One of the biggest surprises of Week 1 was quite how a young Tampa Bay defence (aside from evergreen 106-year-old Ronde Barber) managed to limit Carolina’s attack.

Bear in mind that in 2011, their offensive line was one of the very best and allowed Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to have one of the most versatile and dynamic offenses in recent times.

It is anyone’s guess why the Panthers decided to ditch their running game after just 12 carries, when the game was never out of reach, even though they managed 10 total yards.

It is unfathomable why Mike Tolbert, an expensive free agent, carried only once and spent most of his time pass blocking. He had just four touches of the ball in all.

The gameplan was a little odd and certainly had an unbalanced look about it. But Newton still passed for 303 yards, averaging 9.2 yards per throw, well on course to replicate last season’s 4,051 yards as a rookie.

Second-year players who do not meet their first-season heights expectations are (often unfairly) tagged as having a ‘sophomore slump’. This is largely down to the increased amount of game film that opposing coaches have available to them about a certain player.

Newton didn’t look too jittery against Tampa; the offensive line gave him plenty of time but his two interceptions were very poor throws and the Panthers lost 16-10, in a game that wasn’t as nearly as close as the score intimates.

The Panthers were outplayed in every facet. It was a sloppy performance and defensively they seemed uncluttered with style or talent as they were unable to stop rookie running back Doug Martin, even knowing that the Bucs wanted to run against them.

It should have been a winnable game for Carolina. Now at 0-1, the schedule gets extremely tough. On Sunday, the New Orleans Saints head to Charlotte, fresh off a 40-32 thumping at the hands of Washington in the Superdome. Then they face the Super Bowl champion New York Giants and the ultra tough Atlanta Falcons. There’s plenty of pessimistic Panthers’ fans right now, and that’s understandable.

The Saints have plenty of defensive issues of their own. Steve Spagnuolo faces a big test trying to coordinate a group that is still in transition, but it does not look like the Saints’ red-hot attack is about to cool down any time soon.

Carolina’s punchless attack will improve this week, especially with Stewart returning after an ankle injury. They need his more direct style of running.

But will it improve enough to keep pace with Dew Brees and company in the live TV game on Sky Sports (5.30pm)?

The Saints, who have won on their last two trips to Charlotte – including when failing to cover the handicap in a 30-27 win last October – but who have only once achieved three consecutive victories over the Panthers on the road in 17 visits since 1995, are one-point favourites on the BETDAQ handicap. The road team have covered the handicap 17 times in the last 21 meetings between the pair and New Orleans have covered the handicap in seven of their last 10 trips to Carolina.

The points total has gone under line-makers’ expectations on eight of the last nine meetings there.

The Panthers have started 0-2 for the last three seasons. The Saints have started the season 0-2 just once in the last 15 years (in 1997). You see where this is going.

It could be a very interesting game to play in running – that’s the beauty of trading at BETDAQ – and it is easy to see why a ton of early money will come in for the prolific Saints. My own handicap line borders between 3.5 and four points. The fact that the hosts are mere one-point underdogs should throw up a little warning flag. I may even look to back the Panthers on the handicap before the action starts and hope they come out firing with the home crowd behind them. But realistically, logic states the pick has to be the Saints – they can win one for suspended head coach Sean Peyton.

Time for a musical time-out. We’re in between games. The Cure are In Between Days.

In the second live TV game, Washington Redskins travel to St Louis to face a very young and inexperienced Rams team (Sky Sports, 9.25pm).

On paper, this looks another game where the road favourite should be saddled with a bigger handicap to overcome than is actually the case.

While Detroit struggled to overcome St Louis last week at Ford Field, the Rams are having to deal with some significant injuries, most notably to starting left guard Rokevious Watkins (ankle) and starting left tackle Rodger Saffold (neck), and they will be without starting centre Scott Wells (broken foot).

Against a Washington defence with a monstrous front seven, it is hard to see anything other than a very tough day for Rams’ quarterback Sam Bradford.

The Rams have a better defence than New Orleans and it will be surprising if Robert Griffin III manages to stay interception-free, but he should still be able to throw for over 290 yardsm – despite the loss of his favourite target Pierre Garcon (foot) – and the Skins appear to have a nice balance, with running back Alfred Morris looking like a potential star.

Turnovers can cost you at any moment, of course. The Redskins are breaking in a long snapper after Nick Sundberg broke his arm and we saw what happened when Oakland had to revert to a back-up in that position on Monday night.

Washington had a 5-11 record last year, so are still looking to find their identity, yet the signs are very encouraging and the surprise is that they are mere three-point favourites on the BETDAQ handicap. They would be one of the more confident picks to cover the handicap this week.

On Sunday night, the late TV game pits the Detroit Lions at the San Francisco 49ers (C4, 1.20am).

The Lions are coming off a late, narrow home victory over St Louis, while the 49ers travel back across country after proving to the Green Bay Packers that they mean to be the team to beat in the NFC. Bettors have certainly latched on to the 49ers, who have covered the handicap in 12 of their last 16 games against NFC opponents.

Detroit have lost on their last 11 trips to San Francisco and they haven’t even got close. In their last nine trips to the Bay Area, they have been defeated by seven points or more on each occasion. And they are rated seven-point underdogs on the BETDAQ handicap this time. It should be more, given their defence remains injury-riddled, with safety Louis Delmas, defensive end Lawrence Jackson and cornerback Dwight Bentley all struggling. Even top receiver Calvin Johnson missed practice on Wednesday, although he is likely to play and will be instrumental if the Lions are to pull off an upset.

But as a whole, these injuries do not bode well for the visitors. The Niners’ defence should be able to shut down the Lions when it matters and roll to a double-digit victory.

It is worth noting that the points total has fallen below the line set in the last six meetings between the pair in San Francisco. However, the Lions do have the weaponry to test the hosts and this may be an odd occasion where the total rises above 46 points.

Cleveland travel to division AFC North rival Cincinnati, who were trounced by Baltimore last weekend. Cleveland were a little unfortunate to lose to Philadelphia, leaving many pundits believing that the Browns will be better than advertised this year.

But mix the third-toughest schedule in the league with 15 rookies and another 11 players in their second pro season (that’s 26 of a 53-man roster), and pop it into a division which sent three teams to the playoffs last season. Bake for another 15 games (removing the top 2011 draft pick Phil Taylor for the next seven games at least with a pectoral injury) and these brownies will be burned to a crisp. Quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Trent Richardson and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz are all rookies – and that certainly showed last week. It will probably pan out that way again this week, too. Take Cincinnati to win on the Money Line.

In the Seventies, Miami and Oakland were powerhouses. Times have changed and each opened with a loss.

Starting this weekend, Oakland will travel 28,692 miles on the road this season, including five trips to the Eastern time-zone. Travelling over 3,000 miles off a short week (they lost their opener to San Diego on Monday night) and playing in the humidity of a 1pm (local time) start in Miami isn’t an easy thing to do. Like Miami, they lack receivers. So can Miami’s rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill gain his first professional victory on Dan Marino’s birthday? Stranger things have happened and with the Money Line showing Miami at odds against, it might be worth playing them.

Tampa have only ever beaten the Giants in New York in seven attempts. On Sunday they are nine-point underdogs and while they may keep things close, ultimately the Super Bowl champions will prevail, despite their problems running the ball and injury issues in their secondary.

But rarely do these two generate many offensive fireworks. Low-scoring encounters are the norm, so it may be worth laying the 44.5 total points mark.

It is all but written in stone that the New York Jets do not win on the road in Pittsburgh. They have only done so on one occasion (in 2010) and following their easy win over Buffalo, hopes are high that they won’t crash at Heinz Field.

However, Pittsburgh are smarting following their opening loss in Denver and they should edge this in what could be a dour defensive battle.

Elsewhere, Dallas should be able to gain a rare win in Seattle and Adrian Peterson should get plenty of success running the ball at Indianapolis, so take Minnesota to get off to a 2-0 start, overcoming a small handicap in the process.

Suggestions for Live TV games:
Back – New Orleans -1
Back – Washington -3
Lay – Detroit +7
Back – Under 46 Total Points in Detroit/San Francisco

Suggestions for other games:
Lay – Cleveland Money Line
Back – Miami Money Line
Lay – 44.5 Total Points in Tampa Bay/New York Giants
Lay – 41.5 Total Points in New York Jets/Pittsburgh
Back – Dallas -3
Back – Minnesota -1

Twitter: @simonmilham

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