Welcome to the Upset Watch Monday Morning Roundup!
Upset Watch sometimes gets a little hefty to put in any non-pick related musings, and so every week of 2022, I'll be discussing what happened over the games played so far, injuries, performances, and what all of that means for our thinking as the season goes on.
Upset Watch picks
A good start to the season saw us go 3-3 on winners and 2-0 on covers so far (Readers know the Upset Watch picks for tonight in MNF, but I cannot say whether it is an underdog cover or winner). The overall profit was $328 or 41% return on your investment!
The best pick of the week was clearly the Giants, who I thought played to their strengths in the second half, and showed that if they make Saquon Barkley a focal point of ther offense, they can stay in games. It's probably best to keep the ball out of Daniel Jones's hands if he's going to throw frankly dumb picks like he did yesterday with the game on the line, but Brian Daboll's public chastisement seemed to kick Jones into life, so maybe he needs the tough love.
The Vikings were another great pick. I've been on this one for a while now, and it was obvious that the Packers are going to be a very different team on both sides of the ball in 2022, and that the Vikings made big improvements over the offseason. It played out as expected, with the Packers D flailing and Aaron Rodgers unable to avoid the pass rush.
The biggest whiff was the Cowboys, and it's an annoying one. Their offensive line was a major concern, and I spent the column on Wednesday explaining why this would happen, before picking the opposite outcome! As it happened, the Cowboys faced 3rd-and-long way too often, and even before Dak Prescott's injury, it was clear that without an O-line, this offense is a mess (more below).
Expert and user roundup
Shoutout to user rick 1220 who is 14-0 on the week (we discount ties from straight up calculations). Two other users, efromlv and johnnyboy hit 13-1, and 10 other players scored 12-2.
The top-performing expert was On Tap Sports's Joey Ricotta, who didn't pick the Bills or Giants games, but finished 11-1 (91.7%), and interestingly, had picked the Texans to win. 6 experts finished 11-2, including one of our HOF pickers, Jamey Eisenberg of CBS.
With only one game to go, the experts are united in picking the Broncos, but there are some fans who disagree. In fact, 4 of our top 8 are picking Seattle...
As things stand, GIANTS56 is likely to win the week 1 moneyline contest with a virtual profit of +$631, taking over from shinyhead who had put the maximum stake of $100 on the Cowboys to win last night and fell from the top spot.
In the ATS contest, tanguero23 is leading with +$700, but the race is narrower and because of the more competitive nature of ATS picks (more or less a 50-50 split) it could be very different by morning
Finally, in our Points total over/under contest, a massive shoutout to BigKev, who on profit of +$782 leads from... well, from me actually! I rarely use my public-facing Pickwatch account to make picks, as it can sometimes tip who I am picking in Upset Watch, but as I was testing the app on Sunday, my points total picks went 12-2. A lot of the same logic in Upset Watch goes into making those picks, so it may be something I add to Upset Watch over the season.
Just to make it clear, I am not eligible for prizes, of course.
One final point, I know how tempting it is to stick $100 on every pick, but part of the art of getting this stuff right is knowing when to be cautious and save yourself from losing.
Sure, if you get 80-90% of your picks right, you're going to do pretty well, but let me put it another way - if you go 8-8 (and the odds suggest you'll have more 8-8 weeks than 11-5) then most weeks, you will lose $50 overall once the profit is counted. However, if you put $50 on your losing picks, and $100 on your winning picks, you would be up by $352 on the same 8-8 scoreline!
Over the season, the people who do best will be those who pick and choose where to put the big $100 picks, and where to avoid banana skins. That's my tip of the day, don't get caught up in who wins the weekly contest this week, look at who balances out after 3-4 weeks with the best strategy, and is making the most money from the fewest wins. That's the Upset Watch way.
The Cowboys were already looking bad before Prescott's hand was fractured, and this may be a small blessing in disguise for him, because Dallas look set to have one of the worst - if not the worst - offensive lines in the game this year.
Prescott is set to return midseason, but it's likely the Cowboys will see how Cooper Rush does before jumping into the QB market, because ultimately, behind that line, any new QB would likely be unable to change the trajectory of this team.
This injury didn't look terrible at the time, but the talk coming from the Patriots suggests it could be one that keeps him out of a game or two. The x-rays were negative (that's positive...) but that doesn't mean there isn't a problem that could keep him out of games.
The good news is that if it's a muscle injury, it can probably be managed to some extent, but ask Tony Romo about trying to play through back pain, and he'll tell you how difficult that was. Fundamentally, the Patriots need to look long term with Jones, as like the Cowboys, they may be closer to bottom than top of their division, whether he plays or not.
This one is big for the Steelers. Watt had a sack and an interception when he injured his pectoral muscle and left the game. If it is torn, he's done for the season unless the Steelers go on an unlikely playoff run without him, but if it's the lesser 'partial tear', there's a chance he returns for a late-season push.
Either way, Watt's presence is impossible to replace, and the Steelers will be reliant on their defense to get wins. As injuries go, this one is a dagger, and it's not the only one...
Harris may miss no time, but the fact he left on Sunday in a walking boot suggests that is optimistic.
If he does miss time, the Steelers may be a very different team, and it won't help them win games, because like Watt, Harris is an integral part of their success. He may not have done a lot on Sunday, but fundamentally, the more you put the ball in Mitch Trubisky's hands, the more chance of the game going awry.
Mike Tomlin will be hoping Harris is back as soon as possible, because the Steelers would look a very different team without him leading the way.
Under the radar, this may be one of the most consequential injuries of week 1.
The Chargers managed to hold on for victory after Allen left, but make no mistake, he is Justin Herbert's big outlet, and even if DeAndre Carter can provide some short-term relief, Allen's injury hurts the team's chances of knocking off the Chiefs in a short week.
The positive noises Allen made about even potentially playing Thursday seem wildly optimistic, and I think it's more likely the Chargers take it easy, with matchups against the Jaguars, Texans and Browns up after Kansas City.
Mitchell is unfortunately injured once more with what looks like a serious knee injury that will keep him out for an extended period.
That hurts both him and the team. For the player, it represents the latest blow in a career that is threatening to be derailed before it even gets started. With durability clearly an issue, Mitchell is unlikely to be entrusted with lead-back duties by the 49ers if and when he returns.
For the 49ers, it caps off a poor weekend, and leaves the team light at RB. Jeff Wilson will come in, and he's serviceable, but he lacks Mitchell's explosiveness or contribution in the passing game. Given the way the 49ers played Sunday, the running game needs to be firing if they're to make the best of a tough schedule.
Week 1 Winners and Losers
The Houston Texans
I spent a great deal of time this week telling anyone who would listen that I was higher on the Texans than most people. Sure, that largely extends to them winning more than 4 games to beat the over, but I do think they've significantly upgraded their defense, and with Lovie Smith, they do have a chance to grind out some unexpected wins, as they almost did on Sunday.
Davis Mills was another name I mentioned, and I think yesterday backed up my assessment. Ultimately, after DeShaun Watson's departure, the Texans could have drafted a Kenny Pickett or Matt Corral and be sitting on a relatively high-priced QB who isn't their preferred guy. Mills may not be the long-term answer, but he can likely hold the fort until a draft pick or free agent who can be that player comes along.
It's no exaggeration to say that Tua was on the hot seat in Miami, and remains so. A win on Sunday against the Patriots (that's now 4 straight for the Dolphins against New England) will help solidify his presence at the heart of their offense.
Interestingly, the Dolphins largely put the ball in Tua's hands, rather than having him run. I think this is a risky long-term play, but ultimately, for Tua, succeeding against a (formerly) top-tier defense like the Patriots will do his case a lot of good.
Not lost on viewers of Redzone would be the few minutes in the 3rd/4th quarters of the games in Detroit and Chicago.
First, John Brown's middle son Amon-Ra st. Brown scored a 3rd quarter touchdown on a 4 yard pass from Jared Goff to bring the Lions back into a game that had got out of hand.
Then, just a couple of minutes later, in the Bears game at a sodden Soldier Field, John Brown's eldest son, Equanimeous, scored the go-ahead touchdown on an 18 yard pass from from Justin Fields.
Given that this was Equanimeous's second touchdown in 4 years as a pro, you could be forgiven for thinking that the chances of this event had passed, but the NFC North is apparently a St.Brown-friendly zone. Maybe the Vikings should sign the youngest St.Brown brother Osiris to an NFL contract?
Speaking of which...
The Minnesota Vikings Defense
In 2018, Mike Zimmer's Vikings finished 3rd in passing yards allowed by opponents.
In 2019 they slipped to 15th
In 2020, it was 25th
In 2021, it fell again, to 28th
The Vikings, coached by a former defensive coordinator, had become a mess at defending the pass, and in a division with one of the greatest QBs of all time, Aaron Rodgers, that was the primary reason they had become a sideshow, destined to provide comedy value as their high-powered offense struggled to overcome their defensive failings.
How do you fix that? Why, by firing Zimmer, and appointing an Offensive coach who used to play QB, of course.
Kevin O'Connell may not have the pedigree on defense, but he has immediately been part of an upgrade of defensive personnel, and coupled with what seemed like a positive influence on Kirk Cousins, the Vikings are already clear favorites for the NFC North after holding Rodgers to a net 195 passing yards.
The Dallas Cowboys Offense
Let's be clear, losing Dak Prescott for an extended amount of time ends any chance the Cowboys had at being serious NFC East contenders, but it's far from their only problem.
Prescott was hurried on every throw last night, and the paltry offensive output was largely a result of that pressure. It also doesn't help when you don't have a go-to outlet either. Tom Brady was able to call on Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones and Russell Gage, while Prescott was lacking targets, and only CeeDee Lamb has any real quality in the receiving corps.
So until that offensive line is fixed - and I assume free-agent LT Jason Peters will get another call today about that - it simply won't matter who the Cowboys plug into Prescott's place.
The AFC South
It's almost impossible for a division to find itself collectively winless on the season, but that's what the AFC South managed yesterday.
The Colts and Texans played out a tie, while the Jags and Titans lost outside of the division. To make matters worse, all 4 teams had opportunities to win their respective games, that they wasted.
Of particular note, I'd say the Jaguars will feel that Trevor Lawrence missing a wide open Travis Etienne in the first quarter allowed the Commanders to dictate the flow of the game, and the lack of ruthlessness when in the red zone hurt them. In a season where shedding the mental trauma of last season with Urban Meyer is as important as anything, a failure to convert when games are on the line will not help them move on.
Given that the Texans head to Denver, and the Titans to Buffalo for Sunday Night Football, it seems likely that the winner of the Jags/Colts matchup will decide the only team with a win in the AFC South heading into week 3.
The Arizona Cardinals
I don't think many teams downgraded defensively as much as the Cardinals, and given their performance against the Chiefs yesterday, it seems that the Cardinals have never been further from the next tier of teams under Kliff Kingsbury.
Although Kyler Murray wasn't solely to blame, the Cardinals offense didn't fire either. In the second and third quarters, Arizona executed 5 consecutive drives of 6 yards, 27 yards, 8 yards, 0 yards, and 5 yards.
46 yards in 20 plays is a paltry effort, and in that time, the Chiefs added 17 more points to put the outcome of the game beyond doubt, which seemed to prompt Murray into action as the Cardinals added two scores late on to make it appear respectable.
A combination of bad defense and an offense that only finds second gear once games are lost is not a great combination, and may spell trouble for a team that has traditionally started fast and then struggled to maintain it's intensity. Kingsbury has found himself on a warm - if not outright hot - seat as a result of last season's implosion. If he can't arrest this decline, it seems likely this will be his final season in Arizona.
Trey Lance and Justin Fields
Don't look now, but Trey Lance's worst nightmare is coming true.
The Jimmy G hype train is going to gain momentum after Lance's abysmal 13-28 1 INT showing on Sunday's swamp at Soldier Field, and it seems likely that Lance will need to have a solid outing in week 2 against the Seahawks back in San Francisco if he wants to avoid that hype train becoming a real consideration for coach Kyle Shanahan, who has a known quantity in Garoppolo sitting ready on the bench.
Meanwhile, Fields was arguably worse than Lance, and although he is probably more secure for the immediate future because the Bears have no viable backup plan that would immediately improve play, Fields completing just 8-17 passes again makes next week's trip to Green Bay even more important.
There is very real data to suggest that second year QB's are a good place to start when you're assessing which teams will take a step forward each year, and the conditions at Soldier Field weren't really conducive to good football, but the lack of performance puts added pressure on these two young QB's, and I have worries about Fields in particular, given that he gained more experience in his first year than Lance, and continues to have relatively low output.