By Jerry Sullivan
We don't pick the Thursday night NFL games in our weekly staff picks column. Maybe in the future, we can figure out a way. It seems we should pick every game in the season and not omit certain games for logistical reasons. Hey, it's one more chance for me to embarrass myself, right? What was I thinking when I picked the Redskins as my best bet over the Eagles in Chip Kelly's debut?
Anyway, I like the Jets over the Patriots tonight against the spread. I think they have a decent chance to win outright, even with Geno Smith playing his first NFL road game -- in daunting Gillette Stadium.
But considering the lack of offensive skill players in this game, it's hard to justify a double-digit line. The Patriots are anywhere from an 11- to 13-point favorite. That reflects their amazing home record in recent years under Bill Belichick, and the fact that it rarely pays to underestimate Tom Brady and the hooded genius.
Still, look at that Patriots offense. They were not at their best in the opener. The Bills are getting a lot of credit for their defensive showing, but the standard is low these days. They managed to get decent pressure on Brady, who didn't make any plays down the field. Still, the Bills gave up over 400 yards. They let a backup running back with a broken wrist, Shane Vereen, burn them for 159 combined yards. Danny Amendola, nursing a bad groin, came back to make the critical catches in the second half.
But Vereen and Amendola aren't expected to play in New England this evening. They combined for 263 of the Pats' 431 yards. And that was an offense that had been severely compromised from a year ago. The Pats' top five receivers from a year ago (Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead) were missing in the opener. Gronk, the only one still on the roster, isn't expected to play against the Jets. Now Amendola and Vereen, who combined for 17 receptions in Buffalo, are out.
Julian Edelman, the No. 6 option a year ago, is now Brady's No. 1 guy. After that, it's a bunch of rookies and marginal tight ends. I lost a fantasy opener by playing Zach Sudfeld in Week One over Jared Cook. That alone should disqualify me from writing about the NFL (all right, easy now out there).
The Jets have a very stout front four and should make it hard for the Patriots to run the ball. Stevan Ridley, a non-factor in the opener, needs to have a strong game. Given a week, maybe Brady can make all his young receivers look like veterans. He's done it before. But I have my doubts.
The Patriots often take a few weeks to hit their stride, even in the best of times. In the last two seasons, they were 5-3 at the midpoint. They went 8-0 in the second half in 2011 and 7-1 last year. In the last eight seasons, they've lost four times in the second week and three times in Week 3. They lost the second game at the Jets in both 2009 and 2010. Granted, those were Rex Ryan's better teams, eventual AFC title game participants. Still, it's not unlike Ryan to have his team ready for Belichick in September.
I might even make the Jets my best bet if I had a chance in Staff Picks. Of course, I might be breathing a sign of relief around midnight, thankful I didn't get a chance to look bad in the paper again.