What am I looking to watch today? Some quick thoughts on each game.
New Orleans Saints @ Carolina Panthers
Luke McCown last threw a touchdown pass on December 30, 2007. Cam Newton was a freshman at Florida, and this was three weeks after Tim Tebow just won the Heisman Trophy. It was a long time ago, although we will stretch back a few weeks earlier later in this preview.
The Panthers are on track to become one of the worst 3-0 teams in a long time. A win over Jacksonville is the best trophy on the wall, matched up against wins vs. a Ryan Mallet-led Texans team and whatever you want to call this version of the Saints. The Panthers are banking wins, though, and could get to 4-0 next week courtesy of a visit to Tampa Bay.
Carolina 20, New Orleans 6
Oakland Raiders @ Cleveland Browns
The last time the McCown brothers both started on the same day? December 9, 2007. But let’s not focus on Josh McCown or even Johnny Manziel: Derek Carr appeared to have his breakout game last week. Can he keep that up against a Cleveland defense that was very strong against the pass in 2014, but has been inconsistent so far this year?
Oakland 24, Cleveland 23
Atlanta Falcons @ Dallas Cowboys
In 2007, Brandon Weeden was a freshman at Oklahoma State. In 2007, Matt Ryan was a senior at Boston College, throwing 31 touchdowns. Ryan, by the way, is 19 months younger than Weeden. This could have been a game featuring two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and two of the best wide receivers; instead, expect this to turn into the Julio Jones show pretty quickly. In Jones’ last 16 games, he has seen 180 targets, and caught 119 passes for 1,753 yards and 8 touchdowns. A Falcons win brings the team to 3-0, which would surely fire up the national writers into many Dan Quinn columns; hopefully, I can beat them to the punch.
Atlanta 22, Dallas 13
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Houston Texans
What does Arian Foster mean to the Texans? Here is the number of pass attempts by the Texans in each year of existence:
The Texans are insanely pass-happy right now in a way that doesn’t make sense. then again, little about what Bill O’Brien has done on offense has made sense. The quarterback situation continues to be a disaster at least on the other side of the field, there is hope. Houston is a 7-point favorite, but it’s hard to have faith in an offense that has given 39 targets in two games to Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington. In 2007, the Texans traded for Matt Schaub; suddenly, that doesn’t sound so bad.
Tampa Bay 20, Houston 17
San Diego Chargers @ Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson was a rookie in 2007, and he never exactly flew under the national radar. Peterson rushed for 103 yards in his first game; a month later, he had his first 200-yard game. and then four weeks after that, the Chargers came to Minnesota, and Peterson set the single-game rushing record with 296 yards.
This game is one of the sneaky-interesting ones of the day. We don’t know much about these teams other than that they can beat the Lions. San Diego and Minnesota have slept-walk through various portions of the first two weeks: which team puts together a complete game today and gets to 2-1? This game may be as close as it gets to a “must win” for the Vikings. Dropping to 1-2 with a trip to Denver next week — along with two games remaining against the Packers, and games against the Chiefs, Falcons, Seahawks, and Cardinals — would leave Minnesota with very little margin for error.
Minnesota 24, San Diego 20
Jacksonville Jaguars @ New England Patriots
The bet here is that the Patriots reverse course: a week after Tom Brady threw 59 passes and LeGarrette Blount had two carries (which came on New England’s final plays from scrimmage, Brady kneels excluded), look for Blount to get 25 carries.
Jacksonville’s last playoff game came in Foxboro in 2007; And while the Jaguars may not seem playoff bound in 2015, they may be closer than you think. Jacksonville has quietly built an impressive set of young wide receivers, with Rashad Greene (23 years old),1 Allen Hurns (24), and Allen Robinson (22). And let’s not forget about Marqise Lee (24), either. And it’s not as though Jacksonville is old elsewhere on offense, not with Blake Bortles (24) and running backs T.J. Yeldon (22) and Denard Robinson (25). The Jaguars aren’t ready to beat New England, I don’t think, but they may be better than you think sooner than you think.
New England 31, Jacksonville 17
Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Jets
The Eagles travel to East Rutherford every year, of course, and Philadelphia and the Jets play in the fourth game of the preseason every year. But the Eagles haven’t played at the Jets for a regular season game since 2007, and that game was… well, about as ugly as this one should be. Philadelphia won 16-9 in a game that featured six field goals and a 75-yard Kevin Curtis touchdown.
Still on these two teams from that day? For the Eagles, TE Brent Celek and long snapper Jon Dorenbos; for the Jets, a more star-studded group, featuring D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, David Harris and — after a two-year respite — Darrelle Revis.
In late April, the Eagles were 2.5 point favorites in this game. Then, Philadelphia failed to cover by 5.5 points against Atlanta and by 15 points against Dallas, while the Jets covered by 17.5 and 20 points against Cleveland and Indianapolis. As a result, the Jets are now 2.5-point favorites against Philadelphia.
The Eagles seem to be an ideal matchup for the Jets: Darrelle Revis should have no problem shutting down Jordan Matthews, and the Jets defensive line should dominate the Eagles struggling offensive line. And that means the only thing that could save the Eagles is…. Mark Sanchez?
Jets 24, Philadelphia 10
Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans
Andrew Luck and Marcus Mariota feel like they have played each other, but they never have. Luck’s Stanford squad lost to Oregon in both 2010 and 2011, with the Ducks quarterbacked by Darron Thomas, who went undrafted in the 2012 Draft, where Luck went first overall. Then, in 2012 and 2013, Mariota’s Ducks fell both years to the Cardinal.
To those wondering where is the 2007 tie-in: This off-season, the Colts added Trent Cole, Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, Todd Herremans, Dwight Lowery, and Kendall Langford. In ’07, Cole was a Pro Bowler, Johnson was in between Pro Bowl seasons, Gore was coming off of a Pro Bowl season, Herremans was in his second year as Philadelphia’s starting left guard, while Lowery and Langford were in their final seasons in college. So far, the Colts have received little return on this investment in a sextet of players who would have been more valuable in 2007, but expect Luck to inflate his passing stats against a weak Titans defense. But 2015 hasn’t been all bad for Indianapolis: Donte Moncrief looks like the next star Colts receiver.
Indianapolis 34, Tennessee 21
Pittsburgh Steelers @ St. Louis Rams
Pittsburgh started the 2007 season 9-3, but won just one game the rest of the way: a week 16 game in St. Louis. But 2007 is notable for the Rams because that was the last great season of Torry Holt‘s career. In fact, since 2007, no Ram has gained 800 receiving yards in a single season. In a related note, from 2008 to 2014, seven different players led St. Louis in receiving yards.
What I’m looking forward to watching here is the return of two star running backs to the football field: Le’Veon Bell is back after his two-game suspension, while St. Louis rookie Todd Gurley will be making his NFL debut after a torn ACL ended his college season.
Pittsburgh 27, St. Louis 17
Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens
2007 was Andy Dalton‘s freshman year at TCU; it was also the last time the Ravens finished below 0.500. With an 0-2 record, Baltimore is in danger of seeing that streak snap.
Cincinnati is playing good football, as the Bengals are apt to do in September. I’ll be tuning in to watch Justin Forsett and Crockett Gilmore. Forsett powered the 3rd best rushing attack in the NFL; this year, the Ravens running game and Forsett have been less ineffective. Can they turn it around in the team’s home opener? Gilmore, a tight end, was Baltimore’s third round pick last year. He never caught more than two passes in any game until last week, when he caught 5 of 6 targets for 88 yards and two touchdowns. Is that a sign of things to come?
Cincinnati 28, Baltimore 24
San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals
It must be 2007 if Carson Palmer is recovering from a torn ACL, right? Actually, this time around, Palmer looks outstanding. He is coming off back-to-back three touchdown games for the first time since 2006, and is 14-2 in his last 16 starts.
What I’ll be looking for: when does the torch get passed from Larry Fitzgerald to John Brown? Statistically, Fitzgerald has outproduced Brown, but Brown has already drawn four flags for 102 yards. Add in those, and Brown would be at 13 “catches” for 193 “yards”, putting him just one catch and six yards behind Fitzgerald. Brown has been quietly building off a strong season, and perhaps this is his breakout game?
Arizona 24, San Francisco 21
Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins
It’s not just 2007, but just about any year since 2001: the Bills and Dolphins battle in a race for second place in the AFC East. What to watch: how does Ryan Tannehill fare against a Bills defense that has given him struggles in the past?
You may recall that Tannehill struggled last September, but he’s off to a hot start now. In his last 16 games, he’s thrown for 4,211 yards with 27 TDs and 10 INTs, while averaging 7.17 Y/A (and 7.33 AY/A). But Tannehill has a career 2-4 record against the Bills, with an ugly 5.14 Y/A average. A home loss to Buffalo would send the Dolphins to the AFC East cellar, ahead of a trip to London to face the Jets.
Buffalo 19, Miami 17
Chicago Bears @ Seattle Seahawks
We are talking about Jimmy Clausen starting games and projecting a blowout: it’s definitely 2007, right? That was Clausen’s freshman year at Notre Dame, and the Irish went 3-9. So the takeaway here, Bears fans, is at least you don’t have Charlie Weis.
The real story before the game is the return of Kam Chancellor, but for my money, the post-script will be the return of Jimmy Graham. This game has the feel of one of those games where a team cures its ills, and expect the Seahawks to feed Graham the ball.
Seattle 35, Chicago 3
Denver Broncos @ Detroit Lions
You probably don’t remember the time before that, which was the last time the Broncos visited Detroit. The Lions led 44-0 in that game, which was only modified by a late Brandon Stokely touchdown. The quarterback for Denver that day? Patrick Rasmey.
So what I’ll be watching for: Can Peyton Manning play better than Tebow or Ramsay? Ordinarily, that’d be a pretty silly question. But Manning is in one of the worst slumps of his career. Fortunately, he may have the best defense he’s ever had.
Denver 24, Detroit 19
- Although Greene is going to be out until at least November with a thumb injury. [↩]