The opening week of the NFL schedule delivered a couple of shockers.
The Browns, who haven’t won since December of 2016, ended up tying the Super Bowl-contending Steelers. The Chiefs put together a wonderful opener on the road against AFC West favorite San Diego. And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick lit up the Saints defense in a week 1 shocker.
It goes to show that no assumptions are safe when playing the Eliminator Challenge every week. ESPN’s game had over a quarter (26%) of its players lose out in the first week because of the Saints. They seemed a lock as 10-point favorites at home but couldn’t keep up with the Bucs’ talented wideouts.
If you read my week 1 eliminator article, you’d know that the Saints were one of a couple highly-regarded teams I considered. The Packers, who won by only one point against the Bears, were another team I had my eye on.
But after all the analysis of each game was completed, the Baltimore Ravens seemed like the right choice. It was a solid matchup for them against the lowly Bills and they were an average team that would allow me to save all the better teams for following weeks.
Baltimore ended up thumping the Bills soundly, 47-3.
So now it’s time to work into week 2, with a third of Eliminator applicants already off the board. Here are some of the teams I considered for week 2, with my pick at the end.
The following games have the favorite and the team I’m considering in bold. The home team is listed first, with the spread odds to the side:
- Washington Redskins vs Indianapolis Colts, -6.0
- New Orleans Saints vs Cleveland Browns, -9.0
- New York Jets Miami Dolphins, -3.0
- Los Angeles Rams vs Arizona Cardinals, -13.0
Washington Redskins (3% of Eliminator Picks)
The Redskins seem like a solid favorite after completely shutting down Arizona’s offense.
This wasn’t expected to be one of the better defenses in the league. So keeping the Cardinals to only 231 yards of offense and making star RB David Johnson an afterthought was quite the surprise.
They also got exactly what they pictured wanting when Alex Smith came over in a trade with Kansas City. They wanted a stable leader who could improvise and gradually move the ball down the field. He’s a smart QB and made some great decisions on Sunday.
Though Andrew Luck is a clear upgrade in terms of opposing quarterbacks when compared to Sam Bradford, the Colts QB doesn’t have much help. The fact the Bengals only got two sacks on him is almost a gift considering what his offensive line was like last year.
Luck can change the makeup of a game all by himself. He’s one of a handful of QBs who is capable of doing so. But the Redskins are definitely making some strides defensively. But just how big of ones?
New Orleans Saints (21%)
If I had played it safe last week and picked the Saints, I wouldn’t be writing this. It just goes to prove the “any given Sunday” mantra. You can’t just look at the odds and pull the trigger.
And that’s why even with a nine-point spread, there is still a ton of risk involved. After all, the Saints have lost their first two games in each of the last four seasons. That’s a figure that’s starting to look like more than a coincidence.
Maybe the theory is that a high-powered machine like this offense takes a while to get from 0 to 60. But that wasn’t the case Sunday. Instead, it was their defense that let them down.
Fitzpatrick is an intelligent (he went to Harvard, so he should be) and wily veteran. But there’s no excuse for the Saints letting him filet their secondary time-and-time again.
With that said, I don’t think the Browns have the deep threats Tampa Bay has. Jarvis Landry can move chains for the Browns. But he’s not going to burn defenses and open the rest of the field up like DeSean Jackson did for the Bucs.
Without that explosiveness and freakish talent, like Jackson’s or Mike Evans’s, the Saints will be able to bottle up the Browns. And containing is all they need to do because their offense is already firing on all cylinders.
Drew Brees was locked in, especially late as he tried to lead a fourth-quarter comeback. He’s not going to make the same kinds of mistakes Ben Roethlisberger made against Cleveland last week.
I’ll give the Browns props for pressuring the quarterback and compiling four sacks along the way. But they still have a long way to go against the run, excluding the play of Miles Garrett.
New York Jets (1%)
Talk about a crazy debut for Sam Darnold: Throw a pick-six on your first NFL pass, then throw a pair of touchdowns and win by 31 points.
The way he handled his early mistake and kept moving forward was a great example of his poise. He has another very winnable game this week, even with the Dolphins beating the Titans and RB Frank Gore once again looking ageless.
But Titans QB Marcus Mariota was shaken up much of the game. Beating backup Blaine Gabbert wasn’t exactly the tallest task.
The Jets, on the other hand, made Matthew Stafford look pedestrian with four interceptions. They also completely shut down any semblance of a run game. And even though Gore had a good first week, it’s hard to see him going back to his 49er days at 35.
And that was without one of their starting safeties, Marcus Maye, who was injured.
If Darnold’s confidence continues to build, this Jets team might surprise some people. In the AFC East, there’s plenty of room between the Patriots and everyone else. New York might be able to fill that gap a bit.
And starting with a division foe at home would be huge.
With the DBs to counter the Dolphins best position (WR) group, they should probably be favored by a couple more points. Especially with how Darnold spun it against a solid Detroit secondary.
Los Angeles Rams (17%)
It’s hard to believe they’re still only the third-most popular pick this week on Eliminator.
Though the score of their game against Oakland took some time to develop and the final was closer than it appeared, it was still a big win. They clearly showed that they are one of the NFC front-runners, no matter how bad the Raiders turn out this year.
Jared Goff hit some big throws on intermediate routes and Todd Gurley took over late at RB. Another important factor was how well Brandin Cooks performed in his Rams regular season debut. He was front-and-center the whole game.
And against the Arizona Cardinals, this seems about as good of a week 2 matchup as you could get. Sure, a lot of people said that about the Saints last week without remembering the Bucs had playmakers.
But as far as the Cardinals go, there’s only WR Larry Fitzgerald and RB David Johnson. No matter how old he gets, Fitzgerald still has the size to steal a ball away and continues to use such size to its full potential.
Johnson was limited in week 1, so it’s hard to know what he has in store after missing almost a full season due to injury.
If the Rams secondary was an issue, I’d say having a guy like Fitzgerald would be trouble. But LA has the luxury of deciding whether to put Aqib Talib or Marcus Peters on him, two Pro Bowl-caliber corners. And safety help overtop is cause for comfort too.
Unless Johnson goes off and delivers some much-needed juice to the offense, there’s little hope for Arizona. And it’s hard to see Sam Bradford owning one of the best one-two punches at cornerback. Especially after his performance against Washington, who only has one (Josh Norman) gifted DB.
The Week 2 Pick
While the Redskins might have taken a step forward on defense, basing their success off one week against Sam Bradford is too much of a risk.
While it would be great to go 2-0 by using only the Ravens and Redskins, Luck is too much of a threat against the Washington secondary.
Norman may still be a No. 1 corner. But with Luck’s ability to extend plays, the corner’s speed issues could bite him against a speedster like WR T.Y. Hilton (4.32 40-yard dash). It’s not 2015 in Carolina for Norman anymore.
As for the Saints, their run of 0-2 starts is a little disturbing. Though I feel more confident about this matchup than I do when they played Tampa Bay, the Saints are a team that could be saved for a week when there’s a lot of competitive matchups.
They do play the Redskins in October and the Bengals in November. So unless those teams somehow continue their hot starts—which isn’t likely—you’ll still get good use out of New Orleans.
It’s also better to wait another week to see just what kind of Cleveland team the league is dealing with here. They are improved, but how much? There’ll be a lot learned about them after Sunday.
The Jets are a tempting but still dangerous pick in week 2. But if Darnold and crew end up being a surprise team in the AFC, they’ll play Buffalo twice and Miami once more. There’ll be plenty of chances to grab them up against lesser competition and the development of Darnold can be witnessed first.
Forget that the Rams are nearly two-touchdown favorites and have one of the better offenses in the league. The Cardinals ineptitude on offense has just as much to do with this pick.
Not even an extra day to prepare could help them. Maybe later in the season against a different team. But not with all of LA’s stars fresh and coach Sean McVay on the sidelines. He will catch up in preparations. He always seems to be a step ahead.
I wasn’t particularly in love with the Rams’ performance Monday. They felt a little out of sync early. But the fact they still won by 20 with a B-minus performance is something special.
Yes, this means I’ll be using one of the better teams in the league to get to 2-0, instead of saving them for later. But this is as close to a slam-dunk as you get in this league.
But after last week, I’ll still knock on wood just in case.