[Editor’s note: Each week, Rosenthal and I go head to head, picking the winner of each and every game. The loser gets to cut and paste the take and picks for each game in the next pack of picks. I’ve now had to do it two weeks in a row; for Week Two, my ill-advised faith in the Patriots was the difference-maker, with Rosenthal taking the Jets and going 11-5, and yours truly taking the Pats and going 10-6. This week, we differ on six games — and, yes, one of them again involves the Jets.]
Titans at Giants
Florio’s take: The Giants are in disarray, but the Titans are still reeling from the beating they took at the hands (and arms, legs, and torsos) of the Steelers. Back from a benching, it remains to be seen how Tennessee quarterback Vince Young responds now that he has been yanked for a 37-year-old relief pitcher. With New York coach Tom Coughlin’s seat gradually getting hotter, he needs to get a team that suddenly is nearly as dysfunctional as the Tiki-Strahan-Shockey-Plaxico group to focus on playing hard and winning games. For this week, Coughlin should be able to get it done, barely.
Florio’s prediction: Giants 17, Titans 13.
Rosenthal’s take: The Titans and Giants are licking their wounds this week. When times get tough, good teams go back to what they know. The Titans know they are a smash mouth team that can’t afford Vince Young mistakes. Their defense has played outstanding for two weeks. The Giants aren’t quite sure what they have yet, except a lot of drama and shoddy pass protection. Take the team that knows how to fix itself.
Rosenthal’s pick: Titans 23, Giants 21.
Bengals at Panthers
Florio’s take: If Carolina coach John Fox were going to entrust what likely will be his final season with the team to rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen, Fox should have done it back in May, when Clausen would have had enough time to prepare. Instead, he’ll get his first start after spending training camp and the preseason as the clear-cut No. 2 behind the now-benched Matt Moore. Though Clausen was regarded as the most game-ready of the 2010 quarterback class, he won’t be ready to win a game against a Bengals team that showed a lot more bite in Week Two.
Florio’s prediction: Bengals 31, Panthers 14.
Rosenthal’s take: The Panthers have arguably been the worst team in football, losing by double digits in both weeks. Rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen didn’t win the starting quarterback job; Matt Moore just tanked. Clausen will have to win without his Pro Bowl right tackle (Jeff Otah). Carolina is also using two uninspiring rookie wideouts in prominent roles against one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL. The Panthers just can’t score enough to win.
Rosenthal’s pick: Bengals 24, Panthers 14.
Steelers at Buccaneers
Florio’s take: No one expected either of these teams to be 2-0. But one of them is a contender and the other one isn’t and that reality will become obvious on Sunday when the Pittsburgh defense does to Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman what the Pittsburgh defense did to Tennessee quarterback Vince Young. Sure, the Steelers have quarterback issues. I’m even more sure that it doesn’t matter.
Florio’s pick: Steelers 12, Buccaneers 3.
Rosenthal’s take: Charlie Batch dropped back to pass 13 times last week. Those plays gained a combined 19 yards. You can only go on winning like that for so long. Raheem Morris’ Bucs, meanwhile, haven’t given up many points ever since he took over defensive play-calling duties late last year. This is going to another ugly low-scoring Steelers game. But Tampa has the quarterback to make the plays in the fourth quarter. Bucball is back.
Rosenthal’s pick: Buccaneers 13, Steelers 9.
Bills at Patriots
Florio’s take: In Week One of the 2003 season, the Patriots played the Bills in Buffalo. And the Bills won, 31-0. (The rest of the season worked out well for the Pats; they won the Super Bowl.) In 13 meetings since then, the Pats haven’t lost to the Bills. This year should be no different, especially since the Bills look to be the worst team in the conference, if not the entire league.
Florio’s pick: Patriots 35, Bills 10.
Rosenthal’s take: Chan Gailey gave Trent Edwards two games before pulling the plug for Ryan Fitzpatrick. It’s an admission the Bills are aiming low this year. While Fred Jackson has been a Patriots killer in the past, this doesn’t look like the Bills team to end New England’s ridiculous 13-game run in this series. Tom Brady has never look so pissed off as he was leaving the podium after the Jets game. He takes out his frustrations here.
Rosenthal’s pick: Patriots 31, Bills 14.
Browns at Ravens
Florio’s take: The Browns had a chance to carry a 2-0 record, and the confidence that would have come with it, into this grueling test against the struggling-but-powerful Ravens. But the Browns couldn’t beat the Bucs or the Chiefs. They enter a new level against the Ravens, even with an offense that currently can’t score many points.
Florio’s pick: Ravens 16, Browns 6.
Rosenthal’s take: The Ravens split two games against quality opponents because they keep turning the ball over. The Browns lost two close games to mediocre teams because they keep turning the ball over. Advantage, Baltimore. The Browns defense has quietly looked solid, but they are playing just well enough to keep games close for Seneca Wallace and the offense to squander.
Rosenthal’s pick: Ravens 22, Browns 16.
49ers at Chiefs
Florio’s take: Despite losing on Monday night against the Saints, the 49ers seemed to find their groove, something that sorely was missing in a Week One loss to the Seahawks. The Chiefs are, as we’ve dubbed them, the “Overachiefers.” But it may be too much to expect them to move to 3-0, given that they scored only nine points on offense against the Browns. So while I’ve picked the Chiefs to win in each of the first two weeks of the season, and I’m going to cash in while I’m ahead. The Chiefs aren’t a 3-0 team, and the Niners aren’t an 0-3 team. Unless, of course, I’m wrong about that.
Florio’s pick: 49ers 20, Chiefs 10.
Rosenthal’s take: The 49ers think they are unlucky to be 0-2 after an inspired performance against the Saints. Most everyone thinks the Chiefs are lucky to be 2-0 despite an ugly passing game. In a logical world, there would be a correction here. The NFL isn’t logical. The Chiefs possess an exciting young secondary, excellent special teams, and a true home field advantage again. That should be enough against a 49ers team prone to mental mistakes.
Rosenthal’s pick: Chiefs 20, 49ers 16.
Cowboys at Texans
Florio’s take: Last year, the Cowboys carried a two-game losing streak into a showdown with the undefeated Saints. Few thought the Cowboys could win, but win they did. This year, the Dallas trip to Houston has a similar “correction” feel, with the Cowboys’ desperation pushing the coaching staff and the players to reach a level of performance that allows them to get put a “1” where a “0” now resides. Meanwhile, the Texans could be in line for a letdown after Sunday’s dramatic, exhausting, and to a certain extent lucky win over the Redskins.
Florio’s pick: Cowboys 24, Texans 20.
Rosenthal’s take: America must sti
ll love the Cowboys because
Dallas is only three-point underdog to the 2-0 Texans. I must love the Cowboys too based on this pick. This is the perfect matchup for Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. Dallas can’t make adjustments, but they won’t need to against a Houston secondary that’s been overmatched. Dallas’ pass rush can get after Matt Schaub with left tackle Duane Brown suspended. While prone to brain farts, this remains a veteran Cowboys team that knows it can’t afford to lose another game.
Rosenthal’s pick: Cowboys 30, Texans 28.
Lions at Vikings
Florio’s take: Since the Lions swept the Vikings in 1997, the Vikings have beaten the Lions 21 of 24 times. But even in Detroit’s 0-16 season, they lost to the Vikings only by two points in the first game and four in the rematch. While an upset could be coming — especially with Jahvid Best, the first-round tailback the Lions drafted with the first-round pick the Vikings traded to them, looking like the real deal — the Vikings easily could be 2-0 even with an anemic offense. They need this one badly, and they know it.
Florio’s pick: Vikings 28, Lions 19.
Rosenthal’s take: The focus on wide receivers in Minnesota distracts from the team’s real problems. Both offensive tackles have been unable to pass protect. Center remains a weak spot of the offensive line too. Detroit’s front four is improved, but not enough to make up for a dreadful back seven. It’s time for the Vikings offense to get healthy.
Rosenthal’s pick: Vikings 27, Lions 17.
Falcons at Saints
Florio’s take: Atlanta came alive in Week Two, trashing the Cardinals only a week after going toe-to-toe with the Steelers. Though it’ll hurt the Saints not to have Reggie Bush, they’ve got enough other weapons — and they’ve got a driven and motivated Drew Brees. These teams are close enough to give the edge to the home team, and the Saints are the home team. So they get the edge.
Florio’s pick: Saints 29, Falcons 22.
Rosenthal’s take: This is the best matchup of the week, and the most
important. The Falcons have a chance to win 11 games with their
schedule, but the path to winning the NFC South goes through New
Orleans. It’s yet another game where the Saints face an amped-up squad
with everything to gain. It’s a game where we see just how improved the
Falcons defense is. It’s also a game where I’m too chicken to pick
against Drew Brees in the Superdome.
Rosenthal’s pick: Saints 30, Falcons 27.
Redskins at Rams
Florio’s take: In 2008, one of the Rams’ two wins came against the Redskins. In 2009, the Rams nearly scored what would have been their second win of the season against the Redskins. While the Rams have been competitive against the Cardinals and the Raiders, the Redskins have more punch than either of those teams, and it should be enough to result in a fairly early knockout.
Florio’s pick: Redskins 29, Rams 7.
Rosenthal’s take: In 2008, the Redskins ruined a lot of survivor pools by losing to the winless Rams in Week Six. That ended a four-game winning streak for Washington and proved to be a harbinger of misery for Jim Zorn. Mike Shanahan’s arrival brings a dose of competence. The Redskins defense remains talented, and the passing game is improving faster than expected. Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo reminds us more of Zorn. Spags’ side of the ball (defense) still struggles and St. Louis looked awfully sloppy in Oakland.
Rosenthal’s pick: Redskins 20, Rams 14.
Eagles at Jaguars
Florio’s take: In January 2006, Marcus Vick played at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, and he stomped on the leg of then-Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumervil. For the first time since then, a Vick returns to the scene poised to stomp all over the Jaguars. But the problem with the Eagles isn’t the offense but a defense that has surrendered 60 points in two games. Fortunately for Philly, the Jaguars don’t have the horses to take advantage of that flaw.
Florio’s pick: Eagles 24, Jaguars 17.
Rosenthal’s take: Perhaps Andy Reid didn’t start Kevin Kolb because Reid knew Kolb would shred the Jaguars. Just about any quarterback could these days. Jacksonville has improved the defensive line, but the team’s secondary threatens to torpedo the season. Michael Vick may not be one of the best quarterback in the league yet, but life with him will be beautiful for at least one more week.
Rosenthal’s pick: Eagles 33, Jaguars 24.
Colts at Broncos
Florio’s take: The Broncos have suffered in recent years through two prior player deaths, but they’ve never had to deal with it during the season. Emotions will be running high, but it won’t nearly be enough to close the talent gap between these two teams.
Florio’s pick: Colts 31, Broncos 20.
Rosenthal’s take: The last time these two teams played was the beginning of the end for former Broncos defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. The Colts quickly scored three straight times against Nolan’s risky schemes, and the Broncos never fully recovered. Denver’s defense has played it safer this year, but they don’t look appreciably better. This is the wrong week to have two injured starting cornerbacks.
Rosenthal’s pick: Colts 28, Broncos 24.
Raiders at Cardinals
Florio’s take: The Raiders are used to losing; the Cardinals are getting reacquainted with the concept. Though a quick quarterback change did the trick for Oakland in Week Two against the Rams, the Cardinals aren’t the Rams, yet. The Cardinals have only beaten the Raiders twice, and never at home. It’s time for that to change.
Florio’s pick: Cardinals 17, Raiders 14.
Rosenthal’s take: Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett told his team’s website it “felt like Precious fell on me” after playing 81 snaps against the Rams in the opener. She didn’t get off the next week in Atlanta. While the fat lady sang early against the Falcons, it’s not a huge cause for alarm in Arizona. Even Kurt Warner’s teams were prone to wild weekly swings. It’s what Ken Whisenhunt’s Cardinals do. They also bounce back in games they should win at home.
Rosenthal’s pick: Cardinals 23, Raiders 17.
Chargers at Seahawks
Florio’s take: For as good as the Seahawks looked against San Fran in Week One, they went the other way at Denver in Week Two. Chalk the difference up to the rowdy crowd in Seattle, which meshes with coach Pete Carroll’s rah-rah style. So in the 49th meeting between these former AFC West rivals, look for the Seahawks to perform like they did against the 49ers. And it could be just enough to steal a win.
Florio’s pick: Seahawks 20, Chargers 17.
Rosenthal’s take: These are teams that I have no clue about. The Seahawks seem like some grand experiment from Pete Carroll. How many players can you replace in one offseason and still look like an NFL team? With all the new faces and schemes, Seattle needs Matt Hasselbeck to be the steady guiding hand. Instead, he’s prone to mind-numbing interceptions. The Chargers have plenty of questions of their own, but not at quarterback.
Rosenthal’s pick: Chargers 31, Seahawks 27.
Jets at Dolphins
Florio’s take: Rarely if ever does a 1-1 team face a “must” win in Week Three. But never before has a coach dubbed his team “soon to be champs” before losing one at home and winning one at home and facing a 2-0 division rival in Week Three. If the Jets are to put themselves on track to win a Super Bowl, they need to first control their division. And that includes winning at home, and on the road. Against New England, the Jets found a good rhythm on offense; the Dolphins are still searching for theirs. Even without cornerback Darrelle Revis, look for the Jets’ offense to do better than the Dolphins’ offense against a pair of top-flight defenses.
Florio’s pick: Jets 17, Dolphins 16.
Rosenthal’s take: The Jets win against New England was huge. But the sky will start falling again in New York if the Jets fall two games behind Miami. The Dolphins were the Jets’ kryptonite last season, even before Miami improved their cornerback play and speed at linebacker. Like Baltimore, Miami is the rare team that can match the Jets’ toughness. I’ll take the Dolphins running game too.
Rosenthal’s pick: Dolphins 17, Jets 14.
Bears at Packers
Florio’s take: Another battle of the unbeatens, but featuring a potential juggernaut against a team that won’t be able to hold it together over the long haul. The Packers have a powerful offense and a surprisingly good defense, especially with linebacker Clay Matthews becoming the league’s new elite pass rusher. The Packers have already gotten two starting quarterbacks benched in two weeks; though Jay Cutler’s job may be safe, his health may not be.
Florio’s pick: Packers 31, Bears 20.
Rosenthal’s take: I’m not sure how far the Bears will go this year, but they will be fun to watch along the way. Jay Cutler is back to making passes other quarterbacks simply can’t make. When you include Greg Olsen and two excellent pass-catching running backs, Cutler has enough weapons to win. The Bears defense, healthy for once, looks like a different group. Monday night will show how different. I still like the Packers to make the Super Bowl, but the Bears will look like true contenders for one September night.
Rosenthal’s pick: Bears 31, Packers 28.