TEN (1-1) @ JAX (0-2) | THU 8:20 PM ET | NFL Network
The Jaguars showed they still have fight in them despite losing Nick Foles (collarbone) in the opener, as Leonard Fournette was inches away from giving them a road victory over the Texans last Sunday. However, the 0-2 start has led to Jalen Ramsey requesting a trade—partly because he doesn’t want to play zone coverage, despite the defense just holding Houston to 13 points and DeAndre Hopkins to 40 yards—so how will the team morale be on a short week? I would think Jacksonville wants to come out fired up to stop Derrick Henry after what he did to them last December with 238 yards and four touchdowns, but one guy not tackling (and I’m not saying Ramsey would be the culprit) can be contagious. And whether or not Henry is stopped, I’m not sure Gardner Minshew will be able to stay hot and put up enough points against a Titans defense that has allowed just 10.3 points per game over the past four meetings between these AFC South foes (all Tennessee wins). For what it’s worth, though, an 0-3 start may not 100% doom Jacksonville based on a favorable schedule the rest of the way, and getting rid of Ramsey may be addition by subtraction for the long-term.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
CIN (0-2) @ BUF (2-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Josh Allen is now 7-7 as a starter to begin his career, and while it’s great to see everyone suddenly on the Bills bandwagon—from both a real-life and fantasy football perspective—I’m just wondering why people were allowed to be so wrong about the 2018 first-round pick without consequences. Allen isn’t a lock to be a superstar, but the “experts” said it would take years for him to even have a shot at NFL success, so it’s frustrating to see a lack of accountability by big names on Twitter and in the media. Nevertheless, Buffalo is a win away from a 3-0 start, and their home debut feels like a spot for Allen to really takeover with his legs after a modest 17 rushes for 59 yards (3.5 YPC) through two games. To pull off an upset and rebound from a 24-point loss at home, the Bengals need Joe Mixon (ankle) to handle a featured workload and carry the offense, as Andy Dalton testing Sean McDermott’s stingy secondary isn’t an inspiring game plan.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
DET (1-0-1) @ PHI (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
We have seen Philadelphia come through with their backs against the wall before, but there are plenty of things to be worried about in Week 3. First of all, injuries have piled up once again, and the offense is expected to be without Alshon Jeffery (calf), DeSean Jackson (abdomen), and Dallas Goedert (calf) against an underrated Detroit defense. That could mean Nelson Agholor sees plenty of coverage from Darius Slay (on the outside) and Justin Coleman (in the slot), leaving Zach Ertz to contend with a unit that has allowed just three receptions to tight ends this season. Arguably more concerning is Philly’s defense, because a) the pass rush has struggled to generate consistent pressure (leaving the secondary exposed), and b) the Lions can be a tough bunch to tackle, especially if Kerryon Johnson handles 20+ touches like he should with C.J. Anderson now a free agent. Also, Matthew Stafford is 3-1 with a 9:1 touchdown-interception ratio in his career against the Eagles. Unless Jordan Howard is finally fed, Philadelphia may be facing 1-2 before a tip to Green Bay next Thursday night.
Winner: Detroit Lions
NYJ (0-2) @ NE (2-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The circumstances (Sam Darnold having mono and Trevor Siemian being lost for the season with an ankle injury) are obviously terrible, and Sunday’s result is highly unlikely to end up in New York’s favor, but how cool is it that Luke Falk is making his first NFL start against his idol Tom Brady? I remember the comparisons between the two last year because Falk—like Brady—was the 199th pick in the NFL Draft and tries to model his game after TB12, which is apparently something he’s done dating back to high school. Unfortunately, the pre-game meeting will probably be much more memorable than the actual game, but perhaps Adam Gase can somehow bring some of the magic he had in Miami (where he went a respectable 2-4 against Bill Belichick) to the Jets. If Falk is protected, he has the ability to deliver the ball accurately and on-time, but even a Brady-like performance might not be enough to outduel the GOAT himself when he gets to throw to
Antonio Brown, Julian Edelman, and Josh Gordon.
Winner: New England Patriots
OAK (1-1) @ MIN (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
It’s obviously way too early to count anyone (expect the Dolphins) out of postseason contention, but Oakland’s shaky playoff outlook—due to their impossible schedule—seems to have gotten a boost after quarterback injuries around the AFC. That said, the Raiders need to finish strong this month (@ MIN, @ IND) by picking up at least one win before a trip to London in Week 5, and it won’t be easy to take out the Vikings with limited playmakers on the outside. To their credit, Oakland has played very stout run defense (2.8 yards per carry allowed), which will be needed against Minnesota, especially since Mike Zimmer surely wants to run the ball more than ever following Kirk Cousins’ costly interception in last week’s loss. I think Jon Gruden finds a way to make it close in the fourth quarter by moving the ball with Darren Waller, Hunter Renfrow, and Jalen Richard on short passes, but it might not be enough on the road against an angry Vikings squad.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
BAL (2-0) @ KC (2-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Easily the best game of the week, Ravens-Chiefs will feature two legitimate Super Bowl contenders with a couple of MVP candidates at quarterback—both of whom are leading a top-five offense. Lamar Jackson has been nothing short of phenomenal through two games, and he will come in with a bit of a chip on his shoulder as he looks to defeat the only team that beat him in the regular season as a rookie. Patrick Mahomes, on the other hand, has not played as great as the statistics might suggest, and he simply cannot miss throws like he did in the first two games if the Chiefs are going to defend Arrowhead Stadium and keep pace with New England atop the conference. Last season, Mahomes went 35-of-53 for 377 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception in a 27-24 victory, but while he won’t have Tyreek Hill (8/139), he will have Sammy Watkins (who missed the matchup last year) and Mecole Hardman to make up for it. On defense, Kansas City needs to be prepared for a never-before-seen rushing attack that may feature complex looks built around Jackson with Mark Ingram, Justice Hill, and Gus Edwards mixing in (or potentially even on the field together), but the homefield advantage gives them a slight edge for me.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
ATL (1-1) @ IND (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
It hopefully won’t be an issue because they should see the NFC South is there for the taking, but Atlanta needs to beware of a letdown coming off a huge, last-minute victory over the Eagles on Sunday Night Football. That’s especially true against the Colts, as Frank Reich’s offensive line will come out and punch them in the mouth before they know what hit them, and the Falcons have been sluggish on the road at times under Dan Quinn. However, this appears to be another matchup in which Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley can go off, and Matt Ryan is too good to not cutdown on the turnovers. Falling behind early may be difficult to overcome for the Colts (Atlanta limited T.Y. Hilton to just two receptions in their 2015 meeting), so they need to establish the run early with Marlon Mack to keep Matty Ice on the sideline. Indy is favored at home, but I’m going with the Falcons to start off this AFC South stretch (@ IND, v TEN, @ HOU) on the right foot.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
DEN (0-2) @ GB (2-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
You couldn’t ask for a better start to a coaching career than two divisional wins, and that’s exactly what Matt LaFleur has done to begin his tenure in Green Bay. I’m assuming that Aaron Rodgers and the offense will eventually figure things out, so it’s even more encouraging that the 2-0 record has been driven by a young Packers defense with emerging stars all of the place. Jaire Alexander in particular is one of the most underrated players in the league, as he is a superb cover corner that easily sticks to receivers; at one point last week, Alexander literally ran a corner route for Adam Thielen and dropped a would-be interception. If there are a couple of mismatches for Denver to potentially take advantage of on Sunday, I would say they are Courtland Sutton facing off with No. 2 corner Kevin King and Royce Freeman/Phillip Lindsay testing the Green Bay front seven. It would be nice to see Vic Fangio get a victory the board, but I wouldn’t count on it coming at Lambeau Field.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
MIA (0-2) @ DAL (2-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
While the players and coaches aren’t throwing games, Miami is clearly “tanking” to accumulate high draft picks, and after shipping Minkah Fitzpatrick to Pittsburgh, they now have three first-rounders, two second-rounders, and two third-rounders (including a projected compensatory pick) in 2020 followed by two first-rounders and two second-rounders in 2021. Plus, the treasure chest still may be open with Kenyan Drake reportedly on the trade block, so the Dolphins will be adding a flood of rookie talent in each of the next two drafts—though it’s fair to wonder if general manager Chris Grier is the right man for the job considering his track record in April has been shaky at best after three years on the job. Still, I’m very interested to find out if the Dolphins are going to get a quarterback in 2020 or wait for Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence in 2021, and the offseason decisions to come hold much more significance than the final score of Sunday’s game, which is unfortunate for the NFL. Cowboys roll to 3-0.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
NYG (0-2) @ TB (1-1) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
Some of the notes I had for my Daniel Jones scouting report earlier this year include “throws with phenomenal touch and anticipation,” “great accuracy and ball placement,” “intelligent,” “quick processor,” and “works through progressions,” but the most important one for 2019—and the reason Eli Manning was replaced as New York’s starter—may be “above-average athlete with the ability to make plays as a runner.” The Giants will be forever grateful to Eli for his two Super Bowl runs, but there is no room for sentimentality in a win-or-die league, so Pat Shurmur made the right move by going with the playmaking rookie on an offense that lacks perimeter weapons. Also, Tampa Bay is a good draw for Jones’ first start because the secondary can be attacked, but New York needs to be prepared for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles throwing the kitchen sink at him. I think the No. 6 overall pick has the poise to overcome on- and off-field pressure—making the New York papers issue some apologies on Monday morning.
Winner: New York Giants
CAR (0-2) @ ARI (0-1-1) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
Cam Newton not simply falling forward on fourth-and-inches with the game on the line last Thursday night said all you needed to know about his health, and it’s fair to wonder if we will ever see his MVP-form ever again. I was concerned about the revamped throwing motion coming off shoulder surgery, but the foot injury is even more of a worry because it essentially sucks the superpowers away from the quarterback sometimes referred to as Superman. Presumed starter Kyle Allen is a capable backup at least, and Ron Rivera needs him to play well to cool off the hot seat, as new team owner David Tepper may not wait around to get his own guy to lead the franchise if Carolina can’t turn things around after last season’s collapse. The Cardinals may have a difficult time containing Curtis Samuel, D.J. Moore, and Greg Olsen based on how they played pass defense in the first two games, but offensively, Kyler Murray has looked very comfortable throwing the ball over the past five quarters of football, and this turning into a shootout would bode well for their chances.
Winner: Arizona Cardinals
PIT (0-2) @ SF (2-0) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Most are counting them out, but the Steelers clearly believe they can win with Mason Rudolph under center after surrendering their 2020 first-round pick to Miami for new starting safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, and I agree. On defense, the team now has eight starters (if you include Devin Bush) that were former first-rounders, and there is way too much talent on both sides of the ball for them to simply fold after two games. The 49ers will be ready to get after Rudolph, but for what it’s worth, I had the Oklahoma State product ranked as a top-30 overall prospect—and top-five quarterback (ahead of Josh Rosen)—in the 2018 NFL Draft, and he would benefit from the running game finally rolling to set up play-action passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster and college teammate James Washington. San Francisco’s pass rush may be able to get to Rudolph is his first start, but I’m not completely sold on the Niners, and Mike Tomlin should have his guys ready to pull off a road upset.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
NO (1-1) @ SEA (2-0) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Slow starts have been the norm for Seattle in the Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson era, but two close wins have them at 2-0, and the league’s highest-paid quarterback is already on-fire by completing 78.2% of his passes for 495 yards, five touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Now, the Seahawks will face a wounded New Orleans team that just lost Drew Brees (thumb) for at least six weeks, but the Saints are wisely making their starter—Teddy Bridgewater or Taysom Hill—a mystery this week. I expect we will see both guys play a decent amount, and I hope for Bridgewater’s sake that he is able to put out some really good tape over the next several weeks to possibly sign somewhere as a starter in 2020. A balanced, play-action attack that gets Latavius Murray and Jared Cook more involved would be the best formula in my opinion (it’s basically what Teddy thrived doing in Minnesota), but if Hill is really the next Steven Young as Payton has raved (or more accurately, exaggerated), why isn’t he the clear replacement for Brees?
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
HOU (1-1) @ LAC (1-1) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Anything can happen with Deshaun Watson leading the way, but I don’t like this matchup at all for Houston. On offense, the Texans are unlikely to be able to protect their quarterback from Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on the edge, while defensively, Philip Rivers should be able to dice up a struggling secondary with Keenan Allen (six-foot-two) and Mike Williams (six-foot-four) being defended by Johnathan Joseph (five-foot-11) and Bradley Roby (five-foot-11). There’s not much that can be done to contain the LA receivers, but Houston can keep Rivers off the field by using the short-passing game, including screens to Duke Johnson and/or Keke Coutee. While a loss would put Los Angeles behind the ball in the AFC West, significantly more pressure is on Houston, as they are inches away from an 0-2 start and will have matchups against Atlanta and Kansas City to start October. I like the Chargers at home to bounce back from a Week 2 disappointment.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
LAR (2-0) @ CLE (1-1) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
People can spin the numbers any way they want, but Baker Mayfield hasn’t played well so far this season, and he will need to flip a switch if the Browns are going to have any chance of beating the Rams on Sunday night. To me, it seems like Cleveland’s entire offensive identity is out of sorts, as by acquiring Odell Beckham Jr. and all that comes with him, they’ve become a shotgun, pass-heavy team—but it was actually a slow, opportunistic offense built around Nick Chubb that led to a 6-2 finish in 2018. Opponents are much better off running the ball on Los Angeles, so win or lose, this weekend will be telling for the Browns’ long-term outlook under head coach Freddie Kitchens. Defensively, getting to Jared Goff will be key, as if the Rams can keep him upright, he will simply march up and down the field by targeting whoever Denzel Ward isn’t on out of Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp. This could also be a spot for Todd Gurley to be unleashed after 15 carries per game against Carolina and New Orleans.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
CHI (1-1) @ WAS (0-2) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
Mitchell Trubisky has thrown for just 348 yards and zero touchdowns through two games, but if he’s going to make a Year 3 leap, perhaps the big-time throw to Allen Robinson that set up Eddy Pineiro’s game-winning field goal last week will be a confidence-booster. Last season, Trubisky was able to do damage with his legs, so it may be time for Matt Nagy to prioritize that after just four combined carries in Week 1 and Week 2. Also, Nagy implemented half of my recommended plan last week (more touches for David Montgomery), so hopefully the second half (using Anthony Miller as a full-time player) happens against a Washington secondary that has allowed lines of 15/214/3 and 18/210/2 to opposing wide receivers already this season. For the Redskins, it’s been good to see Case Keenum orchestrate a surprisingly efficient passing attack, but things could come crashing down to Earth with Khalil Mack and the Bears coming to town. I don’t think Monday night will be an easy win for Chicago, but they should be able to score enough points in a low-scoring affair.
Winner: Chicago Bears
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