Those old enough to remember the days of paced oriented approach than its entrenched NFL competition, the league not day game that's become a weekly staple in households all across the land.
Forty years later, fans of this generation are paying witness to a new revolution of football, one which has made the once wide-open AFL more akin to the Wing-T by comparison. Yards and points are being accumulated at record clips, quarterbacks are operating at unforeseen levels of efficiency, and defenses have been left gasping for breath by the furious tempo of today's spread offenses and relentless no-huddle attacks.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the golden age of passing in the NFL.
The first two weeks of this 2011 season have been the most prolific in league history, having generated a grand total of 1,502 points, 172 touchdowns and 15,771 passing yards that all stand as new high-water marks for that time period. There have already been 23 individual 300-yard passing efforts by quarterbacks thus far, as well as 22 occasions in which one has achieved a passer rating of at least 100 -- also an NFL landmark for the first two games.
Tom Brady is currently on track to finish the year with an unbelievable 7,520 passing yards. The reigning NFL MVP's 940 yards through the first two weeks shattered a league record that was about two hours old, when Carolina wunderkind Cam Newton racked up 854 over his initial pair of starts as a professional.
Defenses that have been undeniably adversely affected, both schematically and from a conditioning standpoint, by the reduced practice and training sessions created by the lockout simply haven't been able to keep up with the aerial onslaught, forcing players and coaches to resort to questionable alternative methods in an attempt to level the field. There's been a lot of hubbub in recent days over teams such as the Giants and Chargers feigning injuries with the intent of slowing down enemy offenses. But who really can blame them from resorting to such supposedly diabolical measures, when defenses have been put at such a disadvantage by the rule changes and circumstances of the offseason?
That's not to say teams can't survive having heaps of yardage piled upon them, as Newton's early case study with the still-winless Panthers has presented. However, it's more apparent now than ever than in order to win consistently in this league nowadays, having a quarterback who's proficient in his performances is an absolute must.
Need proof? Well, there are seven clubs that presently sit at 2-0 after the first couple of weeks, and five of them are armed with field generals ranked in the top 10 in quarterback rating, with Washington (Rex Grossman, 15th) and the New York Jets (Mark Sanchez, 17th) the lone exceptions.
Conversely, of the seven 0-2 teams at the moment, only Carolina (Newton, 16th) is led by a quarterback not in the bottom eight of that category.
So, is this era of video-game statistics and back-and-forth shootouts good for the game? Well, beauty's always in the eye of the beholder. But judging by the soaring TV ratings (last Sunday's Eagles-Falcons thriller crushed FOX's broadcast of the Emmys in viewership) and the fans' swift forgiveness of the havoc caused by the work stoppage, it's safe to say the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
It may not be your father's NFL any more. But like it or not, this sleek and polished newfangled brand of football is here to stay.
And now on to this week's games.
NFL POWER POLL
The Sports Network's updated NFL Power Poll, which ranks all 32 league teams, can be found at:
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SUICIDE POOL PIX
1. San Diego (vs. Kansas City) -- Downtrodden Chiefs have now become an almost automatic target in survivor pools, especially on the road.
2. Pittsburgh (at Indianapolis) -- Suddenly-impotent Colts have shown few signs they're capable of competing with the NFL's middle-of-the-road teams, much less an elite one such as the Steelers.
3. Philadelphia (vs. N.Y. Giants) -- This one comes with an asterisk, as the Giants certainly have a better chance of winning if the lightly-tested Mike Kafka is forced to replace Michael Vick at quarterback. If Vick does play, and early indications seem to suggest he will, then talented Eagles shouldn't have too much of a problem against a battered New York squad that's fortunate not to be 0-2 right now.
Nothing to brag about here, that's for sure. Went 9-7 in picks for a second consecutive week along with a 6-9-1 record against the spread, leaving me at a rather inexpertly 13-17-2 (.438) when factoring the line for the season. At least all my suicide selections have all been on the money to date.
Denver (1-1) at Tennessee (1-1), Sunday, 1:00 (Tennessee -7)
Storylines: Battle of head coaches in initial seasons with their respective teams who were winners last weekend, with John Fox's Broncos holding on for 24-22 verdict over Cincinnati and Titans giving Mike Munchak first career win with 26-13 home upset of Baltimore...Denver prevailed in Week 2 despite six key starters sitting out with injuries, but expected to have top receiver Brandon Lloyd (groin) and running back Knowshon Moreno (hamstring) back in lineup on Sunday...Fellow wideout Eddie Royal ruled out with groin strain, however, while cornerback Champ Bailey (hamstring) and linebacker D.J. Williams (elbow) doubtful for Broncos and defensive end Elvis Dumervil (shoulder) questionable...Second-year receiver Eric Decker had career-best 113 yards and two touchdowns on five catches against Bengals in Royal's place, while Willis McGahee rushed for 101 yards and a score subbing for Moreno...Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns in home debut as a Titan to lead new team past Ravens...Tennessee star running back Chris Johnson averaging just 2.3 yards per carry over first two weeks, but wide receiver Kenny Britt tops AFC in receiving yards (271) and tied for conference lead with three touchdown catches...Titans defense has surrendered just 14.5 points per game (4th overall) and currently ranks third in both total yards (276.0) and passing yards (172.0) allowed.
Fast Fact: Hasselbeck's 621 passing yards through the first two games are the most by a Titans/Oilers quarterback to begin a season since Hall of Famer Warren Moon compiled 691 in 1992.
Prediction: Banged-up Broncos figure to have a tough time against a Tennessee defense that's playing really well right now. Titans 23, Broncos 13.
Detroit (2-0) at Minnesota (0-2), Sunday, 1:00 (Detroit -3.5)
Storylines: Red-hot Lions aim for first 3-0 start since 1980 and first victory at the Metrodome since 1997, while reeling Vikings attempt to avoid losing first three games in a season since 2002...Minnesota has won 16 of last 18 overall meetings in the series, but dealt 20-13 road defeat by Detroit in 2010 regular-season finale...Lions have ripped off six straight wins dating back to last year and coming off 48-3 drubbing of lowly Kansas City last week, the largest margin of victory in franchise history...Vikings blew 17-0 halftime lead in 24-20 home setback to Tampa Bay in Week 2 and have been outscored 41-3 in second half of first two losses...Minnesota Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams to return from two-game suspension for violating NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances...Detroit currently second in league in scoring (37.5 ppg), while quarterback Matthew Stafford (7) and wide receiver Calvin Johnson (4) tied for NFL lead in touchdown passes and touchdown catches, respectively...Lions also second overall in scoring defense (11.5 ppg) and tied for first with eight takeaways, six of which came in rout of Chiefs...Vikings third in NFL in rushing yards (172.5 ypg) but 31st in passing offense (120.0 ypg)...Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson fourth overall in rushing yards (218) and coming off 120-yard, two-touchdown outburst against Buccaneers.
Fast Fact: Lions have lost 13 straight meetings with Minnesota at the Metrodome and are just 2-19 in their last 21 outings against NFC North members.
Prediction: Vikings' offense still a major work in progress, which isn't good news against a motivated Detroit team that's been putting up points in bunches. Lions 31, Vikings 20.
Houston (2-0) at New Orleans (1-1), Sunday, 1:00 (New Orleans -4)
Storylines: AFC South-leading Texans shoot for first 3-0 beginning in franchise's 10-year history and started off present two-game road trip with 23-13 win at Miami last Sunday...Saints rebounded from season-opening shootout loss at Green Bay with 30-13 home triumph over defending NFC North champion Chicago, with defense producing six sacks and holding Bears to 246 total yards...Improved Houston defense allowing league-low 20 points and 271.0 yards per game and limiting opponents to 23.8 percent success rate on third down (2nd overall)...New Orleans fifth in the NFL in scoring (32.0 ppg), total offense (429.5 ypg) and passing yards (330.0) and third overall in third-down conversions (54.8 pct.)...Ben Tate expected to start at running back for Texans with 2010 NFL leading rusher Arian Foster questionable after aggravating hamstring injury against Dolphins...Cornerback Johnathan Joseph (ankle) also a question mark for Houston, but wide receiver Kevin Walter (shoulder) on track to play after sitting out last week's win...Saints wide receiver Marques Colston to miss second straight game with collarbone fracture, while cornerback Tracy Porter (calf) questionable...Defensive end Will Smith ready to return for New Orleans, however, from two-game suspension for violating NFL's policy on performance enhancers...Teams squared off at Superdome in third week of preseason, with Texans coming away with 27-14 win.
Fast Fact: With last week's victory, Saints quarterback Drew Brees broke a tie with Bobby Hebert for the most regular-season wins (50) by a signal-caller in team history.
Prediction: Texans' recharged defense will certainly get its toughest test yet from Brees and New Orleans' playmakers, but it's the Houston running game that will eventually make the difference here. Texans 27, Saints 23.
Jacksonville (1-1) at Carolina (0-2), Sunday, 1:00 (Carolina -3.5)
Storylines: Face-off between heralded rookie quarterbacks, with Blaine Gabbert set to make first career start for Jaguars and record-setting Panthers triggerman Cam Newton taking another shot at initial NFL victory...Newton has thrown for 854 yards over first two games, most by a first-year quarterback to begin his career, and set NFL rookie mark with 432 yards in last Sunday's 30-23 loss to Green Bay...Carolina second in league in both total offense (476.0 ypg) and passing (403.5 ypg), while wide receiver Steve Smith tops all players in receiving yards (334) and had 156 on six catches versus Packers...Jacksonville began current two-game road trip with 32-3 loss to New York Jets last weekend in which displaced starting signal-caller Luke McCown threw four interceptions...Tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf) and cornerback Derek Cox (ribs) both probable for Jaguars after sitting out Week 2 defeat, but defensive end Aaron Kampman (knee) remains sidelined and wide receivers Jason Hill (hip) and Kassim Osgood (hamstring) both questionable...Panthers placed starting linebacker Thomas Davis on injured reserve Monday after tearing ACL for third time in 23 months last week, while claiming linebacker Jason Phillips off waivers from Ravens...Offensive tackle Jeff Otah likely to return for Carolina after missing Green Bay game with concussion...Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson has recorded at least one sack in eight of last nine games.
Prediction: Gabbert couldn't have asked for a better spot for his first professional start, as the Panthers' defense is atrocious and ravaged by injuries. Jaguars 26, Panthers 24.
Miami (0-2) at Cleveland (1-1), Sunday, 1:00 (Cleveland -2.5)
Storylines: Struggling Dolphins trying to avert second 0-3 start in last three seasons and have lost five in a row dating back to last year following 23-13 home setback to Houston in Week 2...Browns recorded first victory under new head coach Pat Shurmur with 27-19 decision at injury-plagued Indianapolis...Cleveland has won three straight in series, including 13-10 triumph at Sun Life Stadium last December in which team intercepted Miami quarterback Chad Henne three times...Linebacker Karlos Dansby (groin) and cornerback Vontae Davis (hamstring) both questionable for Dolphins after exiting last week's game with injuries, while Browns offensive tackle Tony Pashos could miss third straight week with ankle problem...Miami rookie running back Daniel Thomas rushed for 107 yards on 18 carries against Texans, while wide receiver Brandon Marshall fifth in AFC in receiving yards (218)...Cleveland second in the NFL in pass defense (165.5 ypg), while Miami 30th overall in that category (361.5 ypg) and has allowed six touchdowns through the air in two games...Dolphins posted 6-2 road record in 2010 and are 15-9 as visitor under head coach Tony Sparano...Miami signed defensive end Igor Olshansky and cornerback Nate Jones on Tuesday, while releasing veteran running back Larry Johnson and tight end Dante Rosario.
Fast Fact: Miami's last win in Cleveland took place on Oct. 10, 1993, when Scott Mitchell replaced an injured Dan Marino and rallied the team to a 24-14 result.
Prediction: The Dolphins have fared well on the road in the recent past, but that was when they had a defense to fall back on. Browns 27, Dolphins 20.
New England (2-0) at Buffalo (2-0), Sunday, 1:00 (New England -9)
Storylines: Intriguing clash of early AFC East co-leaders with explosive offenses, with surprising Bills having scored NFL-best 79 points through first two weeks and powerful Patriots third in that category (73)...New England also tops league in total offense (563.0 ypg) and passing yards (463.0 ypg), while quarterback Tom Brady has amassed an astounding 940 yards and seven touchdowns through two games...Buffalo signal-caller Ryan Fitzpatrick tied with Brady for league lead in touchdown throws and capped team's thrilling 38-35 home win over Oakland last week with go-ahead score to David Nelson with 14 seconds left...Bills first overall in rushing offense (190.0 ypg) and tied for NFL lead with 80 percent touchdown rate (8-of-10) in red zone, while running back Fred Jackson has rushed for league-high 229 yards thus far...Patriots registered 10th straight regular-season victory dating back to last year with 35-21 besting of San Diego last Sunday, and has scored 31 points or more in each of those triumphs...New England has won 15 consecutive matchups with Bills and 20 of last 21 meetings, with Buffalo last coming out on top in 2003...Pats standout tight end Aaron Hernandez out with sprained knee suffered against Chargers, while team placed center Dan Koppen (ankle fracture) on injured reserve Wednesday...Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson slated to play despite strained groin, but fellow wideout Roscoe Parrish (ankle) put on IR Tuesday and starting guard Kraig Urbik (knee) also out for Sunday's tilt.
Fast Fact: Patriots are 49-14 (.777) against AFC East members in regular- season play since 2001, the best winning percentage in the league over that time period.
Prediction: Gritty Bills will show their mettle and overall improvement, but trying to outscore the surgical Patriots is almost always an exercise in futility. Patriots 35, Bills 27.
N.Y. Giants (1-1) at Philadelphia (1-1), Sunday, 1:00 (Philadelphia -7.5)
Storylines: Michael Vick believed to be cleared to start for Eagles at quarterback after sustaining mild concussion in this past Sunday's 35-31 loss at Atlanta...First meeting between NFC East rivals since last December's memorable 38-31 Philadelphia triumph at MetLife Stadium, in which Eagles scored 28 unanswered points in final 7 1/2 minutes capped by game-winning punt return score by wideout DeSean Jackson on last play...Philadelphia also posted 27-17 home decision over New York last year and has won six straight in series (including playoffs)...Eagles wide receiver Steve Smith spent first four NFL seasons with Giants and faces former team for first time since signing with Philadelphia in August...Giants earned first victory of 2011 with 28-16 Monday night verdict over St. Louis, but lost wide receiver Domenik Hixon to torn ACL in game...New York also to be without defensive end Osi Umenyiora (knee) and rookie corner Prince Amukamara (foot), while wideout Mario Manningham questionable with concussion...Defensive ends Juqua Parker (ankle) and Darryl Tapp (chest) out for Eagles, but tight end Brent Celek (back) probable...Philadelphia wide receiver Jeremy Maclin established career bests with 13 receptions and 171 receiving yards while scoring twice against Falcons...Eagles second in NFL in rushing offense (184.5 ypg) and sixth in scoring (31.0 ppg), while Giants third overall in rushing defense (66.5 ypg)...Philadelphia tied for second in the league with nine sacks, but rank 30th in rushing defense (146.0 ypg).
Fast Fact: Eagles have not won six consecutive regular-season contests from the Giants since stringing together a 12-game series streak from 1975-81.
Prediction: Eagles' strong pass rush and secondary will give Eli Manning another frustrating afternoon, and wounded Giants defense will have fits as well trying to contain Philadelphia's speed and playmakers. Eagles 31, Giants 21.
San Francisco (1-1) at Cincinnati (1-1), Sunday, 1:00 (Cincinnati -2.5)
Storylines: First road test for 49ers, who went 1-7 as the visitor last season, under new head coach Jim Harbaugh, while Bengals to hold 2011 home opener...Cincinnati coming off narrow 24-22 loss at Denver last week in which rookie quarterback Andy Dalton threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns and first-year wide receiver A.J. Green hauled in 10 passes for 124 yards and a score...Fellow wideout Jerome Simpson posted career-best 136 receiving yards and a touchdown for Bengals...San Francisco failed to hold onto 10-point fourth-quarter lead in stinging 27-24 overtime defeat to Dallas, with defense burned for 427 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air...Wide receiver Braylon Edwards questionable for 49ers after spraining right knee against Cowboys, but counterpart Michael Crabtree (foot) and safety Dashon Goldson (knee) both probable after missing last week's tilt...Cincinnati wide receiver Jordan Shipley placed on injured reserve Monday after tearing ACL in Week 2...San Francisco defensive end Justin Smith spent first seven years of career with Bengals (2001-07) and faces team for first time...49ers quarterback Alex Smith completing 70.5 percent of throws through first two games, but team ranks 31st in NFL in total offense (207.5 ypg) and 29th in passing yards (128.0 ypg)...San Francisco also 25th overall in pass defense (291.0 ypg), but own plus-four turnover ratio and yielding league-low 54.5 rushing yards per game...Bengals are only team without a giveaway this season.
Fast Fact: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Dalton is only the second rookie quarterback since the AFL-NFL merger to record a passer rating of over 100 in his first two career starts, joining Hall of Famer Dan Marino (1983).
Prediction: Bengals aren't really a contender, but they'll look like one this week against a San Francisco team with secondary issues that's making a long trip. Bengals 27, 49ers 20.
Baltimore (1-1) at St. Louis (0-2), Sunday, 4:05 (Baltimore -3.5)
Storylines: Winless Rams return home after suffering mistake-filled 28-16 road loss to New York Giants on Monday night, while Ravens attempt to rebound from 26-13 defeat at Tennessee last Sunday...Injury-riddled St. Louis hopeful to have standout running back Steven Jackson back after sitting out Monday's test with strained quadriceps, but slot receiver Danny Amendola likely to miss second straight week with dislocated elbow and rookie backup Greg Salas (ribs) questionable...Wide receiver Lee Evans (ankle) doubtful and return specialist David Reed (shoulder) out for Baltimore, while rookie corner Jimmy Smith (ankle) to sit out second straight game and guard Ben Grubbs (toe) and cornerback Chris Carr (hamstring) questionable...Ravens signed All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to new five-year, $61-million contract on Tuesday...Rams quarterback Sam Bradford threw for career-best 331 yards against Giants, while second-year receiver Danario Alexander racked up personal-high 122 yards and a touchdown on just three catches in loss...Baltimore tied for NFL lead with eight takeaways, seven of which came in 35-7 Week 1 rout of rival Pittsburgh...St. Louis last in the league in rushing defense (177.5 ypg) and 28th in points allowed (59), while Ravens 28th overall in pass defense (302.0 ypg) and surrendered 358 yards through the air to Titans last week.
Prediction: Rams have made too many mistakes over first two weeks, while Ravens expect to give a more focused effort after faltering last time out. Ravens 31, Rams 16.
Kansas City (0-2) at San Diego (1-1), Sunday, 4:05 (San Diego -15)
Storylines: Tattered Chiefs have been outscored by 89-10 margin in first two weeks and have lost in six of last seven visits to Qualcomm Stadium, including 31-0 setback last season...Chargers have won 12 of last 14 regular-season matchups at home, including 24-17 season-opening victory over Minnesota, but were dealt 35-21 loss at New England last Sunday in which team committed four turnovers...Kansas City turned it over six times, including three interceptions by quarterback Matt Cassel, in 48-3 shellacking by Detroit in Week 2, which tied for most lopsided loss in franchise history...Chiefs also lost All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles to season-ending torn ACL in game...Kansas City leads NFL with nine giveaways thus far and is tied for last with minus-seven turnover margin, while Chargers minus-five in that department...Chiefs also at the bottom of league in scoring (5.0 ppg) and passing yards (110.5 ypg)...San Diego third overall in total offense (438.5 ypg) and fourth in passing (351.0 ypg), but defense permitted 510 total yards to Patriots last week...Chargers wide receiver Malcom Floyd questionable after straining groin against Patriots, but veteran wideout Patrick Crayton (ankle) expected to play after missing first two contests...Fellow wide receiver Vincent Jackson posted career bests with 10 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns for San Diego versus New England.
Fast Fact: Chargers tight end Antonio Gates had gone 34 consecutive games with at least one reception, a streak that dated back to Week 14 of the 2008 season, before being shut out by the Patriots last week.
Prediction: Chargers can light it up at home, which is bad news once again for a Kansas City team that's been beyond awful in the early going. Chargers 38, Chiefs 10.
N.Y. Jets (2-0) at Oakland (1-1), Sunday, 4:05 (N.Y. Jets -3.5)
Storylines: Matchup of near-unbeatens, as Raiders handed heartbreaking 38-35 loss at Buffalo last week after giving up go-ahead touchdown pass with 14 seconds left...Jets moved to 2-0 with 32-3 home rout of Jacksonville this past Sunday in which defense held Jaguars to 203 total yards and intercepted quarterback Luke McCown four times...Oakland to play first regular-season home game under new head coach Hue Jackson and went 5-3 at the Coliseum last year, while New York has registered 11-5 record on road in Rex Ryan's initial two years...Jets likely to be without All-Pro center Nick Mangold, who suffered high right ankle sprain against Jaguars...Tight end and offseason pickup Kevin Boss slated to make Raiders debut after missing first two games with sprained knee, but wide receiver Louis Murphy (sports hernia) remains sidelined and status of wideouts Jacoby Ford (hamstring) and Darrius Heyward-Bey uncertain...Oakland rookie receiver Denarius Moore coming off five-catch, 146- yard, one-touchdown performance versus Bills...Raiders fourth in the NFL in rushing offense (160.5 ypg), while running back Darren McFadden second among individuals with 222 rushing yards...Jets third overall in scoring defense (13.5 ppg) and have garnered league-best five interceptions.
Fast Fact: The Raiders are 35-15-1 all-time in home openers, but had lost five consecutive lid-lifters at the Coliseum before last season's 16-14 win over St. Louis.
Prediction: Mangold's injury could be a crippler for Jets' inconsistent offense, while McFadden and big-legged kicker Sebastian Janikowski could loom large for Raiders in a tight contest. Upset Special. Raiders 20, Jets 17.
Arizona (1-1) at Seattle (0-2), Sunday, 4:15 (Arizona -3.5)
Storylines: First home game of 2011 campaign for slumping Seahawks, who began season with road setbacks to San Francisco (33-17) and Pittsburgh (24-0) and haven't started out 0-3 since 2002...Cardinals opened current two-game road trip with 22-21 defeat to Washington last week and have dropped eight straight away from home dating back to last season...Seattle swept 2010 series with Arizona, including 22-10 victory at Qwest Field, and went 6-3 at home last season when counting win in NFC Wild Card Playoffs...Wide receiver and offseason acquisition Sidney Rice could make Seahawks debut after missing first two games with shoulder injury, but guard Robert Gallery out 4-to-6 weeks after undergoing upcoming groin surgery...Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington (calf) sat out last week's loss and questionable for Sunday, while running back/kick returner LaRod Stephens-Howling (hand) doubtful...Seattle offense averaging league-worst 191.5 total yards per game and also last in rushing (47.5 ypg), and managed just 164 yards overall against Steelers...Arizona 29th overall in both total defense (466.0 ypg) and pass defense (343.0 ypg)...Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald compiled 133 yards and a touchdown on seven catches against Redskins...Seahawks one of only two teams (Pittsburgh) without a takeaway through the first two weeks.
Fast Fact: In his only previous career start against Arizona, Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw a personal-best four touchdown passes while with Minnesota on Dec. 14, 2008.
Prediction: Home field and Cardinals' shaky defense give the Seahawks a chance here, but Jackson and a brutal offensive line negate any advantages Seattle may hold. Cardinals 23, Seahawks 17.
Atlanta (1-1) at Tampa Bay (1-1), Sunday, 4:15 (Tampa Bay -1.5)
Storylines: Key early-season clash of NFC South rivals coming off comeback wins, with Buccaneers rallying from 17-point halftime deficit in 24-20 road victory at Minnesota and Atlanta outlasting visiting Philadelphia in 35-31 thriller last Sunday behind career-high four touchdown passes from ...Defending division champion Falcons have defeated Tampa Bay five straight times, including 28-24 triumph at Raymond James Stadium last December...Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson fined $40,000 by NFL for helmet- to-helmet hit on Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin last week...Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (knee) to miss second straight game for Falcons, but center Todd McClure could return after sitting out first two weeks recovering from knee surgery...Atlanta running back Michael Turner third in AFC in rushing yards (214) and averaging 6.9 yards per carry...Bucs 31st in the NFL in rushing defense (156.0 ypg) and allowed 186 yards on the ground to Vikings last week...Falcons 27th overall in total defense (412.0 ypg), one spot ahead of Tampa Bay (414.5 ypg), and also rank 27th against the pass (310.5 ypg)...Buccaneers punter Michael Koenen spent first six NFL seasons with Atlanta before signing with Tampa Bay over the summer.
Fast Fact: Falcons have won six of their seven games against NFC South teams, while Buccaneers are 4-10 in their last 14 intra-division matchups.
Prediction: Hard-fought game that will be decided in the red zone, where Atlanta's offense's has been very good and Tampa's hasn't. Falcons 28, Buccaneers 27.
Green Bay (2-0) at Chicago (1-1), Sunday, 4:15 (Green Bay -3.5)
Storylines: Rematch of 2010 NFC Championship Game, won by the Packers by a 21-14 count en route to franchise's fourth Super Bowl title...Including the postseason, Green Bay has recorded eight straight victories dating back to last year, including a 10-3 home triumph over Bears in 2010 regular-season finale, and extended streak with 30-23 decision at Carolina this past week...Chicago did hand Pack a 20-17 loss at Soldier Field during Week 3 of last season...Bears return home off 30-13 defeat at New Orleans in which quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked six times...Maligned Chicago offensive line to be without promising rookie tackle Gabe Carimi (knee) on Sunday, while wide receiver Earl Bennett (chest) doubtful and safeties Chris Harris (hamstring) and Major Wright (neck) both questionable...Wide receiver Roy Williams expected to play for Bears, however, after missing last week with groin injury...Green Bay All-Pro safety Nick Collins to miss remainder of season after sustaining neck injury in Week 2, but defensive end Ryan Pickett (foot) probable and team hopeful to have cornerback Tramon Williams back after missing Carolina game with bruised shoulder...Packers fourth in NFL in scoring (36.0 ppg), but rank 30th in total defense (476.0 ypg) and allowing league-worst 400 passing yards per game...Chicago's Matt Forte leads all running backs in receiving yards (207) and had 117 yards on 10 catches against Saints.
Fast Fact: Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, the 1997 Heisman Trophy winner, picked off two passes from Carolina quarterback Cam Newton last week to become the first player ever to record an interception of a fellow Heisman recipient in an NFL game. Woodson has now intercepted four former Heisman honorees: Newton, Vinny Testaverde, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, during his pro career.
Prediction: The possibility of Chicago's two starting safeties missing this contest doesn't bode well for the team's hopes of slowing down Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay's high-powered offense, which will in turn force the Bears to stray from their game plan and decrease their chances of success. Packers 30, Bears 23.
Pittsburgh (1-1) at Indianapolis (0-2), Sunday, 8:20 (Pittsburgh -10.5)
Storylines: Sputtering Colts out to avoid first 0-3 start since now-injured quarterback Peyton Manning's rookie year of 1998 and face fierce Pittsburgh defense that delivered shutout in last week's 24-0 win over Seattle...Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger probable despite twisting knee last Sunday...Indianapolis currently 29th in scoring (13.0 ppg) and total offense (260.5 ypg) and managed just 285 yards in 27-19 home setback to Cleveland in Week 2, while Pittsburgh ranks second overall in total defense (274.5 ypg) and held Seahawks to 164 total yards and eight first downs...Colts linebackers Gary Brackett (shoulder) and Ernie Sims (knee) likely to miss second straight game, while guard Ryan Diem also doubtful after spraining ankle versus Browns...Defensive end Brett Keisel (knee) not expected to play for Steelers, while guard Chris Kemoeatu questionable with knee injury...Pittsburgh wide receiver Mike Wallace recorded fifth straight 100-yard effort in regular season with career-best eight catches for 126 yards against Seattle...Indianapolis wideout Reggie Wayne two catches shy of 800 for career...Steelers tied for last in the league in turnover margin (-7) and have yet to record a takeaway this season...Colts are 13-4 at home in head coach Jim Caldwell's two-plus seasons, while Pittsburgh has won seven of last nine games on the road.
Prediction: After this one, the league office will re-think its position on not flexing out games during the early part of the season. Steelers 24, Colts 16.
Washington (2-0) at Dallas (1-1), Monday, 8:30 (Dallas -6.5)
Storylines: Redskins currently lead NFC East following home victories over New York Giants (28-14) and Arizona (22-21) and in search of first 3-0 start since 2005, while Cowboys stayed one game back in division race with 27-24 come-from- behind win at San Francisco last week...Dallas quarterback Tony Romo engineered comeback with 345 passing yards despite cracking rib and puncturing lung during game, and expected to play on Monday...Wide receiver Miles Austin had nine catches for 143 yards and career-high three touchdowns in victory, but likely to miss Monday's tilt with hamstring injury and counterpart Dez Bryant (quadriceps) uncertain to participate...Cowboys re-signed wide receiver Laurent Robinson on Tuesday, while waiving cornerback Bryan McCann...Cornerback Orlando Scandrick (ankle) also out for Dallas, but fellow corner Terence Newman (groin) set to return from two-game absence and running back Felix Jones (shoulder) probable...Safety LaRon Landry (Achilles) missed first two games for Washington and questionable for Week 3...Cowboys' Jason Witten (212 yards) and Redskins' Fred Davis (191 yards) rank 1-2 among NFL tight ends in receiving yards...Dallas fourth in league in both total offense (431.0 ypg) and defense (283.0 ypg), and stand second against the run (59.5 ypg) while having compiled NFL-best 10 sacks...Cowboys registered 33-30 home win over Redskins last season and have topped Washington in Dallas in four of past five years.
Fast Fact: Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman is averaging 287 passing yards in five career starts with Washington after averaging 192 over a 31-start span with Chicago from 2003-08. He threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns in last December's loss at Cowboy Stadium.
Prediction: Cowboys' offense may have the star power, but they'll wind up relying on an improved and overlooked defense with so many key contributors ailing right now. Cowboys 21, Redskins 17.