Heading into Week 2 of the NFL season, there is a certain amount of pressure on some teams.
Overreacting to one week's results is not the wisest way to evaluate football teams, but the challenge of getting to the playoffs becomes much more difficult when teams fall to 0-2, but expected contenders like Green Bay, Pittsburgh and the defending champion New York Giants all face that prospect if they can't get into the winner's circle this week.
All three are favoured, at home, this week, which leans towards them evening their respective records, but the Bears, Jets and Buccaneers all showed something in Week One, enough that these wins can't be assumed. It's not a stretch, then, to believe that at least one of those expected contenders could be preparing to climb out of an unpleasant hole to start the season.
CHICAGO (+5) at GREEN BAY
The Bears bring their new aerial attack to Green Bay to face a Packers secondary that, for all their team success, struggled last season and didn't do anything to shut down San Francisco's Alex Smith in Week One. The Bears have big targets in Brandon Marshall and rookie Alshon Jeffery and QB Jay Cutler threw the ball 35 times in a Week One win against Indianapolis.
The last time Cutler threw more in a win was September 20, 2009, so Chicago does appear to be better prepared to compete with Green Bay's vaunted passing game. The Bears hold a decided advantage on the ground as Matt Forte and Michael Bush are both superior options to Cedric Benson, who was the only running back to get any carries for the Packers in Week One.
Green Bay WR Greg Jennings is listed as doubtful with a groin injury, which doesn't help matters, but the Packers have a deep crop of receivers. Jordy Nelson will remain a valued target and Randall Cobb emerged in Week One as well, getting targeted nine times by QB Aaron Rodgers.
If the Packers are going to continue their fast-break football, Nelson, Cobb, James Jones and TE Jermichael Finley could all play signficant roles. If the Packers' O-line can hold up and protect Rodgers from a Julius Peppers pass rush, the possibility that Bears CB Charles Tillman will be slowed by a shin injury, improves the Packers' chances of putting on an offensive show.
KANSAS CITY (+3) at BUFFALO
Buffalo returns home to lick their wounds after being pasted by the Jets and the Bills have to look to RB C.J. Spiller, who gained 194 yards from scrimmage in Week One, as their offensive focal point, particularly if QB Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn't improve his accuracy.
With WR David Nelson out for the season, WR Donald Jones will get more looks across from Steve Johnson and if Chiefs CB Brandon Flowers is still out with a foot injury, that would help Buffalo's passing game. On the other hand, getting OLB Tamba Hali back from his one-game suspension will improve Kansas City's pass rush, making it all the more important for Fitzpatrick to get the ball out quickly.
Kansas City has depth at running back (Jamaal Charles, Peyton Hillis and Shaun Draughn each had at least eight touches in Week One) and played relatively conservative in the passing game, focusing on backs, tight ends and slot receiver Dexter McCluster rather than out wide where Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston and Jon Baldwin weren't much of a factor against Atlanta. Given the Bills' trouble in coverage against the Jets, however, it's possible that the Chiefs may want to be more aggressive in the passing game.
NEW ORLEANS (-2.5) at CAROLINA
After getting upset in Week One, the Saints ought to be more focused at Carolina, but that alone won't be enough. The Panthers lost a grind-it-out game at Tampa Bay, so the Saints' aggressive attack should up the ante, but New Orleans will need a few things to be different than in the opener. One, they need Drew Brees to be more accurate/in sync with his receivers. It was evident, at times, that the Saints weren't as connected as they should have been offensively. Two, they can run the ball more than the ten times they did against Washington. Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram combined for 32 yards on 10 carries and, even to keep defences honest, the Saints can be more balanced.
Perhaps the biggest concern for New Orleans should be keeping Cam Newton contained because if they had trouble with Robert Griffin III in the opener, changes will be necessary if they are going to keep Newton under wraps.
CLEVELAND (+7) at CINCINNATI
Despite horrific offensive numbers, the Browns nearly won at home against the Eagles in Week One and the Bengals did have trouble defending Baltimore's offence, so it's fair to expect some improvement from Cleveland in that respect. If QB Brandon Weeden can't get the ball downfield, an area where the Bengals were vulnerable against the Ravens, then they're in trouble, but if Weeden is better (he almost has to be) and RB Trent Richardson is more comfortable with another week of practice, then the Browns might have a shot on the road against their rivals.
But, if Weeden and Richardson need to be better for Cleveland, it's also fair to expect more from Bengals QB Andy Dalton, who took some lumps against Baltimore in Week One. With Browns CB Joe Haden suspended, that might present an ideal opportunity for second-year Bengals WR A.J. Green to get loose.
MINNESOTA (-1.5) at INDIANAPOLIS
Not only was RB Adrian Peterson able to play for the Vikings in Week One, but he was effective and that helps Minnesota's offence immeasurably, giving QB Christian Ponder more room to throw and Ponder was effective, completing 20 of 27 passes for 270 yards in the opener. Going against an Indianpolis defence that had trouble stopping Chicago's offence, there will be opportunities for Peterson, Ponder, WR Percy Harvin and TE Kyle Rudolph to deliver productive games.
The Colts moved down the field well enough in Week One, when they weren't turning it over, and if they could do that against Chicago, it's fair to expect that they will also be able to move the ball against Minnesota too, conceivably enough to win. With WR Austin Collie cleared, there may be less dependence on WR Reggie Wayne, who was targeted a league-high 18 times in Week One.
HOUSTON (-7.5) at JACKSONVILLE
The Texans get to start the year with relatively soft touches from the state of Florida, cruising to an early win against Miami last week and favoured by more than a touchdown on the road at Jacksonville this week. Houston's offence, with all key players healthy, is tough for the Jaguars to keep pace with, even with Maurice Jones-Drew quickly resuming his role as Jacksonville's starting running back after a training camp holdout.
What the Jaguars need, if they are going to pull off the upset, is for second-year QB Blaine Gabbert to perform at a high level in the face of Houston's defensive pressure. DE J.J. Watt and OLB Connor Barwin will be pressuring Gabbert and that threw him off his game as a rookie, but Gabbert appears to be handling pocket pressure better in his second season. This will be a tougher test for him.
OAKLAND (-2.5) at MIAMI
Coming off a tough Monday night loss, the Raiders have to travel, but at least they get to face the Dolphins. That could be good and bad, though. Good because, well, the Dolphins aren't likely to win a lot of games this year and the Raiders are favoured to win, but bad because if the Raiders don't get the job done, well, that's a real indictment. After leaning so heavily on RB Darren McFadden (28 touches) in the opener, it won't be a surprise if the Raiders shake up their attack, especially if deep-threat WR Denarius Moore is ready to play after missing Monday night's loss.
In Miami's case, they don't have much of a passing game to speak of, which is too bad, because the Raiders' secondary is vulnerable, with CB Ronald Bartell lost to injury. As it is, RB Reggie Bush is the Dolphins' difference-maker on offence, so he'll need to be at his best against a Raiders defence that held the Chargers to 32 rushing yards on 20 carries.
ARIZONA (+14) at NEW ENGLAND
Kevin Kolb gets the start at quarterback for the Cardinals, after coming off the bench to lead the game-winning touchdown drive against Seattle last week, but Kolb hasn't been consistently effective for Arizona and that's why he lost the starting job to John Skelton in the first place. The Cardinals are also splitting carries in the backfield, with Ryan Williams getting more touches than a nicked-up Beanie Wells last week.
Going against a Patriots offence that barely used WR Wes Welker in the opener, the Cardinals are going to have to be at their best to keep this game close, because when Tom Brady drops back to pass, it will be decidedly different for the Cardinals defence than Seattle rookie Russell Wilson last week. Not only does Brady have the weapons to spread the ball around, RB Stevan Ridley showed that he can be a valuable contributor to the offence too, which is important when the Patriots get the lead.
TAMPA BAY (+7.5) at N.Y. GIANTS
The Bucs might have surprised a little with their win against Carolina, showing a defence more stout than may have been expected. New head coach Greg Schiano returns to New Jersey, where he had been the head coach at Rutgers, for this game and will probably note that the Cowboys could run the ball against the Giants in Week One, especially in the second half, which means that rookie RB Doug Martin should be a central figure, but the Giants' secondary is injury depleted, so there will also be opportunities for QB Josh Freeman to throw deep to WR Vincent Jackson and WR Mike Williams.
After being upset by Dallas in Week One, this game takes on greater importance for the Giants, who can ill-afford to lose two home games to start the year. Tampa Bay's secondary is strong and if corners Eric Wright and Aqib Talib can keep Giants wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks under wraps, even relatively, then the Bucs might have a shot.
BALTIMORE (+2) at PHILADELPHIA
It would be tough to start the season any better than the Ravens, who used an aerial attack and typically-overpowering defence to crush Cincinnati, yet they are underdogs at Philadelphia, even after the Eagles delivered the worst winning effort of Week One.
If Eagles QB Michael Vick can limit his turnovers, apparently a big "if", then Philadelphia could match the Ravens, but this week is looking more challenging for Vick with the possibility that Jeremy Maclin, and possibly DeSean Jackson, could miss the game, or at least be slowed after missing practice time during the week. Considering that Ravens CB Lardarius Webb is one of the game's best in coverage, the last thing Vick needs is to be going into the game without his best receivers.
From Baltimore's perspective, their receivers may find it more difficult to get open against Eagles corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, so that could result in more work for RB Ray Rice and TE Dennis Pitta, the latter a bit of a surprise in Week One.
DALLAS (-3) at SEATTLE
Few teams impressed as much as Dallas did in Week One, going into New Jersey to take down the Giants, locking down the passing game with corners Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne doing the job. That coverage duo should make life difficult for the Seahawks' passing game, too, because none of Braylon Edwards, Doug Baldwin or Sidney Rice are as dangerous as Cruz and Nicks for the Giants.
Offensively, the Cowboys should be even better with another week for TE Jason Witten and WR Miles Austin to get healthier, so they may not need WR Kevin Ogletree to duplicate his 114-yard, 2 TD performance.
After a disappointing defeat in Arizona, Seattle gets to play in front of their home crowd and should have some push back against Dallas. They can lean on RB Marshawn Lynch and hope that the running game will open up more opportunities down the field. Dallas has some injuries at safety (including Gerald Sensabaugh) which, despite strong cover corners, might leave the Cowboys vulnerable in the secondary.
WASHINGTON (-3) at ST. LOUIS
If there was a team ripe for overreaction after Week One, it would be the Redskins, who rode rookie QB Robert Griffin III to a surprising win in New Orleans. Overshadowed by Griffin III, however, RB Alfred Morris also delivered 96 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns, earning the nod as Washington's starter at running back, which was then validated by head coach Mike Shanahan early in the week. Nothing like getting a vote of confidence from the coach.
Redskins WR Pierre Garcon suffered a foot injury in the opener and hasn't returned to practice, leaving the potential for more balls to go to Santana Moss and Aldrick Robinson, though it won't be easy -- the Rams upgraded on the corners in the offseason too, signing Cortland Finnegan and drafting Janoris Jenkins, who were effective, and busy, against Detroit.
The Rams have a no-frills offence, with QB Sam Bradford handing to RB Steven Jackson or primarily targeting possession WR Danny Amendola, but if they are going to match RGIII, they might have to be prepared to open up the playbook.
N.Y. JETS (+5.5) at PITTSBURGH
The Jets had an outstanding Week One win at home, while the Steelers were taken down in Denver, but Pittsburgh is favoured in this Week Two matchup. Perhaps the biggest factor will be the health of Jets CB Darrelle Revis, who suffered a concussion last week. If Revis can't lock down one side of the field, that leaves Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger with more options as Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders are all threats on the outside.
The Jets were able to throw down field against Buffalo and Denver had their moments of success against Pittsburgh's secondary as well so, even with FS Ryan Clark returning to the lineup, the Jets' success may be dependent on QB Mark Sanchez throwing downfield to former Steeler Santonio Holmes and rookie Stephen Hill.
TENNESSEE (+6) at SAN DIEGO
While the Titans were overmatched against New England, the primary concern coming out of that game should be whether or not RB Chris Johnson can recapture his elite form. He struggled against New England, gaining 51 yards from scrimmage on 17 touches, but if he can't be more productive against San Diego, that will require QB Jake Locker to gain more yardage through the passing game.
That's not impossible, though. With WR Kenny Britt returning from suspension, to join wide receivers Nate Washington and Kendall Wright, along with TE Jared Cook all viable threats to get downfield and Chargers starting CB Quentin Jammer is expected to play with a cast on his broken thumb.
The Chargers benefitted from Oakland's long-snapping woes Monday night, something that isn't likely to be repeated, nor is it likely that K Nate Kaeding will kick five field goals, so the Chargers need to generate more consistent offence and that's not a given, considering TE Antonio Gates has a rib injury and RB Ryan Mathews remains questionable due to a broken collarbone suffered in the preseason.
DETROIT (+7) at SAN FRANCISCO
After struggling to beat St. Louis at home in Week One, the Detroit Lions face a much tougher test this week, going to San Francisco, where the 49ers are coming off an impressive win in Green Bay.
Lions QB Matthew Stafford threw three interceptions against St. Louis and will face much more pressure from San Francisco's vaunted defence, but if the Lions spread the field, using WR Titus Young more (he was benched after a personal foul against the Rams), then it's possible that the Lions can get some pressure on the Niners with the passing game, because odds aren't good that Kevin Smith is going to run for big yardage against San Francisco's defence.
From the Niners' perspective, they have both a strong running game and an improving passing game, with QB Alex Smith playing efficiently and given the luxury of wide receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, who may not be game-breakers at this point, but are very capable professional receivers who could give Smith an advantage against a Lions secondary that has injuries to SS Louis Delmas and CB Chris Houston (the latter of whom appears more likely to play).
DENVER (+3) at ATLANTA
After Peyton Manning's impressive return to the field in Sunday night's win over Pittsburgh, the Broncos become an intriguing team, with Manning capable of orchestrating an offence with wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Working in Denver's favour this week, potentially, is that the Falcons have lost CB Brent Grimes for the season with a torn Achilles and Manning should appreciate the familiar opportunity to play in a dome, even if it's not in front of a home crowd.
Atlanta's new high-octane offence is based on throwing downfield to receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, which will put pressure on Broncos corners Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter, but if they are up to the challenge, that could force the Falcons to try another approach.
If the Broncos go into Atlanta and come away with a win, expectations -- already increasing -- will soar to outrageous heights.