Why We Watch: Big D better stand for Defense with Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys are unbeaten. So is Atlanta. One difference: Atlanta has Matt Ryan and Julio Jones; the Cowboys don't have Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. So how does Dallas survive? Find out in this weekend's preview and discover whom our writers think are the best choices for upsets.

Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons
Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons

(Matt Ryan photo courtesy of Atlanta Falcons)

(Julio Jones photo courtesy of Atlanta Falcons)



The line: Falcons by 2

The story: The Falcons’ NFC East tour moves on to Dallas, where Big D stands for defense … which is what the Cowboys need to withstand the loss of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Brandon Weeden makes his second career start for Dallas, and, yeah, OK, so he was 7-for-7 last week in relief of Romo, including a game-clinching TD pass. He’s also 5-16 as a starter, and the Cowboys are 6-9 without Romo since he took over in 2006. The Cowboys have no illusions about Weeden, which is why they acquired Matt Cassel. They have no illusions about tight end Jason Witten, either. He’s hurt, too, but is expected to play despite sprained ankles and a sprained knee. Dallas is crippled. Atlanta is not. In fact, the Falcons are feeling pretty good about themselves, and that confidence is reflected by oddsmakers, who wonder who’s going to stop Julio Jones. Someone? Anyone?

Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Cowboys won their last 10 regular-season road games but are only 27-22 at home during the regular season since AT&T Stadium opened.



(John Harbaugh photo courtesy of Baltimore Ravens)


The line: Ravens by 2-1/2

The story: It’s sink-or-swim time for the Ravens, 0-2 for the first time under John Harbaugh. And, for the first time, in need of a tourniquet on defense. Something … or someone … has to stop the bleeding. I mean, if the Raiders shred them for a gazillion yards, what do you think happens with Andy Dalton and the Bengals? Both typically start fast, and Dalton won four of his last five vs. Baltimore. Only one problem: The game is in Baltimore, and the Ravens seldom lose here under Harbaugh (they’re 16-5 at home vs. the AFC North under Harbaugh). Plus, there’s Joe Flacco. He’s 13-1 at home during September. Nevertheless, Harbaugh is taking no chances. He sent out an early distress signal this week when he called the Bengals the most talented team in the league, hoping to get the attention of a team in need of a wake-up call … or a game at home. Remember, there are three certainties in Charm City: Unitas, crab cakes and the Ravens at home.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: In their 19 seasons prior to this year, the Ravens never have opened 0-3. Moreover, they won eight of their last nine home openers.


The line: Jets by 2-1/2

The story: Chip Kelly says his plays aren’t too predictable; it’s the execution of them that stinks. I don’t know about that. What l do know is that he has a team that is downright inept, and that better change … or Chip can start drawing up plays for the Bucks County Playhouse. Now, along comes the perfect storm, and fasten your seat belts, Chip. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. The Jets not only are unbeaten; they have a league-high 10 takeaways in two weeks and devour struggling quarterbacks. But there’s more: In the Eagles they meet an opponent that can’t find the end zone with a divining rod. Sam Bradford looks confused; DeMarco Murray is hurt. No, he’s frustrated. No, he’s both. And the offensive line is a sieve. Add the loss of linebacker Kiko Alonso, and you have a train wreck waiting to happen.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: The Eagles haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in any of their last 14 games and only one in their last 26 (including the playoffs).


The line: Steelers by 1

The story: No sooner do the Steelers get Le’Veon Bell back from suspension than linebacker Ryan Shazier, who almost shut down San Francisco by himself last week, shows up on the injury report with a sore shoulder. It’s always something in Pittsburgh, and that something right now is Ben Roethlisberger. He not only has more passing yards than everyone not named Tom Brady but, with one more victory (108 for his career), he becomes the winningest quarterback in franchise history. Warning: It won’t be easy. St. Louis brings the heat, with eight sacks in two games, and is a tough out at home. Plus, the Steelers may not be the only team getting a key player back; rookie Todd Gurley is expected to make his pro debut here.

Hall of Fame worthy: Antonio Brown has seven or more catches in a league-best 13 consecutive games.


Aaron Rodgers photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers

(Aaron Rodgers photo courtesy of Green Bay Packers)


The line: Packers by 6-1/2

The story: Let’s make this simple: It’s not just that nobody beats Aaron Rodgers at home; it’s that nobody bothers the guy. And I mean nobody. Over his last 18 games (including the playoffs) at Lambeau, Rodgers has 43 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. That’s right. Zilch. And that streak includes a run of 545 straight passes, not to mention a 16-2 record, with Rodgers last throwing an interception at Lambeau on Dec. 2, 2012. Astonishing? You bet. And it’s just another reason to believe in the Packers, sans Jordy Nelson.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: In two career games vs. Green Bay, the Chiefs’ Tamba Hali has seven tackles (including six solos), 3.5 sacks, three pressures and two forced fumbles.


Clark Judge. Buffalo (+3) over Miami. First, the Fins lose to Jacksonville. Jacksonville. Now, there's grumbling about Ndamukong Suh, and that's after two games. It's starting to get uncomfortable in South Florida, people. So I'll take the better defense and hope Tyrod Taylor doesn't get sacked eight times.

Rick Gosselin. Detroit (+3) over Denver. After an 0-2 start, with both losses on the road, the Lions are anxious to get back home and prove that they are indeed a playoff contender and a far better defense than their No. 30 ranking would indicate. The Lions finished second in the NFL in defense a year ago and are anxious to play a Peyton Manning offense that has been devoid of the big play.

Ron Borges. Oakland (+3-1/2) over Cleveland. One team has a quarterback. The other may have a quarterback on the bench, but they don't have one under center.



(Marshawn Lynch photo courtesy of Seattle Seahawks)

SEATTLE over CHICAGO, 4:25 p.m. (EDT)

The line: Seahawks by 14-1/2

The story: Both teams are 0-2, but there’s a difference. One is home where it doesn’t lose, and the other is without its starting quarterback ... and its best receiver. Check, please. I don’t know what’s worse for Chicago: Trying to win with Jimmy Clausen or trying to win in Seattle where the Seahawks are angry and overdue. Both add up to the same thing: Deep kimchi. Seattle is the best of the 0-2 teams, especially now that holdout safety Kam Chancellor returned. While he may not play, his addition does give the Seahawks a lift ... as if they'll need one Sunday. Remember, Russell Wilson is 26-2 at home (including the playoffs), with a 98.7 rating. Look for those numbers to swell with the arrival of the Bears.

Hall-of-Fame worthy: Since 2005, there have been more false-start penalties (137) in Seattle than in any other NFL stadium.



One of the most memorable moments at this year’s Hall-of-Fame induction was former Minnesota quarterback Frank Tarkenton’s presentation of center Mick Tingelhoff. Tingelhoff, who waited over three decades to get to Canton, will be honored during a ceremony during the Chargers-Vikings game. But that’s not all. The Green Bay Packers will salute several of their Hall of Famers -- including Jim Taylor, Willie Davis, Paul Hornung, Dave Robinson and Forrest Gregg -- during their Monday Night game with Kansas City, and former Arizona safety Adrian Wilson will be inducted into the Cards’ Ring of Fame during halftime of the 49ers-Cards contest.


Cincinnati WR A.J. Green. He’s aiming for his fourth straight game vs. Baltimore with a touchdown catch.

Minnesota QB Teddy Bridgewater. He won his last four at home, with an 111.5 passer rating, six throwing touchdowns and one rushing score.

New England QB Tom Brady. He’s 6-0 vs. Jacksonville (including the playoffs), with 15 TDs, 2 interceptions and a 113.9 passer rating.

Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck. He’s 6-0 vs. Tennessee.

Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch. He has 16 rushing touchdowns in his last 13 games at home.


1. Since the current playoff format began in 1990, 24 teams that started 0-2 went to the playoffs, including last year’s Indianapolis Colts.

2. Arizona has scored touchdowns on all seven red-zone possessions.

3. In the first two weeks there have been six games where the winning points were scored in the last 75 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime.

4. The Browns’ Travis Benjamin is the first player since Jim Brown (1963) to score four touchdowns of 50-plus yards in of the season’s first two games.

5. Three first-year head coaches – Todd Bowles, Dan Quinn and Gary Kubiak – are favored to move to 3-0 this weekend. If that happens, it would mark the first time since 2009 three rookie coaches each won their first three games.

6. Through the first two weeks, quarterbacks completed 64.9 percent of their passes – the highest percentage through Week 2 in NFL history. The previous high of 63.5 was set last year.

7. With 233 passing yards vs. St. Louis, the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger becomes only the fifth active quarterback in the NFL with 40,000 yards passing. The others? Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Eli Manning.

8. Tight ends have caught 36 touchdown passes, the most through the first two weeks in league history.

9. Since 2009, the 49ers allowed an average of 89.9 rushing yards per game by division opponents.

10. Denver’s Emmanuel Sanders has turned an NFL-best 10 third-down catches into firsts.