NFL Week 3 Picks: Forecasting Sunday's Most Pivotal Clashes

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistSeptember 17, 2013

Sep 20, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) after the game. The Giants defeated the Panthers 36-7 at Bank of America Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It's not time to hit panic mode just yet, but Week 3 of the NFL season could be the time when fans start to get a little worried.

Sure there's 16 games in a season, and a team needs to just be good enough to snatch a wild-card spot. Starting out the year 0-3 or even 1-2 can leave a team with a big mountain to climb to get into the postseason.

Conversely, there will be plenty of fans who will look at the standings and think their team will have a legitimate shot to make a deep playoff run. You've got a couple of teams at the top that look unbeatable, but even they have shown some weaknesses.

Week 3 will go a long way to validating some of those teams looking to emerge as a postseason threat, while simultaneously casting aside the playoff contenders.

Here's the full slate for this week's action, followed by three of the most intriguing games on Sunday.


New York Giants vs. Carolina Panthers

This is an interesting matchup of two teams that had playoff aspirations coming into the season but have started 0-2 instead. That record isn't a death sentence in terms of getting to the postseason, but the deck is stacked against both the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers (h/t ESPN Stats and Info).

Of the two, the Panthers have looked much more abject. A tough loss to the Seattle Seahawks is one thing. There's no excuse for letting E.J. Manuel throw for 296 yards and a touchdown and losing to the Buffalo Bills.

Until Carolina can show any sort of consistency, it doesn't deserve any benefit of the doubt. At least the Giants faced off against two tough opponents to somewhat validate their bad record. New York is a good team and will show exactly why on Sunday.

Eli Manning is still the most confounding quarterback in the league, but he looks primed for a big performance. It will be a comfortable win for the Giants.

New York 31, Carolina 20


Cincinnati Bengals vs. Green Bay Packers

It's hard to get a good read on the Packers defense. Green Bay gave up a ton of yards to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, but then played great against the Washington Redskins in the first half, only struggling in the second half, when the game had been decided.

The Cincinnati Bengals earned a hard-fought win against the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night. It wasn't a pretty game, but it's a victory.

Picking this game is tough. It will likely come down to how successful each team's passing offense can be. While Aaron Rodgers is clearly the superior quarterback, he may have to deal with a lot more pressure than Andy Dalton. That could be the great equalizer and help Dalton keep pace.

Pressuring Rodgers in the pocket will be the key for the Bengals. They have to get a solid pass rush off the edge and with Geno Atkins in the middle. The defensive line was much better in Week 2, and a continuation of that success is a must in Week 3.

Cincinnati 27, Green Bay 20


Miami Dolphins vs. Atlanta Falcons

Do not sleep on the Miami Dolphins. They've gone on the road for the first two weeks of the season and picked up victories in both. Mike Wallace even got involved in the offense this past Sunday, catching nine passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.

The Atlanta Falcons did well to recover from their Week 1 loss the New Orleans Saints. The Falcons might have been out-gained in their win against the St. Louis Rams, but they averaged 0.6 more yards per play. Their offense is looking very good at the moment.

However, Steven Jackson is going to be out for possibly two to four weeks (h/t's Ian Rapoport).

That could be a big loss down the road for Atlanta, as neither Jason Snelling nor Jacquizz Rodgers inspire much confidence.

The duo should be enough to get past the Dolphins. Miami gave up 133 yards on the ground last week, so Snelling and Rodgers should be able to take some pressure off Matt Ryan and the passing game.

Atlanta 28, Miami 17