Broncos vs Ravens
The Ravens were brought back to Earth with a bump in Week 2 against the Bengals. They were unable to protect Joe Flacco and will now face the the premier pass rusher in the league, Von Miller. Miller and first round rookie, Bradley Chubb, could make life difficult for the Ravens offense. In order to win Baltimore simply must improve their pass protection.
In order to win the Ravens will need to find their running game. The leading rusher, Alex Collins, has only managed 48 yards on the ground as Ravens have preferred to move utilise their renewed receiving corp. Willie Snead, Michael Crabtree and John Brown have already added 300 yards and 4 touchdowns. Rookie tight end Mark Andrews has also flashed potential as a receiving threat.
The Broncos offense features the only undrafted rookie in NFL history to have 100 all purpose yards in each of his first two games (178 rushing, 35 receiving). They may look to keep the ball in his hands rather than risking Keenum turn the ball over. After having only 7 interceptions a year ago, Keenum has already thrown 4. If the Broncos do elect to use the air attack against an inefficient Ravens team then look for big games for from resurgent Emanuel Sanders, rookie Courtland Sutton and Jake Butt, who seems fully recovered from the injury that kept him out all of 2017. With several key members missing through suspension and injury will the Ravens defense be overwhelmed?
For all the fanfare the Broncos defense gets it’s the offensive line that should be the key in this one. Denver have invested a lot of resources in their offensive line and it has been much improved. The Ravens defense meanwhile ranks 16th against the run, in large because of their performance against the woeful Buffalo Bills. Look for Denver to take a close one here.
Bengals vs Panthers
The Bengals have been the class of the AFC North. Andy Dalton has been impressive for the Bengals behind a renewed offensive line that has given him time to find superstar AJ Green. Third year receiver Tyler Boyd finally looks like the consistent weapon the team thought they were drafting. Add in healthy tight end Tyler Eifert and the Bengals passing game becomes an explosive mix. Against Kawann Short, Mario Addison and Wes Horton the Bengals will face their toughest test of the young season. While Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson are among the best linebacking corp in the league, the Carolina secondary doesn’t scare anyone and Dalton could pick them apart.
The worry for Cincinnati is that they become one dimensional now that they will be without Joe Mixon for a number of weeks. His backup, Giovanni Bernard, has contributed more receiving yards than he has rushing yards (26 vs 25). Whilst he’s had some good games for the Bengals they’re generally been as a relief player.
Defense was a big part of why the Bengals beat the Ravens. Against a Panthers line that has been struggling they may be looking to feast. It will be easier said than done against Cam Newton, who is more than a handful to bring down. If anyone is up to the task it’s perennial Pro Bowler, Geno Atkins. Sam Hubbard, who terrorised Flacco last week, should also join the hunt.
Former Stanford standout Christian McCaffrey is a threat to score every time he touches the ball and will take some careful game planning to contain. Unfortunately for Carolina there’s very little else for the Bengals to worry about. Look out for one of my favorite rookies, safety Jessie Bates, as he works against the Carolina receivers.
I’m expecting Bengals to remain undefeated as Andy Dalton continues to target AJ Green early and often.
Steelers vs Buccaneers
The Steelers face a Buccaneers team that will be looking to go 3-0. Pittsburgh are winless so far in 2018 (0-1-1) and have struggled to defend. Enter Ryan Fitzpatrick and his weapons who will look to take over. DeSean Jackson is averaging over 30 yards a catch and could be in for a huge day. Unfortunately for the Steelers he is not the only weapon for Tampa; Mike Evans, O.J Howard and Chris Goodwin will all be licking their chops. TJ Watt will look to pressure Fitzpatrick but at least one of his weapons should be open all day.
Last week the Steelers offense started slowly. If they do that against the Buccaneers they’ll have a job to recover. James Conner is averaging 3.9 yards a carry which, while not flashy, is enough to move the chains consistently. He’s not only running the ball well (152 yards, 3 TDs) he looks to have improved as a receiver too (105 yards). However it is JuJu Smith-Schuster, not superstar Antonio Brown, who has been the one making plays for Pittsburgh and tight end Jesse James has finally emerged as a receiving threat.
The Tampa Bay defense, as terrifying as a toothless shark just a year ago, now has some weapons. They raided the NFC East in the off season and signed former Eagles Vinny Curry and Beau Allen in addition to trading for Jean Pierre-Paul. These new additions joined defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to give the Bucs a front that occupies blockers and keeps their impressive linebackers clean. The team even added one of the starts of this year’s Hard Knocks show, former Browns defensive end, Carl Nassib. The only worry for Tampa is injuries, which have limited the effectiveness of their secondary.
Until the Steelers show that they can not only defend but take care of the ball too (-4 turnovers on the year), it’s hard to see them finishing the season with a winning record. I’m picking the Buccaneers and Fitz-magic too keep rolling here.