Welcome to the Upset Watch Monday Morning Roundup!
Every week I look back on Monday at the weekend's games. I'll be talking about what we learned, the success of our picks so far, and any musings that I find interesting. This week, we start with a bullet dodged...
Upset Watch picks
Well, that could have been a lot worse.
We finished the day with a small profit, in no small part due to the 100% record of our underdog cover picks.
The Jets, Falcons and Cardinals were our Sunday covers, and they all delivered - though they also all left it late. That's the beauty of such bad spreads, you know that even as an underdog who is seemingly beaten, there is a strong chance that they can get within 7-10pts by the end of the game.
We have 2 more games to come tonight, and those of you who have read Upset Watch know who my picks are for those games. While I can't give anything away in this free article, I still think there's a solid chance for us to finish in profit.
From a wins perspective, we had Miami to win, but when the Commanders and Panthers let us down, the Dolphins comeback saved our day from a wins perspective.
The Seattle game was difficult for a couple of reasons. Trey Lance's injury was not only bad for the player, but bad for us, as the pick was largely predicated on Lance's struggles. When Jimmy Garropolo took over, you saw the 49ers offense start to play it's more 2021 gameplan of wearing down the defense with the run game, and Jimmy G moving the chains. That said, Seattle's offense didn't turn up at all, so I can't really complain either way.
So tonight will be an interesting night for us. It's the fabled MNF double-header, so don't forget that the first game starts at 7:30pm ET, and the second an hour later. If you want the picks for that game, click here.
Expert and user roundup
The unpredictability of week 2 hit the experts badly - no expert picked more than 10 games correctly.
But our users are always worth following. Our Moneyline contest leader with 2games left this week is Vegaslock, who has a current profit of +$704 on the week, with second placed fat boy on +$518, and a number of other players within striking distance if their picks win and the top guys lose.
Overall in the season-long contest, Shinyhead and GIANTS56 both did well enough to push over the +$1k mark for the season after solid but unspectacular weeks. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and the good thing for new players is that we would peg the final winning total at somewhere around +$10k by the end of the season, so a good run could net you a cash prize!
In the ATS contest, swishmiss2469 went 13-1 and unsurprisingly, is leading on +$654 heading into Monday. Interestingly, their nearest competitor nailed the 'more return for less picks' mantra I talk about, returning +$527 on just 9 winners. Those picks you avoid are sometimes the most important ones.
The season-long contest is pretty close, with nobody dominating, but gnflzonewatch is currently +$21 ahead of DannyBoy29 who was also careful with his stakes this week and minimized his losses.
Finally, our Over/Under contest is a close affair this weekend, with capen just +$2 ahead of bammbamm64 who is second on +$690.
In the season contest, I am embarrassingly still top on +$976 (and of course, I will be passing any prizes I win down to the second placed person), despite being 253rd in wins.
That's because, if you look at my stakes, I was careful to avoid staking $100 on everything. I went 8-6, but only one of those losing picks had a $100 stake, whereas 6 of my winners did. The games I was most confident in, I won, the games I wasn't, I lost, but only lost around half of what I would have had I staked the maximum on everything.
Oh man, where do you begin? Lance was not great last week and I had signposted this game against the very beatable Seahawks as a huge indicator of his season trajectory. It was arguably the most vital game of Lance's career so far, one that would either put the calls for Jimmy G to bed for a while, or add momentum to replacing him.
Unfortunately, we didn't get to see much of Lance, and we won't until next season, because the first-quarter ankle injury he suffered has ended his 2022 campaign before it had even really got going. It's a devastating blow for Lance, and adds intrigue to his future that was unimaginable. He will now enter 2023 as effectively a 3rd year rookie, coming off a long term injury.
As for Garropolo, this was of course great news for him. Everyone can pretend they care about the other guy, but ultimately Jimmy G wants to play, and Lance's injury has validated his decision to stick around in San Francisco. Most interestingly of all, he gives the 49ers a far better shot at winning in the near future, and his presence immediately lifts the 49ers back into NFC West contention.
The good news for Jeudy is that he's seemingly not broken anything, and it appears to be a pain management issue. The team has called it a 'rib' injury, which will be an interesting one for a receiver to play with given the sheer amount of contact he will be faced with. If the pain is severe, it'll be hard for him to suit up and be an effective outlet for Russell Wilson.
He'd be a big miss for Denver, who desperately need a big play threat. More on that later...
Conner went down in the third quarter with an ankle injury, and the fact that his status was not clarified by the Cards in postgame pressers suggests the injury may be the kind where he'll miss time.
If so, the Cardinals will turn to Eno Benjamin and Darrel Williams. Conner was not playing particularly well behind a terrible offensive line, but his absence would be a blow to the Cardinals, who increasingly seem dependent on Kyler Murray for their entire offensive output.
Week 2 Winners and Losers
The Lions Offense
So, the Lions are definitely going to be a dangerous team who are difficult to predict.
Through 2 games, the Lions average 35.5 points, and on offense, they really do look borderline unstoppable at times. We'll need a few more weeks before we can properly weight their performances, but given the Commanders defensive line looks good on paper, that bodes well for the Lions.
And coach Dan Campbell deserves credit for the turnaround. From week 13 of last season through the first 2 weeks of 2022, Campbell's Lions average 27.8 points per game, and 130 rushing yards. they've found a star in Amon-Ra St.Brown, and their entire offense seems extremely well balanced.
Now, they just have to figure out their defense, which had given up 30.4 points per game over the same time period...
The season is back on.
It's very difficult to quantify a team after just one week, and we should maybe more careful about that in future. In particular, one mistake would be to write off a team like Dallas with arguably one of the most ferocious front 7's in the game.
And this means that Jerry Jones's dream of the playoffs may not have ended with Dak Prescott's injury. Replacement Cooper Rush was solid, and the offensive line kept him relatively well protected, giving up just a single sack.
It is only one win, and the Bengals will be featuring in our losers column, but it symbolizes hope for the Cowboys, and makes the prospect of a winning season just that little more realistic.
If you're picking points totals, the under is now 20-9-1 on the season, with 2 more games to play on the week.
Why? Because despite the narrative of the NFL as a high-powered, offense-only landscape, defenses have quietly made a big impact in 2022. In just two weeks, we've already had 10 games that have seen neither team get more than 20 points. That number last year was 6, in 2020, it was 4.
In fact, this year's total of 10 is the highest of any year since 2010, when 13 games finished with neither team scoring 3 TD's.
So why is it happening? I think the losers section will tell us a lot, but in basic terms, I am not sure that some of the league's trusty veteran QB's are able to do some of the things they've been doing for a decade. The likes of Brady, Wilson, Ryan, Stafford, Tannehill and Rodgers have all looked shaky at the outset of this season. It's not a coincidence that 5 of those players have lost vital wide receiver help through injury or personnel decisions by their teams, but I think their time is drawing to a close, and at this point, the divide between the teams with a Mahomes, a Murray, a Jackson, an Allen or a Herbert, and everyone else, is becoming ever bigger.
Predicting the downfall of star players is always tricky. Our friend Sam Monson of PFF famously predicted Tom Brady's powers were on the wane, only for Brady to rebound and in the spirit of the meme, take that personally.
But as we're now 6 years removed from that point, I don't think it's unreasonable to ask and answer those questions once more - not only of Brady, but of the QB's now in their mid-late 30s who are signposting their desire to play into their forties, like Brady has.
The worst of the bunch is clearly Matt Ryan. I cautioned in preseason that Ryan is not the MVP of 2017, and the Colts will struggle with him. I had thought that they would protect him with a strong running game, but he looks much, much worse than Carson Wentz and an aged Philip Rivers did in the same offense.
Then there's Brady. We all understand at this point that it is almost over, that this is his last season, and the farewells will begin soon. I don't think there's any shame in becoming a limited QB at the age of 45, but Brady bristles at that suggestion, and it drives him to destroy electronic goods on the sidelines.
Aaron Rodgers, who has been left to do the hard work without any receivers in Green Bay at 38, can't afford to sit behind the kind of offensive line he could work around in his younger days. Russell Wilson looks like a man who has spent much of the last 3 years being beaten up behind a bad O-line in Seattle, and should be a cautionary tale.
None of the four Quarterbacks I've mentioned has managed more than 2 TD's on the season yet. They're not changing the game, they're very much subservient to the quality of the players around them, and while all would argue that it's always been a team effort, we've seen enough of these players over the last decade or longer to suggest that this wasn't always the case. Brady has worked with less, Rodgers has scrambled around and won games from improbable situations, and Wilson... well Wilson has at times done all of those things.
But their era is almost over, and they have never looked more human. Neither have Matthew Stafford with his 5 interceptions in 2 games, or Derek Carr, with 3 interceptions to go with his 2 losses. My point here? This isn't Joe Flacco backing up an up-and-coming starter, these guys are leading their teams. and right now, the established players who we've seen win Super Bowls over the last decade look like they're a level below the best young QB's in the league.
Their only saving grace? In a world where Jameis Winston, Baker Mayfield, Geno Smith and Marcus Mariota are starting too, they're unlikely to be forced out of the door anytime soon.
There's a saying about first impressions that I can't remember exactly, but I can guarantee that it isn't 'look as incompetent as possible so everyone thinks you don't know what you're doing'.
I'm all for a relaxed attitude, and Hackett has that genial demeanor that suggests nothing should be taken too seriously in life, but maybe, just maybe, he might want to think about taking his job as Head Coach of the Denver Broncos more seriously.
Hackett has presided over two of the most miserable game-management displays since the Vance Joseph Chargers era. The comical inability to make decisions or plan adequately for in-game scenarios has been exposed brutally to the world, and the optics of the crowd at Mile High chanting the play clock to avoid delay of game penalties are brutal.
The problem for Hackett is that with new owners, his period to impress is even more limited. That ownership group may not be inclined to watch their new investment, and the new star QB (who is friends with Lewis Hamilton and Mellody Hobson, two of the new owners) be devalued in front of their eyes by incompetence.
Sometimes, the NFL doesn't go the way you want, and the best laid plans implode into almighty ruin at the first kickoff. That's not what is happening here, the Broncos are beating themselves, and have come close to losing consecutive weeks to teams in the bottom 2 or 3 of most expert power rankings. Hackett won't get forever to put that right.
The Cincinnati Bengals
No team invested more heavily in it's offensive line this offseason than Cincinnati.
Last season, Joe Burrow was sacked more than any other QB, and it was a priority for the Bengals to keep him upright. After all, he led them to a Super Bowl while spending most of the game running for his life, surely a good O-line would get them one step further? In came T La'el Collins, G Rodger Saffold, and C Ted Karras, all from fellow playoff teams.
But what has happened defies all logic. The Bengals are now bottom of the NFL in sacks allowed again, having given up 7 in week 1 to the Steelers, and 6 to the Cowboys. Sure, that's two of the best pass rushing groups in the game, but you don't invest the money they have into 3 proven pass protectors, and expect worse results.
Even worse, their own pass rush is anemic, logging just 1 sack in each contest so far. They had a relatively easy pair of opposing QB's over the last few games, with Mitch Trubisky and Cooper Rush both firmly at the bottom of any starting QB ranking. How will they fare against the teams that they have to beat to get to the Super Bowl, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, or even Tua Tagovailoa? We'll find out, because they're all regular season opponents in 2022.