Week 3 is where teams begin to separate from one another.
Right now, few teams truly standout in the NFL, and some clarity will come from this next slate of contests.
Do the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans keep rolling? Can the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys get back on track?
What about the surprising 2-0 Arizona Cardinals?
In other words, as we get closer to October, expect 2012's contenders to gradually create more distance from the pretenders.
NY Giants at Carolina
The Giants snuck out of Week 2 with a win, but the shortened week plays against them. Per Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News:
On Wednesday the depleted Giants flew to Carolina without running back Ahmad Bradshaw, receiver Domenik Hixon, right tackle David Diehl and, in a bit of a shocker, without receiver Hakeem Nicks. They all will miss the game against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night
With that, Carolina enters with better playmakers and its improved defense takes advantage.
Panthers over Giants
St. Louis at Chicago
Despite St. Louis upgrading defensively, the Bears still present the better defense and more explosive offense. Not to mention Chicago is tough to beat at Soldier Field.
Bears over Rams
Buffalo at Cleveland
In recent matchups the Bills and Browns have been a defensive slug fest. That all changes in 2012 as each team is better offensively and has been inconsistent on defense through two weeks. That said, Buffalo has the better offensive line and ground game.
Bills over Browns
Tampa Bay at Dallas
Each offense can run the ball effectively, so Buccaneers-Cowboys will come down to which defense can win in the trenches. Well, Dallas has the more experienced defensive front and wins the line of scrimmage.
Cowboys over Buccaneers
NY Jets at Miami
An interesting matchup between the Dolphins and Jets will be determined by the stronger passing game. Neither presents explosiveness downfield, so it comes down to the running game setting up the pass. In this case, Miami's athleticism is a big advantage.
Dolphins over Jets
San Francisco at Minnesota
Pass defense will be the difference for San Francisco and Minnesota. The offenses have the ability to run the rock quite effectively, so the passing game will get set up. Well, the stronger coverage assists the pass rush and the 'Niners field the better overall defense.
49ers over Vikings
Kansas City at New Orleans
Neither team has fared well defensively through two games, therefore, it's up to the offenses for the Week 3 win. Kansas City is more of a run-oriented offense but has lacked thus far in 2012. On the flip side, New Orleans can attack multiple ways on the ground and its passing attack is far superior.
Saints over Chiefs
Cincinnati at Washington
Here, we see two offenses with different ways of exploding over any defense. Washington obviously is more potent with Robert Griffin III, but Cincinnati has receiver A.J. Green. In a close game, this will come down to a quarterback's decision-making and the Redskins possess a slight edge.
Redskins over Bengals
Detroit at Tennessee
Arguably the biggest mismatch of Week 3, the Detroit Lions have the dominant offense to rack up tons of points over the Tennessee Titans. Unless Chris Johnson gets going on the ground, the Music City doesn't have a chance against the Motor City.
Lions over Titans
Jacksonville at Indianapolis
The Jaguars and Colts are an intriguing matchup this early. Each of the offenses are well-balanced and the defenses have playmakers to force turnovers and get sacks. Also, according to John Oehser of the Jaguars' official website:
#jaguars Mularkey said he expects Gabbert to play Sunday.— John Oehser (@JohnOehser) September 17, 2012
So the major difference: Andrew Luck or Blaine Gabbert?
Colts over Jaguars
Philadelphia at Arizona
A matchup of 2-0 squads, the Cardinals bring a pass rush capable of keeping Michael Vick inside the pocket. His decision-making can cost the Eagles this game, so expect a lot from LeSean McCoy. By comparison, Arizona has struggled immensely at running the ball.
Eagles over Cardinals
Atlanta at San Diego
The Chargers haven't faced a formidable opponent yet and the Falcons are coming off a big win over the Denver Broncos. Despite each fielding a balanced attack, the Falcons have the better ground game and win the clutch short-yard situations.
Falcons over Chargers
Houston at Denver
Peyton Manning faces an even tougher challenge in the Texans this week. Houston is an upgraded version of the Falcons against the pass rush and applying quarterback pressure. Defensively, Denver must slow down Arian Foster while blanketing Andre Johnson in coverage. In short, all this is easier said than done.
Texans over Broncos
Pittsburgh at Oakland
The Raiders lack a passing game but the Steelers lack reliable pass protection. So, the question for Pittsburgh and Oakland will be which defense is more successful at getting to the quarterback. Fortunately for the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger's size, mobility and elusiveness provide a distinct competitive advantage.
Steelers over Raiders
New England at Baltimore
We know these offenses are capable of racking up all kinds of yards and points. Therefore, the obvious difference between New England and Baltimore comes down to defense and getting immediate quarterback pressure. The Ravens are well-versed here and also have better coverage players.
Ravens over Patriots
Green Bay at Seattle
On Monday night the Packers face a confident Seahawks team in the great Northwest. For as disciplined as Seattle played against the Dallas Cowboys, though, Green Bay is better offensively and more experienced defensively. Seattle keeps it close but Pete Carroll's offense can't match the explosion.
Packers over Seahawks
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