2021 NFL Week Two Projections and Analysis: Part Two

2021 NFL Week Two Projections and Analysis- Part Two

New England Patriots v New York Jets (6, 43)

In the “way-too-early” to brag category, I will remind you that the model had this to say about Mac Jones in its OROY article published on BLS:

“If Mac Jones gets enough starts, this number is too good to pass. Jones may not be the next Brady. But he hardly needs to be to win OROY. +1200 is a solid value.”

If the OROY is a 17 round quarterback duel, round one goes to Mac Jones. The better news for Patriot fans, and those holding Jones OROY tickets, is there is no reason to believe he cannot continue at this level of play. If he sweeps the season series against Wilson and the Jets, his competition is down to Lawrence. (Though do not rule out Fields yet, he will have something to say in this race). 

Jones has a massive advantage over Lawrence, which has nothing to do with inherent skill. The patriots are significantly better than the Jaguars. 

If it is close, and Jones is in the playoffs, Jones wins. 

The Jets’ offensive line struggled against Carolina last week. But Wilson hung in the game and made a few plays. Jets fans have every reason to be happy with Wilson’s performance. That said, Wilson is going to be under siege this week. The Patriots should take advantage by jumping to an early lead and keeping it wire to wire. 

Six points is a significant number to lay on a rookie on the road. If you ever wanted to be on the same side with the book, here is your chance, take the Jets. The money is absurdly lopsided on this game, and all of it is on the Patriots. I want a piece of this game badly, but the price of entry is too high. 

The model has no side in this game.

Cincinnati Bengals v Chicago Bears (-2, 45)

I am running out of things to say about the Bears and Nagy. Nagy’s game plan last week was pathetic. It made no sense. Now the Bears have their home opener. My heart goes out to Bear fans. My heart goes out to NFL fans. This franchise is in disarray. 

This Sunday at noon, 61,500 fans will pay the highest ticket prices in the NFL to pack the league’s oldest stadium – the rarified Soldier Field. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on this field. It hosted the World Cup and the first Special Olympics. It hosted heavyweight championship fights, and Sweetness called it home. Jerry Garcia played his final concert here. Soldier Field is hallowed ground. 
These fans will fill this stadium eight times a year, at least. They will sit in the freezing cold and the blowing wind. They are a loyal group. Collectively they long, not for lifetimes, but through generations, for a glimpse of the rarest thing in sports – a legitimate franchise quarterback to call their own. It has been 101 years in the making, but there will be a franchise quarterback on the field this Sunday. He will be wearing orange and blue. These fans might get a glimpse, a taste, a series or two of the man they are dying to embrace, but that is all. 
Having finally acquired a franchise quarterback, Coach Nagy, soon to be former Coach Nagy, is perpetuating the cruelest injustice to the city of broad shoulders. Nagy is making Chicago watch Andy Dalton play. 
The Windy City Blows. 

This line opened at Cincinnati +3 and moved to +2. A big move off the key number. 

Cincinnati looked much better last week against a Viking team that many math nerds, myself included, expected to have a productive season. It is difficult to gauge the quality of Cincinnati’s performance because the Vikings looked disinterested. That is unusual for a Mike Zimmer-coached team. Taylor outcoached Zimmer. Still, the Vikings almost won the game. That is not a good sign for Cincinnati. 

The game plan the Bears used on Sunday night Football should result in any Nagy-coached team being banned from primetime games for five years. It was that awful. They did not even try to win the game. They did not exploit a single advantage. They played directly into the Rams’ strength. The Bears might as well have just sent one person to Sofi, dropped a white towel on the field, and saved us all the trouble. 

Cincinnati has the better quarterback. And, unbelievably, the better coach. The Bengals plus three was tempting, but the model is not interested in this game. 

The model has no side in this game. 

Minnesota Vikings v Arizona Cardinals (-4.5, 51)

Last week for Arizona, it was the Kyle Murray show on offense. He made six throws that can only be described as crazy-good. On defense, it was the Chandler Jones show. Jones, for a day, settled the debate about whether defenses should put more money into the secondary or the edge rushers. Just keep in mind with Arizona that Jones covered up for what is a very weak secondary on Arizona. 

Also, they played the Titans. Forget the names you know on that team. Arthur and Jonnu Smith left. They brought in Jones and completely changed their offense. They ran the lowest amount of play-action of any team last week after running it at a rate inside the top five last season. This is a different team and one that is going to regress this season. The model believes that both Tannehill and Henry will have down seasons. 

Minnesota is facing a dilemma. Zimmer is one of the best tacticians in the game. He has not been a great judge of talent. Cousins is consistent but uninspiring. It is reasonable to give them the benefit of the doubt a little. To chalk off last week’s debacle to a bad day at the office. And, despite how awful they were, they almost won on the road in the NFL.    

Do not be surprised to see Zimmer’s defense respond. Cousins play well, and the Vikings play the Cardinals tough. 

The model is not taking a side in this game. 

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-13, 52.5)

This game is completely off the board for the model. One thing to watch for will be Arthur Smith’s decision-making and red zone play calling. Even though Atlanta got routed last week, they were in scoring position and dominating the game early. The red-zone offense was tragic for the Falcons, which should be one of Smith’s strong suits. Especially with Pitts, who appeared to be nervous last week. 

Of all the incredible performances from which we could over or under-react last week, it feels like the Falcons may be as bad as they looked. This was a foreseeable, although improbable, floor. The model knows the PAckers are better than they performed, and the Saints are not as good. The model knows the Eagles are not as good, though they may be decent, as they showed. The Falcons might be this bad.  

The model predicted a solid second-place finish for the Falcons in the South. That certainly seems less likely now. Still, the model is not sold on the Panthers, and Winston could implode. I am not jumping ship yet, but Arthur Smith and Matt Ryan need to do better. They have too much talent on offense to be kicking short field goals.

If Atlanta plays the Buccaneers tough, pursues aggressive play-calling on fourth downs, and converts in the red zone, this season is not lost. If they come out completely unprepared, Smith plays it conservative, and the Falcons are routed again, then it may as well be curtains for the Falcons. 

The model is off of this game. 

Tennessee Titans v Seattle Seahawks (-5, 54.5)

In the preseason, the model picked Stafford and Wilson as the MVP candidates with the best value. After week one, the two quarterbacks are indeed sitting first and second in the MVP race. The marriage of Wilson’s skills and Waldron’s ingenious offensive scheme was on full display last week against the Colts. The model expects more of the same this weekend. As the model’s preseason predictions made clear, the top two teams in the AFC South are fade-worthy early. 

Unlike their division rival Colts, the model thinks Tennessee has explosive talent. The unknown is simply what they are trying to do on offense now that Arthur Smith is gone and Julio Jones is in town. It appears they are going to be an 11 personnel base that attempts to stretch the field vertically. That is not the offense that allowed Tannehill to excel. It was Tannehill’s success that enabled Henry. 

The unknowns with Tenneessee prevented the model from fading them last week to our detriment. It is preventing us from fading them this week as well. 

The model has no position in this game.  

Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Chargers (-3, 55)

Dallas is without underrated wide-receiver Michael Gallup. You may not be familiar with Gallup, but he is an elite receiver. Dallas is stacked at the position with Cooper and Lamb, as well as the depth behind Gallup. They should be fine. They will also be without right tackle Collins. This is a far greater concern, although mitigated to some extent by the return of Zack Martin at guard.

Here is the Cowboys’ injury list:

This game will come down to whether the Chargers are willing to take shots down the field. Dan Quinn is going to be in a single-high look most of the game. The Cowboys’ entire defense is young, inexperienced, and suspect. This is especially true of its secondary. 

Last week the Cowboys gave Prescott the freedom to check out of running plays when he faced a heavy box. He checked out of 12 runs. No doubt that is what kept them in the game with the Buccaneers.

The model sees no edge on this line or total. 

Kansas City Chiefs v Baltimore Ravens (3.5, 54.5)

This is going to sound like a massive overreaction. This is a must-win game for Baltimore. Okay, it is an overreaction, but not by much. Allow me to make my argument.

Baltimore’s offensive line got smoked on Monday night by a Raider’s defensive line that is not elite. Not taking anything away from the Raiders, but two members on the defensive line had career games on Monday night. The point is not that those players are suddenly All-Pros after eight years in the league. They played very well, to be sure. It is also true that Baltimore’s offensive line played terribly. That is going to be a massive problem against the Steelers and the Browns. 

On defense, the outlook may be worse for Baltimore unless they suddenly change their philosophical approach. If you listened to Peyton and Eli broadcast the Monday Night game, you heard from Ray Lewis. He spoke at length about Baltimore’s adoration for zero defense. 

If you do not know, zero means that there is zero help in coverage. Every receiver is one-on-one. There is no safety help. Everyone else is blitzing. That works when you have elite corners. Baltimore does not, and Carr burned them late in the game. If Baltimore goes zero against Mahomes, it will be curtains early in this one.   

If Baltimore loses this game, they will be 0-2. We will see the countless stats about the frequency with which 0-2 teams make the playoffs. Ignore them. Here is the important point. As I wrote about in my AFC North preview, Baltimore’s schedule is brutal down the stretch. 

Starting week ten, The Ravens will play four of their next five games on the road. In weeks ten and eleven, Baltimore will travel to Miami and Chicago. They return home week twelve for a critical game against Cleveland. Then hit the road, albeit a short trip, to Pittsburgh for week thirteen and Cleveland in week fourteen. Cleveland will have their bye week between the two matchups. Baltimore then returns home to face Green Bay.

After the Green Bay game, the Ravens will close out with Cincinnati, the Rams, and Pittsburgh. In between weeks three through nine, they will be favorites against Detroit, Cincinnati, and Minnesota. They will also face Denver, San Diego, and Indianapolis. If the Ravens do not beat the Chiefs, they will have to go 5-1  through their next six games to have a reasonable shot at the playoffs. 

In light of that, I expect Baltimore to reduce its reliance on zero coverage against the Chiefs significantly. As the Browns showed, you can run on the Chiefs’ defense. I expect a heavy-run-centered game plan from Baltimore. I also expect an excruciatingly slow pace. 

The model is not taking a side in this game. 

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