pick: Atlanta
  • Browns at Ravens: If I had to use one phrase to describe the Browns, it would be “so close, yet so far.” The Browns are not many players away from being a good-to-scary team. But they are missing players at positions where you so desperately need quality to succeed in the NFL. Case in point: What is it about the Browns offence that stops you from playing 10 guys in the box to stop Trent Richardson? The answer: Absolutely nothing. Their quarterback was going through what should have been his NFL prime in college, not that he’s all that good to begin with, and the receivers are just nothing to write home about. Too bad, because the Ravens are as defensively fragile as I can remember them. Shame the Browns don’t have the elements to scare them. Pick: Baltimore
  • Panthers at Bills: Wake me up when it’s over. Frankly, neither team is very good, but I see the Panthers putting some pressure on EJ Manuel and forcing him into making a few mistakes. Pick: Panthers
  • Vikings at Bears: The case for the Bears: Until Christian Ponder can make the Vikes’ passing game worth preparing for, their offence remains one-dimensional, plus Julius Peppers and company don’t make it easy on anyone’s pass protection. The Bears’ offensive line is at least somewhat better than it was last year, and the once destructive Minnesota D-Line doesn’t quite dominate like it did 3-4 years ago. Meanwhile, the Bears did pull off a win against a Cincinnati team that’s actually not half bad. The case for the VikingsPicking against Adrian Peterson makes me nervous. There’s always a chance he takes the team on his shoulders and singlehandedly carries them to victory. The Bears’ offensive line is better, but not by much, and the big-but-slow Bears wide receivers can’t separate, consistently leaving Jay Cutler a sitting duck in the pocket. That being said, I still think the Bears are an overall better team, and I like them at home. Pick: Bears
  • Redskins at Packers: So, Aaron Rodgers, how does it feel to know you’re going to spend another year trying to overcome your team’s defence? Seriously, look at what these guys did last week. I like Colin Kaepernick. I think he’s one of those guys who is a prototype for the “quarterback of the future” in the NFL. But, as a passer, I never confused him with Dan Marino. Not many NFL defences are bad enough to make one confuse Kap with Dan Marino. But guess whose is?????????To quote the immortal John McKay: “We can’t stop a pass or a run. Otherwise, we’re in great shape!” That how Green Bay is right now. And Robert Griffin is the wrong quarterback to be playing in this situation. Plus, Green Bay might have better running backs, but the offensive line isn’t much better than last year, and that was before they got another date with the injury bug. Now, the Skins are nothing to write home about defensively, but the Pack’s running game is so inept, that they basically have to beat a passing game. I still expect Aaron Rodgers to carve up this Redskins defence a bit, and I really hope I’m wrong, but I think the Pack lose a shootout at home to Griffin and the Skins. Pick: Redskins
  • Titans at Texans: I think the Texans are overrated and the Titans have lots of good elements, as evidenced in their game against the Steelers. However, the Texans’ offensive line is far better than that of the Steelers, which should mean that Jurell Casey won’t look like a Pro Bowler for a second consecutive week, and Pittsburgh doesn’t have an Andre Johnson playing receiver either. Moreover, the “bust alert” sign is now fully on Jake Locker’s shoulders, and unless he significantly picks up the level of his play this week, I can’t see the Titans winning this one. Oh, and did I mention JJ Watt is going to be on the field? Pick: Texans
  • Dolphins at Colts: Oh my! What shall we call this game? Wake me up when it’s over pt.2 ? The battle of the overrated? Whatever it is, I’m barely interested. You’re looking at the two teams who got the worst bang for their buck in free agency, through no one’s fault but theirs. As a result, each fanbase is looking at some serious disappointment at the end of the year. I guess it’s a good thing one of these teams is winning this one. The case for the Colts: Andrew Luck. What else? Andrew Luck or bust. The case for the Dolphins: Colts’ owner Jim Irsay, apparently looking to win the prestigious “quickest-NFL-owner-to-become-a-caricature” award, was already freaking out at his players and coaching staff on Twitter about the pass protection because the oh-so-defensively inept Raiders sacked Andrew Luck four times last week. Unless this wildly inappropriate Twitter rant somehow miraculously struck the right chord with the players, it won’t get better against a Miami front that can bring some pretty serious heat. The Phins might be overhyped after they paid way too much for their “high-profile” free agent signings, but they’re still better than the Colts. Pick: Dolphins
  • Cowboys at Chiefs: If the Cowboys are going to be anything more than a cumbersome tease, this is the kind of game you have to win. The case for the Cowboys: On paper, they’re a better-rounded team than the Chiefs. The receiving option appear to be more than the Chiefs can handle and running back DeMarco Murray adds to that. If Tony Romo plays how he can, he pick apart this Chiefs defence, which is good, but not there yet. Alex Smith is taking on Betty White in an arm-strength competition next week, and he’s not a sure bet to win. Let’s see Mr. 1st overall pick trying to block D-Ware. The case for the Chiefs: For starters, Arrowhead is a wild place to visit. Then, there is a constant risk that Tony Romo will have the kind of game that will have fans thinking back to this: Image                                                               The Chiefs defence is really quite good, and as a team, they were so supremely unlucky last year that they really are much better than they appeared. Alex Smith is going to spend all day dumping screen passes to Jamaal Charles, which will slow down Ware and the pass rush in the process. The Cowboys O-Line is not that good and Tamba Hali and company can rush the passer. I have so little faith in the Cowboys that I’m picking the Chiefs to solidify their status as a legitimate playoff contender in that terrible division of theirs. Pick: Chiefs
  • Chargers at Eagles: Potentially the biggest massacre of this week. The Chargers are just plain awful, especially if we get the Philip Rivers of the past two years. Meanwhile, the Eagles took the Redskins to the shed with Chip Kelly’s hyperactive offence, and the Skins never really recovered. Considering the crassness of that San Diego team, including the fact that SD’s offence is not as good as the Skins’, I can picture that poor Chargers defence not getting enough breaks and getting worn out fairly quickly. There are those secretly (or not-so-secretly) hoping that Chip Kelly is the new Steve Spurrier and that, after one strong game, his offence will fizzle out in the same way, but I can’t see it. Pick: Eagles
  • Lions at Cardinals: The battle of the teams that must be just so frustrating to their fans. On paper, I like the Lions, mainly because I like their D-Line to put serious pressure on Carson Palmer, who has to work behind an average offensive line. I’m not a fan of Rashard “Missing-three-weeks-with-a-twisted-upper-lip” Mendenhall, and so the running game is not much improved from previous years. So a one-dimensional passing game behind an average offensive line is going to keep Nick Fairley and Ndamokung Suh (provided he’s not too busy cut-blocking offensive linemen on interception returns)? I like Patrick Peterson a lot, but I don’t think he and the Cards secondary can simultaneously keep Calvin Johnson quiet and prevent Reggie Bush from being a painful mismatch in the passing game. Pick: Lions
  • Buccaneers at Saints: The Bucs have lots to prove to me after their loss to the Jets, from which I’m still slightly reeling. Unless Josh Freeman stinks out the joint (a distinct possibility), the Saints don’t have the defensive manpower to stop the Bucs from putting up some points. The problem is, the reverse is also true. Sean Payton is back, and so is the Saints’ offence. And what are the odds of Drew Brees being the second best quarterback on the field in that game? I see lots of points, bad defences, and the Saints winning. Pick: Saints
  • Broncos at Giants: Perhaps this week’s most interesting matchup. The Manning derby. The Giants do have the offensive manpower to score against Denver, especially with Von Miller still suspended. However, the Giants are so maddeningly inconsistent and the Broncos offence is so deadly that I don’t see how the Giants keep up. After week 1, somebody put an interesting idea to Bill Simmons on Grantland: “What if John Elway had uncovered an Evil Manning button?” A Manning who wants to obliterate every opponent in every game, throw for 65 touchdowns and 5,500 yards. My goodness, do I like the sound of that. Not sure about those numbers, but I do think both brothers play well, and that Peyton wins this round.
  • Jaguars at Raiders:  Oh, dear! My “Blaine-Gabbert-just-might-get-over-the-hump” theory lasted all of one game. He got injured again and now Chad Henne is taking his place. Translation: Gabbert’s Jaguars career is over. He would be one more reason for Jags’ fans to find out where Jack Del Rio and Gene Smith now live and send them dead rats for Christmas… if only they cared enough. Did I ever mention this team should move to L.A. ? Meanwhile, the Raiders looked surprisingly good on defence last week against the Colts. And by that, I mean the four sacks of Andrew Luck. And guess what, they’re facing one of two teams whose week 1 opponents got more sacks than they did. The Jags gave six to the Chiefs last week, partly because of Gabbert’s apparently innate tendency to hold the ball…FOREVER!!!! But there is also the fact that Justin Blackmon’s not there, and that in his absence, no one is there to take the double coverage off Cecil Shorts (don’t get me started on Marcedes Lewis). I had the Raiders ranked last in my power rankings because that defence is just so terrible on paper. But the Jags are so inept everywhere that they’re not walking out of the black hole with a win. Pick: Raiders
  • Niners at Seahawks: We can outsmart ourselves here, but let’s keep it simple. The 49ers are a better team. They’re better-rounded, more physical, they have better options virtually everywhere on offence AND Colin Kaepernick wasn’t forced into running the read option in week 1. I think it’s safe to assume we’ll see more of it in week 2. Plus, I like the matchup of San Fran’s front 7 versus that Seattle offensive line. And if you think Jim Harbaugh hasn’t spent the week reminding his team of how they were victimized by the Hawks in Seattle last year, you’re wrong. Plus, San Fran is a West Coast team, and it’s early in the season, which means it’s not as if a Florida team was walking in jetlagged with temperatures near the 0-degree mark. The two things Seattle has going for it: the game is in that nuthouse they call their home stadium, and there’s the chance they force Kap to turn into the inaccurate passing nightmare everyone seems to keep waiting for him to turn into. It’s not happening, folks. Pick: 49ers
  • Steelers at Bengals: This game is unfortunately not the fixture it would usually be. This Steelers team is on the brink of being flat-out bad. No running game, no pass protection, less-than-stellar receiving options and an ageing defence. And what are they facing? A team with one of the league’s better defensive lines (translation: another incoming beating for Big Ben), and an intriguing offence with Randy Moss 2.0 a.k.a AJ Green killing the opposition despite the lack of a solid wide receiver opposite him to go along with two serious receiving threats at tight end. The Bengals are just too good for the Steelers. (From a historical perspective, when was the last team you heard yourself say that?) Pick: Bengals

Last week: 13-3

Season: 13-3

5 football questions for this week

Law studies are a pain in that they hardly allow me to pour countless words into writing about the game, which is annoying at the start of the NCAA, NFL and CIS seasons. However, I do wish to take the time to answer the five questions I’ve been getting the most from friends and fellow members of the Quebec football community. So here goes.

1. What happened to Concordia against UofM?

Can’t say I didn’t see this one coming. There was a play when Carabins defensive lineman David Ménard penetrated (again) through the Concordia offensive line and batted down a Reid Quest pass. The way the play happened, however, gave the impression Ménard had punched Quest in the face. That play strikes me as symbolic of the spanking the Stingers took from their Montreal rivals, a beatdown about which the word “embarrassing” comes quickly into the mind. 

It didn’t take long for one to realize “les Bleus” were superior. The porous ConU pass protection forced them to resort to half-slide protection, which requires the running backs to help slow down backside pursuit, but UofM front seven consistently beat the Stingers offensive line on the frontside and pounded QB Reid Quest anyway. Concordia does have skilled offensive players, including future pro slotback Kris Bastien, but because Quest wore the UofM defensive front between 1 and 4 PM, they didn’t really get to show their skills. 

As for Concordia’s defence, it has a lot to offer, but it cannot be expected to hold opponents off the board (especially not UofM and its excellent running back Rotrand Sené) if it spends the entire day on the field. Coordinator Luc Pelland is a terrific defensive mind, and he had great success running his 3-4 defence while at Vanier College, not to mention that it seemingly makes sense considering that Concordia is short on defensive linemen and heavy on linebackers. The thing is, though, I’m unconvinced star linebacker Max Caron thrives in it. Caron (I can say this having played in front him myself) seems at his best with a full defensive line keeping blockers off him so he can roam freely. The prospect of Caron and fellow star Travis Bent playing together, along with experienced veteran Alexandre Lemire and freaky athlete Mikael Charland, is enticing, but again, Caron doesn’t make the same impact when he has to fight through traffic. This is a kid who shone very brightly as a rookie when this columnist was finishing his CIS career, and was unplayable during his second season, as he went on to win the President’s trophy as the country’s best defensive player. The secondary is talented but young, with both characteristics showing at different points in the game. The Stingers also showed a worrisome propensity to lose the edge on outside running plays, particularly when faced with UofM’s beloved wing back on the right side of the formation. 

That being said, it’s one game. Yeah, yeah, I know it was a real beatdown, but allow me to make two final points. First, should the opposition fail to put as much pressure on the passer as UofM did (Laval might, the rest of the league likely won’t), this Concordia team will score points. Quest is talented, so are the receivers, and I really liked the vision and moves I saw from rookie running back Jamall Hamilton-Hyman. Second, and perhaps more importantly, has anyone looked at the Stingers’ schedule this year? They play McGill and Bishop’s twice and get St-Francis-Xavier at home, all completely winnable games, despite the Stingers’ obvious pass protection issues and striking youth in the secondary. They could lose all games against francophone teams and still finish the season with five wins. And you know what five wins gets you, at the bare minimum, in this conference? Third place.

2. What do you make of Johnny Manziel’s conduct? 

This kid is really starting to worry me. That his personality is already far better suited to the pro lifestyle than to that of college is so self-evident, it’s long been past debating.

Moreover, I frankly couldn’t care less about him taunting the NCAA during A&M’s first game against Rice. The NCAA is an organization so unbearably piss-poor in just about every conceivable way (including the hypocritical rule that led to its scrutiny of Manziel) that it deserves little more than to be treated with ridicule, mockery and contempt. 

That being said, it’s all of Manziel’s other off-season antics that have me worried. The whole time, I kept saying to myself “Il faut que jeunesse se passe”, or, for those whose French is not quite up there, that kids must be allowed to be kids and that when the season started, Manziel would come back focused and ready for an encore. But his unforgivable demeanour when dealing with his head coach Kevin Sumlin, after all the “while drunk” incidents he gave us during the offseason is giving me serious pause. Is this kid’s judgement so poor that he doesn’t realize whatever he suffered during the offseason, he did to himself (save for the NCAA investigation). And is he so hard-headed and arrogant that he can’t even keep a low profile on the field until he reminds everyone he can play football? 

That Manziel will declare for the 2014 NFL Draft is, barring a serious injury, as foregone a conclusion as foregone conclusions get. But if I’m an NFL personnel guy, I’m getting very worried about the kind of character I’d be getting in Manziel. 

3. Is the read option in the NFL to stay? 

People who have Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin on their fantasy teams better pray it is. Remember when Mike Tomlin said it was a flavour of the month thing? If he’s right, the outlook for the season just got very different for a handful of teams, worst of all for the Redskins. 

That being said, I think Tomlin’s wrong and that Niners and Skins fans can breathe easy. Unless you’re going to allow defences to play with 12 men, the coaches who designed read option plays last year did it so cleverly (with lead blockers escorting the quarterback) and the receivers and tight ends in the NFL are such dynamic athletes that I can’t see what tactic defensive coordinators could dial up consistently to stop the read option AND not leave themselves super vulnerable to 1-on-1 matchups with dynamite receivers down the field. Would you care to match your safety or Sam linebacker 1-on-1 against Vernon Davis? Didn’t think so. 

I think the read option is here to stay. Probably not as a full-scale system, but as an offensive package. Ready to eat your words, coach Tomlin? 

4. How’d you like Jameis Winston’s debut at quarterback for Florida State?

Very much indeed. Winston stood out in a fairly easy 41-13 win against Pitt by completing 24 of his 26 passing attempts. But that wasn’t what made me happiest about the kid’s debut on Monday.

First, FSU finally has a QB with enough sense to look for tight end Nick O’Leary. O’Leary would be a unanimous selection as the most un-stylish player in College Football, but he also happens to be really good. Winston found him three times in the end zone. How’s that for a start for the big tight end?

Winston, and this makes me smile from ear to ear, was also so incredibly poised it was almost disconcerting. After FSU had seemingly become a breeding ground for happy-footed quarterbacks, from Chris Rix to Drew Weatherford, and even Christian Ponder at times, it’s refreshing to see a young QB keep his cool when a bit of pressure is headed his way. 

Winston maneuvered effortlessly around the pocket, making veteran throws on the run with the kind of accuracy you’d expect from a fifth-year senior. Obviously, it would be ludicrous to expect this kind of performance every single week from him; after all, freshmen, talented though they may be, are often inconsistent. But one thing is clear. FSU has its most talented QB since Bobby Bowden’s glory years. Whether he’ll become the best remains to be seen. But I like what I see so far. 

5. Name one team you expect to surprise and to disappoint this year in the NFL.

My surprise team is the Tennessee Titans. With some clever offseason additions, the Titans are a functional performance from Jake Locker away from becoming a really good team. I loooooooooove the Chance Warmack pick in the 2013 first round, which, along with the signing of Andy Levitre, gives them a really good offensive line. Both their receivers, if they can stay healthy (looking at you, Kenny Britt) are first round talents. Delanie Walker, while not as physically gifted as departed starter Jared Cook, might give them more production at the tight end position. And we haven’t even mentioned Chris Johnson, who figures to benefit from improved offensive line play. 

They are solid defensively, especially if Kamerion Wimbley can give them any kind of pass rush. I like those linebackers a lot and the defensive backs are talented as well. Moreover, the schedule is fairly merciful. They do get an unpleasant first half of October with a long trip to Seattle followed by a visit from the all-powerful 49ers. However, the rest of the non-division schedule includes the Chargers, Jets, and Chiefs at home as well as an opening-day visit to a diminished Steelers team. If Locker is so much as decent, they have a real shot at a Wild Card berth as the AFC South is weak with the Texans winning by default, the Jags still in reconstruction and the Colts poised to crash back down to earth. Which conveniently leads me to…

My “incoming disappointment” team is the Colts. They do have Andrew Luck, who figures to be a Top 5 quarterback for years to come. However, I hated their offseason moves. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated their moves. First of all, they have a much tougher schedule this year. Secondly, they’re still not good enough to overtake the Texans. Thirdly, both the Jags and the Titans will be tougher confrontations this year.

And last but certainly not least: when was the last time you saw a team succeed after deciding to pay middle-of-the-road starters like stars and fringe players like starters? Needing to protect Andrew Luck, the Colts decided to pay decent-at-best tackle Gosder Cherilus a fairly monstrous contract to keep opposing speed rushers off Luck. Not against elite opposition he won’t. 

But the truly shocking part was the contracts they gave to the newest most expensive journeymen defensive starters in the league. They added some beef to their defensive line by giving a whopping 4-year, $22-million contract to Ricky “never-lived-up-to-the-years-and-years-of-hype” Jean-François, who hasn’t been more than a bit part player since high school. 

And then Jim Irsay outdid himself… the boy turned around and gave Eric Walden $16 million. Eric Walden, 16 million dollars. 16 million dollars to Eric Walden. For those who don’t know, Walden is (a) the man meant to replace departed Dwight Freeney (an idea which in and of itself is cause for hilarity) and (b) essentially known as the revolving door around which Colin Kaepernick ran circles while Walden was playing for the Packers in last year’s playoffs. 

Meanwhile, Reggie Wayne isn’t getting younger. They don’t have a really scary threat opposite him (though I love their young tight ends, Fleener and Allen). Their running back squad consists of disappointing first round picks and journeymen. Their offensive line is nothing to write home about. They still lack a dominant nose tackle for their 3-4 and the secondary is still rather unconvincing. At least, they still have Adam Vinatieri, right? 

So here I am having spent much more time on this than I should have. See you soon, football fans. I’ll try my best to keep the territory busy. 

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