Sunday and Monday weren't exactly banner days for the NFL, with the league deservedly placed on the firing line after its reckless and misguided choice to use replacement officials blew up in its face following a cavalcade of bumbles and indecision by the on-the-job trainees.
Tuesday would turn out to be worse, however.
The passing of NFL Films president Steve Sabol after an 18-month fight with an inoperable brain tumor has deprived the game of one of its most important contributors and true visionaries, creating a void that far exceeds whatever loss of credibility may have come about by the grossly subpar performances by the over-their-heads substitute referees.
To say the league wouldn't have reached its present standing as an essential fabric in American culture without the excellent and tireless work of Sabol and his 96-year-old father, Ed, a long-overdue enshrinee into the Pro Football Hall of Year in 2011, would be a massive understatement. By introducing such revolutionary ideas as super slow-motion footage, orchestra-based theme music and wiring coaches and players in-game, the Sabols were able to perfectly capture the essence and pageantry of the sport and send its popularity to unprecedented levels.
The great moments are as timeless as they are pervasive. The booming baritone voice of the late John Facenda reciting the Steve Sabol-panned poem "The Autumn Wind" behind a catchy classical track during a highlight set of the 1970's-era Oakland Raiders is permanently etched into every NFL fan's memory, much like the iconic clips of Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception" and John Riggins' tide-turning touchdown run in Super Bowl XVII that the Sabols so eloquently created.
And who can ever forget the frenzied eyes and ultra-intense expression of Mike Singletary (before the world realized he was truly crazy)? Or Lawrence Taylor barking to his fellow New York Giant defenders to "go out there like a bunch of crazed dogs" in a sideline speech that completely defies the league's modern-day power brokers' aims for a kinder, gentler game?
Thank you, Steve Sabol, for those classic pieces and the countless others that NFL Films has given the public for nearly 50 years.
So as the Week 3 schedule draws near, the discussion will inevitably turn to forecasting how many phantom pass interference calls and confusing conundrums the fill-in refs will deliver to drag out this batch of games to excruciatingly long durations. Or how the suddenly scuffling New England Patriots will make do without difference-making tight end Aaron Hernandez in the headline attraction of this weekend's slate -- a visit to the hostile surroundings of Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium to take on a revenge-seeking Ravens team in a titanic clash of last season's AFC Championship Game participants.
Unfortunately, Steve Sabol will ultimately be much more difficult to replace.
NFL POWER POLL
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SURVIVOR POOL SELECTION OF THE WEEK
Those who took the advice of this column a week ago can probably skip over this section after the seemingly foolproof selection of New England over Arizona turned out to be a wrong call. There appear to be few other potential trap games lurking this time around as well for the lucky ones that managed to survive an unpredictable set of Week 2 games.
New Orleans (vs. Kansas City) and Chicago (vs. St. Louis) rate as the safest choices on the board according to the folks in Vegas, though neither heavy favorite can be classified as anywhere near a sure thing based on recent results. The Saints have been an absolute mess, particularly on the defensive end, in their first two outings with Sean Payton in exile, and it may be best to steer clear until they prove they've got their ducks in a row. The Bears are nearly as hard to trust after witnessing Jay Cutler's wretched performance in Green Bay last week, and the rebuilt Rams have been very competitive in the early going.
With that information in hand, this week's pick is San Francisco over Minnesota. The 49ers have looked dominant in getting off to a 2-0 start, while the Vikings showed they're still very much a work in progress in falling to a Indianapolis team that isn't anywhere near as advanced as their next opponent. And if San Francisco can win in Green Bay, going to the Metrodome shouldn't be much of an impediment. Pittsburgh also ranks as a good bet in its away tilt against a lackluster Oakland team that's already lost both of its starting cornerbacks.
THE GAMES (All Times Eastern)
Week 2 record (straight up): 8-8 Week 2 record (vs. spread): 4-11-1
Season record (straight up): 19-13 (.594) Season record (vs. spread): 13-18-1 (.422)
N.Y. Giants (1-1) at Carolina (1-1), Thursday, 8:20 p.m.
LINE: Panthers by 2 1/2
KEY INJURIES: Giants -- OUT: WR Hakeem Nicks (foot), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (neck), WR Domenik Hixon (concussion), RT David Diehl (knee); QUESTIONABLE: CB Michael Coe (hamstring); PROBABLE -- CB Prince Amukamara (ankle), OLB Keith Rivers (hamstring). Panthers -- OUT: DT Andre Neblett (suspension); QUESTIONABLE: RB Jonathan Stewart (toe, ankle), RT Byron Bell (ankle), OLB Thomas Davis (hamstring); PROBABLE: WR Steve Smith (knee), MLB Jon Beason (elbow), C Ryan Kalil (ankle).
THE SKINNY: First prime-time game for Panthers since November of 2009, and team enters matchup off 35-27 home win over reeling New Orleans last week in which reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Cam Newton threw for 253 yards and set franchise record with 71 rushing yards along with a touchdown...Defending world champion Giants evened 2012 record with thrilling 41-34 come-from-behind victory over visiting Tampa Bay on Sunday, with quarterback Eli Manning accumulating career-high 510 passing yards and three touchdowns but also tossing three interceptions...Charlotte native Nicks added personal-best 199 yards and a touchdown on 10 receptions against Buccaneers, but will not make trip after aggravating previous foot injury...Fellow wideout Victor Cruz established career highs with 11 catches and 179 receiving yards for New York...Giants have won three of last four clashes between teams, including 31-18 decision in New York in 2010 opener behind three touchdown grabs from Nicks...Manning leads NFL with 723 passing yards and Giants rank second in total offense (436.5 ypg) through first two weeks...Panthers rushed for 219 yards against Saints and are 6-2 when compiling 163 yards or more on the ground since start of last season...North Carolina State product Andre Brown to start for Bradshaw at running back and contributed 71 rushing yards and first career touchdown to Giants' last win.
PREDICTION: Giants could have trouble in first-ever encounter with the dynamic Newton off short week, and Panthers come up with more big plays to send the fired-up home crowd happy. Panthers 28, Giants 26.
Buffalo (1-1) at Cleveland (0-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Bills by 3
KEY INJURIES: Bills -- OUT: RB Fred Jackson (knee); QUESTIONABLE: FS Jairus Byrd (foot); PROBABLE: DT Marcell Dareus (personal/shoulder), LT Cordy Glenn (ankle), CB Stephon Gilmore (head), SS George Wilson (head). Browns -- OUT: CB Joe Haden (suspension); DOUBTFUL: DE Juqua Parker (foot); QUESTIONABLE: DT Billy Winn (concussion), TE Alex Smith (concussion), LB James-Michael Johnson (ribs); PROBABLE: WR Greg Little (back), CB Sheldon Brown (shoulder).
THE SKINNY: Browns still in search of first win with rookie Brandon Weeden at quarterback after 34-27 setback at rival Cincinnati last Sunday, while Bills bounced back from 20-point opening-week loss to Jets with 35-17 home rout of Kansas City last time out...Matchup of talented young running backs, with Buffalo's C.J. Spiller amassing league-best 292 rushing yards and three touchdowns thus far and Cleveland rookie Trent Richardson amassing 109 yards on the ground and two touchdowns (1 rushing, 1 receiving) against Bengals...Spiller averaging 10.1 yards per carry through first two games, while Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick currently tied for NFL lead with five touchdown passes...Weeden coming off 322-yard, two-touchdown, no-interception effort in second career start...Buffalo shooting for first victory in Cleveland since 1995, but has visited city just once since Browns returned to NFL in 1999...Cleveland had won three straight over Bills prior to 13-6 defeat in Buffalo in 2010...Browns defense recorded six sacks in Week 2 loss, with linebacker D'Qwell Jackson notching three along with an interception...Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin had 88-yard punt-return score this past Sunday, while Cleveland surrendered 81-yard touchdown to Cincinnati return man Adam Jones in last game.
PREDICTION: Youthful Browns showed some progress last time out and Bills are hardly world-beaters, but a depleted secondary and inability to convert scoring opportunities figures to haunt Cleveland once more. Bills 21, Browns 16.
Cincinnati (1-1) at Washington (1-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Redskins by 3
KEY INJURIES: Bengals -- OUT: DE Jamaal Anderson (quadriceps, IR); DOUBTFUL: CB Dre Kirkpatrick (knee); QUESTIONABLE: CB Jason Allen (quadriceps), TE Donald Lee (thigh); PROBABLE: DE Carlos Dunlap (knee), RB Bernard Scott (hand). Redskins -- OUT: OLB Brian Orakpo (pectoral, IR), DE Adam Carriker (quadriceps, IR); QUESTIONABLE: TE Fred Davis (concussion), CB Josh Wilson (concussion), SS Brandon Meriweather (knee); PROBABLE: WR Pierre Garcon (foot)
THE SKINNY: Regular-season home debut for Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who's thrown for 526 yards and three touchdowns with one interception over first two appearances and had franchise-record 82 rushing yards and two touchdowns in last week's 31-28 loss at St. Louis...Bengals triggerman Andy Dalton recorded 318 passing yards and three touchdowns in team's 34-27 home victory over Cleveland in Week 2...Cincinnati has won two straight over Washington, including 17-10 triumph at FedEx Field in 2004, but is just 1-3 all-time as visitor in series...Redskins running back Alfred Morris leads all rookies in rushing yards (185) and faces Bengals defense allowing 5.5 yards per carry thus far...Cincinnati also ranks 30th in total defense (434.5 ypg) and permitted 439 yards to Browns...Washington tops NFL with 68 points and stands fourth overall in total offense (416.0 ypg) and rushing yards (164.5 ypg), and team ran for 176 yards against Rams...Bengals cornerback Adam Jones named AFC Special Teams Player of Week after registering key 81-yard punt return in last Sunday's win...Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis served as Washington's defensive coordinator in 2002 before taking over Bengals...Cincinnati signed defensive end Wallace Gilberry while placing Anderson on injured reserve Tuesday.
PREDICTION: Bengals' defense has looked really bad over the first two weeks, and a sudden turnaround that will prevent Griffin's official FedEx Field coronation from becoming a festive occasion doesn't seem real likely. Redskins 31, Bengals 16.
Detroit (1-1) at Tennessee (0-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Lions by 3 1/2
KEY INJURIES: Lions -- OUT: CB Drayton Florence (arm, IR); QUESTIONABLE: FS Louis Delmas (knee); PROBABLE: WR Calvin Johnson (ankle), CB Chris Houston (ankle), TE Tony Scheffler (knee). Titans -- DOUBTFUL: MLB Colin McCarthy (ankle); PROBABLE: WR Kenny Britt (knee), WR Nate Washington (leg), RB Javon Ringer (elbow), DT Sen'Derrick Marks (knee).
THE SKINNY: Jim Schwartz faces Titans team he spent 10 years as an assistant for from 1999-2008 for first time as Lions head coach and tries to lead Detroit to first victory over Tennessee franchise since besting Houston Oilers in 1995...Titans seeking to avoid first 0-3 start since losing first six contests in 2009 and return home off 38-10 shellacking at San Diego last Sunday...Lions attempt to rebound from 27-19 defeat at defending NFC West champ San Francisco and vying to end three-game losing streak in series...First game for Detroit running back Mikel Leshoure, who missed all of 2011 rookie season with torn Achilles and was suspended for first two games of this year for violating NFL's substance-abuse policy...Tennessee has scored league-low 23 points and ranks last in rushing offense (29.0 ypg) through first two games, with running back Chris Johnson averaging mere 1.1 yards per attempt over that stretch...Titans also 30th overall in rushing defense (155.0 ypg) at the moment...Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (2005-09) and linebacker Stephen Tulloch (2006-10) each played five seasons for Tennessee and face former club for first time since joining Detroit...Lions claimed cornerback Jerome Murphy off waivers from New Orleans Tuesday while waiving corner Kevin Barnes.
PREDICTION: If the Titans fail to get anything out of the running game for another week, young quarterback Jake Locker is going to have another tough afternoon against a Detroit defense that can really bring the heat. Lions 24, Titans 16.
Jacksonville (0-2) at Indianapolis (1-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Colts by 3
KEY INJURIES: Jaguars -- OUT: OLB Daryl Smith (groin), RT Cameron Bradfield (ankle); DOUBTFUL: DE Austen Lane (foot); QUESTIONABLE: RB Rashad Jennings (knee), CB Derek Cox (hamstring), LG Eben Britton (ankle); PROBABLE: QB Blaine Gabbert (glute). Colts -- OUT: OLB Dwight Freeney (ankle), ILB Pat Angerer (foot); DOUBTFUL: LG Joe Reitz (knee); QUESTIONABLE: WR Austin Collie (concussion), C Samson Satele (knee); PROBABLE: RT Winston Justice (concussion).
THE SKINNY: Jaguars take another stab at earning initial win under new head coach Mike Mularkey and aim to avert first 0-3 start since 2003, while revamped Colts obtained first victory in Chuck Pagano/Andrew Luck era with hard-earned 23-20 decision over visiting Minnesota last week, with veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri booting deciding 53-yard field goal with eight seconds left...Luck became first rookie quarterback since Archie Manning in 1971 to direct game-winning scoring drive in September...Jacksonville offense mustered anemic 117 yards and nine first downs in ugly 27-7 home loss to defending AFC South champion Houston this past Sunday, but did sweep 2011 season set from Indianapolis and has taken three of last four matchups in series...Jaguars posted 17-3 triumph at Lucas Oil Stadium last November, but are just 3-8 all- time in Indianapolis...Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne leads AFC in catches (15) and receiving yards (206), while counterpart Donnie Avery recorded 111 yards on career-high nine grabs in win over Vikings...Jacksonville last in NFL in total offense (236.0 ypg) and 31st overall in passing yards (147.0 ypg), with Gabbert completing just 7-of-19 throws for 53 yards in most recent loss...Jaguars signed journeyman tight end Maurice Stovall on Wednesday.
PREDICTION: Luck made some big strides last week after a rough debut, and more improvement should be expected against a banged-up Jacksonville team that hasn't been too successful at shutting down anybody as of yet. Colts 23, Jaguars 17.
Kansas City (0-2) at New Orleans (0-2), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Saints by 9
KEY INJURIES: Chiefs -- DOUBTFUL: TE Kevin Boss (concussion); QUESTIONABLE: WR Dexter McCluster (shoulder), FS Kendrick Lewis (shoulder), NT Anthony Toribio (ankle), DE Allen Bailey (groin); PROBABLE: RB Jamaal Charles (knee), WR Steve Breaston (wrist), CB Javier Arenas (neck). Saints -- DOUBTFUL: DE Turk McBride (ankle); QUESTIONABLE: LB Jonathan Casillas (knee); PROBABLE: QB Drew Brees (ankle), WR Marques Colston (foot), WR Devery Henderson (concussion), CB Johnny Patrick (thigh).
THE SKINNY: Battle of expected contenders that are surprisingly winless over first two weeks, with struggling Saints dropping second straight game under interim head coach Aaron Kromer with 35-27 loss at fellow NFC South member Carolina last Sunday and Chiefs enduring mistake-filled 35-17 road defeat to Buffalo in Week 2 -- team's fifth straight September setback dating back to last season...New Orleans off to worst start since losing first four tests of 2007 campaign...Saints had won nine in a row at the Superdome prior to 40-32 ousting by Washington on Sept. 9 and have prevailed in last two bouts with Kansas City, which hasn't bested New Orleans since 1997...Brees reached 300- yard passing mark for NFL-record ninth consecutive game after tallying 325 yards against Panthers, but owns just 54.5 completion rate with four interceptions over first two outings...Both teams have allowed league-high 75 points, with New Orleans last in the NFL in pass efficiency defense (135.5) and Chiefs 31st in that category (130.2)...Saints also last in the league in total defense (461.0 ypg) and rushing defense (186.0 ypg) and permitted 463 yards in Carolina loss, including 215 on the ground...Kansas City 27th overall against the run (142.5 ypg) and was gashed for 215 rushing yards by the Bills...New Orleans running back Darren Sproles posted career-bests with 13 catches and 128 receiving yards last week, while Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe had eight grabs totaling 102 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo...Saints re-signed cornerback Elbert Mack and placed corner Jerome Murphy on waivers Tuesday.
PREDICTION: Saints will resemble more of their usual selves against a Kansas City defense that's been abysmal in containing the pass, though New Orleans has been too shaky on that end to expect a blowout. Saints 34, Chiefs 27.
N.Y. Jets (1-1) at Miami (1-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Jets by 2 1/2
KEY INJURIES: Jets -- DOUBTFUL: OLB Bryan Thomas (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: CB Darrelle Revis (concussion), TE Dustin Keller (hamstring), FB John Conner (knee), S Eric Smith (hip/knee); PROBABLE: QB Mark Sanchez (back), NT Sione Pouha (back). Dolphins -- QUESTIONABLE: WR Anthony Armstrong (hamstring), DT Tony McDaniel (knee); PROBABLE: RB Daniel Thomas (concussion), CB Richard Marshall (back), RB Lamar Miller (ankle).
THE SKINNY: Return to Miami for Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who spent nearly four full seasons as the Dolphins' head coach before being fired in December...Dolphins aim to build off first win under Sparano replacement Joe Philbin and rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill with 35-13 home throttling of slumping Oakland last week, while Jets come in off 27-10 loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday in which quarterback Mark Sanchez completed just 10-of-27 passes for 138 yards and team managed only 219 total yards...Miami has prevailed in five of last seven encounters between the longtime rivals and dealt Jets 19-17 defeat at Sun Life Stadium in 2011 season finale, avenging 24-6 setback to New York earlier in year...Jets 2-8 in last 10 regular-season road games, but have come out on top in four of last six trips to Miami...Dolphins racked up 263 rushing yards in win over Raiders, with top back Reggie Bush amassing 172 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries to earn AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors...Miami defense held Oakland to 23 yards on the ground and limiting opponents to league-low 2.2 yards per rush attempt through first two weeks...Dolphins tied for 30th overall in pass defense (313.5 ypg), however, and gave up 373 yards to Oakland's Carson Palmer in Week 2...New York second in league with 53.8 percent success rate on third downs, but defense last in the NFL in that category (58.3 percent).
PREDICTION: In a contest where neither offense is explosive and both quarterbacks can be prone to mistakes, Bush may be the x-factor that extends New York's recent string of frustrating results in this series. Dolphins 17, Jets 13.
San Francisco (2-0) at Minnesota (1-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: 49ers by 7
KEY INJURIES: 49ers -- OUT: OLB Clark Haggans (suspension); DOUBTFUL: RB Brandon Jacobs (knee); QUESTIONABLE: CB Tarell Brown (shoulder), WR Ted Ginn Jr. (ankle). Vikings -- OUT: WR Jerome Simpson (suspension); QUESTIONABLE: LB Marvin Mitchell (ankle); PROBABLE: OLB Erin Henderson (elbow), DE Brian Robison (elbow).
THE SKINNY: Surging 49ers take shot at first 3-0 beginning since 1998 and third straight win over NFC North foe to open season, having previously bested Green Bay (30-22) and Detroit (27-19)...Vikings look to put tough 23-20 loss at Indianapolis last Sunday behind, with team rallying from late 14-point deficit to tie before falling on 53-yard field goal by Colts' Adam Vinatieri in final seconds...San Francisco wideout Randy Moss faces Minnesota for first time since being released by Vikings in 2010 and recorded six seasons of over 1,000 receiving yards and at least 10 touchdown catches in original stint with former team from 1998-2004...Minnesota has won two straight and four of last five meetings in series, with Niners last topping Vikings in 2006, and San Francisco has lost four in a row at the Metrodome since last prevailing there in 1992...49ers quarterback Alex Smith currently second in NFL in passer rating (115.9) and owns club-record streak of 216 attempts without an interception...San Francisco third in league in rushing offense (167.0 ypg), with main running back Frank Gore fourth among individuals in yards gained on ground (201)...Vikings rookie kicker Blair Walsh second in league in points (22) and 6-for-6 on field goal attempts thus far...Minnesota assistant Mike Singletary spent 40 games as head coach of 49ers from 2008-10 and opposes team for first time since being dismissed.
PREDICTION: Niners could be due for a mild letdown after a pair of games against high-profile foes, but still-transitioning Vikings aren't yet ready to handle the steep rise in competition they'll get this week. 49ers 23, Vikings 10.
St. Louis (1-1) at Chicago (1-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Bears by 7 1/2
KEY INJURIES: Rams -- OUT: LT Roger Saffold (knee), LG Rokevious Watkins (ankle, IR); QUESTIONABLE: DT Michael Brockers (ankle), DT Matt Conrath (knee); PROBABLE: RB Steven Jackson (groin), OT Wayne Hunter (ankle). Bears -- DOUBTFUL: RB Matt Forte (ankle); PROBABLE: TE Kyle Adams (shoulder).
THE SKINNY: Bears return home after forgettable 23-10 loss at fellow NFC North representative Green Bay on Sept. 13 in which team produced meager 168 total yards and quarterback Jay Cutler threw four interceptions while being sacked seven times and completing just 11-of-27 attempts...Rams enter Solider Field on high note after battling out of early 15-point hole for 31-28 home decision over Washington, giving team first victory under head coach Jeff Fisher...St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford spurred comeback with 310-yard, three-touchdown aerial effort and presently third in NFL in passer rating (112.4), while wide receiver Danny Amendola posted career bests with 15-catch, 160-yard outburst...Michael Bush expected to step into Forte's place for Chicago, with club also re-signing running back Khalil Bell on Monday...Bears have won five consecutive home tilts with Cutler under center and own three straight wins over Rams, who haven't beaten Chicago since 2003...Bears defense tied for first in NFL in takeaways (7) and second in sacks (8), with unit notching five takedowns of Aaron Rodgers in Week 2 and rookie end Shea McClellin registering 1 1/2 sacks...Fisher played five seasons as a safety with Chicago from 1981-85, while Bears head coach Lovie Smith was Rams' defensive coordinator from 2001-03.
PREDICTION: Determined Rams hang tough once again, but Bears are the more rested and talented team and should be eager to atone for last week's wretched performance. Bears 24, Rams 20.
Tampa Bay (1-1) at Dallas (1-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Cowboys by 7 1/2
KEY INJURIES: Buccaneers -- DOUBTFUL: WR Sammie Stroughter (foot); QUESTIONABLE: CB E.J. Biggers (foot), CB Anthony Gaitor (hamstring); PROBABLE: WR Preston Parker (foot), CB Eric Wright (back), OT Jeremy Trueblood (ankle). Cowboys -- OUT: S Matt Johnson (hamstring); DOUBTFUL: FS Gerald Sensabaugh (calf), DE Kenyon Coleman (knee); QUESTIONABLE: NT Jay Ratliff (ankle), SS Barry Church (quadriceps), C Phil Costa (back); PROBABLE: DE Marcus Spears (ankle).
THE SKINNY: 2012 home opener for Cowboys squad attempting to shake off disappointing 27-7 Week 2 loss at Seattle that followed encouraging 24-17 ousting of defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants...New-look Buccaneers fresh off testy 41-34 defeat at Giants last Sunday, with Tampa Bay squandering 14-point second-half lead and surrendering 510 passing yards and 610 total...Including playoffs, Bucs own unwanted 1-9 all-time record in Dallas and have dropped four in a row overall to Cowboys, who posted 31-15 victory in Tampa last December behind three touchdown passes from quarterback Tony Romo...Dallas 5-0 when running back DeMarco Murray rushes for 87 yards or more, but Buccaneers defense has yielded mere 104 yards on the ground (2nd overall) through first two weeks...Tampa Bay also allowing league-low 16.7 touchdown rate in red zone so far and tied for NFL lead in interceptions (5), but ranks last against the pass (400.5 ypg)...Buccaneers wide receiver and offseason acquisition Vincent Jackson totaled 128 yards and a touchdown on five catches in last Sunday's loss...Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee credited with 14 tackles against Seahawks and presently first among individuals in that category (26)...Tampa Bay re-signed wide receiver Jordan Shipley on Tuesday after the injury to Stroughter.
PREDICTION: Cowboys will play like it means something this time after coasting along last week, with Romo having a big day against a Tampa pass defense that's a sieve. Cowboys 34, Buccaneers 24.
Atlanta (2-0) at San Diego (2-0), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: Chargers by 3
KEY INJURIES: Falcons -- QUESTIONABLE: CB Chris Owens (concussion). Chargers -- OUT: LT Jared Gaither (back), CB Shareece Wright (ankle); QUESTIONABLE: TE Antonio Gates (ribs); PROBABLE: RB Ryan Mathews (collarbone), WR Eddie Royal (shoulder), TE Dante Rosario (calf), NT Antonio Garay (ankle).
THE SKINNY: Intriguing early-season clash of unbeatens, with Chargers seeking first 3-0 start since 2002 and high-flying Falcons aiming to achieve that mark for first time since 2004...Atlanta also trying for third straight win over AFC West member, having previously disposed of Kansas City (40-24) and Denver (27-21) to begin season...Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan currently owns NFL- best 117.6 passer rating and tied for league lead in touchdown throws (5), while defense tied for top spot in interceptions (5) and picked off Broncos' Peyton Manning three times in Monday's triumph...San Diego opened home schedule with 38-10 rout of Tennessee last Sunday, with quarterback Philip Rivers tossing three touchdown passes to reserve tight end Dante Rosario and defense holding Titans to 212 total yards and nine first downs...Chargers yielding league-low 41.5 rushing yards per game through first two weeks while standing second in scoring defense (12.0 ppg) and third in total yards allowed (266.5 ypg)...Falcons top NFL with plus-seven turnover ratio and tied for second overall with 67 points...Mathews slated to make season debut after sitting out San Diego's first two tests recovering from preseason collarbone fracture, while Gates tentatively expected to play after missing Tennessee game and currently three receptions shy of 600 for career...Atlanta sports 5-0 all-time record at Qualcomm Stadium and has claimed last five meetings with Chargers, with San Diego's last win in series coming in 1991...Falcons running back Michael Turner spent first four pro seasons with San Diego before joining Atlanta in 2008.
PREDICTION: San Diego's defense looking like the real deal and Rivers is playing well again, and Mathews should provide a bit of a boost to give the Chargers better balance than the pass-heavy Falcons. Chargers 28, Falcons 24.
Philadelphia (2-0) at Arizona (2-0), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: Eagles by 3 1/2
KEY INJURIES: Eagles -- OUT: C Jason Kelce (knee, IR), WR Riley Cooper (collarbone); DOUBTFUL: LT King Dunlap (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: WR Jeremy Maclin (hip), CB Curtis Marsh (hamstring), S Colt Anderson (knee); PROBABLE: WR DeSean Jackson (hamstring), DE Jason Babin (abdominal), WR Jason Avant (wrist), FS Nate Allen (shoulder), LG Evan Mathis (neck). Cardinals -- DOUBTFUL: QB John Skelton (ankle); QUESTIONABLE: TE Todd Heap (knee); PROBABLE: RB Ryan Williams (knee).
THE SKINNY: Battle between two of NFC's four remaining undefeated teams, with surprising Cardinals coming off shocking 20-18 road upset over reigning AFC champion New England this past weekend and cardiac Eagles becoming first team in NFL history to begin season with pair of one-point wins after edging Cleveland (17-16) and Baltimore (24-23)...Former Eagle Kevin Kolb expected to make second straight start in place of Skelton at quarterback for Arizona and will take on ex-team for first time since being traded to Cardinals in summer of 2011...Kolb missed last year's meeting between clubs due to injury, with Skelton throwing for career-high 315 yards and three touchdowns to lead Arizona to 21-17 victory in Philadelphia...Eagles making first visit to University of Phoenix Stadium since 31-25 setback to Cards in 2008 NFC Championship and searching for first road triumph over Arizona since 2001...Cardinals vying for first 3-0 start since franchise's days in St. Louis in 1974, while Philadelphia last hit that mark during NFC title season of 2004...Eagles unbeaten despite committing league-high nine takeaways in first two outings, with quarterback Michael Vick throwing six interceptions over that period...Philadelphia tops NFL in pass efficiency defense, however, and tied for first overall with five interceptions while surrendering fourth- fewest total yards (267.5 ypg)...Vick amassed 371 passing yards in last Sunday's squeaker against Ravens, in which Eagles rallied from 10-point halftime deficit, and ran for deciding touchdown with 1:55 left...Tight end Brent Celek totaled career-high 157 receiving yards on eight catches for Philadelphia in Week 2...Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald two receptions shy of becoming youngest (29) to reach 700 for career, but held to one catch for four yards by Patriots.
PREDICTION: Eagles' potent pass rush combined with Arizona's suspect offensive line makes for a rude reunion for Kolb, though Cardinals should force a mistake or two to keep it interesting. Eagles 19, Cardinals 13.
Houston (2-0) at Denver (1-1), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Texans by 2
KEY INJURIES: Texans -- QUESTIONABLE: ILB Tim Dobbins (hamstring). Broncos -- OUT: OLB D.J. Williams (suspension), TE Virgil Green (suspension); DOUBTFUL: RG Chris Kuper (arm); QUESTIONABLE: CB Chris Harris (ankle); PROBABLE: OLB Von Miller (hip), MLB Joe Mays (leg).
THE SKINNY: Houston head coach Gary Kubiak brings 2-0 Texans into Sports Authority Field for matchup against Broncos outfit he spent nine seasons as backup quarterback (1983-91) and 11 more as offensive coordinator (1995-2005)...Denver trying to regroup from 27-21 loss in Atlanta on Monday in which Broncos became first team since 2002 to have four first-quarter turnovers, with quarterback Peyton Manning throwing three early interceptions in first road start since 2010...Houston striving to go 3-0 for first time in franchise's 11-year existence and posted 27-7 road stifling of Jacksonville last Sunday, with defense allowing club-record 117 total yards...Texans first in NFL in total defense (196.0 ypg), scoring defense (8.5 ypg) and pass defense (124.0 ypg) and have held opponents to 10.5 percent success rate on third downs, with Jaguars going 0-for-9 in that area...Houston owns 6-2 September record over past three seasons but winless in two lifetime trips to Denver, with then-Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow compiling 308 passing yards to help pin 24-23 defeat on Texans at Sports Authority Field in 2010...Houston running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate combined for 184 rushing yards and three touchdowns against Jacksonville, but go up against Denver defense permitting just 2.6 yards per rush attempt so far...Texans defensive end J.J. Watt named AFC Defensive Player of Week after registering 1 1/2 sacks, two tackles for loss and recovering a fumble in win over Jags...Manning enters contest tied with Dan Marino for most 300-yard passing games in league history (63).
PREDICTION: Manning will provide a much greater challenge for a Houston stop unit that's dominated a couple of lightweights, and more battle-tested Broncos are good enough defensively to render the Texans' run-based operation out of sync. Broncos 24, Texans 20.
Pittsburgh (1-1) at Oakland (0-2), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Steelers by 4
KEY INJURIES: Steelers -- OUT: TE Weslye Saunders (suspension); DOUBTFUL: RB Rashard Mendenhall (knee), ILB Stevenson Sylvester (knee); QUESTIONABLE: OLB James Harrison (knee), SS Troy Polamalu (calf); PROBABLE: RB Jonathan Dwyer (toe), TE Heath Miller (ribs), RT Marcus Gilbert (groin). Raiders -- OUT: CB Shawntae Spencer (foot), RT Khalif Barnes (groin); QUESTIONABLE: MLB Rolando McClain (concussion, ankle); PROBABLE: WR Denarius Moore (hamstring).
THE SKINNY: Slumping Raiders try again to obtain first victory under rookie head coach Dennis Allen and return home off disappointing 35-13 loss at Miami in Week 2, while Steelers rebounded from season-opening 31-19 defeat at Denver to record 27-10 victory over visiting New York Jets last Sunday...Pittsburgh making just third trip to Oakland Coliseum since 29-10 win there in 1995 and routed Raiders by 35-3 count in teams' last meeting, which took place at Heinz Field in 2010...Steelers defense held Jets to 219 total yards and no second- half points despite being without Harrison and Polamalu, both of whom may be sidelined another week, while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger registered 125.1 passer rating with sharp 275-yard, two-touchdown display...Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer third in the NFL in passing yards (670) and second in attempts (94) and finished with 373 yards through the air in most recent loss...Raiders still 31st in scoring (13.5 ppg) and averaging woeful 34 rushing yards per game (31st overall), with standout running back Darren McFadden managing just 2.1 yards per carry over first two weeks...Pittsburgh just 30th overall in rushing offense (70.5 ypg), but take on Oakland defense ranked 29th against the run and surrendered 263 yards on the ground to Dolphins.
PREDICTION: Steelers may hold some of their stars out with bye week on the horizon, but should still have more than enough to handle a flawed Oakland outfit that's still attempting to find its way under another leadership change. Steelers 24, Raiders 13.
New England (1-1) at Baltimore (1-1), Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
LINE: Ravens by 3
KEY INJURIES: Patriots -- OUT: TE Aaron Hernandez (ankle); QUESTIONABLE: RG RB Shane Vereen (foot), TE Daniel Fells (shin); PROBABLE: RG Dan Connolly (concussion). Ravens -- DOUBTFUL: OL Jah Reid (calf); QUESTIONABLE: SS Bernard Pollard (ribs); PROBABLE: OLB Paul Kruger (back).
THE SKINNY: AFC powers clash for first time since January's memorable conference championship, when Patriots earned a narrow 23-20 home win after former Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal attempt in final seconds...New England experienced similar fate in most recent test, when kicker Stephen Gostkowski misfired on a 42-yard field goal try in late stages of team's shocking 20-18 loss to Arizona last Sunday at Gillette Stadium...Baltimore coming off gut-wrenching defeat of its own, a 24-23 setback at Philadelphia in which Eagles climbed back from 10-point halftime deficit and scored go-ahead touchdown with 1:55 left...Ravens bring 12-game win streak (including playoffs) at M&T Bank Stadium into matchup and have prevailed in 20 of last 21 home games, but are 0-6 all-time against the Patriots in regular-season play...Baltimore did hand New England a 33-14 loss in Foxborough during opening round of 2009 AFC Playoffs, however...Pats re- signed longtime wide receiver Deion Branch and veteran tight end Kellen Winslow Tuesday with Hernandez likely out 4-to-6 weeks with ankle sprain...New England currently second overall in total defense (264.5 ypg) and have held opponents to 2.6 yards per rush attempt, with Cardinals mustering just 245 total yards and 140 passing in last week's bout...Patriots running back Stevan Ridley fifth in NFL in rushing yards (196) through first two weeks...Usually stout Ravens defense permitted 486 total yards and 371 passing to Eagles in Week 2, but forced four turnovers (2 interceptions, 2 fumbles)...Baltimore also picked off New England quarterback Tom Brady twice in last season's AFC Championship, while Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin compiled 101 yards on six catches in losing cause.
PREDICTION: Hernandez's injury won't be easy for Patriots to overcome, but difference between when these teams last met is that New England's defense has gotten markedly better and Baltimore's hasn't been the same without pass- rushing terror Terrell Suggs. Patriots 23, Ravens 20.
Green Bay (1-1) at Seattle (1-1), Monday, 8:30 p.m.
LINE: Packers by 3 1/2
KEY INJURIES: Packers -- DOUBTFUL: RB James Starks (toe); QUESTIONABLE: CB Davon House (shoulder); PROBABLE: WR Greg Jennings (groin), DE C.J. Wilson (groin). Seahawks -- DOUBTFUL: G James Carpenter (knee), CB Byron Maxwell (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: TE Zach Miller (foot); PROBABLE: WR Sidney Rice (knee), LT Russell Okung (knee).
THE SKINNY: Originally expected head-to-head showdown between Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and former understudy Matt Flynn, who signed with Seahawks in March after four-year stint with Green Bay, but Flynn beaten out by rookie Russell Wilson for starting nod in preseason...Wilson picked up first career victory in Seattle's 27-7 trouncing of favored Dallas last Sunday at CenturyLink Field, team's fourth win in last six home tests dating back to last season...Defending NFC North champion Packers regrouped from season- opening 30-22 home loss to San Francisco with impressive 23-10 decision over rival Chicago on Sept. 13, with revamped defense amassing seven sacks and four interceptions of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and yielding mere 168 total yards...Packers top NFL with 11 sacks over first two games and rank second against the pass (132.5 ypg), while Seahawks averaging league-low 136 yards through the air thus far under former University of Wisconsin star Wilson...Seattle piled up 182 rushing yards against Cowboys, however, with workhorse running back Marshawn Lynch gaining 122 yards with a touchdown on 26 carries, and face Green Bay stop unit ranked just 26th against the run (140.0 ypg)...Seahawks second overall in run defense (46.0 ypg) and have surrendered third-fewest points (27) through initial two outings...Packers linebacker Clay Matthews has tallied league-best six sacks in first two games and had career- high 3 1/2 in defense's domination of Bears...Seattle signed cornerback Danny Gorrer and released reserve running back Kregg Lumpkin on Tuesday.
PREDICTION: Though Packers' normally devastating offense has yet to hit its stride and may struggle to do so once more against Seattle's formidable stoppers, the Seahawks' one-dimensional attack will have more problems facing Green Bay's revitalized defense. Packers 20, Seahawks 13.