Back at you for week three of the NFL season with Volume III of Swerb's Blurbs and fresh off my recent engagement to my longtime girlfriend Hallie. While I still have some work to do in converting her to the type of fan that can sit through the rigors of a three-hour Browns game exchanging barks with me, she tries. And for the most part, she understands and accepts my disease as a crazed sports fan. And yes, I had my Couch jersey on when I popped the question.
I'll be in the nation's capital on a business trip next week, so I will be taking a one week hiatus from posting ‘Da Blurbs. For those interested in my hearing my desperate watered down attempts to beat the books, I've decided to release a special late edition of the "Handicapper's Corner" that I will send out Friday night/Saturday morning on e-mail to any interested parties. For more details, check the HC below. If you care to be added to the mailing list I send those picks out to, or have any other feedback or comments, simply drop me a line at email@example.com.
Rams/Steelers Super Bowl?: In yet another glaring example of the parity in the NFL today, the Steelers and the Rams…this season's sexy pre-season Super Bowl prediction, are a combined 0-4. While they remain two of the league's most talented teams, the same flaws that led to each of their demise in last year's playoffs are still notably evident. Both teams continue to suffer from poor decision making from their signal callers, a no-no if you want to still be playing in late January. Trent Dilfer and Tom Brady were not the types of guys that could beat you single-handedly, but they never lost games for their teams and with the help of a strong running game and a solid defense…led their teams to the last two titles. Kordell Stewart is simply too mistake prone to lead a team to a title, and the sooner the Steelers realize that, the better off they'll be. As far as the Rams are concerned, the league may have finally caught up with "the greatest show on turf". The Ram offense has been thrown completely out of whack due in large part to opposing defenses finding ways to put heat on Warner and jam their receivers at the line of scrimmage, leading to 8 turnovers and just 18 points per game in their last 3 games dating back to last seasons shocking Super Bowl loss to the Patriots.
Areas Of Concern: Reminding ourselves once again that the season is still young, several of the serious playoff contenders have had some serious weaknesses exposed in the first two weeks of the season. And while there is still plenty of time left in the year to improve these areas, from a personnel standpoint, there is little that can be done in the NFL after the season starts to fill holes. Having already addressed the Rams and the Steelers, we'll start in San Francisco, who will never go anywhere until either J.J. Stokes or Tai Streets steps it up and starts taking a little pressure off Terrell Owens, who has been ruthlessly double teamed on nearly every route he runs. Staying out west, the Seahawks are having serious issues with their offensive front, and have rushed for just 124 yards in their first two games. Help is on the way as Pro-Bowl tackle Walter Jones just agreed to terms with the team. Holmgren is clearly coaching to keep his job the rest of the way out. The Packers have lost 4 fumbles and allowed their opponents to average over 160 yards a game rushing in the early going, and the Redskins defense has been awful despite the additions of Jesse Armstead, Jeremiah Trotter, and the leagues only million dollar assistant coach…Marvin Lewis. In the AFC, the Jets have looked nothing like the team that steamrolled through the pre-season as their first two opponents have averaged 38 points and 408 yards of total offense. The Colts have still been weak against the pass despite Tony Dungy's presence as head coach. Miami and Jacksonville have completed passes at a 65% clip against them, tossing 4 touchdowns in the process. The Titans weaknesses from a year ago, their offensive line and secondary, still pose some concerns and the Chiefs secondary is simply non-existent. And as far as the Browns are concerned, they still have some serious issues to address with both their running game and run defense.
Looking Ahead: In a week devoid of any huge match-ups, the only game involving two teams off to perfect starts sees the Saints travel to the campus of the University of Illinois to face the Chicago Bears. The prime time games feature the struggling St. Louis Rams traveling to Tampa Bay to face Jon Gruden and his Tampa Bay Bucs on Monday night and the hard luck 0-2 Atlanta Falcons hosting the perennially miserable Bengals on Sunday night. In a couple of games that could provide some serious fireworks, the retooled Buffalo Bill offense heads to Denver for a showdown with the Broncos at Invesco, and the Fun and Done Redskin attack continues on with the brutal start to their schedule with a visit to San Fran to face the 49ers…who they ran the score up on in the pre-season. In the most intriguing divisional match-up this week, the Dolphins look to continue their September dominance when they host the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets.
God Love Those Bungles: Nothing ails a painful loss better than a visit from our rivals from the south in the "Queen City" of Cincinnati, OH. The sad state of the Bengal franchise has turned into an utter joke, and their insistence on letting Gus Frerotte lob 47 sad looking passes when they were consistently churning out 5 yards a run on the ground was classic Bungle football. The defense feasted on Gus, sacking him 5 times, and picking him off 3 times…including the monumental 71 yard INT return by Kenard Lang that eventually led to the score that would put us up 17-0, a lead we would this time not relinquish. Mark Word came through large in relief of Courtney Brown, posting 3 sacks and Brant Boyer, Darren Hambrick, and Robert Griffith also delivered solid defensive performances. Offensively, Kelly Holcomb and Jamel White once again came through with solid efforts and the offensive line protected Kelly well for the second straight week. The run game and run blocking was once again sketchy at best, and Willie Green continued to look tentative running with the ball.
Remember The Titans: What should be Tim Couch's first game behind center this season is a return to the stadium where he arguably had his best game as a pro last December in a 41-38 win over the Titans in Nashville. Couch threw for 336 yards on 20-27 passing with 3 touchdowns against 1 interception. The Titan secondary, their albatross last season, was upgraded in the off-season with the free agent acquisition of free safety Lance Schulters and the drafting of strong safety Tank Williams from Stanford. Also, Samari Rolle, their Pro-Bowl cornerback, is back to full health. Still, there are some serious concerns with their pass defense, especially after allowing Quincy Carter to throw for 240 yards against them last week on 14-24 passing with 2 touchdowns and nary an interception. Also, the Titans have continued to struggle with their running game, compiling just 151 yards on the ground on 51 carries (3.1 yd avg.) in a win over the Eagles and a loss to the Cowboys. Making matters more complicated for the Titan running attack are the fact that their two main rushing threats, Steve McNair and Eddie George, will come into this game a bit banged up. All that being said, this is a dangerous Titan team much improved overall from a season ago. They will be smarting from their bitter upset loss to the Cowboys last week, and will have the Browns late season win over them last year fresh in their minds. I'm starting to sound like a broken record on this topic, but it once again will be imperative that the Browns are able to establish some sort of ground attack in order to take pressure off Timmy in his return to the lineup. They must get the run game untracked. Also, the arm of Steve McNair will pose a much greater test than that of Gus Frerotte, who our defense feasted on last week.
Around the NCAA…
The Week That Was: In a week full of surprises, the biggest had to be Penn State's unleashing of two years worth of frustration in a demoralizing 40-7 beating of Nebraska. Outside of Omaha natives and people who had Nebraska –6 on the road, was there a fan out there not happy to see Joe Pa get that win? Ohio State also looked dominant shutting out Washington St. 19-0 in the second half behind a stifling defense and Maurice Clarett, perhaps the most talented freshman runner college football has seen in the last twenty to thirty years. The rest of the Big Ten looked brutal, headlined by Michigan's upset loss to Notre Dame and Michigan St.'s home loss to Cal, who are now 3-0 after finishing 1-10 a season ago. Iowa once again fell to rival Iowa St., and Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, and Northwestern all barely fended off visiting teams they were expected to handle. In other games of note this past week, Georgia fended off South Carolina 13-7 in a mistake plagued and rain soaked affair. Also, Virginia Tech and USC destroyed Marshall and Colorado, respectively, in what figured to be very competitive games that ended up being blowouts that ended up telling us a lot about all four teams.
Heisman Watch: Without a shadow of a doubt, if not for the unwritten rules in college football that prohibit a freshman from winning the Heisman, Ohio St. true frosh Maurice Clarett would be engrossed in an early three way battle with Ken Dorsey and Byron Leftwich for college football's top individual honor. Right behind that trio are Michigan St.'s talented wideout Charles Rogers, Oregon RB Onterrio Smith, and Miami Fla. RB Willis McGahee. Also still in the thick of the race are several talented signal callers such as Washington St.'s Jason Gesser, North Carolina St.'s Phillip Rivers, Texas's Chris Simms, Iowa St.'s Seneca Wallace, and Casey Clausen of Tennessee and Rex Grossman of Florida…who face off against each other this Saturday in Knoxville.
The Games That Matter: Although some teams have played a conference game already, most begin play next week. This week, already the fifth weekend of play in college, features nearly all out of conference showdowns and is headlined one of the few when Florida travels to Knoxville to play Tennessee. Virginia Tech, after successfully muting Marshall's potent offense, this week travels to College Station to this week take on one of the countries top defenses in Texas A & M. Notre Dame looks to continue their magical start in a road match-up against Michigan St. In a showdown of Heisman quality quarterbacks, Texas Tech hosts North Carolina St. and Brigham Young and Georgia Tech play in a contest where both teams will look to rebound from disappointing losses last week. In the only other conference game of any significance, Miami Fla. hosts Boston College…who nearly ruined their perfect season a year ago.
The HC rumbles on fresh off a sweep of the board in the NFL in week two. All three of my selections on Chicago, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay cashed in as easy winners on what was a very solid Sunday for me. In the college ranks, I posted just two plays, and both Oklahoma St. and Wake Forest had late opportunities to sneak in the back door and get inside the number before faltering late. For the season, I stand at 5-5-2 on my combined plays in both college and the pros.
Week two in the NFL was one for the ‘dogs, as underdogs went 12-4 ATS (against the spread) this week and won 10 of those games SU (straight up)! For the season, favored teams in the NFL have only covered the point spread in 11 of the 32 games played thus far. Also, 10 of the 16 games played this weekend went under the Vegas total. Last week 11 of the 16 contests went over. In the four battles pitting AFC and NFC foes against one another, the conferences went 2-2 ATS with Dallas and Tampa pulling through for the NFC and Buffalo and Dallas covering the number on the AFC side. For the season, the AFC is 6-3 ATS in those contests.
And lastly, before I get to my picks, for anyone that cares to be added to the mailing list of the free pick newsletter that I'll be sending out each Friday night/Saturday morning, simply drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Included in that newsletter will be any additional selections I see value in as the week progresses, new information becomes available, and the point spreads change. While the plays I release below are highly researched and always strong plays, the Tuesday deadline I assign myself for this column leaves a lot of time for things to change before the games go off 4-5 days later. Each week, the newsletter will have roughly my top 5 plays in college and the pros come Friday evening as opposed to the couple on each side I list below. Here we go with this week's selections…
Always looking for value in the numbers, this is a situation here where I just don't feel the Giants are as good as they have played the first 2 weeks, and the Seahawks are not as bad as they have looked. Six is a big number, and the Giants should not be laying that much here despite solid efforts against the 49ers and the Rams. Seattle gets back Pro-Bowl OT Walter Jones this week and possibly DT John Randle. Shaun Alexander has been non-existent thus far, and I am fully expecting this game to be a coming out party for Shaun and the much-maligned Seahawk O-Line against a questionable Giant front seven. Take the Seahawks plus 6.
Despite winning 13 games a year ago, and starting the season 2-0 with wins over the Vikings and Falcons, the Bears continue to get disrespected by odds makers who have them laying less than a field goal here at home against the Saints. This is due in large part to the Saints surprising first 2 victories over Tampa Bay and Green Bay. I'll say it again. The Bears are one of the best teams in the league from top to bottom, especially at the lines of scrimmage. If they continue to get these favorable point spreads all season, they will likely repeat their 11-4-1 mark against the number. I like the Bears to win comfortably here, and pray this number stays below three. Take ‘Da Bears.
Much like my Buccaneers pick last week, analytically this selection makes little sense. I'm going with my gut instinct that the Jets rebound this week from last week's debacle at home against New England and continue their legacy as the league's top road warriors here against the Dolphins. The Jets were 7-1 SU and 6-2 ATS on the road last season, and won and covered their first road game this year in week one at Buffalo. The gut says Fiedler comes back to life, the Jets actually contain an opposing RB to some extent, and they get the win here. Or at least keep it tight. Take the Jets.
Both teams have some issues at the QB position, but overall…the Hokies are the much more talented team here. This version of the A&M defense may be the best ever, but they lack the playmakers offensively that Virginia Tech can showcase. After watching the Hokie defense utterly dominate LSU and Marshall, I doubt the Aggies will be able to post more than 10 points here. Plus, you can always count on the Hokies for a big special teams play. Take the Hokies laying the field goal.
I'll go against the Wolfpack once again here, and play on a Red Raider team that finally looked up to snuff in an impressive win over Eli Manning and Ole Miss last week. Despite their drubbing at the hands of OSU and an unconvincing win over SMU in week two, this remains a very talented and experienced team that I am still very high on this season. NC St. has been flying high, covering each of their first 4 contests, all convincing wins against opponents much weaker than the Red Raiders. How often does a team cover 5 games in a row? Never. Take Texas Tech –2 ½.
Southern Mississippi +7 at Alabama/Saturday 7:00 PM ET
Another value play here. Why is this number so high? Because of Bama's spirited performance in a tight loss to Oklahoma. This is still an Alabama team that barely fought off Middle Tennessee St. in week one and just got the bad news that their appeal to be able to waive probation and appear in a bowl game this year failed. All Southern Miss has done is look very impressive in back to back wins over Illinois and Memphis behind all-world running back Derrick Nix. Plus, the Golden Eagles are looking to revenge a 28-15 loss to the Tide at home late last season that ended their bowl hopes. Take Southern Miss plus the seven.