Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, August 16, 2014 at 12:00 AM
LET’S DIG INTO NFL PRESEASON WEEK 2 PLAY AS
BRONCOS-49ERS & CHIEFS-PANTHERS TAKE CENTER STAGE SUNDAY…
THE COLLEGE GRIDIRON REPORT:
YOUR PAC-12 “SURPRISE TEAM” THIS YEAR PLUS THE LEAGUE’S 2013 POINTSPREAD STANDINGS
You know the deal—NFL Preseason games mean a little more time on the field for the “1’s” and we’ve even noticed where a batch of teams have played some starters for a half-or-more while getting closer and closer to next week’s so-called “dress rehearsal” games.
Hey, maybe it really just dawned on us the other night when ESPN play-by-play voice Mike Tirico—during the course of Chicago’s come-from-behind 20-19 non-cover win against 3-point underdog Jacksonville—reminded us the NFL Regular Season kicks off in less than three weeks.
So, there’s really no time to fool around in these summertime preseason games that may be looked upon with disdain by season ticket-holders (and the TV networks themselves) but there’s a purpose here and the reality is most NFL head coaches want their teams to be playing four preseason games so they can work out all the kinks and then decide on who sticks on a 53-man roster.
Let’s get you our quick-hitter previews:
Here’s some of what’s ahead on this NFL Preseason Week 2 Saturday menu…
GREEN BAY (0-1) at ST. LOUIS (0-1)—4 p.m. ET, NFL Network
The Packers are looking for any sort of nugget when it comes to their secondary—remember last year Green Bay intercepted only 11 passes for the entire 2013 season—but a pair of picks in Wednesday’s intra-squad scrimmage had under-siege defensive coordinator Dom Capers feeling good and so let’s see if it translates here against a Rams bunch that finished a dismal 27th in the NFL in passing last year (averaged 195.3 yards per game) but played much of the season without franchise QB Sam Bradford.
When Green Bay airs it out here, meanwhile, we’ll be paying attention to St. Loo cornerbacks Brandon McGee and Greg Reid, who are trying to earn their stripes for Rams boss Jeff Fisher. These two Rams defenders have been very active in camp this week and St. Loo is looking to add depth to a D-backfield that didn’t always fare well against pass-first teams last year as Dallas scored 31 points on ‘em and Arizona posted a 30-point game on ‘em.
NEW YORK GIANTS (2-0) at INDIANAPOLIS (0-1)—7 p.m. ET
Tom Coughlin’s Giants are two games and some 20-plus practices into their 2014 summer and it’s full speed ahead for RB Rashad Jennings, who rushed 73 yards for a first-half touchdown in last Saturday’s 20-16 win against 3-point underdog Pittsburgh.
Now, Jennings—a free-agent signee from Oakland—goes against an Indianapolis rush defense that last year ranked a dismal 26th in the NFL and don’t forget the Colts also allowed a grand total of 384 ground yards in their playoff games against Kansas City (a 45-44 win against Kansas City) and New England (a 43-22 loss).
Two new Colts—D-lineman Arthur Jones and LB D’Qwell Jackson—hope to show that Indy’s improved in the rush defense department here plus the AFC South squad claims this defense is deeper than recent units… we’ll see about that, right?
BALTIMORE (1-0) at DALLAS (0-1)—7 p.m. ET
Let’s cut right to football here and ignore any/all of those dopey Jerry Jones photos that have dominated the Cowboys’ news cycle this past week… this old man simply doesn’t know when to “get off the stage”!
The Cowboys were encouraged on a few fronts by their practices with the Oakland Raiders this week as Dallas RB DeMarco Murray revved it up and got into early-season form and LB Justin Durant proved to be the team’s most active defender against the silver-and-black with a pair of pass breakups and some nifty run stops too.
On the flip side, the Ravens have loved what they’ve seen from rookie DT Timmy Jernigan (Florida State), who was disruptive in all those never-ending practices with the San Francisco 49ers the past several days. Right now the plan is to have Jernigan back up DT Haloti Ngata, but some folks inside the Ravens’ headquarters are starting to believe that Jernigan might well have to get on the field more. Let’s check his snaps/minutes here, okay?
BUFFALO (1-1) at PITTSBURGH (0-1)—7:30 p.m. ET
The Bills and Steelers have been scrimmaging against one another for the better part of this past week in Latrobe and things have really ratcheted up in terms of physical play—let’s see if there is a carryover here in this Saturday night game at Heinz Field.
No doubt one major part of this week’s practices has included the Buffalo pass/catch combo of second-year QB EJ Manuel and rookie WR Sammy Watkins (Clemson) and the two did get in a real working rhythm after Watkins first dropped a ball in which he appeared to timidly pull up on a pass with an oncoming Steelers defender in his air space. C’mon rook!
Pittsburgh— which ranked 25th in the league in sacks (34) last year—figures to throw some different looks at Manuel and the other Bills’ QB here and so let’s see if Buffalo turns to the screen game to make some big-yardage plays.
Note that both FB Will Johnson and S Will Allen exited a mid-week practice against the Bills with hamstring injuries though Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin claimed neither injury was “severe”.
ATLANTA (1-0) at HOUSTON (0-1)—8 p.m. ET
One week after the Texans were smoked 32-0 in the Arizona desert, it appears first-year head coach Bill O’Brien is making it clear that positions are still open to be won.
One such position is along the offensive line where rookie G Xavier Su’a-Filo (UCLA) snagged a bunch of first-team reps in a mid-week practice. The Texans have a Pro Bowl LT in Duane Brown, but the remainder of this blocking wall is spotty and it’s hoped Su’a-Filo can be a long-time fixture and here look for his battles against Atlanta’s interior defensive linemen to be “contentious” as the Falcons have been more than a little feisty in training camp… haven’t you been watching “Hard Knocks”?
The Falcs really liked what rookie RB Devonta Freeman (Florida State) game ‘em in last Friday’s 16-10 win against Miami. Freeman ran the ball 10 times for 50 yards, and caught a wheel-route pass worth 57 yards and you could see in the “Hard Knocks” episode this past week that Atlanta head coach Mike Smith really wants to get the ball in Freeman’s hands as much as humanly possible.
ARIZONA (1-0) at MINNESOTA (1-0)—8:30 P.M.
Both of these clubs copped home wins in Preseason Week 1 action, but was anyone better in last week’s exhibition games than the Redbirds?
In all, the Arizona Cardinals sported a 27-to-9 “edge” in first downs in their 32-0 win against Houston and did you check the boxscore and see that the NFC West team threw for 326 yards while averaging a haughty 8.8 yards per pass attempt?
It sure helped that backup rookie QB Logan Thomas (Virginia Tech) was super-sharp while completing 11-of-12 passes for 113 yards, and that included a 12-yard scoring toss to WR Dan Buckner.
On the flip side, all eyes again will be Minnesota rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville), who has a miniscule shot to be the No. 1 signal-caller when the season starts in early September—it’s Matt Cassel’s job to lose and don’t expect ‘em to lose it!—as the former ‘Ville slinger ran hot-and-cold in last week’s 10-6 win/cover versus 3-point underdog Oakland. Bridgewater completed 6-of-13 passes for 49 yards against the Raiders, but he either held the ball too long (see the two sacks) or didn’t fit it in the “window”—obvious examples of why he needs to sit to start the year but here’s hoping he gets a quarter-or-more of game action here.
On Sunday, it’s…
DENVER (1-0) at SAN FRANCISCO (0-1)—4 p.m. ET
They’ll christen the new joint in Santa Clara here (the site of Super Bowl 50, by the way) with this matinee preseason game and let’s just say Jim Harbaugh’s club is glad to be back home after that extended stay on the East Coast (that’s one Preseason game and six practices with the Baltimore Ravens, in case you had lost count!).
The 49ers were out-yarded 386-to-187 in that 23-3 loss last Thursday night but if there’s anything that Harbaugh and Company would like to fix here it’s penalties as the Niners were flagged nine times for 72 yards and they very much appeared to be like so many other NFL teams and that’s slow to react to all the new “don’t touch” rules changes.
The Broncos —who out-slogged Seattle 21-16 in a penalty-filled game last Thursday in Denver—need to know who’s gonna get the lion’s share of the carries these days with RB Montee Ball still down after his recent appendectomy.
And all signs point to RB Ronnie Hillman who last year rushed for 218 yards and a 4.0 yards-per-carry average. Note that running back C.J. Anderson—who suffered a concussion in last week’s win—also is expected to get some rushes here and ditto for rookie Juwan Thompson.
KANSAS CITY (1-0) at CAROLINA (0-1)—8 p.m. ET, Fox
If you had the KC Chiefs to score the most points in a Preseason Week 1 game, you’re a winner!
Andy Reid’s crew snagged a 41-39 win/push against 2-point road dog Cincinnati last Thursday night but missing from that game—and missing here against the Panthers—is S Eric Berry, who is suffering from tendinitis in his heel.
Meanwhile, Reid is hoping WR Dwayne Bowe (finger) can latch onto a few passes here after the veteran wide-out has dropped a bunch of aerials this summer. It seems Bowe has gotten the injured finger out of joint about “15 times” according to the head coach.
On the flip side, Carolina didn’t play QB Cam Newton a week ago in that 20-18 home loss against 1-point underdog Buffalo. Newton had off-season ankle surgery but Panthers’ head coach Ron Rivera said his star signal-caller should get some snaps here but we don’t anticipate him going more than one offensive series.
Meanwhile, the Carolina ground game might be the bigger concern for Rivera and Company as last week the NFC South crew rushed the ball 24 times for just 69 yards (a 2.9 yards-per-carry average). There’s some concern that this offensive line may take time to jell—another three-yards-or-less carry average here could have Carolina fretting as it heads towards the Week One game at Tampa Bay.
And now hear this…
This year’s NFL Preseason is in full flight now as we’re right smack in the middle of the Week 2 games and remember there’s still another two-plus weeks of money-making NFL Preseason Games straight ahead.
It rolls on with Eight (8) more games on this Saturday card including Green Bay at St. Louis (on the NFL Network), Baltimore at Dallas, Atlanta at Houston and Arizona at Minnesota plus there’s another Two (2) games Sunday including the above-previewed prime-time Fox telecast between Kansas City at Carolina.
Then NFL Preseason Week 2 finally wraps up with that game between Johnny Manziel’s Cleveland Browns at the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football on ESPN.
Plus the College Football campaign swings into high gear later in the month with a full weekend card scheduled for Thursday, August 28th through Monday, September 1st.
You definitely want to be in the winner’s circle for all the big opening-week games with the college games as Texas A&M battles South Carolina on Thursday, Aug. 28, it’s BYU at UConn among other key tilts on Friday, Aug. 29th and a jam-packed Labor Day weekend card features Clemson-Georgia on Saturday, Aug. 30th and Miami at Louisville on Monday, Sept. 1.
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The NFL Preseason, the start of the College Football campaign and then Baseball action too—it’s always a major money-making time of the year for the Jim Hurley Network so why not join in on all the fun-and-profits right now!
THE COLLEGE GRIDIRON REPORT—THE PAC-12
Here’s something that may surprise you:
The high-octane, score-happy Pac-12 may just be more wide open at the top of the North and South Divisions than you’ve been led to believe by the so-called “experts”.
Sure, most folks believe the North will come down to Oregon or Stanford—keep in mind they play one another Nov. 1st in Eugene and it’s revenge for the Ducks after last year’s 26-20 loss as 10-point road betting favorites.
The South is expected to be won by UCLA—a 10-to-1 betting favorite to win it all in college football-land this year—but cross-town rival USC might have something to say about that in Year One of the Steve Sarkisian Era.
Folks, if there is one team that could navigate its way to the Pac-12 Championship Game and then win it then look at…
WASHINGTON— The Chris Peterson Era is in full swing in Seattle and the former Boise State sideline boss has plenty to smile about with two experienced lines while RB Shaq Thompson figures to be a star sooner rather than later.
The whole key to Washington—a 75-to-1 choice to win it all this year in college football -- is what quarterback will emerge to fill in the shoes of long-time starter Keith Price but keep in mind Petersen often retooled on the fly in his years at Boise State and wound up going a splendid 92-13 SU (straight-up) overall for a sizzling .876 winning rate.
Look for Cyler Miles to be Petersen’s pick as starting quarterback and don’t be surprised if the Huskies are 4-0 SU while heading into that late September home game against Stanford—a game that could springboard the Dawgs to bigger/better things when everyone pretty much has penciled in Washington to be a third-place finisher in the Pac-12 North.
In fact, check out this Washington schedule and we believe all of its road games are “winnable” except for perhaps that Oct. 18th tilt at Oregon.
You have been warned!
PAC-12 SPREAD STANDINGS (2013)
Folks, let’s take a step back and see what the Pac-12 teams did last year spreadwise with overall and conference pointspread marks listed below…
Pac-12 Pointspread Notes…
Amazing that two teams that didn’t win their divisions were the runaway best spread sides in the Pac-12 as UCLA and Washington State both snared impressive 9-4 ATS (against the spread) marks and take note the Bruins and Cougars did not play one another in 2013.
Meanwhile, you’ll note that only one Pac-12 team—dreary California—played sub-.500 ball versus the vig overall last year as 11 of the league’s 12 member teams played at least .500 against the odds and that’s pretty heady stuff.
NOTE: Catch the Browns-Redskins MNF Preview plus lots more in the next edition of Jim Sez as we close out NFL Preseason Week 2.