Baltimore Ravens @ Houston Texans
The Ten Gallon Hat Mob (that's the Texans in case you're wondering) had better do something this week or else their meteoric start to the season has every chance of suffering a severe derailment.
Houston were humbled 42-24 last week against Green Bay but, and there's a big but...if you were watching that game closely you will have realised that their highly-rated defence played well, they just happened to face an inspired Aaron Rogers and Packers offence.
Hard to believe when they shipped 42 points, but on almost every meaningful passing play the Texans' defence was perfectly in place; they just got smoked by some incredible eye-of-the-needle passes. We're talking about very fine margins here and momentum-changing defensive plays were fingertipped-out by highlight-reel completions.
That's not going to happen every week, and although Texans QB Joe Flacco is developing into one of the game's quality QBs, he's going to have to be at his very best to stop second-season sensation JJ Watt from adding to his 9.5 sacks. This guy has the wingspan of an albatross and the strength of a rhino...he seems to be everywhere on defence. I'll be amazed if he doesn't have a big impact on this game.
Baltimore also have injury problems with both legendary linebacker Ray Lewis, and emerging star cornerback Lardarius Webb both definitely out. Defensive stats have not been great even with these two in the line-up (22nd against the pass and 26th against the rush). But without them the floodgates could well and truly open.
I expect the Texans to get back to basics by featuring running back Arian Foster at the forefront of their gameplan. If he gets rolling the passing game will open up and Houston will be hard to defend against. I take them to win @ 1.374/11 and to cover the handicap (-6.5 pts) @ 1.910/11.
Both teams will look to establish the running game in the first half so I'll also be backing 'under 24.5 pts' in the First Half Total Points market @ 2.01/1
Houston to win @ 1.374/11
Houston to win on handicap (-6.5 pts) @ 1.910/11
First Half Total Points to be under 24.5 pts @ 2.01/1
New York Jets @ New England Patriots
Mark Sanchez, the quarterback of the New York Jets must be the luckiest sportsman alive. He continues to play at a level most other QBs would struggle to stoop down to, yet his coach steadfastly refuses to even hint at alternatives.
The statisticians may soon have to conjure up some new ways of rating quarterbacks; Sanchez' last performance was laughable (11 out of 18 passes completed for a total of 82 yards). Yet he gets bailed out by the running game and a strong defence, and walks away with a 35-9 victory. Never can a quarterback have done so little, for so many, at such a high salary. Basically he is being paid to hand the ball off safely. We could all do that!
Will that be enough against the second favourites to win the Superbowl? Well it's a toughy. Last week showed what a topsy turvy league it is; Houston slammed by Green Bay, the Giants creaming the 49ers and Seattle beating New England. All multiple-busting turn-ups that left us scratching our heads. It seems as if anything is possible - maybe Sanchez will put in an MVP performance...yeah and the tooth fairy is real.
On all known form the Jets shouldn't have a prayer. Their game-winning rushing offence should be stifled by the sixth-ranked Pats front line and their banged up defence will struggle to contain the best offence (statistically) in the whole league.
Rex Ryan, the Jets' coach, is obsessed with beating the Patriots but he's failed plenty of times already, losing three of the last four, and it'll be the same old story on Sunday.
The win over Indy last week glossed over the multitude of problems the Jets continue to have this season; a poor quarterback, a banged up defence (with their best player out for the season) and a banged-up offence (also with their best player out for the season).
I'm expecting Tom Brady and co to out-think, out-pass and outscore the Jets and put a firecracker into the Tebow/Sanchez quarterback controversy. Like him or hate him - Tebow offers much more of a threat than the Sanchize and should get his chance sooner rather than later. The only thing holding him back is that Ryan will have to admit he was wrong.
It takes a big man to admit something like that and Rex, although not the blimp he used to be, should be big enough to ditch the lowest rated quarterback in the league once and for all. If not it's going to be a very long season.
Handicap winner: New England (-10.5 pts) @ 2.01/1
Total Points: (under 47.5) @ 2.01/1
New England Winning Margin: 13-18 pts @ 6.05/1
First Touchdown Scorer: Rob Gronkowski @ 7.513/2