MIA (0-2) @ JAX (1-1) | THU 8:20 PM ET | NFL Network
Dolphins-Jaguars on a Thursday night—with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Gardner Minshew at quarterback—feels like the most unpredictable game of all-time, but the fun factor should be extremely high. Miami came into the year hoping to contend for a playoff spot, and they shouldn’t be written off yet after playing both New England and Buffalo tough to start the season. Byron Jones (groin) is a big loss on defense tonight, but Xavien Howard should be ready to bounce back quickly for Brian Flores’ defense, and the matchup will be much easier for first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene after a welcome-to-the-NFL game against Stefon Diggs in Week 2. Overall, Jacksonville’s biggest advantage comes with their young pass rushers (Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson) against a shaky offensive line for the Dolphins, but Fitzpatrick is expected to be at the top of his game for a battle versus Minshew, and I think the size of DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, and Mike Gesicki can cause problems for the Jags. Again, this is a tough one to predict, but Miami has more offensive firepower with Jacksonville ruling out D.J. Chark (chest/back).
Winner: Miami Dolphins
HOU (0-2) @ PIT (2-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The brutal schedule for Houston out of the gates made 0-3 a real possibility, and they will need to pull off a road upset this weekend to avoid it. Pittsburgh being balanced on offense—combined with the weapons at receiver and their opportunistic defense—makes them a definite contender, but the Texans will present a bigger challenge than the winless teams they have faced so far. Still, the offensive line will get All-Pro guard David DeCastro back in the lineup after missing the first two games, and right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor playing well in place of Zach Banner (knee) should have the team confident in James Conner building on last week’s 106-yard, one-score performance on the ground. I like the long-term outlook for the Texans with more of a spread-the-wealth passing attack, but to reach their full potential, Deshaun Watson needs to do more as a runner after 11 carries for just 44 yards through two weeks. If Watson is contained, we could get a statement game from Mike Tomlin’s squad, as Ben Roethlisberger should be able to dissect the Houston secondary.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
CIN (0-2) @ PHI (0-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Eagles have no identity on either side of the ball, and it would take a dramatic turnaround for them to do much more than stick around in the NFC East race this season. At least when Carson Wentz was moving the offense by mostly locking onto Zach Ertz in previous years (often too much), you could tell what the game plan was, but the roster is now being exposed for how weak it is in general—largely driven by poor drafts from long-time executive Howie Roseman. On defense, Philadelphia should be able to get to Joe Burrow, but Fletcher Cox needs to wake up the front four, and I’m worried about the size advantage Cincinnati has at receiver when the No. 1 overall pick is given time to push the ball downfield. If they aren’t able to win in the trenches—at home—against a Bengals team that was just controlled at the line of scrimmage by the Browns, the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes could realistically be on based on the upcoming schedule for Philly (@ SF, @ PIT, v BAL). The formula should be giving Miles Sanders the ball and playing through Ertz with Jalen Reagor (thumb) on IR.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
SF (1-1) @ NYG (0-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The year that is “2020” unfortunately caught up to the NFL last week when an unbelievable string of injuries hit the league, and the two most impactful ones were for the 49ers and Giants—as both Nick Bosa and Saquon Barkley are done for the year with a torn ACL. This week (and beyond in some cases), San Francisco will also be without Raheem Mostert (knee), Tevin Coleman (knee), Deebo Samuel (foot), Solomon Thomas (knee, season), Richard Sherman (calf), likely Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle), and maybe George Kittle (knee), so New York is actually in much better shape despite losing a superstar centerpiece in Barkley. The team signed Devonta Freeman to boost the offense, but I would like to see Jason Garrett open things up for Daniel Jones and allow him to do more as a playmaker; he’s obviously not on the level of Kyler Murray or Russell Wilson in terms of dynamic ability, but Jones can present problems for a Niners defense that has struggled to contain mobile quarterbacks. We’ll see if Nick Mullens can play well again off the bench as Kyle Shanahan relies on running backs Jerick McKinnon and Jeff Wilson, but this is a good chance for New York to get on the board for Joe Judge’s first career win.
Winner: New York Giants
LV (2-0) @ NE (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
I was on the Raiders last week for the opening of Allegiant Stadium, and you could make the case that New England is the perfect opponent to avoid a letdown against when it comes to the team’s focus level—as Jon Gruden will certainly have his guys ready to play, especially since Cam Newton just took the Seahawks 15 rounds on Sunday Night Football. Similar to what Seattle did on the last play to win in Week 2, I would expect the Raiders are going to emphasize stopping Cam in the running game, so it will be interesting to see how Josh McDaniels crafts the game plan; more carries for Sony Michel is my guess after the lanes New Orleans opened for Alvin Kamara against Las Vegas. Even more intriguing is who Bill Belichick will deem the biggest priority to stop for the Raiders’ offense, as Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs have been the key pieces, but Henry Ruggs III demands extra attention whenever he’s on the field. Derek Carr needs to take care of the ball like he did on Monday night against a defense that wants to prove Russell Wilson’s five-touchdown performance was an anomaly.
Winner: Las Vegas Raiders
TEN (2-0) @ MIN (0-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Tennessee left tackle Taylor Lewan has said the locker room feels like they’re 0-2 because they haven’t played up to their potential—and him pointing to run blocking as an area of improvement could be bad news for Minnesota this week. Mike Zimmer’s defense has allowed the fifth-most rushing yards per game in the league (154.5), and the loss of Anthony Barr (pectoral) for the season is just another concern as they try to dig out of an 0-2 hole to keep pace with Green Bay and Chicago. Furthermore, the touches have been there for Derrick Henry (who is averaging 100.0 rushing yards per game despite 3.6 yards per carry), so a monster game will come sooner rather than later. On the other side of the ball, Kirk Cousins clearly needs to play better after a three-interception performance in which he threw for just 113 yards, but it’s not all on him, and the Vikings lack proven options behind Adam Thielen at receiver. Both teams will want to get out to a lead and keep the ball on the ground; even with A.J. Brown (knee) likely out again, I have more faith in Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee offense whether or not things go according to plan.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
WAS (1-1) @ CLE (1-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Confidence is important, so it is a great sign for the Browns that they bounced back from a blowout loss in Week 1 to get a needed win against Cincinnati last Thursday night. Of course, actually giving Nick Chubb the 20+ carries he should get every week helped, and Kareem Hunt coming off the bench as a change-of-pace option provides almost no relief for opponents after getting beaten up by the punishing starter. This week, Washington will be a difficult test because they have the star power and depth to compete on the defensive line, but Cleveland can’t abandon the run if they face early resistance. For me, the matchup between top-ten picks Chase Young and Jedrick Wills is one to watch closely, and the Browns will have had a great day if the No. 2 overall pick rarely has his name called on the FOX broadcast. I could see Washington pulling off a road upset with Terry McLaurin, Antonio Gibson, and Logan Thomas all being contributors as Dwayne Haskins returns to the familiar state of Ohio, but Cleveland has the formula to win if Baker Mayfield isn’t asked to do more than pick his shots in a heavy play-action offense.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
LAR (2-0) @ BUF (2-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Monday Night Football showdown might not be topped, but Rams-Bills should be a tremendous matchup—and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being a Super Bowl LV preview. Josh Allen built on his first 300-yard game in the opener by tossing 400+ yards and four scores in Week 2, and the selflessness displayed by Buffalo’s receiving corps against Miami is championship-level stuff (if you didn’t hear about it, John Brown got on the headset to tell offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to feed Stefon Diggs in the first half, and then Diggs went in at halftime to suggest getting Brown and Cole Beasley more targets). As for the Rams, doubting Sean McVay because they missed the playoffs last year (with a 9-7 record) was silly, and the offense has multiple ways to attack with Jared Goff operating as one of the NFL’s most accurate distributors. The game could come down to whatever supporting cast makes more plays behind Diggs (defended by Jalen Ramsey) or Robert Woods (defended by Tre’Davious White), but I have the home team improving to 3-0.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
CHI (2-0) @ ATL (0-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Falcons going up 20-0 in the first quarter last week against Dallas and then somehow losing, 40-39, on a last-second field goal (following a recovered onside kick) is about as demoralizing as it gets, but they still have everything in front of them this early in the season. One thing we know about Atlanta is that the offense will do their part, and based on how Calvin Ridley has performed through two games (16/239/4), defenses will have to begin giving lighter boxes to Todd Gurley and the running game. My concern this week will be the offensive line keeping Matt Ryan clean with Khalil Mack and the Bears coming to town, as Kaleb McGary (knee) won’t play, and Jake Matthews (knee) is less than 100%. Defensively, containing Allen Robinson needs to be the focus, but his underrated ability as a route runner could be an issue for the young cornerbacks on the perimeter, and Chicago has plenty of potential contributors. Although I expect Mitchell Trubisky to have another nice game, Atlanta is the more desperate team.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
CAR (0-2) @ LAC (1-1) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
The circumstances were unfortunate, but Justin Herbert was phenomenal in a spot start for Tyrod Taylor (chest) last week, and the No. 6 overall pick could make it nearly impossible for Anthony Lynn to turn back to the veteran if he shows well in another start. That said, the Panthers won’t be caught off-guard by Herbert being under center like Kansas City was, and Matt Rhule might have some ideas about how to slow down the rookie due to his experience facing dual-threat quarterbacks in the Big 12. Herbert can stay hot in a plus matchup, but the Chargers should still count on the running game with Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley against a Carolina team that has been shredded on the ground despite adding rookie Derrick Brown to the defensive line. For the Los Angeles defense, their play through two games just makes it even more frustrating that Derwin James (knee) saw his season end before it even began, and they have a clear advantage over the Panthers with Christian McCaffrey (ankle) out—particularly in the trenches if/when Teddy Bridgewater needs to air it out.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
NYJ (0-2) @ IND (1-1) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
Adam Gase said the Jets will need anyone with “a pulse” because of all the injuries they currently have on offense, and the Indy defense coming off a correction game versus the Vikings probably doesn’t inspire much confidence for Sam Darnold as he tries to move the ball with Chris Hogan and Braxton Berrios as his top wideouts. New York wants to right the ship and has some winnable games coming up on the schedule before a brutal stretch in October/November (v BUF, @ KC, v NE), though, so I would suggest pulling out whatever tricks they have in the playbook until some combination of Le’Veon Bell (hamstring), Breshad Perriman (ankle), Jamison Crowder (hamstring), and Denzel Mims (hamstring) is able to return. Also, Gregg Williams’ defense needs to be better setting the edge after allowing big runs last week against the 49ers, as rookie runner Jonathan Taylor can hit the home run if he’s given room to run for the Colts. I’m not picking against Indianapolis at home with T.Y. Hilton’s grandma challenging him to play better.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
DAL (1-1) @ SEA (2-0) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Dak Prescott and the Cowboys won the game that has mattered most against Seattle (2018 NFC Wild Card Round), but I think it’s notable that he’s 0-2 against them in the regular season with 174.5 passing yards per game and a 1:4 touchdown-interception ratio—especially since the playoff victory was pretty much a slugfest, which Dallas can’t count on happening this time around against the white-hot Russell Wilson. While the Seahawks have allowed big-time production to the opposing passing attacks of Atlanta and New England, they are too talented to not improve, and their cornerbacks possess the combination of length and physicality to cause problems on the outside for Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup; that could mean another big role for CeeDee Lamb out of the slot after 106 yards in Week 2. Overall, I’m just not sure the Cowboys will be able to keep up on the road if the pass rush is unable to get to Wilson, and second-round pick Trevon Diggs (shoulder) being less than 100% if he plays isn’t going to make stopping D.K. Metcalf any easier.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
TB (1-1) @ DEN (0-2) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
The mobility of Jeff Driskel makes him an ideal backup quarterback for a defensive team like the one Denver has, and he will do what he can to keep the team afloat until Drew Lock (shoulder) returns. However, Tampa Bay has a very fast and aggressive defense, so Driskel needs to balance his ability to make things happen with not being forced into a mistake; getting him on the move with rollouts to Noah Fant and Jerry Jeudy with shots mixed in to K.J. Hamler could help keep Todd Bowles’ defense honest. For the Bucs, they will have Chris Godwin (concussion) back in the lineup, and Tom Brady shouldn’t waste any time targeting him as the primary intermediate target with Mike Evans being used in more of a vertical role. Also, it would be classic Bruce Arians to dial up more opportunities for Rob Gronkowski after just downplaying his role as a receiving option for the offense. It won’t be easy on the road, but I’d bet Brady knows this is his last shot at Denver, and he’s not going to end his career with a losing record against them (currently 8-9 including playoffs).
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DET (0-2) @ ARI (2-0) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
The train isn’t completely off the tracks, but it might not take much longer for the Lions—and the Matt Patricia era—to be derailed following two blown leads in two weeks. I will say that Detroit has previously won games in which they were clear underdogs under Patricia, but it’s usually due to a well-constructed defensive game plan, and I’m just not sure how feasible that will be since there isn’t an athlete on the roster that can contain Kyler Murray. To win, the Lions will probably need to put on a very strong offensive showing of their own with Kenny Golladay (hamstring) back in the lineup, and the backfield trio of Kerryon Johnson, Adrian Peterson, and D’Andre Swift might be more effective if they let one or two guys try to get in a rhythm for an extended stretch. Looking ahead, Kliff Kingsbury’s squad could easily enter a Week 6 primetime matchup against the Cowboys at 5-0 if they are able to take care of business as touchdown favorites this weekend and then do the same against the Panthers and Jets.
Winner: Arizona Cardinals
GB (2-0) @ NO (1-1) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
The potential shootout between Green Bay and New Orleans might not have headlining receivers Davante Adams (hamstring) or Michael Thomas (ankle) on the field for Sunday Night Football, but it is still an important early-season NFC clash nonetheless. I don’t know how much the Saints not pushing the ball downfield has to do with Drew Brees’ arm strength in his age-41 season, but Tre’Quan Smith should get more opportunities one way or another after showing extremely well last Monday night, and I really like the matchup he projects to have against Kevin King on the outside; it wouldn’t be a shock to see more quarterback snaps for Taysom Hill as Sean Payton looks to avoid a 1-2 start in a championship-or-bust season. In general, I’d argue Adams is more valuable to the Packers than Thomas is to the Saints, and Aaron Rodgers would really need to lean on Aaron Jones if his top receiver sits. Even a decoy game would draw Marshon Lattimore off Allen Lazard or Marquez Valdes-Scantling, so I’m going with Green Bay assuming Adams plays, but will switch the pick to New Orleans if he’s out.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
KC (2-0) @ BAL (2-0) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
Lamar Jackson hasn’t put up ridiculous numbers in two career starts against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, but the Ravens have played them extremely close in both losses—and now they’ll get Kansas City at home for the first time in this emerging AFC rivalry. Aside from the location, I would say the biggest difference for the 2020 matchup is Baltimore’s defense looking better than it was in 2018 or 2019, but Mahomes has had their number (375.5 yards per game with a 5:1 touchdown-interception ratio), and rookie runner Clyde Edwards-Helaire adds yet another dimension to the high-powered attack. Rushing for a combined 99 yards over the first two weeks might lead to Jackson being unleashed, but could the pressure of a big game—which has been the question for this current core—weigh on the Ravens if they start slow? We also can’t forget that Mahomes feels he has something to prove after what was perceived as disrespect with a No. 4 ranking on the NFL Top 100. Homefield advantage won’t be as important on Monday night as it would be if these teams meet for Round 4 in January.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs