NFL WEEK 4 -- Includes Friday injury reports
MONDAY NIGHT GAME
--- THURSDAY -- SEPTEMBER 27 -- Vol. XVI -- No. 11 ---
-- PRO FOOTBALL GAME SCOUT --
-- A PUBLICATION OF THE SPORTS XCHANGE --
CINCINNATI BENGALS (2-1) AT ATLANTA FALCONS (1-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, Mercedes-Benz Stadium; CBS, Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Bruce Arians, Melanie Collins (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Bengals lead series, 8-5. Cincinnati lost three consecutive games to the Falcons before gaining 170 yards on the ground in a 24-10 home win in Week 2 of the 2014 season. It was the third-fewest points allowed in the series. The Bengals have lost in their last three visits to Atlanta, since a 16-10 win during Week 10 of the 1987 season. Cincinnati is 3-3 all-time in Atlanta.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Falcons have been unable to get any consistent heat on the quarterback the last two weeks (Cam Newton, Drew Brees) and will need to do better in that regard against the Bengals' Andy Dalton. With at least three starters out (and likely more) Atlanta will need to get an effective pass rush from Vic Beasley Jr., who picked up his first sack last week, and Grady Jarrett.
Dalton is generally underrated by most opponents despite winning 58.9 percent of his starts, best in franchise history. This season he has completed 63.8 percent of his throws and has only been sacked four times in three games. However, Dalton has already been intercepted five times.
The Bengals go into the game coming off an ineffective day of run defense in Carolina, but the Bengals might not have to contend with Atlanta's Devonta Freeman, who is day-to-day after missing two weeks with a knee injury. Even if Freeman sits, the Bengals will have to contend with Tevin Coleman, who has 159 yards on 40 carries.
However, the Bengals should plan for plenty of aerial action from the Falcons, who rank ninth in the league in scoring (26.7 points) and 11th in passing yards (285.3).
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--QUESTIONABLE: TE Charles Clay (shoulder, hip), TE Jason Croom (knee), RB LeSean McCoy (rib), RB Marcus Murphy (rib)
GREEN BAY PACKERS
--OUT: DE Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle)
--DOUBTFUL: G Justin McCray (shoulder)
--QUESTIONABLE: WR Randall Cobb (hamstring), S Josh Jones (ankle), CB Kevin King (groin), LB Nick Perry (concussion), QB Aaron Rodgers (knee)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Falcons C Alex Mack vs. Bengals DT Geno Atkins. The Falcons will try to keep Ryan upright against a solid Cincinnati rush, led by University of Georgia grad Atkin. He has three sacks and last year led NFL interior linemen for the third straight year. Mack is an All-Pro center but has struggled at times against the more physical linemen.
--Falcons WR Julio Jones vs. Bengals CB William Jackson or Desmond Trufant. Jones will be a test for anybody. Jackson, the team's first-round pick in 2016, had a 75-yard pick-six against Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers last year. Green left the game against Carolina in the third quarter with a groin injury but has insisted that he will be well enough to play against the Falcons. Jones has 20 catches for 329 yards and caught a 58-yarder against New Orleans.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: WR A.J. Green shrugged off a groin injury with a "What Me Worry" attitude. While he was forced to miss the rest of the game after attempting a leaping catch in the third quarter, Green is confident he'll be ready to go in Atlanta. "I thought I had the wind knocked out of me, but when I tried to run, I went 'Oh,'" Green said. "I didn't hear anything pop." Pop is the key word in Green's comments. If he heard something pop, he likely would be out for a while. By Wednesday, head coach Marvin Lewis seemed to think Green would play at Atlanta.
FAST FACTS: BENGALS QB ANDY DALTON passed for 352 yards in Week 3. Passed for 252 yards with 1 TD vs. 0 INTs for 116.6 rating in last meeting. ... RB GIOVANI BERNARD had 86 yards from scrimmage (61 rush, 25 rec.) and a TD rushing. Had career-high 169 scrimmage yards (90 rush, 79 rec.) & rush TD in last meeting. ... WR TYLER BOYD has 223 yards receiving (111.5 per game) & 2 TDs in past 2 games. ... LB NICK VIGIL led team with career-high 12 tackles last week. ... FALCONS QB MATT RYAN passed for 374 yards with 5 TDs, 0 INTs for 148.1 rating last week, his 1st-career game with 5 TD passes. ... RB TEVIN COLEMAN had TD catch in Week 3. ... WR JULIO JONES had 7 receptions for 88 yards & TD in last meeting. ... Rookie WR CALVIN RIDLEY had 7 catches for 146 yards & 3 TDs in Week 3. ... DE TAKKARIST MC KINLEY aims for his 3rd in row with sack. ... LB VIC BEASLEY JR. has 8.5 sacks & 4 FFs in his past 7 vs. AFC. ... LB DUKE RILEY led team with career-high 12 tackles in Week 3. ... CB ROBERT ALFORD has 58 PD since 2015, most in NFL.
PREDICTION: Two teams that can play extremely well, but not consistently enough to build a belief factor among NFL fans. Atlanta's injuries may make it difficult to get pressure on Bengals QB Andy Dalton, but the home team is resourceful and should find a way to win.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2-1) AT CHICAGO BEARS (2-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday 1:00 PM ET, Soldier Field; FOX, Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 59th regular-season meeting. Bears lead series, 38-20. Tampa Bay has won the last two, both at home, 29-7 and 36-10. The Bears' last win was 26-21 in Tampa in 2015. The teams haven't played in Chicago since a 21-13 Bears win on Nov. 23, 2014. The teams played twice a year when they were in the same division, the NFC Central, from 1977 to 2002.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bucs have been pretty hot throwing the football behind Ryan Fitzpatrick. They have the NFL's top overall offense and top passing offense with targets like Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard. But the run game ranks last in the NFL in yards per carry (3.0).
Part of that is because they ran away from opponents in the first two games and had quick strikes in the passing game. They didn't need to run until the issue was decided in the fourth quarter. Last week, the Bucs fell behind 30-10 and abandoned the run game early.
To slow the Bears' pass rush, they will have to be more balanced. Running back Peyton Barber gets most of the carries and it remains to be seen if second-round pick Ronald Jones will see his first action of the season.
Offensively, the Bucs will need to do a better job protecting Fitzpatrick. They struggled against the 3-4 defense of the Steelers and you can bet the Bears have watched that tape.
Defensively, Tampa Bay is beat up. The Bucs could start three rookies in the secondary with Brent Grimes. The defensive line has lost its depth. It remains to be seen if first-round pick, defensive tackle Vita Vea, will play Sunday. But Bears QB Mitch Trubisky has struggled against zone coverage, so look for the Bucs to deploy that.
The Bears have been the second-best ball-control team in the NFL at an average possession time of 34:42. Maintaining the ball by improving their running attack and the short passing game's efficiency is a good way to keep an explosive Bucs offense on the bench. The difference for the Bears against Tampa Bay is they have to complete drives with touchdowns instead of field goals. Statistics would suggest it will be difficult to get Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen running lanes, but the Bucs' defense hasn't really been tested on the ground. They're built to rush the passer. They've been involved in three shootouts, and when they had to stop Pittsburgh's running attack at the end of their game they couldn't do it. Attacking with the inside zone and occasional jet sweeps or screen passes is the best way to move the ball and keep Tampa Bay's own offense watching the game.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
--OUT: DT Beau Allen (foot)
--QUESTIONABLE: CB Carlton Davis (groin), DT Vita Vea (calf), S Jordan Whitehead (shoulder, hamstring), CB Marcus Williams (hamstring)
--OUT: CB Prince Amukamara (hamstring), CB Marcus Cooper (hamstring), WR Anthony Miller (shoulder)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bears LCB Kyle Fuller, who has given up two TD passes, vs. Bucs WR Mike Evans, who is averaging 122 yards receiving a game. Fuller is giving away about six inches and 35 pounds to a receiver who is built like Calvin Johnson and may be close to having that type of reputation. Evans has averaged 4.5 catches for 66.7 yards with two total TDs in four games against Fuller and the Bears. The two TD passes allowed by Fuller so far have been a matter of an inch one way or the other: A pair of diving catches at the back of the end zone.
--Bears LG Eric Kush, who has allowed one sack this season, vs. Bucs DT Gerald McCoy, who has 1.5 sacks this season. The Bears have played Tampa Bay four straight years and McCoy had 2.5 sacks in those games. The 3-technique defensive tackle is a load because of his quick, powerful first step into the gap. Kush has had a fair start, although last week he took both of the penalties he's had this season -- a chop block and false start. The Bears' offense can't afford penalties in its current state. Nor can they afford to have McCoy in Mitchell Trubisky's face. If the Bears ever want to get Jordan Howard running for his first 100-yard game this season, Kush will need a big effort in the zone blocking scheme.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bears NT Eddie Goldman has made the Bears difficult to run against, and this is critical because it forces teams to pass -- and the pass rush is their strength. The Bears are one of three teams not to have allowed a rushing touchdown. They are second against the run at 65.3 yards a game and fourth in average yards allowed per rush. Goldman also provides a strong push inside on the pass rush, but his primary duty has been a run plug. Not a massive player, but a strong, stout nose, Goldman stays low and maintains his technique. The Bears realized what they had in Goldman, who is in his third year, and just before the season locked him up with a contract extension through 2022.
FAST FACTS: BUCCANEERS QB RYAN FITZPATRICK passed for 411 yards with 3 TDs & 3 INTs last week. Became 1st QB in NFL history with 400+ pass yards in 3 consecutive games. ... WR MIKE EVANS had 6 catches for 137 yards & TD in Week 3. Had 7 receptions for 93 yards & TD in last meeting. His 367 rec. yards rank 2nd in NFL in 2018. ... WR CHRIS GODWIN aims for 5th in row with rec. TD. ... TE CAMERON BRATE ranks 3rd among NFL TEs with 15 rec. TDs since 2016. ... DT GERALD McCOY has 41 sacks since 2013, tied for most by NFL DT (GENO ATKINS). ... LB LAVONTE DAVID had 9 tackles & 3 TFL last week. Aims for 4th in row with 9+ tackles. ... BEARS QB MITCHELL TRUBISKY has 93.5 rating in his past 6 at home. ... RB JORDAN HOWARD had rush TD in Week 3. Has 3 rush TDs in his past 4 at home. Since 2016, ranks 2nd in NFL with 2,613 rush yards. ... TE TREY BURTON has 4 rec. TDs in his past 6. ... LB KHALIL MACK had 5 tackles, 2 sacks & FF last week. In 3 games with Chi., has 4 sacks, 3 FFs, FR & 27-yard INT-TD. Aims for 4th in row with sack & FF. Since 2015, is only NFL player with 40+ sacks (40.5) & 200+ tackles (241). ... LB DANNY TREVATHAN has 13 tackles, 2 sacks, FF & FR in past 2. ... DT AKIEM HICKS has sack & FF in 2 of his past 3. ... CB SHERRICK McMANIS had INT & 1st-career sack in Week 3.
PREDICTION: Strength against strength is the game within the game Sunday in Chicago as the Bucs hope to remain explosive against a Bears defense that features the disruptive Khalil Mack. This game should have less scoring than Tampa Bay has experienced in the first three games of the season.
DETROIT LIONS (1-2) AT DALLAS COWBOYS (1-2)
KICKOFF: SUNDAY, 1:00 PM ET, AT&T Stadium; FOX, Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 25th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series, 13-11. The Cowboys defeated Detroit in Dallas in 2016 and in the wild-card round of the playoffs in 2015. The Lions won the two meetings before that, including a 34-30 victory in Dallas in 2011. The most memorable meeting came in the 1991 playoffs, when Erik Kramer threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-6 Lions victory. That was the last time the Lions won a postseason game.
KEYS TO THE GAME: While fans and the media have been clamoring for the Cowboys to kick-start their vertical passing game, the message from Garrett has been that the offense needs to be cleaner in its execution. The Seahawks' defense sacked Prescott five times and the Cowboys gave up three turnovers. Conversely, in Dallas' win over the Giants, Prescott wasn't sacked and the Cowboys didn't give the ball away. Vertical passing game or not, a mistake-free Cowboys offense has the potential to be an efficient offense. Dallas needs to prove that as it did in its previous home game against the Giants.
The Cowboys have been much more dangerous on defense, especially up front. But the Cowboys' secondary gave up too many big plays last week. When Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson hit wide receiver Tyler Lockett for a 52-yard touchdown, it swung the game's momentum to Seattle in a huge way, not to mention giving them a 14-3 lead that proved insurmountable. With the Dallas offense trying to stay out of the absolute bottom of the NFL, the defense needs to be dominant and produce sacks while allowing no big plays. The key for the Lions is continuing the balance on offense they had against New England with running back Kerryon Johnson producing the first 100-yard rushing game for a back in 70 games.
The Lions need to stop Ezekiel Elliott by any means possible. The Cowboys have the second-worst scoring offense in the NFL and don't get much out of their passing game, so if the Lions can limit Elliott's touches, either through their own stout defense or by getting up early on offense, that would go a long way toward a road victory.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: DE Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), TE Michael Roberts (knee)
--QUESTIONABLE: LB Jarrad Davis (knee), WR Golden Tate (hip)
--OUT: DT Maliek Collins (knee), C Travis Frederick (illness), LB Sean Lee (hamstring)
--QUESTIONABLE: WR Cole Beasley (ankle), DT Antwaun Woods (groin)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence vs. Lions RT Rick Wagner. Wagner struggled through an ankle injury and scheme change last year, but he's been arguably the Lions' best offensive lineman this fall. On Sunday, Wagner will face a stern test in Lawrence, one of the game's best pass rushers. Lawrence tied for second in the NFL with 14.5 sacks last year, and he already has 2.5 this year. Matthew Stafford is taking fewer sacks than he has in the past (just three so far), but he needs to beware of Lawrence on Sunday.
--Lions S Quandre Diggs vs. Cowboys WR Cole Beasley. The Cowboys don't have much of a downfield passing game, but Beasley is one of the more underrated slot receivers in the league. He leads the Cowboys with 12 catches and 132 yards receiving, and earned praise from Lions head coach Matt Patricia on Wednesday. Diggs will make his ninth straight start at safety, but he sees significant time at the slot cornerback position when the Lions go to their nickel package. While stopping Ezekiel Elliott is the Lions' No. 1 task, Beasley is a chain mover who's integral to the Cowboys' offense.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Lions OLB Devon Kennard. Kennard has been quite the addition at strong-side linebacker for the Lions. He's tied with Eli Harold for the team-lead with three sacks, and this week will play a key role as an edge-setter in the run game against Ezekiel Elliott. Kennard saw Elliott plenty the last two seasons when he was with the New York Giants, and this week's game will mark a bit of a homecoming for him as his father, Derek, played three seasons with the Cowboys in the 1990s. Kennard said he still remembers celebrating on his father's shoulders after the Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl.
FAST FACTS: LIONS QB MATTHEW STAFFORD passed for 262 yards with 2 TDs vs. 1 INT for 101.9 rating last week. Aims for 3rd in row with 100+ rating. ... RB KERRYON JOHNSON (rookie) rushed for 101 yards in Week 3 & is 1st Lion to rush for 100+ yards in single game since 2013 (REGGIE BUSH). ... RB THEO RIDDICK is only NFL RB with 200+ catches (203) & 10+ rec. TDs (10) since 2015. ... RB LeGARRETTE BLOUNT has 38 rush TDs since 2013, tied for most among active players. ... WR GOLDEN TATE aims for 5th in row with 6+ catches. Since 2013, is 1 of 4 in NFL with 450+ receptions (456) & 5,250+ rec. yards (5,379). ... WR KENNY GOLLADAY has 21 receptions for 336 yards (84 per game) & 3 TDs in his past 4. Aims for 3rd in row with rec. TD. ... LB ELI HAROLD had 2 sacks last week, his 1st-career 2-sack game. Aims for 3rd in row with sack. ... CB DARIUS SLAY had INT in Week 3. Since 2017, leads NFL with 9 INTs & 27 PD. ... S GLOVER QUIN has 19 INTs since 2013, 2nd-most among NFL safeties. ... COWBOYS QB DAK PRESCOTT completed 15 of 20 (75 pct.) for 212 yards with 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 148.3 rating in last meeting. ... RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT rushed for 127 yards last week. In 14 career home games, has 1,767 scrimmage yards (126.2 per game) & 12 TDs (11 rush, 1 rec.). Since 2016, leads NFL with 2,888 rush yards & 24 rush TDs. Ties for NFL lead with 274 rush yards in 2018. ... WR TAVON AUSTIN had rec. TD in Week 3. Is only NFL player with 5+ rush TDs (9), 10+ rec. TDs (14) & 3+ PR-TDs (3) since 2013. ... DE DeMARCUS LAWRENCE has 2.5 sacks & FR in his past 3. Since 2017, tied for 3rd in NFL with 17 sacks. ... Rookie LB LEIGHTON VANDER ESCH tied for team lead with career-high 11 tackles in Week 3. ... LB JAYLON SMITH has 22 tackles & 2 sacks in his past 3.
PREDICTION: Amid criticism of the Cowboys' play-calling, the team's lack of play-makers in the passing game seems to be overlooked. For the Lions, the question is how they will respond after last week's win over the Patriots. Provided their offense avoids turnovers, that should give them the edge.
BUFFALO BILLS (1-2) AT GREEN BAY PACKERS (1-1-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, Lambeau Field; CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Bills lead series, 8-4. The Bills haven't played in Green Bay since 2010 when they suffered a 34-7 wipeout. All-time in Green Bay/Milwaukee, the Bills are 2-4, but they have never lost to the Packers at home (6-0). In the last meeting, they stunned Green Bay 21-13 in a game where they held Aaron Rodgers to a 34.3 passer rating, the lowest of his career, and a 40.4 completion percentage, which was the second-worst of his career.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll concocted a superb game plan last week for rookie Josh Allen that featured quick throws, and which enabled him to get into a rhythm. Allen played within the plan, but he also used his athleticism to make several big plays with his legs including a 10-yard scramble for a touchdown. The Packers do not have the same talent Minnesota does on defense, and they will be without stud DT Muhammad Wilkerson for the rest of the season. The Bills might get LeSean McCoy back, so they'll try to run the ball, but again, the best mode of attack may be to utilize more quick passes to get the ball out of Allen's hands.
The Buffalo defense is coming off a superb effort, but things ratchet up against Packers QB Aaron Rodgers throwing to a corps of targets that includes WRs Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison, and TE Jimmy Graham. Graham could be a particular problem because the Bills have often struggled to stop pass-catching tight ends, although they are better-equipped these days with rookie MLB Tremaine Edmunds.
Green Bay has not run the ball well, so the Bills will probably commit more men in coverage rather than stack the box. One key will be how much Rodgers can exploit the other cornerbacks besides Tre'Davious White. Kirk Cousins had no luck last week, but Rodgers is a different story facing the likes of Phillip Gaines, Ryan Lewis and Taron Johnson.
That enforces the fact that the Packers cannot fall behind as they did in Washington last week, 17-0.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--QUESTIONABLE: TE Charles Clay (shoulder, hip), TE Jason Croom (knee), RB LeSean McCoy (rib), RB Marcus Murphy (rib)
GREEN BAY PACKERS
--OUT: DE Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle)
--DOUBTFUL: G Justin McCray (shoulder)
--QUESTIONABLE: WR Randall Cobb (hamstring), S Josh Jones (ankle), CB Kevin King (groin), LB Nick Perry (concussion), QB Aaron Rodgers (knee)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Packers QB Aaron Rodgers vs. Bills S Micah Hyde. Few defenders on either side of the ball know Rodgers better than Hyde, who spent the 2013 through 2016 seasons with the Packers. Hyde had five interceptions last season for Buffalo. Rodgers has six touchdowns vs. zero interceptions this season but was off-target too often in the loss at Washington. Any off-target pass could wind up in the hands of Hyde for the type of game-changing play the Bills will need to spring another upset.
--Bills DE Jerry Hughes vs. Packers LT David Bakhtiari. Hughes has started the season like he's hell-bent on earning a Pro Bowl berth. Hughes absolutely abused Minnesota LT Riley Reiff. The Bills' film evaluation determined that Hughes had 10 quarterback hurries to go with his sack/forced fumble. He created so much heat that Kirk Cousins never looked comfortable. Aaron Rodgers is playing on a gimpy knee, and if Bakhtiari can't handle Hughes, the Packers will have to shift their blocking scheme.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Packers RB Aaron Jones returned from a two-game suspension last week and gave the offense a lift with six carries for 42 yards in limited playing time. The Packers will move forward with a timeshare at running back utilizing Jamaal Williams, Ty Montgomery and Jones. Jones is a difference-making back with his vision, acceleration and cutback ability. He finished second in the NFL last season with 5.5 yards per carry.
FAST FACTS: BILLS QB JOSH ALLEN passed for 196 yards with 1 TD vs. 0 INTs for 111.2 rating & rushed for 39 yards with 2 TDs last week. Became 3rd rookie QB in SB era to rush for 2+ TDs & throw TD in 1st half of single game (VIRGIL CARTER & RUSSELL WILSON). ... RB LeSEAN MC COY had 106 scrimmage yards (88 rush, 18 rec.) in his last game vs. GB (11/16/14 with Phi.). ... RB CHRIS IVORY had 126 yards from scrimmage yards, (70 rec., 56 rush) in Week 3. ... TE CHARLES CLAY is 1 of 4 active TEs with 500+ yards receiving in each of past 5 seasons (2013-17). ... LB MATT MILANO had 8 tackles, sack, INT & FR last week. ... Rookie LB TREMAINE EDMUNDS led team with career high 10 tackles & had TFL in Week 3. Ranks 3rd among NFL rookies with 24 tackles. ... DE JERRY HUGHES had sack & FF last week. ... DE TRENT MURPHY had sack, FF & PD in Week 3. ... S MICAH HYDE had 8 INTs & 4 sacks in 63 games with GB (2013-16). ... PACKERS QB AARON RODGERS has 6 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 104.5 rating in 2018. Had 255 pass yards, 2 TDs & 0 INTs for 116.3 rating in last home meeting (9/19/10). ... RB TY MONTGOMERY had 6 catches for 48 yards last week. ... WR DAVANTE ADAMS had TD catch in Week 3. ... WR RANDALL COBB had 7 receptions for 96 yards in last meeting. Has 9 TDs in his past 9 at home vs. AFC. ... TE JIMMY GRAHAM has 11 catches for 140 yards & 4 TDs in 2 career meetings. ... WR GERONIMO ALLISON has TD catch in 2 of past 3. ... LB CLAY MATTHEWS has 5 sacks in 2 career meetings. ... S HA HA CLINTON-DIX aims for 3rd in row with INT. Had career-high 13 tackles in last meeting. ... CB TRAMON WILLIAMS had INT in 12/14/14 meeting. ... LB BLAKE MARTINEZ has 53 tackles (10.6 per game), FR & INT in his past 5 vs. AFC. Since 2017, ranks 1st in NFL with 166 tackles. ... DL KENNY CLARK had career-high 9 tackles last week.
PREDICTION: Well, a week ago, before the usual logic was turned upside down, picking the Pack would be a no-brainer. Most think it still is, but realities do evolve in the NFL; just ask the 2018 Patriots. Hell, ask Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, but that's a different story. So, let's find a coin and flip it. Heads Packers, tails Bills. Mmm, it's heads (whew).
HOUSTON TEXANS (0-3) AT INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (1-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, Lucas Oil Stadium; CBS, Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta
SERIES HISTORY: 33rd regular-season meeting. Colts lead series, 25-7. The Texans didn't win at Indianapolis until their 14th visit in 2015. They won again in 2016 for a three-game series win streak overall, but the Colts swept both games last year, including 22-13 at home. The rivals have dominated the AFC South Division, combining to win 13 of 16 titles. The Colts have won nine times.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Offensive tackle Julien Davenport needs to cut down on his penalties. He has eight overall with two not counting. Davenport is struggling. If he can't stop committing mistakes, the Texans may need to bench him. Watch for the Texans to try to do more maximum protection schemes to protect Deshaun Watson.
Defensively, the Texans will shadow T.Y. Hilton and try to pressure Andrew Luck. The Texans have had issues with the Colts' speed in the past. They'll need to do a good job of bottling up the run.
The Texans have watched film of the Colts' loss to the Eagles and are sure to try the same defensive blueprint -- get solid pressure up front by rushing four and drop seven back in coverage to defend against the big play. The Colts have typically accepted the check-down throws underneath and not stretched the field. The key here is whether the Colts can block J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. The latter has yet to register a sack this season.
While the Colts defense has applied steady pressure on the pocket, that ability to speed up a quarterback's clock will be key when considering Watson's penchant for throwing deep. The Colts tend to play off wide receivers, especially speed threats like DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V. The key is for solid safety play from Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers, who must be in the right spots to give their cornerbacks help up top because there's no doubt the visitors are going to test the Colts' secondary deep.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--QUESTIONABLE: WR DeAndre Hopkins (thumb, ankle, hamstring), CB Kayvon Webster (achilles), CB Shareece Wright (shoulder)
--OUT: T Anthony Castonzo (hamstring), TE Jack Doyle (hip), T Joe Haeg (ankle), DT Hassan Ridgeway (calf), CB Quincy Wilson (concussion)
--QUESTIONABLE: S Clayton Geathers (knee), RB Marlon Mack (hamstring), LB Anthony Walker (groin)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Colts LT Le'Raven Clark/RT Denzelle Good vs. Texans DE J.J. Watt. The Texans will move Watt to whatever side they think he has the best advantage and might even alternate him to keep the Colts guessing. Either way, neither Clark nor Good have faced the likes of Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Watt leads the Texans with three sacks. Expect the Colts to chip him as much as possible with a tight end and enlist the inside help of guards Quenton Nelson and Matt Slauson. He's just too good of a player to be handled one-on-one by an offensive line shuffled by injuries into starting its third different combination in four weeks.
--Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins vs. Colts CBs Kenny Moore/Nate Hairston. The Texans will also move Hopkins around like the Colts do Hilton, which means both Moore and Hairston have to be backpedaling quickly. Because Will Fuller V is also a speedy deep threat, the Colts will have to decide on a given play whom they want to double. Hopkins, a two-time Pro Bowl star, has 20 receptions for 274 yards (13.7 yards per catch) and one TD. In the past two games, Hopkins and Fuller have combined to catch 25 passes for 410 yards and three TDs, the second-best duo in the NFL.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Colts WR T.Y. Hilton. He's had monster games against the Texans. In 12 games, he has 63 receptions for 1,131 yards and nine TDs. He caught five passes for 175 yards and two TDs in a win at Houston last year, a performance that earned the four-time Pro Bowl star AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. In 2014, he had nine catches for 223 yards and one TD. Because the Colts are moving Hilton around in the formation, both Texans cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Aaron Colvin are on the spot to not let him get free. Expect the Texans to bracket Hilton with a safety deep, but even that hasn't worked in the past.
FAST FACTS: TEXANS QB DESHAUN WATSON passed for 385 yards with 2 TDs vs. 1 INT for 98.4 rating & rushed for 36 yards last week. Is only NFL QB with 800+ pass yards (871) & 100+ rush yards (120) in 2018. ... RB LAMAR MILLER in his past 6 vs. Ind., has 570 scrimmage yards (95 per game) with 5 TDs (4 rush, 1 rec.). Since 2014, ranks 3rd among active RBs with 5,349 scrimmage yards. ... WR DE ANDRE HOPKINS aims for 3rd in row vs. division with TD catch. In past 8 vs. AFC South, has 728 rec. yards (91 per game) & 5 TDs. ... DE J.J. WATT had 3 sacks & FF last week. Has 6 career games with 3+ sacks, 3rd-most among active players. ... DE JADEVEON CLOWNEY has 2.5 sacks in past 3 meetings. ... COLTS QB ANDREW LUCK threw TD pass & tied career-long with 33-yard rush last week. In 8 career games vs. Hou., has 1,913 pass yards (239.1 per game) with 17 TDs vs. 6 INTs. ... WR T.Y. HILTON has 17 catches for 304 yards (101.3 per game) with 3 TD catches in past 3 meetings. Has 9 TD catches in 12 career meetings. 2 of his 3 highest single-game rec. yard totals have come against Hou. (223 on 10/9/14 & 175 on 11/5/17). ... LB DARIUS LEONARD (rookie) had 13 tackles, 5 TFL & 2 sacks last week. Is only player since 2008 to record 13+ tackles & 5+ TFL in single game. ... S CLAYTON GEATHERS tied career-high with 11 tackles last week. Aims for 3rd in row with 11+ tackles. ... DE MARGUS HUNT (8) & Leonard (6) rank 1st & 2nd, respectively, in NFL in TFL in 2018.
PREDICTION: The Texans are desperate for a victory, while the Colts, even with the return of quarterback Andrew Luck still have issues finishing games. This has all the making of the season's third tie, but no one in their fight mind would predict that. Right?
NEW YORK JETS (1-2) AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, TIAA Bank Field; CBS, Dan Hellie, Jeff Fisher, Karyn Bryant (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 6-6. The Jets have won four straight against the Jags, including last year's 23-20 Week 4 overtime win at MetLife Stadium, when Chandler Catanzaro hit the game-winning field goal from 41 yards out with 28 seconds left to avoid a tie. The Jets also beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville's third-ever game, Sept. 17, 1995, as Boomer Esiason threw touchdown passes to Wayne Chrebet, Kyle Brady and Charles Wilson in a 27-10 win -- one of only three wins for the Jets that season under head coach Rich Kotite. The Jaguars won three games in a row between 2005 and 2009 to take a 6-2 lead in the series, but the Jets have since won the last four meetings.
KEYS TO THE GAME: This may sound like sort of a minute detail in the grand scheme of things, but in a likely defensive battle any big play could be the difference. The Jets have allowed a 20-plus yard rush to the opposing quarterback the last two weeks (Ryan Tannehill and Tyrod Taylor) and now they face Blake Bortles, who has averaged 6.4 yards per carry on 238 rushing attempts in his five-year career, with seven touchdowns. His 6.4 average per attempt is better than Cam Newton's 5.2 career average and is tied with Randall Cunningham for second highest all-time to Michael Vick (7.0). Bortles popped a 41-yarder against the Giants in Week 1.
Offensively, in 27 career starts between USC and the Jets, 21-year-old quarterback Sam Darnold has turned the ball over at least once in 22 of them, including all three games as a pro. Jacksonville's defense, surprisingly, only has three takeaways so far this season, but Myles Jack did return the Jags' lone interception for a touchdown to seal their win over the Giants.
For the Jaguars offense, much depends on the health of their top two running backs, Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon. Fournette has now missed the last two weeks of action with the hamstring injury and Yeldon (gimpy ankle) was limited last week to just seven carries (44 yards) and six receptions (46 yards). While 90 yards in 13 plays is good for nearly 7 yards per attempt, the Jaguars need more from their starting running back. Corey Grant is not the answer on a regular basis as he's just not big enough to be running between the tackles for much success. If Fournette and Yeldon are either out or limited, look for another heavy dosage of Blake Bortles' short passes mixed in with an occasional run by the Jaguars quarterback.
Defensively the Jaguars are likely to try and make Darnold beat them with his passing as the Jets running attack is not the best. Darnold has talent but he's also playing in just his fourth NFL game and the veteran Jaguars defense will throw a number of blitz packages at him to try and confuse and rattle the rookie quarterback.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
NEW YORK JETS
--OUT: WR Charone Peake (hamstring), TE Neal Sterling (concussion)
--QUESTIONABLE: S Marcus Maye (ankle, foot), S Doug Middleton (knee, finger), CB Buster Skrine (knee)
--OUT: CB D.J. Hayden (toe)
--QUESTIONABLE: G A.J. Cann (triceps), RB Leonard Fournette (hamstring)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Jets QB Sam Darnold vs. Jaguars CBs Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. After facing three veteran quarterbacks (Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Marcus Mariota) the first three weeks of the season, the Jaguars secondary gets the opposite end of the spectrum when they go against the rookie Darnold. The Jets QB has at times looked worthy of his No. 3 overall pick in this past draft. He's completed 60 percent of his passes and has 701 passing yards and three touchdowns after three games. But he's also looked like a rookie at times having already thrown five interceptions and having a couple others dropped by defenders. Darnold has a strong arm but also has a bad habit of throwing late across his body, especially so when he's under pressure from opposing linemen. That may result in Ramsey and Bouye playing tighter on the receivers they'll be covering on Sunday.
--Jaguars OL vs. Jets SS Jamal Adams. Huh? Why would the O-line have to worry about a strong safety? Because in Adams, he plays all over the field including close to the line of scrimmage where he will often come on a blitz. The Jaguars linemen, particularly the two guards will need to keep an eye on Adams when he lines up on their side of the ball and must be ready to drop back enough to pick him up if he comes after Blake Bortles. Against the Browns last week, the Jets employed a number of different blitzes, including having Adams come from several different locations. Adams has already recorded a sack, has forced a fumble and has an interception.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Jets DE Leonard Williams. The Big Cat played 84 percent of the Jets' defensive snaps Thursday in Cleveland, but didn't find the stat sheet -- no sacks, no quarterback hits, not even a tackle. The four-year veteran, who will be entering the final year of his rookie contract this offseason, now has only three sacks in his last 28 games after accumulating 10 in his first 23. The 24-year-old, who has never missed a game, is still on head coach Todd Bowles' good side, though.
"I thought they tried to double him a lot, and he got to the quarterback when the ball was out," the coach said after their loss to the Browns. "He took the pressure off the other guys. They sent two or three guys at him almost every other play. But Leonard caused a lot of other people to make plays, and that doesn't show up on the stat sheet. I'm happy with what he did."
FAST FACTS: JETS QB SAM DARNOLD has 56 completions through Week 3, most by Jets rookie QB in his 1st 3 games of season in team history. ... RB ISAIAH CROWELL had 2 rush TDs last week. ... RB BILAL POWELL had career-high 190 scrimmage yards (163 rush, 27 rec.) & rush TD in last meeting. Since 2016, ranks 2nd among NFL RBs with 4.8 yards per carry avg. (min. 200 att.). ... WR QUINCY ENUNWA ranks 2nd in AFC with 14 catches for 1st downs. ... LB AVERY WILLIAMSON has 4.5 sacks in his past 5 on road. ... CB TRUMAINE JOHNSON had FF last week. Since 2012, is 1 of 4 in NFL with 18+ INTs (19) & 65+ PD (69). ... LB JORDAN JENKINS aims for 3rd in row with sack & FF. ... JAGUARS QB BLAKE BORTLES in past 5 at home, has 1,434 pass yards (286.8 per game) with 11 TDs vs. 1 INT for 112.7 rating. ... WR KEELAN COLE has 156 rec. yards (78 per game) & TD in past 2. ... WR DONTE MONCRIEF has 148 rec. yards (74 yards per game) with 2 TD catches in 2 career games vs. NYJ. ... DE CALAIS CAMPBELL had 3 TFL & 2 sacks last week. Has 5 games with 2+ sacks since 2017, tied for most in NFL (CAMERON JORDAN). ... DE YANNICK NGAKOUE has TFL in 3 of past 4 at home. ... DE DANTE FOWLER JR. has sack in 2 of past 3 at home. ... CB JALEN RAMSEY has 5 PD & 2 INTs in his past 6 at home.
PREDICTION: The Jaguars are smarting after their stinker against Tennessee, and they won't lose again at home. The Jets defense should be able to keep it close.
Our pick: Jags, 20-14
MIAMI DOLPHINS (3-0) AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (1-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, Gillette Stadium; CBS, Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Steve Tasker (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 103rd regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 53-49. The last time these two teams played was last December in Miami on Monday Night Football when the Dolphins won 27-20. The Pats did not lose again until the Super Bowl against Philadelphia. The Pats beat the Dolphins 35-17 at Gillette Stadium in late November last year. The teams have met three times in the playoffs with the Pats beating the Dolphins in the Orange Bowl in 1986 to clinch their first Super Bowl berth. It was the first time the Pats had won at Miami since 1966, ending a string of 18 consecutive losses. The Pats are 2-1 against Miami in the playoffs.
KEYS TO THE GAME: No big deal. This matchup may only change the course of history for two historic AFC rivals. The Dolphins are unbeaten but haven't won in Foxborough since 2008 when Matt Cassel started for the Patriots instead of Tom Brady and the Dolphins unveiled the Wildcat offense, featuring running back Ronnie Brown, who threw for four TDs and ran for another.
This time the Dolphins will be more traditional, but their quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) has won 10 of his last 11 games and is hot.
The Patriots have a healthy Brady for this game, but the only place he is hot is under the collar as the team has a two-game losing streak. A loss Sunday would put them at 1-3, last in the AFC East and add to the growing perception that this is the end to this iteration of the Patriots dynasty, a notion that seemed validated conceptually when New England's monstrous tight end, Rob Gronkowski, confirmed he rejected the team's attempt to trade him to Detroit.
One key to the game could be wide receiver Danny Amendola. No, he is not with the Pats anymore. He is with Miami.
"I'm excited to get back up there," Amendola said of Gillette Stadium. "I've had a lot of experience playing there."
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: LB Chase Allen (foot), DE Andre Branch (knee), TE A.J. Derby (foot)
--QUESTIONABLE: DT Davon Godchaux (ankle), S Reshad Jones (shoulder), WR DeVante Parker (quadricep), DE Cameron Wake (knee), T Sam Young
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
--QUESTIONABLE: T Marcus Cannon (calf), S Patrick Chung (concussion), CB Keion Crossen (hamstring), S Nate Ebner (hip), DE Trey Flowers (concussion), WR Josh Gordon (hamstring), DE Geneo Grissom (ankle), TE Rob Gronkowski (ankle), TE Jacob Hollister (chest), LB Brandon King (foot), CB Eric Rowe (groin)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Dolphins WR Kenny Stills vs. Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore, who gave up two touchdowns to the Lions Sunday night, must rebound and stop the Dolphins' lead wide receiver.
--Patriots LT Trent Brown vs. Dolphins DE Robert Quinn. Brown must show he can handle the speed of a good pass rusher like Quinn. Quinn can be disruptive especially with DE Cameron Wake on the other side for the Dolphins.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Dolphins CB Xavien Howard, a second-round pick in 2016, has emerged as a star with three interceptions in three games. He also picked off Tom Brady last year and is now perhaps the key part of a secondary that leads the NFL in interceptions (seven) and opponents' passer rating. Miami is also tied for the NFL lead in fewest TD passes allowed (two).
FAST FACTS: DOLPHINS QB RYAN TANNEHILL completed 17 of 23 (73.9 pct.) for 289 yards with 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 155.3 rating & rushed for 26 yards last week. Is 10-1 in his past 11 starts. In his past 2 vs. NE, has 737 pass yards (368.5 per game) with 4 TDs vs. 2 INTs for 102.3 rating. ... RB FRANK GORE ranks 4th in NFL history with 14,124 career rush yards. ... WR ALBERT WILSON had 74-yard TD catch & 52-yard TD pass last week. Became 4th player in NFL history with both TD pass & TD catch of 50+ yards in same game. ... WR JAKEEM GRANT had 70 rec. yards & 2 TD catches last week. ... WR KENNY STILLS has 3 TD catches in past 3. ... CB XAVIEN HOWARD has 3 INTs in his past 2. ... PATRIOTS QB TOM BRADY has 2,185 pass yards (273.1 per game) with 21 TDs vs. 3 INTs for 109.5 rating in his past 8 at home. In his past 5 vs. Mia., has 12 TD passes vs. 3 INTs for 104 rating. Ranks 4th in NFL history in completions (5,693), pass yards (66,803) & pass TDs (494). ... RB JAMES WHITE has 3 TD catches in his past 5. Since 2015, leads all NFL RBs with 14 TD catches & ranks 3rd with 1,515 rec. yards. ... TE ROB GRONKOWSKI has 8 TD catches in 11 career meetings. Since entering the league in 2010, has 77 TD catches, most in NFL over span. ... LB DONT'A HIGHTOWER has 2.5 sacks, FF & FR in his past 4 at home vs. Mia. ... Rookie LB JA'WHAUN BENTLEY had 1st-career INT last week. ... DE DEATRICH WISE, JR. has 4 sacks in past 5.
PREDICTION: We agree Bill Belichick is the best coach in NFL history and with QB Tom Brady they are the best tandem ever. But Belichick's team is low on athletic ability and Brady, now 41, might be second-guessing his prediction to play until his 45. We've been wrong before predicting the Pats' demise. But we picked against them in three games and are 2-1. It is so difficult to pick against the Pats at home, but ...
Our pick: Dolphins, 28-24
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (2-1) AT TENNESSEE TITANS (2-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, Nissan Stadium; FOX, Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Eagles lead series, 7-4. The Eagles beat the Titans, 43-24, in their previous meeting on Nov. 23, 2014, at Lincoln Financial Field, but Tennessee has won four of the previous matchups dating back to 2000. Since the NFL's division realignment in 2002, the Eagles are 10-7 against AFC South teams, with a seven-game winning streak against teams from that division. The Titans last hosted the Eagles in 2010. That was the day that wide receiver Kenny Britt missed the first quarter for disciplinary reasons and then had 225 yards receiving over the final three periods.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Eagles' defense, which is ranked ninth overall, will try to shut down the run, especially because quarterback Marcus Mariota's throws could be affected with an elbow injury that is leaving some of his fingers numb. The Eagles are facing an offensively-challenged offense, one that is ranked 29th in the NFL (10th in rushing, 29th in passing) and averaging just 16 points. Mariota's accuracy looked OK when he came off the bench to lead the Titans to victory over Jacksonville, but he threw for just 100 yards and had no deep throws to speak of. The Eagles no doubt know Mariota is less than 100 percent and will challenge the Titans to make a play over the top in the passing game. The Titans need to run the ball consistently to stay out of long passing situations.
The Titans defense cannot afford to fall asleep in the pass game, though, not with Corey Davis making an impact on the outside. Davis has 151 yards receiving this season.
On offense, the Eagles will have to contend with linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who made 12 tackles in last week's win over the Jaguars and has had 35 tackles on the season, with three tackles for loss and a sack, and defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, who has three sacks in three games.
The Eagles counter with one of the stronger defensive front sevens in football, with a defensive line that includes Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata. Their linebacker corps is solid with healthy-again Jordan Hicks patrolling the middle and Nigel Bradham outside.
Defensively, the Titans need to make life uncomfortable for Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who is in just his second game back from a torn ACL. Wentz showed a bit of mobility last week against the Colts, but the Titans would like to keep him confined to the pocket if they can and win the matchups along the front. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, in particular, has been solid with three sacks already.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: S Rodney McLeod (knee), RB Darren Sproles (hamstring)
--QUESTIONABLE: RB Corey Clement (quadricep), LB Nathan Gerry (groin), WR Alshon Jeffery (illness, shoulder)
--OUT: RB David Fluellen (groin), T Dennis Kelly (illness)
--QUESTIONABLE: QB Blaine Gabbert (concussion)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Eagles special teams vs. Titans special teams. The Titans have scored two touchdowns on special teams, which says a lot on a team that has scored only four in three games. Tennessee got a 94-yard kickoff return from Darius Jennings and scored a touchdown on a fake punt. The Eagles have had the best specials teams unit in the league the last three years, but they have been more suspect this season thanks to injuries to special teams standouts Mack Hollins and Chris Maragos. They also let stalwart special teamers Trey Burton leave in free agency and chose not to re-sign Bryan Braman and Najee Goode.
--Titans LT Taylor Lewan vs. Eagles DE Derek Barnett. It's a homecoming for the Eagles' standout pass rusher, who played high school football in the Nashville area and played college ball at the University of Tennessee. Lewan, coming off a concussion for the first time last week, wasn't his usual solid self for parts of last week's game, but got better as the game went on.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery. The large-bodied receiver was cleared for full contact this week for the first time since offseason surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. A determination on whether he plays or how much he plays if he is active probably won't be known until game day, but there is no question Jeffery has the ability to spark an Eagles offense that hasn't really clicked on all cylinders, partly because so many players have been injured.
In his first season with the Eagles last year, Jeffery made 57 catches for 789 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season. In the playoffs, he caught another 12 passes for 219 yards and three scores, including one in the Super Bowl LII triumph over the New England Patriots.
FAST FACTS: EAGLES QB CARSON WENTZ is 3-0 with 6 TDs vs. 1 INT for 99.3 rating in his past 3 vs. AFC. ... RB JAY AJAYI since 2016, ranks 7th in NFL with 2,230 rush yards. ... Rookie TE DALLAS GOEDERT set career-highs in receptions (7) & rec. yards (73) & had 1st-career TD last week. ... TE ZACH ERTZ has 25 receptions for 337 yards (84.3 per game) & TD in his past 4 on road vs. AFC. ... WR NELSON AGHOLOR aims for 3rd in row on road with rec. TD. ... DT FLETCHER COX has 3 sacks in his past 3. ... DE DEREK BARNETT had 1.5 sacks in Week 3. Has 1.5 sacks & 23-yard FR-TD in his past 2 vs. AFC. ... DE BRANDON GRAHAM has 3.5 sacks & FR in his past 5 on road. ... S MALCOLM JENKINS has 15 tackles & 2 PD in 2 career meetings. ... TITANS QB MARCUS MARIOTA has 2,695 pass yards (245 per game) with 22 TDs vs. 6 INTs for 104.9 rating in 11 career games vs. NFC. ... QB BLAINE GABBERT threw TD pass & had 97.3 rating in only career home start with Ten. (9/16/18). ... RB DION LEWIS has 479 scrimmage yards (95.8 per game) & 5 TDs (3 rush, 2 rec.) in his past 5. ... RB DERRICK HENRY has 100+ scrimmage yards & TD in 2 of his past 4 at home. ... WR COREY DAVIS leads team with 13 catches & 151 rec. yards. ... LB WESLEY WOODYARD had 12 tackles, 2 TFL & sack last week. Has 12+ tackles in 2 of past 3. ... DT JURRELL CASEY has 3 sacks & 2 FFs in past 2. Since 2014, has 36.5 sacks, 4th-most among NFL DTs. ... S KEVIN BYARD has 8 PD & 4 INTs in his past 6 at home. Since 2017, ranks 2nd in NFL with 8 INTs. ... DT BENNIE LOGAN had 27 TFL in 4 seasons with Phi. (2013-16).
PREDICTION: This has all the makings of a defensive struggle with Wentz playing his second game and both defenses capable of playing at a high level. Special teams could make the difference.
Our picks, Eagles, 23-16
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (1-2) AT ARIZONA CARDINALS (0-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 PM ET, State Farm Stadium; FOX, Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth, Jennifer Hale (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 39th regular-season meeting. Cardinals lead series, 19-18-1. Before Seattle moved to the NFC in 2002, Arizona won five of the six games between the two teams from 1976 to 1998. Since joining the NFC West, the Seahawks have held the advantage, winning 17 out of 31 games in the series. Road teams have dominated the rivalry in recent years, as the home team hasn't been victorious since the Seahawks beat the Cardinals at CenturyLink Field in November 2014. In 2017, the Seahawks edged the Cardinals in Arizona before losing the regular-season finale at home to miss the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Coming off a much-needed win over the Dallas Cowboys, the Seattle Seahawks will travel to the desert to battle a desperate Arizona Cardinals squad seeking its first victory of the season.
While the Seahawks regained confidence after a dreadful start thanks in large part to an opportunistic defense, the punch-less Cardinals lost another heartbreaker to the Bears and will turn to rookie quarterback Josh Rosen to try and turn their season around.
Rosen, selected out of UCLA with the No. 10 overall pick in April's draft, replaced veteran Sam Bradford late in Sunday's 16-14 defeat. The rookie completed 4 of 7 passes with one interception. With minimal film on Rosen, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll called the highly-touted rookie a "wild card" for this week's upcoming divisional contest.
"He's extraordinarily talented." Carroll told reporters on Monday. "He can throw the ball like crazy, he's a big kid, he can run well enough to be able to move, he's always demonstrated in his younger years terrific accuracy and ability to make big throws and all."
Based on NFLDraftScout.com notes, Rosen offers far more mobility than Bradford and could be effective on rollouts and bootlegs. That should give receivers time to gain some separation, which hasn't been the case most the time this year.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: DE Rasheem Green (ankle), LB K.J. Wright (knee)
--DOUBTFUL: C Ethan Pocic (ankle), RB C.J. Prosise (abdomen)
--QUESTIONABLE: WR Doug Baldwin (knee), RB Chris Carson (hip), S Delano Hill (hamstring), DE Dion Jordan (hip)
--QUESTIONABLE: WR Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring), DT Robert Nkemdiche (knee), DT Corey Peters (elbow), DT Olsen Pierre (toe), T Andre Smith (elbow)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Seahawks G D.J. Fluker vs. Cardinals DT Robert Nkemdiche. Nkemdiche has been a bust since joining Arizona two years ago, failing to record a single sack in 17 games. But something has clicked for the former first-round pick this season, as he cemented a starting role coming out of the preseason and the physically-gifted 296-pound defensive tackle has recorded 10 tackles, 2.0 sacks, and a forced fumble in three games. On the flip side, Fluker may have played his best game in pass protection during his Seahawks debut last week and the 355-pound guard loves to bulldoze opponents as a run blocker. Both he and Nkemdiche failed initially to live up to first-round status, but with both players motivated and currently playing at a high level, this should be one of the most enticing matchups to watch on Sunday.
--Seahawks Ss Earl Thomas and Bradley McDougald vs. Cardinals QB Josh Rosen. Young quarterbacks often struggle with the speed of the NFL game compared to college football, but Rosen has plenty of moxie. He won't easily be rattled, he will bounce up after taking hits. Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. will be searching for ways to ratchet up pressure on the rookie signal-caller, but Seattle's greatest advantage in this game will be its talented safety tandem of Thomas and McDougald.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: SS Bradley McDougald. After losing perennial Pro Bowl S Kam Chancellor to retirement and releasing CB Richard Sherman in the offseason, Seattle's diminished star power in the secondary was supposed to signal the end of the "Legion of Boom." But even with Earl Thomas playing angry over his contract situation, the Seahawks revamped secondary doesn't look much different thanks to McDougald. Replacing Chancellor at the strong safety position, the 27-year-old defender now looks like a bargain after signing a three-year deal in March. He has 17 tackles and two interceptions during the first three weeks.
FAST FACTS: SEAHAWKS QB RUSSELL WILSON has 809 pass yards (269.7 per game) with 8 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 113.3 rating in past 3 vs. Az. Aims for 4th in row vs. Az. with 100+ rating. In 6 career games at Az., has 11 TD passes vs. 1 INT for 102.1 rating. ... RB CHRIS CARSON rushed for career-high 102 yards & TD last week, his 1st-career rush TD & 100-yard game. ... WR TYLER LOCKETT had 77 rec. yards & TD in Week 3. Had 99-yard KR-TD in last meeting. ... S EARL THOMAS had 2 INTs in Week 3, his 2nd-career multi-INT game. ... DE FRANK CLARK had sack last week. Has 6 sacks, 3 FFs & FR in his past 6 on road vs. division. ... LB BOBBY WAGNER has 53 tackles (10.6 per game), 2 sacks, FR & INT in his past 5 on road vs. division. Aims for 3rd in row at Az. with 12+ tackles. ... CARDINALS RB DAVID JOHNSON had TD catch in Week 3. Has 307 scrimmage yards (153.5 per game) & 3 rush TDs in his past 2 meetings. Aims for 3rd in row vs. Sea. with 100+ scrimmage yards. ... WR LARRY FITZGERALD has 36 catches for 375 yards (93.8 per game) & 2 TDs in his past 4 at home vs. division. Has 163 career receptions vs. Sea., tied for his most vs. any opponent (SAN FRANCISCO). Ranks 3rd in NFL history in receptions (1,246) & rec. yards (15,658). ... Rookie WR CHRISTIAN KIRK led team with career-high 7 catches & 90 rec. yards last week. ... DE CHANDLER JONES had sack last week. Has 6 sacks & FF in his past 6 vs. division. ... S TRE BOSTON had INT last week. Has 2 INTs, 4 PD, FF & FR in his past 4. ... S BUDDA BAKER has 10+ tackles in 2 of past 3.
PREDICTION: We are eager to see him play, but Rosen won't be the Chosen One here.
Our pick: Seahawks, 33-17.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-1-1) AT OAKLAND RAIDERS (0-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 PM ET, Oakland-Alameda County Stadium; FOX, Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber, Megan Olivi (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 12-10. The Browns are 3-2 vs. the Raiders since 2009 -- not bad considering they haven't had a winning season since 2007. They won 34 games from 2009-2017. The most historic game between these franchises was actually in a divisional playoff encounter, on a 4-degree Jan. 4, 1981, day in old Cleveland Stadium. With the Browns trailing, 14-12, and the ball on the Raiders' 13-yard line, second-down with less than a minute remaining, head coach Sam Rutigliano called a pass "Red Slot Right, Halfback Stay 88) and told quarterback Brian Sipe to "throw it into Lake Erie" if tight end Ozzie Newsome was not wide open. Sipe threw an interception to safety Mike Davis and the Raiders went on to beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV.
KEYS TO THE GAME: This game features two quarterbacks with something to prove.
For the Browns it is 2018 No. 1 draft pick Baker Mayfield, who came off the bench to end Cleveland's 635-day winless streak with a come-from-behind, 21-17, win over the New York Jets and, not coincidentally, Sam Darnold, the No. 3 draftee many thought should be No. 1.
For the Raiders, sixth-year quarterback Derek Carr is trying to prove he deserves to be called a franchise quarterback after an 0-3 start puts his career record at 28-37 with only one winning season.
Regardless of any strategic overthinking you hear, expect a wild shootout. These two quarterbacks just can't help themselves.
The Jets were caught off guard when Mayfield took over in the first half last Thursday (Sept. 20). The Raiders should be better prepared for Mayfield's quick delivery and ability to throw and run, often at the same time. If the Raiders try dropping an extra defender into coverage, they might get a heavy dose of running back Carlos Hyde. Sometimes it takes Hyde a while to get going, but he is difficult to take down once he finds a rhythm.
The Raiders should help their defense by balancing the offense and keeping it on the field longer by running the ball with Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin.
On defense, the Raiders have been outscored 37-3 in the fourth quarter and hope to add more life to the defensive line rotation with the return of rookie DL P.J. Hall from injury.
Again, remember what we said about overthinking the strategy with these two gunslingers at quarterback.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: LB James Burgess (knee)
--QUESTIONABLE: TE Seth DeValve (hamstring), S Damarious Randall (heel), QB Tyrod Taylor (concussion, back)
--OUT: S Karl Joseph (hamstring)
--QUESTIONABLE: DT P.J. Hall (ankle), CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (hamstring)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Browns WR Jarvis Landry vs. Raiders CB Rashaan Melvin. Landry already has 20 catches for 278 yards. He is still looking for his first touchdown with the Browns. Landry is the first player quarterback Baker Mayfield will look toward in a pinch.
--Raiders rookie LT Kolton Miller vs. Browns versatile edge rusher Myles Garrett. Miller faced the most talented defensive line against the Rams in Week 1, then Denver's Von Miller in Week 2 and now he will try to shut down Garrett, a hyperactive beast who is tied for the NFL lead with four sacks.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Raiders K Matt McCrane. He gets the nod over rookie DT P.J. Hall returning or T Donald Penn, if he escapes concussion protocol. McCrane is a virgin in NFL regular-season games. He was 4-for-4 in preseason with Arizona and at Kansas State had field goals of 53 and 54 yards. He practiced at the Coliseum, where the field still includes a dirt baseball infield for the A's. "I'm from Texas, originally, West Texas, so I've kicked off dirt before," said McCrane who converted 86.4 percent of his field-goal attempts (57-for-66) at Kansas State.
FAST FACTS: BROWNS QB BAKER MAYFIELD (rookie) will make 1st-career start. Completed 17 of 23 (73.9 pct.) for 201 yards & 100.1 rating & caught 2-pt. conversion in NFL debut last week. Became 1st No. 1 overall pick to complete 70+ pct. of his passes (min. 15 att.) in 1st career game. ... RB CARLOS HYDE rushed for 98 yards & 2 TDs in Week 3. Has 7 rush TDs in his past 5. ... RB DUKE JOHNSON JR. had 6 catches in last meeting. Has 193 catches since 2015, 2nd-most among NFL RBs. ... WR JARVIS LANDRY had 8 catches for 103 yards last week. Has 5+ catches in 20 consecutive games, tied for 2nd-longest streak in NFL history. ... WR ANTONIO CALLAWAY is 1 of 4 rookies with 100+ rec. yards & TD catch this season. ... DE MYLES GARRETT had 2 sacks & PD last week. Tied for NFL lead with 4 sacks. ... LB JOE SCHOBERT had INT & 2 PD in Week 3. ... DT LARRY OGUNJOBI tied for 2nd among NFL DTs with 5 TFL. ... RAIDERS QB DEREK CARR completed 27 of 39 (69.2 pct.) for 345 yards with TD last week. Passed for 314 yards with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 115.9 rating in last meeting. Leads AFC with 76.6 comp. pct. (85 of 111) & ranks 2nd in conference with 936 pass yards. ... RB MARSHAWN LYNCH had rush TD last week. ... WR AMARI COOPER had 8 catches for 134 yards in last meeting. ... TE JARED COOK leads NFL TEs with 260 yards receiving. ... WR JORDY NELSON caught 6 passes for 173 yards & TD last week. ... DE BRUCE IRVIN has 4 sacks & 3 FFs in past 4 at home. ... S REGGIE NELSON has 6 PD & 2 INTs in past 5 vs. Cle. ... CB DOMINIQUE RODGERS-CROMARTIE had 2 INTs & 4 PD in 9/9/12 meeting (with Phi.). ... LB TAHIR WHITEHEAD had 8 tackles, TFL & PD in his last game vs. Cle. (11/12/17 with Det.). ... LB DERRICK JOHNSON has 2+ TFL in 2 of his past 3 vs. Cle.
PREDICTION: There is a huge difference between these two quarterbacks. Mayfield certainly hopes to win in his very first NFL start, to begin his legacy on a good note. Carr must win this game to prevent his legacy from sliding further downhill. The deciding factor may be which quarterback plays with the most poise.
Our pick: Raiders, 28-25
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (1-2) AT LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (1-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, StubHub Center; CBS, Andrew Catalon, James Lofton
SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Chargers lead series, 7-6. 14th regular-season meeting. Chargers lead series, 7-6. In their last matchup in 2014, the Chargers stormed back from a 21-point deficit to beat the 49ers 38-35 victory in overtime. That tied a Chargers record for their biggest rally in franchise history. It also marked the Chargers' fourth straight win over the 49ers. Of course, the 49ers pummeled the Chargers in the Chargers' lone Super Bowl appearance to cap the 1994 season, 49-26.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Respond to adversity. That will be the battle cry both offensively and defensively for the 49ers against the Chargers, with the 49ers having lost their best player on both sides of the ball. It's no time to turn conservative, with the Chargers a far better team offensively than defensively. With WR Marquise Goodwin having returned to the lineup and TE George Kittle emerging into a highly productive player, new QB C.J. Beathard has the tools with which to attack a Los Angeles defense that's strong neither against the run nor pass.
Meanwhile, it would behoove the 49ers to improve upon the seven total sacks they've recorded in their first three games. With a healthy corps of linebackers primed to deal with Chargers standout RB Melvin Gordon, it's up to the defensive line to pressure QB Philip Rivers into quick decisions against a secondary that was weak even before star DB Richard Sherman got injured.
Although the Chargers are going to be without Pro Bowl defense end Joey Bosa (foot), they will still give their best effort to get after Beathard. If the Chargers can win the field position game but getting some yardage-eating sacks against a skittish Beathard, it makes their offense even that much potent. The Chargers are led, no doubt, by their offense but Sunday presents a great opportunity for a defense that has been so-so to make a statement.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
--OUT: G Joshua Garnett (toe), CB Richard Sherman (calf)
--DOUBTFUL: S Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder)
--QUESTIONABLE: RB Matt Breida (knee), S Adrian Colbert (hip), RB Alfred Morris (knee)
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
--OUT: T Joe Barksdale (knee), DE Joey Bosa (foot), LB Kyzir White (knee)
--QUESTIONABLE: WR Keenan Allen (knee, tooth), WR Travis Benjamin (foot)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--49ers WR Pierre Garcon vs. Chargers DB Trevor Williams. For whatever reason, Garcon was far more a factor with QBs Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard behind center last season than with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm this year. Beathard would be wise to rekindle that relationship against a Chargers defense that's already allowed 583 yards and seven touchdowns to wideouts this season.
--49ers MLB Fred Warner vs. Chargers RB Melvin Gordon. The key to the game could be the ability of the San Francisco linebackers to stall the Los Angeles running game, making the Chargers one-dimensional. Warner has been so good in his first three games that the 49ers returned star OLB Reuben Foster as an outside linebacker in his season debut last week. The 49ers have been strong against the run so far, but they haven't encountered a talent quite like Gordon yet.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: 49ers QB C.J. Beathard. Most observers are expecting the 49ers to suffer dire consequences as a result of the season-ending injury suffered by QB Jimmy Garoppolo. But at least Beathard has experience in the Kyle Shanahan offense, having thrown for 1,430 yards in six games (five starts) last season.
FAST FACTS: 49ERS QB C.J. BEATHARD passed for 1,430 yards with 4 TDs & added 3 rush TDs in 6 games in 2017. ... RB MATT BREIDA had 117 scrimmage yards (90 rush, 27 rec.) last week. Aims for 3rd in row with 100+ scrimmage yards. Ties for NFL lead (EZEKIEL ELLIOTT) with 274 rush yards in 2018. ... RB ALFRED MORRIS rushed for 67 yards & TD in Week 3. Since entering league in 2012, ranks 5th in NFL with 5,656 rush yards. ... FB KYLE JUSZCZYK had 35-yard TD catch last week, his 7th-career rec. TD. ... WR MARQUISE GOODWIN had TD catch in Week 3. Since 2017, ranks 3rd in NFL with 16.8 yards per catch avg. (min. 50 receptions). ... DL DeFOREST BUCKNER has 3.5 sacks in his past 3. Has 3.5 sacks in past 4 on road. Ranks 3rd in NFC with 3.5 sacks in 2018. ... Rookie LB FRED WARNER led team with 11 tackles last week. ... DL ARIK ARMSTEAD had sack in Week 3. Aims for 5th in row with TFL. ... CHARGERS QB PHILIP RIVERS passed for 2 TDs & had 105.7 rating last week. Has 1,293 pass yards (323.3 per game) with 11 TDs vs. 1 INT for 120.8 rating in past 4. Ranks 9th in NFL history with 51,254 pass yards & needs 222 to pass HOFer JOHN ELWAY (51,475) for 8th-most in NFL history. ... RB MELVIN GORDON had 80 rush yards & TD last week. Has 4 TDs (2 rush, 2 rec.) in past 2. ... RB AUSTIN EKELER has 295 scrimmage yards (98.3 per game) with TD catch in past 3. Gordon (316) & Ekeler (295) are only pair of RB teammates with 250+ scrimmage yards each in 2018. ... WR KEENAN ALLEN has 616 rec. yards (123.2 per game) & 5 TD catches in his past 5 at home. ... WR MIKE WILLIAMS had 81 rec. yards & 2 TDs in Week 3, his 1st-career multi-TD game. ... DE MELVIN INGRAM has 5 TFL & 2.5 sacks in past 4 vs. NFC. ... Rookie S DERWIN JAMES had 1st-career INT last week. Is 1 of 4 in NFL (BUD DUPREE, KHALIL MACK & HARRISON SMITH) with 2+ sacks (2) & INT (1) in 2018.
PREDICTION: The StubHub Center isn't much of a home-field advantage for the Chargers, with Sunday expected to have many 49ers fans present. How the 49ers react to the loss of Garoppolo is difficult to gauge, but the reality is the 49ers are seemingly to flawed a team to find a way to win.
Our pick: Chargers, 27-17
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (2-1) AT NEW YORK GIANTS (1-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 PM ET, MetLife Stadium; CBS, Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 30th regular-season meeting. Giants lead series, 16-13. The Saints have won four out of the last six meetings between the two clubs dating back to 2005. The winning team over this time period has scored at least 27 points in all but one of the games, that being the last time these two clubs met (in 2016 at MetLife Stadium), when the Giants won 16-13. The Giants have a 12-4 edge at home. The Saints last victory was a 52-49 shootout three years ago in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Saints running game is still among the least productive in the NFL (28th), but it improved last week. They would like to continue that improvement and create even better balance on offense. They're content to continue to throw to Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara as much as necessary to win, but ideally, they would like to be able to run the ball more effectively and lessen the burden on Drew Brees, Kamara and Thomas.
Head coach Sean Payton would like to see his defense create more turnovers because they have just one through three games. Their chances of doing so will increase if they can contain Saquon Barkley, put the Giants in obvious passing situations and pressure Eli Manning. The problem with that is their pass defense has been so vulnerable that opponents have been able to throw and throw and throw and have success without having to run the ball extensively. So New Orleans needs to show it can slow down the New York passing game and pressure Manning from the start.
The Giants must zoom in on Brees, the brains of the operation who gets the ball out of his hands so quickly that a pass rush is barely effective. Brees is currently tied for seventh in the league in the number of successful deep passes of 20 or more yards thrown with 13. If the Giants can get a healthy Eli Apple back this week, that would be a big boost to their defensive secondary.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
--OUT: LB Manti Te'o (knee)
--QUESTIONABLE: DE Marcus Davenport (hip)
NEW YORK GIANTS
--OUT: CB Eli Apple (groin), TE Evan Engram (knee), WR Cody Latimer (knee), RB Jonathan Stewart (foot), DE Olivier Vernon (ankle)
--QUESTIONABLE: WR Stacy Coley (hamstring), CB Antonio Hamilton (groin)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Saints WR CB Marshon Lattimore vs. Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. The Saints pass defense has been a weakness through three games and Beckham is capable of further exploiting that. Though Lattimore hasn't been as consistent as he was in being named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, he has been by far the Saints' most dependable cornerback thus far. They'll count on him to contain Beckham, New York's most explosive receiver.
--Saints DE Cameron Jordan vs. Giants RT Chad Wheeler. Wheeler was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Ereck Flowers last Sunday against Houston and struggled against DE J.J. Watt. This week, Wheeler gets another significant challenge against Jordan, another of the better ends in the NFL. If the Saints are going to improve their poor pass defense they're going to need a strong pass rush and Jordan is the player most capable of providing that.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Giants WR Sterling Shepard. Through three games, Shepard has recorded 14 receptions for 152 yards and a touchdown, slightly behind his 2017 start in which he had 16 receptions for 200 yards after three games. With tight end Evan Engram expected to miss at least two weeks of action, Shepard has a chance to cash in even more as the coaching staff continues to give him opportunities both in the slot and on the outside.
FAST FACTS: SAINTS QB DREW BREES completed 39 of 49 (79.6 pct.) for 396 yards & 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 120.7 rating & rushed for 2 TDs last week. Has 6,326 career completions & surpassed HOFer BRETT FAVRE (6,300) for most in NFL history. ... RB ALVIN KAMARA had 190 scrimmage yards (124 rec., 66 rush) last week. Had 15 catches in Week 3, tied for 2nd-most by RB in single game in NFL history. ... WR MICHAEL THOMAS had 10 catches for 129 yards last week. Has 38 receptions in 2018, most by player in his team's 1st 3 games of season in NFL history. ... WR CAMERON MEREDITH had TD catch in Week 3 in NO Debut. ... DE CAMERON JORDAN had 2 sacks last week & aims for 3rd in row with 2+ sacks. Since 2015, ranks 4th in NFL with 34.5 sacks. ... Rookie DE MARCUS DAVENPORT had 1st-career sack in Week 3. ... GIANTS QB ELI MANNING completed 25 of 29 (86.2 pct.) for 297 yards with 2 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 132.3 rating in Week 3. In his past 4 vs. NO, has 1,383 pass yards (345.8 per game), 12 TDs & 3 INTs for 113.4 rating. ... RB SAQUON BARKLEY (rookie) had 117 scrimmage yards (82 rush, 35 rec.) & rush TD last week. Aims for 4th in row with 100+ scrimmage yards. ... WR ODELL BECKHAM JR. led team with 9 receptions for 109 yards in Week 3. Has 21 games with 100+ rec. yards in 50 career games, tied with HOFer LANCE ALWORTH for most by player in his 1st 50 career games. ... S LANDON COLLINS since entering league in 2015, leads NFL safeties with 348 tackles. ... Rookie LB LORENZO CARTER had 1st-career sack in Week 3. ... CB JANORIS JENKINS aims for his 3rd in row at home with INT. ... DE KERRY WYNN had 5 tackles & FF in Week 3.
PREDICTION: The Giants' offense started to come alive at Houston last week, and now they return home to face the explosive Saints. An upset out of the question, but it's difficult to imagine the Giants slowing the Saints down enough to win.
Our pick: Saints, 30-23
BALTIMORE RAVENS (2-1) AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS (1-1-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:20 PM ET, Heinz Field; NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 45th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 24-20. The Steelers have won the last three meetings after losing four straight. The Steelers won the most recent meeting, 39-38, last December at Heinz Field. Five of the last six games have been decided by seven points or fewer. The Steelers and Ravens met four times in the playoffs, with the Steelers owning a 3-1 edge in postseason games.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Put the ball in Ben Roethlisberger's hands and let him try to win the game. That's the best chance for the Steelers to beat the Ravens. Roethlisberger has thrown an NFL-high 139 passes so far this season, and that's not expected to change as long as Le'Veon Bell remains away from the team. Roethlisberger has enjoyed success against the Ravens the last couple of seasons. Last year at Heinz Field, he threw for 506 yards and two touchdowns in a 39-38 win. Roethlisberger would like to have a more consistent running game. James Conner and the offensive line were able to run out the clock against the Buccaneers at the end of the game. However, Roethlisberger has proven he doesn't need a running game to win games.
On defense, the Steelers have to find a way to play better pass defense. They have allowed 288 passing yards per game and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will test the struggling secondary. The Ravens have a bunch of new faces in their receiving corps so the Steelers must get an early handle on how to defend John Brown and Michael Crabtree, both of whom have had their moments early in the season.
The Steelers need to do a better job against the run than they have in recent meetings against the Ravens. Last year, in the 39-38 game at Heinz Field, the Ravens rushed for 152 yards and kept the defense off balance all game.
Meanwhile, the Ravens have scored a record 12 touchdowns in 12 trips inside the red zone -- six through the air and six on the ground. Quarterback Joe Flacco is playing the best football of his career and is on pace to pass for more than 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns.
The Ravens entered the week with the league's No. 1 ranked defense. Baltimore is also fifth with nine sacks.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
--OUT: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), DT Willie Henry (abdomen)
--QUESTIONABLE: CB Brandon Carr (knee), TE Hayden Hurst (foot), S Anthony Levine (hamstring), LB C.J. Mosley (knee), DT Michael Pierce (foot), T Ronnie Stanley (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (knee)
--DOUBTFUL: S Morgan Burnett (groin), CB Mike Hilton (elbow)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Ravens CB Marlon Humphrey vs. Steelers WR Antonio Brown. Brown made headlines when he got into a sideline argument with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner during a game against Kansas City. However, the Pro-Bowl receiver appears to have moved past the drama and had a solid game the following week against Tampa Bay with six receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown. Brown has also traditionally put up big numbers against Baltimore. Humphrey, a second-year player from Alabama, was thrust into the starting lineup with the suspension of Jimmy Smith. He will be challenged to contain the dynamic Brown and could use some support from the safeties.
--Ravens C Matt Skura and RG Marshal Yanda vs. Steelers DE Cameron Heyward. Heyward has been dominant against the Ravens and will be a disruptive force again Sunday night. Despite dealing with an early knee injury, Heyward has been a main cog in the Steelers' defense. Skura and Yanda will both have to contain Heyward from getting into the backfield and pressuring quarterback Joe Flacco. However, the Ravens also have to be wary of linebacker T.J. Watt, who leads the team with three sacks.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Ravens LB Kenny Young. With C.J. Mosley out with a knee injury, the rookie stepped into the starting lineup against Denver and had a dominant game. He finished with a team-high 10 tackles and had several hard hits. Young, a fourth-round pick from UCLA, also has been solid in pass coverage and is playing with confidence.
Steelers TE Vance McDonald is healthy, and the Steelers have another weapon for their offense. McDonald missed the opener against Cleveland with a foot injury, but he has seven receptions for 138 yards over the last two games, including 112 yards and a touchdown in the 30-27 victory over the Buccaneers. The Steelers like the big-play ability McDonald provides -- he had a 75-yard touchdown in Tampa Bay -- so look for offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner to continue to find ways to get the ball in his hands, especially with opposing defensive coordinators focused on double- and triple-teaming All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown.
FAST FACTS: RAVENS QB JOE FLACCO passed for 277 yards & TD for 91.4 rating last week. Has 2+ pass TDs in 3 of past 4 vs. division. Ranks 5th in AFC with 889 pass yards. ... RB ALEX COLLINS rushed for 68 yards & TD last week. Aims for 3rd in row vs. Pit. with 80+ rush yards. ... RB JAVORIUS ALLEN had rush TD & TD catch last week. Aims for 4th in row with rush TD. ... WR MICHAEL CRABTREE since 2015, tied for 4th among NFL players with 26 TD catches. ... WR JOHN BROWN aims for 3rd in row with 85+ rec. yards. ... LB C.J. MOSLEY led team with 14 tackles in last meeting. Has 34 tackles (11.3 per game), 3 TFL, FF & INT in past 3 meetings. ... LB TERRELL SUGGS had 1.5 sacks & FF last week. Has 128 career sacks with Bal., 5th-most by player with single team since 1982. ... STEELERS QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER completed 30 of 38 (78.9 pct) for 353 yards with 3 TDs vs. 1 INT for 120.7 rating last week. Aims for 3rd in row with 350+ pass yards & 100+ rating. Has 5,171 pass yards & 34 pass TDs in 21 career meetings, both most by any player vs. Bal. Ranks 2nd in NFL with 1,140 pass yards & 3rd with 92 completions. ... RB JAMES CONNER had 95 scrimmage yards (61 rush, 34 rec.) last week. Has 3 rush TDs in past 3. ... WR ANTONIO BROWN had TD catch in Week 3. Had 11 catches for 213 yards in last meeting. ... WR JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER led team with 9 catches & 116 rec. yards last week. Aims for 5th in row with 100+ rec. yards. ... DT CAMERON HEYWARD has 3 sacks, 2 FFs & FR in his past 5 meetings. ... LB BUD DUPREE had sack & INT-TD last week. ... LB T.J. WATT had sack & FF in last meeting. In 7 career games vs. division, has 11 TFL, 8 sacks, INT & FF.
PREDICTION: Some say it will be another defensive struggle, other claim it could be high scoring. Whatever happens, it will probably be close in one of the best divisional rivalries in the NFL.
Our pick: Steelers, 23-21
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (3-0) AT DENVER BRONCOS (2-1)
KICKOFF: Monday, 8:15 PM ET; Broncos Stadium at Mile High; ESPN, Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, Booger McFarland, Lisa Salters (Field reporter)
SERIES HISTORY: 116th regular-season meeting. Chiefs lead series, 61-54. The Chiefs have won their last five games against Denver, including three straight on the road. The Chiefs hold a 17-1 record against AFC West opponents, a stretch that began with 29-13 win at Denver in 2015. The most recent game was on Dec. 31, 2017 (the final game of the season), in which quarterback Patrick Mahomes drove the Chiefs to a game-winning field goal in the late going in his first career start.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chiefs have a simple offensive game plan each week - score early and score often. The Chiefs hope to have to deploy a more consistent offensive attack against Denver after scoring five touchdowns in the first half last week against San Francisco but mustering just three points in the second half. Look for quarterback Patrick Mahomes to attack all parts of the field with his array of targets. The Chiefs will look to use Denver's defensive aggression against them with a lot of misdirection and use of the screen passing game.
Kansas City wants to see its defense end the game as quickly as they start them. The Chiefs jumped out to quick leads in each of their three wins, outscoring opponents 49-6 in the first quarter. But the opposition has the advantage after that, outpacing the Chiefs 86-69 after the first quarter. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton wants the back end of his defense to tighten up, and success in the secondary depends on a strong pass rush led by linebacker Justin Houston.
The Broncos will try and control the game on the ground, which would effectively take the ball out of Mahomes' hands.
(No Friday injury report for Monday night games)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Broncos LB Von Miller vs. Chiefs RT Mitchell Schwartz. Schwartz has had good success against Miller in the past, and hasn't allowed a sack to Miller during the last three matchups. Miller shares the league-lead with four sacks entering Week 4.
--Chiefs CB Kendall Fuller vs. Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos have lost five straight games against the Chiefs and Sanders missed three of those. Sanders has roasted the Chiefs a few times in recent seasons including a seven-catch, 162-yard performance in his last game against the Chiefs in Week 11 of 2016. Fuller should draw most of the matchups against Sanders out of the slot, where the receiver has done most of his damage against the Chiefs.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Broncos RB Phillip Lindsay. Lindsay has made a notable impact in his first three career games in more ways than one. The undrafted free agent out of Colorado was ejected for throwing a punch in a first-quarter scrum over a loose ball last Sunday. A key contributor and catalyst in both of Denver's two wins to start the season, his absence was felt in the team's first loss of the season at Baltimore as the Broncos' offense stalled repeatedly against the Ravens. Baltimore scored 20 straight points to finish the game after trailing 14-7 early on. Lindsay is averaging 6.0 yards on 33 carries with a long of 53 yards. He has three catches for 35 yards and a touchdown.
FAST FACTS: CHIEFS are 3rd team in NFL history to score 38+ points in each of team's 1st 3 games of season (2007 New England Patriots & 1967 Baltimore Colts). ... QB PATRICK MAHOMES completed 24 of 38 (63.2 pct.) for 314 yards with 3 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 115.5 rating last week. Has 13 TD passes through Week 3, most in NFL history by QB in team's 1st 3 games of season. Leads NFL with 13 TD passes & 137.4 rating. ... RB KAREEM HUNT rushed for 2 TDs in Week 3. Since entering league in 2017, has 4 multi-TD games, tied for 3rd most in league. In 7 career games vs. division, has 796 scrimmage yards (113.7 per game) & 5 TDs (4 rush, 1 rec.). Since 2017, ranks 2nd in NFL with 1,495 rush yards & 3rd with 1,955 scrimmage yards. ... WR TYREEK HILL has 2 rush TDs, TD catch & KR-TD in 3 career games vs. Den. ... TE TRAVIS KELCE had 8 catches for 114 yards last week. Aims for 3rd in row with 100+ rec. yards. ... LB JUSTIN HOUSTON had 2 sacks & 2 FFs in Week 3. Has 10 sacks & 13 TFL in his past 5 vs. Den. ... BRONCOS QB CASE KEENUM since 2017, is 1 of 6 NFL QBs with 4,000+ pass yards (4,290), 25+ TD passes (25) & 65+ comp. pct. (66.4). ... RB ROYCE FREEMAN (rookie) had rush TD last week. Aims for 3rd in row with TD. ... Rookie RB PHILLIP LINDSAY & Freeman (157) are only pair of rookie teammates with 150+ scrimmage yards each in 2018. ... WR EMMANUEL SANDERS has 3 TD catches in his past 4 vs. KC. ... WR DEMARYIUS THOMAS has TD catch in 5 of his past 6 at home. Since 2012, ranks 2nd in NFL with 591 catches, 3rd with 7,963 rec. yards & 5th with 52 TD catches. ... LB VON MILLER has 4 sacks & 2 FFs in past 3. Has 8 sacks & 11 TFL in past 8 vs. KC. Since entering league in 2011, leads NFL with 87.5 sacks & ranks 2nd with 115 TFL. ... Rookie LB BRADLEY CHUBB had sack last week. Is tied for 3rd among rookies with 1.5 sacks.
PREDICTION: The Chiefs train keeps rolling, even at a Mile High.
Our Pick, Chiefs, 31-24