What else would you rather do on a Friday morning than watch a poor man swing away at his weekly NFL Picks and Power Rankings? We’ll even throw in some extra purple with Three Reasons for Optimism and Three Reasons to Go `Uh-Oh.
1, 49ers (2-0)
Last week: No. 1.
Comment: Powerful and efficient. With only 11 turnovers in their past 18 regular-season games, the 49ers do what most teams only talk about doing.
2. Texans (2-0)
Last week: No. 6.
Comment: If Wade Phillips had been as good a head coach as he is a defensive coordinator, he’d have won a Super Bowl with that other team in Texas. The Texans lead the league in total defense and pass defense. Let’s hope they do better this week than last week’s No. 2, Dallas, did at Seattle last week.
3. Falcons (2-0)
Last week: No. 12.
Comment: Atlanta zoomed to the top of the league in turnover ratio (plus-7) with a dominating prime-time performance against last week’s No. 3, Denver. This team has all the talent and more to win the NFC. And, yes, that includes the 49ers.
30. Titans (0-2)
Last week: No. 29.
Comment: Chris Johnson says it’s not all his fault that he has only 21 yards on 19 carries. He’s right. Everyone in Tennessee is bad right now.
31. Raiders (0-2)
Last week: No. 30.
Comment: No. 31 running the ball. No. 29 stopping the run. Manhandled by last week’s No. 32, Miami? It’s not a pretty start in Oakland.
32. Chiefs (0-2)
Last week: No. 28.
Comment: The league’s two most disappointing teams – Kansas City and New Orleans – meet in New Orleans on Sunday. That Romeo Crennel NFL Coach of the Year prediction has taken some hits with back-to-back losses of 16 and 18 points.
6. Packers (1-1)
Last week: No. 7.
Comment: Can the defense create pressure against someone other than a Bears team that makes no adjustments when its QB is getting clobbered?
15. Lions (1-1)
Last week: No. 14.
Comment: Are the Lions ready to take the next step when they did exactly as everyone expected and got dominated at San Francisco?
21. Bears (1-1)
Last week: No. 16.
Comment: Ten days between games will tell a lot about whether new offensive coordinator Mike Tice can make the necessary adjustments to keep this offensive from imploding any further. It helps that Chicago is at home against a Rams team ranked 30th in sacks per pass play.
26. Vikings (1-1)
Last week: No. 20.
Comment: Being unable to beat a Colts team with four backups on the offensive line is a blow to a team that needs wins against beatable teams. But one can’t assume road victories for teams at the beginning of a youth movement.
4. Cardinals (2-0); 5. Chargers (2-0); 7. Seahawks (1-1); 8. Eagles (2-0); 9. Cowboys (1-1); 10. Giants (2-1); 11. Ravens (1-1); 12. Broncos (1-1); 13. Patriots (1-1); 14. Steelers (1-1); 16. Rams (1-1); 17. Redskins (1-1); 18. Buccaneers (1-1); 19. Bengals (1-1); 20. Jets (1-1); 22. Bills (1-1); 23. Panthers (1-2); 24. Saints (0-2); 25. Colts (1-1); 27. Dolphins (1-1); 28. Jaguars (0-2); 29. Browns (0-2)
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
1, Ponder’s 2 for 2: Once again, the No. 1 priority this season isn’t the playoffs. It’s 16 opportunities to see whether Christian Ponder is the answer at quarterback for the next decade or so. Through two games, he’s 2 for 2. Yes, he’s started slow in both games. But he’s making the Vikings tough to beat by how he’s finishing games. The ridiculous comeback win in Week 1 was followed by a 14-point rally in the final five minutes on the road against the Colts. The Vikings didn’t win and Ponder wasn’t perfect. But he performed well enough in the clutch to win the game or at least take it to overtime.
2, Simpson’s return is a week away: It’s actually a good thing that Ponder isn’t forcing the ball downfield. Why? Because NO ONE IS OPEN. At least not consistently open. This is the beauty of second guessing. If Ponder doesn’t force the ball down the field, we say he needs to take chances. If Ponder does force the ball down the field and gets picked off three times, we say he should be more careful with the ball. Right now, through two games, people should be happy that he’s taking care of the ball for the most part (two sure INTs have been dropped) and leads the league in completion percentage (75.8). Next week is when the deep ball could return on a more consistent basis. That’s when Jerome Simpson returns from his suspension. He was brought in for the sole purpose of stretching the field. Let’s wait to judge the deep passing game until he’s actually on the field.
3, Run defense (so far): One of the biggest concerns coming into the season was the run defense and how the new faces at nose tackle (Letroy Guion) and middle linebacker (Jasper Brinkley) would hold up. Through two games, the Vikings rank seventh in average yards per rush (3.1). I know, I know. Stopping the Jags with a rusty Maurice Jones-Drew and the Colts is a lot easier than stopping Frank Gore and the 49ers’ offensive line.
THREE REASONS TO GO `UH-OH’
1, Pass defense: Injuries and Chris Cook’s legal woes were the viable excuses for last year’s monumental collapse of the Vikings’ secondary. This year, there are no excuses. Antoine Winfield and Cook are back. Significant upgrades were made with Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson via the draft. Yet the Vikings still have no interceptions and played horrendous pass defense at the end of each half against the Colts. One led to a 30-yard touchdown pass before halftime while the other led to a game-winning 53-yard field goal. The playmakers are supposedly in place. Time to make a play, fellas.
2, Penalties, penalties, penalties: Bad teams make a lot of penalties and then spend the next six days talking about how they need to fix it. Then they usually start all over again by making a lot more penalties the following week. It’s a brutal cycle for the players and for anyone who’s heard it a million times before. The Vikings had 11 penalties on Sunday and have spent the next five days talking about it. How will they react this Sunday when it really matters?
3, Linebacker depth: Erin Henderson’s concussion reminds us just how thin the Vikings are beyond their starting linebackers. Henderson isn’t Lawrence Taylor in his prime, but he’s a valuable starter and the team’s middle-linebacker in the nickel. If he can’t play, Marvin Mitchell, a free-agent signing this past offseason, would have to start at weak-side linebacker and Jasper Brinkley would have to stay on the field in nickel situations. Mitchell is a six-year pro who has started all of two games.
49ers 24, Vikings 21: The 49ers are too strong and efficient for the Vikings, but take the seven points because the Vikings are at home and they’ve been told all week that they have absolutely no shot.
STL plus-7 ½ at CHI: Bears by 10.
TB plus-7 ½ at DAL: Cowboys by 3.
CIN plus-3 at WAS: Redskins by 7.
NYJ minus-2 ½ at MIA: Dolphins by 7.
KC plus-9 at NO: Saints by 7.
BUF minus-3 at CLE: Browns by 7.
JAC plus-3 at IND: Colts by 10.
PHI minus-3 ½ at ARI: Cardinals by 7.
ATL plus-3 at SD: Chargers by 6.
HOU minus-2 at DEN: Texans by 10.
PIT minus-4 at OAK: Steelers by 3.
NE plus-3 at BAL: Ravens by 7.
Record: 8-6. Vs. Spread: 4-6-2.
DET minus-3 ½ at TEN:
Titans 24, Lions 21
Comment: Just not ready to take the Lions and give points on the road.
Last week: WAS minus-3 at STL. Prediction: Rams 24, Redskins 21. Actual: Rams 31, Redskins 28.
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