Carolina at Atlanta
Was last season a fluke, or have the Panther’s just been the victim of some bad luck this early in the season? After a MVP season, Cam Newton seems to have settled back into his more familiar position of average NFL QB who can run the ball. Last season’s #1 offense is now ranked 12th in points per game. To be fair though, the Panther’s offense did face two of the best defenses in the league in this young season.
The problems don’t end there though as a top ten defense from last year is now in the bottom half of the league, giving up over 23 points per game. If Carolina cannot get on top of their issues fast, they could find themselves sitting at 1-3 and winless in the division.
Things are much brighter on the Atlanta side of the ball where their QB’s arm has gone from a floppy wet noodle to more like al dente. Matt Ryan was just named the NFC’s offensive player of the week and his is currently leading all other QB’s with a 119 rating. Surprisingly, this is being done without much help from Julio Jones. Ryan has thrown for just under 1,000 yards in three games, but there is not one Atlanta receiver in top 35 of receiving yards. This tells us that the Falcons are spreading the ball around and teams won’t be able to focus solely on Jones. The Falcons are not one dimensional on that side of the ball as they are a top 5 running offense, averaging 136 rushing yards per game. All of this has combined to create the number one offense so far in this short NFL season.
The success of Atlanta’s offense isn’t reflected on the other side of the ball as their defense is ranked 28th in the league, giving up just over 30 points per game. However, while the Panthers defensive slide is puzzling, Atlanta’s position is to be expected. First, they weren’t as good as Carolina’s defense to begin with and second, the Falcons’ defense has had to face two top 10 offenses in their three games. A bright spot for the Dirty Birds’ defense is linebacker Deion Jones, who was just named the NFL’s top rookie defensive player after he capped off a impressive month with a 90 yard interception return for a touchdown against the Saints Monday night.
Prediction – If Cam is going to right the offensive woes, this is the defense to do it against, but I think Carolina’s offense over-achieved last season, and this is who they really are. With Atlanta’s offense clicking on all cylinders, I think their defense will do just enough for the Falcons to notch their third win of the season. 34-20, Falcons
Denver at Tampa Bay
After last season, many were hoping that the Buccaneers’ arrow was finally pointing up. There was good reason for this because even though their defense stayed pretty much the same as 2014, their offense made a nice little jump led by then rookie QB Jameis Winston. The hope that Winston would grow more seems to have been squashed by what may be the beginning of a sophomore slump. Hopefully, this is not the case for Tampa fans, and Winston is just the victim of playing against two very good defenses so far. However, things probably won’t improve this weekend with Denver in town. The Broncos’ defense may be missing a step from last season, but they are still a top ten defense.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bucs seem to think it is rude to keep other teams out of the end zone, allowing close to 34 points per game. They are a top 20 defense when it comes to yards per game, so giving up all those points tells us that opposing teams are working with short fields. Their punting games seems to be doing okay, but being -6 in the turnover battle isn’t going to win you many games.
Prediction – Denver has themselves a top 5 offense after Peyton Manning retired, and their defense is very respectable. To win this game, the Bucs are going to have to perform flawlessly in all aspects of the game and I don’t see that happening. 31-17, Broncos
New Orleans at San Diego
After 10 years, Drew Brees returns to San Diego. Over those past ten years, Brees has put up numbers never before seen in the NFL and the Chargers might be mad if it wasn’t for the fact that they have their own QB who has been almost the mirror image, stats wise over that time span. It is unclear if Willie Snead will play and if he doesn’t, Brees will have to rely on Brandin Cooks and rookie Michael Thomas especially since the Saints’ running game has not produced.
The Saints’ defense is who we thought they were. Things were looking promising during the pre-season and throughout about three quarter in the first game but then the injury bug hit…hard. The Saints lost their number one draft pick, DT Sheldon Rankins, before the season even started and their two starting CB’s are now out. They were not going to be great, but with the offense scoring over 26 points per game, they only had to be serviceable.
Prediction – I fully expect Brees to go off on this game as a, “see what you lost Chargers” kind of statement, but this isn’t where this game is going to be won or lost.. As funny as it sounds, this game is going to be won on the defensive side of the ball; whichever team can stop the other. 27-24, Chargers