Published September 28, 2011
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – It's been an exciting and rather 0 and the one that's reached the postseason nine straight times has yet to win a single game, that's some serious volatility.
The rise of perennial doormats like the Bills and Lions, and the swift and sudden fall of the traditionally-excellent Colts, are the most obvious examples that nothing can be taken for granted in today's NFL. And that goes for the games as well, with 12 of the 16 contests on last week's docket experiencing lead changes in the second half and both Buffalo and Detroit roaring back from deficits of 20 or more points to come out on top.
Needless to say, the capricious nature of the September schedule made it a real chore for those paid to make predictions on how those contests would play out, and one only needs to take a quick glance at the "Pigskin Prognosticators" segment on The Sports Network's NFL page to see how poorly yours truly has fared in that department.
If there's one thing that can be surmised from what's already transpired, it's that teams with good quarterbacks can never be counted out of a game, as both the Bills and Cowboys have proved by delivering back-to-back stirring comeback wins over the past two weeks, and those that don't are more or less doomed. The present plight of the snake-bitten Colts in Peyton Manning's absence offers plenty of incriminating evidence to that last point.
There's a great deal that still needs to be determined, however, as this season reaches its quarter point. With that in mind, here are seven questions to ask when viewing what should be another great weekend:
1) Will this be Tony Sparano's last game as the Dolphins' head coach?
Could be. Miami has a bye in Week 5 and could very well be in an 0-4 hole following Sunday's challenging matchup at San Diego, which would give the 'Fins seven consecutive setbacks dating back to last season. Add in the fact that the Dolphins had about 20,000 empty seats for their last home game, and it would hardly be surprising if unhappy owner Stephen Ross creates a shakeup if the team is still winless entering the off week.
2) Can the Eagles and Falcons snap out of their early funks?
The two expected NFC contenders are both 1-2 and about to embark on important games that may be tougher than at first glance. Philadelphia hosts an improving San Francisco squad that's an overtime loss away from being 3-0 right now and will be doing so with an ailing Michael Vick once again. Atlanta, which has played poorly in both of its previous outings on the road this year, makes a cross-country trip to Seattle this weekend to take on a Seahawks outfit that has plenty of problems of its own, but is usually tough at home and got a needed boost on offense from last week's return of wide receiver Sidney Rice.
3) Can the Vikings hold onto a lead?
So far, the answer has been an emphatic no, as Minnesota has been outscored by an unbelievable 67-6 margin after halftime in wasting double-digit advantages against San Diego, Tampa Bay and Detroit. The task figures to be a little easier for the still-winless Vikings this week, however, as the wayward Kansas City Chiefs head into Sunday's matchup between the teams having scored the fewest points (27) and allowed the most (109) in the league through three weeks.
4) Can the Lions win again?
Detroit's stunning 26-23 overtime triumph at Minnesota, in which the team came back from a 20-0 halftime hole, was almost as improbable as the longtime losers' current sequence of win. Counting this year's preseason, the Lions have ripped off 11 consecutive victories that began with a four-game surge last December. For it to reach 12, however, Detroit will have to handle a fierce Dallas defense that's racked up a league-best 13 sacks one week after struggling to adequately protect franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford.
5) Which Houston Texans defense will show up?
The Texans were smothering on that side of the ball in back-to-back wins to begin the season, yielding a mere 325 passing yards combined to the quarterback-deficient Colts and Dolphins, but the bloom came off the rose after undertaking a major step up in competition last week. Houston was scorched for 354 net passing yards as well as 23 fourth-quarter points by Drew Brees and the high-powered New Orleans Saints in a 40-33 Week 3 setback, and Pittsburgh's outstanding combo of Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace pose another dangerous threat to the remodeled group on Sunday in one of the most intriguing games of this weekend's slate.
6) Will Darren McFadden run wild once again?
The most overlooked great player in this league, McFadden has produced an NFL- best 393 rushing yards and 477 yards from scrimmage over the Oakland Raiders' first three games and was absolutely brilliant in the team's 34-24 ousting of the more revered New York Jets last Sunday, shredding one of the game's premier run defenses for 171 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The Silver and Black may need a similar performance from the star running back this week in order to keep up with the prolific New England Patriots, who've eclipsed the 30-point mark in 11 straight games and are seething over a shocking loss at Buffalo a week ago.
7) Which of the Titans and Browns can stamp themselves as a prime early contender?
One of the more under-the-radar games on Sunday's schedule will take place in Cleveland, with both the Titans and Browns presently fielding 2-1 records under first-year head coaches and owning a share of first place in their respective divisions. The winner can take a big step towards becoming a real factor in the AFC playoff race down the road.
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SUICIDE POOL PIX
1. Green Bay (vs. Denver) -- Packers' offense has been close to unstoppable in the early going, while less-talented Broncos still having injury issues on defense.
2. Tampa Bay (vs. Indianapolis) -- Sagging Colts appear about to turn to a third-string quarterback, while Raheem Morris' "youngry" Bucs should be amped up in a rare nationally-televised showcase game.
3. New Orleans (at Jacksonville) -- Jaguars averaging less than 10 points per game and have fresh-faced rookie Blaine Gabbert starting under center. Unless a dramatic turnaround is in the works, that's not going to be enough to hang with the high-scoring Saints.
Good riddance, September. Finished with a 9-7 record in selections for a third straight time last week and took a beating against the spread, amassing a lackluster 6-10 mark that brought my season ledger to a lowly 19-27-2 (.417) with Vegas involved. Can't say I haven't been consistent, at the very least.
Buffalo (3-0) at Cincinnati (1-2), Sunday, 1:00 (Buffalo -3)
Storylines: Surging Bills shoot for first 4-0 start since 2008 and come in off shocking 34-31 win over previously-unbeaten New England, in which team rallied from early 21-0 deficit...Buffalo fought back from 21-3 halftime hole to post thrilling 38-35 triumph over Oakland the previous week and has prevailed in 10 straight meetings against Bengals, including 49-31 rout at Paul Brown Stadium last November...Cincinnati suffered 13-8 defeat to San Francisco in 2011 home opener this past Sunday...Bengals leading rusher Cedric Benson facing three- game suspension for violating NFL's personal conduct policy, but believed to be eligible for this week's game on appeal...Wide receiver Jerome Simpson also expected to play despite recent investigation for marijuana possession, but guard Bobbie Williams (performance enhancers) still serving league suspension and defensive end Robert Geathers likely to miss third straight week with shoulder injury...Cornerbacks Terrence McGee (hamstring) and Aaron Williams (collarbone) ruled out for Bills...Buffalo leads NFL in scoring (37.7 ppg) and ranks third in total offense (431.0 ypg), and piled up 449 yards in last year's win over Bengals...Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick tied for second in league in touchdown passes (9), while running back Fred Jackson second in yards from scrimmage (418)...Cincinnati third in total defense (276.3 ypg) and fifth against the pass (188.3 ypg), but last in NFL in third-down conversions (23.7 percent) and went just 1-of-10 in that category versus 49ers...Buffalo wideout Stevie Johnson accumulated 137 receiving yards and career-best three touchdowns in last season's meeting.
Fast Fact: Cincinnati's last regular-season victory over the Bills was a 35-21 decision at Riverfront Stadium on Nov. 27, 1988. The Bengals also defeated Buffalo at home in that season's AFC Championship Game by a 21-10 score.
Prediction: Bills' ultimate staying power remains in question, but they're considerably farther along on offense than the rebuilding Bengals are at this stage. Bills 27, Bengals 20.
Carolina (1-2) at Chicago (1-2), Sunday, 1:00 (Chicago -6.5)
Storylines: Panthers coming off first victory for new head coach Ron Rivera, a former linebacker and defensive coordinator for the Bears, with 16-10 decision over Jacksonville last Sunday, while Chicago dealt back-to-back defeats by conference powerhouses New Orleans (30-13) and Green Bay (27-17) after season- opening home win over defending NFC South champion Atlanta...Carolina tight end Greg Olsen played first four NFL seasons with Bears before being traded to Panthers in July...Chicago has allowed 14 sacks through first three weeks, tied for most in NFL, and maligned offensive line won't have rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi (knee) for second straight outing, though right guard Lance Louis (ankle) expected to return from two-game absence...Running back Marion Barber (calf) slated to make season debut for Bears, while safeties Chris Harris (hamstring) and Major Wright (head) hopeful to play after sitting out last week's loss...Defensive backs Chris Gamble and Charles Godfrey both probable for Carolina despite recent concussions...Panthers tied for fourth in NFL in passing offense (321.7 ypg), while wideout Steve Smith tops NFC with 349 receiving yards...Chicago's Matt Forte leads all running backs in catches (22) and receiving yards (287)...Bears 31st in the league in rushing (53.7 ypg) and managed just 13 yards on ground on 12 attempts in loss to Packers.
Fast Fact: Rivera spent nine seasons with the Bears as a player from 1984-1992 as well as two separate stints (1997-98, 2004-06) as an assistant coach, and became the first player of Puerto Rican descent in NFL history to win a Super Bowl as a member of Chicago's vaunted 1985 defense.
Prediction: Bears have too many question marks to expect a blowout, but defense should force at least one costly mistake out of Panthers rookie sensation Cam Newton. Bears 30, Panthers 24.
Detroit (3-0) at Dallas (2-1), Sunday, 1:00 (Dallas -1)
Storylines: High-flying Lions off to first 3-0 start since winning first four tests of 1980 campaign and have ripped off seven straight victories dating back to last season...Team rallied from 20-0 halftime deficit for 26-23 overtime triumph at rival Minnesota last week, Detroit's first win at the Metrodome since 1997...Cowboys rebounded from excruciating last-second loss to New York Jets in Week 1 with back-to-back narrow victories, including 18-16 edging of fellow NFC East member Washington on Monday behind six field goals by rookie kicker Dan Bailey...Quarterback Tony Romo played entire game for Dallas despite cracked rib and cleared to participate on Sunday as well, but standout wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring) out a second straight week and both cornerback Terence Newman (concussion) and defensive end Jason Hatcher (calf) questionable...Lions defensive tackle and 2011 first-round draft pick Nick Fairley could make NFL debut after missing first three weeks with stress fracture in foot...Cowboys third in NFL in passing offense (334.3 ypg) and Detroit tied for fourth in that category (321.7 ypg)...Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford tied for second in NFL with nine touchdown passes, while wide receiver Calvin Johnson has amassed league-best six scoring receptions...Dallas tops NFL with 13 sacks, while Detroit allowed five against Vikings last week..Teams also met at Cowboys Stadium during Week 11 of 2010 season, with Cowboys posting 35-19 win.
Fast Fact: Dallas has played an NFL-record nine consecutive games that have been decided by three or less points, with last November's win over the Lions the team's most recent contest not to have such a close margin.
Prediction: Lions can't avoid another slow start this week, as Cowboys' potent pass rush and offensive playmakers will pose a challenge. Cowboys 23, Lions 20.
Minnesota (0-3) at Kansas City (0-3), Sunday, 1:00 (Minnesota -1.5)
Storylines: Matchup of two of this season's five remaining winless teams, with Vikings blowing double-digit halftime leads in all three losses and injury- riddled Chiefs outscored 109-27 thus far...Minnesota squandered 20-point advantage at intermission in costly 26-23 home overtime loss to NFC North foe Detroit a week ago...Kansas City coming off most encouraging performance of year in 20-17 Week 3 setback at San Diego, which followed blowout defeats to Buffalo (41-7) and Detroit (48-3)...Chiefs went 7-1 at Arrowhead Stadium during 2010 regular season en route to surprise AFC West title, while Vikings have dropped 10 of last 12 on road dating back to 2009...Kansas City cornerback Brandon Flowers questionable after spraining ankle against Chargers, and safety Jon McGraw's status uncertain due to recent knee injury...Vikings third in NFL in rushing offense (159.0 ypg) and face disappointing Chiefs defense allowing 123 yards per game on ground (28th overall)...Kansas City also 30th in total offense (244.0 ypg) and 31st in passing yards (130.7 ypg), while Minnesota ranks 29th in yards through air (143.0 ypg)...Vikings defensive end Jared Allen second in league with 4 1/2 sacks and had three against Lions last week...Chiefs released veteran tight end Anthony Becht on Wednesday and re-signed Jake O'Connell to fill that spot.
Fast Fact: Minnesota has converted just 1-of-15 third-down attempts during the second half so far this season, while quarterback Donovan McNabb is 9-of-24 with a 66.5 passer rating in such situations over the course of the first three weeks.
Prediction: Vikings finally find an opponent they can outlast in the crumbling Chiefs, whose offensive ineptitude negates a once-strong home field advantage. Vikings 24, Chiefs 13.
New Orleans (2-1) at Jacksonville (1-2), Sunday, 1:00 (New Orleans -7)
Storylines: Home regular-season debut for Jaguars rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who made first NFL start in team's 16-10 loss at Carolina last week...Saints seek victory over AFC South member for second consecutive Sunday after outlasting visiting Houston in 40-33 thriller in Week 3, team's second straight win following season-opening loss to defending world champ Green Bay...Jacksonville registered 16-14 Week 1 win over division rival Tennessee at home and has prevailed in four of last five tilts at EverBank Field dating back to last season...New Orleans coming in banged up, with wide receiver Marques Colston still sidelined with broken collarbone, offensive tackle Zach Strief out with knee injury and linebackers Jonathan Vilma (knee) and Will Herring (leg), cornerback Tracy Porter (calf) and center Olin Kreutz (knee) all questionable...Defensive end Aaron Kampman (knee) likely to miss fourth straight game for Jags, but team hopeful fellow lineman Matt Roth (neck) can return after sitting out last week...Saints second in NFL in passing offense (437.7 ypg) and tied for second in scoring (34.7 ppg), while quarterback Drew Brees coming off 354-yard, three-touchdown display against Texans...Jacksonville averaging just 9.7 points (31st overall) through first three weeks, but running back Maurice Jones-Drew third overall in rushing yards (307) and had season-high 122 in last week's loss.
Fast Fact: The Saints had gone 50 consecutive regular-season games without making a two-point conversion before being successful on two attempts last week. New Orleans' last good two-point try had come at Chicago on Dec. 30, 2007.
Prediction: Tough spot for Gabbert, as Jacksonville's stodgy offense won't be able to keep pace with Brees and the efficient New Orleans attack. Saints 31, Jaguars 17.
Pittsburgh (2-1) at Houston (2-1), Sunday, 1:00 (Houston -4)
Storylines: Defending AFC champion Steelers aim for third straight win after beginning season with blowout loss at rival Baltimore, while AFC South co- leading Texans attempt to bounce back from 40-33 defeat at high-powered New Orleans last week...Pittsburgh yielding league-low 164 passing yards per game and ranks second in total defense (263.3 ypg), and unit permitted just 20 points combined in recent victories over Seattle and Indianapolis...Houston defense scorched for 454 yards, including 354 through the air, in loss to New Orleans...Texans running back and NFL 2010 leading rusher Arian Foster on track to play after missing two of first three games with hamstring strain, while outside linebacker Mario Williams also probable despite injuring right knee against Saints...Steelers offensive tackle Jonathan Scott highly questionable due to ankle sprain, but linemates Marcus Gilbert (shoulder) and Doug Legursky (shoulder) each slated to start...Houston waived running back Steve Slaton on Tuesday and signed counterpart Chris Ogbonnaya off practice squad...Pittsburgh wideout Mike Wallace second in NFL in receiving yards (377) and has gained 100 or more in six straight regular-season tests after compiling career-best 144 yards and a touchdown on five catches in last Sunday's 23-20 win over Colts...Steelers just 23rd in rushing offense (85.7 ypg) and averaging 3.3 yards per attempt on season.
Fast Fact: Texans kicker Neil Rackers has made good on 62 consecutive field goals under 45 yards, having not missed from that range since Sept. 28, 2008 while with Arizona.
Prediction: Pittsburgh's inability to run the ball and problems along the offensive line loom large against a motivated Houston squad eager to atone for last week's stumble. Texans 23, Steelers 17.
San Francisco (2-1) at Philadelphia (1-2), Sunday, 1:00 (Philadelphia -8.5)
Storylines: Quarterback Michael Vick expected to start for Eagles despite injuring his non-throwing hand in 29-16 home defeat to the New York Giants in Week 3, the second straight loss for the reigning NFC East champions...49ers seized sole possession of first place in NFC West with 13-8 decision at Cincinnati last Sunday and spent week practicing in Youngstown, Ohio...Return to Lincoln Financial Field for San Francisco kicker David Akers, the all-time leading scorer in Eagles' history who signed with the Niners this offseason after a 12-year tenure in Philadelphia...Eagles have won five in a row over San Francisco, including a 27-24 triumph at Candlestick Park last season...49ers running back Frank Gore probable in spite of spraining ankle against the Bengals, but wide receiver Braylon Edwards (knee) to miss second straight game...Leading receiver Jeremy Maclin a question mark for Philadelphia after injuring hamstring in last week's loss, while defensive ends Juqua Parker (ankle) and Darryl Tapp (chest) likely out at least one more game...Eagles second in the NFL in rushing yards (182.0 ypg), while San Francisco yielding just 62.7 yards per game on the ground (3rd overall)...Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy second among individuals with 345 rushing yards and has scored five touchdowns through first three weeks.
Fast Fact: Philadelphia's defense has scored a touchdown in three of the team's last four meetings with San Francisco, with Parker recording an interception return in a 2008 road win and defensive tackle Mike Patterson taking back a fumble 1998 yards in an Eagles' victory in 2006.
Prediction: Well-coached Niners won't be an easy out here, especially with the Eagles hurting at several key spots, but Philly has more weapons and a sense of urgency. Eagles 27, 49ers 24.
Tennessee (2-1) at Cleveland (2-1), Sunday, 1:00 (Cleveland -1)
Storylines: Battle between teams with winning records so far under first-year head coaches, with both rallying for close victories last time out...Titans scored fourth-quarter touchdown to earn 17-14 home triumph over Denver last Sunday, while Browns came through with 17-16 decision over visiting Miami on Colt McCoy scoring pass with 43 seconds left...Tennessee lost top receiver Kenny Britt to season-ending ACL tear in win, but veteran safety Chris Hope (shoulder) on pace to return from two-game absence...Standout running back Peyton Hillis slated to be back in Cleveland lineup after missing Miami game with strep throat, while cornerback Sheldon Brown (groin) and offensive tackle Tony Pashos (ankle) both questionable...Titans defense allowing league-low 261 yards per game and stands second in both scoring defense (14.3 ppg) and against the pass (172.0 ypg)...Browns rank third in pass defense (187.3 ypg), while Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has thrown for combined 653 yards during club's two-game win streak...Titans last in the NFL in rushing yards (51.7 ypg), however, and star back Chris Johnson averaging poor 2.1 yards per carry thus far...Tennessee has lost six straight road games since 30-3 rout of Jacksonville during Week 6 of last season.
Fast Fact: Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was the Browns' head coach from 1999-2000, Cleveland's first two seasons after returning to the NFL as an expansion franchise following a three-year hiatus.
Prediction: In a game that really could go either way, Hasselbeck's experience and Tennessee's strong defense make the difference. Titans 20, Browns 17.
Washington (2-1) at St. Louis (0-3), Sunday, 1:00 (Pick)
Storylines: Slumping Rams try to avoid fourth 0-4 start in last five years, while improving Redskins look to go 3-1 for first time since 2008...Washington began current two-game road trip with 18-16 loss at rival Dallas on Monday and suffered 30-16 defeat at St. Louis last season...Rams running back Steven Jackson (quadriceps) to play without limitations after being used sparingly in team's 37-7 home loss to Baltimore last week, but slot receiver Danny Amendola (elbow) likely to sit out third straight contest...Wide receiver Anthony Armstrong questionable for Redskins after straining hamstring against Cowboys...Depleted St. Louis defense allowing 32 points per game (31st overall) and was torched for 553 total yards (385 passing) by the Ravens in Week 3...Rams also rank dead last versus the run (174.3 ypg) and signed veteran cornerback Rod Hood on Tuesday...Upgraded Washington defense surrendering fifth-fewest points in league (17.7 ppg) and held Dallas to six successful field goal attempts on Monday...Redskins also tied for first in NFL in third- down defense (21.9 percent), while St. Louis converting just 25.6 percent (31st overall) of opportunities in those situations...Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett served in same capacity with Rams from 2006-07 and was St. Louis' interim head coach for final 12 games of 2008.
Fast Fact: Redskins are just 1-5 in their last six games that followed an appearance on Monday Night Football, but did register a 19-16 overtime win at Tennessee last November in their most recent outing under those conditions.
Prediction: Rams have a myriad of obvious problems right now, and you can get Mike Shanahan will find a way to take advantage. Redskins 27, Rams 19.
Atlanta (1-2) at Seattle (1-2), Sunday, 4:05 (Atlanta -4.5)
Storylines: Clash of 2010 playoff participants off to 1-2 starts, though Seahawks were able to gain first win of season with 13-10 home decision over Arizona last week...Falcons fell to 0-2 on road with 16-13 setback at fellow NFC South member Tampa Bay this past Sunday, but did post 34-18 triumph over Seattle at CenturyLink Field last December...Seahawks 31st in the NFL in total offense (214.7 ypg) and 30th in passing yards (142.3 ypg), but got eight-catch, 109-yard effort from offseason pickup Sidney Rice last week in wide receiver's delayed Seattle debut...Falcons' top wideout Roddy White had 140 yards on nine grabs against Bucs, while rookie standout Julio Jones compiled personal-best 115 receiving yards on six catches in loss...Seahawks have allowed 14 sacks in three weeks, tied for most in league, with Atlanta giving up third-highest total (13) in that span...Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (knee) out for Falcons and both running back Jason Snelling (concussion) and linebacker Stephen Nicholas (calf) questionable for Sunday's tilt, while Seattle guard Robert Gallery remains sidelined after undergoing recent groin surgery...Atlanta have turned ball over an NFC-worst eight times this season, while Seahawks have produced conference-low two takeaways.
Fast Fact: Falcons have committed 23 penalties through their first three games after being whistled for a league-low 58 infractions over the entire 2010 season.
Prediction: Falcons once again won't put forth a crisp performance, but may not have to in order to get by the punchless Seahawks. Falcons 17, Seahawks 13.
N.Y. Giants (2-1) at Arizona (1-2), Sunday, 4:05 (N.Y. Giants -2)
Storylines: Giants head West riding a two-game winning streak following a season-opening loss at Washington, while Cardinals dealt back-to-back road defeats after besting Carolina at home in Week 1...New York backed up 28-16 victory over St. Louis on Sept. 19 with last Sunday's 29-16 road verdict at defending NFC East champ Philadelphia, with quarterback Eli Manning throwing four touchdown passes to lead way...Arizona edged by NFC West counterpart Seattle by 13-10 count last week and sustained tough 22-21 setback at Washington the previous Sunday, failing to hold onto second-half leads on both occasions...Wide receiver Mario Manningham set to return for Giants after missing last week with concussion, while defensive end Osi Umenyiora (knee surgery) a possibility to make season debut...Cards leading rusher Beanie Wells probable after sitting out Seattle game with sore hamstring, while backup LaRod Stephens-Howling (hand) also scheduled to play...Arizona ranks 27th in total defense (397.7 ypg), but allowing just 18.7 points per game (8th overall)...New York defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul second in the NFL with 4 1/2 sacks and had two in last week's win over Eagles...Giants safety Antrel Rolle spent first five seasons with Cardinals from 2005-09 and faces former team for first time.
Fast Fact: Giants are 2-0 all-time at University of Phoenix Stadium, which includes the team's 17-14 upset of the then-unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3, 2008 as well as a 37-29 victory over the Cardinals during the 2008 season.
Prediction: If Manning can maintain his stellar recent level of play, Giants shouldn't have much of a problem carving up Arizona's swiss-cheese defense. Giants 28, Cardinals 20.
Denver (1-2) at Green Bay (3-0), Sunday, 4:15 (Green Bay -13)
Storylines: Defending world champion Packers return to Lambeau Field off consecutive road decisions over Carolina (30-23) and rival Chicago (27-17) and including the postseason, have won nine straight games dating back to last year...Broncos began two-game road swing with 17-14 loss at Tennessee and are 0-4-1 all-time against the Packers in Wisconsin...Green Bay has prevailed in six straight and 12 of its last 13 matchups at Lambeau Field...Denver expected to get top pass rusher Elvis Dumervil (shoulder) back from two-game absence, but Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey (hamstring) questionable and wide receiver Eddie Royal to miss second straight week with groin injury...Running back Ryan Grant probable for Packers despite bruising kidney versus Bears, but offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga doubtful with knee sprain...Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers leads NFL with 120.9 passer rating and 71.8 percent completion percentage, and threw three touchdown strikes to tight end Jermichael Finley against Bears...Packers fifth in the NFL in scoring (33.0 ppg) and surrendering league-low 55 rushing yards per game...Green Bay 31st in pass defense (359.3 ypg) but tied for second in interceptions (5), with safety Morgan Burnett tied for league lead with three picks...Denver one of only two teams (Pittsburgh) not to record an interception this year.
Fast Fact: Making his 50th career start, Rodgers amassed his 28th game with a passer rating of better than 100 in last week's win. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's the most of any quarterback over his first 50 starts since the AFL-NFL merger, surpassing Tony Romo (27).
Prediction: Undermanned Broncos need the Pack to turn in a clunker to have a chance, and odds are that's not going to happen. Packers 34, Broncos 13.
Miami (0-3) at San Diego (2-1), Sunday, 4:15 (San Diego -7.5)
Storylines: Spiraling Dolphins attempting to avoid seventh straight loss dating back to last season and continue road trip that began with painful 17-16 defeat at Cleveland this past Sunday, with Browns scoring go-ahead touchdown with 43 seconds left...Chargers bounced back from 35-21 loss at New England in Week 2 by holding on for 20-17 decision over winless Kansas City last Sunday, team's 13th win in last 15 regular-season home tests...Miami posted 6-2 road record in 2010 and are 15-10 as the visitor under head coach Tony Sparano...All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates (plantar fasciitis) could miss second straight game for San Diego, while defensive ends Luis Castillo (broken leg) and Jacques Cesaire (knee) ruled out and safety Bob Sanders (knee) and rookie defensive end Corey Liuget (ankle) both questionable...Cornerback Vontae Davis (hamstring) and guard Vernon Carey (shoulder) both uncertain to play for Dolphins...Chargers averaging 320 passing yards per game (6th overall), while Miami 30th in pass defense (311.0 ypg) and 29th in sacks (4)...San Diego has minus-six turnover margin over first three games...Miami running back Daniel Thomas has rushed for 202 yards over last two weeks and leads all rookies in that category...Dolphins linebacker Kevin Burnett spent previous two seasons with Chargers before signing as a free agent over the summer.
Fast Fact: Dolphins had won seven straight times over San Diego until being dealt a 23-13 loss in the teams' most recent meeting, which took place at Qualcomm Stadium in 2009.
Prediction: Dolphins will be desperate and have a chance for an upset of the mistake-prone Chargers, but once again come up a bit short. Chargers 24, Dolphins 20.
New England (2-1) at Oakland (2-1), Sunday, 4:15 (New England -4.5)
Storylines: Patriots come in off startling 34-31 loss at upstart Buffalo and aiming to avoid consecutive defeats for first time since Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2009...Raiders handed previously-unbeaten New York Jets a 34-24 loss last week in team's 2011 home opener and have won six of last nine games at the Coliseum...Running back Darren McFadden led way for Oakland with career-high 171 rushing yards and two touchdowns and tops NFL in yards on the ground (393), while Raiders lead league in rushing offense (185.0 ypg)...McFadden also tied with Patriots wideout Wes Welker, who set career bests with 16 catches and 217 receiving yards against Bills, for most yards from scrimmage (477)...New England tops NFL in total offense (540.7 ypg) and passing yards (437.7 ypg) and tied for second in scoring (34.7 ypg), with quarterback Tom Brady accumulating league-record 1,327 passing yards over first three games and Welker first among individuals in catches (31) and receiving yards (458)...Tight end Aaron Hernandez (knee) and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) likely to miss second straight week for Pats, but defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (back), safety Pat Chung (thumb) and cornerback Ras-I Dowling (hip) all on track to play after sitting out Buffalo game...Wide receiver Jacoby Ford (hamstring) set to return from two-game absence for Raiders, but safety Michael Huff (concussion) and cornerback Chris Johnson (hamstring) both questionable...Patriots looking to extend franchise-record 11-game streak with 30 or more points in regular season.
Fast Fact: The Patriots have won 20 of their last 22 games in October and are 29-5 for the month since 2003. That includes a 13-4 record on the road.
Prediction: Raiders will make it interesting in perhaps the most exciting game of the day, but determined Patriots have too much firepower to hold off. Patriots 38, Raiders 31.
N.Y. Jets (2-1) at Baltimore (2-1), Sunday, 8:20 (Baltimore -3.5)
Storylines: Marquee matchup of AFC contenders that have combined for eight road playoff victories over the past three seasons...Jets to face middle test of challenging three-game trek that began with last week's 34-24 loss at Oakland, while Ravens rebounded from upset loss at Tennessee in Week 2 with 37-7 road shellacking of St. Louis this past Sunday...Baltimore piled up franchise-record 553 total yards on Rams, with quarterback Joe Flacco passing for career-best 389 yards and throwing three first-quarter touchdowns to rookie wideout Torrey Smith, who finished with 152 yards on five catches...Ravens starting wide receiver Lee Evans could miss second straight game with ankle sprain, while time placed cornerback Domonique Foxworth (knee) on injured reserve Wednesday...Jets put tight end Jeff Cumberland (Achilles) and offensive lineman Robert Turner (leg) on IR during week, while All-Pro center Nick Mangold doubtful with high ankle sprain suffered in Week 2...New York wide receiver Derrick Mason spent previous six seasons with Ravens (2005-10) before signing with Jets over the summer, while Jets head coach Rex Ryan served as Baltimore assistant for 10 years from 1999-2008...Baltimore yielding league-low 13.3 points per game and has won six straight meetings with New York, including 10-9 decision at the Meadowlands in 2010 season opener...Jets signed outside linebacker and former Bills first-round pick Aaron Maybin on Wednesday.
Fast Fact: In addition to working together in Baltimore in 2008, Ryan and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh were also on the football staff of the University of Cincinnati in 1996, with Harbaugh the assistant head coach and Ryan the defensive coordinator.
Prediction: Jets' recent struggles running the football and stopping the run are huge concerns, and Ravens usually play lights-out at home. Ravens 24, Jets 17.
Indianapolis (0-3) at Tampa Bay (2-1), Monday, 8:30 (Tampa Bay -10)
Storylines: Curtis Painter believed to be getting first career start for reeling Colts, who went winless in September for first time since Peyton Manning's rookie campaign of 1998, with Manning still recovering from neck surgery and veteran Kerry Collins sustaining concussion in last Sunday's 23-20 loss to Pittsburgh...Buccaneers seeking to build off big 16-13 home win over defending NFC South champion Atlanta and have won two straight since Week 1 setback to unbeaten Detroit...Team lost starting safety Cody Grimm to season- ending knee injury in victory, however, while linebacker Quincy Black (ankle) questionable for Monday...Indianapolis placed linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Melvin Bullitt on injured reserve with shoulder ailments on Wednesday, while status of defensive tackle Fili Moala (ankle) as well as guard Ryan Diem (ankle) uncertain for this week...Quarterback Dan Orlovsky re-signed by Colts Wednesday after being cut by team in preseason...Slumping Indianapolis offense ranks 29th in total yards (254.0 ypg) and managed just 241 against Steelers...Buccaneers defense forced three Atlanta turnovers and held Falcons to 30 rushing yards last week...Colts middle linebacker Pat Angerer leads NFL in tackles (42) and was credited with 21 stops (12 solo) in last week's loss...Indianapolis has won nine of its past 10 Monday night matchups.
Fast Fact: Buccaneers will making their first appearance on Monday Night Football since a 38-21 loss at Carolina on Dec. 8, 2008.
Prediction: Bucs will be looking to make a statement on a rare chance on the national stage, and the bumbling Colts will unwillingly oblige. Buccaneers 23, Colts 10.