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Every NFL Team's Biggest Key to Victory in Week 4

Russell S. BaxterContributor ISeptember 27, 2013

Every NFL Team's Biggest Key to Victory in Week 4

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    Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon makes his first NFL start this Sunday.
    Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon makes his first NFL start this Sunday.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The fourth week of the current NFL season got underway on Thursday night as the San Francisco 49ers traveled to St. Louis to face the Rams.

    It all worked out quite well for Jim Harbaugh’s team courtesy of a 35-11 win, defeating a team that the eventual NFC champions failed to beat in 2012.

    Speaking of defeating, here is a look at what each team needs to do to win in Week 4. Answers such as outscoring the opposition and avoiding mistakes are obvious, but we are hoping we have gone a little deeper than that.

    There is also a recap of that Thursday night tilt between the 49ers and Rams, as well as seasonal reviews to date for both the Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers (both off this week).

San Francisco 49ers 35, St. Louis Rams 11

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    Well, so much for the San Francisco 49ers' two-game slump.

    Jim Harbaugh’s team started slow but finished strong in a 35-11 win over the St. Louis Rams. It was a nice turnaround for the defending conference champions, who were coming off back-to-back losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts by a combined score of 56-10.

    As for that slow start, keep in mind that Harbaugh’s club rolled up 370 total yards by night’s end—not bad considering the Niners were limited to 25 total yards in the first quarter.

    Meanwhile, a San Francisco defensive unit that had been gashed for more than 170 yards rushing the previous two weeks limited Jeff Fisher’s team to 18 yards on the ground on 19 carries.

    On the other hand, 49ers running back Frank Gore totaled 153 of his team’s 219 rushing yards, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw a pair of touchdown passes.

    And the panic gripping the San Francisco countryside disappeared…at least for now.

Carolina Panthers (1-2) and Green Bay Packers (1-2): Off

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    Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

    Carolina Panthers

    After a 0-2 start that included heartbreaking losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills, the Carolina Panthers took out their early frustrations on the visiting New York Giants last week.

    The 38-0 beating featured a big performance by quarterback Cam Newton and a defense that spent the majority of the afternoon in the New York backfield with Eli Manning.

    Still, the key for Ron Rivera’s team will be following that win up with a road victory over the Arizona Cardinals. A win in their next game would put the club at 2-2, Carolina’s best four-game start since 2008.

    And if the defense continues to excel, that shouldn’t be an issue. All told, the Panthers have allowed only 36 points and three touchdowns in their first three games, including zero touchdowns in the first half.

     

    Green Bay Packers

    Are the Green Bay Packers truly all the way back?

    Mike McCarthy’s club has now surrendered exactly 34 points in two of their first three games this season, both losses.

    Turnovers have played a big part in the team’s slow start in 2013. The Packers have coughed up the ball seven times in three outings, quite a turnaround for a club that committed just 16 turnovers in 2012.

    And Green Bay’s pass protection remains an issue. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown eight touchdown passes and just three interceptions (two of those in the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals). But the Pro Bowl signal-caller has also been sacked 10 times in three weeks.

    On the plus side, the Pack has gotten back-to-back individual 100-yard rushing performances the last two weeks, first by James Starks (132 yards) in Week 2 and, last Sunday, by rookie Johnathan Franklin (103 yards).

Arizona Cardinals (1-2): at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3)

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    Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

    Although the Arizona Cardinals stumbled last week at the Superdome, head coach Bruce Arians has his team off to a respectable start offensively.

    Still, the team hopes to get its running game un-tracked one of these days, and that could happen against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that surrendered 156 yards on the ground to the New England Patriots last Sunday.

    Keeping the Bucs defense off balance and out of obvious pass-rush situations would be a good thing for Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. Despite some moderate success, the veteran signal-caller has also committed five turnovers and been sacked nine times in three games.

    The Buccaneers have quietly totaled a dozen sacks this season, and that could be a problem for Palmer and company.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3): vs. Arizona Cardinals (1-2)

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Second-year head coach Greg Schiano is looking for some way to stop the bleeding.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not only winless this season but are now just 1-8 in their last nine games dating back to 2012, a year that saw them open with a 6-4 mark.

    Now rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, a third-round pick in April, hopes to jump-start a Tampa Bay offensive unit that has gained the second-fewest yards in the league and scored only three touchdowns, including zero in the second half.

    Moving the ball against the Arizona Cardinals defense doesn’t figure to be easy, especially if wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are limited or unavailable. But the Cards don’t have much of a pass rush these days, and Glennon may slow that even more with some early throws to running back Doug Martin, who has caught only four passes so far this season. Look for that to change quickly on Sunday.

Baltimore Ravens (2-1): at Buffalo Bills (1-2)

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    Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

    After a rough night in Denver three weeks ago, things have certainly gotten better for the Baltimore Ravens.

    In their last two games, both at home and both wins, the defending Super Bowl champions did not allow a touchdown and gave up a total of 15 points.

    Led by a new-look linebacking corps featuring Daryl Smith and Elvis Dumervil, the Ravens have totaled 11 sacks in three games and are limiting opponents to just 74.7 yards per game on the ground.

    That could be bad news for the Buffalo Bills, who allowed quarterback EJ Manuel to be sacked eight times last week in a loss to the Jets. Look for the Baltimore defense to give the rookie signal-caller plenty of looks and a lot to be concerned with.

    As for the Ravens offense, which has struggled to reach the end zone the last two weeks, the Bills run defense is there for the taking.

Buffalo Bills (1-2): vs. Baltimore Ravens (2-1)

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    Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

    Well, we know that the Buffalo Bills continue to have problems beating their divisional brethren.

    But how will they fare this week against a defending Super Bowl champion?

    If Doug Marrone’s team is to even its win-loss record, it must put some heat on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and come up with some turnovers. But just as was the case last season, the pass rush has been hit or miss.

    The Bills totaled six sacks in their Week 2 win over the Carolina Panthers, 4.5 of those by defensive end Mario Williams. But in their other two outings, losses to the New England Patriots and New York Jets, Buffalo has combined for three sacks, including zero for Williams.

    Given Baltimore’s recent struggles on offense, a takeaway or two could spell victory for Marrone’s team.

Chicago Bears (3-0): at Detroit Lions (2-1)

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Last season, as they have done often in recent years, the Chicago Bears took two from the rival Detroit Lions.

    While both games were decided by fewer than seven points, it still marked the sixth time in eight seasons that the Bears swept the season series.

    And the undefeated Bears plan on staying that way when they invade Ford Field on Sunday. Quarterback Jay Cutler looks like a player with a new lease on life. The strong-armed signal-caller has only been sacked three times in as many games and has done a great job of using all of his weapons.

    A total of 63 of Cutler’s 68 completions this season have gone to wideout Brandon Marshall (20), running back Matt Forte (18), second-year wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (13) and tight end Martellus Bennett (12). Last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jeffery was targeted as many times (eight) as Marshall, most of that coming in the first quarter.

    With Detroit’s defense zeroing in on Marshall, look for Jeffery to once again see a lot of passes thrown his way…and with great success.

Detroit Lions (2-1): vs. Chicago Bears (3-0)

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Will it be a rookie to the rescue?

    In two games versus the Chicago Bears in 2012, the Detroit Lions limited quarterback Jay Cutler to a combined 407 yards passing and sacked him seven times.

    But the end result was a pair of wins by the Bears. Cutler would throw for two scores and not commit a turnover.

    Enter rookie defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, who comes off a solid game in Detroit’s win over the Washington Redskins.

    This season, the fifth overall pick in April’s draft has totaled 11 tackles, 2.5 sacks and the Lions’ lone forced fumble of the young season.

    Perhaps Ansah could teach Bears veteran left tackle Jermon Bushrod some new tricks this Sunday. Then again, the Bears have only allowed three sacks in three games this season.

Cincinnati Bengals (2-1): at Cleveland Browns (1-2)

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    It is usually a good sign when your team does not play overly well and still manages to pick up a win.

    Last Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals were not overly sharp but wound up overcoming four turnovers to beat the Green Bay Packers.

    This week, Marvin Lewis and company travel to face a Browns team that welcomed them to Cleveland last season with a 34-24 loss.

    If the Bengals don’t want a repeat act versus their longtime intrastate rival, it would behoove them to rely on their emerging 1-2 punch in the backfield. Veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Giovani Bernard have combined for 239 of the team’s 272 rushing yards and all four of Cincinnati’s touchdowns on the ground.

    After limiting the Miami Dolphins to 20 yards rushing on 23 carries in Week 1, the Cleveland defense has looked a little more inviting for opposing offenses. And such will be the case on Sunday for Lewis and company.

Cleveland Browns (1-2): vs. Cincinnati Bengals (2-1)

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    Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

    Just when it appeared (emphasis on appeared) that the Cleveland Browns had given up on the 2013 season, they went out and beat the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome.

    Led by quarterback Brian Hoyer, the Browns scored nearly twice as many points in one afternoon (31) as they did in their first two games (16) this season.

    Hoyer had his ups and downs, throwing for three scores as well as three interceptions. Two of his touchdown tosses went to tight end Jordan Cameron, who also scored a third touchdown off a fake field-goal attempt.

    But Hoyer’s favorite target on the afternoon was clearly wide receiver Josh Gordon, who will certainly test Cincinnati’s experienced cornerbacks. More than one-third (19) of Hoyer’s 54 passes were aimed at Gordon, who hauled in 10 receptions for 146 yards and a score in Cleveland’s 31-27 victory.

    Look for the young duo to play a lot of pitch-and-catch this weekend as well.

Seattle Seahawks (3-0): at Houston Texans (2-1)

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    The Seattle Seahawks first took the field in 1976. But in nearly 40 seasons, the team has never opened 4-0.

    You have to like the Seahawks' chances no matter where they are playing these days. Pete Carroll’s club has won eight straight regular-season games dating back to last season, including three straight on the road.

    Three weeks into the season, Seattle has allowed the fewest total yards in the league and the fewest passing yards. Cornerback Richard Sherman and company lead a defensive unit that has allowed one touchdown pass while totaling five interceptions during this short season.

    Sherman, safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, and cornerback Brandon Browner will do their best to lock onto Houston Texans wide receivers Andre Johnson and rookie DeAndre Hopkins, as well as tight end Owen Daniels.

    If the Seahawks can make quarterback Matt Schaub and the Houston offense one-dimensional in any sense, the team could make a little franchise history.

     

Houston Texans (2-1): vs. Seattle Seahawks (3-0)

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Looks can be deceiving. So can statistics.

    The Houston Texans have allowed 28, 24 and 30 points, respectively, in their first three games this season. But some of that can be blamed on the team’s offense and special teams as quarterback Matt Schaub has had a pair of interceptions returned for scores.

    Last Sunday, the Texans special teams unit gave up an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown in a 30-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

    The Texans have allowed the second-fewest total yards per game (249.0) this season, right behind the Seattle Seahawks. Houston is also second in the league in fewest passing yards allowed, also right behind the Seahawks.

    Inside linebacker Brian Cushing is off to an excellent start this season as he rebounds from an injury-shortened 2012 campaign. He will give the Seattle ground attack a lot to think about.

    And don’t be surprised if the crafty defender, who already has one interception return for a touchdown on this season’s resume, adds to his total in 2013.

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3): vs. Minnesota Vikings (0-3) at London

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    Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

    If the proud Pittsburgh Steelers franchise is to avoid the team’s first 0-4 start since 1968, there are a few things that Mike Tomlin’s team needs to do in jolly old England.

    Securing the football is a must. Taking away the football would be a nice luxury, especially for the only team in the league that hasn’t forced a turnover this season.

    But exploiting a Minnesota pass defense is the key. Although the Vikings pass rush (four sacks in three games) could get healthy at the expense of the Steelers, Leslie Frazier’s club has already given up nine touchdown passes, six to tight ends.

    And while Steelers wideout Antonio Brown enjoyed a huge evening last week against the Chicago Bears, tight end Heath Miller is presumably a little healthier after making his season debut last Sunday.

Minnesota Vikings (0-3): at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) at London

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

    Come out, come out wherever you are?

    There have been few more consistent players in the league in recent seasons than Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. In his first five seasons in the Twin Cities, the perennial Pro Bowler has totaled an impressive 74.0 sacks in 80 games.

    But Allen and the Minnesota pass rush are both off to a slow start in 2013, much like the team in general. Allen has totaled one sack in three games, and the Vikings have just four sacks so far this season. Is it any wonder that the club has already surrendered nine touchdown passes in three games (albeit one came on a fake field-goal attempt)?

    So with some uncertainty regarding the quarterback situation this week, Allen and the Minnesota defense will be called on even more in this clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers in London. And don’t be surprised if the Vikings defense gets well at the expense of the Steelers’ troubled offensive line.

Indianapolis Colts (2-1): at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3)

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    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Those who were surprised by the Indianapolis Colts' 27-7 win over the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday need not be.

    There’s apparently a new emphasis on power football in terms of Chuck Pagano’s club.

    Despite last season’s 11-5 record and playoff appearance, the Colts were a team far too dependent on the play of its quarterback.

    This offseason, general manager Ryan Grigson made some changes on the offensive line. Last week, the Colts traded for running back Trent Richardson.

    On Sunday, Indianapolis rolled up 184 yards on 40 attempts in the win over the Niners. Both of those totals would have been season highs in 2012.

    Pagano’s team has rushed for at least 120 yards in each game this season. That shouldn’t change against a struggling bunch of Jacksonville Jaguars.

Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3): vs. Indianapolis Colts (2-1)

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    If it’s the Indianapolis Colts, it has to be Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew.

    In 13 career encounters with the Colts, the former second-round pick from UCLA has amassed 1,389 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns and hauled in 40 passes for 336 yards for three scores. And for good measure, he also took a kickoff the distance against Indianapolis during his rookie campaign in 2006.

    Jones-Drew has rushed for 100-plus yards 26 times in his seven-year career, and eight of those performances have come in this series.

    These days, the Jaguars have little or nothing offensively. That should change next week when the return of wide receiver Justin Blackmon will make life easier for the Jacksonville quarterbacks, as well as talented wideout Cecil Shorts.

    For now, head coach Gus Bradley is hoping that Jones-Drew can carry the load and continue his mastery over this divisional foe.

New York Giants (0-3): at Kansas City Chiefs (3-0)

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Old friends will reunite at Arrowhead Stadium this week as Tom Coughlin’s winless New York Giants face off against Andy Reid’s undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.

    Ironically, Coughlin and his team closed the Reid era in Philadelphia courtesy of a 42-7 win over the Eagles last December.

    Unfortunately for the Giants, 2013 has been nothing short of a disaster. The team has committed a league-high 13 turnovers and is off to its first 0-3 start since 1996. That year, Coughlin was in his second season as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    This week, the Giants hope to hang onto the football against a Chiefs team that has already forced nine turnovers.

    As for New York’s game plan, let’s start with a little ball security. That might be all that Coughlin's struggling team can handle at the moment.

Kansas City Chiefs (3-0): vs. New York Giants (0-3)

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    John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

    Apparently nose tackle Dontari Poe isn’t the only Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman that looks like a different player in 2013.

    Defensive end Tyson Jackson, the third overall pick in the 2009 draft, has certainly upped his game this season for Andy Reid’s unbeaten team in 2013. In fact, the Chiefs defense in general has been a very pleasant surprise under new coordinator Bob Sutton.

    Never a huge numbers guy, Jackson has totaled six tackles, one sack and knocked down a pair of passes. Kansas City has allowed only 34 points in three games and has held each of its first three opponents to 16 points or less.

    However, let’s go back to that reference to Jackson and the lack of statistics. The former first-rounder has totaled only six sacks as he plays his fifth season. But if the New York Giants pass protect like they did in Carolina last week, those numbers could change in a hurry.

New York Jets (2-1): at Tennessee Titans (2-1)

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Let’s give credit where credit is due.

    The much-maligned New York Jets have won two of their first three games this season, with their only loss a 13-10 setback to the New England Patriots in Foxborough in Week 2.

    Only three clubs have given up fewer total yards per game than Rex Ryan’s club. And the running game is back, tied for sixth in the NFL after three weeks of play.

    But perhaps the most obvious improvement by these Jets from a year ago has been the play of the offensive line. Yes, rookie quarterback Geno Smith (who has seven of the team’s eight turnovers) has been sacked nine times. But there is an intensity by the men up front that has given the team a new bravado.

    Perhaps too much bravado? Last Sunday, the Jets were flagged for 20 penalties versus the Buffalo Bills. It’s safe to say they won’t get away with a high number of yellow flags for a second straight Sunday.

Tennessee Titans (2-1): vs. New York Jets (2-1)

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Talk about coincidence?

    Back in the early days of the AFL, the New York Jets were known as the New York Titans.

    These days, it’s the Tennessee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) that make their home in the AFC South.

    But if you think the name thing is eerie, how about the fact that both the Jets and Titans have rushed for exactly 401 yards in 2013?

    Want more? The Jets have accumulated those yards on 102 attempts, while Tennessee has totaled 104 rushing plays.

    So what does that tell you? While head coach Mike Munchak is expecting to see a lot of the Jets ground attack on Sunday, he expects to return the favor courtesy of running back Chris Johnson and company.

    And if you are looking for an edge between the clubs, the Titans have yet to commit a turnover this season. That compares to eight by Rex Ryan’s team, with seven of those by quarterback Geno Smith.

Dallas Cowboys (2-1): at San Diego Chargers (1-2)

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Three games into the season, which includes a pair of victories over the New York Giants and St. Louis Rams, the formula for success is pretty simple for the 2013 Dallas Cowboys.

    Keep running back DeMarco Murray healthy and on the field.

    In two wins this season, the third-year performer has totaled at least 20 carries in each contest. That includes 26 attempts for 175 yards and a score in last week’s 31-7 win over the Rams.

    In the team’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, Murray was limited to 25 yards rushing on a dozen carries.

    With quarterback Tony Romo possibly devoid of targets this week against the San Diego Chargers, the Cowboys made need a 30-carry game from Murray. And considering the Bolts are near the bottom of the league in rushing defense, it makes too much sense not to try it.

San Diego Chargers (1-2): vs. Dallas Cowboys (2-1)

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Over the past two seasons, San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has certainly taken his lumps…and given some too.

    Given as in giveaways, as in 47 turnovers in 32 games from 2011-12. And when Rivers had an interception returned for a touchdown in a Week 1 loss to the Houston Texans, it appeared that it could be the start of another long season.

    But that was Rivers’ lone turnover of the young season. The former Pro Bowler has completed 70.0 percent of his passes and thrown for eight scores. The Chargers signal-caller has also been sacked just five times in 105 passing plays and has not fumbled this season.

    So what does this mean against the Dallas Cowboys this weekend? Running the football could be futile against the NFL’s second-ranked rushing defense. So it will be up to Rivers to carry the load (again) versus an improved Dallas defense.

    Rivers figures to test the Cowboys linebackers with running back Danny Woodhead (17) and tight end Antonio Gates (15), who have combined for nearly half (32) of Rivers’ 70 completions in 2013.

Philadelphia Eagles (1-2): at Denver Broncos (3-0)

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    It seems like a long time ago and in some ways, it is.

    Back in their Week 1 meeting with the Washington Redskins, the Philadelphia Eagles rolled up 322 yards on 53 plays and opened up a 26-7 lead…in the first half.

    After that showing, many were contemplating the chances of slowing down such an offensive juggernaut.

    Ironically, Kelly will get that chance this Sunday in Denver. It’s the Broncos that have rolled up a league-high 127 points this season.

    One solution to that problem would be a healthy dose of running back LeSean McCoy. The former Pro Bowler missed four games last season but leads the league after three weeks with 395 yards rushing.

    But it is McCoy’s 62 carries that will mean even more against the Broncos on Sunday.

Denver Broncos (3-0): vs. Philadelphia Eagles (1-2)

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    If there’s one more thing to be said about Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, it is the fact that he doesn’t play favorites.

    In three games this season, the prolific passer has four players that he has targeted 20 or more times. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas leads the team in receptions (20) and receiving yards (307) while tight end Julius Thomas and wideout Wes Welker pace the club with four touchdown grabs.

    But it will be wide receiver Eric Decker who proves to be the biggest headache for the Philadelphia Eagles secondary this Sunday. In his last two games, Decker has been targeted 21 times and caught 17 passes for 220 yards and a score.

    Then again, given the state of the Eagles defense, it is hard to imagine any Denver receiver not having a big afternoon.

Washington Redskins (0-3): at Oakland Raiders (1-2)

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    The Washington Redskins are getting ready for their fourth game of the season. And perhaps this is the week they find out if last season’s NFL rookie of the year is feeling more like his 2012 self.

    We are all aware of quarterback Robert Griffin III and his issues this season. The talented performer has thrown five touchdown passes and committed five turnovers. And his legs have not been a factor this season to date, rushing for only 62 yards on 15 attempts.

    The Oakland Raiders know a little something about getting after the quarterback this season, totaling 10 sacks in three games. But all it may take is one healthy burst from Griffin early in the game to get the Silver and Black’s defenders to back off.

    With an 0-3 record and a visit to Dallas on the horizon, it is safe to say that the time is now.

Oakland Raiders (1-2): vs. Washington Redskins (0-3)

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    Are we about to see Matt Flynn make his regular-season debut as the Raiders’ starting quarterback?

    All indications appear so. But if the Oakland Raiders are to even their record at 2-2 this season, it is the other team’s quarterback that they need to be concerned about.

    While Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins are off to a slow start, you have this feeling that the quarterback and his team are lying in wait. And perhaps this is the week that the defending NFC East champions look worthy of that title.

    Griffin will be taking aim at an experienced secondary that is still licking its wounds following Monday night’s 37-21 loss to the Denver Broncos. But it won’t be easy with the likes of veteran cornerbacks such as Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter, as well as safety Charles Woodson.

    Although the Raiders don’t have an interception this season, their defensive backfield has been an active part of putting pressure on the quarterback. And that may prove to be an even bigger challenge for Griffin.

New England Patriots (3-0): at Atlanta Falcons (1-2)

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    Anyone remember nearly four years ago when the New England Patriots put a 59-0 spanking on the Tennessee Titans in Week 6 of 2009?

    Hold that thought. That’s because the 2013 Patriots have scored a combined 59 points in three games.

    Not that it is necessarily a bad thing. But it is certainly different to see a New England team yet to reach the 30-point mark in three straight games—and more importantly, three straight wins.

    Bill Belichick’s team has not only allowed only three offensive touchdowns in three games, but running back Stevan Ridley and company are averaging 122.7 yards per game on the ground.

    Look for the Patriots to test an Atlanta Falcons defense that is allowing only 79.0 yards per game rushing…for now.

Atlanta Falcons (1-2): vs. New England Patriots (3-0)

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    Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

    The Atlanta Falcons, the NFC’s top seed two of the previous three seasons, are off to a slow start—at least in terms of wins.

    There’s been nothing slow about Mike Smith’s team early in games. The Falcons have outscored the opposition a combined 31-0 in the first quarter this season.

    Still, Atlanta has dropped two of its first three contests and certainly can’t afford to fall further behind the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.

    Speaking of falling behind, you can look for another fast start by quarterback Matt Ryan and company on Sunday night against the New England Patriots. And while the Pats will likely be focusing their attention on wideouts Julio Jones and Roddy White as well as tight end Tony Gonzalez, wide receiver Harry Douglas may be the Falcons' ace in the hole this week.

Miami Dolphins (3-0): at New Orleans Saints (3-0)

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    Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

    So how exactly do head coach Joe Philbin and his Miami Dolphins slow down the New Orleans Saints offense on Monday night?

    It sounds like an easier-said-than-done kind of assignment considering the amount of points Sean Payton’s club usually puts on the board at the Superdome.

    For the most part, it’s hard to score when your offense is on the sidelines. And that will be the Dolphins game plan this week against Drew Brees and company.

    Can running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, who have combined for 199 yards rushing and three touchdowns, get the job done? While the Saints defense is much better than a year ago, it’s still just a few games removed from being the league’s worst rushing defense in 2012.

    And if Philbin’s team can take a lead into the final quarter, you have to like its chances. In three games this season, the Dolphins have allowed a total of three points.

New Orleans Saints (3-0): vs. Miami Dolphins (3-0)

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    Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

    Is the New Orleans Saints defensive unit circa 2013 really that good?

    It’s hard to argue the facts to date. Last season, the team would surrender 40 points in a Week 1 home loss to the Washington Redskins. Three weeks and three wins into defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s regime, the Saints have allowed a total of 38 points.

    Add in eight sacks and six takeaways and it’s working in the Crescent City. And you can bet Ryan will look to exploit a Miami Dolphins offensive line that has yet to round into form. Joe Philbin’s team ranks 28th in rushing offense, and second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill has already been sacked 14 times in three games.

    Expect a lot of different looks from Ryan and a raucous Superdome crowd on Monday night. That may be enough to keep Sean Payton’s club undefeated in 2013.

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