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The phrase “not ready for prime time,” was uttered by Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin after he watched his team get pole-axed 33-3 by the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots last Sunday night during Week 1 of the NFL’s 100th season.
Yet as Week 2 starts Thursday night, five of the six teams playing under the lights also merit consideration for the dubious phrase as they all look to avoid 0-2 starts that could jeopardize their playoff chances.
Thursday, Sept. 12 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+7/-120) at Carolina Panthers (-7/Even); Over/Under 49.5 points (Even/-120), 8:20 p.m. EDT.
Both NFC South teams are coming off losses in their season openers, with the Buccaneers (+250) losing 31-17 at home to the San Francisco 49ers and the Panthers (-300) falling 30-27 at home to the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams.
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Of the two losses, the Buccaneers’ defeat looked more frustrating as quarterback Jameis Winston made the same kind of mistakes that have been a constant throughout his time in Tampa Bay. Two of his three interceptions – against a 49ers team that recorded two picks all of 2018 — were returned for touchdowns as the Buccaneers finished with four turnovers overall.
The poor performance by the offense canceled out an otherwise solid effort from the defense, which contributed a touchdown of its own via interception return by Vernon Hargreaves and held San Francisco to three field goals on three drives that reached the red zone. Coach Bruce Arians needs to find a way to reach Winston, who has thrown 61 interceptions in 57 games since being the first overall selection in the 2015 draft.
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The Panthers, meanwhile, had points where they slowed down the Rams’ high-octane attack by using an unorthodox six-man defensive backfield. The problem was it gave Los Angeles to many running lanes, which resulted in Carolina being gashed for 166 rushing yards at a clip of 5.19 yards per carry.
Turnovers were also a problem for the Panthers, who had three giveaways – including two by Cam Newton. But Carolina has a reason for optimism heading into this game thanks to running back Christian McCaffrey, whose bid for a 2,000-yard season from scrimmage got off to a stellar start after totaling 128 rushing yards and 81 receiving while finding the end zone twice.
The teams split the two meetings last season, with the home team winning both contests. Newton is 9-4 lifetime versus Tampa Bay, including 5-1 at home – where he has thrown for 1,386 yards and 10 TDs while winning the last four. Winston has thrown for over 300 yards in two of his three starts at Carolina, but the Buccaneers are 1-2 there when he is under center.
Sunday, Sept. 15 – Philadelphia Eagles (-1.5/-110) at Atlanta Falcons (+1.5/-110); Over/Under 50.5 points (-110/-110), 8:20 p.m. EDT.
It took a while for the Philadelphia Eagles to get going offensively, but once they got out of second gear, they looked very impressive in rallying from a 17-0 second-quarter deficit to defeat the Washington Redskins 32-27. Carson Wentz threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns, while receiver DeSean Jackson marked his return to the Eagles with eight catches for 154 yards and touchdowns on scoring passes of 53 and 51 yards.
Jackson’s big-play potential opened up the field for Wentz, and the running game as Philadelphia’s running back-by-committee of newcomer Jordan Howard, ageless veteran Darren Sproles, and Miles Sanders combined for 116 rushing yards.
The Eagles’ defense, however, has a few issues to sort out after they allowed a pair of long scoring passes and were picked apart for 370 passing yards by Case Keenum. Philadelphia’s run defense was barely tested as Washington ran the ball just 13 times for 28 yards, something that could happen in this contest given Atlanta’s stud receiving corps.
The Falcons, though, never found an offensive rhythm in a 28-12 loss at Minnesota that was not as close as the final score shows. Atlanta had a punt blocked and a turnover on its first two possessions and gave up two touchdowns on Minnesota’s first four offensive plays, creating a 14-0 deficit 5:05 into the game Dan Quinn’s team was unable to overcome.
Almost 40 percent of the Falcons’ 345 yards came on a pair of meaningless fourth-quarter touchdown drives as Matt Ryan padded his stats by throwing for 304 yards and a pair of touchdowns to go with two interceptions, including one in the red zone in the second half.
Julio Jones, who signed a 3-year, $66 million extensions the day before the game, had six catches but only 31 yards. Second-year wideout Calvin Ridley was also bottled up for most of the game and totaled four receptions for 64 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown catch.
This is the second straight season the teams are meeting in September, with the Eagles grinding out an 18-12 home victory to open the 2018 campaign while Wentz was still recovering from the torn ACL he suffered in the latter stages of the previous season. The Falcons have won the last two games between the teams played in Atlanta by a combined five points, but this will be Philadelphia’s first visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium since it opened in August 2017.
Monday, Sept. 16 – Cleveland Browns (-2.5/-110) at New York Jets (+2.5/-110); Over/Under 45.5 points (-125/-105), 8:20 p.m. EDT.
It has taken less than a year, but Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield’s career has already made its first complete circle heading into Monday night’s showdown with the Jets. The 2018 No. 1 overall pick made his NFL debut at home against New York in Week 3 last season, replacing an injured Tyrod Taylor and rallying Cleveland to a 21-17 victory that ended a 19-game winless streak and ushered in an unprecedented wave of optimism around the franchise.
Those expectations only heightened in the summer when the Browns landed wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. via trade from the New York Giants and signed free agent running back Kareem Hunt, but talk of making the playoffs for the first time since 2002 was quickly scuttled after Mayfield and company absorbed a 43-13 beating at home by the Tennessee Titans.
Mayfield was intercepted three times in the fourth quarter trying to rally Cleveland, with the last one brought back for a touchdown to cap a disappointing performance in which he was also sacked four times while throwing for 285 yards and a touchdown. The second-year signal-caller was not the only one to blame, though, as the Browns were flagged for a whopping 18 penalties totaling 182 yards – including six personal fouls.
Beckham caught seven passes for 71 yards and a lot of flak for wearing a Richard Mille watch that retails for approximately $190,000 during the game. This will also be his first game in the New York City metropolitan area since the Giants dealt him to Cleveland, adding another layer of intrigue to a matchup between a pair of 0-1 teams.
The Jets, meanwhile, have a new coach in Adam Gase and a new running back in Le’Veon Bell but looked like the same old Jets as they blew a 16-point second-half lead and lost 17-16 at home to the Buffalo Bills. Bell, who was held out of the preseason by Gase, had 53 rushing yards and caught a touchdown pass from Sam Darnold as well as a two-point conversion toss.
But the game swung in the third quarter when linebacker C.J. Mosley, who had returned an interception for a touchdown and recovered a fumble in a stellar first half when the Jets forced four turnovers, was forced to exit with a strained groin. New York’s defense came undone in stunning fashion as Buffalo scored 17 unanswered points in the final 18:13.
Sam Darnold, taken two picks after Mayfield last year, failed to connect on any big passing plays as slot receiver Jamison Crowder became the first player in NFL history to record 14 catches without totaling 100 yards – finishing one short.
New York is already on its fourth kicker when including the preseason after signing Sam Ficken during the week. Ficken replaced Kaare Vedvik, who missed an extra point and a 45-yard field goal against the Bills — two huge gaffes that contributed to the loss.
(All odds courtesy FanDuel Sportsbook)