Words by: Harley Schultz,
Rankings by: Paul Charchian
1. St. Louis Rams @ WAS
The St. Louis Rams must’ve been upset that they finished 10th in sacks last year. I mean, why else would a team that already had four potential All-Pro defensive linemen go out and sign interior-beast, Nick Fairley. The depth doesn’t stop there as they have three premiere linebackers and their safeties are so deep that the hard-hitting, Mark Barron isn’t even listed as a starter. Kirk Cousins isn’t a good quarterback. He is not even an average quarterback. He certainly is not in the same stratosphere as last week’s opponent Russell Wilson. Wilson used his speed to put up reasonable numbers against the Rams but even with that speed, he was sacked six times. Cousins doesn’t have that speed, he may get sacked double-digit times. Best case scenario for him, he is only sacked six times and only turns it over twice.
2. Denver Broncos @ KC
Denver has a defense that may end up amongst the greatest ever. Demarcus Ware, Danny Trevathan, Brandon Marshall, and Von Miller makeup a linebacker corps that is more impenetrable than the barbed wire fence that was just put up to separate Serbia from Hungary. Only two teams gave up fewer running back rushing touchdowns last year. Plus from Week 5 onward, only one team topped 100 rushing yards against them. They also have one of the best cover cornerbacks in the league in Aqib Talib. Talib has been used in the past to shadow and shut down superstar tight ends. I wouldn’t be surprised if Denver chooses to repeat that strategy yet again by having him cover Travis Kelce. If you take away Kelce and Jamaal Charles, I just don’t see where Kansas City is going to score any points this week.
3. Baltimore Ravens @ OAK
Derek Carr hurt his thumb last week. Right now he is hoping that he can start. If not, than Matt McGloin might get the start for Oakland this week. The Raiders have also considered resigning Christian Ponder. An injured Carr or a healthy McGloin would already be cause célèbre for Ravens fans, if Ponder somehow ends up starting Baltimore might as well bust out the Cristal right now. Only five teams allowed fewer passing touchdowns last season and the Ravens just got done shutting out Peyton Manning. It doesn’t look pretty for whoever ends up taking snaps for the silver and black. Heck, if I was Carr I might milk this injury for another week just to avoid this game.
4. Buffalo Bills vs. NE
In case you thought it was smoke and mirrors, reality check for you, this Buffalo Bills defense is for real. Over their last eleven games, they have held opposing quarterbacks to an average of 174 yards. This isn’t just against ham-and-eggers. This included starts against Aaron Rodgers (175 yards), Peyton Manning (173 yards), and even Tom Brady (144 yards). Brady did pound the Bills pretty hard early last year, but the Bills’ defense was short-handed that week. The Patriots do get LeGarrette Blount back from suspension for this tilt, but the Bills get run-snuffer, Marcell Dareus, back from his one-game suspension as well. Dareus is particularly disgruntled over a Boston Globe article from last week where they stated that, “After Patriots, AFC East is still a trio of zeros”. Something tells me you would not like Dareus when he gets angry. With fuel added to this already combustible situation expect this fierce front four to be even more aggressive.
5. Miami Dolphins @ JAX
Jacksonville allowed 12 more sacks than the next closest team last season. Plus they turned the ball over 26 times and allowed five DST touchdowns. Two of those scores, along with four sacks and three takeaways came at the hands of Miami in Week 8. The Jaguars did bring in a couple reserves from other teams to improve their O-Line, but now it appears that their best returning lineman, starting left tackle, Luke Joeckel may miss this game due to injury. Last week, Blake Bortles did his best Blaine Gabbert impersonation as he was sacked five times and threw two picks, including a pick-six. It won’t be any easier with someone new blocking his blind side.
6. Kansas City Chiefs vs. DEN
Late last season, Peyton Manning appeared to suffer a precipitous drop in his skills. He held himself to two or fewer passing scores in six of his last seven games. Manning actually looked even worse this past Sunday. Of course it doesn’t help that he has a completely rebuilt offensive line in front of him. It also didn’t help that C.J. Anderson looked like anything but a premiere running back. Peyton is blaming his footwork for his Week 1 struggles, but Gary Kubiak’s system is just going to continue to highlight this deficiency going forward. Week 1, The Ravens sacked him four times and picked him off once. This week it could be even tougher sledding for the Broncos as Peyton’s top target, Demaryius Thomas, is slightly dinged up. Plus the Chiefs are coming off a five-sack, multiple-takeaway game against a couple of crappy Houston quarterbacks.
7. Cleveland Browns vs. TEN
Marcus Mariota posted a perfect QB rating last week versus Tampa Bay. This week he gets a dose of reality as he heads into the Dog Pound to face a much stiffer pass defense. Only six teams allowed fewer passing touchdowns and only one team had more interceptions than Cleveland. At least Mariota shouldn’t have to worry about taking too many sacks. The combination of his feet and an O-line returning 4 starters, including two consecutive 1st round picks should provide him some shade. Of course that very same line did allow 50 sacks last year (including three to Cleveland).
8. Houston Texans @ CAR
Cam Newton has one legitimate weapon remaining to throw the ball to in Greg Olsen. This probably doesn’t bode well for this contest since Houston allowed the second-fewest receptions and yards to the tight end position last season. That said, Houston dropped the ball last week and allowed Travis Kelce to post huge numbers against them. If Houston is wise they will have Johnathan Joseph shadow Olsen and take their chances with the rest of the Panthers’ wide receivers. Either way, you aren’t playing Houston because of their secondary. You are playing them because of J.J. Watt and his new partner-in-crime Jadeveon Clowney. Watt had two sacks and they combined for seven tackles-for-loss last week expect more of the same going forward.
9. Arizona Cardinals @ CHI
Jay Cutler is a mistake waiting to happen. Over the last two seasons he has 39 turnovers in just 26 starts. Chicago is also thin at wide receiver right now. In Week 1, three different injured receivers played and caught passes for the Bears. They all seemed to make it through the game in one piece but if any of them is a no go this week, then Chicago will be at the point where they could be playing guys off the street. Patrick Peterson looks to shutdown a hobbled Alshon Jeffery leaving Cutler to figure out how to get any points out of the rest of his stooges. I am a little concerned about Martellus Bennett having a big game here, but that’ll be determined by whether or not Tyrann Mathieu continues to perform like he did in Week 1. With three passes defended and eight tackles it looks like he has recaptured his honey badger magic.
10. Cincinnati Bengals vs. SD
The Bengals possess one of the most ball-hawking secondaries in the league. This week they lock horns with Philip Rivers who is coming off a game where he made mincemeat of a disintegrated Detroit defense. Most of Rivers’ damage was done through the hands of Keenan Allen who will likely be held in check by superstar corner, Leon Hall. Despite having success moving the ball through the air, San Diego turned the ball over three times in Week 1. This could be problematic for them since Cincinnati is one of only two teams that had more INTs than passing touchdowns allowed in 2014.
11. Seattle Seahawks @ GB
It appears that for a second-straight week the Seahawks will be without All-Pro safety, Kam Chancellor. This could prove painful against a formidable Aaron Rodgers’ led offense. Obviously Seattle is stingy versus passing attacks. The five wide receiver touchdowns they allowed last season was half the number allowed by the next closest team. Seattle is not quite the team they were in 2013 when they led the league with 2.5 takeaways per game, but they did finish strong netting eight takeaways over their three final regular season contests last year.
12. Philadelphia Eagles vs. DAL
Tony Romo has been often characterized as a choke artist in big game settings. This week he will be going to battle without his top talent/target. He is also travelling into hostile territory to take on a team that scored the most DST touchdowns last season, including nearly one per game at home. In their two contests last season, Dallas committed four turnovers and Romo was sacked a total of seven times.
13. New England Patriots @ BUF
The Patriots’ ranking is based almost exclusively on my continued lack of trust in Tyrod Taylor, more than my appreciation for the Patriots’ defense. Yes, Taylor looked halfway decent this past weekend but that was against an Indianapolis team without their number two corner and without starting ROLB, Robert Mathis. New England made several alterations to a defense that recorded seven sacks and that forced four turnovers in their two meetings last season. That new-look defense looked pretty good in Week 1 as they recorded three sacks and an INT against Pittsburgh despite getting only 11 snaps from Jerod Mayo.
14. Carolina Panthers vs. HOU
How bad was Brian Hoyer? He couldn’t even last one full game as the Texans’ starting quarterback. The next man up, Ryan Mallett, isn’t much better. He has a career record of three touchdowns and three interceptions and he has never finished with more than 211 yards passing in a game. Plus Houston is still without Arian Foster. Carolina isn’t as dominant as they were in 2013 when they led the league in points allowed at home. That said, they still finished in the top ten in points allowed at home last year and they kept the Jags out of the end zone in Week 1. Also no team allowed fewer passing yards per game and only six teams allowed fewer total yards per game than Carolina did last year.
15. Minnesota Vikings vs. DET
I’m not buying that what we saw versus San Francisco is the real Vikings 2015 defense. This was supposed to be season two of a build out by defensive mastermind, Mike Zimmer. What we got was a lot of over pursuit and failure to maintain gap consistency. That sort of sloppy play pretty much guarantees extra running drills all this week at practice. Matthew Stafford averaged only 169-1 against the Vikings last year and he was sacked four times over the pair of games. His struggles fall at the feet of Calvin Johnson who has missed two of the last four games against Minnesota and finished the other two with a combined line of 8-90. Making matters tougher for the Lions, Stafford appeared to injure his arm late in Week 1. If Johnson can’t shake his issues with the Vikings, this game just becomes that much easier for a defense that should show its true colors this week.
Tennessee Titans @ CLE
Josh McCown got obliterated at the goal line and wound up in the concussion protocol last week leaving Johnny Manziel to steer the good ship Brown. How well did that go? Well, he did throw a nice looking deep touchdown pass but he also got sacked three times, and turned the ball over three additional times. There is zero chance that Tennessee’s defense is currently owned in your league, even in 16-team leagues requiring you to start two defenses there is a good chance the Titans can be found on the waiver wire. Last week, they got a pick-six on their first defensive snap of the game. I wouldn’t be surprised if they repeat that feat this time round.