Before we take a look at Thursday’s clash between the New York Giants and the Carolina Panthers, let’s see what we should have learned – but probably didn’t – from Week 2 of the new NFL season…

Bill Belichick is vindictive. Well, when it comes to football matters he is. You knew that already. The New England Patriots’ franchise is not a democracy – it is a dictatorship. The rules and punishments are decided by the same person. Remember ‘Spygate’, when Belichick was punished by the NFL and the Patriots thereafter proceeded to run up the score on opponents? Now he’s dealing with Wes Welker in the same way. Welker was third on the Patriots depth chart in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals. Third. Behind Julian Edelman, an unproductive former quarterback.

Belichick is limiting Welker’s playing time. Why? We can only speculate.

But it is a fair guess that Belichick has had enough of Welker’s perceived attitude: verbal foot-reference jabs in a press conference towards Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan, a dropped catch that would have iced a Super Bowl victory, protracted contract negotiations and tweeting about the issues he had with the way the Pats were treating him in the summer – in Belichick’s eyes, it counterbalances what the most prolific receiver in NFL history has achieved.

He’s got the juice and now he’s done squeezing.

Of course, much of this would have gone away if the Patriots would have paid the man his due. They didn’t.

And now the only ones who will suffer if Belichick continues to take his ball home with him will be Welker’s teammates.

If he thinks Edelman is the answer to the Welker problem, then two and two make eight-hundred and Tom Brady looks good in Uggs.

And the Patriots’ next three games are against Baltimore, Buffalo and Denver. Let’s see how belligerent Bill is doing after that little slate.

Of course, if it doesn’t go to plan, Belichick has a ready-made excuse – tight end Aaron Hernandez, a huge cog in the Patriots offensive machine, is likely to be ruled out with an ankle sprain for between four and six weeks.

It’s never over until it’s over. Thank you Arizona, signed every team in the AFC not named New England. And if that Stephen Gostkowski field goal miss was played out on Madden, you’d say it was a father contriving to let his son win. It was easier to score than miss.

Drew Brees needs to do his job, not everyone else’s. It’s hard enough playing quarterback, but the responsibility of trying replace the head coach, assist the interim-interim head coach and be the offensive coordinator, is weighing heavily on him and the New Orleans Saints. If someone could just hold the janitor’s mop from him for a few minutes, it would make the NFC South more interesting.

Coaching experience is crucial. Tampa Bay’s play-calling went all Mitt Romney in the second half against the New York Giants. Just three points gained from their last five drives cost them the game. For trading purposes, they are a first-half team – in the first two weeks, they have outscored opponents 37-13, but after the interval, they have been outscored 28-13. New offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan needs to learn to throw opponents off a building, not talk them down and make them tea. But it’s not cool to attack the opposing quarterback after he has taken a knee to end the game. No wonder Tom Coughlin was miffed. Still, I’ve seen angrier exchanges from pensioners in the local Tesco car park than the one he shared with Tampa counterpart Greg Schiano.

The guys the NFL got from Foot Locker need to pull the plug. Replacement refs are making a mockery of the league with their bad decisions and major procedural errors. Each week they are coming up with a whole Kama Sutra of ways to screw games up. The refereeing in the Jets/Steelers game bordered on the hilarious and the officiating in the Rams/Redskins clash made a complete mockery of the NFL. And don’t get me started on the shambolic on-field explanations by the referees themselves. Do us all a favour, don’t bother. Just pull the plug on your microphones. Spare us the details. Please.

Replacement refs or replacement Tebow? So Tim Tebow’s replacement in Denver, Peyton Manning, had a rough start against Atlanta. The fact that he tossed three interceptions on his first start on the road for over 21 months, completed 24 of 37 passes for 241 yards, threw one touchdown and had a 58.5 passer rating, is not going to make anyone remember Tebow anytime soon. Just for reference, Tebow was 1-1 as a starter with the Broncos – just like Manning. Tebow lost his second start, just like Manning… but after that the Broncos bounced back, rattling off six straight victories.

Can Manning do the same? Not with this season’s schedule. Houston are next up, followed by Oakland, New England, San Diego, New Orleans and Cincinnati. While not exactly a murderers’ row, you don’t see many cakes walking along that particular street.

Derek Landin and Fletcher Cox are unsung heroes.
Who? Good question. But they are a big answer as to why the Philadelphia Eagles are getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Baltimore’s Joe Flacco never looked comfortable with that duo’s movement up the middle. A better question perhaps, is: where are the sacks going to come from, Philly?

History lessons are good for you. Some bettors ignore historical trends. It’s understandable, given that each season’s teams are different to those who have gone before. But teams have tendencies imbedded in their DNA. For instance, Pittsburgh will always rely on a great defence. Washington will always have the best cheerleaders, Cleveland will invariably suck.

Week 2 saw a few historical trends maintained.

The Detroit Lions extended their losing streak at San Francisco to 12 games (again by more than a touchdown), and Minnesota, who had lost to the Colts eight times when they were in Baltimore, are now 0-3 against them in Indianapolis after losing 23-20.

The Jets maintained their losing streak in Pittsburgh. They have now won just once there in 10 attempts. So ignore history lessons at your peril.

Furthermore, it is a guarantee that I will find at least one new song a year that I play repeatedly until the pain of seeing bets dashed by a late comeback goes away.

So here it is, courtesy of The Ravonettes, from their new album Observatory…

Thursday night’s clash between the Giants and Panthers in Charlotte pits together two teams who have defensive questions to answer.

The Giants are one-point BETDAQ handicap favourites, following their enthralling come-from-behind 41-34 defeat of Tampa Bay.

It was physical contest and an emotionally draining one, too. Worryingly for Big Blue, the pass defence that ranked 29th last year and which allowed 4,082 yards in total, does not appear to have been fixed.

They are still conceding 9.6 yards per pass attempt – and neither Dallas or Tampa, whom they have faced this term, can be deemed to boast attacks of the prolific variety.

Whether it was slant patterns against Dallas or the deep pass against Tampa, the Giants’ secondary had all sorts of problems.

The Giants may be searching for answers, but getting more aggressive with opposing receivers – as defensive back Corey Webster called for on Monday – is only going to lead to pass interference calls. Remember, this game is on the road, in a hostile environment, played in front of a national prime-time TV audience and officiated by replacements, who may well be intimidated.

While the Giants managed to get away with their Achilles’ heel last year, the defensive backfield, as a unit, has been hit hard by injury this season and only overwhelming play from the down lineman and linebackers can compensate.

If 2011 first-round pick Prince Amukamara can return after missing the first two games of the season, there will be less of a problem for the Giants’ two fastest linebackers Michael Boley and Jacquian Williams, who could play an instrumental part in defending Cam Newton’s running ability.

It is easy to see why the Giants are such narrow favourites. It is inconceivable that Eli Manning will throw for 510 yards as he did against Tampa.

In fact, the Panthers’ defence should provide more of a test. They limited the Buccaneers to just 16 points at home (the Bucs hung 34 on the Giants on the road) and held the prolific Saints attack to 27 points.

Manning has some excellent receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, along with tight end Martellus Bennett, but their running game is cause for concern at present.

Ahmad Bradshaw has just 94 yards this term and Andre Brown, fourth on the depth chart, has provided 71 yards, all coming against Tampa. This unit, currently ranked 24th, needs to relieve the pressure on the passing game soon.

The theory goes that, after putting up 219 rushing yards against New Orleans last Sunday, strength of Carolina’s ground game, with running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, means the Panthers have one of the best attacks in the franchise’s history.

And yes, they are a talented group, but let’s not get carried away. The reality is they put up just 10 rushing yards against Tampa the week before.

The Giants are a middling team against the run, but they have a significantly better defence than that of the Saints.

Even so, Newton will certainly be salivating at facing the 22nd-ranked pass defence and the Carolina attack appears to have better balance.

But the biggest thing in this game is the short preparation time. The Giants are better prepared for adversity, as they have shown time and again.

Tom Coughlin is 5-1 all time against the Panthers, who scored just 10 points against the Bucs in Week 1. Manning pinned 41 on them a week later.

Panthers may be catching an injury-hit Giants at the right time, but one thing we should have learned by now: count the Giants out at your own risk. They are well coached and they are talented. And as for a Super Bowl hangover, let’s not forget that when they won Super Bowl XLII, the following season they went on an 11-1 run before Plaxico Burress infamously shot himself in the leg. Clown.

Arguably, the short week plays better into the visitors’ hands. If they can get some balance from the running game, they could be in good shape before they travel to Philadelphia in 10 days’ time.

Lay – Carolina +1
Back – Over 52 total points

Twitter: @simonmilham

Milham’s 2012 record:
Week 1: 7-5
Week 2: 7-6-1

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