In a pass-happy league, the Detroit Lions are driving in the fast lane with quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson leading the way.
But while the Lions are considered a team on the rise in the NFC, they are following the San Francisco 49ers, who reached last season’s conference title game. Several analysts predicted one or both teams would take a step back this season.
In Week 1, the 49ers showed no signs of slowing when they went to Green Bay and handled the Packers, 30-22. The Lions, meanwhile, needed last-minute heroics from Stafford to slip by underdog St. Louis.
San Francisco is a 7-point home favorite over Detroit in a prime-time meeting tonight that features feuding coaches, the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh and the Lions’ Jim Schwartz. More important will be the play of Stafford against arguably the NFL’s top defense.
“The 49ers are a far superior team,” said Las Vegas handicapper Joe D’Amico of Aasiwins.com. “They played almost flawlessly against a Green Bay team that was 15-1 last year. The Lions needed to overcome Stafford’s three interceptions to come back and beat hapless St. Louis.”
Alex Smith completed 20 of 26 passes in San Francisco’s upset of the Packers, and D’Amico said the 49ers’ array of receivers will be too much for the Detroit secondary to handle.
Coaches and quarterbacks aside, D’Amico pointed to the rushing offenses as the key. Frank Gore ran for 112 yards last week to give the 49ers balance. The Lions lack much of a running attack.
San Francisco went 8-1-1 against the spread at home last season, and D’Amico is following the trend and playing the favorite.
D’Amico breaks down the rest of today’s Week 2 schedule:
■ Tampa Bay at New York Giants (-7): The Giants had 10 days to fix their problems after losing to Dallas in the season opener. The pass rush of Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul will get to Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman. Tampa Bay might have looked good containing Carolina in Week 1, but this team still is a work in progress and is not an offensive threat. New York never has lost to Tampa Bay with Eli Manning at quarterback, going 3-0 straight up and ATS. Lay the touchdown with the Giants.
■ Arizona at New England (-13½): Cardinals quarterback John Skelton is unlikely to start, putting Kevin Kolb in control of the offense. Kolb must face an improved New England defense that shut down Tennessee running back Chris Johnson and knocked quarterback Jake Locker out of the game. The same could happen to Kolb. The combination of Tom Brady and Stevan Ridley, who rushed for 125 yards last week, gives the Patriots a dangerous offensive attack that’s capable of covering a double-digit spread. Go with New England to win big.
■ Minnesota (-3) at Indianapolis: The Colts’ Andrew Luck passed for 309 yards and one touchdown in his NFL debut against an aggressive Chicago defense. The bad news was he threw three interceptions. The good news is Luck will be better and should have success against a declining Minnesota defense. Adrian Peterson returned for the Vikings and rushed for 84 yards on 17 carries, and he will be running against an Indianapolis defense missing Dwight Freeney. But Minnesota is 1-5 ATS in its past six as a road favorite. Luck gets lucky at home. Take the points with the Colts.
■ New Orleans (-2½) at Carolina: It’s no surprise the Saints seem to miss the play-calling of suspended coach Sean Payton. Drew Brees completed only 24 of 52 passes, and New Orleans was held to 32 yards rushing in a 40-32 loss to Washington. To make matters worse, the Saints’ defense surrendered 464 yards, including 320 passing. The Panthers abandoned the run in their 16-10 loss at Tampa Bay and will get back to the ground attack. Brees will be better this week, and the Saints are 5-1 in this series the past three years. This looks like a field-goal game, and I’m staying away from it.
■ Kansas City at Buffalo (-3): The Chiefs welcome the return of much-needed linebacker Tamba Hali, and their defense should be stronger after allowing 40 points to Atlanta. The Bills exited a blowout loss to the Jets with several problems, one being quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s continued trend of poor play. Take the points with Kansas City, and count on quarterback Matt Cassel and running back Jamaal Charles to bounce back.
■ Baltimore at Philadelphia (-2½): The Ravens opened by decimating Cincinnati 44-13 as Joe Flacco passed for 299 yards and appeared at ease in a no-huddle offense. Flacco has help from quality receivers and a solid running back in Ray Rice. The Baltimore defense will keep Michael Vick on his heels and force the inconsistent quarterback into more mistakes while also containing running back LeSean McCoy. The Ravens are 10-3 ATS in their past 13 September games. Take the road underdog.
■ Oakland (-2½) at Miami: This is a tough game to handicap. The Dolphins won last year’s meeting, 34-14. After a disappointing and sloppy Monday night opener, the Raiders travel across the country to try to regroup. Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill is shaky, but he can expect more help from the rushing attack. I’ll side with the Dolphins.
■ Cleveland at Cincinnati (-7): The Bengals have taken three straight and 12 of 15 from Cleveland. Cincinnati has more offensive talent, and quarterback Andy Dalton is adequate. Dalton faces a Browns defense that allowed 456 yards to Philadelphia in Week 1. Browns rookie Brandon Weeden completed only 12 of 35 passes and was intercepted four times last week. Lay the touchdown with the Bengals.
■ Houston (-7) at Jacksonville: Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has big-play receivers and an outstanding running back tandem for support, so this team can put up points, and the defense is tough. As a result, Houston has been money against the number, covering nine of the past 11 games. The Jaguars have a banged-up offensive line, and quarterback Blaine Gabbert still is unreliable. Jacksonville is 4-12-1 ATS in its past 17 games versus opponents with a winning record and 0-5 ATS in its past five Week 2 games. Go with the Texans.
■ Dallas (-3½) at Seattle: Tony Romo played one of his better games in the Cowboys’ victory over the Giants. He has three proven receivers, and running back DeMarco Murray adds a needed dimension to the offense. The Dallas defense, led by DeMarcus Ware, will be a nightmare for Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. The Cowboys are 5-1 ATS in their past six against Seattle. I’ll side with the road favorite, though it was a better bet before the line moved from 3.
■ Washington (-3½) at St. Louis: Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III exploded in his debut for 320 yards passing and another 42 yards on the ground. Washington’s defense is solid enough to get to Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and force turnovers. Bradford needs more help from Steven Jackson, who was held to 53 yards on 21 carries against the Lions. St. Louis is 5-15-1 ATS in its past 21 games. I’m sticking with RG3 and the Redskins.
■ New York Jets at Pittsburgh (-5½): The Jets dominated Buffalo 48-28 last week to stop the talk about their inability to score, and it’s obvious that weapons surround quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Pittsburgh offense, meanwhile, is out of sync because of a questionable running attack and shaky offensive line that puts Ben Roethlisberger under pressure. The Steelers are vulnerable, and the Jets could be catching them at the right time. The Jets are 8-3 ATS in their past 11 September games. Take the points and ride the Jets.
■ Tennessee at San Diego (-6½): The Chargers have taken eight in a row straight up and the past seven ATS against the Titans. Philip Rivers always gets his yards through the air, and there’s a chance San Diego running back Ryan Mathews will return. Tennessee already is a banged-up team, and running back Chris Johnson is not the same. Go with the Chargers.
COMPILED BY MATT YOUMANS
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL