Sunday Morning Under the Helmet: What To Watch For in NFL Week Three

Alex JohnsonCorrespondent ISeptember 27, 2009

BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 5:  Three footballs lay on the field prior to the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on November 5, 2006 in Baltimore, Maryland.  The Ravens defeated the Bengals 26-20. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Is it Week Three already?

Yes, it is, and it should be one hell of a weekend.

Today we'll preview the week's most intriguing matchup, take a look at which "no-name" players will put up bigtime stats, and finally we'll predict the day's best upset (oh, and this one will surprise you!).

Matchup of the Week:  49ers (2-0) at Vikings (2-0)

This game will be as close as you can get to old-school football when teams depended on defense and running the ball to win games.

These two teams do both very well.

Adrian Peterson leads the Vikings offense with his physical, hard-nosed running style.

Nobody can stop Peterson, right? Wrong! Last time these two teams went head-to-head, the Niners held Peterson to a career-low three rushing yards. If they do that again this week, they'll be 3-0.

On the Niners' side, Frank Gore dominates the ground game. Gore ran for 207 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries last week versus Seattle.

Defensively, both teams rank in the top seven in total defense and are more than capable of shutting down the run, so points could be hard to come by.

If the defenses are able to mute their opponents' rushing attack, the game will come down to which quarterback plays better.

For Minnesota, Brett Favre has yet to be asked to win the game and has gotten by with the dinking and dunking. But at some point, he's going to need to chuck the ball down field and make plays. Is he still capable of doing that?

Shaun Hill may also be called on to make the game-winning plays this week. Hill has been solid so far this year but could struggle against the pass rush of the Vikings who rank third in sacks.

San Francisco head coach Mike Singletary, Mr. Old-School himself, has turned this Niners team into a rough and tough, team much like his '85 Bears. And so far it has worked—the 49ers have won six of their past seven under Singletary going back to last season.

The Vikings will be making their regular season home debut this week. They're 17-5 in their last 22 home openers but the Niners lead this series with a 22-20-1 overall record (including playoffs).

Prediction: 49ers win 16-7

Small Names, Big Games

Once again, we'll take a look at three non-superstars who will post big numbers in Week Three.

Tim Hightower (RB, Arizona)

Tim Hightower is the No. 1 running back in Arizona. Hightower has been very good in both Week One and Week Two despite losing touches to rookie Chris "Beanie" Wells.

In two starts this season he's totalled 220 yards from scrimmage on 38 offensive touches.

This week, Hightower goes against an Indianapolis defense that has allowed 353 yards (ranked third in NFL) rushing in two games.

Look for Hightower to have a big game, not just on the ground, but also catching the ball out of the backfield.

Mario Manningham (WR, New York Giants)

Here's a question for you: Is Larry Fitzgerald ranked in the top five in receiving yards? No. Andre Johnson? No. Calvin Johnson? Randy Moss? Terrell Owens? No, no...and no.

But Giants receiver Mario Manningham is in the top five in receiving yards (208 yards). And to go along with that he's 10th in receptions (13) and tied for second in receiving touchdowns (2).

Manningham has been the playmaker and go-to guy in the passing attack for Eli Manning and the Giants thus far in this young 2009 season.

The Michigan product goes against a Tampa Bay defense that ranks 27th against the pass in week three.

Expect another impressive performance from Manningham this afternoon.

Felix Jones (RB, Dallas)

With Marion Barber listed as questionable (quadriceps), and likely out for Monday Night's game against Carolina, Felix Jones will see an increased role.

Last week Jones rushed for 96 yards on just seven carries in the Cowboys' loss to the Giants on Sunday Night Football.

Jones goes against the Panthers' 27th ranked run defense in Week Three.

Others To Watch

Tashad Choice, Laurent Robinson, Jermichael Finley

Upset Alert!: Detroit (0-2) over Washington (1-1)???

Dec. 23, 2007...the last time the Detroit Lions won a game. That's nearly two calender years ago. It was a 25-20 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, who won just four games that season.

In 2008, the Lions went the entire season without winning a game and became the first team in NFL history to go 0-16. Their current losing streak stands at 19.

Today Detroit will attempt to put an end to that streak and avoid becoming only the second team in NFL history to lose 20 straight games. The 1976-1977 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (26) are the only other team.

The Lions held a 10-7 halftime lead last week vs. Minnesota but collapsed in the second half, losing 27-13.

In Week Two against St. Louis, Washington held off the Rams for a 9-7 victory to avoid going 0-2.

One of the keys to this game unfolding in favor of the Lions is their offensive line. If the big boys up front can protect rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford from the likes of Albert Haynesworth, Brian Orakpo, and Andre Carter, they've got a shot at winning.

The Lions will also need to keep Jason Campbell and the 'Skins offense out of rhythm if they plan on tasting victory.

It will certainly be a tall task, but if everything works out, the Lions will be celebrating after this one.

Prediction: Lions win 27-23.


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