Each week, I'll run down my picks for a few of the NFL's most interesting match-ups, while throwing in some odds and ends on players to highlight in fantasy football and DFS. I'll also picks winners for the local college teams--Mizzou and Illinois--and occasionally some contests of national interest on the NCAA slate.
Last week: 2-1-1 in NFL, 2-0 in college
Season: 2-1-1 in NFL (1-0 on upsets), 2-0 in college
Let's dive head first into this week's picks...
GAME OF THE WEEK: Patriots @ Jaguars
Tom Brady against Blake Bortles: It just doesn’t get any better than this.
All right, so that’s not necessarily the main appeal of this match-up, but Pats-Jags is compelling for another reason: Jacksonville’s defense vs. Tom Brady.
Five Jaguars defenders were named to an All-Pro team in 2017. They’re all back this season. The Jacksonville D played a key role in the Jaguars’ Week 1 win over the Giants, and now they’ll get their first crack at New England since a 24-20 loss in January’s AFC Championship.
This game is currently a pick ‘em in Vegas, which makes sense as it’s easily the most intriguing game of Week 2. On the offensive side of the ball for the Jags, it appears RB Leonard Fournette is shaping up as a true game-time decision. If he doesn’t play, I don’t see the Jaguars keeping pace--he’ll be important in the battle for time of possession. Even if Fournette suits up, it’ll be important for Bortles to thrive in the short to intermediate passing game; wideouts Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook will have to play steady.
New England’s backfield could be missing some key pieces, too, with Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel listed as questionable on top of Jerremy Hill’s Week 1 ACL injury.
With the Pats at less than full strength and Jacksonville’s home field advantage, now might be the time for the Jags to turn the tides in the AFC hierarchy. But I worry Fournette’s status could throw a wrench in that timing--after all, you’ve got to be nearly perfect to take down Touchdown Tom.
The Pick: Patriots 23, Jaguars 19
Fantasy implications: Chris Hogan finds a better rhythm with Brady this week, while James White makes good on a bunch of chances out of the backfield. If you’re wondering about TJ Yeldon in the wake of lingering Fournette concern, I do see Yeldon as a startable FLEX in PPR leagues. Obviously his value increases (probably to RB2 levels) if Fournette sits, but he should get enough touches to have a decent fantasy floor, regardless.
The Game: Texans @ Titans
Titans QB Marcus Mariota is nursing an elbow injury and will reportedly split snaps with backup Blaine Gabbert this week. The Texans have some playmakers on defense (JJ Watt is healthy again), so Houston should have the chance to terrorize whichever quarterback Tennessee puts under center. That’s especially true considering Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan will miss Sunday with a concussion.
Both squads are 0-1, but the Texans should have a better shot at a playoff berth out of the AFC South, particularly behind a full healthy year from Deshaun Watson. Tennessee gets a home-field boost in the spread, but the Titans still stand as 3-point underdogs. Houston is the better team, and they show it Sunday in this divisional road tilt.
The Pick: Texans 24, Titans 16
Fantasy implications: I still like Dion Lewis, but any other Titan scares me based on this QB situation. Corey Davis probably gets enough targets to keep a respectable floor, but I’m not expecting any Tennessee pass-catcher to go nuts this week. For Houston, if Will Fuller plays (he’s listed as questionable), I think he takes the lid off the Titans defense at least once. Heavy volume and a TD this week for DeAndre Hopkins (again, if he plays). Even on the road, fire up Texans D/ST in Draftkings ($2,600). I certainly did.
The Game: Colts @ Redskins
Washington enjoyed one of the more impressive performances on the whole Week 1 slate as the Redskins dominated the Arizona Cardinals to secure a W. They’ll get a stauncher test in Week 2 as they host the resurgent Andrew Luck--that’s an upgrade in opposition from Arizona’s Sam Bradford, to be sure. Still, Washington has plenty of reason for confidence as their veteran gunslinger Alex Smith figures to build on a solid start to his season against a malleable Colts secondary.
Indy surrendered a 75% completion rate to Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton last week while also conceding 5.6 yard/carry to Joe Mixon on the ground. To be frank, no element of the Colts defense was adequate in Week 1 in a 34-23 loss. Alex Smith should be primed for a big day Sunday; Chris Thompson will be a frequent target out of the backfield, while Jordan Reed should use his big, and currently healthy, frame to find pay dirt downfield.
The ‘Skins are favored by 5.5, and they shouldn't have much trouble laying those points at home.
The Pick: Redskins 31, Colts 20
Fantasy implications: Alex Smith is going to be a Top 8 QB play this week; I predict he’ll throw for a pair of scores and rush for a third. In PPR, I like Chris Thompson a lot once again, as Smith prefers precision in the short-passing game to risks downfield. Also, I like Ryan Grant as a desperation FLEX if your bench is full of injured WRs like mine is; he’ll get looks from Luck.
UPSET PICK: Chiefs at Steelers
If you like scoring, hunker down for this one Sunday afternoon. Vegas pegs this contest as the highest scoring NFL game of the week, with the over/under set at a whopping 53.5. The reasoning behind that number is equal parts potent offenses and porous defenses--on both sides.
As Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce were held in check against the Chargers Week 1, Tyreek Hill exploded for 169 receiving yards, two touchdown receptions and a punt return TD, to boot. His skill set paired with Patrick Mahomes’ proclivity for the home run ball is a match made in heaven. Meanwhile, the Chiefs allowed 541 yards of total offense last week.
Now that I’ve talked you into considering the over, let’s pick a winner. The Chiefs are 4.5-point underdogs in Pittsburgh, where they haven’t won since 1986. That said, their offense did whatever it wanted in a road environment last week, while Ben Roethlisberger looked pretty fallible against Cleveland, throwing three interceptions. Though I do see a bounce back week for Big Ben, I’m high on the Chiefs for the season--I picked them to go 11-5 and win the AFC West prior to Week 1.
So I’m going with the upset, with the Chiefs to win this week, straight up. Should it happen, it puts the Steelers in a tough spot early in an AFC North that no longer contains any patsies on the schedule.
The Pick: Chiefs 31, Steelers 30
Fantasy implications: Kareem Hunt finds more running room this week; he also finds the end zone. And I’d be a fool to bet against the Mahomes to Hill connection. For Pittsburgh, Antonio Brown is obviously a stud, but I’m also looking for JuJu Smith-Schuster to really go off, posting at 20 points in PPR leagues. I like Jesse James over Vance McDonald, though you shouldn’t stream either outside deep leagues.
And in the college ranks...
The Game: Mizzou @ Purdue
We all remember what happened last year at Faurot Field. The Tigers had not yet turned the corner in their season--we were still a week away from Barry Odom’s infamous media notes inferno--when Purdue put the beat down on Missouri, 35-3 in CoMo.
The return trip to West Lafayette takes place Saturday, and has the Boilermakers as 6.5-point underdogs. Purdue’s recent loss to MAC-affiliated Eastern Michigan might have something to do with that number. Missouri’s uneventfully solid open to the season and its expectations behind potential Heisman candidate Drew Lock might have the rest to do with it.
Mizzou returns plenty of players that should remember what that home-shellacking vs. Purdue felt like last September. I expect those individuals to play a more inspired brand of football this time around. Mizzou handles its business this week, albeit in its closest decision of the season to date. That it’s the Tigers’ first road test of 2018 might keep Purdue in the mix for a backdoor cover.
The Pick: Mizzou 33, Purdue 27
The Game: South Florida @ Illinois
I want to believe in Lovie Smith. The Illini almost blew a gimme in Week 1 against Kent State. But they didn’t. They handled Western Illinois by 20 points last week. Now they welcome an actually capable team, one with a pretty good offensive attack, into Champaign. Illinois is an 11-point underdog at home.
I think the Orange and Blue get up for this game Saturday afternoon. I think they give the Bulls a real fight. But USF just hung 49 on Georgia Tech. I think South Florida has too much firepower for an Illinois defense with some question marks.
Illinois makes it close, but South Florida pulls away in the end. I hope I’m wrong!
The Pick: USF 34, Illinois 24