SportsLine Week 2 AFC West Picks: 'We'll See The Broncos Play A Very Clean Game,' Says SportsLine's Larry Hartstein
(CBS Denver) -- All four AFC West teams won their first game. The Denver Broncos used a steady performance from new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to dispense with the New York Giants on the road. The Las Vegas Raiders topped the Baltimore Ravens in a thrilling overtime matchup to open their new stadium. The Los Angeles Chargers, under new coach Brandon Staley, looked impressive against the Washington Football Team's top-rated defense. And the Kansas City Chiefs came back from 12 points down and then held off the Cleveland Browns to win.
The West is the only undefeated division in the AFC. (The NFC West also opened with four wins.) With no matchups within the division this week, all four teams could continue their winning ways. But it won't necessarily be easy. While the Broncos get a favorable matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars and rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the Raiders, Chargers, and Chiefs don't have it quite so easy. The Raiders travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers, who opened their season in impressive fashion. The Chargers host the Dallas Cowboys, looking to bounce back from a tough loss. And the Chiefs meet the Ravens, who are also hoping to put a heartbreaking Week 1 loss behind them.
SportsLine's Larry Hartstein breaks down AFC West matchups in Week 2.
All times listed are Eastern.
Denver Broncos @ Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, September 19, 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
As the first overall pick in this year's NFL Draft, Trevor Lawrence looked like the real deal. But the Jaguars are still far from a good team. They won one game last year, and struggled against the Houston Texans to open the season. While Lawrence had 332 passing yards and 3 touchdowns, he also missed plenty of receivers. The Broncos' defense, however, is a giant step up from the Texans'.
"It doesn't shape up to be a great day for Trevor Lawrence, especially with what we saw against Houston," Hartstein notes. "They were playing one of the worst defenses in all of football, and they were down 34-7. He threw three interceptions. He did get some points late to make it 37-21, a little bit more respectable. But now you go up against a defensive mastermind in Vic Fangio."
The Broncos defense kept the Giants on their heals all last Sunday. Saquon Barkley picked up just 26 yards on 10 carries in his return. Daniel Jones struggled to get the offense going. And the offense only managed just 13 points. Can the Jaguars do any better?
"I think the Jaguars, with that offense, which doesn't seem to be an NFL type of offense, with the pre-snap move motion, the formations, it's not as complex as I think you need to be to be to beat Vic Fangio," Hartstein believes. "So I think we'll see big mistakes from Trevor Lawrence. I think we'll see the Broncos play a very clean game, and I think they'll get to 2-0. And I think they'll cover the number."
Bridgewater, on the other hand, seems to be a step up for the Broncos at the QB position. He's the QB the Broncos have been seeking since Peyton Manning retired. "He takes care of the ball," says Hartstein, "22-3 against the spread on the road as a starting quarterback... does not make the big mistakes."
Las Vegas Raiders @ Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, September 19, 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
The Raiders couldn't have opened up their new stadium in more thrilling fashion. Derek Carr led three fourth-quarter drives to tie the game. Then, in overtime, he threw a 31-yard pass to Zay Jones for a touchdown and the win. Las Vegas now has to travel across the country to play the Raiders on a short week.
"I just think how are you going to come down from that emotional high," Hartstein wonders. "The Death Star in Vegas, the first time the fans were there. The excitement, the electricity, and they pull out that win in such thrilling fashion. And now you've got to travel east to play a very very good Pittsburgh defense, which showed up bigtime against Josh Allen and really frustrated what the Bills wanted to do."
The Steelers defense held Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills to just one touchdown. On offense, Ben Roethlisberger got things going in the second half after being held scoreless to open the game. But he still only threw for 188 yard on 18-32. Rookie Najee Harris out of Alabama averaged a lackluster 2.8 yards per carry on 18 carries and finished the game with 48 rushing yards.
"The Raiders defense is not as bad as it's been," Hartstein points out. "Gus Bradley came in. There's new talent. There's [Yannick] Ngakoue, and Casey Hayward and the rookie Tre'von Moehrig. I thought they held up pretty well against the Ravens."
All of this points to fewer points for both teams. "I'm going to look at the total here," says Hartstein. "It's already come down from 48 to 47. But I still lean under. I think the Raiders are going to have a little bit of problem getting going after that emotional win. And I think the Steelers offense, which we saw, is not so dynamic this year with 39-year-old -- or however old he is -- Big Ben. So I'm going to look under the total."
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Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, September 19, 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
The Cowboys came out firing in Week 1 and almost knocked off the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The good news is that Dak Prescott seems to have mostly recovered. He threw for 403 yards and three touchdowns. The bad news is that the running game, behind Ezekiel Elliott didn't do much of anything. Elliott picked up just 33 yards on 11 carries.
The Cowboys defense remains a problem, and could get worse. Tom Brady threw for 379 yards and four touchdowns last week. And in practice this week, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys' best defender, broke his foot and will miss the next six to eight weeks. Fellow starting defensive end Randy Gregory tested positive for COVID and will also miss the game.
"This is a real fascinating game," says Hartstein. "The Cowboys offense looked amazing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and they do have an extra rest to prepare. But Michael Gallup is out, and he's one of their big weapons. You're still going to see CeeDee Lamb and Zeke Elliott and Amari Cooper, of course, with Dak Prescott, put on a pretty good show."
The Chargers offense did enough to get the win. Justin Herbert, the NFL's 2020 Rookie of the Year, went 31-47 for 337 yards and a touchdown. That includes converting 14 of 19 third downs, many of which were five yards or more, against a fierce pass rush. "I'm just impressed with Brandon Staley, this first year head coach, and what they were able to do in Washington," says Hartstein.
"I'm going to lean with the Chargers," Harstein continues. "They've got the better defense. They're at home. And I think Brandon Staley is turning this franchise around."
Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, September 19, 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
The Chiefs opened their season with a tough win over the Browns, in what many predict could be a preview of the AFC Championship. Mahomes completed 27 of his 36 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns, padding his already incredible career September stats. He's 11-0 in the month, with 35 touchdowns and no interceptions. Mahomes will look to continue that trend against a Ravens team he's owned in recent seasons. He's 3-0 against Baltimore, with passer rating over 116.
Kansas City's win over Baltimore came without two of their three best defenders. "Tyrann Mathieu, the honey badger, he didn't play," Harstein notes. "Frank Clark, he didn't play in Week 1. Both guys could be back. Mathieu is definitely going to play. That's huge for the Chiefs."
The Ravens are coming off a difficult and draining loss to the Raiders, which could have implications for both teams, given the short week. According to Hartstein, "the Ravens are just so banged up, not just in the running back room but also on defense. That was an exhausting overtime game. Guys were limping. Marlon Humphrey stopped running on that last play. I don't know if he just kind of gave up because he couldn't catch the receiver. But that took a lot out of him, and he's their best defender."
Baltimore, of course, still has Lamar Jackson, even if their running back situation isn't what they would like. He ran for 86 yards in their opener. Kansas City, for their part, still struggles to stop the run.
Look for another close game, though maybe not one where the Chiefs cover the spread. "The Chiefs have been winning close games, they haven't been covering," Hartstein notes. "You go back to their last 12 games, only 2-10 against the number. And the same thing happened in Week 1, where they were laying 5.5, laying 6 to the Browns. The Browns got there, losing only by four. But I think this spread, being as low as it is, being 3.5, being the Ravens on a short week, so banged up. And I think the Chiefs getting those key guys back on defense, two of their three best players on defense were not in the game in week one. I think that makes the difference, and the Chiefs do cover the number."
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