Cincinnati Bengals -1 & Houston Texans -1I break down Browns vs Bengals here.
I came very close to picking the Texans straight in this game, but it's hard to ever justify a -7 road favorite as having "value". At the same time, sportsbooks often fear popular road favorites because they have no choice but to give them a shorter spread due to home field advantage. The question is, how much of an advantage is this for Jacksonville, ... really? They haven't gotten the best fan support and are often the subject of local blackouts and relocation.
Injuries Part II like the Jaguars this season and I think they are an underrated team to start the year. Having said that, injuries can change that outlook on a week to week basis. It's one thing to be short offensive linemen in the preseason, but it's a whole different ball-game to be limping during the season - especially with a team like the Texans coming to town.
The Jags were already without Will Rackley, and now it looks like they'll be without Eben Britton and Cameron Bradfield, too. Bradfield was very inexperienced and undrafted, which doesn't say a whole lot for his replacement Guy Whimper.
I think it's a safe bet that guys like Antonio Smith, Connor Barwin, Whitney Mercilus, Brooks Reed, JJ Watt, and Brian Cushing are chomping at the bit to rush this depleted O-line and test Gabbert's moxy.
Injuries Part IIThere are two key pieces on defense that also won't be in the game. Daryl Smith is steady outside and provided a good weapon against the run and the pass next to Paul Posluszny. There aren't many proven backups behind the starters at LB.
The other blow is the absence of Derek Cox at cornerback. He's the closest thing they have to a quality corner and he'll be missed when Andre Johnson roaming around.
You can get away with these injuries when you're facing an offensively challenged team like the Vikings, but a contender like Houston will not.
Of less consequence is the injury to Rashad Jennings thanks to MJD's return, but he was a quality fill-in.
The injury list for the Texans is long, but most of them are minor bumps and bruises with no one significant expected to miss any time.
General MismatchesThe rest of the matchup is pretty straight-forward. The Texans will focus on shutting down MJD and forcing Gabbert to beat them in the air. I'm much less inclined to rule their chances out completely due to the addition of Justin Blackmon and improvements by Gabbert, but they are in very tough against a relentless and punishing defense.
Offensively, the Texans should have their way. They are the best team in the league at disguising their run-pass play options and this creates so many favorable situations it's silly at times. People complain a lot about the lack of depth at wide receiver, but given their formations they don't really need standouts at the 3rd and 4th receiving spot. As long as the big guns are healthy, this offense is good to go.
This isn't really "handicapping 201", but when you tease a favorite down to what is essentially a pick em, not as much is needed to justify your edge.
Bottom LineI see the potential here for another blowout and if this was Week 8 I wouldn't have a problem laying 7 on the road. Yet, after last week's disappointment with the Saints and other various surprises around the league, I'll play this one more conservative.
NFL Pick: CIN -1 & HOU -1.
Usually, I stick to traditional two-team 6 point teasers, but if I was going to choose something else from the board it would be a four-team 13 point "super" or "sweetheart" teaser.
Fellow handicapper "CC" was a guest contributor on the blog in the preseason and he puts out one of these each week. He's had great success with this approach and you can follow his weekly picks on Twitter @CCpicks. I've decided to join the fun and add one of my own for Week 2.
Patriots -.5 & Chiefs +16.5 & Texans +6 & Broncos +16
If New England get the lead as expected the brunt of the offense will fall on Kevin Kolb. The kid has potential, but he just can't put it all together and playing behind a suspect O-line certainly doesn't help his cause. Forget about the Patriots offense, if their front seven on defense is improved as much as I think it is, they are going to be downright scary all year.
I've covered the other three games in my other write-ups.
The rest of my Week 2 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.