i took a bye week after going 0 for 5 on my first batch of picks (1-4 against the spread, for the record). i needed some time to take inventory of what i got wrong and how i might go about not sucking so much. i then smoked some weed and ordered chinese food, which has no direct relevance to the nfl but was still a pretty good idea. this week… will be different!
the last time the patriots were under .500 i was worried about finding a date to prom, and justin beiber was, like, 7 years old. watching them drop two of their first three has been such a joy, it's a little difficult to describe. there are two big reasons for their record right now: 1) bill bellijerk is transitioning to a more run-oriented offense, as the entire afc has built their defenses around stopping the patriots' spread passing attack, and while stevan ridley is a very very good runner who'll probably finish with over 1,200 yards, the new strategy is taking some time to settle in. 2) aaron hernandez is the most overlooked player in the nfl, and with him on the sidelines it becomes much easier to key in on brady's favorite targets (gronkowski and welker). the number of roles hernandez can play is really astounding: he's a tight end with wide receiver speed and running back agility, who can even pass protect and block well in the running game. gronkowski may be the best tight end in football, but hernandez is the best all-around player on the team outside of brady. he has been missed. buffalo, meanwhile, has been a little confusing this year. after being shellacked and embarrassed by the jets, they've put together two fairly impressive wins against two fairly unimpressive teams. most of that success is owed to c.j. spiller, who won't be playing this week (fred jackson is also quite good, but is listed as questionable for sunday, coming off a knee injury from week 1), so buffalo is probably going to live or die with ryan fitzpatrick going against a still spotty new england secondary. all this adds up to the patriots being favored by four points, which is a reasonable line, but i think it's one the patriots will beat handily. the bills are a meager 2-11 within the afc east since the start of 2010, and while one of those victories was an early season win against the patriots last year, i would be very very surprised if new england came out flat against an opponent that's pretty clearly inferior and let themselves drop to 1-3. patriots by at least 10.
the falcons are seven point favorites over the panthers, who've looked downright miserable so far this year. the play calling in carolina has many scratching their heads and wondering why you'd go back to a college style read option offense when cam newton set a record for passing as an nfl rookie last year. add to that d'angelo williams' poor production so far and a defense that can't stop anything (even giving up a ton of points to new orleans in their one win), and you have what looks like a recipe for one of the worst teams in the league. if cam newton is allowed to run a legitimate offense and if the run blocking improves, carolina could still turn things around this year. unfortunately for them, the falcons appear at this point to be in the very top tier of the nfc, with an absolutely brutal offense that has been efficient and in sync for the entire season. atlanta won't lose more than four games this year. carolina needs to see this one as an opportunity to improve on both sides of the ball, but i don't see the final score being a close one. take the falcons and the seven points.
tampa bay is favored over washington, but robert griffin III will rebound after two sub-par weeks and demolish a terrible bucs defense. the biggest story out of tampa so far this season is that they go hard after the opposing quarterback when he's kneeling to run out the clock. basically, if your team has left its mark with an unusual manner of losing, things aren't going so well. redskins ftw.
the uticas sleeper in the entire nfl this year is the jacksonville jaguars, who are 1-2, but would have prevailed in week 1 had it not been for a last-second 60 yard field goal from minnesota. (their other loss was to the very stout texans.) blaine gabbert is widely considered one of the worst quarterbacks in the league, but i think he's severely underrated, and has shown this year that he can throw the ball with zip and drop it right where it needs to be. his pocket presence and decision-making have also improved, and he always has the option of handing the ball off to jones-drew, who might be the best running back in the league right now. the bengals, meanwhile, have a roster full of guys who would struggle to get off the practice squads of nearly any other team. yes, a.j. green and andy dalton are a very good connection, and yes, they do have a fairly solid run defense. but i think jacksonville is going to compete for a wild card spot this year, and they'll take this game behind the efficiency of their offense.