Week 2 Recap: Doctor Jameis and Mister Winston
Have you heard the old saw about the fellow with half his body in an oven and the other half in the freezer? On average, he was comfortable. And his name was Jameis Winston.
Five touchdowns in a blowout upset victory last week. Two interceptions and lots of whoopsie-doodle plays that didn't make the stat sheet in an ugly 26-7 New Orleans Saints loss to the Carolina Panthers this week. A real Jameis-and-Hyde transformation. Or is it Jekyll-and-Jameis? It's hard to tell if the real Winston is the doctor, the monster, or some 60-40 split of the two of them.
Before we lay too much blame at Winston's feet, it must be noted that the Saints were without seven offensive coaches due to COVID quarantines. It's hard to quantify that sort of loss, though both Sean Payton and coordinator Pete Carmichael were available and have been doing their jobs for a hot minute or two. It's unlikely that the loss of some coaches with titles such as "offensive assistant" or "offensive analyst" nerfs a team to the point where they can only generate 128 yards of total offense. Heck, the Broncos managed 112 yards of total offense when they were forced to start Kendall Hinton at quarterback against the Saints last year. The Saints should be able to manage more than two first downs with Payton relaying plays via carrier pigeon.
Credit must also be given to the Panthers, now 2-0 thanks to a swarming defense and an offense that only settled for a field goal inside the 20-yard line once this week instead of two to seven times. The Panthers may be a year and a player away from being a serious playoff team, and that player may be a quarterback, but their Brian Burns/Haason Reddick-led defense is going to cause some mayhem.
Disclaimers aside, the Saints got pummeled on Sunday because Jameis is still mistake-prone. Also, he was throwing to players such as Chris Hogan and Ty Montgomery. Walkthrough warned last Thursday that Winston's touchdown totals against the Packers were inflated by field position and that his newfound "efficiency" was the result of being able to sit on a commanding lead. But Week 1 temptations are great, and it was easy to get lulled into the belief that Payton had built a whole new mistake-free version of Winston who could even somehow be an upgrade (he can throw deep sometimes!) over Drew Brees. Sure enough, Winston isn't quite so unstoppable when it's third-and-long and the opponent has a two-score lead.
The 2021 Saints are the 2020 Patriots, folks. They are going to win a bunch of games with their veteran defense and offensive line. Winston, like Cam Newton last year, will mix some games where he does a little more than enough to win the game with afternoons which remind you why he ended up on the backup-for-hire circuit. Like the 2020 Patriots, the 2021 Saints lack offensive weapons and will resort to option concepts (Taysom Hill's department, in this case) to move the ball. Maybe the Saints will be christened the Team No One Wants to Face come playoff time because of their defense and peskiness, though I get the feeling the Buccaneers would be happy to face them.
Week 1 overreactions often lead to Week 2 course corrections, but rarely is the pendulum swing as extreme as what we saw from Winston and the Saints over the last eight days or so. The Saints travel to New England and Washington over the next few weeks, with a home game (post-hurricane conditions permitting) against the Giants wedged in between. They're likely to go either 2-1 or 1-2 in that span, with plenty of Winston scrutiny either way. But on the average, they're pretty average.
And be warned: all of the distortions that made Winston look like a whole new quarterback last week are still working their magic on Sam Darnold.
The .500 Club
Any Monday morning wrapup can highlight the 2-0 teams with an "Are the Las Vegas Raiders Super Bowl Contenders?" headline or scoop the 0-2 teams into some "Are the Indianapolis Colts in Serious Trouble?" clickbait. (We'll touch on the Raiders in a later segment, and you probably know the answer to that second question). Only Walkthrough DARES to spotlight the 17 teams that are currently 1-1. We're doing so because it's an exceptional content model which feels particularly relevant after the Sunday night contest, and not because it keeps me from needing to make sense of the Cardinals-Vikings game!
So here are Walkthrough's informal Power Rankings of every .500 team as of Sunday:
1. Kansas City Chiefs (lost 36-35 to Baltimore Ravens)
The Chiefs run defense doesn't actually exist. Their offensive line may not be as "fixed" as they claim it is. And Patrick Mahomes channels his inner Favre and occasionally makes some inexcusable decisions. Despite all of that, the Chiefs still would have beaten a very formidable opponent if not for Clyde Edwards-Helaire's late fumble. Anyone claiming that the Chiefs are not still the best team in the AFC is either named Elway, breaking tables in a parking lot in Orchard Park, or simply overreacting.
2. Buffalo Bills (defeated Miami Dolphins 35-0)
Based on what we have seen so far, the Bills are capable of losing close games to welterweight opponents on their worst days but beating the living snot out of them on their best days. This sounds like an accurate valuation of the Bills. It also bodes well for them moving forward, because they should rack up plenty of convincing wins on their "medium" days.
3. Baltimore Ravens (defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 36-35)
Latavius Murray and Ty'Son Williams have cauterized the Ravens running back situation, allowing Lamar Jackson to pick and choose his spots as a runner, which in turn has allowed him to overcome some early mistakes and deliver some huge plays as a passer. The fact that the Ravens erased an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter is a very big deal for a team that has never had much success playing catchup. I'm confident that I have the order right for the first three spots on this list, but I'll admit that the gaps between these teams appear rather tiny right now.
4. Cleveland Browns (defeated the Houston Texans 31-21)
The weak-tea Bills, comfortably slotted into the fourth spot, now and probably for the rest of the season.
5. Seattle Seahawks (lost 33-30 to Titans in overtime)
We witnessed a typically inscrutable Seahawks game on Sunday: they led 30-16 in the fourth quarter but lost due to a missed extra point, acts of Derrick Henry, a pair of three-and-outs while protecting a fourth-quarter lead, and various other pecked-to-death-by-chickens issues.
The Seahawks cannot settle for business-as-usual in the NFC West, where the Rams, Cardinals, and 49ers all appear to have improved substantially. Weekly tightrope walks won't cut it in a division with so little margin for error.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (lost 26-17 to Las Vegas Raiders)
See the next segment.
7. New England Patriots (defeated the New York Jets 25-6)
Ole Miss just beat The Citadel. Don't mistake them for Alabama.
8. New Orleans Saints (lost 26-7 to Carolina Panthers)
We covered them in the opening segment.
9. Dallas Cowboys (defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 20-17)
The Cowboys can defeat any team in the NFL as long as that team has two touchdowns nullified by penalties, throws an interception in the end zone, takes an 18-yard in-the-grasp sack on second-and-goal, and doinks a field goal. Oh, and Greg Zuerlein keeps nailing 56-yard game winners. Yep, under those conditions, the Cowboys are unstoppable.
10. Los Angeles Chargers (lost 20-17 to Dallas Cowboys)
The Chargers would be prohibitive favorites to win the AFC South but are the worst team in the AFC West right now. Their red zone offense has looked terrible for two straight weeks, which could spell trouble for a young team with new coaches and coordinators.
11. Tennessee Titans (defeated Seattle Seahawks 33-30 in overtime)
They have played six miserable quarters and three really good ones (counting overtime) through two games. That amounts to a .333 average, which is terrible in most contexts but more than sufficient in major league baseball and the AFC South.
12. Miami Dolphins (lost 35-0 to Buffalo Bills on Sunday)
Lieutenant Tua Tagovailoa (not a captain) suffered bruised ribs and was forced to give way to Ensign Jacoby Brissett, the commander of the team's short-yardage unit. Brissett looked like his usual semi-capable self at first, and Admiral Xavien Howard (more than a captain) gave the Dolphins a chance to stay in the game with a second-quarter interception deep in Bills territory. But the Dolphins came unglued with fumbled punts, fourth-down miscues, and a defense that may have gotten gassed as the game went on.
The Dolphins face the Raiders next week and must come to grips with the fact that the AFC West's wild-card hopefuls look much stronger than the AFC East's wild-card hopefuls right now.
13. Chicago Bears (defeated Cincinnati Bengals 20-17)
What Matt Nagy wants you to believe he was thinking when Andy Dalton suffered a knee injury: "Oh no, not our peerless field general! Now my carefully-outlined plan to remain competitive while slowly nurturing the still-gestating Justin Fields will have to be scrapped!"
What Matt Nagy was really thinking when Andy Dalton suffered a knee injury: "Hooray! Now I don't have to make a decision! If Fields bombs, my reluctance to start him will be vindicated. But if he shines, everyone will forget by season's end how he ended up getting the job in the first place!"
Fields was shaky at best in extended action, but the Bears won anyway. Bias confirmation like that can be dangerous and unhealthy for someone like Nagy.
14. Washington Football Team (defeated the New York Giants 30-29 on Thursday night)
With a looming quarterback controversy on the horizon between an aging/overrated veteran and a youngster who cannot throw straight, a distinguished but conservative coaching staff, and a defense with top-10 billing that's really more of a second-quartile unit, Washington looks an awful lot like the Broncos circa 2019 or so. But they play in the NFC East and could therefore easily win nine or 10 games.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (lost 17-11 to San Francisco 49ers)
We'll cover the Eagles in more depth in a later segment.
16. Cincinnati Bengals (lost 20-17 to the Chicago Bears)
You probably know that Joe Burrow threw three consecutive interceptions. You may also know he was sacked four times, and that his third interception was directly caused by a collapsed pocket. But did you know that the Bengals ran a third-and-1 play where rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase motioned to a position between the tight end and left tackle so he could block Pro Bowl safety Eddie Jackson on a running play?
Neither the Bengals' offensive line nor Zac Taylor's dippy play calling has really improved all that much from 2020, in other words.
17. Houston Texans (lost 31-21 to Cleveland Browns)
The Texans are custom-built to cover double-digit spreads against playoff-caliber opponents.
Notes from the weekend and from Week 2 that didn't quite fit anywhere else.
Carson Wentz Knocked Out of the Colts' Loss with a Knee Injury
Remember: Wentz isn't injury-prone. He's everything-prone.
Tyrod Taylor Knocked Out of the Texans' Loss with a Hamstring Injury
Teams don't really sign Taylor. They rent his services for about 90 minutes, like a DJ for a middle school dance. Taylor will have an MRI on Monday and is likely to end up pinned helplessly beneath the MRI machine until December.
Philadelphia Eagles Sign Defensive End Josh Sweat to a Three-Year Contract Extension
The last time I was this certain that the Eagles had no idea whatsoever what they were doing, they won the Super Bowl two years later.
Frank Gore is Considering a Boxing Career
Apparently playing for Adam Gase on two different teams wasn't enough punishment for him.
Everson Griffen Injured when he Swerved His Car to Avoid a Deer
The Bears immediately signed the deer to play left tackle.
Indianapolis Colts to be Featured on an In-Season Edition of HBO's Hard Knocks
Come to watch Wentz heroically gut through his latest injury recovery, stay for Jim Irsay's 45-minute acoustic guitar rendering of Help on the Way/Slipknot/Franklin's Tower.
Game Spotlight: Raiders 26, Steelers 17
What Kappened: The Steelers tried to lure the Raiders into a grunt-fest in the first half, forcing Derek Carr and company to settle for too many field goals while the Steelers supplemented their smoke-and-mirrors offense with lots of Ben Roethlisfloaters. But the Raiders scored two second-half touchdowns, one on Henry Ruggs' weekly big-play cameo, and Steelers receivers spent too much of the second half trying to haul in knuckle-curveballs on third-and-long.
What it Means: If a perennial also-ran ropes a pair of contenders into "trap" losses in back-to-back weeks, does that make the also-rans contenders too? That's the question we must ask of the Raiders after another surprising effort on defense, an efficient and dynamic performance on offense and, yes, a well-called game by Jon Gruden and his staff.
The Raiders upset both the Saints and Chiefs early in last season, of course, and neither the Ravens (extinction-level events at cornerback and running back) nor the Steelers (Roethlisberger is looking more like Tim Wakefield circa 2010 every week) may be the powerhouses they claim to be. Also, the Broncos look pretty darn good right now, meaning there will be no free lunches in the AFC West. So there are a lot of reasons to reserve judgment about the Raiders. But part of reserving judgment is entertaining the possibility that they are a legitimate playoff team.
The Steelers will go 10-7 this season and lose a first-round playoff game to (closes eyes and randomly points at the AFC standings) the Titans.
What's next: The Raiders host the Dolphins, whose starting quarterback may be a Deshaun Watson trade rumor. The Steelers will be hoping for more of the three-straight-interception experience when they host Joe Burrow and the Bengals.
Game Spotlight: 49ers 17, Eagles 11
What happened: This game unfolded across three periods like a hockey game.
- Period One: The Eagles outperformed the 49ers but: a) Jalen Reagor stepped out of bounds before catching an apparent touchdown bomb; b) a Jake Elliott field goal attempt was blocked a few plays later; and c) a 93-yard Jalen Hurts-to-Quez Watkins pass netted zero points thanks to a rugged goal-line stand by the 49ers and the least-special Philly Special ever.
- Period Two: The 49ers embarked on 97- and 92-yard touchdown drives built entirely out of Kyle Shanahan play-calling sorcery.
- Period Three: The 49ers started getting sloppy with the football, but a penalty negated an apparent turnover, and a final Eagles scoring drive turned out to be too little, too late.
What it means: On the one hand, Shanahan's Hide-the-Jimmy offensive tactics aren't fooling anyone. Garoppolo has made routine throws and practically nothing but routine throws for two games, allowing Deebo Samuel (101 scrimmage yards on Sunday), the offensive line (Elijah Mitchell and others enjoyed gaping holes on the 90-plus-yard drives), and defense to do most the work.
On the other hand, if Jimmy Game Manager can keep Trey Lance on the bench until he's needed as either an injury replacement or late-season spark plug, so much the better for the 49ers in the long run. If a team can win games while slow-rolling its rookie quarterback's jump from the FCS to a COVID-gap year to the NFL, it might as well do so.
Based on the mood at my local sports bar on Sunday afternoon, Eagles fans' expectations for 2021 are realistically low, and fans are satisfied by the team's pluck and general lack of Carson Wentz. If Hurts keeps underthrowing deep passes like he did several times on Sunday, the honeymoon may be brief.
What's next: The 49ers host the Packers and Seahawks in a pair of games that will begin to sort out the NFC hierarchy. The Eagles will visit the Cowboys in a Monday night game sure to test the Philly Phaithful's patience.
Walkthrough Week 2 Awards
Time now for the only awards that matter.
Defender of the Week
Roquan Smith nudges out Tyrann Mathieu and J.C. Jackson for this week's award. The Patriots would still have routed the Jets without Jackson's two interceptions. the Honey Badger's two interceptions helped the Chiefs take early control of the game against the Ravens, though he could not be 11 places at once. But the Bears might have gotten upset by the Bengals without Smith's pick-six, a sack which forced the Bengals to settle for a field goal, and eight total tackles in a close game.
Offensive Line of the Week
The Browns offensive line of Jedrick Wills, Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter, Wyatt Teller, and Jack Conklin helped Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and others combine for 156 rushing yards and three touchdowns while Baker Mayfield was only sacked twice in a 31-21 win over the Texans.
These selections may be getting a tad predictable: the star-studded Saints won OLW last week, and the Browns were the odds-on favorite this week. We'll be looking for some new challengers to seize the title in Week 3.
Special Teamer of the Week
E.J. Speed forced Johnny Hekker to fumble after a bad punt snap and teammate Ashton Dulin recovered in the end zone for a touchdown that briefly gave the Colts the lead in what became a 27-24 Los Angeles Rams win. They'll share honors for their heads-up play. Also, "E.J. Speed" is the ideal name for either a special teams gunner or a Golden Age comics character: not a superhero, per se, but a racecar driver who also fights crime and might be a millionaire.
Honorable Mention goes to Jamal Agnew for his 100-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter of the Jaguars' 23-13 loss to the Broncos. That return pushed the over-under on Urban Meyer's departure all the way back to All Saints Day.
Late edit: Cardinals kicker Matt Prater also earns Honorable Mention for his 62-yard field goal before halftime against the Vikings. The poor, poor Vikings.
Shoutout to Benjamin Solak of The Ringer for spotting this one: the Texans gained 13 yards on third-and-15, but a Browns penalty gave them the choice of setting up third-and-10. The Browns opted for fourth-and-2 instead and then ... punted. Yes, they chose to punt instead of running a third-down play. That's how you lose games, but it's also how you cover +12.5-point spreads. Therefore, Walkthrough approves of the tactic.
Anemic Stat Line of the Week
Chargers rookie running back Larry Rountree had two touches for -2 yards: a rush for a loss of one and a reception for a loss of one. Rountree also had a 3-yard run negated by a holding penalty. It's OK to give Austin Ekeler more than 18 total touches, coach.
Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else's Highlight
Damien Harris broke tackles from Marcus Maye, Adrian Colbert, Quincy Williams, and Michael Carter on the 26-yard touchdown run that broke the Patriots victory over the Jets wide open, and Walkthrough swears we didn't have to look up the names of every one of those defenders except Maye! But Bryce Hall wins this week's BSASEH for repeatedly trying to rip the ball away from Harris near the goal line. "Look [rip] how hard I'm [rips with other hand] I'm trying, coach! NOTICE ME."
Honorable mention goes to 30-year-old, 334-million-pound Ravens defensive lineman Justin Ellis, who was in zone coverage on Travis Kelce's third-quarter touchdown pass and somehow rumbled downfield to nearly tackle Kelce at the goal line. What was Ellis doing dropping into coverage? Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is out of defensive backs and must have figured that Ellis weighs as much as at least two of them.
Tune in next week, when Walkthrough determines whether Javelin Guidry is a real person or a character in one of the Major League movie sequels.
Burn This Play!
One reason why the Philly Special was so successful in Super Bowl LII is that Nick Foles was not a serious threat to catch a pass on a trick play. If he was a mobile quarterback like, say, Jalen Hurts, the defense might have accounted for him at the goal line. So when Hurts handed off to DeVonta Smith (who pitched to Greg Ward on a reverse), then leaked into the back of the end zone, 49ers defensive back K'Waun Williams followed him, because Williams was likely assigned to be on the lookout for some sort of Hurts option or misdirection keeper.
It might also help a smidge if Ward wasn't referred to as a "former high school quarterback" nearly every time he has touched the ball over the last three years. His presence in the goal-line package probably merited some "watch the fake" reminders in the defensive huddle. Ward ended up throwing away the fourth-down pass lest his passer rating drop, and the Eagles gave fans a reminder that while Super Bowl memories are fun, you can't go back again.
Your weekly look back at Sunday's lines and forward to Monday night's best wagers.
Lines on the Move
The Patriots started out as four-point favorites against the Jets but climbed to -6 at some books on Sunday, though Walkthrough spotted them at -5.5 and pounced at 11 a.m. on Sunday. The Patriots walked, of course. Be on the lookout for tasty early-week spreads as the house tries to adjust to public perceptions that have not yet solidified; the Bills opened -9.5 against Washington, for example, which feels a little high. By next week or so, there won't be any bargains on the board, even on Monday morning.
Backdoor Cover Lovers
Walkthrough fell in love with the Texans +12.5 the moment we laid eyes on it. Sure enough, they took an early lead, then kept things close throughout a 31-21 loss. Be wary of their ability to cover if Davis Mills replaced Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, however. Taylor's unwillingness to take any risks whatsoever, even when they are warranted or necessary, is like backdoor cover secret sauce.
The Falcons flirted with a backdoor cover when they cut the Buccaneers lead to 28-25 late in the third quarter. The Bucs then pulled away for a 48-25 romp. Shame on you if you fell for it, bet on the Falcons, or even care about the Falcons.
The Colts-Rams over climbed from 45.5 to 48 last week; they still cleared the number in the 27-24 Rams win. A spread that rose from Rams -3 to Rams -4 was another matter. Early birds got the push, but latecomers (and the many folks who took the Rams -3.5) were left hoping the Rams would do something daring when they got the ball at the Colts 44-yard line with 2:13 to play. But the Rams instead handed off to Sony Michel, which is the exact opposite of doing anything daring.
Per a press release from Caesar's Sportsbook, 85% of Cowboys-Chargers over-under bet slips went with the "over," (which landed at 55) but 85% of the money went toward the "under." In other words, the game produced an extreme split, with casual fans expecting a shootout but high rollers anticipating either a more defense-oriented game or the mistake-filled slopfest we actually got. Walkthrough suggests a wait-and-see approach before trying to pole-vault high numbers with either offense, but particularly the Chargers, who turn into the 1976 Buccaneers in the red zone.
Monday Night Action: Detroit Lions +12 at Green Bay Packers
The Packers are 0-3 against the spread as double-digit favorites since 2019, with three non-cover victories. They rolled 42-21 as seven-point home favorites against the Lions early last year but failed to cover -9.5 with a 31-24 win in Detroit last December. I'm wary of their habit of building a comfortable lead and then losing interest in their opponent, like a cat torturing a spider cricket (those little f*ckers have it coming). I'm leaning toward the Packers -3.5 in the first quarter: safe money if they come out of the tunnel like gangbusters, no reason to lose sleep if they fail to recover an onside kick at the end of a blowout.
If you believe that Aaron Rodgers will make a statement on Monday night, and you are confident that statement is not I am so full of spite that I will set fire to my own garage, consider a parlay of the Packers -10.5 AND an over of 48.5, which DraftKings was offering on Sunday at +245. You get breathing room on the points and both a fine payout and vindication if Rodgers shifts into Drive Angry mode.
Per Patrick Everson at Props.com, someone placed a $107,000 bet on the Dolphins +3.5 against the Bills. That was unfortunate. Also, how does one decide to bet $107,000 instead of 100K? It's that extra seven grand that's gonna sting the worst: you could put a big down payment down on a very nice car for the extra dough this misguided individual just tossed into a very dubious wager.