One way or the other we're going to find out what kind of football team the Jets are this weekend. Last week's game was a mess on both sides of the field but the combination of superior talent and espionage make it hard to know how much that has to do with the Patriots and how much it has to do with Gang Green. Is the pass rush really as feeble as it looked last weekend? Are the defensive backs as impotent? Can the offensive line really be that much worse for the loss of Pete Kendall? My initial feelings on these questions are two optimistic no's and an emphatic yes. That yes may have cost them Chad Pennington for this weekend's action and could get whoever ends up starting at quarterback killed against the Ravens.
That defense almost won Monday's opener all by itself for Baltimore but even their greatness couldn't overcome six turnovers and an awful pass-interference call on Todd Heap that cost the Ravens most of their scoring chances. Steve McNair may not be able to play on Sunday after sustaining his regular buffet of injuries although it's hard to judge how much of an edge that might give Mangini's minions. Kyle Boller resembled Kyle Boller but the Ravens, who are also missing Jonathan Ogden, aren't likely to open up the offense any more than necessary. Still, without Ogden and without much offensive flow the Jets should be able to challenge the Ravens offense if last week's miscues were caused by the Patriots. The Bengals got a lot of pressure last weekend and held Willis McGahee in check for the most part, if the Jets can't do the same it's going to be a long, long season.
The uncertainty at quarterback is going to hurt the Jets either way. If Pennington starts he will be at less than 100% and if it's Clemens, and I expect it will be, then you're basically throwing a three-year old in the deep end to see if he can swim. Maybe he can but more likely he drowns under the onslaught of Rex Ryan's aggressive game plan. It would be nice if Thomas Jones came up with a big game to take some pressure off whoever was throwing the ball but the Ravens line is both strong and fast, a combination that should be fatal to the leaky unit the Jets employ up front. I don't like the Jets chances to turn things around this week and even with a ten point spread I can't see betting against BALTIMORE.
PITTSBURGH (-9.5) over Buffalo - Could things have broken easier at the start of Mike Tomlin's head coaching career? He got Cleveland in Week One and a battered Buffalo team this weekend. The biggest Buffalo injury is the one to Kevin Everett, of course, but they are also going to be without Ko Simpson, Coy Wire, Jason Webster, Ryan Denney, Bruce Smith, Darryl Talley and Shane Conlan. That makes them easy pickings for Ben Roethlisberger especially in a secondary that has less experience than a virgin.
Cincinnati (-6.5) over CLEVELAND - Let's see, the Browns got torched for 34 points by the Steelers last weekend and the Bengals forced six turnovers against the Ravens. The Bengals are a better offensive team than Pittsburgh and Baltimore is a better unit than the one they will face in the battle for Ohio. The Romeo Crennel deathwatch is on.
TENNESSEE (+7) over Indianapolis - I'll explain because I'm sure that looks odd after the Colts debut performance. The Titans have a rougher offensive line than the Saints and pushed around a good Jag defense for 282 yards on the ground last week. They will do what New Orleans couldn't and slug it out at the line of scrimmage with Indianapolis. If they succeed it will keep the defense fresh for battle with Peyton and Addai and, as always, I believe in Vince.
CAROLINA (-6.5) over Houston - David Carr would never admit to sticking pins in his Jake Delhomme voodoo doll during the run-up to this one but wouldn't it be sweet revenge for him to beat the Texans on Sunday? Delhomme was excellent against St. Louis last weekend and the Panthers have more playmakers on both sides of the ball than the Texans who will get a painful reminder of life in the NFL after a Week One date with the Chiefs.
San Francisco (+3) over ST. LOUIS - No team was more disappointing than the Rams last week so look for Stephen Jackson and Marc Bulger to try and jumpstart things this time around. The problem - Orlando Pace is out and the Rams will get fed a steady diet of pressure from a Niners defense that feels confident after last week's win. Yes it was the Cardinals but S.F. is a young team that will grow because of that close win and pull off the upset.
Green Bay (+1) over GIANTS - The Huh? line of the week. The Giants will either have an ailing Eli or the non-Subway/still-portly Jared at quarterback, no Brandon Jacobs and terrible defense on Sunday while the Packers will come to town with the defense that shut down the Eagles last Sunday. Brett Favre isn't any worse than Tony Romo which means that Donald Driver should have a monster game and Big Blue will be 0-2.
Atlanta (+10) over JACKSONVILLE - The Falcons got dominated by the Vikings defense and run into a Jaguar group eager to redeem themselves after getting trampled by the Titans. The Jaguar offense will still struggle to score points, which is why the Falcons will cover, but they won't struggle enough to lose for the second straight time.
New Orleans (-3) over TAMPA BAY - A screwy line but, unlike the Giants spread, this one makes sense. The Saints made everyone squirrelly by laying an egg on national television so the line reflects that instead of their clear advantage over the moribund Buccaneers.
DETROIT (-3.5) over Minnesota - One of these teams will be 2-0 and lead the Bears by at least one game in the NFC North when Sunday's play comes to a close. While you're mulling that over I'll tell you that the Lions are the pick because the Vikings can stop the run but don't do so well when the ball is in the air.
Dallas (-4) over MIAMI - Wade Phillips will need to fix the defense eventually but he'll get another week to work on it because the Dolphins aren't going to be able to gouge them the way the Giants did on Sunday night. On the other side, Jason Campbell and Antwan Randle-El ate up the Phin secondary something which surely made Tony Romo and T.O. salivate during film study this week.
Seattle (-3) over ARIZONA - Matt Leinart looked like an offseason of partying caught up to him all at once on Monday night. Hopefully the hangover is gone this time around but even if the cobwebs are gone, the Seahawks will soar over the desert.
DENVER (-9.5) over Oakland - Jay Cutler undermined a productive offense for too much of last week's win in Buffalo for the Broncos to put points on the scoreboard. And then he led a humdinger of a final drive to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Look for the Broncs to hit on all cylinders as they face a team that Mike Shanahan loves to beat.
CHICAGO (-12) over Kansas City - You won't be seeing Kansas City on the other side of that intro until the lines start pushing 20 points.
NEW ENGLAND (-4) over San Diego - With or without extra help from the good people at Panasonic, the Patriots are the better team.
Washington (+7) over PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles will be frothing mad about letting a winnable game slip through their fingers in Green Bay but that could cause more trouble against the Redskins. Washington will get after Donovan McNabb and try to force him into mistakes, something that could pay off if the QB tries to win back the hearts of a city that's this close to booting him off a cliff. Both of these teams played games that were decided by a game-winning field goal in Week One, don't be surprised if the same thing happens this time around.
(AP Photo/Al Behrman)