The NFL's most ballyhooed sibling rivalry is back for Manning Bowl III, but if that storyline bores you as much as it does the Mannings, plenty of other matchups are willing to do anything to get your attention. The Dolphins and Colts spent millions of dollars in the offseason to get a share of the spotlight, but "Brandon Gibson versus Greg Toler" just does not have that "Peyton versus Eli" ring to it. Chip Kelly's offense has achieved Warp One, but the Chargers are just warped, and all the Robert Griffin hand-wringing in the world won't matter if his Redskins teammates don't pick up the slack. The message is clear: There are plenty of non-brotherly storylines in the NFL.
So read these Game Riffs, or Ndamukong Suh will chase you with a pellet gun, or Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson will call even more attention to their body hair.
Broncos at Giants
Sunday, 4:25 PM
Line: Broncos by 4 ½
America's leading genetic experts agree: Peyton and Eli Manning have something in common. They are brothers, or to use the more politically correct term, siblings.
Wait … I used this intro before, for the Harbaugh brothers' press conference at the Super Bowl! After the Super Bowl, we are all brother'd out, right? Once Grandpa Joe Harbaugh appeared at a press conference wearing a 49ers-Ravens half-and-half cap, ol' Archie Manning was off the hook forever, yes? Please?
The football world has bigger fish to fry than thrice warmed-over sibling storylines, and if the Giants commit any more turnovers we will be able fry them on the back of Tom Coughlin's neck. David Wilson's fumbling spree prompted the Giants to re-sign Brandon Jacobs, who is already spouting incoherent blather about how the 49ers only kept him last year because they were afraid he would beat them if he played for some other team. Think of how drastic a measure signing Jacobs must have been for Coughlin. The only thing worse would be re-signing Matt Dodge to punt.
The Broncos, meanwhile, have found the cure for an ineffective pass rush: a quarterback who can throw seven touchdown passes per game. In the process of making history, Peyton Manning made a star out of Julius Thomas, a former Portland State basketball player who spent two years buried on the Broncos bench but is now Shannon Sharpe. With two big receiving targets named Thomas, both of whom wear numbers in the 80s, Manning can now confuse viewers at home and fantasy stat services as easily as he confuses opponents.
But yes, brothers. That old article in the link explains why we should not be surprised by successful football brothers: Genetics teach us that brothers have a much better chance at excelling in the same profession as two random strangers in a population do. Unlike the Harbaugh brothers, the Mannings will probably never blow our minds with a family Super Bowl. But they remain compelling to watch, and more interesting to listen to than Brandon Jacobs.
Prediction: Broncos 28, Giants 24
* * *
49ers at Seahawks
8:30 p.m. Sunday, NBC
Line: Seahawks by 2 ½
Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson placed a wager on this game: The loser shaves an eyebrow. Gosh, it didn't take long to cannonball from "most anticipated new rivalry in sports" to "generator of contrived, ridiculous sidebars." It's surprising that Roger Goodell has not stepped in and raised the specter of gambling ... but then, a sponsor is behind the eyebrow bet, so go nuts, guys.
It's also surprising that Jim Harbaugh has not used the eyebrow wager for some kind of self-serving rant, what with him not being the center of attention and everything. "It sounds like they are targeting a specific eyebrow. When a man suggests that he will take a razor blade to another man's forehead, he may have bad intentions. Anyway, real tough guys would get in there with the knuckles and rip the browhairs out one by one."
Harbaugh may be mercifully quiet because the Seahawks destroyed his 49ers 42-13 in Seattle the last time they faced off. He also lacks let's hit Kaepernick hard talk for rhetorical ammunition. The Seahawks faced Cam Newton last week, and they avoided the trap of suggesting that they might want to bodily strike the Panthers quarterback, which could be construed as a threat by someone who is really construed-up.
"For us, it's about being technique-sound," Cliff Avril told Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated. "Just playing your assignment, and making the tackles when you're supposed to make them." The Panthers outsmarted the Seahawks non-system by barely optioning, which is to say they outsmarted themselves in a 12-7 loss. The Niners also used all the hard-hitting talk as an elaborate ruse, as Kaepernick stayed in the pocket for most of a very successful afternoon against the Packers.
So any pregame talk about options or intentions is just talk. Hence, eyebrows, which are at least slightly more interesting than overexposed quarterback brothers. The eyebrow shaving probably won't even happen. "We'll probably just do something digitally," Wilson said on Tuesday, perhaps not realizing that every quarterback in the NFL has now had one eyebrow digitally shaved (except Joe Flacco, who had half of his monobrow shaved). Fair enough: Wilson will have enough problems behind an offensive line that had its hands full against the Panthers. Anyway, facial grooming is a slippery slope, guys. A slippery slope.
Prediction: 49ers 21, Seahawks 16
* * *
Redskins at Packers
1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Packers by 9
After seven months of "will Robert Griffin play," we get to enjoy six days of "was Robert Griffin ready/has he lost a step?" In the weeks to come, prepare for "Griffin is back," "Griffin is being held back," "Griffin should have been held back," and "Redskins should have held back on holding Griffin back," based on the final scores of Redskins games and the speeds of various news days.
While Griffin generates all of the press, some Redskins teammates may think they can get a free ride. But nobody rides for free at Game Riffs:
Alfred Morris: A straight-up trade for David Wilson is not out of the question, buddy.
Josh Morgan: During two-minute drills, you catch the ball near the sideline and run out of bounds, not cut inside to gain two additional tough-guy yards and waste 20 seconds. It did not seem like a big deal in the fourth quarter, but had the Redskins recovered that onside kick …
Will Montgomery, Logan Paulsen, Chris Chester: Holding penalties on running plays are almost always a sign of general sloppiness. Chester and Paulsen held, but Morris got stuffed anyway. Montgomery's hold nullified a long run and offset a facemask penalty. If rushing plays keep yielding 1st-and-20 situations, Griffin is going to need rocket thrusters in his knee to win games.
DeAngelo Hall: Gosh, you are still on the Redskins? Sigh. OK, first of all, picking up a tipped ball and jogging for a touchdown is not much of an accomplishment, though it may be the most DeAngelo Hallish thing you have ever done. It did not give you permission to take the rest of the game off from coverage and tackling. And speaking of tackling: You have been in the league 10 years, please learn to do it correctly, without incurring a 15-yard penalty? Thanks!
The Packers need to work on solidifying their offensive line, establishing some sort of running game, and getting consistent defensive play from someone besides Clay Matthews. But all that just goes without mentioning anymore.
Prediction: Packers 31, Redskins 24.
* * *
Panthers at Bills
1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Panthers by 2 ½
As we get to know Doug Marrone better, Chip Kelly may start to look like Captain Conservative by comparison. Marrone has assembled a weekly meeting of team captains, and players will get to voice their concerns to management on everything from play calls to travel schedules. "He's made it very clear that it's going to be a two-way street," captain Fred Jackson said.
"There's a tremendous amount of accountability that comes with that," Marrone said of his democratic approach. "A lot of times when you're in a position of leadership, whether you're a captain or a head coach or a coordinator, the sense of affiliation has to be a little bit more than normal."
Say, the Panthers need leadership. And accountability. And that affiliation stuff. They should try this! Start with coaches Ron Rivera, Mike Shula and Sean McDermott, plus captains Steve Smith, Luke Kuechly, Cam Newton, Thomas Davis and Jordan Gross. Then, thin the ranks a little bit. McDermott is just a mini-Rivera, so he is not needed. Gross is a lineman, and they don't talk anyway. Shula could better spend his time writing a memoir: My Greatest Accomplishment (Leading Alabama to the Cotton Bowl, Once). Kuechly will be too tired from making 20 tackles per week to participate, and Davis will be injured by Columbus Day. Tell Rivera that the meeting is about proper fourth down and clock management strategies, and he will just skip it. Then, all Steve Smith has to do is stuff the towel into Cam Newton's mouth, and the Panthers will have all the leadership they need: Steve Smith, angry autocrat.
Who says that you cannot accomplish anything by having a meeting?
Prediction: Panthers 27, Bills 17
* * *
Dolphins at Colts
1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Colts by 2 ½
Hey, big spenders! Spend a little time with Game Riffs as we give early grades to some of the new players the Dolphins and Colts spent big bucks on during an offseason of aggressive retail therapy.
Mike Wallace: D. Wallace caught just one pass. He drew a little double coverage and forced some safeties to play extra deep -- watch Charles Clay's long first quarter reception, and you will see one Browns safety retreat all the way to the Great Lakes Science Center -- but he also spent much of the afternoon blanketed one-on-one by Joe Haden.
Brandon Gibson: B. Gibson can do all the things Davone Bess used to do. Except Bess rarely got the chance to do the things Bess could do, because the Dolphins expected him to do the things Mark Duper would do. Now, Wallace is supposed to do the Duper things, allowing Gibson to do the Bess things, while Clay does the Dustin Keller things, which were supposed to be better versions of the Clay things. This is progress, Dolphins style.
Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe: B-plus: Six tackles each, and a bunch of hits on Brandon Weeden, but not so many that Weeden would be forced to leave the game, which would be counterproductive.
Dimtri Patterson: A. Sunday was the second two-interception day of Dimitri Patterson's career! The last was in 2010, against Donovan McNabb and the Redskins. A two-interception game by Patterson is a sign that a quarterback's career is in jeopardy, and the fact that Patterson is a starter is a bug, not a feature, of the Dolphins offseason.
Erik Walden: F. As Packers fans know, Walden thinks "containment" means installing screen doors on submarines. Invisible most of the game, Walden allowed Terrelle Pryor to bootleg right around him for a long gain, then committed a hands-to-face penalty on the next play. Walden became even more invisible after that, as rookie Bjoern Werner got increased snaps at his outside linebacker position.
Ahmad Bradshaw: C-minus. That 13-yard run came on 3rd-and-31, buddy. We notice stuff like that.
LaRon Landry: C. The 15 tackles would earn an A, except for two problems. First, many of those tackles were clean-up jobs after substantial gains. Yes, that's Landry's job, but he does not get extra credit for the mistakes made in front of him. Second, when Landry saw Jeron Mastrud motion to his side of the field on the Raiders' critical final drive, the veteran safety ignored the tight end and went ahead with an overload blitz, possibly wondering just who the heck Jeron Mastrud was, anyway. Mastrud caught a long pass that nearly turned the game around, and veteran safeties are supposed to know better.
Greg Toler: C. An interception, but an ugly missed tackle, and while Denarius Moore and Rod Streater did not look like Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, they did not look like Rod Streater and Denarius Moore, either.
Gosder Cherilus: B. Cherilus blew one block that led to a scramble and gave up a half-sack when Andrew Luck ran right into him, but was fine for most of the game. Of course, if Cherilus was supposed to make the entire offensive line suddenly awesome, he failed. But only a crazy person would expect that.
Overall Grades: Each team gets a B. Not bad, though we all know that a B is like kissing your sister. Most people don't pay tens of millions of dollars to kiss their sisters.
Prediction: Colts 20, Dolphins 17
* * *
Cowboys at Chiefs
1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Chiefs by 2 ½
Here's how you can tell when a division is really terrible: If the four teams all face each other, and the losing teams spot the winning teams 10 turnovers, but the losing teams both still have a chance to take the lead at the two minute warning, that's a bad division.
Back in 1999, Andy Reid's Eagles took a 24-6 lead over the Arizona Cardinals, then a division rival, in the season opener. Jake Plummer then led a comeback for a 25-24 Cardinals win, but the game featured five turnovers and looked a lot like the Eagles-Redskins and Cowboys-Giants openers. The two teams ended the season with a combined 11-21 record. The only person who came out of the game looking good, down the line, was Reid.
The only person who will come out of this game looking good, down the line, will be Reid.
Prediction: Chiefs 22, Cowboys 17.
* * *
Browns at Ravens
1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Ravens by 7
The Ravens' defensive MVPs last Thursday night were a dancing Ray Lewis hologram and the glove Peyton Manning wore in the first quarter, which screwed up his passing more effectively than anything the Ravens did. Their most memorable hits came when they crashed into each other. Their receivers played like a bunch of unprepared rookies and veterans that Manning discarded years ago, with good reason. It was a sloppy mess that deteriorated into humiliation. And yet, the Ravens led 17-14 at halftime.
The Ravens are a very good team with alarming new problems, but the Browns are a bad team with the same old problems: Greg Little dropped two more passes, Brandon Weeden suffered six sacks and three interceptions, and Trent Richardson mysteriously disappeared from the gameplan even though the Browns kept the score close against the Dolphins. The difference between new problems and old is that there is a chance the new ones will be solved. The old ones got old for a reason.
Prediction: Ravens 19, Browns 13
* * *
Vikings at Bears
1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Bears by 7
Charles Tillman has returned eight interceptions for touchdowns in his career, tying him for seventh on the all-time list. Tillman almost had interception return touchdowns nine and ten last week; A.J. Green brushed Tillman's ankle before Tillman could regain his footing and run for one apparent touchdown, and Tyler Eifert tackled Tillman at the end of a second darting, weaving return. Two more touchdowns would move Tillman past Ken Houston, Aeneas Williams, and Deion Sanders (!) into fourth on the all-time list, with only Darren Sharper, Charles Woodson and Rod Woodson above him.
Christian "Popgun" Ponder threw three interceptions last week, and the underappreciated Tillman could get another chance to climb the charts this week, unless the Vikings give up trying to pass altogether. Which, given all recent history, could be their wisest possible choice.
Prediction: Bears 24, Vikings 10
* * *
Titans at Texans
1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Texans by 10 ½
The Texans won with ball control and some big defensive plays. Yawn. Andre Johnson caught 12 passes and the running game churned out 120 yards. Ho-hum. The Texans missed a field goal, gave up a long kickoff return and made other little blunders that made life harder on themselves. Same-old, same old.
The Texans ... came back from a big deficit? That's new! The Texans don't usually do that. Sure, they drive to win at the end of see-saw games like they did against the Lions and Jaguars last year, but usually a two-score lead, let alone a 21-point lead, means it's time to pull the charter buses around. The Texans came back from a 19-10 deficit against the Bengals in 2011 (during the T.J. Yates epoch), while they beat the Redskins in overtime after falling behind 27-10 in 2012. But Texans comebacks are rare, in part because they play with the lead so often, and in part because the world just isn't ready to contemplate the phrase "Matt Schaub's late-game heroics" on even an annual basis.
The Texans will not need a comeback this week, but it is encouraging to discover that they are capable of producing one if needed.
Prediction: Texans 27, Titans 14.
* * *
Chargers at Eagles
1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Eagles by 9
The Eagles offense looked innovative, efficient and sometimes excellent on Monday night, executing 51 offensive plays for 341 yards in the first half and ending the game with 263 rushing yards on 49 carries, statistics which Andy Reid would have considered September's quota.
In the fine tradition of Week 1 exaggeration, however, Chip Kelly's debut has been reimagined as some undiscovered comet burning bright as the moon in the evening sky. How on earth can anyone stop this offense? ask those whose asked four months ago how anyone could think this rah-rah college offense could possibly work.
Well, the Redskins almost came back and won, so they may have started to come up with a few ideas. Also, Michael Vick was walking like old Mr. Fredricksen from "Up" by the fourth quarter; Vick still believes "sliding" means "lunging with neck and throwing shoulder toward hardest object in vicinity." And while the number of first-half plays offers insight into Kelly's thrash-metal tempo, it is also the by-product of one-, two-, and three-play Redskins drives to start the game: keep fumbling on second down, and even a pokey offense is going to run a bunch of plays.
So there will be adjustments, and adjustments to the adjustments, but the Chargers are unlikely to be the ones doing the adjusting. Poor Chargers fans must have gotten Norv Turner night terrors from all the special teams blunders. The "grazed field goal" was disastrous, but it was a fluke play and a weird call. When the Texans faced fourth-and-one at their own 36, midway through the fourth quarter, trailing by seven, high school coaches and "Madden" gamers across America shouted "WATCH THE FAKE!" at their screens. But it was hopeless: the echo of Norv still haunts Qualcomm Stadium. It's just a punt. Nothing to worry your little heads over. The Texans converted on the most simple, obvious fake punt in human history; it did not directly lead to points, but it reminded the Chargers of their sacred oath to lose games in the most unfocused ways possible.
It is going to take Mike McCoy a few months to fumigate the norvtoplasm (ectonorvsam?) from the building, and a team that cannot stop an obvious fake punt or line up for a field goal without incident will not be able to catch up to Chip Kelly.
Prediction: Eagles 30, Chargers 20.
* * *
Lions at Cardinals
4:05 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Ndamukong Suh, a timeline:
2010: (preseason) Roughing the Passer, Jake Delhomme: $7,500.
2010: Unnecessary Roughness, Jay Cutler: $15,000.
2011: (Preseason) Roughing the Passer, Andy Dalton: $20,000.
2011: Unsportsmanlike Conduct/Unspeakable Evil, Evan Dietrich-Smith: two $82,500 game checks.
2012: Kicking Matt Schaub in the Stuff: $30,000.
2012: Threatening a Cable Guy with a Pellet Gun: $0. Suh was cleared of charges, as he never actually pointed the gun, and this was actually one of the few relatable things Suh has done in the last three years.
2013: Chop block, John Sullivan: $100,000.
Mathematics fans and Suh's accountants should take note that Suh's fines can be modeled by this equation: $ = 2634(2.03)^t, where t is the number of years since Suh's 2009 debut. According to the model, if Suh wails Carson Palmer in the knee with a hydrant wrench during pregame introductions, he will be fined $104,615. More interestingly, if Suh does something horrible in the year 2022, his 13th season, he will incur a fine of $26 million dollars. By that point, of course, he will either have retired, cleaned up his act, or become Bane.
Anyway, Jake Delhomme must look at this list and wonder why clobbering him was only worth $7,500. At least he gets off better than a cable guy.
Prediction: Lions 24, Cardinals 14.
* * *
Saints at Buccaneers
4:05 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Saints by 3 ½
The city of Treasure Island, Fla., renamed itself "Revis Island" for one day on Thursday. It was the only the second time in American history that a city made its name less ridiculous by honoring a football player: Jim Thorpe, Pa., was originally Mauch Chunk, which was an old Lenape word for "badger barf." The shallow waters around Revis Island will be renamed Freeman's Lagoon for the day, and tide charts are expected to somehow be both predictable and totally inaccurate. The nearby mainland will be christened the Levant of Lavonte, though its exact boundaries will never be verified.
Once the Saints beat the Buccaneers and toss some lighter fluid on the Josh Freeman-Mike Glennon controversy, Treasure Island will rename itself Total Drama Island.
Prediction: Saints 26, Buccaneers 13.
* * *
Rams at Falcons
1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Falcons by 7 ½
Poor Steven Jackson. He should not have to look at Rams uniforms just a few months after his escape from a franchise that worked him like a rented forklift for nine years. The Rams have moved on to Daryl Richardson, who can still look spry while running 20 times for 62 yards, and Jackson appeared youthful and rejuvenated compared to Michael Turner, whose name came up in association with the Giants running back calamity but is currently missing and presumed taking permanent mineral baths somewhere. With Roddy White and Julio Jones missing practice during the week, Jackson may have to execute a vintage Turner gameplan. Poor, poor Steven Jackson.
To extend the cycle of running back abuse, the Falcons named Gerald Riggs to their Ring of Honor this week. Riggs rushed for 6,631 yards, most of them up the middle, for Falcons teams that usually finished 4-12. "I received a phone call from a guy, at first I thought it was a joke and thought somebody was impersonating Arthur Blank," Riggs said. No, Gerald: The prank caller was pretending to be Jerry Reese, asking you to try out with the Giants.
Prediction: Falcons 27, Rams 24
* * *
Jaguars at Raiders
4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Raiders by 5 ½
Not everyone can play like Tom Brady, but anyone can talk like Tom Brady. All you have to do is follow up a wonderful performance with the kind of harsh self-criticism that sends middle school kids to the crisis intervention counselor. Terrelle Pryor threw for 217 yards and rushed for 112, keeping the Raiders in the game against a 2012 playoff team and driving 56 yards in the final minutes before heaving a desperate interception. He called the performance "awful." "I don't care what my numbers are. I just want to do well for the team, and I didn't do well enough," he said. "I'm just angry at myself about those interceptions." Now all he has to do is flagellate himself with a barbed whip after a win to achieve the Full Brady.
No one asked Blaine Gabbert what he felt about his performance last week. No one can find Gabbert. No on, in fact, is looking for Gabbert. Chad Henne will start this week because Gabbert has a hand injury and is Blaine Gabbert.
Prediction: Raiders 20, Jaguars 7.
* * *
Steelers at Bengals
8:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN
Line: Bengals by 7 ½
Great news, Bengals! You may have lost in Week 1, but so did the rest of the AFC North! And all you did was lose a close game on the road to a very good opponent. Everyone else suffered some kind of catastrophe: seven touchdown passes allowed, devastating injuries, the realization that Brandon Weeden was still the starting quarterback. The Bengals are tightening some screws on a machine that ran fairly well. Everyone else is back to the drawing board, or the hotel bar in Todd Haley's case.
No, I won't go hammer Haley; going out for drinks is one of the most non-crazy things he has done in years. And he may need another stiff one soon. Maurkice Pouncey was a player the Steelers never thought that they would lose, but there's no regret. Can you hear the drums? They signed Fernando Velasco, the Titans' starting center last year. They also brought back Jonathan Dwyer to cover multiple running back injuries and signed Shayne Graham to fill in for kicker Shaun Suisham. When you think "excellence in 2012," you think of the Titans offensive line, Texans kicking game, and Steelers running backs, right? Sigh. And worst of all, now you are humming ABBA to yourself. You're welcome!
Prediction: Bengals 24, Steelers 13