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NFL Week 2 predictions: NYT’s picks against the spread

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After several major upsets last week in the NFL, the bar for Week 2 to compete is set awfully high. Were Jacksonville and Washington one-week wonders? Can Chicago replicate its wild fourth quarter for an entire game? Exactly how worried should San Francisco be about the team’s injuries and a home loss to Arizona? If we are lucky, chaos will reign and we will still be searching for answers heading into Week 3.

Here is a look at NFL Week 2, with all picks made against the point spread.

Last week’s record: 8-8

Thursday’s Matchup

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns, 8:20 p.m., NFL Network

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) calls a play during an NFL football game against Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) calls a play during an NFL football game against Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Cincinnati. (Emilee Chinn/AP)

Line: Browns -5.5 | Total: 43.5

The Bengals (0-1) were surprisingly competitive against the Chargers in Week 1 and the Browns (0-1) got humiliated by the Ravens, but neither game gave us much indication of how this one will go. That Cleveland’s defense couldn’t handle Lamar Jackson is fairly forgivable, but if it struggles against Joe Burrow — Cincinnati’s highly regarded rookie quarterback — it might already be time to panic.

The Browns might want to find a way to run the ball more, almost regardless of the score. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt found consistent yardage against Baltimore’s front seven and the Bengals gave no indication last week that their run defense is something to be feared.

For now, the on-paper talent advantage tips the scales toward a probable Browns victory and their desire to shake off last week’s failure could very well lead to a lopsided score.

Pick: Browns -5.5

Sunday’s Best Games

Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:25 p.m., CBS

Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire carries the ball against the Houston Texans in an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire carries the ball against the Houston Texans in an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Line: Chiefs -9 | Total: 47.5

Patrick Mahomes has gotten a lot of credit for a lot of things — and deserved all of it — but one overlooked element has been his success despite the team having a distinct deficiency at running back, where Damien Williams was sufficient in 2019, but was nowhere near as good as Kareem Hunt had been for the Chiefs in the two previous seasons. This year, in steps rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who was the only running back taken in the first round of the draft. He justified that pick with a league-high 138 yards rushing in Week 1 against the Houston Texans.

Kansas City takes its newly balanced offense on the road to face the Chargers (1-0), who held off the Cincinnati Bengals last week, and now face a significantly stiffer test. Los Angeles, though, is hardly a pushover. The team has a great deal of talent on defense and are one of the few teams that can be expected to put significant pressure on Mahomes. And while the Chargers' offense isn’t explosive, it should be quietly reliable as long as quarterback Tyrod Taylor is managing things.

Kansas City is a huge favorite, and the Chiefs have earned that distinction even in a road game, but a 9-point spread is a step too far.

Pick: Chargers +9

Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans, 4:25 p.m., CBS

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) looks to pass during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Baltimore.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) looks to pass during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Baltimore. (Nick Wass/AP)

Line: Ravens -7 | Total: 51.5

If anything notable was absent during Baltimore’s demolishing of Cleveland last week, it was the high-volume running game that people came to expect from the Ravens (1-0) each and every week last season. To say the team ran for just 107 yards feels unfair, but that is fewer than they had in any game last season, including their shocking home loss to Tennessee in the divisional round.

Should the Ravens be concerned? Hardly. Lamar Jackson was toying with Cleveland’s secondary all game, and when Baltimore needed the running game, it was there, with rookie J.K. Dobbins punching in two touchdowns. Because the Ravens are three-deep in quality running backs (Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and Dobbins), the points will come each and every week, no matter what style the team chooses to employ.

The Texans (0-1) have an absolute force of nature in quarterback Deshaun Watson, but Houston’s defense was torched last week by a rookie running back. Making Houston a 7-point underdog at home seems unfair, but the Ravens, at least in the regular season, are kind of unfair.

Pick: Ravens -7

New England Patriots at Seattle Seahawks, 8:20 p.m., NBC

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll shakes hands with quarterback Russell Wilson (3) on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Atlanta. The Seattle Seahawks won 38-25.
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll shakes hands with quarterback Russell Wilson (3) on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Atlanta. The Seattle Seahawks won 38-25. (Danny Karnik/AP)

Line: Seahawks -3.5 | Total: 45

The Patriots (1-0) and Seahawks (1-0) had plenty of reasons to be happy in Week 1, but if you’re looking to nitpick: while New England’s multipronged running game looked great, the team showed very little ability to air the ball out against Miami’s solid secondary. And Seattle seemed to take the doughnut off the bat in terms of letting quarterback Russell Wilson create his own momentum on offense, but coach Pete Carroll likely would have preferred for running backs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde to combine for more than 44 yards rushing (and for either to average more than 3.5 yards per carry).

Both teams may look to correct those deficiencies this week. Seattle is rightfully the favorite at home, but Cam Newton bought his team some credibility last week and New England’s secondary is a tough nut for anyone to crack. A close game, or even an upset, wouldn’t be entirely shocking.

Pick: Patriots +3.5

Los Angeles Rams at Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m., Fox

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

Line: Off | Total: Off

The Rams (1-0) may not have looked spectacular in Week 1 against the Cowboys, but it was the type of game they would have found a way to lose last season. Now Los Angeles goes on the road against the Eagles (0-1) who are fresh off a game against Washington in which they ran up a 17-point lead only to somehow lose by 10. Philadelphia’s injury-depleted offensive line could not have been worse against Washington, and expecting that unit to reverse course and find a way to block Aaron Donald this week seems almost laughable. Quarterback Carson Wentz may want to look into wearing some extra pads.

Pick: Rams

Sunday’s Other Games

Minnesota Vikings at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m., Fox

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers (17) drops back to pass as offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo blocks against Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dawuane Smoot (94) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers (17) drops back to pass as offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo blocks against Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dawuane Smoot (94) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

Line: Colts -3 | Total: 48.5

What did Taylor Swift say about shaking things off? The Vikings (0-1) looked positively inept on defense against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, while the Colts (0-1) shot themselves in the foot resulting in the week’s biggest upset. A win in Week 2 for either team will make last week a blip, and a loss will mean an 0-2 start and a lot of hard questions about not living up to expectations. An enormous issue for Minnesota is the absence of Danielle Hunter, the team’s best player on its defensive line, which could create opportunities out of the backfield for Indianapolis running backs Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. It also might give Philip Rivers enough time to not repeat the brutal mistakes of last week, which all but handed the game to Jacksonville.

Pick: Colts -3

Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys, 1 p.m., Fox

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott sprints with the ball during an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif.
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott sprints with the ball during an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (Kyusung Gong/AP)

Line: Cowboys -4 | Total: 52.5

Oddsmakers are expecting this to be the highest-scoring game of the week, and there’s no wonder why as the Falcons (0-1) and Cowboys (0-1) combined for 886 yards of offense last week, while combining to allow 805 yards. This should be an aerial slugfest, with quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Dak Prescott using their wealth of receiving options to carve up the field. But the game might be decided by which team can get something going with the run game, a competition that dramatically favors Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott.

Pick: Cowboys -4

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m., CBS

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) warms up before an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Orchard Park, N.Y.
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) warms up before an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (Brett Carlsen/AP)

Line: Bills -5.5 | Total: 41

It feels like the NFL’s schedule makers were invested in getting the rookie Tua Tagovailoa the starting quarterback job for the Dolphins (0-1) as quickly as possible. Last week, No. 1 quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick faced the stellar New England secondary, and this week he has to step up to the Bills (1-0), who batted around the Jets like a cat toy last week. Fitzpatrick could easily have another three-interception game, and if that happens, the Tagovailoa chatter should reach a fever pitch. It won’t help that Miami will likely be playing from behind, as Josh Allen of the Bills seemed extremely comfortable slinging the ball around to his group of receivers, led by new addition Stefon Diggs.

Pick: Bills -5.5

Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m., CBS

Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon (25) runs the ball against the Tennessee Titans during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Denver.
Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon (25) runs the ball against the Tennessee Titans during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)

Line: Steelers -7.5 | Total: 41.5

This game will likely be a selection in plenty of survivor pools, as the thought of a young quarterback trying to win on the road against Pittsburgh’s top-tier defense inspires mostly a wrinkled nose of sympathy. If there’s a flicker of hope for the Broncos (0-1) it is that the Steelers (1-0) gave up an uncharacteristically high number of passing yards to the Giants last week. Before they follow that thread too far, they should account for that game having been on the road, and Pittsburgh having balanced the big yardage by intercepting two passes.

Will Steelers running back James Conner be healthy enough to play? Is Pittsburgh significantly weakened on offense by injuries to right tackle Zach Banner and right guard Stefen Wisniewski? Those are big questions, but ones that will be more relevant when the Steelers are playing a better team.

Pick: Broncos +7.5

San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets, 1 p.m., Fox

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) stands behind the offensive line during an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Orchard Park, N.Y.
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) stands behind the offensive line during an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (Brett Carlsen/AP)

Line: 49ers -7 | Total: 42

The 49ers (0-1) have to be fairly devastated at an opening-week loss in a game they led in the fourth quarter, but Arizona has usually given them fits and the result was only a mild surprise. Losing to the Jets (0-1), however, would be jaw-dropping, even with wide receiver Deebo Samuel and cornerback Richard Sherman on this season’s mini version of injured reserve and tight end George Kittle working his way back from a knee sprain. The margin for error in the NFC West is razor thin, and San Francisco needs a win when there is a solid chance that the other three teams in the division will all start 2-0. Kittle’s uncertain status, and San Francisco having multiple injuries in its secondary, makes a full touchdown point spread seem too generous, but San Francisco should be expected to win.

Pick: Jets +7

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m., Fox

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey celebrates after scoring during the first half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey celebrates after scoring during the first half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C. (Mike McCarn/AP)

Line: Buccaneers -9 | Total: 47.5

In the aftermath of Tampa Bay’s loss to New Orleans in Week 1, there was chatter that Brady’s decline was being exposed with the Buccaneers (0-1) because he no longer had New England’s system to hide his deficiencies. It’s not entirely clear what games those pundits were watching last season, as the physical decline of Brady was readily apparent with the Patriots, and last week seemed to be an extension of that rather than a departure from it. The Panthers (0-1) made a reckless decision to give the ball to a fullback, rather than Christian McCaffrey, with the game on the line last week, but nothing about either team indicated that a 9-point spread for this game is warranted. That number becomes especially extreme with Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin expected to be out.

Pick: Panthers +9

Washington Football Team at Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 p.m., Fox

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) runs past San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman (25) to score a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) runs past San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman (25) to score a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. (Josie Lepe/AP)

Line: Cardinals -6.5 | Total: 47

The Footballers (1-0) pulled off a fairly shocking upset of the Eagles in Week 1 thanks to an all-around effort. Going on the road to face the Cardinals (1-0), who have to be incredibly amped after toppling San Francisco on the road, is the kind of thing that should splash a great deal of cold water on Washington’s collective face.

Pick: Cardinals -6.5

Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers, 1 p.m., Fox

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams catches a 1-yard touchdown pass ahead of Minnesota Vikings defensive back Holton Hill, right, during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Minneapolis.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams catches a 1-yard touchdown pass ahead of Minnesota Vikings defensive back Holton Hill, right, during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Bruce Kluckhohn/AP)

Line: Packers -6 | Total: 49

For three quarters last week, it looked like a new era could be dawning for the Lions (0-1). Then Detroit spent 15 minutes making Mitchell Trubisky look like Aaron Rodgers, restoring balance to the universe. So the big question heading into Sunday: If Trubisky looked like Rodgers against the Lions, what will Rodgers look like?

Pick: Packers -6

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m., CBS

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) looks for a receiver during the first half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) looks for a receiver during the first half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (Stephen B. Morton/AP)

Line: Titans -9 | Total: 43

Only three quarterbacks had ever completed 95% of their passing attempts in a game (min. 20 attempts) going into last week. If you expected Jacksonville’s Gardner Minshew to join that list, then you should be picking stocks rather than reading a football matchups column. But to pull off a shocking upset, the Jaguars (1-0) needed perfection from Minshew and an enormous gift in the form of two interceptions thrown by Philip Rivers, which led to 14 of the Jaguars' 27 points. The Titans (1-0) do teams no such favors. Their offense last week was right back to last season’s style of having running back Derrick Henry bruise his way to big yardage while quarterback Ryan Tannehill efficiently picked spots to put points on the board. Tennessee isn’t set up for blowouts, even at home, so the line is likely too aggressive. But make no mistake, the Titans should win.

Pick: Jaguars +9

New York Giants at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m., CBS

Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack (52) in action against Detroit Lions during an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Detroit.
Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack (52) in action against Detroit Lions during an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Detroit. (Rick Osentoski/AP)

Line: Bears -5.5 | Total: 42

Saying Saquon Barkley of the Giants (0-1) rushed 15 times for 6 yards last week is a little misleading, since he had a 7-yard run mixed in. So to put it another way: Other than one carry in which he barely surpassed mediocrity, Barkley ran 14 times for minus-1 yard. In fairness, the Giants were facing a stellar Pittsburgh defense and chose to utilize Barkley more as a receiver, where he picked up 60 yards on six catches. But after so much talk about the team’s offense being rebuilt to focus on its best player, warning bells should be going off everywhere.

The Bears (1-0) were awful for three quarters last week, and terrific for one. If they could improve that to two decent quarters against the Giants, they should get a win at home.

Pick: Bears -5.5

Monday’s Matchup

New Orleans Saints at Las Vegas Raiders, 8:15 p.m., ESPN and ABC

Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) flexes his muscles with teammates Jason Witten (82) and Henry Ruggs III (11) after scoring a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers during an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C.
Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) flexes his muscles with teammates Jason Witten (82) and Henry Ruggs III (11) after scoring a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers during an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C. (Brian Westerholt/AP)

Line: Saints -6 | Total: 50

The Saints (1-0) looked a little rusty on offense in Week 1, regardless of the 34 points they scored. But they rolled to an easy win thanks to three turnovers recovered by the team’s defense. In a continuation of a trend that goes back a few years, New Orleans is slowly but surely becoming a team that can rely a bit less on its offense and a great deal more on its defense from week to week.

On the road in Las Vegas, New Orleans should be a little concerned. The Raiders (1-0) looked extremely capable on offense in an opening-week win, and while their defense is nothing to write home about, it managed to stand Carolina up on the game-deciding drive. The Saints should be expected to win this game, but oddsmakers assuming they will win by six or more points seems to ignore the current realities of how the team plays, and that wide receiver Michael Thomas is expected to be out with an ankle injury.

Pick: Raiders +6

c.2020 The New York Times Company

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