Observer Roundtable: College football, NFL picks and preview
The Observer Roundtable is back for its second season. With our college football season preview out of the way, we are returning to our normal format of predictions for three NCAA and NFL games per week, plus an upset pick from each of our writers. Without further ado, let’s get on with the show.
NCAA GAMES OF THE WEEK
No. 17 Miami @ No. 18 Louisville
No. 24 App State @ Marshall
No. 14 UCF @ Georgia Tech
NFL Games of the Week
Denver Broncos @ Pittsburgh Steelers
New England Patriots @ Seattle Seahawks
Los Angeles Rams @ Philadelphia Eagles
Despite throwing for 343 yards and scoring four all-purpose touchdowns against Western Kentucky, Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham will be outplayed by D’Eriq King this week. The Hurricanes handled UAB in their first game with King leading the team in both passing and receiving yards. He will be backed up by a surprisingly strong Miami defense, which looks especially stout against the run. I believe that Cunningham’s strength as a mobile threat will be neutralized, and I do not think that the Cardinals’ defense will be able to contain King. Expect Miami to upset Louisville earning an important road victory.
Appalachian State and Marshall began their 2020 campaigns with impressive wins against smaller programs; however, the Mountaineers’ rushing attack gives them the edge. The Thundering Herd may be strong against the run, but I believe that the Mountaineers will be able to thwart their defensive efforts due to their talent at the running back position. Last week, both Marcus Williams Jr. and Camerun Peoples rushed for over 100 yards respectively while adding a touchdown each. I expect these two to have continued success, but even if they struggle, the Mountaineers also have star receiver Thomas Hennigan as a reliable option through the air. This depth at the skill positions will allow Appalachian State to achieve victory while covering the spread.
After handing Florida State yet another demoralizing loss, Georgia Tech should be entering the matchup against UCF with some real momentum. However, let’s not forget that this is the same program that only managed to achieve three wins in a weak ACC last year. The Yellowjackets’ highly touted, freshman quarterback Jeff Sims did impress in his first collegiate performance, but he also did throw two interceptions. Sims will likely struggle against Central Florida, who allowed under 100 yards passing last week. Georgia Tech is moving in the right direction as a program, but the Knights will still end up winning and covering the spread.
As a Browns fan, I hate to admit it, but Big Ben still looks like a legitimate star this year. Roethlisberger passed for 229 yards and scored three touchdowns — albeit against the Giants’ flimsy secondary. Pittsburgh’s receiving core also looked impressive as JuJu Smith-Schuster grabbed two touchdowns. Denver is tough defensively; however, their entire offensive unit leaves much to be desired. The Steelers are just a better team top to bottom, so I predict that Pittsburgh will be victorious while covering the spread.
Along with Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson looked like a bona fide MVP candidate in his first game throwing for four touchdowns and 322 yards. New England lost a few of its key defensive starters in the offseason, so I would expect Wilson to have another significant performance this weekend. Cam Newton was impressive in his Patriots debut, but Miami is a weak opponent. His performance against a real contender like Seattle will tell us more about how effectively he can lead Belichick’s offense. I think that Newton will struggle as Seattle wins and covers the spread.
After blowing a 17-point lead to the Washington Football Team, I have lost all faith in the Philadelphia Eagles. Carson Wentz started the game off strong, but his performance slowly devolved in humiliating fashion as he was held scoreless in the second half while throwing two costly interceptions. The Rams have a much more talented defense than Washington, so Wentz will probably continue to struggle this week. Expect the Rams to win big covering the spread.
For my upset pick, I am going with Liberty University to upset Western Kentucky. The Flames are coming off a solid eight-win season, which included their first-ever bowl win, and are eager to impress in their second season in the FBS. Liberty coach Hugh Freeze has already beaten Western Kentucky once before as the coach of Arkansas State, and Liberty University itself also holds a 2-0 record against this program. Western Kentucky will be a tough opponent having almost pulled off an upset against Louisville in their first game. However, Liberty needs an early win to offset their three matchups against power-five opponents later in the season. I predict that the Flames take care of business on the road starting the season off on a positive note.
In the game of the week, No.17 Miami and their new quarterback D’Eriq King take on Louisville, who is an intriguing up-and-coming dark horse team in the ACC. Miami has a lot of talent, and I think they’re a team that could very well be in the ACC Championship this season, should Clemson or — more likely — Notre Dame slip up. King is too versatile a threat for Louisville, who gave up 20 points to Western Kentucky to handle. I anticipate a signature win for the Hurricanes this weekend.
This Marshall-Appalachian State clash could be a high-scoring battle on the gridiron, and I am conflicted on this one. Appalachian State didn’t look spectacular in putting away Charlotte in their opener, while Marshall was absolutely dominant, albeit against Eastern Kentucky. It’s the first meeting between the two teams since 2002, so there is no recent history to work with either. Ultimately, I like underdogs, and Marshall has a strong program. Give me the Thundering Herd in the week three stunner.
Georgia Tech played about as bad as you possibly can while still getting a win in their ACC-opener against Florida State, and they’ll now test their luck against a superior opponent in the Central Florida Knights. I don’t think it will be close. UCF’s Dillon Gabriel is one of the best signal-callers in the nation in my eyes, and Georgia Tech looked downright horrible on offense last week. Their defense may keep them in it for a while, but give me UCF in this one.
The Broncos are coming off a very tough loss, although they were fortunate to not lose by ore as Stephen Gostkowski missed three field goals for the Titans before nailing the game-winner. Drew Lock and his offense full of new additions looked lethargic for most of the night and they move on to take the Steelers, who put together a relatively clean performance against the Giants. I think Pittsburgh takes this one in a fairly low-scoring battle.
I anticipate this Patriots-Seahawks to be extremely telling for both teams. Can Cam Newton lead New England’s new-look offense effectively against a higher-caliber opponent? And can Russell Wilson, Tyler Lockett, Chris Carson and the Seattle offense be as deadly efficient as they were in week one against superior defenses? I think this one is a close contest with no real home-field advantage. I think New England’s kicking game is a massive question mark right now, so I’m predicting a missed field goal to be a huge factor in this one. Give me the Seahawks by four or five points in this Sunday night clash.
Well, I started the Eagles’ defense in fantasy this past weekend, so I have a bit of a grudge against Philadelphia right after their utter meltdown in the second half against the Washington Football Team. The offensive line was an absolute mess, and Carson Wentz wasn’t good even when he had time. The Rams weren’t exactly a display of efficiency on offense and needed a controversial OPI call to snare the win, but they looked a far sight better than the Eagles. Give me the Rams by a touchdown.
Finally, it’s time for my upset pick of the week. You’ll rarely see me head to the NFL for this pick, but I am this week, due to a lack of intriguing upset options at the college level. And if I’m picking the NFL, you know I am for sure going with Minshew Magic. Nobody told the Jaguars they were supposed to be tanking, and Minshew led Jacksonville to a season-opening win. He’s got high hopes for the Jaguars this year, and while I won’t go that far, give me the Jags (+9) with the straight-up win over the Tennessee Titans.
Louisville may surprise some people this year, but I’m not sold they’re a much better team than they were last year. Their defense looked shaky against Western Kentucky, so I’m expecting a big performance from Miami and dual-threat quarterback D’Eriq King. The famed turnover chain will be brought out multiple times, and Miami will show why they’re a dark horse contender in the ACC.
Marshall looked outstanding last week against an overmatched opponent, and Appalachian State struggled at times against Charlotte. Appalachian State will need to take care of the ball, as they turned it over four times last week. Marshall’s defense is terrific and I expect them to limit Appalachian State’s run game. Marshall’s pass game will continue to be effective, and I’ll take the Thundering Herd to build on a strong performance and get the upset victory.
UCF vs. Georgia Tech should be among the most interesting matchups of the week. The Yellow Jackets squeaked by Florida State last week, but that was more of an indication of how poorly FSU played. UCF will be playing their first game of the season, but you can expect their offense to be potent as usual. This game is important for the Knights because winning a game against a major conference opponent goes a long way towards the Group of 5 bid. Georgia Tech’s strong defense will contain UCF for three quarters, but their offense won’t be able to get it done. UCF’s defense will get a huge stop on the final drive to seal the game.
Moving on to the NFL, expect a bounce-back game from Drew Lock. The question is, will it be enough to beat a very good Steelers team? The Steelers looked very good offensively last week, and their defense was outstanding as well. James Connor’s availability will be a key factor in this game, but Benny Snell was effective in his stead. The Broncos defense did contain Derek Henry for all four quarters last week, so I’ll take them to slow down the Steelers and claim an upset victory.
Cam Newton had a relatively easy test in his first week with the Patriots, but it gets much more challenging this week. The Jamal Adams trade paid off instantly for the Seahawks, who were in midseason form on both sides of the ball. Patriots will have trouble moving the ball, especially if they continue to rely on Newton as their run game. Russell Wilson played at an MVP level last week, and he always performs well in prime time games. The typical Seahawks home field advantage will be absent, but expect Wilson to keep rolling and outduel Newton Sunday night.
The Eagles were, to put it mildly, disappointing last week, scoring no points in the second half. The Rams’ offense seemed to benefit from the running back by committee approach last week, and they’ll continue to pound the ball on the ground, and Jared Goff played well, too. The Eagles do have an excellent front seven, so they’ll be able to slow down the Rams’ run game more than Dallas did a week ago. Carson Wentz knows he has to be better, and I expect he will be this week. Wentz makes some big plays in the second half and the Eagles prevail.
The options were thin for the upset of the week, so I have to pick a bold one. Oklahoma State has had several issues this offseason, and I don’t expect them to look like their usual selves this week. Chubba Hubbard will struggle against a tough Tulsa front seven, and the Tulsa offense is explosive. The Golden Hurricane were winning at halftime of this rivalry last year, and they’ll get the upset this time as 23-point underdogs.
The first big-time match up in the ACC will see No. 18 Louisville and No. 17 Miami clash on Saturday. Both the Cardinals and the Hurricanes took care of business and looked like solid squads in their first week matchup. While the Louisville offense boasts more weapons with quarterback Micale Cunningham and a solid running back and receiving core, it will be their defense that ends up hurting them this weekend. D’Eriq King is a solid dual-threat quarterback that will give the Cardinals a heap of trouble, more than their offense can keep up with. Look for Miami to take the win on the road.
Marshall took care of business against Eastern Kentucky winning in blowout fashion 59-0. Appalachian State, on the other hand, had their share of struggles against Charlotte. Appalachian State’s ground game was a shining star in their performance and I think that it will be something they look to get going early against the Thundering Herd. This game should be a close one, but the Mountaineers will clean up some of their mistakes from last week and find a way to gut this one out.
Georgia Tech has certainly got off to a good start to the season after a win against Florida State last week. But I don’t think that one win is enough to shed them of the ACC cellar-dweller title. They will be playing a higher quality opponent this weekend at UCF. While Georgia Tech will have already had a game under their belt, something that should scare the Knights just a little, I think that UCF will shake off the rust quickly and take care of business. UCF will also have a little more incentive to win as the Big 10 entering the mix will certainly diminish the Knight’s chances of a playoff appearance.
The Steelers looked rock-solid in their win last Monday against the Giants and I do not think that will change going into their matchup against the Broncos. With the injuries piling up for the Broncos as well, it will be hard for them to top a team that has Big Ben hot on the offensive side of the ball. Look for the Steelers to cruise easily in this one.
Let Russ Cook. Russell Wilson put on an absolute clinic last weekend against the Falcons, completing 31 out of 35 for four touchdowns and 322 yards. It seems that the playbook has been opened up thanks to Brian Schottenheimer and Pete Carroll putting more faith into Wilson rather than trying to ground and pound early. On the opposite side of the ball, the addition of Jamal Adams has proven worth it so far and Bobby Wagner is still as good as ever. Cam Newton had a decent showing in his first game with the Pats, but a strong Seattle defense will keep him in check. Seattle should handle things at home like usual despite the lack of crowd noise at the C-Link.
The Eagles had themselves a game against the Washington Football Team but for all the wrong reasons. They started reasonably well but wasting a 17-point lead is never a good look. Their floundering offense is not something that will be solved in a week, and I think that they will continue to struggle against Los Angeles. The Rams will be a much more quality opponent than Washington and Jared Goff had a solid performance that should give him some confidence and momentum. Look for the Rams to seal the win by a large margin.
In their season opener, Navy got humiliated by BYU. Missed tackles galore in large part due to the lack of normal contact practices. But with two weeks to prepare under normal circumstances, the Midshipmen will have a completely renewed identity. Despite being seven-point dogs to Tulane, I think that their triple-option run game and improved defense will be enough to help them pull off the upset.
Although Miami pulled away at the end of the game to beat UAB 31-14 last week, they were far from impressive. Louisville also did not put on a great showing against Western Kentucky and only won by two touchdowns. I see this one being a closely contested battle, but I’m going to go with Satterfield’s Cardinals in this one. I think the Cardinals might have the potential to be a dark horse team this year.
Appalachian State has cemented themselves as a powerhouse in the Sun Belt the last couple of years, and it appears that they might have a chance to push for a New Year’s Six game this year if things play out well for them. Marshall has been fairly consistent in the C-USA the last couple of years as well (8-5 last season), so this figures to be a good matchup. I like App State by 10 in this one, though.
UCF has yet to play a game this season, but the expectations are high for this top-15 Knights team. Although they struggled last year to replicate their recent success, I think 2020 will be a great year for the Knights. Georgia Tech can not be taken lightly, however, as they were able to knock off Florida State in their opener. I think this one is close at first, but the Knights pull away down the stretch.
Both the Steelers and the Broncos are interesting teams this year. Both teams have the talent to push for a division title, but I could also see either team missing the playoffs too depending on how things play out. Drew Lock looked to be the definition of mediocrity for the Broncos in their loss to the Titans, though. I’ll take the Steelers because of the veteran leadership from Ben Roethlisberger.
This should be one great quarterback showdown. Russell Wilson lit it up for the Seahawks in their Week 1 win over the Falcons, and Cam Newton appears to be a match made in heaven for the Patriots. I think this one will be fairly high scoring and a great game. At the end of the day, though, the Seahawks don’t lose home night games. Give me the Seahawks by a touchdown.
I really haven’t been sold on the Eagles as of late, and their loss to the Washington Football Team in week 1 solidified my skepticism. Carson Wentz is going to have to play better for the Eagles if they are going to beat the Rams this week. I think Wentz is up for the challenge this week. I anticipate the Eagles’ defense making some big plays in their 10-point win over the Rams.
For my upset pick, give me the Panthers over the Buccaneers. I think this Panthers team is much improved from last year, as they were almost able to get a win over the Raiders last week. Additionally, I just don’t think the Bucs have gelled as a team quite yet. I think the Bucs can turn it around by the end of the season, but I anticipate the Panthers upsetting Tom Brady and the Bucs this weekend.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.