Coming in to Week 3 of the 2011 NFL season, many fans would be surprised to learn that there is only one game on the entire schedule this week that pits two undefeated teams facing each other. That game would be the New England Patriots at the Buffalo Bills. Wonder what the odds would have been on that wager in Las Vegas?
We will be looking into the entire slate of Week 3 games and do our best to come up with a reasonable prediction, based on the latest information of injuries, roster moves and early trends that are developing from the reasonably smaller sample size of information gleaned from two weeks of play.
By the way, this article is not intended for betting purposes. What you choose to do with the following information, is entirely up to you. But, for what it is worth, I called the Buffalo Bills upset of Kansas City in Week 1, as well as the Bills defeating the Oakland Raiders in Week 2.
Can I make it three in a row for Buffalo? Let's find out.
It is probably going to be hard for some people to accept that the winner of the Cincinnati Bengals versus San Francisco 49ers will actually have a winning record of 2-1 after three weeks, but that is the reality of this situation. Both of these teams struggled in 2010, and both teams have struggled with their quarterback situation, for different reasons.
Andy Dalton came back from an injury to his wrist to throw for over 300 yards against the Denver Broncos in a loss last week. Rookie receiver A.J. Green had 10 catches for 124 yards, so this rookie duo should be hooking up for many other big days as their careers unfold. Dalton will have to be careful when throwing the ball towards Bengals corner Tramaine Brock, who is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with two.
The 49ers are coming off a heartbreaking loss in overtime against the Dallas Cowboys last week. David Akers nailed a 55-yard field goal to put the 49ers up 24-14 with 11:00 minutes left in the game, but they couldn't hold on, as Tony Romo led the Cowboys on a dramatic comeback to force overtime, where the Cowboys eventually won it.
So far in 2011, the 49ers have the best run defense in the NFL, while the Bengals are an overall top 10 defense. As stingy as the 49ers are in giving up yards on the ground, they are surrendering about 300 yards per game in the air, which is 100 less than the Bengals do. The Bengals have yet to turn the ball over so far, so for those reasons, and since they are playing at home, I like the Bengals in a close one.
My prediction: Cincinnati 17 - San Francisco 14
The Miami Dolphins hosted the Cleveland Browns in 2010, and that game resulted in a 13-10 Browns victory. This year, the Dolphins travel to Cleveland. It is hard to tell if the Dolphins will be a better road team in 2011 like they were in 2010, because they haven't played on the road before this year. You may recall the Dolphins had the strange home record of 1-7 in 2010, and they have already dropped their first two home games of 2011.
The Dolphins did give a very good strong performance to New England to open the season, only to fall short to the record setting performance of Tom Brady. The Browns meanwhile were upset by the Cincinnati Bengals to open the year. At least the Browns recovered in Week 2 to defeat the Indianapolis Colts, while the Dolphins lost to the Houston Texans.
The Browns continue to feed the rock to Peyton Hillis, who is third in the NFL with 44 rushes so far. With that said, every facet of the Browns offense is in the bottom third of the league, so the Dolphins defense, which is ranked dead last overall in the NFL, catches a break here.
On the other hand, the Browns have the sixth-best overall defense in the NFL, and they are facing the 10th-best overall offense in Miami, so something has to give. After throwing for 400-plus against the Patriots in the season opener, Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne came back to earth with a 170 passing yards against the Texans.
How well Browns corner Joe Haden is able to contain Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall will go a long way towards determining this game. I think the Dolphins finally win their first game.
My prediction: Miami 17 - Cleveland 13
The Tim Tebow show travels to Tennessee, and maybe it is a good thing to go on the road, so the home crowd will stop calling endlessly for Tebow. It is hard to even know what Tebow is these days. Is he a starting QB, a situational Wildcat offense QB, the No. 3 QB or an emergency wide receiver? If there is anyone suffering an identity crisis in the NFL this year, it is Tebow.
Well, at least he gets to play a game in the South, so there will be some Tebow followers in attendance. The Titans don't have to worry about their quarterback, as Matt Hasselbeck has been just fine, thank you. Hasselbeck is averaging 311 yards per game, so he is fitting in very well to the Titans offense and glad that he escaped Seattle.
Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt has been picking up the slack for Chris Johnson, who is now earning big bucks but doesn't do much to show that he is really trying to earn it. So far, Johnson is averaging an anemic 2.3 yards per rush and is ranked 34th in the NFL in rushing. Can you imagine where he would be if he didn't stay in shape during his holdout? Kenny Britt is second in the NFL by averaging 135 yards in receptions per game. That is strong production.
Champ Bailey has a hamstring injury, while Brandon Lloyd has a groin injury. The Broncos can't afford to lose either player, and it is because of those issues that I am taking the home Titans this week. Not only that, but the Titans have the third best overall defense in the NFL this year, and the Broncos have turned the ball over five times already.
My prediction: Tennessee 27 - Denver 17
The undefeated Detroit Lions travel to face the winless Minnesota Vikings in a NFC North division contest. The Lions are now the proud owners of a six-game winning streak that has carried over from the 2010 season and are looking to stretch that to seven against the struggling Minnesota Vikings.
As far as these two teams are concerned, it appears that both of them have reversed their fortunes in the span of a two-year time period. The Vikings are headed down, while the Lions are on the rise.
Matthew Stafford has been averaging 300 yards a game in the air, while Donovan McNabb is averaging 134 yards a game. The Lions have yet to allow a sack this year, while the Vikings have given up four. The Lions have already created eight turnovers on defense, while the Vikings have created three turnovers. The Lions have the eighth-best offense while the Vikings are ranked 27th.
The Lions defense is ranked seventh overall, while the Vikings are at 21. Every facet of these teams tells me that the Lions are the better team. They have the momentum, but the Vikings are playing at home. I say it doesn't matter, I like the Lions to make it seven straight wins.
My prediction: Detroit 31 - Minnesota 17
The Houston Texans are off to a fast start in the 2011 season, coming out of the gates with two wins, while the New Orleans Saints are sitting there at .500, as they beat the Chicago Bears in Week 2.
Texans running backs Arian Foster (hamstring) and Derrick Ward (ankle) are both nursing injuries, so the Texans may need to turn to Ben Tate and Steve Slaton to run the ball this week. Meanwhile, the Saints are still figuring out who to give the ball to the majority of the time, as rookie Mark Ingram is only averaging 3.4 yards per carry, while Pierre Thomas is averaging 5.1 yards per carry. The other running back, Darren Sproles, is excelling at catching the ball out of the backfield.
Through two weeks, the Texans have the best overall defense in the NFL. They also have the top-ranked pass defense, which is a dramatic change from just one season ago. The Texans hope that Jonathan Joseph will be able to get over his ankle injury to play this Sunday, because they will need him against Drew Brees and his wide array of weapons.
I suspect that the Texans pass defense ranking will take a hit this weekend, as Brees should be filling up the dome with lots of passes. The Saints welcome back Will Smith this week from his suspension, so quarterback Matt Schaub should have some decent pressure placed on him this week. I see this game as a wild shootout, with lots of passing yards and lots of points. Great game for fantasy football leagues.
My prediction: New Orleans 35 - Houston 32
I wonder if the New York Giants will punt the ball this Sunday to DeSean Jackson? Probably not. The Giants are coming off their victory on Monday Night Football over the St. Louis Rams, while the Philadelphia Eagles are recovering from their loss on Sunday Night Football to the Atlanta Falcons.
As everyone has heard by now, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick suffered a concussion in the game at Atlanta, so his availability will not be known until he attempts to pass his battery of league-mandated post-concussion tests to determine if he is fit to play. If Vick can't go, it appears that the only healthy QB is Mike Kafka, who came in against the Falcons and was very respectable in his performance.
If you watched the Monday night game, there was Eli Manning floating a lazy pass towards the sidelines that got intercepted, but he settled down after that and did not have another pick in the game.
Last year, the Eagles swept the Giants, so the Giants have to be up for this game. The Giants were only two sacks short of tying for the most sacks in the NFL in 2010, so their pass rush will be a big factor against either Michael Vick or Mike Kafka. The Eagles also have a tough defensive line, as Trent Cole looked unstoppable Sunday night, with four tackles for a loss.
Eli Manning will have to account for Nnamdi Asomugha and be more careful with the ball. The prediction on this game is very much in limbo due to the health status of Michael Vick. Based on the whiplash effect I witnessed, my guess is that Vick will not start or play in the game. Because of that, I have the Giants winning.
My prediction: New York Giants 23 - Philadelphia 17
To open up his NFL career with 400-yard passing performances in his first two games, rookie quarterback Cam Newton has proven that his detractors didn't have a clue as to how talented he was, myself included.
I didn't think he would be able to adapt to the pro game as quickly as he did. Sure, there were the bad throws that Green Bay lured him in to throwing that were intercepted, but I don't know of anyone that counted on this level of success so soon. Congratulations to both Newton and to the Panthers.
Regarding the game against Jacksonville, the Jaguars might as well turn the reigns over to Blaine Gabbert and let the two rookies battle it out to see which one of them will be first to win a 2011 start. That would make for a better story line, because the combined records of 1-3 is not that great to be excited about.
Believe it or not, Newton has energized the Panthers offense so much, that they are currently the No. 2 overall offense in the NFL. They have the second-best passing attack but are 29th in running the ball, and that will catch up with them sooner than later.
The Panthers defense is 26th overall and lost two key linebackers to the I.R. in consecutive weeks (Thomas Davis and Jon Benson), so the Panthers rush defense is probably looking quite good to Maurice Jones-Drew right about now.
This game looks like it will be the running of Jones-Drew versus the arm of Newton. if Gabbert does get the start, I think Newton will emerge as the winner due to already having two games under his belt. The Jaguars have the fifth-best defense in the NFL, but they have not been up against a quarterback as agile or unpredictable as Newton yet.
My prediction: Carolina 17 - Jacksonville 10
The Oakland Raiders had a tough week. They had a short week of practice after opening up the season on Monday Night Football and then had to travel through three time zones, only to blow an 18-point lead in the second half to the Buffalo Bills.
They played the game without their three top receivers and their tight end, but things are not all that bad. Jason Campbell had a monster game, and he discovered that if he throws the ball to rookie wide receiver Denarius Moore, that the kid will make a play on the ball.
Moore may have just elevated himself to become a regular starter for the rest of the year based on his performance in Buffalo. The secondary needs work, and the Raiders displayed atypical poise in the first half, until they started committing a number of penalties in the second half. What they still do well is run the ball, but the opponent this week, the New York Jets, are very good at shutting down the run.
The Jets will watch the game tape from the Bills game and will probably put Darrelle Revis on Moore, making Campbell throw the ball elsewhere. If the Jets are smart, they will see that a short, quick passing game like the Bills employed will cancel the Raiders strong pass rush that is generated by the defensive line. The Raiders failed to get a sack in Buffalo and don't think that went unnoticed by the Jets.
The Raiders are averaging 160 rushing yards a game, while the Jets are giving up just 88 yards on the ground. I think that Revis will shut down Moore, and the Jets defense will be too much for the Raiders.
My prediction: New York Jets 24 - Oakland 19
The St. Louis Rams just dropped their Monday Night Football game to the New York Giants, so the Rams have yet to taste victory this season. They now face a tough task, as they have a short week to prepare for their next opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, who are coming off an ugly loss to the Tennessee Titans. Not exactly the recipe you want to subscribe to when you are about to face the Ravens.
Sam Bradford threw for over 300 yards in the loss to the New York Giants, but the Giants defense was able to get to him with their pressure. The Rams have been really missing the dynamic production of running back Steven Jackson, so they have not been able to attack teams like they would prefer.
The Ravens had a great opener against their arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers, only to turn up a clunker against the Titans. So after two weeks, the Ravens have the 25th-best overall offense and the 22nd best overall defense. Not exactly playoff-like rankings. It is hard to believe that with All-Pro Ed Reed, the Ravens are giving up over 300 yards a game in the air, but that's the reality.
The one area that pops out is that the Ravens defense has created eight turnovers so far, which is tied for the NFL lead with the Detroit Lions.
We don't know if Jackson is going to play for the Rams, and that could be the biggest factor in the game. Without Jackson, the Ravens will be able to keep Bradford contained and find a way to win on the road.
My prediction: Baltimore 20 - St. Louis 16
We are showing the picture of Brandon Flowers because he is one of the better Kansas City Chiefs players that isn't hurt and out for the year yet.
In the final preseason game, and then the first two regular season games, the Chiefs have lost one major integral part of their team, from tight end Tony Moeaki, to safety Eric Berry, to running back Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs have seen all three go on IR and are out for the rest of the year. This is like the Titanic, as the Chiefs team right now appears to be a sinking ship.
They have been outscored 89-10 so far, and morale has to be at an all-time low. When the cameras are on head coach Todd Haley during these blowouts, he seems like he is blankly staring at the field as if he is in a fog or a haze. The Chiefs might want to seriously think about putting him out of his misery and find somebody that won't alienate so many people, as Haley has done.
The Chargers tried to upend the New England Patriots but came up short. I watched that game and what was amazing to me was that Chargers QB Phillip Rivers threw for 378 yards, yet did not complete a single pass to tight end Antonio Gates. He hardly even looked for Gates, but then again, Vincent Jackson was in a zone, and Rivers just kept feeding him the ball.
There is no reason to expect that this game won't be just like the Chiefs first two contests. Without their best running back, the Chargers can rush quarterback Matt Cassel and make life miserable for him. Without Berry at safety, the Chargers will take advantage and Rivers should have a field day. I see this game as a blowout, and the Chiefs can only wait for another shoe to drop, just waiting to find out who the shoe belongs to.
My prediction: San Diego 42 - Kansas City 3
The Green Bay Packers have picked up right where they left off, reeling off one victory after another. Quarterback Aaron Rogers continues to look better and better with every passing week, and there is no reason to believe that he will not continue to improve. This week we have a re-match of the 2010 NFC Championship game, as the Packers travel to face the Chicago Bears.
The Bears are still dealing with very real problems with their offensive line, and as long as that remains the case, their offense, and Jay Cutler specifically, will be at risk. It has to be a very unsettling feeling to go back to pass time after time and know that you are going to get lit up, but you have to stand there and deliver the pass and take a big hit.
The Bears have already allowed 11 sacks this season, which is the most in the NFL. There does not appear to be any relief for Cutler in sight.
It is a shame that Cutler will have so little time to pass this week, because the Packers pass defense is anemic so far. The Packers pass defense is last in the NFL, giving up an average of 400 passing yards per game. If all of that wasn't bad enough, the Packers lost Nick Collins to the I.R. due to his neck injury, and the yardage totals could conceivably go up from the 400 yards per game rate.
It Cutler can get over 250 yards, the Bears might have a chance. The Packers are still very good at stopping the run, as they are only allowing 76 yards per game on the ground. The Bears can try to run on them but need to be ready to go to a pass attack if that fails.
The Packers offense will continue to bail out the defense, and the Bears offensive line will allow enough sacks to disrupt the Bears drives. I like Green Bay to win on the road.
My prediction: Green Bay 34 - Chicago 17
In a contest featuring two NFC West rivals, the Arizona Cardinals are going to do their best to continue to make the Seattle Seahawks look like they are "all-in" on the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. The Seahawks have some decent talent to work with, but their current brand of football is just plain hard to watch. A combined record of 1-3 makes me wonder how many Seahawks fans will show up this Sunday.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, are enjoying the fruits of their Kevin Kolb to Larry Fitzgerald combination, which has produced many long completions already. That duo should continue to connect this Sunday. They will only need limited production to be able to beat the lowly Seahawks.
The Seahawks have the worst overall offense in the NFL, averaging just 191 yards per game. They have the worst rush offense (47 yards per game), despite investing their top two draft picks on offensive linemen. The Seahawks defense isn't all that bad, as they are ranked 10th overall in the NFL, but the interesting thing is that the defense hasn't generated a single turnover yet.
The Seahawks give up too many sacks, but they are facing one of the weaker defenses in the early going, as the Cardinals are ranked 29th overall on defense. Can they actually move the ball and score enough to win? No, I don't see it happening.
My prediction: Arizona 27 - Seattle 17
The Atlanta Falcons were able to pull out an emotional victory on Sunday night, when they bested their old quarterback, Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles, in a hard-fought contest. The Falcons will have to guard against a letdown, as they were definitely fired up for that game.
Meanwhile, the Bucs are glad to have a win under their belts, as they defeated the Minnesota Vikings in a comeback win. This NFC South contest will determine at least a share of first place in the division and could be an important tie-breaking factor later in the year.
Atlanta will try to take advantage of the weak Bucs' rush defense (ranked 31st) as they are giving up 156 yards per game on the ground so far. Expect to see Michael Turner pounding the rock often in this game. The other concern about the Bucs defense is the lack of a strong pass rush, as they only have been averaging one sack per game, which has them in the bottom five in the league.
The Falcons are running the ball very well so far, and Turner has topped 100 yards in both games so far, so that streak should continue. The Falcons don't play the best defense either (ranked 27th overall) so the Bucs should be able to move the ball on them. With not much defense being on display, expect to see a decent amount of yardage and points. I think the Falcons ground game lets them win on the road.
My prediction: Atlanta 31 - Tampa Bay 27
The football minds at ESPN have come up with a quarterback rating system that they refer to as Total QBR. If you are interested to learn more about how it works, a link to the story is right here.
We bring this up because, interestingly enough, the top two quarterbacks atop their QBR rankings are Tom Brady and Ryan Fitzpatrick—the two quarterbacks set to duel it out in this AFC East shootout. Brady is ranked at 89.7, while Fitzpatrick is at 84.8. Both guys are off to very impressive starts to their seasons.
While Brady has basically thrown for twice as many yards as Fitzpatrick has (940 to 472), the fact remains that both QB's have thrown a great ratio of seven touchdowns to only one interception so far this year.
While Brady moves his team up and down the field with passes, the Bills counter with the NFL's rushing leader for the year so far, in running back Fred Jackson, who sits atop the NFL with 229 yards.
We have to also acknowledge the Bills running game (190 rush yards per game), which is No. 1 in the NFL and they also boast the top runner in the league right now, Fred Jackson, who has 229 yards after two games.
The Bills great start to the season is all well and fine, but they want to find out how good they really are, so the Patriots offer a very good quality test. The Patriots learned that they will be without tight end Aaron Hernandez, so that means the Bills can focus on stopping Rob Grankowski, rather than worrying about both of the gifted tight end targets. The Bills counter with their own tight end target, as Scott Chandler has come up with three touchdown grabs on the young season.
Both teams have made a big addition to their defensive line, as the Bills drafted Marcell Dareus, while the Patriots traded for Albert Haynesworth. The Bills have upgraded their linebacking unit with Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison, and Shawne Merriman is looking to make more of an impact than he did in the first two games.
The Bills would really like to end their long losing streak to New England, so the home crowd should be fired up to inspire the Bills to play an emotional game. Can they play smart and emotional?
My prediction: Buffalo 33, New England 30 in Overtime
NBC thought they were getting a premiere matchup here, but with no Peyton Manning in the game, and the two teams playing with a combined record of 1-3, this Sunday Night Football contest could be a very real ratings dud.
The Pittsburgh Steelers won last week, while the Indianapolis Colts are finding out each passing week how difficult it is to play without Manning at the helm. The Colts are just a mere shadow of their former team, and they need to really dig deep to start turning their season around—one player at a time.
That will be a tough task to do this week, as the Steelers have already had their wake-up call. They pitched a shutout against the Seattle Seahawks, so even though they could have let down against Seattle, they played a solid enough game to shut them out. The Colts might be victims of another shutout this week, but I think Kerry Collins will have enough plays in him to prevent a shutout.
The Steelers defense is still very good (ranked second in the NFL overall) and since they are allowing only 274 yards per game, the Colts will have a hard time generating even that much offense (they average 260 yards a game against worst defenses).
This game appears to be another blowout, as things continue to look worse for the Colts.
My prediction: Pittsburgh 28 - Indianapolis 7
Tony Romo is coming off a special performance last weekend, when he came back in to the game with a fractured rib (and a punctured lung, which was discovered after the fact), to lead the Dallas Cowboys to an overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers.
This was some very nice vindication for Romo, who took some harsh criticism for making bad decisions down the stretch in the season-opening loss to the New York Jets.
The Washington Redskins, on the other hand, have been one of the more surprising stories in the 2011 season. They looked better in the preseason but were able to carry over their better play into the regular season as well, proving that they were for real. Steady play from quarterback Rex Grossman has helped the Redskins to become a viable contender in the NFC East division.
The Redskins are ranked 11th overall in both offense and defense, so their team is definitely much improved over 2011. The Cowboys, on the other hand, are ranked fourth overall in both offense and defense, so they are slightly better on both sides of the ball.
I realize that both teams will be fired up playing in front of a national audience, but to my way of thinking, there was some kind of much-needed spark that Romo provided the Cowboys last week that they were previously missing. In addition, the Cowboys have the most sacks in the NFL with 10, and they will place enough pressure on Rex Grossman to win a tightly-contested road victory against the Redskins.
My prediction: Dallas 24 - Washington 21