NFL GAME SCOUT -- By The Sports Xchange
[NEW YORK JETS (1-1) AT CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-1-1) ](NEW YORK JETS (1-1%29 AT CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-1-1%29 )
NEW YORK JETS (1-1) AT CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-1-1)
KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:20 PM ET, FirstEnergy Stadium; NFL Network, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews (Field reporter), Kristina Pink (Field reporter).
SERIES HISTORY: 25th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 12-12. The Browns hosted the Jets a year ago and outgained them, 419 yards to 212 yards, but came up short, 17-14, because of three turnovers. Defensive end Myles Garrett had his first NFL sack on his first play after missing the first four games with an ankle injury.
The Jets have won the last five meetings between the teams, including each of the last two years in Cleveland. New York won its only road game of 2017 there last season, a 17-14 decision when Jermaine Kearse scored the eventual game-winning touchdown on a 24-yard reception from Josh McCown in the fourth quarter, as the Jets got to 3-2 on the season. Current Jets McCown, Isaiah Crowell and Terrelle Pryor were on the Browns side for the Jets' win in Cleveland in 2016, when Matt Forte rushed for two touchdowns and Ryan Fitzpatrick threw another to Quincy Enunwa in a 31-28 win.
The teams met in a memorable divisional round playoff in the 1986 season, a 23-20 Browns win in double overtime. Known as the "Marathon by the Lake," the Jets led 20-10 with 4:14 left in regulation after Freeman McNeil's 25-yard touchdown run. But Kevin Mack scored on a 1-yard TD run to make it 20-17 with 1:57 left, and Mark Moseley tied it on a 22-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining in regulation. Moseley, a 38-year-old former league MVP who the Browns lured out of retirement only two months earlier, missed three of his six field goals on the day, including a 23-yarder on first down in overtime, but he kicked the game-winner from 27 yards out to end the game after more than four hours.
The teams' most notable regular-season encounter was likely their first-ever game, Sept. 21, 1970, which was also the first installment of ABC's "Monday Night Football." The Browns won the game, 31-21, at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, intercepting Joe Namath three times and getting a 94-yard kickoff return touchdown from Homer Jones.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Of quarterbacks who have thrown at least 20 passes this season, only Buffalo's Josh Allen (50 percent) has been less accurate than Browns starter Tyrod Taylor (52.9 percent), so if the Jets can continue to get a good pass rush (one of the few things they did well Sunday against Miami), they could force him into turnovers and some ugly third-down passes as they did to Matthew Stafford Week 1 in Detroit. But they must be careful not to over-pursue (another problem against the Dolphins), because Taylor can beat you with his legs, as he already has 103 rushing yards, which leads all QBs.
Offensively, it's very easy -- don't turn the ball over. Last year, the Browns had only 13 takeaways and their minus-28 turnover margin was by far the worst in the league. But, through two games, they already have eight takeaways and their plus-six margin leads the league. The Jets' offense has turned the ball over four times, including three Sam Darnold interceptions. The 21-year-old rookie has started 26 games between college and the pros and has turned the ball over at least once in 21 of them. That's too many.
Also, after converting 8-of-17 third- and fourth-down plays into a fresh set of downs against Detroit, the Jets were only 3-for-10 against Miami, which is a sign of both lackluster quarterback and offensive line play.
The NFL is a copycat league. The Browns therefore can be expected to keep the ball on the ground when they play the Jets on Thursday night. The Dolphins pounded out 135 rushing yards on 31 carries on their way to beating the Jets, 20-12. Carlos Hyde is the main running back for the Browns, but Duke Johnson Jr. could get an increased workload running the ball as well while remaining a target for Tyrod Taylor in the passing game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Browns WR Jarvis Landry vs. Jets DB Buster Skrine. Skrine usually covers the slot receiver for the Jets. Landry can line up split wide or in the slot in the Browns' various offensive sets. A Landry-Skrine duel should be a good one because Landry is shifty and Skrine can close quickly.
--Jets C Spencer Long vs. Browns DT Larry Ogunjobi. Long got all he could handle Sunday from Dolphins behemoth Jordan Phillips (listed at 341 pounds). Ogunjobi is a smaller (305 pounds), 4-3 defensive tackle, as opposed to a 3-4 nose tackle like Phillips, but he still poses problems with his speed. He already has three sacks this season, mostly because teams have to try and block him one-on-one because they often need to double-team end Myles Garrett, who plays on the same side as Ogunjobi. Cleveland's other end, Emmanuel Ogbah, has already been ruled out for the game, but the Browns' front still provides a formidable challenge for the Jets' sometimes porous offensive line.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Browns WR Antonio Callaway. The Browns' decision to trade Josh Gordon means an increased role for Callaway, the rookie fourth-round draft pick from Florida. He can stretch the field. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor, known for being conservative, won't be afraid to air it out if Callaway gets behind the safeties.
FAST FACTS: JETS QB SAM DARNOLD (rookie) passed for 334 yards & TD last week. Is youngest player in NFL history (21 years, 103 days old) to pass for 300 yards in game. Completed 16 of 21 (76.2 pct.) with 2 TDs vs. 1 INT for 116.8 rating in only career road start. ... RB ISAIAH CROWELL rushed for 3,118 yards & 21 TDs in 64 career games for Cle. from 2014-17. ... RB BILAL POWELL had 74 rec. yards & TD catch last week. Has 75+ scrimmage yards in 3 of 4 career meetings. ... WR QUINCY ENUNWA had 7 catches for 92 yards in Week 2. Has 236 rec. yards (78.7 per game) & TD catch in his past 3. Had 93 rec. yards & TD in his last game vs. Cle. (10/30/16). ... WR ROBBY ANDERSON has 7 TD catches since Week 7 of 2017 season, tied for 7th-most in NFL over span. ... WR JERMAINE KEARSE had TD catch in last meeting. ... WR TERRELLE PRYOR had 78 catches for 1,049 yards & 4 TDs with Cle. from 2015-16. ... S JAMAL ADAMS had sack & FF last week. Is 1 of 2 AFC safeties (SHAWN WILLIAMS) with sack & INT this season. Had 9 tackles in last meeting. ... LB JORDAN JENKINS had sack, FF & FR in Week 2. Is 1 of 3 NFL LBs (VON MILLER & KHALIL MACK) with 4+ sacks (4), 2+ FFs (2) & 2+ FRs (3) since 2017. ... CB BUSTER SKRINE had 6 INTs & 47 PD in 4 seasons with Cle. (2011-14). ... CB MORRIS CLAIBORNE had 9 tackles, 2 PD & INT in last meeting. ... S MARCUS MAYE recorded 1st-career INT in only career game vs. Cle. ... BROWNS QB TYROD TAYLOR completed 29 of 40 (72.5 pct.) for 285 yards with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 108.9 rating in his last meeting (11/2/17 with Buf.). Has 100+ rating in 2 of his past 3 vs. NYJ. Aims for 4th meeting in row with 2+ TD passes. ... RB CARLOS HYDE had rush TD last week. Aims for 5th in row with rush TD. Rushed for career-high 193 yards & had TD catch in only career meeting vs. NYJ (12/11/16 with SF). Aims for 3rd in row vs. AFC with rush TD. ... RB DUKE JOHNSON JR. had 63 rec. yards & TD catch in last meeting. Has 199 scrimmage yards (99.5 per game) in past 2 vs. NYJ. Since 2015, ranks 2nd among NFL RBs with 191 catches. ... WR JARVIS LANDRY had 93 rec. yards & TD catch in his last game vs. NYJ (10/22/17 with Mia.). Has 90+ rec. yards & TD catch in 3 of his past 5 vs. NYJ. Aims for 3rd in row vs. AFC East with 7+ catches & 90+ rec. yards. Has 5+ catches in 19 consecutive games, tied for 2nd-longest streak in NFL history. ... Rookie WR ANTONIO CALLAWAY had 3 catches for 81 yards, incl. game-tying 47-yard TD catch with 1:16 remaining in 4th Q last week. TE DAVID NJOKU had TD catch in last meeting. ... DE MYLES GARRETT had 2 sacks in last meeting. Has 4 sacks & 3 FFs in past 4. ... DT LARRY OGUNJOBI had 2 sacks last week. Aims for 3rd in row with sack. ... LB JOE SCHOBERT has 12+ tackles in 3 of past 5 on road. ... LB JAMIE COLLINS SR. has 43 tackles (10.8 per game) in his past 4 vs. NYJ. Had 8 tackles, FF & FR in his last meeting (12/27/15 with NE).
PREDICTION: The Jets have won on the road and lost at home, while the Browns could be 2-0 after erratic kicking cost them their first two games, both on the road. Might rookie kicker Greg Joseph be the difference? The Browns hope it doesn't come to that.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (1-1) AT ATLANTA FALCONS (1-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, Mercedes-Benz Stadium; FOX, Sam Rosen, Cris Carter, Sara Walsh (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 98th regular-season meeting. Falcons lead series, 51-46. Falcons have a 27-22 edge in Atlanta. The home team won both meetings last season. Atlanta has won three of the last four meetings. The Falcons handed the Saints their largest margin of defeat in franchise history in a 62-7 victory in 1973 in New Orleans. Atlanta also won the only playoff meeting, prevailing 27-20 in 1991 in the Superdome. The Falcons are the Saints' most frequent opponent as the two franchises have been division rivals since 1970.
KEYS TO THE GAME: With the Falcons' defense losing players at a rapid pace, it may fall on the shoulders of the offense to simply outscore the Saints. If that's the case, it won't be the first time the two old regional rivals ran up the score. After two relatively low-scoring games in 2017, this might be a return to 2016, when the Falcons won 45-32 and 38-32.
The Saints defensive backs have been beaten at an alarming rate in the first two games and the same will happen Sunday if Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan isn't made uncomfortable. Running back Devonta Freeman isn't expected to play, which figures to make Ryan and the passing game an even bigger part of the game plan than normal.
The Saints have not rushed for 100 yards in either of the first two games and they would like to surpass that benchmark in this game. That will require continuing to get the ball to running back Alvin Kamara, but also getting a more significant contribution from Mike Gillislee or Jonathan Williams.
It would help if New Orleans could play with a lead after doing so for a combined 10 minutes in the first two games. Whether the run sets up the pass or the pass sets up the run, head coach Sean Payton will try to find a way to get better balance from the offense.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Saints WR Michael Thomas vs. Falcons CBs. Until someone shows they can slow down Thomas, the Saints are going to keep throwing to him. The Buccaneers never slowed him down so he caught 16 passes. The Browns contained him a bit early on, but he still wound up catching 12 passes. Head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Brees will target Thomas in the beginning and see if Falcons CBs Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are able to slow him down. If not he'll be a busy man for a third consecutive week. "I know (Thomas) has caught a lot of balls the last two weeks," Brees said. "He's got gotten open. He's done a great job with that. His number's been called. Probably the combination of a lot of things, but I feel like we've got other guys that can do it too. It's just a matter of what the defense is going to give us."
--Saints CBs vs. Falcons WR Julio Jones. It will be a similar situation when the Falcons have the ball even though Jones' respectable 15 catches pale in comparison to Thomas' 28. Jones is the Falcons' biggest offensive threat and they will try to get him the ball with regularity. The Saints will have to give help to CBs Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley as they try to contain Jones. If he gets open early look for Atlanta to keep going his way.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Falcons TE Austin Hooper. The third-year tight end has become a reliable target for Matt Ryan. He had five catches on five targets for 59 yards and one touchdown Sunday. Hooper has eight catches this season for 83 yards. He is likely to be a big part of the game plan against the Saints; last year he had two catches for 23 yards against the Saints in Atlanta and three catches for 18 yards in New Orleans.
FAST FACTS: SAINTS QB DREW BREES has 682 pass yards (341 per game) with 5 TDs & 0 INTs for 123 rating in past 2. Has 300+ pass yard in 6 of past 8 vs. Atl. In his past 5 at Atl., has 1,555 pass yards (311 per game), 8 TDs & 3 INTs for 98.5 rating. Aims for 4th in row on road with 100+ rating. ... RB ALVIN KAMARA has 588 scrimmage yards (117.6 per game) & 4 TDs (3 rush, 1 rec.) in his past 5 on road. In his past 2 vs. division, has 269 scrimmage yards (134.5 per game) & 4 TDs (3 rush, 1 rec.). Aims for 6th in row with 6+ receptions. ... WR MICHAEL THOMAS had 12 catches for 89 yards & 2 TDs last week. Has 28 receptions in past 2 & surpassed ANDRE RISON (26) for most catches in 1st 2 games to start season in NFL history. Has 33 catches for 454 yards (113.5 per game) & 3 TDs in his past 4 on road vs. NFC South. Has 10+ catches, 100+ rec. yards & TD in each of past 2 meetings. ... TE BENJAMIN WATSON aims for 3rd in row vs. Atl. with TD. ... DE CAMERON JORDAN had 2 sacks in Week 2. Had 2 sacks in last meeting. Has 6.5 sacks, FF & FR in his past 6 vs. Atl. Has 13 tackles, 3 sacks & PD in his past 3 vs. NFC South. CB MARSHON LATTIMORE aims for 3rd in row vs. Atl. with INT. Aims for 6th in row vs. division with PD. Had FF last week. ... S MARCUS WILLIAMS had INT in Week 2. Has 3 INTs in his past 3. ... FALCONS QB MATT RYAN completed 23 of 28 (82.1 pct.) for 272 yards with 2 TDs vs. 1 INT for 116.1 rating last week. Added 2 rush TDs in Week 2, his 1st-career 2 rush TD game. Has 1,334 pass yards (333.5 per game) & 10 TDs vs. 4 INTs for 109.9 rating in his past 4 home meetings. Has 100+ rating in 6 of past 8 games vs. NO. ... RB DEVONTA FREEMAN has 898 scrimmage yards (112.3 per game) & 7 TDs (4 rush, 3 rec.) in 8 career meetings. Aims for 5th in row at home vs. NFC South with TD. RB TEVIN COLEMAN had 125 scrimmage yards (107 rush, 18 rec.) in Week 2. Has 5 TDs (3 rush, 2 rec.) in past 4 meetings. ... WR JULIO JONES has 19 catches for 343 yards (114.3 per game) & TD in his past 3 meetings. ... WR MOHAMED SANU has TD catch in 2 of past 3 meetings. ... Rookie WR CALVIN RIDLEY had 4 receptions for career-high 64 yards & 1st-career TD catch in Week 2. ... TE AUSTIN HOOPER had rec. TD last week. Has 3 career TDs vs. NFC South. ... DE TAKKARIST McKINLEY aims for 3rd in row with sack. Has 2 sacks & FF in his past 4 vs. division. ... CB RICARDO ALLEN had INT in Week 2. Aims for 3rd in row with INT vs. NFC South. Has 21 tackles, 2 INTs & 3 PD in his past 4 at home. ... Since 2015, CB ROBERT ALFORD leads NFL with 57 PD. Has INT & 5 PD in his past 2 at home vs. division.
PREDICTION: Falcons are the walking wounded with several players on IR and Devonta Freeman on a bad knee and Julio Jones a bad calf. The Saints can't run but it seems Drew Brees can pass no matter what. Expect a shootout; last team with the ball wins.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (1-0-1) AT WASHINGTON REDSKINS (1-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday 1:00 PM ET, FedExField; FOX, Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 34th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 18-14-1 and the two teams have met three times in the playoffs, including Jan. 10, 2016 in an NFC wild-card game. Green Bay won 35-18. The Redskins won the last regular-season game in the series later that same year with a 42-24 win at FedExField on Nov. 20, 2016.
KEYS TO THE GAME: With quarterback Aaron Rodgers hobbled by an injured left knee, it again will be up to the offensive line to keep him out of harm's way. It won't be easy. Washington features one of the best edge-rusher duos in the league with Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith. They combined for 21 sacks last season, with 13 for Kerrigan and eight for Smith. Kerrigan will battle right tackle Bryan Bulaga while Smith will have to beat two-time All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari.
After giving up 425 passing yards to Minnesota's Kirk Cousins last week, the Packers must contend with Alex Smith this week. Smith has completed 71.1 percent of his passes in two games. The Redskins don't have a receiving duo in the same class as the Vikings' Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, but cornerback Kevin King's latest injury (groin) and Smith's efficiency won't make this an easy matchup.
Smith, a great student of the game, surely noticed in game tapes that the Redskins' secondary struggled to communicate against Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in a 21-9 loss. Several times Saints defenders appeared confused about their roles in a man-to-man scheme and Luck used one pick play after another - all legal and uncalled - to exploit Washington's defense.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Packers RT Bryan Bulaga vs. Redskins OLB Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan is one of the NFL's premier pass rushers. He had 13 sacks last season, 11 sacks in 2016 and a total of 47 sacks over the past four seasons. Including the 2015 playoffs, he's got three sacks in three career matchups against the Packers. Bulaga, who is bouncing back from last year's torn ACL, has allowed a sack each of the past two weeks against Chicago's Khalil Mack and Minnesota's Danielle Hunter. If the Redskins are going to spring an upset, Kerrigan is the defensive player most capable of delivering a critical big play.
--Redskins TE Jordan Reed vs. Packers S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Beating the Redskins requires dealing with Reed when he's healthy and on the field. Clinton-Dix had an interception against the Vikings last week and has the range to keep up with Reed, who has 10 catches already in 2018 for 103 yards and a touchdown. He was one of the few effective players on offense for Washington in the 21-9 loss to the Colts in Week 2.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Redskins RB Samaje Perine. The second-year pro takes over for Rob Kelley as the primary backup to Adrian Peterson. Perine was Washington's fourth-round draft pick in 2017 and saw significant playing time late in the 2017 season after Kelley and Chris Thompson went on injured reserve. Perine twice topped 100 rushing yards last year. Perine fumbled multiple times during preseason games this summer, however, and found himself buried on the depth chart and inactive the first two weeks.
FAST FACTS: PACKERS QB AARON RODGERS has 831 pass yards (415.5 per game) with 7 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 132.2 rating in his past 2 vs. Was. Had career-high 480 pass yards in 9/15/13 meeting. In his past 3 on road vs. NFC East, has 885 pass yards (295 per game), 8 TDs & 0 INTs for 117.7 rating. ... RB JAMAAL WILLIAMS has 396 scrimmage yards (99 per game) & 4 TDs (2 rush, 2 rec.) in his past 4 on road. RB TY MONTGOMERY has 5 TDs (4 rush, 1 rec.) in his past 5 on road. ... WR DAVANTE ADAMS had 8 receptions & TD last week. Aims for 5th in row with TD catch. In his past 10 on road, has 13 rec. TDs. Since 2016, leads NFL with 24 TD catches. ... TE JIMMY GRAHAM led team with 95 rec. yards in Week 2. Had 6 catches for 85 yards & TD in 9/9/12 meeting (with NO). Since entering league in 2010, ranks 3rd in NFL & 2nd among TEs with 69 rec. TDs. ... WR RANDALL COBB had 84 rec. yards in last meeting. Has TD catch in 2 of his past 3. Aims for 3rd in row on road with TD. ... DT KENNY CLARK had sack & PD in Week 2. Has 3 sacks & FR in his past 4. ... S HA HA CLINTON-DIX had INT last week. Since 2016, is 1 of 3 in NFL with 150+ tackles (168) & 9+ INTs (9). ... LB NICK PERRY had sack in last meeting. ... Rookie CB JOSH JACKSON returned blocked punt for TD last week, his 1st-career TD. ... REDSKINS QB ALEX SMITH has 728 pass yards (242.7 per game) with 6 TDs vs. 2 INTs for 95 rating in his past 3 vs. GB. Passed for 292 yards & 88.3 rating in 1st career home start with Was. last week. Since 2016, is 1 of 3 in NFL with 67+ comp. pct. (67.6) & 95+ rating (98.2). ... RB ADRIAN PETERSON has 1,779 rush yards (104.6 per game) & 13 rush TDs in 17 career games vs. GB. His 1,779 rush yards vs. GB are most vs. any team in his career. Ranks 10th in NFL history in rush yards (12,392) & ties for 7th in rush TDs (100). ... RB CHRIS THOMPSON had career-high 13 receptions for 92 rec. yards last week. His 13 catches tied for 2nd-most in single game in franchise history. Since 2016, is 1 of 6 NFL RBs with 100+ receptions (107) & 1,000+ rec. yards (1,014). ... WR JAMISON CROWDER had 102 rec. yards & TD in last meeting. Has TD catch in 3 of his past 4 at home. ... TE JORDAN REED had TD catch in 9/15/13 meeting. Has 3 TDs in his past 4 at home. ... LB RYAN KERRIGAN has 4 sacks & FF in his past 4. Has 3 sacks in 2 career meetings. In his past 8 at home, has 8 sacks. ... S D.J. SWEARINGER tied career-high with 2 INTs last week. Has 5 INTs in his past 5 at home. Aims for 3rd in row at home with INT. ... CB JOSH NORMAN had FF in last meeting. Has 58 PD since 2014, 5th-most in NFL.
PREDICTION: Lest we forget, this matches two 2005 first-round QBs, Smith who went No. 1 and Rodgers, who notably didn't. Smith has always been efficient and Rodgers, even on a lame left knee, always dynamic. Look for Rodgers to go deep Sunday.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (1-1) AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (1-1)
KICKOFF: SUNDAY, 1:00 PM ET, Lincoln Financial Field; FOX, Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 19th regular-season meeting. Colts lead series, 10-8. The Eagles won the previous meeting, 30-27, in 2014 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts lost 26-24 in 2010 in their only other previous trip to Lincoln Financial Field. That defeat snapped a four-game series win streak. The teams have split 10 career games in Philadelphia.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz returns to the field nine months after undergoing complex knee surgery after an injury that ended what appeared to be an NFL MVP season. The injury occurred just before he threw his 33rd touchdown of the season, breaking Redskins record of 32 by Sonny Jurgensen (1961) when Jurgensen played in a 14-game season. Wentz did it in 13.
The Colts counter with QB Andrew Luck, who can certainly empathize with Wentz. Luck missed much of the last three seasons, including all of last year due to shoulder surgery.
The Eagles have the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense against the run, so the Colts are sure to throw an array of passes to running backs to get them in open space, especially if the yards are hard to come by on the ground. The Colts have been utilizing three backs in Nyheim Hines, leading rusher Jordan Wilkins and Marlon Mack.
With Wentz playing his first game since early December, the last thing the Eagles want to do is have him drop back to pass more than 40 times in this game, so they will try to run the ball. They promoted RB Josh Adams from the practice squad because Jay Ajayi is day-to-day with foot and back issues and Darren Sproles has a hamstring that was bad enough last Sunday to make him inactive.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Colts WR T.Y. Hilton vs. Eagles secondary. Hilton must be licking his chops after seeing what Atlanta's Julio Jones and Tampa Bay's DeSean Jackson did against Eagles corners Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills in the first two games. Hilton has 12 catches and two scores in the first two games. "Every week it's another (talented receiver)," said Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. "It never stops. There's great skill guys in this league. I think the biggest thing that I notice with a guy like T.Y. Hilton, is he can maintain his speed deep down the field. There's a lot of guys that have that quick burst and then they sort of fall off. ... He can make a play deep down the field, and that was something that proved a liability for us last week. So I'm sure they're going to tempt us, or (rather) they're going to test us, and we have to be up for the challenge."
--Colts RT Joe Haeg vs. Eagles LDE Brandon Graham. Haeg, a former fifth-round pick in his third season, was solid at Washington in not allowing a sack against pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan. His next challenge is Graham, who led the Eagles with 9.5 sacks last season, but is still looking for his first this season.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Duh! QB Carson Wentz. Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is heading back to the bench and Wentz resumes a career that seems ticketed for stardom. Colts head coach Frank Reich was Wentz's coordinator for the past two years and now Reich is Andrew Luck's head coach in Indianapolis. Reich, asked about parallels between Wentz and Luck, said: "They are both incredibly dynamic players, physically dominant at their position, elite in their leadership ability, elite intelligence, it's just rare for a guy to have all those attributes and I think they both do."
FAST FACTS: COLTS QB ANDREW LUCK passed for 3 TDs vs. 1 INT in last meeting. In his past 4 vs. NFC, has 1,417 pass yards (283.4 per game) for 11 TDs vs. 4 INTs for 102.8 rating. Has 110+ rating in 3 of past 5 vs. NFC. ... RB JORDAN WILKINS (rookie) rushed for 61 yards last week. ... Rookie RB NYHEIM HINES had 1st-career rush TD in Week 2. ... WR T.Y. HILTON had 7 catches for 83 yards & TD last week. Aims for 3rd in row with TD catch. Has 260 rec. yards (130 per game) & TD in past 2 vs. NFC. Since entering league in 2012, is 1 of 5 in NFL with 400+ catches (443) & 6,500+ rec. yards (6,956). ... TE JACK DOYLE had TD catch in last meeting. Since 2016, ties for 3rd among NFL TEs with 148 catches. ... TE ERIC EBRON aims for 3rd in row with TD catch. ... LB DARIUS LEONARD (rookie) had career-high 18 tackles, sack & FF last week. Is 1 of 4 players since 1994 & 1st since PATRICK WILLIS (12/23/07) with 18+ tackles, sack & FF in single game. Leads NFL with 27 tackles. ... S CLAYTON GEATHERS had career-high 11 tackles last week. ... DE JABAAL SHEARD had 2 TFL & sack last week. Aims for his 4th in row vs. NFC with sack. Has 6 TFL in past 4 vs. NFC. ... DT MARGUS HUNT aims for 3rd in row with 2+ TFL. Ties for NFL lead with 5 TFL. ... K ADAM VINATIERI has 2,501 career points & is 2nd player in NFL history (HOFer MORTEN ANDERSEN, 2,544) with 2,500+ points. ... EAGLES QB CARSON WENTZ passed for 3,296 yards, ranked 2nd in NFL in TD passes (33) & 4th in rating (101.9) in 13 games in 2017. Is 8-0 with 21 TDs vs. 4 INTs for 105.6 rating in his past 8 at home. In 3 career home starts vs. AFC, is 3-0 with 778 pass yards (259.3 per game), 8 TDs & 0 INTs for 116.9 rating. ... RB JAY AJAYI ties for NFL lead with 3 rush TDs in 2018. Has 3 rush TDs in his past 4 at home. ... RB COREY CLEMENT had 85 scrimmage yards (55 rec., 30 rush) & rushed for TD last week. Has 3 TDs (2 rush, 1 rec.) in his past 2 vs. AFC. ... TE ZACH ERTZ led team with 11 catches for 94 yards last week. Had 86 rec. yards in last meeting. Aims for 5th in row vs. AFC with 80+ rec. yards. Since 2016, ranks 2nd among NFL TEs in receptions (168) & rec. yards (1,782). ... WR NELSON AGHOLOR had 8 catches for 88 yards & TD in Week 2. ... DT FLETCHER COX has 2.5 sacks in past 2. Had FF in last meeting. In his past 8 vs. AFC, has 6 sacks, FF & 2 FRs. ... S MALCOLM JENKINS had FF last week. Had INT in last meeting. Has 13 tackles, FF, FR & 5 PD in his past 3 at home vs. AFC. ... CB RONALD DARBY had 8 tackles & INT in Week 2. Has 3 INTs & 9 PD in his past 5. Aims for 6th in row with PD. Had 6 tackles, INT & 2 PD in only career meeting (9/13/15 with Buf.).
PREDICTION: The return of Wentz will fire up all the Eagles, especially a defensive front that tortures opponents without extra incentive. Wentz may not dazzle with his run-or-pass antics, but the Eagles defense may brutalize Luck to control the game.
BUFFALO BILLS (0-2) AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS (1-0-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, U. S. Bank Stadium; CBS, Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 8-5. This will be the Bills' first visit to U.S. Bank Stadium. In their last game at Minnesota in 2010, the Bills were defeated 38-14. In the last meeting, held in Buffalo in 2014, the Bills prevailed 17-16 on a last-second touchdown reception by Sammy Watkins.
KEYS TO THE GAME: On the bright side for the Bills, quarterback Josh Allen's 245 passing yards last week was the second-most ever for a Bills quarterback in his initial start, behind only the 292 yards Jim Kelly threw for in 1986. But the reality check is that Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins passed for 425 yards and four touchdowns, including 293 yards and three touchdowns in the second half and overtime at Green Bay last week, although they still settled for a tie when rookie kicker Daniel Carson punched his ticket out of town by missing three field goals, two in overtime. But Minnesota have a new kicker now in journeyman Dan Bailey, the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history.
After signing Cousins and labeling him as a Franchise QB, Minnesota stated it was a run-first, tough-defense team. While the latter is still true with one of the league's best defenses, Cousins and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo added a dimension to the offense. The Vikings had 52 dropbacks to 16 planned runs in last week's game. Part of that might have been running for just 3.8 yards per carry, but Cousins also helped bring Minnesota back from a 20-7 fourth-quarter deficit with his arm.
As overwhelming favorites at home against the winless Bills, expect the Vikings to try to run the ball more. Starting running back Dalvin Cook was held out of Wednesday's practice and told reporters he's day-to-day.
When Cousins does throw, the Bills - absent cornerback Vontae Davis who retired at halftime last week -- have a humongous task trying to cover wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and tight end Kyle Rudolph, plus the dangerous Cook out of the backfield. With Davis gone and cornerbacks Phillip Gaines and Taron Johnson uncertain to play, the Bills are expected to rely on journeyman backup Lafayette Pitts to start opposite Tre'Davious White.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Vikings WR Stefon Diggs vs. Bills CB Tre'Davious White. Minnesota can and does move Diggs around to create mismatches, but he's likely to find White lined up against him often on Sunday. Adam Thielen's work from the slot keeps him away from White, who has quickly gained a reputation as a quality cornerback in just his second season. Similar size and quickness should make this a fun matchup to follow.
--Bills interior OL vs. Vikings DTs Linval Joseph and Sheldon Richardson. The Bills have been unable to get their running game going, as LeSean McCoy has gained only 61 yards in the first two games, and now there's a good chance he won't be able to play due to a rib injury. That will leave things to Marcus Murphy and Chris Ivory, running behind an offensive line that can't get push. Even more of a concern for the Bills is Joseph and Richardson pushing the pocket against Josh Allen, and that could create sack opportunities for Minnesota defensive ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter. This might be the best defense the rookie Allen sees all year.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bills WR Kelvin Benjamin. Through two games, the Bills' No. 1 receiver, a title in name only, has three catches for 29 yards on only 10 targets. Benjamin has been a non-factor almost from the moment he arrived in Buffalo last Halloween and his best game to date was a five-catch, 70-yard effort against the Patriots. There are far too many plays where Benjamin looks like he's going through the motions, and too often it just doesn't seem like he makes the proper effort to fight for 50-50 balls. The Bills offense is a disaster, and Benjamin's lack of production is a key reason for that.
FAST FACTS: BILLS QB JOSH ALLEN (rookie) passed for 245 yards with TD & rushed for 32 yards in 1st-career start last week. Is 1 of 3 rookie QBs (HOFer JIM KELLY & EJ MANUEL) in team history with 200+ pass yards & 30+ rush yards in single game. ... RB LeSEAN McCOY had 106 scrimmage yards (68 rec., 38 rush) in his last game vs. Min. (12/15/13 with Phi.). Has 100+ scrimmage yards in 9 of his past 12 vs. NFC. Is 1 of 2 active players (FRANK GORE) with 10,000+ rush yards (10,153) & 3,000+ rec. yards (3,406). ... RB CHRIS IVORY had rush TD last week. Has 70+ rush yards in each of his past 2 vs. Min. ... WR KELVIN BENJAMIN had TD catch last week. WR ZAY JONES led team with 63 rec. yards in Week 2. ... TE CHARLES CLAY had 114 rec. yards in his last game vs. Min. (12/21/14 with Mia.). Has 20 catches (5 per game) for 252 yards & TD in 4 career games vs. NFC North. ... LB LORENZO ALEXANDER had 7 tackles & sack last week. Had 1.5 sacks & FR in 10/14/12 meeting (with Was.). Has 8+ tackles in 3 of his past 4 vs. NFC. ... DE JERRY HUGHES had sack in Week 2. Has 2.5 sacks in 2 career games vs. Min. Has 4 sacks in past 5 vs. NFC. ... S JORDAN POYER has 33 tackles (8.3 per game) & 4 PD in his past 4 vs. NFC. Has INT in 2 of past 3 on road. ... S MICAH HYDE has FR in 2 of past 3 games vs. Min. ... VIKINGS QB KIRK COUSINS passed for 425 yards with 4 TDs vs. 1 INT for 118.8 rating last week. Has 4 400-yard pass games since 2014, tied for 3rd-most in NFL. Completed 22 of 28 (78.6 pct.) for 319 yards with 4 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 153.7 rating in only career meeting (12/20/15 with Was.). In his past 9 vs. AFC, has 2,584 pass yards (287.1 per game), 19 TDs & 7 INTs for 104.1 rating. ... RB DALVIN COOK has rush TD in 2 of his past 3 at home. ... RB LATAVIUS MURRAY has 437 rush yards (87.4 per game) & 6 rush TDs in his past 5 at home. Has 168 rush yards (84 per game) & 2 TDs in 2 career meetings. ... WR STEFON DIGGS had 9 catches for 128 yards & 2 TDs last week. Aims for 6th in row with TD. In his past 7 at home, has 7 rec. TDs. ... WR ADAM THIELEN tied career high with 12 receptions for 131 yards & TD in Week 2. Has 316 rec. yards (79 per game) & TD in his past 4 at home. ... DE EVERSON GRIFFEN had 8 tackles, 3 sacks & FF in last meeting. In his past 4 vs. AFC, has 5 sacks & FF. ... LB ANTHONY BARR had 10 tackles & career-high 2 FRs in last meeting. Has 14 tackles, sack & 3 TFL in his past 2 at home vs. AFC. ... DT LINVAL JOSEPH had sack in last meeting. Has FF & safety in his past 2 at home. ... S HARRISON SMITH has 2.5 sacks, 2 INTs & FR in his past 6 at home. Had FF in last meeting.
PREDICTION: Hide the kids. This could get ugly.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (0-2) AT MIAMI DOLPHINS (2-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, Hard Rock Stadium; Hard Rock Stadium; CBS, Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Bruce Arians, Melanie Collins (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 35th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 17-16-1 and the Raiders have a 3-1 series advantage in the playoffs. The Raiders won the most recent meeting, beating the Dolphins 27-24 last year in Miami. That was their only matchup over the past three seasons.
KEYS TO THE GAME: When the Dolphins have the ball, head coach and play-caller Adam Gase has so far spread it around. Speedy Kenyan Drake and veteran Frank Gore are a solid 1-2 punch at running back, and Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant have been quarterback Ryan Tannehill's favorite targets in the passing game.
When the Raiders have the ball, quarterback Derek Carr will look to get the ball to wide receiver Amari Cooper, tight end Jared Cook and running back Marshawn Lynch. The Raiders, who have been outscored 43-7 in the second half this season, will be looking to finish for the first time this year.
Defenses have been adjusting to how Cook has become a focal point of the Oakland passing games, so that should open things up for Cooper, wide receiver Jordy Nelson and Lynch.
The Raiders are still searching for a pass rush following the trade of Khalil Mack, and head coach Jon Gruden jolted Oakland fans this week when he acknowledged that it's hard to find a great one.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Raiders pass rush vs. Dolphins OL. The Raiders have been woefully deficient rushing the passer, especially in the opener against the Rams when QB Jared Goff's time in the pocket could have been timed with a sun dial, even at night. The Dolphins have allowed five sacks, 13th in the league, and QB Ryan Tannehill was hit in the pocket nine times. Raiders DEs Bruce Irvin and Arden Key need to tee off and hit like a Mack, ah, truck.
--Raiders TE Jared Cook vs. Dolphins FS T.J. McDonald and LB Kiko Alonso. Cook and McDonald were teammates on the Rams from 2013 to 2015, and now they are set to battle. Cook started all 16 games last season while catching a career-high 54 passes. This year, he has been even better, making 13 grabs for 229 yards, the latter figure leading all NFL tight ends. McDonald is a big safety who had an interception last week. Alonso, a Bay Area native from Los Gatos who went to Oregon, is off to a productive 2018. He has an interception, one pass defensed, two forced fumbles, and 19 tackles. The Raiders have used Cook to dictate mismatches, so it will be interesting to see how often these two match up.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Raiders WR Jordy Nelson. In Week 1, tight end Jared Cook had nine catches for 180 yards. Last Sunday, wide receiver Amari Cooper caught 10 passes for 116 yards. Nelson, the 33-year-old free-agent acquisition who starred as Aaron Rodgers' battery mate in Green Bay, has only five catches for 53 yards over two weeks and stood in as a temporary punt returner last Sunday with Dwayne Harris sidelined with a foot injury. Total there: two fair catches and a 7-yard return. Said head coach Jon Gruden, "We're using a lot of receivers. We expect to see more and more from Jordy as the weeks unfold. Cooper had a big week last week, Cook had a big week in Week 1, hopefully Jordy has one this week."
FAST FACTS: RAIDERS QB DEREK CARR completed 29 of 32 (90.6 pct.) for 288 yards with 1 TD vs. 0 INTs for 114.6 rating last week. His 90.6 comp. pct. is 4th-highest in single game among QBs with 20+ att. & his 288 pass yards are most by QB with 90+ comp. pct. in NFL history (min. 20 att.). Passed for 300 yards with 1 TD vs. 1 INT for 99.3 rating in last meeting. Aims for 3rd in row on road with 90+ rating. ... RB MARSHAWN LYNCH rushed for 65 yards & TD last week. Aims for 3rd in row with rush TD. Had 2 rush TDs in last meeting. In past 5 on road, has 406 scrimmage yards (81.2 per game) & 4 rush TDs. ... RB DOUG MARTIN has 296 scrimmage yards (74 per game) in 4 career road games vs. AFC East. ... WR AMARI COOPER had 10 catches for 116 yards last week. Aims for 3rd in row on road with 115+ rec. yards. Has TD catch in 2 of past 3 on road. ... TE JARED COOK has 8 catches for 126 yards in last meeting. Leads all NFL TEs with 229 rec. yards & ranks 2nd with 13 catches. ... WR JORDY NELSON had 9 catches for 107 yards & TD in his last game vs. Mia. (10/12/14 with GB). ... LB BRUCE IRVIN had 0.5 sack & FF in last meeting. Has 6 TFL, 2.5 sacks & FF in past 4 on road. ... LB TAHIR WHITEHEAD is 1 of 9 NFL LBs with 250+ tackles (255) & 12+ TFL (13) since 2016. ... DOLPHINS QB RYAN TANNEHILL is 9-1 (.900) in his past 10 starts. Has completed 70+ pct. & passed for 2+ TDs in each of his past 3. Passed for 278 yards with 2 TDs vs. 1 INT for 109.3 rating in his last game vs. Oak. (9/28/14). Has 120+ rating in 2 of his past 3 at home. ... RB FRANK GORE has 14,112 career rush yards & surpassed HOFer CURTIS MARTIN (14,101) for 4thmost in NFL history. In 4 career games vs. Oak., has 468 scrimmage yards (117 per game). ... RB KENYAN DRAKE had rush TD last week. Had 104 scrimmage yards (69 rush, 35 rec.) in last meeting. Has 608 scrimmage yards (101.3 per game) & rush TD in his past 6 at home. ... WR KENNY STILLS has 436 rec. yards (87.2 per game) with 4 TD catches in his past 5 at home. Since 2013, is 1 of 3 in NFL (DE SEAN JACKSON & TORREY SMITH) with 200+ catches (228) & 16+ yards per catch avg. (16.3). ... WR DANNY AMENDOLA had TD catch in last game vs. Oak. (11/19/17 with NE). ... WR ALBERT WILSON had TD catch last week. Has 135 rec. yards (67.5 per game) & TD in his past 2 vs. Oak. ... TE A.J. DERBY had rec. TD in Week 2. Has 75 rec. yards & TD catch in his last game vs. Oak. (10/1/17 with Den.). ... LB KIKO ALONSO had 13 tackles & 2 FFs last week. Had FF in last meeting. ... DE CAMERON WAKE has 6.5 sacks in his past 9 at home. ... S RESHAD JONES aims for 3rd in row vs. Oak. with INT.
PREDICTION: This is a crossroad game for both teams, as the Dolphins try to remain undefeated while the Raiders are searching for their first win and first for Gruden since 2008. One factor could be the south Florida heat and a tough spot for the Raiders and their past issues playing when their body clocks say it's 10 a.m.
DENVER BRONCOS (2-0) AT BALTIMORE RAVENS (1-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, M&T Bank Stadium; CBS, Andrew Catalon, James Lofton
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 6-5. In postseason play, Baltimore is 2-0. The Ravens are 5-1 when playing Denver at home. However, the Broncos have won three straight regular-season matchups, the most recent being a 19-13 victory in Denver on Sept. 13, 2015.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Despite beating Oakland last Sunday, 20-19, the Broncos are concerned about their defense heading into Baltimore. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr awoke from a slump and hit 29-of-32 throws for 288 yards and a touchdown, the first player in NFL history with a better than 90 percent completion rate in a game when attempting 30 or more passes.
The Ravens averaged 35 points over the opening two weeks with their revamped passing game, third in the NFL. Baltimore also ranks eighth in yards (397.0), 23rd in rushing (91.5), seventh in passing (305.5), sixth on third down (43.3 percent) and first in red-zone touchdown rate (100 percent). And that is why the Broncos are concerned.
Baltimore will look to control the tempo by establishing a more effective ground attack, an area where the team has struggled. Denver is solid against the run, but the Broncos must be careful not to stack the line and leave the secondary exposed. Quarterback Joe Flacco has several new weapons on offense and will also take several shots downfield.
The Broncos are ranked fourth in the NFL with 427.5 yards per game and are averaging 23.5 points. Quarterback Case Keenum has passed for 551 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. The Ravens will need to keep him under pressure so he does not make big plays downfield.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Ravens OL vs. Broncos LB Von Miller. Miller leads the league with four sacks and can be a one-man wrecking crew. The Ravens need to find a way to contain him. Baltimore's offensive line struggled with pass-blocking against the Bengals and Joe Flacco was sacked four times. The challenge could be even bigger this week. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is dealing with an arm injury. Center Matt Skura and right tackle James Hurst both were beaten several times against Cincinnati. Orlando Brown Jr., a rookie third-round pick, could take over for Hurst, who has the flexibility to play multiple positions and will provide needed depth.
--Broncos TE Jake Butt vs Ravens SS Tony Jefferson. After missing all of last season with an injury, Butt has moved quickly to establish himself as a reliable third-down option for Broncos QB Case Keenum. He has shown speed and strength in his route-running and an ability to find the gaps in zone coverages. But he'll be facing one of the tougher, quicker safeties in the league in Jefferson.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Broncos undrafted free agent RB Phillip Lindsay. He has exceeded expectations to become one of the top playmakers on the Broncos' revamped offense. He's the first undrafted rookie to exceed 100 yards from scrimmage in his first two career games. And as strongly and as quick as he hits the hole on a running play, he has shown a knack for catching the ball out of the backfield. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said Lindsay certainly has the Ravens' attention. "You'd probably have to be surprised when any rookie -- probably doesn't matter whether he's a free agent or drafted highly -- puts up the kind of production he's put up," Harbaugh said. "That's pretty unusual and very impressive."
FAST FACTS: BRONCOS QB CASE KEENUM passed for 222 yards & had rush TD last week. Has 1,520 pass yards (253.3 per game) with 13 TDs vs. 5 INTs for 100.8 rating in past 6 road starts. Has 115+ rating in 3 of past 5 on road. ... RB PHILLIP LINDSAY (rookie) rushed for 107 yards last week. Became 1st undrafted player in NFL history with 100+ scrimmage yards in each of his 1st 2 career games. ... Rookie RB ROYCE FREEMAN had 1st-career rush TD last week. ... WR EMMANUEL SANDERS had 96 rec. yards last week. Ranks 3rd in AFC with 231 rec. yards. Had TD catch in last game at Bal. (11/28/13 with Pit.). ... WR DEMARYIUS THOMAS has 12 catches for 221 yards (110.5 per game) with 2 TDs in past 2 meetings. Since 2012, ranks 2nd in NFL in receptions (586), 3rd in rec. yards (7,900) & 5th with 52 TD catches. ... LB VON MILLER has 4 sacks in past 2. Has 11 TFL, 5 sacks & 2 FFs in last 9 on road. Leads NFL with 4 sacks & ties for 4th in league with 4 TFL. Since entering league in 2011, has 87.5 sacks, most in NFL. ... LB BRANDON MARSHALL had 7 tackles, 3 TFL & sack in last meeting vs. Bal. ... CB CHRIS HARRIS JR. has INT in 2 of his past 3 meetings. ... LB SHAQUIL BARRETT has TFL in 3 of his past 4. DE DEREK WOLFE has 3 TFL & sack in his past 2 meetings. ... RAVENS QB JOE FLACCO passed for 376 yards with 2 TDs vs. 2 INTs last week. Has 330+ pass yards in 2 of his past 3 vs. Den. (incl. playoffs). Has 100+ rating in 4 of past 6 at home. ... RB ALEX COLLINS had 90 scrimmage yards (55 rec., 35 rush) in Week 2. Has 90+ scrimmage yards in 2 of past 3. Aims for 3rd in row at home with rush TD. ... RB JAVORIUS ALLEN aims for 3rd in row with rush TD. ... WR MICHAEL CRABTREE has 3 TD catches in his past 5. Since 2015, ties for 4th in NFL with 26 TD catches. ... WR JOHN BROWN had 92 rec. yards & TD catch last week. Aims for 3rd in row with TD catch & has TD in 3 of past 4. ... WR WILLIE SNEAD IV had 2 TD catches in only career game vs. Den. (11/13/16 with NO). ... Rookie TE MARK ANDREWS had 1st-career TD catch last week. ... LB TERRELL SUGGS had 3 PD last week. Has 3 sacks & FF in past 3 vs. Den. (incl. playoffs). ... S ERIC WEDDLE had 6 tackles & 3 PD in his last game vs. Den. (12/6/15 with Chargers). Has 5 PD in his past 5 vs. AFC West. Is only active NFL player with 25+ INTs (29) & 8+ sacks (8.5). ... LB C.J. MOSLEY had 5 tackles, 2 sacks & PD in last meeting. Has 9+ tackles in 4 of his past 5 vs. AFC West. Since entering league in 2014, is only NFL player with 450+ tackles (474), 8+ sacks (8) & 8+ INTs (8). ... In his past 7 at home, LB MATTHEW JUDON has 10 TFL & 4 sacks.
PREDICTION: The Broncos arrive in Baltimore undefeated, but not undamaged. The Ravens need to establish an identity and may do so at the Broncos' expense.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (2-0) AT CAROLINA PANTHERS (1-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, Bank of America Stadium; CBS, Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Steve Tasker (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 6th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 2-2-1. Carolina won the first two, Cincinnati won the next two and the teams played to a 37-37 tie in Cincinnati in 2014. In the last meeting, former kicker Mike Nugent missed a 36-yard field goal on the last play of overtime. Giovani Bernard reeled off an 89-yard touchdown run.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The hot Cincinnati Bengals bring their 2-0 record to the tepid Carolina Panthers. The Panthers need to see increased production from sources other than quarterback Cam Newton. Spreading out the key plays is bound to be a boost. There has been little help from tight end, so it is incumbent for the receivers to be more involved and take pressure off Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey.
The Panthers might try to pressure Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton into early tough decisions to get him out of his comfort zone. He is coming off a big game, so if the Panthers can put enough pressure on Dalton from the base defense there could be some stunts used to break through and create havoc. The Panthers can't afford to sit back and be picked apart.
While the Bengals ability to run effectively might be in danger because of the absences of starting center Billy Price and running back Joe Mixon, the team will still try to emphasize the run for two reasons - Giovani Bernard and an opponent ranked 25th in run defense. It will be interesting to see the Bengals strategy for avoiding or eliminating Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, who remains one of the best run stoppers in the sport and recorded 13 tackles in the last meeting.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bengals defense vs. Panthers QB Cam Newton. Through two games, Carolina's offense has appeared somewhat one-dimensional. Newton is leading the Panthers in passing and rushing and no player has attempted more than 18 carries. Newton also has not been throwing many deep balls and on the ones that he has made he is 0-for-6 on pass attempts at least 20 yards.
--Bengals run game vs. Panthers LB Luke Kuechly. Kuechly is among the best in run-stop percentage according to Pro Football Focus and with Giovani Bernard stepping in for the injured Joe Mixon, it will be intriguing to see how the Bengals' 25th-ranked running game approaches one of the league's best run defenses.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Panthers LB Luke Kuechly is fired up on most game days and this one could mean even more for him because the Bengals are his hometown team. The Panthers didn't play well on defense in a 2014 game at Cincinnati and that irked Kuechly. And with some shoddy defense in the loss to Atlanta last week, Kuechly often leads the charge after some tough times.
FAST FACTS: QB ANDY DALTON passed for 265 yards with 4 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 107.7 rating last week. Aims for 3rd in row with 100+ rating. In only career games vs. Car. (10/12/14), completed 33 of 43 (76.7 pct.) for 323 yards with 2 TDs vs. 2 INTs for 93.5 rating. Has 10 pass TDs vs. 3 INTs for 91.3 rating in past 5 on road. Ranks 3rd in AFC with 108.5 rating. ... RB GIOVANI BERNARD had career-high 137 rush yards, incl. 89-yard rush TD in last meeting. Has 130+ scrimmage yards in 2 of past 3 vs. NFC & aims for 3rd in row vs. NFC with rush TD. Since entering league in 2013, ranks 3rd among active RBs with 235 catches. ... WR A.J. GREEN had career-high 3 TD catches in Week 2. Became 1st Bengal with 3 rec. TDs in 1st half of single game since MARVIN JONES JR. (10/27/13 vs. NYJ). Has 3 TD catches in his past 5 on road. Leads NFL with 4 TD catches. ... WR TYLER BOYD tied career-high with 91 rec. yards & TD last week. Has 90+ rec. yards & TD catch in 2 of past 3. ... DT GENO ATKINS had 2 sacks last week, his 10th-career multi-sack game. Has 3 sacks in past 2. Has 6 sacks in past 6 on road vs. NFC. ... DE CARLOS DUNLAP had 3 PD last week. Since 2016, leads all NFL defensive linemen with 26 PD. ... S SHAWN WILLIAMS had 8 tackles, sack, INT & FF last week. Is 1 of 6 NFL safeties since 1994 with 8+ tackles, sack, INT & FF in single game. ... Rookie DE SAM HUBBARD had 1st-career sack & 2 TFL last week. ... Rookie S JESSIE BATES had 1st-career INT in Week 2. ... PANTHERS QB CAM NEWTON passed for 335 yards with 3 TDs vs. 1 INT for 105.3 rating in Week 2. Had 284 pass yards with 2 pass TDs & rushed for 107 yards with rush TD in last meeting. In his past 3 vs. AFC, is 3-0 with 7 pass TDs vs. 1 INT for 105.3 rating & added 2 rush TDs. ... RB CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY had career-high 139 scrimmage yards (102 rec., 37 rush) last week. Had 14 catches in Week 2, tied for most by Panther (STEVE SMITH, 14 in 2005) in single game in franchise history. Has 100 receptions since 2017, most by NFL RB. Has 5 TDs (3 rec., 2 rush) in his past 7 at home. ... WR DEVIN FUNCHESS has 19 receptions for 270 yards (90 per game) & 4 TDs in his past 3 vs. AFC. ... WR TORREY SMITH had TD catch in Week 2, his 1st TD with Panthers. ... WR JARIUS WRIGHT had TD catch in 12/22/13 meeting (with Min.). Had 62 rec. yards & TD last week. ... Rookie WR D.J. MOORE had 51-yard rec. TD in Week 2, his 1st-career TD. ... LB LUKE KUECHLY led team with 8 tackles last week. Had 13 tackles in last meeting. In his past 4 at home vs. AFC, has 2 FFs, 2 INTs & 5 PD. Since entering league in 2012, leads NFL with 839 tackles. ... Rookie CB DONTE JACKSON had 1st career FF & INT in Week 2. ... DE MARIO ADDISON has 3.5 sacks & 2 FFs in his past 4 at home. Has 3 sacks & safety in his past 4 at home vs. AFC. ... DT KAWANN SHORT has 3.5 sacks & 2 FFs in his past 4. Has 3.5 sacks & FF in past 2 at home.
PREDICTION: Bengals and QB Andy Dalton have done well with the help of an attack balanced by the running of Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. But with Mixon out (he said Wednesday he "feels great" after knee scope) and Tra Carson waived/injured, Bernard may be carrying too much of a load against a good defense with Luke Kuechly at linebacker. And that puts even more pressure on Bengals QB Andy Dalton.
NEW YORK GIANTS (0-2) AT HOUSTON TEXANS (0-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, NRG Stadium; FOX, Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber, Megan Olivi (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 5th regular-season meeting. Giants lead series, 3-1.The Giants have won the last three and are 1-1 in games played in Houston.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Welcome to the Disappointment Bowl between two teams with playoff aspirations and no wins after two weeks. The Giants are having nightmares of another 3-13 record, ala 2017. The Texans wonder what the heck happened to their star-studded defense, especially former NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and outside linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, who have a total of zero sacks.
But fans who like to watch running backs should like this matchup. The Texans are leading the NFL in rushing, averaging 157.5 yards per game, an effort led by Lamar Miller, who has 166 yards on 34 carries. The Giants' run defense has picked up where it left off last year, allowing an average of 137.5 yards per game. But the Giants' offense counters with Rookie sensation Saquon Barkley who had more than 100 yards from scrimmage in each of the first two games and caught 14 passes last week, most in A single game in franchise history.
The quarterbacks are New York's 37-year old Eli Manning, who completed 33 of 44 (75 percent) for 279 yards with one touchdown last week, and Houston's second-year standout Deshaun Watson, who passed for 310 yards and two touchdowns last week.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Giants C John Greco. With starting center Jon Halapio done for the season after suffering a broken ankle in Sunday night's loss, Greco, a 33-year-old 11-year veteran, will take center stage on the Giants' offensive line. Greco, who finished up the previous game for Halapio, comes into a precarious situation on an offensive line that has struggled with assignment football and has struggled to gel as a unit. While he is a well-respected veteran, it will be interesting to see how the men next to him -- rookie Will Hernandez and Patrick Omameh, the left and right guards respectively -- respond. Hernandez is a rookie who at times has had trouble keeping up with the speed of the game. Omameh, a veteran, is trying to establish a comfort level playing on the right side after spending most of his career on the left side.
FAST FACTS: GIANTS QB ELI MANNING completed 33 of 44 (75 pct.) for 279 yards with 1 TD vs. 0 INTs for 98.6 rating last week. In 3 career meetings, is 3-0 with 710 pass yards (236.7 per game), 6 TDs & 3 INTs for 95.2 rating. Has 15 TDs vs. 4 INTs for 99.6 rating in past 7 on road vs. AFC. ... RB SAQUON BARKLEY (rookie) had 108 scrimmage yards (80 rec., 28 rush) in Week 2, his 2nd consecutive game with 100+ scrimmage yards. Had 14 receptions last week, most in single game in franchise history. Ranks 3rd among NFL RBs with 16 catches in 2018. ... WR ODELL BECKHAM JR. has 46 catches for 620 yards (103.3 per game) & 5 TDs in 6 career road games vs. AFC. In 13 career games vs. AFC, has 98 receptions for 1,556 yards (119.7 per game) & 11 TDs. Since entering league in 2014, ranks 2nd in NFL with 38 TD catches. ... TE EVAN ENGRAM had 7 receptions for 67 yards & TD last week. Has rec. TD in 2 of past 3 on road. ... S LANDON COLLINS has 2 INTs & FR in his past 4 vs. AFC. Aims for 5th in row vs. AFC with PD. Since 2016, is only NFL safety with 200+ tackles (235) & sack (4). ... LB ALEC OGLETREE has 17 tackles, FF & 98-yard INT-TD in 2 career games vs. Hou. ... CB JANORIS JENKINS has FF & 2 INT-TDs (43 yards & 53 yards) in his past 4 on road. In only career meeting (10/13/13 with Rams), had sack & INT. ... TEXANS QB DESHAUN WATSON passed for 310 yards with 2 TDs vs. 1 INT for 107.6 rating last week. In 3 career home starts, has 12 pass TDs vs. 2 INTs for 118.3 rating & 78 rush yards with TD. Aims for 4th home start in row with 100+ rating. ... RB LAMAR MILLER rushed for 89 yards in only career meeting (12/14/15 with Mia.). Has 3 TDs (2 rec., 1 rush) in past 4 vs. NFC. Has 75+ scrimmage yards in 8 of his past 10 at home. Since 2013, ranks 4th among active NFL RBs with 6,177 scrimmage yards & 4,807 rush yards. ... WR DE ANDRE HOPKINS had 110 rec. yards & TD last week. Since 2017, has 6 games with 100+ rec. yards, tied for 3rd-most in NFL. In last meeting, had 6 catches for 116 yards. In his past 4 vs. NFC, has 560 rec. yards (140 per game) & 4 TD catches. Since 2014, is 1 of 2 NFL players (ANTONIO BROWN) with 5,000+ rec. yards (5,251) & 30+ TD catches (35). ... WR WILL FULLER V had 8 catches for 113 yards & TD last week. Has 5 TD catches in past 6 at home. . DE J.J. WATT had 2 TFL & FF last week. In last meeting, had 7 tackles, 2 TFL & sack. In his past 3 vs. NFC, has 5 TFL & 3 sacks. ... CB JOHNATHAN JOSEPH had FR in last meeting. Since entering league in 2006, has 169 PD, most among active players. ... LB WHITNEY MERCILUS has 4.5 sacks in his past 4 vs. NFC. ... DE JADEVEON CLOWNEY has 17 TFL & 6 sacks in his past 7 vs. NFC.
PREDICTION: Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson seems ready for a breakout game reminiscent of his fireworks last year before getting injured. And Houston's defensive front stars will make Giants quarterback Eli Manning happy he has rookie running back Saquon Barkley for checkdowns, but that won't be enough.
TENNESSEE TITANS (1-1) AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, TIAA Bank Field; CBS, Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta
SERIES HISTORY: 47th regular-season meeting. Titans lead series, 26-20. The teams have played two games in all 23 years of the Jaguars existence. The Jaguars' 20 wins in the series are the most wins against any opponent faced in franchise history. Titans swept the series last year including a 37-16 win at Jacksonville, the only game that the Jaguars lost by more than 11 points in 2017. The previous eight years the teams had split their two yearly battles. The Jaguars won five of the first seven games in the series, then the Titans won 10-of-12 games. Since then, Tennessee leads by a slim 14-13 margin. The most memorable game in the series came in the only postseason game between the two teams. Tennessee won a 33-14 contest in the AFC Championship Game and thus earned the right to play in the Super Bowl two weeks later. The Jaguars held a 14-10 lead at halftime in that game, but were outscored 23-0 in the second half.
KEYS TO THE GAME: A week ago the Jaguars had almost a 2-1 ratio of pass to run in terms of plays from scrimmage. That's not the norm for a team that led the NFL in rushing a year ago would like to see. But if Leonard Fournette remains on the sideline with a hamstring issue, look for a similar ratio again this week against the Titans. That doesn't mean the Jaguars will be flinging the ball downfield on a regular basis however. Of the 45 pass attempts last week, 12 were to running backs and another seven were short throws to a tight end. The Jaguars were highly successful on short, slant routes over the middle to either Keelan Cole or Dede Westbrook. If Fournette is limited or doesn't play, look for more of the same this week against the Titans.
Defensively, look for the Jaguars to turn the heat up with their pass rush. If backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert gets the start and the Titans starting tackles, Taylor Lewan (concussion) and Jack Conklin (knee) are less than 100 percent or don't play, the Jaguars could be bringing the house more times than usual.
Offensively, the Titans don't know if they'll have quarterback Marcus Mariota, and they don't know how effective or close to 100 percent he will be with the nerve issue in his throwing arm. That could mean another week of Blaine Gabbert, a former Jaguar, at quarterback. Last week, the Titans had some trickery on a fake punt and the Wildcat formation with running back Derrick Henry. It may not be as easy to use those tricks again this week. It means that the ground game needs to carry the Titans, even if Mariota plays at less than 100 percent.
Defensively, the Titans have had good success in the past making the Jaguars put the game in inconsistent quarterback Blake Bortles' hands. But Bortles is coming off one of his best games in a long time, shredding the New England Patriots, no less. Still, the Titans would rather take their chances with Bortles than to allow the Jaguars to control the game with their rushing attack.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Titans RB Derrick Henry vs. Jaguars LBs Telvin Smith, Myles Jack and Leon Jacobs. The Jaguars have kept Henry in check for the most part in the two years that he's been with the Titans. Henry, who played his high school football on the outskirts of Jacksonville (Yulee), has been over 60 yards only one time in four games against the Jags. That came in last year's game at TIAA Bank Field when Henry ran for 92 yards in 14 carries (6.5 average) and one touchdown. It showed how the former Alabama standout can be a tough load to bring down. While the Jaguars front four will attempt to close down running lanes, it's the Jaguars trio of linebackers that will need to be active and get to Henry early before he builds momentum for his 238-pound frame. The Jaguars will try to take advantage of the Titans possibly being without their two starting tackles for a second straight game due to injuries. If Jacksonville can win the battle up front, it will make the job of the linebackers much easier in limiting Henry's rushing totals.
--Jaguars WRs Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook vs. Titans secondary. Cole, an undrafted rookie a year ago, and Westbrook, a fourth-round draft pick in 2017, have both emerged as efficient receivers for the Jaguars for the second year in a row. Neither are big, Cole at 194 and Westbrook at 178, but both have shown a knack of finding openings in opposing teams' territory. Both were effective on the crossing routes over the middle to accumulate a combined 199 yards against the Patriots. The Jaguars have used both in this capacity and that matches their best attributes -- running away from defenders once they've made a catch. Both only need to get a step on the defender and it could result in a big gain like Westbrook's 61-yard reception for a touchdown, with over 50 yards coming after Westbrook caught the pass from QB Blake Bortles. The Titans secondary is also young and has a lot of athleticism with corners Malcolm Butler and Adoree' Jackson. Jackson showed his skill set last week with a leaping interception of a pass from Houston's Deshaun Watson. These two defenders will have to keep Cole and Westbrook in hand in order to force the Jaguars to go more with a running attack.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Jaguars LT Josh Wells. Wells is one of three undrafted rookies that signed with the Jaguars in 2014, including current reserve lineman Tyler Shatley. That makes the two of them tied with a couple others for currently the third longest tenure with the Jaguars. Each of the last five seasons Wells has had to battle right to the wire to make the Jaguars 53-man roster. He's never started the season as a starter and in the past four seasons, he's appeared in 32 games with three starts, those coming last year when he started three games for the injured Jeremy Parnell at right tackle. But now Wells is in line to start the Jaguars final 14 regular-season games following the torn ACL suffered by left tackle Cam Robinson. Wells has been dependable (other than the 2015 season when he was on injured reserve the entire year) for the most part, but he's also been inconsistent. He's particularly had trouble with the quicker defensive ends who can speed-rush their way by him to the quarterback. Wells will have to be more consistent as he's now charged with the responsibility of protecting Blake Bortles' blind side.
FAST FACTS: TITANS QB MARCUS MARIOTA has 8 pass TDs vs. 2 INTs for 103.1 rating & has 210 rush yards with TD in past 5 vs. Jax. ... QB BLAINE GABBERT had pass TD last week. Was No. 10 overall pick by Jax. in 2011 NFL Draft & started 27 games for Jaguars from 2011-13. ... RB DERRICK HENRY had 117 scrimmage yards, incl. 66- yard TD catch in last meeting. Has 90+ scrimmage yards & TD in 3 of 4 career meetings. RB DION LEWIS has 100+ scrimmage yards & TD in 3 of his past 4. In his past 5, has 519 scrimmage yards (103.8 per game) & 6 TDs (4 rush, 2 rec.). ... WR COREY DAVIS leads team with 11 catches & 117 rec. yards in 2018. ... WR TAYWAN TAYLOR had TD catch last week. ... WR RISHARD MATTHEWS has 3 TD catches in 7 career meetings. ... S KEVIN BYARD threw 66-yard TD pass to rookie DB DANE CRUIKSHANK on fake punt last week, longest TD pass by defensive player in SB era. Byard had 2 INTs in last meeting. Has 8 INTs since 2017, tied for most in NFL. ... DT JURRELL CASEY had 2 sacks & FF last week. Had sack in last meeting. Has 3 sacks in past 2 vs. division. Since 2013, ties for 4th among NFL DTs with 35.5 sacks. ... CB ADOREE' JACKSON had 1st-career INT last week. Had 2 PD & FF in last meeting. ... LB KAMALEI CORREA aims for 3rd in row with sack. JAGUARS QB BLAKE BORTLES passed for 377 yards with 4 TDs vs. 1 INT for 111.1 rating in Week 2. Has 90+ rating in 2 of past 3 home meetings. In past 4 vs. division, has 1,123 pass yards (280.8 per game) with 6 TDs vs. 2 INTs for 103 rating. Aims for 3rd in row at home vs. division with 110+ rating. ... RB LEONARD FOURNETTE had 136 scrimmage yards (69 rush, 67 rec.) in last meeting. Had rush TD in only home meeting (9/17/17). Has 400 scrimmage yards (100 per game) & 3 rush TDs in past 4 vs. division. ... RB T.J. YELDON has 140 scrimmage yards (70 per game) in 2 games this season. ... WR KEELAN COLE had 7 catches for 116 yards & TD last week. Has 100+ rec. yards in 3 of past 5. In past 3 vs. division, has 268 rec. yards (89.3 per game) & 2 TD catches. ... WR DEDE WESTBROOK had career-high 83 rec. yards & TD catch last week. ... TE AUSTIN SEFERIANJENKINS had TD catch in Week 2. Set career-highs with 110 rec. yards & 2 TD catches in only career game vs. Ten. (9/13/15 with TB). ... DE CALAIS CAMPBELL had 2 TFL in last meeting. Has 9 sacks, 8 TFL & FF in past 6 vs. division. ... DE YANNICK NGAKOUE had 67-yard FR-TD in last meeting. ... CB JALEN RAMSEY has 17 PD & 3 INTs, incl. INT-TD, in past 9 vs. division.
PREDICTION: Even with a healthy Marcus Mariota, the Titans would be hard-pressed to come away with a win in Jacksonville. Without him, it will be even tougher. There might be no more confident team in the NFL than the Jaguars.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (1-1) AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (2-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, Arrowhead Stadium; FOX, Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman, Peter Schrager (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY:SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. 49ers lead series, 7-5. The home team has won the last nine meetings dating to 1982. The 49ers captured the most recent contest 22-17 in San Francisco in 2014, while the Chiefs prevailed 31-10 in 2010 in the most recent matchup in Kansas City. The clubs have never met in the postseason, but do have one famous regular-season meeting -- when Joe Montana (203 yards, two touchdowns) and Steve Young (288 yards, two interceptions) went head-to-head in a 24-17 Chiefs home win in 1994. Marcus Allen rushed for the difference-making touchdown that day. The Chiefs have won the last two meetings at Arrowhead Stadium by a combined score of 72-20.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Unleash Reuben Foster. No doubt, a potential difference-maker in what should be a shootout is the team that puts the most pressure on the other's young quarterback. With the Chiefs likely to focus their protection on defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, the NFC's leading sacker through two weeks, holes likely will exist in the middle of the line for Foster to sneak through a time or two in his season debut and get a couple of solid hits on Patrick Mahomes.
The 49ers also would like to have a new weapon on offense this week with the possible return of wide receiver Marquise Goodwin. The timing would be perfect, with the Chiefs no doubt having seen the running ability of running back Matt Breida from the Detroit game film. Sneaking a safety up to deal with Breida could prove costly with the fleet Goodwin running downfield.
Scoring points early and often remains the Chiefs blueprint on offense. The offense would like to get back on track running Kareem Hunt, who averaged just 62 yards per game through the first two weeks. That would help the Chiefs extend drives and control the clock, but they want nothing to deter a passing attack with 10 touchdowns through two weeks and averages 291 yards through the air.
The Chiefs defense just wants stops, any kind of stops. The defense has played 82 snaps each of the first two games and second-most in the league through two weeks. Getting off the field faster remains a top priority, whether it's forcing punts, field goals or turnovers. The Chiefs beat Pittsburgh without a turnover, but that's not normally how this defense wins football games.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Chiefs interior OL vs. 49ers DT DeForest Buckner. Bucker ranks second in the NFL with 3.5 sacks, but the Chiefs offensive line has allowed just one sack in each of the first two games. The Chiefs offensive line hasn't been spectacular, but it has allowed QB Patrick Mahomes just enough time to throw without taking too many hits. Not much has fazed Mahomes yet, but pressure up the middle could disrupt his timing and downfield vision.
--49ers FS Adrian Colbert vs. Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill. The Lions picked on the inexperienced Colbert all day in Week 2, completing 30- and 67-yard touchdown passes, while also just missing on four other long attempts to open receivers. Now the 49ers face arguably the NFL's best deep threat in Hill, who leads the league in receptions for 20 or more yards with seven in two games. Look for Hill to spend a lot of time lined up to QB Patrick Mahomes' left, away from CB Richard Sherman.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: 49ers CB Ahkello Witherspoon. The Lions torched the young cornerback so often in Week 2 that the 49ers had to bench him. His replacement, Jimmie Ward, also got beat for a long gainer, which prompted 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan to disclose Monday that he was unsure who would start against Kansas City.
Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt. The other three members of the Chiefs' offensive quartet - tight end Travis Kelce and wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins -- have all had at least one game with 90 yards of offense. Now running back Kareem Hunt needs to shoulder his load of the offense. He led the league in rushing a year ago but averaged just 62 yards rushing through the first two games and has a mere one catch for five yards. Getting Hunt more involved in the game plan should improve ball control and time of possession, which the Chiefs have struggled with through their two wins. With defenses targeting Patrick Mahomes and his down-field threats, Hunt may find the opening he needs to break out.
FAST FACTS: 49ERS QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO passed for 206 yards with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 118.4 rating last week. Is 3-1 with 1,180 pass yards (295 per game) & 4 TDs in 4 career road starts with SF. In his past 3 vs. AFC, is 3-0 with 957 pass yards (319 per game), 4 TDs & 2 INTs for 101 rating. ... RB MATT BREIDA leads NFL with 184 rush yards in 2018. Rushed for career-high 138 yards & TD in Week 2. Has 396 scrimmage yards (99 per game) & 2 rush TDs in his past 4. ... RB ALFRED MORRIS has 5,589 rush yards since entering league in 2012, 5th-most in NFL. Had 80 scrimmage yards (48 rush, 32 rec.) last week. ... WR PIERRE GARCON had 5 receptions for 125 yards & 2 TDs in 10/9/11 meeting (with Ind.). ... WR MARQUISE GOODWIN has 24 catches for 373 yards (93.3 per game) in his past 4 vs. AFC. Aims for 3rd in row on road vs. AFC with 100+ rec. yards. ... TE GARRETT CELEK had TD catch in Week 2. Has TD in 3 of his past 4. Aims for 3rd in row vs. AFC with rec. TD. ... DL DeFOREST BUCKNER ranks 2nd in NFL with 3.5 sacks in 2018. Has 4 sacks & 30 tackles in his past 5 vs. AFC. Has 3.5 sacks in past 3 on road. LB ELIJAH LEE led team with career-high 12 tackles & had 1st-career sack & FF last week. ... Rookie LB FRED WARNER had 10 tackles in Week 2, his 2nd consecutive 10+ tackle game. Ranks 3rd in NFL & 2nd among rookies with 22 tackles. ... CB RICHARD SHERMAN has 5 INTs, 7 PD & FR in his past 6 vs. AFC. Since 2012, leads NFL with 28 INTs. CHIEFS QB PATRICK MAHOMES completed 23 of 28 (82.1 pct.) for 326 yards with 6 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 154.8 rating last week. His 10 TD passes are most in NFL history through team's 1st 2 games of season. Has 10 TD passes in his 1st 3 career games, most by player in 1st 3 games in NFL history. Is youngest QB in NFL history (22 years, 364 days old) with 6+ pass TDs in single game. Aims to become 4th QB in NFL history with 4+ TD passes in 3 consecutive games. ... RB KAREEM HUNT rushed for 75 yards last week. In 4 career games vs. NFC, has 368 scrimmage yards (92 per game) & 2 rush TDs. Since 2017, ranks 2nd in NFL with 1,451 rush yards. ... TE TRAVIS KELCE had 7 catches for 109 yards & 2 TDs last week. Had TD catch in last meeting. Has 7+ catches & 100+ rec. yards in 5 of past 6 vs. NFC. Since 2016, is 1 of 5 in NFL with 175+ catches (176) & 14+ TD catches (14). ... WR TYREEK HILL had 90 rec. yards & TD catch last week. Aims for 4th in row with 90+ rec. yards. Leads AFC with 259 rec. yards & is tied for 2nd in NFL with 3 TD catches. ... WR SAMMY WATKINS had 6 catches for 100 yards in Week 2, his 12th-career game with 100+ rec. yards. Had 106 rec. yards & 2 TDs in only career meeting (9/21/17 with Rams). ... LB ANTHONY HITCHENS has 12+ tackles in each of 1st 2 games. Ranks 2nd in NFL with 26 tackles.
PREDICTION: A sea of red will greet the 49ers as they travel to Kansas City for the Chiefs' home opener. They will also be greeted by an offense that has scored 80 points in two games. It's difficult to imagine San Francisco slowing the Kansas City train.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (1-1) AT LOS ANGELES RAMS (2-0)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 PM ET, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum; CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 6-5. My how things have changed since these teams last met in 2014, with the St. Louis Rams coming to San Diego to face the Chargers. The Chargers won that day, 27-24, and have prevailed in two of the last three meetings. Of course, the biggest note from these two rivals playing each other comes from an exhibition game in the summer of 1999. Chargers safety Rodney Harrison hit Rams quarterback Trent Green low on a blitz, with Green blowing out his left knee on the play and leaving the game on a cart, his season, and presumably the Rams' as well, in ruins. Into the game came one Kurt Warner and he would go on to lead the Rams to their first Super Bowl title.
KEYS TO THE GAME: This LA-LA game will feature two offenses straight out of central casting. The Chargers feature proven veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, talented running back Melvin Gordon, and dangerous wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. The Rams leapfrogged the New England Patriots as Vegas favorite to win the Super Bowl, thanks to an offense that stars quarterback Jared Goff, explosive running back Todd Gurley II and prolific receivers Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.
On defense, the Rams have the edge, especially with Chargers' pass rusher Joey Bosa out with a foot injury. The Rams paid the price for talented defensive players - hyperactive defensive tackle Aaron Donald and huge sidekick Ndamukong Suh and two aggressive cornerbacks in Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, who has a knack at grabbing all balls within his reach (hey, footballs - 20 interceptions, five fumble recoveries since entering NFL in 2015). Last time he faced Rivers, Peters made two interceptions.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Chargers QB Philip Rivers vs. Rams CBs Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. Rivers has never seen a secondary he can't try and exploit. But in Talib and Peters, he'll have to encounter two Pro Bowlers, and a pair of players not afraid to gamble on possibly getting a turnover through their man-to-man coverage. Will they bait Rivers, who relishes trying to squeeze a pass through a tight window, into some interceptions? Or will Rivers, who has six touchdown passes and one interception, outfox them by teasing them with a look one way and then crossing them up going in another direction for a big play? All three are familiar with each other from Talib being with the Broncos and Peters with the Chiefs.
--Chargers run defense, which is missing DT Corey Liuget, vs. Rams running game spearheaded by RB Todd Gurley II. The Chargers kept the Bills under the century mark last week in rushing, but some of that is attributed to the Chargers racing to such a big first-half lead. That doesn't figure to be the case against the Rams so the defense will have to stop Gurley, who has carried the ball a league-high 39 times for 150 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. Chargers are looking for continued improvement from rookie outside linebacker Kyzir White as he's stealing snaps from Jatavis Brown. The Chargers interior line has to keep the Rams blockers off the linebackers or it's going to be a long afternoon.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Chargers WR Mike Williams. This big target continues to get more looks from Philip Rivers as they grow more comfortable. Williams, the team's top pick last year, had his rookie season derailed by injuries. Now he's healthy and is quickly become a favorite of Rivers. With Keenan Allen getting most of the attention among wide receivers, Williams has a chance to be productive.
FAST FACTS: CHARGERS QB PHILIP RIVERS completed 23 of 27 (85.2 pct.) for 256 yards with 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 143.2 rating last week. Aims for 4th in row with 3+ pass TDs & 100+ rating. Has 98+ rating in 2 of 3 career starts vs. Rams. Is 1 of 3 NFL QBs with 600+ pass yards (680) & 6+ pass TDs (6) this season. ... RB MELVIN GORDON had 3 TDs (2 rec., 1 rush) last week, his 6th-career multi-TD game. In his past 3 vs. NFC, has 334 scrimmage yards (111.3 per game) with 3 TDs (2 rec., 1 rush). Since 2016, ties for 2nd in NFL with 27 TDs (19 rush, 8 rec.) & is 1 of 3 players (TODD GURLEY & EZEKIEL ELLIOTT) with 3,000+ scrimmage yards (3,229) & 25+ TDs (27). ... RB AUSTIN EKELER has 224 scrimmage yards (112 per game) in past 2. Is 1 of 4 NFL players with 100+ rush yards (116) & 100+ rec. yards (108) in 2018. ... WR KEENAN ALLEN had 6 catches for 104 yards & TD in last meeting. In his past 8 vs. NFC, had 1,048 rec. yards (131 per game) & 4 TD catches. ... WR MIKE WILLIAMS had 1stcareer TD catch last week. ... WR TYRELL WILLIAMS aims for 3rd in row vs. NFC with TD catch. ... DE MELVIN INGRAM had 1.5 sacks last week. Has 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks, FF & FR in past 3 vs. NFC. ... Rookie S DERWIN JAMES had sack last week. Is 1st rookie DB with sack in each of 1st 2 career games since 1999. ... CB CASEY HAYWARD is only NFL player with 10+ INTs (11) & 40+ PD (43) since 2016. ... RAMS QB JARED GOFF is 6-1 with 1,781 pass yards (254.4 per game), 15 TDs & 4 INTs for 103.3 rating in his past 7 starts. In his past 5 vs. AFC, is 5-0 with 1,319 pass yards (263.8 per game) & 11 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 111.2 rating. Aims for 8th in row with 90+ rating. ... RB TODD GURLEY II had 73 scrimmage yards (42 rush, 31 rec.) & 3 rush TDs last week. Has 3 games with 3+ scrimmage TDs since 2016, most in NFL. In his past 5 vs. AFC, has 775 scrimmage yards (155 per game) & 4 TDs (3 rec., 1 rush). Aims for 5th in row vs. AFC with 100+ scrimmage yards. ... WR BRANDIN COOKS had 7 receptions for 159 yards in Week 2. Has 2 TD catches in his past 4 vs. AFC. Since 2016, ranks 4th in NFL with 16.1 yards per catch (min. 100 receptions). ... WR ROBERT WOODS has 14 catches for 252 yards (126 per game) & 2 TDs in his past 2 at home. ... WR COOPER KUPP aims for 3rd in row vs. AFC with TD. ... DT AARON DONALD had sack in last meeting. Has 2 sacks & 3 FFs in past 4 vs. AFC. Leads NFL DTs with 39 sacks since 2014. ... DT MICHAEL BROCKERS had sack in last meeting. Has sack in 3 of past 4 vs. AFC. ... CB MARCUS PETERS has 4 INTs, FF & 7 PD in his past 3 vs. Chargers. Aims for 4th in row vs. Chargers with INT. ... LB SAMSON EBUKAM had sack in Week 2. Has 3 sacks & FF in his past 5 at home.
PREDICTION: This should be the best neighborhood battle in the NFL this season. The Rams bought, played and won their way into the No.-1 ranked team in the NFL (says here). They are definitely favored, but Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has enough talent around him to put up a hell of a fight, and maybe manage an upset victory.
DALLAS COWBOYS (1-1) AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (0-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, CenturyLink Field; FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 18th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series, 10-7. Prior to Seattle relocating to the NFC in 2002, Dallas dominated the series, winning five of the first six matchups between 1976 and 2001. Since realignment, the two franchises have split 10 regular-season contests. Seattle edged Dallas in a 21-20 thriller during the 2007 NFC playoffs. The Seahawks have won the previous two matchups, most recently defeating the Cowboys 21-12 in Week 16 last season. The home team has not fared well in the Cowboys-Seahawks series lately. Dallas won in Seattle in 2014, then the Seahawks posted back-to-back victories at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in 2015 and 2017.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The preseason idea that having Ezekiel Elliott full-go this season was going to open up the passing game has pretty much done a 180. The reality is that the Cowboys need Dak Prescott to find open receivers as well as get outside the pocket and run in order to give Elliott more room to run. That applies this week as Dallas will try to exploit the Seahawks secondary.
Dallas has given up 14.5 point per game through the first two weeks of the season against the Panthers and Giants. The Seahawks offensive weapons don't seem as threatening as either of the Cowboys' first two opponents. That means there will be a high bar for Dallas's ability to shut down the Seahawks. The Cowboys' best bet is to make Russell Wilson one-dimensional by keeping him in the pocket.
As has been the case for the previous two games to open the season, the Seahawks remain without an offensive identity and will face one of the NFL's premier pass rushers in Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence. It feels like playing a broken record over and over again, but somehow, Seattle has to manufacture a ground game and not abandon it if it's not working early. For all the fuss head coach Pete Carroll and other coaches have made about the importance of the ground game, they've failed to commit to running the ball and rank 29th overall in rushing attempts and yardage. That's not going to cut it, and if the Seahawks really want to get back to running the ball, they need to be more persistent in doing so by feeding Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny more often. Since Carolina quarterback Cam Newton found success running the ball against the Cowboys in the season opener, the Seahawks also need to incorporate some read-option runs and pass plays with a moving pocket to allow Wilson to use his legs as a weapon this week.
Dallas hasn't been able to muster much offensively during the first two games of the year, averaging only 14 points per game. The Cowboys released wide receiver Dez Bryant and the offensive line isn't near as dominant as it used to be with center Travis Frederick sidelined due to illness, but there's still plenty of talent on that side of the football. In Seattle's 21-12 victory in Fort Worth last December, Carroll made slowing down star running back Ezekiel Elliott the top priority, choosing to force dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott to beat his team with his arm. Elliott finished with 97 rushing yards, but the Seahawks baited Prescott into two interceptions, including a pick-six by cornerback Justin Coleman. The Seahawks can't overlook Prescott as the Giants did last week, but he needs to prove he can win games as a passer with a much-maligned receiving corps. Expect a similar game plan to last year with emphasis on stopping Elliott and using creative blitz packages to turn up the heat on the third-year quarterback.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Seahawks RT Germain Ifedi vs. Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence. Seemingly every week, Ifedi has had to square off against one of the best pass rushers in football and this week will be no different. Lawrence posted a career-best 14.5 sacks in 2017 and already has 2.0 sacks this season. The 265-pound defensive end can win matchups versus opposing linemen in myriad ways, as he possesses the athleticism and bend to quickly turn the corner on tackles while also being capable of bull-rushing and using hand-fighting techniques to discard blocks. He's going to be a problem for Ifedi and it'll be imperative once again for Seattle to provide extra support with chipping tight ends and running backs.
--Seahawks CB Justin Coleman vs. Cowboys WR Cole Beasley. The Cowboys still are sorting out their 31st-ranked passing game after cutting ties with Bryant, and Beasley has taken over as Prescott's most-trusted target. The diminutive 5-foot-8, 180-pound Beasley has made quite the career for himself working out of the slot, and though he had a down season in 2017, he's only two years removed from catching a career-high 75 receptions in Prescott's rookie campaign. He's been kept relatively quiet in Dallas's first two games and historically hasn't fared well against the Seahawks, but his precise route-running skills and reliable hands will provide quite the test for Coleman on Sunday. If outside receivers struggle to get open against Seahawks corners Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers, Prescott will lean on Beasley as his go-to option.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Seahawks TE Will Dissly. Seattle hasn't been able to get much going passing to wide receivers without Doug Baldwin available, but Dissly has been a "great first-year starter," according to head coach Pete Carroll, while quickly developing into Russell Wilson's new security blanket. After setting a NFL-record for rookie tight ends with 105 receiving yards in his debut against Denver, the fourth-round pick out of Washington followed up with another steady performance in Chicago, catching three passes for 45 yards and a touchdown while also contributing a few key blocks against Khalil Mack late in the game. The Cowboys had some trouble covering New York Giants tight end Evan Engram last week, surrendering six catches for 73 yards and a score. Dissly isn't the same athlete as Engram, but at 270 pounds, he's a load to bring down in the open field and he's fleet-footed for his size, so he could be a matchup nightmare for Dallas.
FAST FACTS: COWBOYS QB DAK PRESCOTT is 3-0 with 662 pass yards (220.7 per game), 7 TDs & 0 INTs for 127.8 rating & had 2 rush TDs in 3 career road starts vs. NFC West. Has 10 pass TDs vs. 3 INTs for 101.4 rating in 5 career starts vs. NFC West. Since entering NFL in 2016, ties for lead among NFL QBs (CAM NEWTON) with 12 rush TDs. ... RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT had 118 scrimmage yards (97 rush, 21 rec.) in last meeting. Aims for 3rd in row with rush TD. In his past 5 on road, has 694 scrimmage yards (138.8 per game) & 7 TDs (6 rush, 1 rec.). Since entering league in 2016, leads NFL with 2,761 rush yards & 24 rush TDs. ... WR TAVON AUSTIN led team with 79 rec. yards, incl. 64- yard TD catch in Week 2. In his past 6 vs. Sea., has 3 TDs (2 rush, 1 PR). Is only NFL player with 5+ rush TDs (9), 10+ rec. TDs (13) & 3+ PR-TDs (3) since 2013. ... DE DeMARCUS LAWRENCE aims for 3rd in row with sack. Had sack in last meeting. In his past 4 vs. NFC West, has 7 sacks, 2 FFs & FR. Aims for 5th in row vs. NFC West with sack. Since 2017, ranks 2nd in NFL with 16.5 sacks. ... LB SEAN LEE had 13 tackles in last meeting. Aims for 4th in row vs. Sea. with 10+ tackles. In his past 4 on road, has 40 tackles (10 per game), INT & 2 PD. Since 2015, ranks 3rd in NFL with 383 tackles. ... DE TACO CHARLTON had sack in last meeting. Had sack & 1st-career FR in Week 2. ... DE TYRONE CRAWFORD had sack last week. Has 3 sacks & FR in his past 5 vs. NFC West. ... SEAHAWKS QB RUSSELL WILSON has 2,669 pass yards (266.9 per game), 24 TDs & 7 INTs for 99.6 rating in his past 10 at home. In his past 5 vs. NFC East, has 11 TDs vs. 2 INTs for 101 rating. Is 1 of 4 in NFL with 12,000+ pass yards (12,750) & 90+ TD passes (94) since 2015. ... RB CHRIS CARSON has 166 scrimmage yards (83 per game) in 2 career home games. ... WR DOUG BALDWIN had TD catch in last meeting. In his past 3 at home vs. NFC East, has 296 rec. yards (98.7 per game) & TD. Has TD catch in 3 of his past 4 vs. NFC East. ... WR TYLER LOCKETT had team-high 60 rec. yards & TD in Week 2. Aims for 3rd in row with TD catch. ... LB BOBBY WAGNER (expected back from injury) has 39 tackles (13 per game), 2 sacks, 7 TFL & safety in his past 3 at home vs. NFC East. Has 523 tackles since 2014, most in NFL. ... CB SHAQUILL GRIFFIN had 2 INTs in Week 2, his 1st career multi-INT game. Has 3 INTs in his past 3. Had sack in last meeting. ... DE FRANK CLARK aims for 3rd in row with sack. Had sack in last meeting. Has 3 sacks & FF in past 3 at home.
PREDICTION: The Cowboys will be fighting the 12th man in Seattle, but the reality is this is a new version of the Seahawks that is trying to find their identity. Flip a coin in a game that will likely be low scoring.
CHICAGO BEARS (1-1) AT ARIZONA CARDINALS (0-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, State Farm Stadium; FOX, Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth, Jennifer Hale (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 91st regular-season meeting. Bears lead series, 56-28-6. The Cardinals have won two of the past three meetings, including a 48-23 victory the last time they played, in Week 2 of the 2015 season at Chicago. The teams have split the last four. The Bears' last win was in Arizona, 28-13 in 2012. The series dates back to the NFL's inaugural season of 1920. when the Cardinals played in Racine, Wis., and the Bears in Decatur, Ill. They were crosstown rivals in Chicago until 1960 and even shared Wrigley Field for the better part of a decade in the 1930s. Between 1920 and 1952, the teams traditionally met twice a year, squaring off 63 times. Sunday's matchup marks just the 28th meeting in the 66 years since.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bears have yet to effectively let running back Jordan Howard tee off on an opponent as a battering ram, except for one drive near the end of their loss to Green Bay. This is the defense to do it against. For one, this offensive line personnel grouping has always been more effective blocking the 4-3 defenses than 3-4s. They did struggle last week against Seattle's 4-3 when the Seahawks put a safety in the box and dared Mitchell Trubisky to beat them. Even if the Cardinals do this, the Bears have to anticipate they can be effective enough run blockers to get Howard the gaps he needs to exploit. It's a dangerous tactic for a defense against the RPO offense, anyway. Howard can gash a team that blitzes too much. Howard has only had 29 carries in two games, and Trubisky will be better at getting the ball downfield out of play action, or at least with the threat of a run in the Cardinals' minds. If Adrian Peterson could almost get 100 yards at his advanced age against the Cardinals in Week 1, Howard should be able to roll behind Chicago's inside zone blocking.
For the first time, the Bears face a more conventional, less mobile passer. They have a league-high 10 sacks against two of the NFL's toughest quarterbacks to sack. So they need to continue mixing and disguising coverages, to buy their pass rushers some hesitancy by Sam Bradford before he throws. Hesitancy against Chicago's pass rush can mean a Khalil Mack sack. Another effective tool might be the A-gap blitz early in the game by Roquan Smith to get Bradford worrying about the possibility of blitzes later.
The Cardinals said they planned to scale things back on offense, primarily because too many players were making mistakes the past two weeks. The game plans thus far haven't been very creative, however, and that reflects as to why Arizona has only scored six points, registered a league-low 19 first downs and is averaging an NFL-worst 3.8 yards per pass attempt. Part of the problem is the Cardinals haven't been able to stick with David Johnson and the running game long enough to make a difference. Expect them to try and continually pound the ball behind Johnson against the Bears. Head coach Steve Wilks also wants to try and open up the passing game, which would be refreshing considering Sam Bradford only has four completions of 15 yards or longer. That might be impractical given the Bears' pass rush and the presence of menacing outside linebacker Khalil Mack, the game's best edge rusher. Look for Bradford to target Johnson more often, especially when the running back lines up on the outside as a wide receiver or closer in as a slot receiver.
Defensively, the Cardinals look as if they're still experimenting on how to utilize their linebackers, rotating players in and out and constantly redefining their roles. Haason Reddick, who was supposed to be the team's starting strong-side linebacker, has been relegated to backup duties the first two weeks. Deone Bucannon, who got lit up in the season opener against Washington, saw his playing time reduced at weak-side linebacker last week against the Rams. More personnel changes could be looming in this game, particularly at cornerback where Jamar Taylor has had trouble covering receivers and avoiding holding penalties. Look for Bene' Benwikere to see an increased role on Sunday. The Cardinals also need to do a better job executing their own pass rush. The Cardinals have five sacks, but their best edge man, Chandler Jones, only has one of them. He has to make more of a difference. To knock Mitchell Trubisky off his game, the Cardinals must get their blitz packages to generate more disruption.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bears LT Charles Leno Jr., who has allowed one sack this season, vs.Cardinals DE Chandler Jones, who led the NFL in sacks last year with 17 and has one in the first two weeks. Now the Bears get to know what it feels like to go against an elite pass rusher of Khalil Mack's ilk. Jones has had to switch back to a 4-3 scheme and the end spot this year, the first time since he left New England. He had 28 sacks the last two years as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Leno has been more than adequate in pass protection so far, but the Bears have largely relied on the shorter passing game. They haven't gone to the seven-step drop for extended periods, and when they did, Mitchell Trubisky was rolling out. They need to avoid putting Trubisky as a target in one place so Jones can pick apart Leno.
--Cardinals RT John Wetzel vs. Bears OLB Khalil Mack. Wetzel figures to get the start again upon replacing injured Andre Smith (elbow) last week against the Rams. Wetzel has less experience than Smith, but he might be a little bit more capable of trying to limit Mack's overall impact. Wetzel moves quicker, and he'll need that to help push back against the very fast and aggressive Mack. The Cardinals will also give Wetzel some help by having a tight end deliver chip blocks on Mack.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Cardinals SLB Gerald Hodges. The Cardinals signed Hodges for depth purposes, bringing in the six-year veteran just two days before their first preseason game. Two games into the regular season, however, he found himself in a starting role as head coach Steve Wilks and coordinator Al Holcomb continue to tweak things in the middle of their defense. They've rotated two starters out of the lineup in Haason Reddick and Deone Bucannon and found they needed a bigger, taller presence at the strong-side linebacker spot in Hughes, who had seven tackles in his start last week against the Rams.
FAST FACTS: BEARS QB MITCHELL TRUBISKY passed for 200 yards & 2 TDs last week, his 1st-career 2 pass TD game. In 2 career starts vs. NFC West, has 3 TDs vs. 2 INTs for 94.1 rating. Aims for 5th in row on road with 20+ comp. ... RB JORDAN HOWARD has 550 rush yards (78.6 per game) & 2 rush TDs in his past 7 on road. Has 3 TDs in 2 career games vs. NFC West. Since 2016, ranks 3rd in NFL with 2,552 rush yards. ... WR ALLEN ROBINSON led team & tied career-high with 10 catches for 83 yards in Week 2. ... WR TAYLOR GABRIEL had 75 rec. yards & career-high 2 TDs in his last game vs. Az. (11/27/16 with Atl.). ... TE TREY BURTON had rec. TD in last meeting (10/8/17 with Phi.). Had TD catch last week, his 1st TD with Chi. ... Rookie WR ANTHONY MILLER caught his 1st-career TD last week. BEARS lead NFL with 10 sacks in 2018. LB KHALIL MACK had sack & FF in Week 2. Has 2 sacks, 2 FFs, FR & INT-TD in 2 career games with Chi. Had career-high 11 tackles & 3 TFL in only career meeting (10/19/14 with Oak.). ... DT AKIEM HICKS has 2 sacks & FF in his past 3 on road. In his past 3 vs. NFC West, has 17 tackles, 2 sacks & FF. ... CB PRINCE AMUKAMARA had 49- yard INT-TD last week, his 1st-career INT-TD. Had 9 tackles & PD in only career meeting (9/14/14 with NYG). ... CARDINALS QB SAM BRADFORD has 4 TDs vs. 1 INT for 94.4 rating in past 3 starts vs. Chi. In his past 8 vs. NFC North, has 2,056 pass yards (257 per game), 13 TDs & 3 INTs for 100.1 rating. ... RB DAVID JOHNSON had rush TD in last meeting. Has 1,159 scrimmage yards (128.8 per game) & 11 TDs (9 rush, 2 rec.) in his past 9 at home. Has 100+ scrimmage yards in 8 of his past 9 at home. Has 33 scrimmage TDs since 2015, 3rd-most in NFL. ... WR LARRY FITZGERALD had 8 receptions for 112 yards & career-high 3 TDs in last meeting. Has 25 catches for 346 yards (115.3 per game) & 5 TDs in 3 career meetings. In his past 9 at home, has 71 receptions for 781 yards (86.8 per game) & 5 TDs. Ranks 3rd in NFL history in receptions (1,244) & rec. yards (15,649) & is 8th in TD catches (110). Needs 1 rec. TD to tie TONY GONZALEZ (111) for 7thmost all-time. ... DE CHANDLER JONES has 3 sacks & FF in his past 3. In his past 7 at home, has 8 sacks, 13 TFL & 2 FFs. Since 2016, leads NFL in sacks (29) & TFL (43). ... CB PATRICK PETERSON tied career-high with 8 tackles & had INT last week. Had INT in last meeting.
PREDICTION: The Bears are a favorite on the road? Unusual. But that's the case this week, thanks to the arrival of Khalil Mack for the Bears and an absent of offense for the Cardinals. They have scored six points this season and it won't be any better Sunday.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (1-1) AT DETROIT LIONS (0-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:20 PM ET; Ford Field; NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead series, 7-4, and have won both games at Ford Field. The most memorable meeting between these teams came in 1993, when the Patriots tied the game on a touchdown with 12 seconds left in regulation, but Barry Sanders ran for 19 of his 148 yards in overtime to lead the Lions to a 19-16 win. The Patriots have won the last four meetings. The last time the Lions beat the Patriots was in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day 2000. The Lions won 34-9. A rookie backup quarterback named Tom Brady came in late in mop-up duty and completed one pass for 6 yards. It was his only completion of his rookie season.
KEYS TO THE GAME:GAME PLAN: There's a ton of familiarity on both sides of the ball here as Lions head coach Matt Patricia was the Patriots defensive coordinator for six years and knows Tom Brady well, and Brady and the Patriots have practiced against a better version of the defense the Lions run for years. To win Sunday, the Lions must get pressure on Brady and make him uncomfortable in the pocket and limit whatever damage tight end Rob Gronkowski will do. The Lions had six sacks last week, but some of those were due to good coverage downfield. Brady gets the ball out quick, and if Darius Slay doesn't play, the Lions will need a big game from second-year cornerback Teez Tabor.
On offense, Matthew Stafford must take better care of the football after committing five turnovers in two weeks. Blake Bortles threw for 376 yards and four touchdowns against the Patriots last week, so New England is vulnerable downfield. Of course, the Jaguars run the ball better than the Lions do, so the Lions will need to establish Kerryon Johnson and the ground game to loosen up the Patriots' defense.
The Patriots must deal effectively with the Lions deep passing attack. The Lions will watch the Patriots/Jaguars game and think big plays can be made on the Pats defense. The Patriots emphasize that their defensive struggles are not because of one area, but rather they need to play better team defense. A pass rush would prevent the secondary from having to cover for such a long period of time and the secondary could bail out the front seven by making more plays.
Offensively, Brady will need to avoid holding onto the ball too long because the Lions have speed up front and can get after Brady. Also, the Patriots should get James White involved as much as possible. He can counter the Lions pressure by catching screen passes and he can be a workhorse in the running game and wear down the Lions defense. The Patriots also must find a receiver (and maybe Phillip Dorsett is the answer) who can take the pressure off Rob Gronkowski who had only two catches for 15 yards Sunday against Jacksonville. Dorsett has 12 catches in two games which is how many catches he had in all of 2017.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Lions LB Jarrad Davis vs. Patriots RB James White. Davis, in his second season out of Florida, struggled mightily against the pass as a rookie and again in training camp, but he looked better in coverage against the 49ers last week. He'll have his hands full Sunday with White, who's one of the better receiving backs in the league. Davis is off to a nice start this season, with two sacks and 10 tackles in two games, but if he can't cover White on option routes out of the backfield, he'll hear it from a frustrated hometown crowd.
--Lions WR Golden Tate vs. Patriots CB Jonathan Jones. Kenny Golladay has been the Lions' best receiver through two weeks, but Tate is still Mr. Dependable in the slot with 14 catches for 188 yards and a touchdown. He's a chain-mover, one of the best in the game at making yards after the catch, and maybe Matthew Stafford's favorite target on third downs. Jones drew praise for his work in the slot in New England's opener, but this is his toughest task yet.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: TE Michael Roberts. A fourth-round pick out of Toledo in 2017, Roberts caught his first career touchdown pass last week against the 49ers. The big tight end was one of the best red-zone threats in college football during his senior season, when he caught 16 touchdown passes, but played primarily as a blocking tight end as a rookie. He had an up and down summer and found himself briefly in head coach Matt Patricia's doghouse for dropped passes and inconsistent play but is the most talented of an ordinary collection of tight ends on the Lions roster. "I had a conversation with a few of you earlier in the week about how I just felt kind of quiet in preseason, how I felt kind of like I hadn't done much," Roberts said. "But hopefully this is the beginning of something."
FAST FACTS: PATRIOTS QB TOM BRADY has 995 pass yards (331.7 per game) with 6 TDs vs. 2 INTs for 107.8 rating in past 3 meetings. In last game at Det., passed for 341 yards, 4 TDs & 0 INTs for perfect 158.3 rating. In past 8 vs. NFC (incl. playoffs), has 2,826 pass yards (353.3 per game) with 18 TDs vs. 2 INTs for 108.2 rating. Aims for 6th in row with 2+ TD passes & 100+ rating (incl. playoffs). ... RB JAMES WHITE led team with 7 catches for 73 yards last week. Since 2015, leads NFL RBs with 13 TD catches, ranks 3rd with 1,501 rec. yards & 4th with 167 catches. ... Rookie RB SONY MICHEL rushed for 34 yards in NFL debut last week. ... TE ROB GRONKOWSKI has 10 catches for 143 yards (71.5 per game) in past 2 vs. Det. In past 6 vs. NFC (incl. playoffs), has 532 rec. yards (88.7 per game) with 4 TD catches. Has 81 career catches of 25+ yards, 2nd-most among NFL TEs since 1994. ... WR CHRIS HOGAN had 2 TD catches last week. Has TD catch in 4 of his past 5 vs. NFC. ... WR PHILLIP DORSETT had 4 catches for 94 yards in his last game vs. Det. (9/11/16 with Ind.). ... S DEVIN MC COURTY had 2 INTs in only career game at Det. (11/25/10). ... LB KYLE VAN NOY had INT last week. DE TREY FLOWERS has 1.5 sacks & FF in past 2. ... LIONS head coach MATT PATRICIA spent past 14 seasons with NE, incl. past 6 (2012-17) as defensive coordinator. ... QB MATTHEW STAFFORD passed for 347 yards with 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 101.7 rating last week. Has 2,900 pass yards (290 per game), 20 TDs & 8 INTs for 96.1 rating in past 10 at home. Since entering NFL in 2009, is 1 of 7 with 35,000+ pass yards (35,382). ... RB THEO RIDDICK has 200 receptions since 2015, most among NFL RBs. ... RB LeGARRETTE BLOUNT has 38 rush TDs since 2013, most among active NFL RBs. Had 34 rush TDs in 49 games with NE (2013-16). ... WR GOLDEN TATE led team with 7 catches for 109 yards in Week 2. Had 97 rec. yards in last meeting. Aims for 3rd in row at home with 7+ catches & TD. Aims for 3rd in row at home vs. AFC with TD catch. ... WR MARVIN JONES JR. has 329 rec. yards (82.3 per game) & 3 rec. TDs in his past 4 at home. ... WR KENNY GOLLADAY had 89 rec. yards & TD last week. Aims for 4th in row with 80+ rec. yards. ... DE EZEKIEL ANSAH has 7 sacks in his past 3. Has 4 sacks in his past 2 at home. ... CB DARIUS SLAY has INT & 6 PD in his past 4 vs. AFC. Has 3 INTs & 6 PD in past 3 at home. Since 2015, ranks 3rd in NFL in INTs (12) & PD (52). ... LB DEVON KENNARD had 2 sacks last week. Aims for 4th in row with sack. Has sack in 2 of his past 3 vs. AFC.
PREDICTION: Smarting from their loss to the Jacksonville, the Patriots will show the world on Sunday night they are still a force against a team coached by his former defensive coordinator.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (0-1-1) AT TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2-0)
KICKOFF: Monday, 8:15 PM ET; Raymond James Stadium; ESPN, Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, Booger McFarland, Lisa Salters (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 8-2. Bucs beat the Steelers 27-24 in their last meeting at Heinz Field in 2014 on a last-second touchdown pass from Mike Glennon to Vincent Jackson. Before that, the Steelers won four in a row and eight of the previous nine since the Buccaneers entered the NFL in 1976. The Steelers are 5-1 all-time in games played in Tampa. The Steelers' only loss in Tampa came in 1998 when the Buccaneers won, 16-3.
KEYS TO THE GAME: It's no secret the Bucs want to throw the football downfield. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken has been very aggressive, especially early in games, trying to get the ball to DeSean Jackson.
While they haven't had to establish a running game after establishing a big lead in each game, that may change on Monday night. Running back Peyton Barber rushed 16 times for only 22 yards vs. the Eagles last week. On the season, Barber is averaging only 2.6 yards per carry. The problem, according to head coach Dirk Koetter, has been some mental errors on the offensive line.
Defensively, the Bucs face a huge challenge against quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Tampa Bay was without both starting cornerbacks. Brent Grimes has missed two games with a groin injury and Vernon Hargreaves is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury he suffered in the season opener. That's put some pressure on rookie cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart. The Bucs could also be without safety Chris Conte, which would force rookie Jordan Whitehead in the lineup.
The Steelers defense has to find a way to slow down Tampa Bay quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has thrown for 819 yards and eight touchdowns in the first two games of the season. That won't be an easy task after surrendering six touchdown passes to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Look for the Steelers to ride Roethlisberger in this game. Not only did he throw for 452 yards against the Chiefs, but the Buccaneers have had a hard time defending the pass in their first two games. Despite their 2-0 start, opposing quarterbacks have had their way throwing the ball. Drew Brees and Nick Foles combined to complete 77 percent of their passes for an average of 377 yards per game. Roethlisberger has plenty of options to attack the Tampa secondary, including second-year receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has reached 100 yards receiving in each of the first two games. If the Steelers do get into another shootout they have plenty of playmakers to keep up with the Buccaneers.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Steelers CB Joe Haden vs. Buccaneers WR DeSean Jackson. Haden is the Steelers' best corner, and he will have his hands full with Jackson, who is having a resurgent season. Jackson is the NFL's leading receiver through two weeks with 275 yards. Haden missed the Chiefs game because of a hamstring injury. If he's hobbled at all, it's going to be a long day for the Steelers defense.
--Steelers RB James Conner vs. Buccaneers run defense. Conner has enjoyed some early success as the feature back while Le'Veon Bell remains out, but he's going to have his work cut out against Tampa Bay, which enters the game third in the NFL in rushing defense. The Buccaneers are allowing only 67 rushing yards per game. They held the Eagles to 91 yards on 24 attempts. Conner had 135 yards in the opener against the Browns, but he was held to 17 yards on eight carries against the Chiefs because the Steelers fell behind early. They will want to get Conner more involved against the Buccaneers.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Buccaneers WR Mike Evans is off to one of the best starts of his career. In two games, he has been targeted 19 times and has 17 receptions for 230 yards and two touchdowns. That includes a 50-yard touchdown reception in the season opener against the Saints. Evans is typically double-teamed, but for some reason has seen a lot of man coverage and he's winning. His only mistake is a lost fumble vs. the Eagles.
Steelers WR Antonio Brown. The All-Pro has been held to fewer than 100 yards in each of the first two games. Brown is not happy with his role in the offense despite an NFL-high 33 targets. Look for the Steelers to design a few more plays for Brown to take advantage of his big-play ability.
FAST FACTS: STEELERS QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER completed 39 of 60 (65 pct.) for 452 yards with 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 104.3 rating & rushed for TD last week. In last meeting, completed 29 of 40 (72.5 pct.) for 314 yards with 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 120.2 rating. Aims for 3rd in row vs. NFC with 300+ pass yards. Has 51,852 career pass yards & surpassed HOFer JOHN ELWAY (51,475) for 7th-most in NFL history. ... RB JAMES CONNER had 65 scrimmage yards (48 rec., 17 rush) & rush TD last week. Aims for 3rd in row with rush TD. Has 257 scrimmage yards in 2018, most by NFL RB. Is 1 of 2 NFL RBs (TODD GURLEY) with 150+ rush yards (152) & 3+ rush TDs (3). ... WR ANTONIO BROWN has 70 catches (8.8 per game) for 885 yards (110.6 per game) & 7 TDs in past 8 vs. NFC. Had 7 catches for 131 yards & 2 TDs in last meeting. In past 2 on road, has 17 catches for 194 yards & 2 TDs. Aims for 3rd road game in row with TD catch. ... WR JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER had career-high 13 catches for 121 yards & TD in Week 2. Has 27 catches (9 per game) for 383 rec. yards (127.7 per game) & 2 TDs in past 3. Aims for 4th in row with 100+ rec. yards. ... TE JESSE JAMES had career-high 138 rec. yards & TD last week. . LB T.J. WATT ties for 3rd in NFL with 3 sacks. ... DT CAMERON HEYWARD had 2 TFL & sack in last meeting. Has 3 sacks in past 2 vs. NFC. ... BUCCANEERS QB RYAN FITZPATRICK passed for 402 yards with 4 TDs vs. 1 INT for 144.4 rating last week. Is 1 of 3 in NFL history with 4+ TD passes in each of team's 1st 2 games of season. Joined HOFer DAN MARINO (1984) & BILLY VOLEK (2004) as only players with 400+ pass yards & 4+ TD passes in consec. games in league annals. Has 517 pass yards (258.5 per game) with 3 TDs & 1 INT for 96 rating in his past 2 vs. Pit. ... WR MIKE EVANS had 65 rec. yards & TD in last meeting. Has 12 catches for 180 yards (90 per game) & TD in his past 2 vs. AFC. Aims for 3rd in row with 7+ catches & TD. ... WR DeSEAN JACKSON has 275 rec. yards (137.5 per game) & 3 TDs in past 2. Has 23 career TDs of 60+ yards, tied with HOFer JERRY RICE for most all-time. Had 6 receptions for 102 yards in his last game vs. Pit. (9/12/16 with Was.). ... WR CHRIS GODWIN aims for 4th in row with TD. ... DT GERALD MC COY had sack in last meeting. Has 5 sacks in his past 5 vs. AFC. Aims for 3rd in row at home vs. AFC with sack. ... LB LAVONTE DAVID has 36 tackles, FF & 3 FRs in his past 4 at home. Had 12 tackles & FF in last meeting. Since 2014, leads NFL with 15 FFs. ... LB KWON ALEXANDER had 7 tackles, sack & FF last week. Has 30 tackles, 2 sacks, FF & 4 PD in past 4 at home vs. AFC. In past 4 at home, has 43 tackles (10.8 per game).
PREDICTION: With the way these teams pass the ball with the talent on the field and play defense, a shootout appears inevitable. The winner? Probably the team that has the ball last. As troubled as the Steelers appear to be, it's difficult to believe they will remain winless.
OUR PICK: Steelers, 38-35.