Neil Harvey tipped four winners from four by backing high scores last week. But it's now time for defenses to dominate, he says, predicting big showings from Kansas, and in particular Minnesota, this time round...
"The points quote of 47 is too high for my liking. Especially given that the Chiefs' D leads the league so far in stopping opponents in the red-zone, which could see the Steelers having to settle for more field goals than touchdowns"
Kansas City Chiefs @ Pittsburgh Steelers
It would be very easy to follow the pre-season hype here and say a home win for the much-fancied Steelers, widely touted as having the best offense in the NFL. But life, and tipping, are in reality rarely that simple. Yes, Pittsburgh do have Le'Veon Bell back from suspension, fit and raring to go to lead their ground game and contribute heavily to their passing attack. But he'll be up against the Kansas defense, who ranked top ten last season against both run and pass.
Pittsburgh, by comparison, are much better at stopping the run than they are at stopping quarterbacks. And those QBs don't even have to go deep, as shown by last week's 34-3 loss in Philadelphia. That saw the Steelers suffer death by a thousand cuts, as the Eagles repeatedly ripped them open with short passes.
That doesn't bode well then for the Steelers D, as it prepares to go up against Alex Smith the king of the short offload, and Spencer Ware, who thrives on the type of screen passes that helped Philly's Darren Sproles gut the Steelers for 128 yards. So I'm anticipating a big game for Ware all round.
Big Ben Roethlisberger will connect with his favourite receiver Antonio Brown. He always does. But everyone, including the opposing defense, knows that's a play he's looking to make. Only Carolina made more interceptions than Kansas last year. And with their secondary sure to be keyed in on Brown this week, there could be more chances coming their way.
Pittsburgh's D are pretty good at stopping the run. And Kansas don't have much of a deep ball threat. So this contest could be more a case of trench warfare than most are expecting, with Ware and Bell getting the bulk of the touches. Hence the points quote of 47 is too high for my liking. Especially given that the Chiefs' D leads the league so far in stopping opponents in the red-zone, which could see the Steelers having to settle for more field goals than touchdowns.
Indeed, one kick could decide this. And so I'd prefer to be with Kansas, who are getting a healthy 4.5 point head start, that they might not even need.
2pts Back total points to be under 47.0 @ 1.991/1
2pts Back Kansas (+5.5) to beat Pittsburgh @ 1.991/1
New York Giants @ Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota are the real deal. Their defense has been sensational so far, allowing just 13 points on average, despite having already played the likes of both Green Bay and Carolina. The Vikings' pass rush in particular has been stunning and leads the league, producing an average of five sacks per game.
I have to say, I genuinely fear for the health of New York quarterback Eli Manning. It seems to be his burden in life to be constantly under pressure from pass rushers. And I think that this week his luck will run out. I'll also be amazed if Manning doesn't get intercepted at least once. Eli threw two picks against the Redskins last week and Minnesota are playing at another level. The Vikings defense can feast on the impulsive throws that Manning is prone too, especially when he's near the endzone. In fact, I can see the Minnesota D winning this game all on their own.
The Giants have big name receivers like Odell Beckham and new starlet Sterling Shepard, who are genuine talents. But their QB should be under too much pressure to deliver the throws they need. While New York's running game is there just for show, and recently got worse with Rashard Jennings banged up and Shane Vereen now likely out for the season.
The Giants are reported to have spent 200 million dollars on strengthening their squad, largely on defense. And the early signs of improvement are there. But it's a work in progress. And the plays they gave up to Washington last week, such as the 44 yard TD to DeSean Jackson, or the 55 yard score to Jamison Crowder, or the 31 yard fake punt, suggest they still have a long way to go.
Minnesota, I must say, are themselves are no offensive heavyweight. The loss of running back Adrian Peterson has hurt them hard. And the replacement combo of Matt Asiata and Jerick Mckinnon don't come even close to compensating. But what the Vikings have lost with the run, they've gained with the pass. The enforced addition of Sam Bradford is thus far looking a godsend. It's been almost longer than I can remember since Minnesota had a top quality passer under centre and Bradford's arrival has given them another dimension.
Main beneficiary of the new QB looks set to be Stefon Diggs, who looks set for a breakout year after impressing in his rookie season. Diggs' pace makes him a deep ball threat. While tight end Kyle Rudolph is enjoying a renaissance as Bradford's big body, short range and end zone target.
Minnesota might not score too many points early on here. But there defense can squeeze the life out of the Giants offense. And as Manning is forced to take ever more chances, that's where the turnovers should come that allow the hosts to put this one out of sight. I'm giving Minnesota my first ever 10pt, maximum bet to win. Fingers crossed.
10pts Minnesota to beat New York Giants @ 1.454/9
5pts Back Minnesota (-5.5) to beat New York Giants @ 10/11 (Sportsbook)
3pts New York Giants points to be under 17.5 @ EVENS (Sportsbook)
5pts Second half to be highest scoring half @ 2.01/1