There's no such thing as a must-win game during the second week of the NFL season. For the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans, however, their next outing is about as close as one can get to the critical stage at this point.
Both projected powerhouses, who combined for a sterling 28-4 record in the 2011 regular season, put forth performances more resembling also-rans in highly disappointing debuts. The mighty Packers were outmuscled on their home turf by the NFC's new bully on the block, the San Francisco 49ers, while the Saints became an unwilling facilitator to the growing legend of Robert Griffin III with a sloppy and shocking loss to the rising Washington Redskins on the same Superdome field they were virtually unstoppable on a year ago.
Those defeats weren't only alarming, but painfully revealing in regards to the two teams' vulnerability in a conference that at first glance appears to be even more jumbled and wide open than last season, when the New York Giants emerged from the pack despite a 9-7 finish that stood as the worst mark among the six playoff entrants.
The Packers were predictable on offense and extremely exploitable on defense in their 30-22 loss to the physical 49ers, with San Francisco running the ball at will and rendering Aaron Rodgers into mere mortal status with a seek-and- destroy mentality that took full advantage of Green Bay's disproportionate dependency on the pass.
While the Packers' flaws do seem quite correctable, they only have a mere three days to smooth out the rough spots before a meeting with another opponent capable of exposing their weaknesses. And this one happens to reside in their own division.
The Chicago Bears will come into Thursday's showdown at Lambeau Field both determined and confident after easily disposing of lightweight Indianapolis in their opener. While Green Bay will present a far greater challenge than the reconstructing Colts, the Bears also look to be considerably more formidable than the team the Packers have pushed around routinely over the past few years with a healthy and more assured Jay Cutler under center and the addition of game-changing wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
It goes without saying that a loss to the Bears would put a severe dent in Green Bay's chances of repeating as NFC North champion, as a two-game deficit in the standings with only six home dates remaining would be an uphill climb for any team, even one that went 15-1 one year after winning the Super Bowl. And that alone should be enough to raise the intensity up a notch in a rivalry that rarely ever lacks motivation regardless of the stakes.
While the Saints may have been due for a period of transition after having head coach Sean Payton exiled for the entire season for their affront of Commissioner Roger Goodell with their pay-for-performance scheme, his absence doesn't excuse the defense's wretched display against a rookie quarterback making his initial professional start in Sunday's 40-32 clunker against Griffin and the Redskins. Nor does Aaron Kromer's suspension-coerced elevation into first in command explain the uncharacteristically off-target afternoon of quarterback Drew Brees, who connected on a Tebow-esque 46 percent of his pass attempts in his first effort after setting a new league standard for that category in 2011.
Excused or not, the Saints have problems, and ones that needed to be fixed in very short order. If a green rookie like Griffin can pile up 320 yards with relative ease right out of the chute, imagine what a proven air assassin like Rodgers would be able to accomplish when New Orleans heads to Lambeau Field in two weeks. Or when the Saints pay a visit to Denver in late October for an encounter with Peyton Manning.
Of course, New Orleans can't be focused on the daunting challenges that lie ahead, not with a pivotal divisional road game against Carolina right on the horizon. Although the Panthers were unexpectedly lethargic on offense in an ugly loss at Tampa Bay last week, there's more than enough talent on that side of the ball to create another day of headaches for new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and heartache for the entire Who Dat Nation.
It's quite possible the Saints were simply just caught off guard in the opener, and the team's admirable track record of both success and overcoming adverse situations suggests that their Week 1 showing may not be an accurate indicator of the future. Then again, having the organizational infrastructure blown apart by a vindictive Goodell as punishment for its bounty crimes may prove to be too much for New Orleans to overcome.
The answer should become infinitely more clear on Sunday, when Brees and his mates square off against the dangerous Cam Newton and a Carolina squad that's at a similar crossroads at this juncture.
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SUICIDE SELECTION OF THE WEEK
After very nearly crashing and burning with last week's choice of Detroit, maybe a more sweatless selection should be in order for Round 2. And in glancing over the upcoming schedule, the candidate that clearly stands out is New England.
The Patriots are a dominant home team that will face a quarterback in Arizona's Kevin Kolb who's pressed into duty after failing to claim a starting job he had the inside track on in the preseason, although the maligned and injury-prone passer did do some good things when taking over for an ailing John Skelton in the Cardinals' Week 1 win over Seattle.
Add in Arizona's extremely dubious history in cross-country games with early kickoffs, and it seems like a clear recipe for success.
For those intending on saving the Patriots for later in the season, Cincinnati could be a good bet at home against a Cleveland team that looked absolutely awful on offense in the opener and will be without arguably its best defender, suspended cornerback Joe Haden.
THE GAMES (All Times Eastern)
Week 1 record (straight up): 11-5 Week 1 record (vs. spread): 9-7
Chicago (1-0) at Green Bay (0-1), Thursday, 8:20 p.m.
LINE: Packers by 5 1/2
KEY INJURIES: Bears -- QUESTIONABLE: CB Charles Tillman (leg), TE Kyle Adams (shoulder); PROBABLE: MLB Brian Urlacher (knee), LT J'Marcus Webb (thumb). Packers -- DOUBTFUL: WR Greg Jennings (groin), RB James Starks (toe), CB Davon House (shoulder); QUESTIONABLE: DE C.J. Wilson (groin).
THE SKINNY: Bears seeking first victory at Lambeau Field since 2007 and have lost four straight and six of their last overall meetings with Green Bay, counting a 21-14 Packers' win in Chicago in the 2010 NFC Championship ... Green Bay dealt Bears a 35-21 defeat in Wisconsin on Christmas night of last season behind career-high five touchdown passes from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and also prevailed by 27-17 score at Soldier Field during Week 3 of 2011 campaign ... Packers coming off 30-22 home loss to San Francisco last Sunday in which defense was gashed for 186 rushing yards, and had 13-game regular-season win streak at Lambeau Field halted ... Green Bay attempting to avoid 0-2 start for first time since head coach Mike McCarthy's first season in 2006 ... Chicago opened season with 41-21 home rout of Indianapolis, with quarterback Jay Cutler throwing for 333 yards and two touchdowns and new addition Brandon Marshall gaining 119 yards with a score on nine catches ... Bears have won last six games that Cutler has started, but he's had five interceptions against just two touchdown passes in his last three matchups with Packers ... Green Bay led NFL with 31 picks in 2011 ... Rodgers threw for eight touchdowns, four of which went to tight end Jermichael Finley, while completing over 73 percent of his attempts in last year's two encounters with Chicago.
PREDICTION: Bears have closed the gap on the Packers with their offseason moves and will be a handful for the reigning division champs, but Rodgers is still the less likely of these two quarterbacks to make the critical mistake that could be the difference. Packers 31, Bears 24.
Arizona (1-0) at New England (1-0), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Patriots by 13 1/2
KEY INJURIES: Cardinals -- OUT: QB John Skelton (ankle); QUESTIONABLE: CB Greg Toler (hip); PROBABLE: RB Beanie Wells (hamstring), CB Jamell Fleming (shoulder). Patriots -- QUESTIONABLE: RG Dan Connolly (concussion), RB Shane Vereen (foot), TE Daniel Fells (shin), OL Nick McDonald (shoulder); PROBABLE: RT Sebastian Vollmer (back).
THE SKINNY: Kevin Kolb to draw start in place of Skelton and helped rally Cardinals to 20-16 home victory over Seattle in Week 1 by completing 6-of-8 attempts for 66 yards and throwing go-ahead touchdown pass with under five minutes left ... Defending AFC champion Patriots began season with 34-13 win at Tennessee in which running back Stevan Ridley rushed for career-best 125 yards and a score on 21 carries ... New England has defeated Arizona five straight times, with Cardinals' last triumph in series coming in 1991 ... Cards also haven't prevailed in New England since 1984, when franchise was based in St. Louis, and have been outscored by 88-7 margin in last two visits to Foxborough ... Patriots are 10-0 all-time at Gillette Stadium in home openers and have won 35 of last 36 regular-season contests there when quarterback Tom Brady has started ... New England rookie defensive end Chandler Jones had sack and forced fumble that was returned for touchdown by fellow 2012 first-round pick Dont'a Hightower in debut ... Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald three catches shy of becoming youngest in NFL history (29) to reach 700 for career ... Pats wideout Wes Welker enters game tied with Troy Brown for most receptions (557) in team history.
PREDICTION: Cardinals won't be able to generate enough scoring chances on improved New England defense to prevent Brady and his charges from carving out a methodical win. Patriots 23, Cardinals 6.
Baltimore (1-0) at Philadelphia (1-0), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Eagles by 2 1/2
KEY INJURIES: Ravens -- DOUBTFUL: OL Jah Reid (calf); PROBABLE: FS Ed Reed (hamstring), CB Corey Graham (leg). Eagles -- DOUBTFUL: WR Riley Cooper (collarbone); QUESTIONABLE: WR Jeremy Maclin (hip), CB Curtis Marsh (hamstring), S Colt Anderson (knee); PROBABLE: WR Jason Avant (wrist), RB Dion Lewis (hamstring).
THE SKINNY: First regular-season appearance at Lincoln Financial Field for Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, who spent 10 seasons as Eagles assistant from 1998-2007 and served last nine years of that tenure under Philadelphia sideline boss Andy Reid ... Baltimore kicked off 2012 campaign with 44-13 dismantling of visiting Cincinnati on Monday, with quarterback Joe Flacco throwing for 299 yards and two touchdowns on 21-of-29 passing to lead way ... Ravens finished night with 430 total yards of offense ... Eagles pulled out 17-16 road decision over Cleveland on Sunday, with quarterback Michael Vick overcoming four interceptions to direct 91-yard drive capped by winning touchdown pass with 1:16 left ... Philadelphia defense limited Browns to 210 total yards and picked off rookie signal-caller Brandon Weeden four times, with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and safety Kurt Coleman netting two each ... Ravens dropped 15-10 verdict in lone previous stop at Lincoln Financial Field in 2004, but routed Eagles by 36-7 count in Baltimore in teams' last meeting back in 2008 ... Philadelphia signed wide receiver Mardy Gilyard on Tuesday while waiving safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, team's second-round selection in 2011 draft.
PREDICTION: Ravens will encounter difficulty from Philadelphia's outstanding pass rush and the speed of running back LeSean McCoy, and Vick can't be as bad as he was last week. Eagles 24, Ravens 21.
Cleveland (0-1) at Cincinnati (0-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Bengals by 7
KEY INJURIES: Browns -- OUT: CB Joe Haden (suspension); QUESTIONABLE: CB Sheldon Brown (shoulder), OLB James-Michael Johnson (ribs); PROBABLE: RB Trent Richardson (knee), OLB Scott Fujita (knee). Bengals -- OUT: CB Dre Kirkpatrick (knee); QUESTIONABLE: DE Carlos Dunlap (knee), RB Bernard Scott (hand), CB Jason Allen (quadriceps); PROBABLE: DT Domata Peko (knee), TE Donald Lee (thigh).
THE SKINNY: Battle of AFC North inhabitants coming off losses on Kickoff Weekend, with Bengals enduring 44-13 throttling at division-rival Baltimore on Monday and rebuilding Browns edged at home in 17-16 setback to Philadelphia, with Eagles scoring go-ahead touchdown with 1:16 to play ... First career road start for Cleveland rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who completed just 12- of-35 passes for 118 yards and was intercepted four times in rough debut ... Haden to begin four-game ban for testing positive for banned substance ... Cincinnati swept 2011 series, posting 27-17 win in Cleveland and 23-20 decision at home, and has taken three straight and six of last seven matchups between Ohio residents ... Browns 1-7 in their last eight stops at Paul Brown Stadium, with lone victory over that span coming in 2008 ... Four of past six meetings in set have been decided by three or less points ... Cleveland defense recorded four interceptions of Philadelphia's Michael Vick in opener, with linebacker D'Qwell Jackson returning one pick 27 yards for club's only touchdown ... Bengals wide receiver Andrew Hawkins tallied career bests for catches (eight) and receiving yards (86) against Ravens, while running back and offseason pickup BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 91 yards and touchdown on 18 attempts in first game with Cincinnati.
PREDICTION: Bengals still have plenty of problems to sort out, but should be able to find some success against a punchless Cleveland team that was lucky to be in last week's game. Bengals 24, Browns 10.
Houston (1-0) at Jacksonville (0-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Texans by 7
KEY INJURIES: Texans -- PROBABLE: ILB Brian Cushing (ribs), CB Johnathan Joseph (illness), ILB Tim Dobbins (neck). Jaguars -- OUT: DE Austen Lane (foot); DOUBTFUL: RB Rashad Jennings (knee); QUESTIONABLE: OLB Daryl Smith (groin), CB Derek Cox (hamstring); PROBABLE: RG Uche Nwaneri (ankle).
THE SKINNY: Reigning AFC South champion Texans shoot for fourth consecutive victory over Jaguars and opened 2011 season with 30-10 home dismantling of lowly Miami on Sunday, while Jacksonville attempts to rebound from tough 26-23 overtime setback at Minnesota in Week 1 in first game at EverBank Field under head coach Mike Mularkey ... Houston halted string of four straight losses in Jacksonville with 20-13 decision last November, following up 24-14 triumph over Jags at Reliant Stadium earlier in year ... Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert compiled career-best 260 passing yards and threw for two touchdowns against Vikings, including 39-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Cecil Shorts that briefly gave team 23-20 lead with 20 seconds left in regulation ... Texans placed second in NFL in total defense and third against the run during last year's playoff run and faces 2011 league rushing champion in Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew, who gained 77 yards on 19 carries last week in first action since ending 38-day holdout ... Houston held Dolphins to 275 total yards and no offensive touchdowns in opener, while standout receiver Andre Johnson amassed 119 yards and a touchdown on eight catches for Texans ... Houston running back Arian Foster averages 103.3 rushing yards against Jacksonville for career and needs just 20 yards on the ground to become Texans' all-time leader in that category ... Houston quarterback Matt Schaub one touchdown pass shy of reaching 100 for career.
PREDICTION: Gabbert is showing improvement, but still has a ways to go before the Jaguars can be picked with any amount of confidence to overtake a Houston outfit that's solid in just about all areas. Texans 23, Jaguars 13.
Kansas City (0-1) at Buffalo (0-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Bills by 3
KEY INJURIES: Chiefs -- DOUBTFUL: FS Kendrick Lewis (shoulder); QUESTIONABLE: CB Brandon Flowers (heel), NT Anthony Toribio (ankle), DE Allen Bailey (groin), CB Jalil Brown (groin). Bills -- OUT: RB Fred Jackson (knee), WR David Nelson (knee, IR); PROBABLE: WR Stevie Johnson (groin), DT Marcell Dareus (personal).
THE SKINNY: Clash of AFC clubs that both entered season with high hopes but suffered ugly losses in their respective openers, with Chiefs dropping 40-24 home decision to Atlanta last Sunday and Bills sustaining mistake-filled, 48-28 defeat at New York Jets over the weekend ... Kansas City attempting to avenge 41-7 shellacking by Bills at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 1 of 2011 campaign, with Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzgerald tossing season-high four touchdown passes to key team's fourth victory in last five bouts with Chiefs ... Including two playoff setbacks, Kansas City has lost in each of last five trips to Ralph Wilson Stadium and last prevailed in Buffalo in 1986 ... Chiefs, however, won four of final six road tests in 2011 ... Fitzpatrick threw for three touchdowns against Jets this past Sunday, but was intercepted three times and has had 19 picks over his last 10 games dating back to last season ... Bills running back C.J. Spiller rushed for career-best 169 yards and a touchdown on only 14 carries last week and starts in place of Jackson ... Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles amassed 87 rushing yards on 16 totes against Falcons in first outing since tearing ACL during Week 2 of 2011 season ... Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston notched one sack in opener and has 6 1/2 over last six outings.
PREDICTION: Chiefs defense is better than it showed in a short-handed state a week ago, while Bills still have serious issues on that side of the ball and continue to struggle with turnovers. Chiefs 24, Bills 20.
Minnesota (1-0) at Indianapolis (0-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Vikings by 1
KEY INJURIES: Vikings -- OUT: WR Jerome Simpson (suspension); QUESTIONABLE: LB Marvin Mitchell (ankle); PROBABLE: RB Adrian Peterson (knee). Colts -- OUT: ILB Pat Angerer (foot); DOUBTFUL: OLB Dwight Freeney (ankle), RT Winston Justice (concussion), LG Joe Reitz (knee); PROBABLE: WR Austin Collie (concussion), DE Cory Redding (knee), WR T.Y. Hilton (shoulder).
THE SKINNY: Regular-season home debut for Colts rookie quarterback and 2012 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck, who tries to bounce back from three- interception performance in team's 41-21 Week 1 loss at Chicago in which he finished with 309 passing yards ... Vikings in search of first 2-0 start since 2009 and delivered thrilling 26-23 overtime triumph over Jacksonville last Sunday at Metrodome, with rookie kicker Blair Walsh forcing extra time with 55-yard field goal on final play of regulation and second-year quarterback Christian Ponder accumulating 270 yards on sharp 20-of-27 passing ... Peterson contributed 84 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries in return from torn ACL sustained in December and faces rebuilt Indianapolis defense that ranked 29th against the run in 2011 ... Minnesota aiming for first-ever road victory over Colts and first outright win in series since 1997 ... Vikings are 0-10 all-time as visitor in set and have dropped three straight overall to Indianapolis ... Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne coming off nine-catch, 135- yard effort against Bears, while rookie tight end Coby Fleener had 82 yards on six grabs in initial NFL game ... Indianapolis signed veteran offensive lineman Trai Essex on Monday.
PREDICTION: Luck will make an impact in his first real test in front of the home fans, but Peterson and Vikings playmaking receiver Percy Harvin will be the eventual difference-makers. Vikings 27, Colts 20.
New Orleans (0-1) at Carolina (0-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Saints by 2 1/2
KEY INJURIES: Saints -- OUT: MLB Jonathan Vilma (knee, PUP), WR Adrian Arrington (knee, IR); DOUBTFUL: CB Johnny Patrick (knee); QUESTIONABLE: WR Devery Henderson (concussion), CB Jabari Greer (groin), OLB Scott Shanle (leg). Panthers -- OUT: DT Andre Neblett (suspension); QUESTIONABLE: RB Jonathan Stewart (ankle); PROBABLE: WR Steve Smith (knee).
THE SKINNY: Defending NFC champion Saints trying to avoid first 0-2 start since 2007 and shake off surprising 40-32 home loss to upstart Washington in first game under interim head coach Aaron Kromer, while Panthers vying to rebound from 16-10 defeat at division member Tampa Bay in which team's usually strong running game managed a mere 10 yards on 13 attempts ... New Orleans has won four straight in series and followed up 30-27 victory in Charlotte last October with 45-17 home trashing of Carolina in 2011 regular-season finale, and has averaged 36.3 points in last three wins over Panthers ... Saints quarterback Drew Brees piled up 389 passing yards and five touchdowns in Week 17 rout of Panthers and put up 339 yards and three scores last weekend, but was intercepted twice ... 2011 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Cam Newton threw for 303 yards for Panthers in Sunday's loss, while also tossing a pair of picks ... New Orleans wide receiver Lance Moore finished with 120 yards and a touchdown on six catches against Redskins, while teammate Marques Colston compiled 145 yards and two scores on seven receptions in Saints' most recent matchup with Carolina ... Panthers top target Smith finished with 106 yards on seven grabs in opener ... Saints signed wideout Greg Camarillo on Wednesday.
PREDICTION: Both offenses will be far more effective than each showed last week, but it's hard to go against Brees and a somewhat-desperate Saints squad if it's indeed a shootout. Saints 31, Panthers 27.
Oakland (0-1) at Miami (0-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Raiders by 2 1/2
KEY INJURIES: Raiders -- OUT: WR Jacoby Ford (foot), CB Ron Bartell (shoulder); QUESTIONABLE: RB Taiwan Jones (ribs), LS Jon Condo (concussion); PROBABLE: WR Denarius Moore (hamstring), DT Richard Seymour (knee). Dolphins -- DOUBTFUL: RB Daniel Thomas (concussion).
THE SKINNY: Matchup of first-year head coaches still seeking their initial win. with Dennis Allen's Raiders coming off frustrating 22-14 home loss to San Diego on Monday and Joe Philbin's Dolphins receiving 30-10 manhandling at Houston on Sunday ... First home regular-season start for Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who threw three interceptions and failed to lead the offense into end zone against tough Texans ... Dolphins' lone touchdown in Week 1 came on 72-yard punt return by reserve running back Marcus Thigpen ... Revamped Oakland defense held Chargers to 32 rushing yards and 258 total in opener, but committed three special-teams miscues that led to nine San Diego points ... Raiders have lost three straight and nine of their last 10 non- playoff tests with Miami, including a 34-14 defeat at Sun Life Stadium last December in which Dolphins rushed for 200 yards, but did come through with a 35-17 triumph in South Florida in 2007 ... Oakland's Darren McFadden set new franchise record for receptions by a running back with a 13-catch, 86-yard outburst in Monday's tilt ... Miami running back Reggie Bush totaled 115 yards from scrimmage in opener and aiming for third straight 100-yard rushing effort at home, one of which came against the Raiders.
PREDICTION: Short week and an early start time after a cross-country trip could be an ominous scenario for Raiders, but Dolphins are so inept offensively it may not really matter. Raiders 20, Dolphins 10.
Tampa Bay (1-0) at New York Giants (0-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Giants by 7 1/2
KEY INJURIES: Buccaneers -- QUESTIONABLE: CB E.J. Biggers (foot), CB Anthony Gaitor (hamstring); PROBABLE: RB LeGarette Blount (neck), LG Carl Nicks (toe), WR Arrelious Benn (knee). Giants -- DOUBTFUL: CB Michael Coe (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: CB Prince Amukamara (ankle); PROBABLE: WR Hakeem Nicks (foot), S Kenny Phillips (back), OT Will Beatty (back), DT Marvin Austin (back), OLB Keith Rivers (hamstring), CB Jayron Hosley (toe).
THE SKINNY: Homecoming for Buccaneers head coach and New Jersey native Greg Schiano, who directed the football program at state university Rutgers for 11 years before joining Tampa Bay this past winter ... Bucs scored 16-10 home victory over fellow NFC South member Carolina last Sunday in Schiano's NFL intro, with defense rendering Panthers to just 10 rushing yards on 13 attempts ... Defending Super Bowl champion Giants try to bounce back from 24-17 loss to rival Dallas at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 5 and avert first 0-2 start since 2007, with injury-riddled defense allowing 307 net passing yards and 433 total to Cowboys ... Tampa Bay mustered only 258 total yards against Panthers, with rookie running back Doug Martin accounting for 118 (95 rushing, 23 receiving) in initial pro action ... Buccaneers have dropped last four matchups with New York, including a playoff defeat in Tampa in 2007, and haven't beaten the Giants since 2003 ... Tampa Bay also 1-6 lifetime as visitor in this series, with lone win coming in 1997, and is facing New York on the road for first time since 2006 ... Tampa Bay veteran safety Ronde Barber named NFC Defensive Player of Week for 10th time in career after registering one sack, one interception, two passes defensed and a pair of tackles for loss in 200th consecutive start during Week 1 ... Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan was an assistant under Giants head coach Tom Coughlin from 2004-11 and spent the last two seasons as New York's quarterbacks coach.
PREDICTION: Buccaneers' revamped defense looked good in shutting down a Carolina team with its share of firepower and should keep them in it, but Giants are the fresher and more battled-tested club. Giants 24, Buccaneers 17.
Dallas (1-0) at Seattle (0-1), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: Cowboys by 3
KEY INJURIES: Cowboys -- QUESTIONABLE: NT Jay Ratliff (ankle), C Phil Costa (back), FS Gerald Sensabaugh (concussion); PROBABLE: TE Jason Witten (spleen), CB Mike Jenkins (shoulder), RB Felix Jones (ribs), S Danny McCray (neck). Seahawks -- OUT: G James Carpenter (knee); QUESTIONABLE: LT Russell Okung (knee); PROBABLE: WR Golden Tate (knee), WR Doug Baldwin (mouth).
THE SKINNY: First meeting between teams in Seattle since Seahawks' memorable 21-20 victory over Cowboys in 2006 NFC playoffs, with the game's signature play a botched hold attempt by Dallas quarterback Tony Romo on a potential go- ahead field goal try ... Cowboys seeking first 2-0 start since 2008 and look to build off big 24-17 road decision over NFC East nemesis New York Giants on Sept. 5, with Romo spearheading win by throwing for 307 yards and three touchdowns ... Seattle returns home off narrow 20-16 loss at Arizona on Kickoff Weekend in first career start for rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who finished with 153 yards and one touchdown and one interception on 18-of-34 passing ... Dallas has taken last three games in series, including 23-13 triumph at Cowboys Stadium last November in which running back DeMarco Murray rushed for 139 yards, but has fallen in last two trips to CenturyLink Field (counting playoffs) since last prevailing there in 2004 ... Murray added 131 yards on 20 carries in this year's opener, while wide receiver Kevin Ogletree broke out for career highs of eight catches, 114 yards and two touchdowns for Dallas ... Murray goes up against stout Seahawks defense which limited Cardinals to just 43 yards on the ground on 20 attempts last Sunday ... Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch had 135 rushing yards and a touchdown in last year's clash with Cowboys and leads NFL in that category (1,026 yards) since that contest.
PREDICTION: A boisterous home crowd and Seattle's rugged defense won't make it easy on Romo, but Cowboys' talent and experience edges win out in a close one. Cowboys 17, Seahawks 13.
Washington (1-0) at St. Louis (0-1), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: Redskins by 3
KEY INJURIES: Redskins -- OUT: SS Brandon Meriweather (knee), LS Nick Sundberg (arm, IR); QUESTIONABLE: WR Pierre Garcon (foot). Rams -- OUT: C Scott Wells (foot, IR), WR Austin Pettis (suspension); DOUBTFUL: LT Rodger Saffold (neck), DT Michael Brockers (ankle), G Rokevious Watkins (ankle), DT Darell Scott (knee); QUESTIONABLE: DT Matt Conrath (knee), S Darian Stewart (hamstring).
THE SKINNY: Second road test for Redskins rookie sensation Robert Griffin III, who threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns on 19-of-26 passing in dazzling NFL debut that led Washington to 40-32 upset at NFC powerhouse New Orleans last Sunday ... Redskins acquired Griffin by dealing for No. 2 overall pick held by St. Louis prior to April's draft ... First home date for Rams under new head coach Jeff Fisher, whose club came up just short in 27-23 Week 1 loss at Detroit after Lions scored game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds left ... Teams squaring off in St. Louis for third straight season, with Rams posting 30-16 victory in 2010 and Redskins exacting revenge via 17-10 decision last October ... Washington rushed for 196 yards in that contest, while rookie running back Alfred Morris gained 96 and scored twice in a 28-carry effort in New Orleans win ... Free-agent pickup Garcon had 88-yard scoring catch in first outing as Redskin last week, but may be game-time decision on Sunday ... Former Jets Robert Turner and Wayne Hunter slated to start for St. Louis in Wells' and Saffold's place, respectively ... Washington sacked Rams quarterback Sam Bradford seven times in last year's meeting, with outside linebacker Brian Orakpo netting 2 1/2 takedowns and forcing a fumble ... Redskins signed veteran long snapper Justin Snow on Tuesday to fill in for Sundberg.
PREDICTION: Griffin looks more like a rookie against an improved and somewhat underrated St. Louis defense, though the Rams' injury problems along the offensive line will be too much to overcome. Redskins 26, Rams 13.
New York Jets (1-0) at Pittsburgh (0-1), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Steelers by 5 1/2
KEY INJURIES: Jets -- DOUBTFUL: S Eric Smith (hip); QUESTIONABLE: WR Jeremy Kerley (back); PROBABLE: CB Darrelle Revis (concussion), WR Stephen Hill (calf), NT Sione Pouha (back), OLB Bryan Thomas (hamstring). Steelers -- OUT: TE Weslye Saunders (suspension); DOUBTFUL: RB Rashard Mendenhall (knee), ILB Stevenson Sylvester (knee); QUESTIONABLE: OLB James Harrison (knee); PROBABLE: SS Troy Polamalu (calf), RB Jonathan Dwyer (foot), RT Marcus Gilbert (knee), RG Ramon Foster (eye).
THE SKINNY: First meeting between teams since 2010 AFC Championship at Heinz Field, which Steelers won by 24-19 count, and first encounter between Pittsburgh and new Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow since the then-Denver Bronco helped his old club to stunning overtime upset of Steelers in the opening round of last season's conference playoffs ... New York attempting to maintain momentum after erupting for unforeseen, 48-28 throttling of visiting Buffalo in Week 1, with starting signal-caller Mark Sanchez throwing for three touchdowns and Jets also getting scores on defense (Antonio Cromartie interception return) and special teams (Kerley punt return) ... Pittsburgh aiming to bounce back from 31-19 road loss to Peyton Manning-led Broncos last Sunday in which Denver produced 24 second-half points to prevail, and has won nine consecutive home openers ... New York dealt Steelers 22-17 loss at Heinz Field late in 2010 regular season, franchise's only victory in nine lifetime trips to Pittsburgh, including the playoffs ... Rookie Hill had two touchdown catches and team bests of five receptions and 89 yards in strong debut for Jets last week ... Revis is a native of nearby Aliquippa, Pa., and played collegiately at University of Pittsburgh, while Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes spent first four NFL seasons with Steelers from 2006-09.
PREDICTION: Rex Ryan's aggressive defense will pose some problems for a Pittsburgh front line that doesn't protect Ben Roethlisberger all that well, but Jets offense won't nearly resemble the juggernaut it appeared to be in the opener. Steelers 24, Jets 20.
Tennessee (0-1) at San Diego (1-0), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Chargers by 6
KEY INJURIES: Titans -- QUESTIONABLE: MLB Colin McCarthy (ankle), RB Javon Ringer (elbow), DE Scott Solomon (knee); PROBABLE: QB Jake Locker (shoulder), WR Kenny Britt (knee), WR Nate Washington (leg), DT Sen'Derrick Marks (knee), RG Leroy Harris (knee). Chargers -- OUT: LT Jared Gaither (back); DOUBTFUL: RB Ryan Mathews (collarbone); QUESTIONABLE: NT Antonio Garay (ankle), CB Shareece Wright (ankle), WR Richard Goodman (concussion); PROBABLE: TE Antonio Gates (ribs), CB Quentin Jammer (hand).
THE SKINNY: Road introduction for Locker, who threw for 229 yards and a touchdown on 23-of-32 passing in first career NFL start in Titans' 34-13 Week 1 home loss to New England but was responsible for two turnovers (1 interception, 1 fumble) ... Chargers come back to San Diego off hard-earned 22-14 victory at rival Oakland on Monday, with kicker Nate Kaeding tying career-best with five field goals to account for most of team's scoring, and shoot for first 2-0 beginning since 14-win season in 2006 ... Tennessee attempting to break seven-game losing streak to Chargers, which includes a setback at Qualcomm Stadium in 2007 AFC playoffs, and franchise hasn't topped San Diego since a 27-0 home shutout by the Houston Oilers in 1992 ... Titans last bested the Chargers in San Diego in 1990 while still the Oilers, with team having dropped five straight on road in series ... Britt set to make first appearance since tearing ACL during Week 3 of last season, having sat out New England loss due to league-imposed suspension ... San Diego running backs Ronnie Brown and Curtis Brinkley combined for only 17 rushing yards on 15 carries in place of Mathews in the opener, while Tennessee's Chris Johnson was held to a paltry four yards on 11 totes by Patriots ... Titans defensive end Kamerion Wimbley notched four sacks in matchup with Chargers last November while then member of Oakland ... Tennessee signed veteran guard Deuce Lutui on Monday.
PREDICTION: Chargers can be a tough team to handle when quarterback Philip Rivers gets adequate time to throw, as Titans may find out the hard way if their lackluster pass rush isn't more of a factor. Chargers 27, Titans 16.
Detroit (1-0) at San Francisco (1-0), Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
LINE: 49ers by 6 1/2
KEY INJURIES: Lions -- OUT: RB Mikel Leshoure (suspension); DOUBTFUL: FS Louis Delmas (knee); QUESTIONABLE: CB Chris Houston (ankle), CB Bill Bentley (concussion); PROBABLE: WR Calvin Johnson (foot). 49ers -- QUESTIONABLE: RB Brandon Jacobs (knee), WR Ted Ginn Jr. (ankle).
THE SKINNY: Fiery head coaches Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh go head-to-head for first time since infamous post-game spat between two after 49ers' 25-19 victory in Detroit last October ... San Francisco puts six-game regular-season home winning streak on line and comes in off impressive 30-22 road ousting of 2011 NFC top playoff seed Green Bay last Sunday, while Detroit rallied for harder-than-expected 27-23 home decision over St. Louis in Week 1 on touchdown pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford to running back Kevin Smith with 10 seconds to play ... Lions vying for first win in San Francisco since 1975 and have dropped eight straight overall to Niners since a 27-24 triumph in 1995 ... Detroit has lost 11 in a row on road in series and is just 1-12 lifetime at Candlestick Park ... San Francisco rolled up 186 rushing yards on Packers, with top back Frank Gore gaining 112 yards and a touchdown on only 16 carries, while quarterback Alex Smith hit on 20-of-26 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns and kicker David Akers tied NFL record by booting 63-yard field goal ... Gore registered 141 yards and a score on just 15 attempts in last season's verdict over Lions ... Stafford threw for 355 yards in opener, but had three interceptions that the Rams converted into 13 points ... Johnson finished with 111 yards on six catches in Sunday's test and burned San Francisco for 113 yards on seven grabs in last year's meeting.
PREDICTION: Harbaugh won't be as exuberant with his handshake this time out, though he will still have cause for celebration if the 49ers come out on top in the turnover battle like they usually do. 49ers 26, Lions 24.
Denver (1-0) at Atlanta (1-0), Monday, 8:30 p.m.
LINE: Falcons by 3
KEY INJURIES: Broncos -- OUT: DT Ty Warren (triceps, IR), OLB D.J. Williams (suspension), RG Chris Kuper (arm), TE Virgil Green (suspension); QUESTIONABLE: CB Chris Harris (ankle). Falcons -- OUT: CB Brent Grimes (Achilles, IR).
THE SKINNY: Prime time showdown of 2011 playoff participants in which Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning takes to road for first time since Week 16 of the 2010 season and inaugural away game in Denver uniform ... Manning threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns in ballyhooed Broncos debut and return from career- threatening neck surgery last week, leading 24-point second-half surge that lifted Denver to key 31-19 victory over Pittsburgh ... Falcons signal-caller Matt Ryan accounted for four TDs (three passing, one rushing) and generated 299 yards to spark team to highly impressive 40-24 triumph at Kansas City in Week 1 ... Second-year wide receiver Julio Jones also had big day for Atlanta, accumulating 108 yards and two touchdowns on six catches ... Manning owns 11-3 career record on "Monday Night Football," while Falcons are 26-4 at Georgia Dome in regular-season games Ryan has started over past four seasons and unbeaten in home openers over that stretch ... Broncos have prevailed in each of last five stops at Atlanta, with Falcons' last home win in series taking place in 1975 ... Denver cornerback Tracy Porter named AFC Defensive Player of Week after offseason acquisition recorded eight tackles, five pass breakups and returned an interception 43 yards for a game-sealing touchdown against Steelers ... Broncos head coach John Fox returns to NFC South wars after spending nine years in charge of Carolina from 2002-10 ... Denver signed veteran center Dan Koppen, formerly of New England, on Tuesday while placing Warren on injured reserve.
PREDICTION: Grimes' loss could be a crippler for Falcons, as Manning may have an easier time navigating a depleted Atlanta secondary than Ryan will against a Denver defense that's very good at generating pressure. Broncos 28, Falcons 23.