So, there’s some more thought that goes into Week 3 pre-season football. At first I’m doing my best to hunt for camp competitions and general rules for pre-season action, but now, aside from a couple instances, my pre-season picks are based on where I’d go during the regular season. With starters playing an entire half, and possibly into the 3rd quarter, I have to expect the best teams to pull out of hte first half with an early lead. I’m not ignoring 2nd teamers, but they are getting less consideration this week. Here’s my Top 5 bets this week.
San Francisco 49ers @ Chicago Bears (-3): Here’s the deal; the 49ers put up loads of points last time out and they just aren’t that good offensively. I’m sure Frank Gore will get minimal action and he is the teams best player. J.T. O’Sullivan is starting again for the 49ers and he is expected to play into the 3rd quarter and basically has the starting job on lockdown. He’s been decent as a fighter but has never been “the guy” before now, so I’m not sure how he’ll handle it. Also, the 49ers are terrible. The Bears defense can put up points, and with Kyle Orton playing most of the game, Chicago’s mistakes won’t be there as much. I’m not a huge fan of Orton, but he does do enough to win football games or at least not lose them. Devin Hester is ready to go off in this game, and I can’t wait to see Matt Forte make some good plays for the Bears. In the 2nd half, I like Chicago as well. Say what you want about Rex Grossman, but he’s probably better than anything the 49ers have right now. He’ll be trying to prove himself late, and thus the Bears get the nod on Thursday.
Tennessee Titans (+3) @ Atlanta Falcons: The Titans are obviously the much better team here, and their biggest strength will stall the Falcons best offensive weapon, Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood. Tennessee hasn’t gotten on track in the air yet, but Vince Young and Kerry Collins are solid options as 1 and 2 quarterbacks in this league, so I expect them to be on target in this contest. I like the receiver battle for playing time in Tennessee and the Titans are always full of young defensive weapons. Matt Ryan is starting and playing in this game into the 2nd half, and that’s probably not a good thing for Atlanta. He’s a good young leader and looks to be a fine prospect, but the last defensive line I want to go up against is one where Javon Kearse is the worst player. Yikes. I like Tennesse’s 1st and 2nd team more than either of Atlanta’s, and the Titans offense should come out with a little umph.
Philadelphia Eagles (+1.5) @ New England Patriots: The Eagles will win this game for a couple reasons. It’s amazing but even Andy Reid cares more about winning in the pre-season than Bill Belichick. Tom Brady is unlikely to play, and with so many aging vets on the squad, so are many other key players. The Eagles have an improved defense and you can bet that Asante Samuel is excited to prove himself against his old club. Donovan McNabb was a little off-target in last week’s pre-season match-up, so expect his on and off pre-season to go up this week. I like the foursome of running backs in Philly, and after Kevin Curtis it still looks like 5 Eagle receivers are competing for playing time. I would definitely take the Pats during the pre-season, but their exhibition season history has me once again going against them. Back to the well one time too many? We’ll see.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3): I have to like the Bucs to win this one. They are a team that does the little things right, takes nothing for granted, and generally plays mistake free football. Jeff Garcia hasn’t even played yet and this team is still 2-0 in the pre-season with some impressive play. Even if Jeff stays out for one more game, I like Brian Griese, Luke McCown, Chirs Simms, and rookie Josh Johnson as pre-season hurlers. The Bucs also have a pretty talented back-field duo in Earnest Graham and Michael Bennett – either will do a fine job on Saturday. Antonio Bryant is playing well, as he’s trying to get back in the swing of game speed, and Ike Hilliard, Maurice Stovall, and Warrick Dunn are all becoming threats as receivers. I like the Jags, and they are surely a tough squad, but I don’t expect their offensive stars to play much more than a quarter and defensively they just aren’t as tough in the pre-season.
New Orleans Saints (-1) @ Cincinnati Bengals: Boy oh boy the Bengals have looked bad. And it’s not just their running game, Carson Palmer has been inconsistent and timid in the pocket. I know I love the big red head and have always thought that his upside exudes that of the best quarterbacks in the league, but right now he looks lost. Chad is out for this game, so is TJ Houshmandzadeh, and with his two favorite targets out of the game I’m not sure Carson will even play that long. On the other hand, Drew Brees is on fire. He’s the most accurate quarterback in the league right now, and he’s a pre-season monster. Reggie Bush is trying to find himself, but I really like the receiver battle in New Orleans. Robert Meachem, David Patten, Lance Moore – these are all guys trying to grab the #2 job away from Devery Henderson, and honestly, I love it. I think the Saints will dominate this game against a confused Bengals club.