SERIES HISTORY: 19th regular-season meeting. Panthers lead series, 11-7. Panthers have won four in a row, if you throw out the most recent meeting -- the 49ers' 23-10 win at Carolina in the 2014 playoffs. The Panthers won at San Francisco 10-9 earlier that season. The 49ers' last regular-season win against the Panthers came in Carolina, but it was 15 years ago -- a 25-22 overtime triumph on Nov. 18, 2001.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The 49ers held 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley to 47 yards on 17 carries, so the Panthers will have to do a better job establishing the run. Because Cam Newton is a bit more dangerous than L.A.'s Case Keenum, the 49ers won't be able to stack the box like they did Monday night. That should allow the Panthers to extend their NFL-best streak of games with at least 100 yards rushing to 29, and once San Francisco's talented front seven is back on its heels, Newton and his receivers can begin to go vertical.
What's possibly more concerning to Carolina is how easily the 49ers ran through the Rams' elite front seven, especially while rushing for 123 yards in the first half. The usually stout Panthers' run defense struggled against the Broncos, who gained 95 of their 148 rushing yards in the first half. So the Panthers need to shore up their assignments on run plays, forcing QB Blaine Gabbert to beat them.
The 49ers' game plan remains the same as it was against Los Angeles: Ball control with Carlos Hyde, try to keep drives alive with short passes from Gabbert, and hope the defense is up to the task of dealing with Newton. Newton has struggled against the 49ers in their last two head-to-heads, leading Carolina to only 20 total points in those games.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Panthers QB Cam Newton vs. 49ers OLB Ahmad Brooks. Brooks is a physical match for Newton, so it's no surprise he's had more than his fair share of success against the Panthers in the past. Brooks has recorded 5 1/2 sacks in four career games against Carolina.
--49ers RB Carlos Hyde vs. Panthers LB Luke Kuechly. As usual, Kuechly was all over the field in Carolina's opener against the Broncos, making 10 tackles. But he and his teammates had some trouble corralling Denver's C.J. Anderson, who rushed 20 times for 92 yards and a touchdown. The 49ers would take those numbers from Hyde, whose style is similar to Anderson.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Carolina WR Ted Ginn Jr. Before he came to Carolina, Ginn played three seasons with the 49ers, who didn't see him as much more than a returner. In his 40 games in San Francisco, Ginn totaled 33 receptions for 384 yards and a touchdown. In his 32 regular-season games with the Panthers, he has 81 catches for 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns.
FAST FACTS: San Francisco QB Blaine Gabbert ranks second in the NFL in rushing yards among quarterbacks, right behind Carolina's Cam Newton. ... 49ers OLB Ahmad Brooks has 5 1/2 sacks in four games against the Panthers. ... The Panthers have won 13 straight games at home, the longest streak in the NFL. ... Newton needs two more passing touchdowns to tie Jake Delhomme (120) for most in franchise history.
PREDICTION: The Super Bowl runner-up Panthers are a step or two up from the Rams, and the 49ers -- a West Coast team heading East -- have to play them in Carolina.
OUR PICK: Panthers, 24-13.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, First Energy Stadium, Cleveland -- TV: CBS, Carter Blackburn, Chris Simms.
SERIES HISTORY: 35th regular-season meeting. Ravens lead the series, 25-9. Baltimore has traditionally dominated its AFC North rival and won three of the past four match-ups. The Browns managed a thrilling 33-30 overtime victory in Baltimore last season with McCown at QB. Baltimore, however, won seven of the past eight games in Cleveland.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Josh McCown starts at quarterback in the Browns home opener against Ravens because Robert Griffin III is on injured reserve with a broken bone in his shoulder. McCown had little work with the first team in training camp, but he is a 14-year veteran with good recent history against Baltimore. Although he was only 1-7 as a Browns starter last year, the game he did win was against the Ravens when he passed for a franchise record 457 yards in a 33-30 overtime victory.
McCown is 2-1 vs. Ravens with four TDs, zero interceptions. There won't be any designed running plays for McCown as there was for RGIII. McCown is an accurate passer on quick inside routes, so more of those could be in the scheme this week. The Browns want to run the ball, but they won't be able to if they fall behind quickly
The Ravens will look to keep McCown under steady pressure to prevent him from getting too comfortable in the pocket. Baltimore unveiled several exotic blitz packages last week against the Bills. Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees likely has some more surprises for Cleveland.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco still appears to be getting adjusted to some of the new players on offense, but he has the tools to strike quickly. He will take several shots against the Browns' secondary. Baltimore needs to get its running game on track early after rushing for just 83 yards on 28 carries in the opener.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Ravens WR Mike Wallace vs. CB Jamar Taylor. Wallace, who signed as a free agent, is already becoming a favorite target for Flacco. Wallace had three receptions for 91 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown, in the season opener against the Bills. He will present a challenge for Taylor, who was acquired in the offseason from the Miami Dolphins. Taylor played solid throughout the preseason, climbed the depth chart and earned a starting role.
--Browns TE Gary Barnidge vs. Ravens SS Eric Weddle. Barnidge uncharacteristically dropped two passes in the opener vs. Philadelphia. He will be out to reverse that and should get the opportunity because he was one of Josh McCown's favorite targets last year. Barnridge totaled 15 catches for 230 yards in two games vs. Ravens last year. Weddle is a free-agent purchase who was a team leader in San Diego.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Browns center Cameron Erving actually hopes he isn't in the spotlight. He has trouble snapping the ball accurately when a quarterback is in the shotgun, so the pressure is on him to help McCown. He seems to get the blame from fans and media for any breakdowns in the interior of the line. The 2015 first-round draft pick played only five games at center at Florida State.
FAST FACTS: Ravens coach John Harbaugh won 14 of 16 games against the Browns. ... Ravens CB Shareece Wright had one of the best games of his seven-year career last week with a team-high 11 tackles, including three for a loss. ... It has been 14 years since a Browns quarterback has started all 16 games in a season -- Tim Couch (2002). ... Browns rookie WR Corey Coleman (58 yards) and converted QB-to-WR Terrelle Pryor (44) each had catches of at least 40 yards last week.
PREDICTION: Despite McCown's past success against the Ravens, not even the snap from center is a sure thing this time and Flacco seems to have regained his passing touch (22 of 34 for 258 and a TD last week).
OUR PICK: Ravens, 34-21.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Ford Field, Detroit, Mich. -- TV: CBS, Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein.
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Titans lead series 8-3. These teams last met in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day in 2008, with the Titans winning 47-10. The game was memorable for an interception return for a TD by Titans defensive end Dave Ball, who broke out into his "turkey dance" to celebrate the score. The Titans won 44-41 in overtime in the last Nashville meeting, in 2012.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Titans will have a decidedly different type of opponent this week in the Lions. Rather than trying to bottle up a top-tier back like Adrian Peterson, as they did in Week 1, the Titans will have to find their pass rush to try to slow down the potent Detroit offense, led by quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Golden Tate. The Titans must create defensive pressure with disguised blitzes and help their not-exactly-speedy secondary. Offensively, the Titans must get back to the identity they want. The Vikings stuffed DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry in the opener. Long, sustained drives to chew the clock would appear to be a recipe for success for the Titans, as long as they can avoid turnovers.
The Lions struck a nice balance between the run and pass last week against the Colts, and they'll need to do that again Sunday to keep a physically imposing Titans defensive front at bay. The Titans held Adrian Peterson to 31 yards rushing on 19 carries, so that won't be easy. But the more effective Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are, the more the Lions should be able to keep Jurrell Casey at bay. On defense, the Lions are cognizant of Marcus Mariota's dual-threat ability, but the real problem could be tight end Delanie Walker. The Lions gave up three touchdowns to tight ends last week and need better play from their linebackers and safeties in pass coverage.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Titans TE Delanie Walker vs. Lions secondary. Walker, who had 94 catches a year ago, was relatively silent against Minnesota, with just three catches for 42 yards. Teams will look to take him away as much as they can. But the Titans must get him involved, because he is probably their best chance for an explosive play in the passing game with Kendall Wright, their fastest receiver, still out. The good news is the Lions gave up three touchdowns to tight ends against the Colts, which means Walker could have plenty of opportunities.
--Lions LG Laken Tomlinson vs. Titans DE Jurrell Casey. The Lions got a good performance from their offensive line overall in Week 1, but Tomlinson had an off day. He has his hands full this week against the underrated Casey, who has 22.5 sacks over the last three seasons.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Tennessee WR Tajae Sharpe. The fifth-round pick, who was the sensation of the offseason and training camp, didn't disappoint in his first game, with seven catches for 76 yards. He was thrown to 11 times, and coach Mike Mularkey said he can do even better. It seems Sharpe, perhaps due to the nervousness of his first game, shortened the depths of his routes on several patterns.
FAST FACTS: Detroit QB Matthew Stafford has led 21 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime of the 94 career games he has played. Stafford drove the Lions 50 yards in four plays for the winning field goal in last week's win over the Colts. ... Detroit P Sam Martin was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after he netted a 55.5-yard average on his four punts. ... Detroit WR Anquan Boldin moved into 16th place on the NFL's all-time receiving yards list with three catches for 35 yards against the Colts. Boldin, who has 13,230 yards in his career, should pass Torry Holt (13,382) in the next few weeks.
PREDICTION: This game looks likely to feature a lot of big plays on both sides of the ball, with both quarterbacks being equally prone to turnovers and big gains.
OUR PICK: Lions, 30-24.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, NRG Stadium, Houston. -- TV: CBS, Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots.
SERIES HISTORY: 8th regular-season meeting. Chiefs lead series, 4-3, including last season's 27-20 victory in the regular-season opener. Kansas City is 3-2 against the Texans in Houston. The Chiefs beat the Texans 30-0 in last season's wildcard game in the AFC playoffs.
KEYS TO THE GAME: With Kansas City coming off the remarkable comeback victory over San Diego, it will be vital for the Chiefs to put that euphoria in their rearview mirror as they face a much tougher AFC opponent in the Texans. When these teams last played in the 2015 playoffs in January, Kansas City posted a dominating 30-0 victory in which major contributions came from all three phases of the game, with a kickoff return for a touchdown, two offensive touchdowns and five takeaways from the defense.
Houston has a different team from that meeting nine months ago, with Brock Osweiler at quarterback instead of Brian Hoyer and a healthy J.J. Watt coming off the edge of the defense; he was injured and eventually left the postseason game with a groin injury that required surgery. The Chiefs must play four quarters in the fashion they played the fourth quarter last Sunday if they want to go 2-0.
The Texans need to get pressure on quarterback Alex Smith to disrupt the timing of the Chiefs' West Coast offense. Offensively, the Texans need to spread the football around to keep the Chiefs off-balance.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Chiefs RT Mitchell Schwartz vs. Texans SLB Whitney Mercilus. In the offseason, Schwartz was the big addition in free agency for the Chiefs. His performance in his first four NFL seasons in Cleveland showed the skills that Kansas City so desperately needed to solidify the weakest position in their offense. Schwartz is smart, tough and adept at blocking for both run and pass. He will have his hands full with Mercilus, who had two of the Texans' five sacks of Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler last Sunday. The Chiefs know all about Mercilus -- he had three sacks in the postseason game between the teams.
--Chiefs CBs Marcus Peters, Phillip Gaines and Steven Nelson vs. Texans WRs DeAndre Hopkins and William Fuller IV. At the start of last Sunday's game against San Diego, the Kansas City corners had a tough time in coverage, especially when trying to cover Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen. Peters was burned repeatedly by Allen, with Gaines and Nelson also struggling. Allen went out with a torn ACL in his right knee in the second quarter and the Kansas City defense improved with a stronger pass rush. Hopkins and Fuller, his rookie teammate, provide Houston with two gifted receivers. In his first NFL game, Fuller grabbed five passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: DE J.J. Watt is coming off one of his least productive games, but it was just his first game back from back surgery. Watt had one tackle and three quarterback hits against the Chicago Bears and is shedding rust quickly.
FAST FACTS: The Chiefs scored 21 points in the final 21 minutes to tie the San Diego Chargers last Sunday in the season opener. They completed the biggest comeback in franchise history with a 33-27 overtime victory. ... Kansas City RB Spencer Ware has seven rushing TDs in his past 10 games. He scored a TD among his 129 rushing yards last week and also had a career-high seven catches. ... Houston WR DeAndre Hopkins caught six passes for 98 yards and 2 TDs in last year's Week 1 meeting. He also scored last week.
PREDICTION: With Osweiler, Miller and Fuller, the Houston offense is much better than it was last time these teams met. And Watt is only going to get better.
OUR PICK: Texans, 23-20.
SERIES HISTORY: 99th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead all-time series, 52-46. While Miami has the overall edge in the series that dates back to the AFC in the mid-'60s, New England has had the advantage in modern times, especially in Foxborough. Miami has not won at Gillette Stadium since 2008, a victory over fill-in Patriots starter Matt Cassel. The Patriots have a 13-2 mark at home against Miami since 2001. New England has won easily at home in recent years, with three of the last four decided by 28 points or more.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Miami must do better on third downs offensively. The Dolphins were just 3 for 14 (21.4 percent) against Seattle, and clearly that's not good enough. If the Dolphins can convert life-giving third downs the next step becomes scoring more points. Miami was 1 of 2 in the red zone in the opener, but the one it missed was the fourth and inches from Seattle's 17-yard line.
Defensively, the Dolphins must continue forcing turnovers and winning that battle. The defense had an interception and a recovered fumble and won the turnover battle, 2-0, against the Seahawks. It didn't ensure victory but they led to three points, and it should have been six points except Miami had a 27-yard field goal attempt blocked.
Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo is still young and learning, this time going against an impressive defensive line that will be looking to batter him into mistakes. He will continue to look to make quick throws and balance out the offense just enough with LeGarrette Blount. But don't be expected if there are a few more "shot" plays against Miami, which has a questionable veteran cornerback Byron Maxwell and rookie starter Xavien Howard on the outside.
The Pats defense was impressive against a very good, balanced Cardinals team. Now it must deal with is the athleticism of QB Ryan Tannehill. Against Seattle he completed only 55 percent while getting sacked five times. New England will focus on new Dolphins running back Arian Foster, both as a runner and a receiver.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--New England QB Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Miami pass defense: Garoppolo is inexperienced, and his offensive line is injury-shortened, so expect Miami to test the Patriots with different looks. The pass rush is Miami's best asset, even if DE Mario Williams (concussion) is missing, so this must be a difference-maker for the Dolphins. If Garoppolo and the pass protection make a good showing it becomes a huge test for the Dolphins' so-so secondary.
--Miami RB Arian Foster vs. New England run defense: The Dolphins have struggled running the ball since training camp, and Foster's showing last week (13 carries, 38 yards) did nothing to ease concerns. Miami should have backup RB Jay Ajayi back in the mix this week. He was left home last week. But this challenge mostly belongs on Miami's offensive line, which hasn't opened many holes. The Patriots allowed Arizona 92 rushing yards last week at a robust 4.8 yards per carry.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Patriots RG Marcus Cannon. He was easily the most experienced member of a makeshift offensive line on opening night. But he didn't perform that way, struggling at times. The front should get better when OT Nate Solder returns from a hamstring injury on the left side and as rookie guards Joe Thuney and Ted Karras gain experience. But Cannon needs to be better immediately and he faces a strong challenge against Dolphins pass rusher Cameron Wake this week.
FAST FACTS: Miami coach Adam Gase said his defense's third-down failures - Seattle converted at 5 for 16 (31 percent) - led to the Seahawks having 29 more plays than the Dolphins. . . .Miami is plus-2 in the takeaway/giveaway department, which is good considering the Dolphins were minus-3 last season. . . . Four Dolphins kneeled down during national anthem last week in Seattle. Those same four - RB Arian Foster, LB Jelani Jenkins, FS Michael Thomas and WR Kenny Stills - plan to do it again this week in New England. . . . .Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his impressive work in the opening night win in Arizona. The reigning All-Pro hit field goals from 47, 53 and 32 yards against the Cardinals, the last serving as the game-winner in the fourth quarter. It was the eighth game-winning kick of his career. . . . The Pats lost one pf their last 14 regular season home openers at Gillette Stadium.
PREDICTION: This could get interesting if Miami's talented defensive front makes life miserable for the Patriots' iffy offensive line and young QB Jimmy Garoppolo. The Pats at home should be an easy pick, but sometimes stuff happens.
OUR PICK: Dolphins, 24-21.
SERIES HISTORY: 29th regular-season meeting. Giants lead series, 15-13. Saints coach Sean Payton has been a nemesis for the team he once worked for and helped reach Super Bowl XXXV. He is 4-0 against the Giants, the latest victory coming in a wild 52-49 win in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome last Nov. 1. In that one, Drew Brees equaled the NFL record with seven scoring passes and Eli Manning tossed six while combining for 855 passing yards before Kai Forbath won it with a 50-yard field goal on the game's final play. The Saints have won five of the past seven matchups. One of those two Saints losses was a 52-27 setback in MetLife Stadium in 2012 when Payton was serving a one-year bounty suspension.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Giants are one of four teams that failed to record a sack or have an interception in Week 1, which means the Saints will probably try to do what they do best after Drew Brees piled up 423 passing yards and threw for four TDs in a 35-34 loss to the Oakland Raiders. The key was that the offensive line, which struggled in the preseason, had a solid day against the Raiders and allowed just one sack. If the Saints can protect Brees against the Giants, he should be able to stretch the field with wideouts Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks. They combined for 15 receptions and 315 yards with three TDs against the Raiders and will be key, along with rookie Michael Thomas. That could open things up for Mark Ingram and a running game that produced 88 yards and a 4.0 average against the Raiders, which could come in handy against the Giants.
Defensively, the Saints will be under the gun against Eli Manning and the receiving duo of Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz. The Saints held their own for 2.5 quarters in the setback to the Raiders, but struggled when cornerback Delvin Breaux went out with a fractured fibula. Manning had a huge game in his team's 52-49 loss to New Orleans and another could be in the offing if the Saints don't find a way to generate a pass rush. Like the Giants, the Saints had no sacks or interceptions in the loss to the Raiders and affecting Manning in some fashion will be necessary to keep pressure off their three young, inexperienced cornerbacks -- P.J. Williams, Ken Crawley and De'Vante Harris
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Giants Receivers vs. Saints Cornerbacks. The Saints suffered a huge blow in their defensive secondary when cornerback Delvin Breaux broke his fibula in last week's game. His departure left the Saints with a pair of rookies, Ken Crawley and De'Vante Harris, to hold down the fort. The Giants passing game has to be licking its chops over that fact, as last week, the trio of Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard combined for 150 yards on 11 catches with two touchdowns. If quarterback Eli Manning gets time in the pocket to step up, the Giants could be looking at reviving the deep passing game for this week.
--Saints RB Mark Ingram vs. Giants front seven. The Saints rushed for 88 yards and a 4.0 average in last week's setback to the Raiders, but doing a little more against the Giants with Ingram and backups Tim Hightower and Travaris Cadet could complement the league's No. 1 passing attack
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Giants S Landon Collins: Last week Collins, a second-year pro, was a jack-of-all-trades for the Giants, who lined him up at free safety, strong safety, linebacker and, on two occasions, down in the slot. In moving Collins around, they were able to successfully disguise their coverages which threw the Cowboys off their game. Don't be surprised if the Giants toss in a few more wrinkles involving Collins. It's hard to fool Saints QB Drew Brees, so this chess match could be interesting.
FAST FACTS: Brees had 423 pass yards, 4 TDs, 131.3 rating last week. That was his 14th career 400-yard pass game, tying Peyton Manning for most in NFL history. Brees threw 98-yard TD pass to WR Brandid Cooks, who recorded career-high 143 receiving yards with 2 TDs. . . .WR Willie Snead had 9 catches for 172 yards, 1 TD. . . . Giants QB Eli Manning threw 200 interceptions since he took over as the starting job in 2004. He has thrown 100 picks on the road and 100 at home. In past 3 vs. NOS, Manning has 1,015 passing yards (338.3 per game) with 12 TDs for 116.4 rating . . .Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul shoots for third straight game against Saints with at least six tackles.
PREDICTION: It was a hot Brees that blew through the Raiders last week in New Orleans, only to lose in the last minute. On the road with an injured secondary, Brees might not be able to keep up in a shootout, but it could be close.
OUR PICK: Giants. 35-28.
SERIES HISTORY: 94th regular-season meeting. Steelers lead series, 58-35. The teams split two regular-season meetings last season, with the road team winning each time. The Steelers took the rubber match with a last-minute come-from-behind (or Bengals' graceless fall-from-in-front) 18-16 win in the AFC wild-card game. Pittsburgh leads the series 29-16 as the home team.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Bad blood will continue to flow in one of the nastiest rivalries in the NFL, which reached a low point in the AFC wild-card game last season when Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict knocked Steelers WR Antonio Brown from the game with a hit to his head that also prevented him from playing in the divisional round playoff game in Denver the next week. Several players on both teams were penalized and subsequently fined for illegal hits and the NFL dished out more than $100,000 in fines for the regular-season game in Cincinnati.
The Steelers have enjoyed success running against the Bengals in the past they ran rushed for 147 yards in their opening-week win in Washington. DeAngelo Williams rushed for 105 of his 143 yards in the second half. The Bengals, meanwhile, gave up 152 yards (5.1 per carry) in their win against the New York Jets.
When the Bengals have the ball the Steelers must find a way to limit the effectiveness of quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green. The Steelers have had a tough time defending Green in recent years. In the two regular-season games last season he had 17 receptions for 250 yards and two touchdowns and last week scorched NY Jets CB Darrell Revis (12 for 180, TD).
Dalton likely will use the same quick-hit, short passing game that worked so well last Sunday in the win over the Jets and run the clock to keep the ball away from an explosive Steelers' offense. Cincinnati's defense needs to find a way to pressure Roethlisberger and handle WR Antonio Brown without using an illegal KO hit.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Steelers DL vs. Bengals OL. The Bengals only allowed 20 sacks all of last season, but they gave up seven, including five in the first half, of their game against the Jets last week. The Steelers, meanwhile, failed to get a sack against the Redskins, which prompted defensive captain and defensive end Cam Heyward and coach Mike Tomlin to call out the defensive linemen and linebackers for the lack of pressure.
--Steelers WR Antonio Brown vs. Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick. Brown had eight receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1. These two players have a history dating to last season when they fought in the regular-season game in Cincinnati. Brown had 20 receptions for 253 yards in three games against the Bengals last season.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bengals DE Margus Hunt had a breakout game on Sunday at the New York Jets with a blocked kick, two passes defensed, and a tackle for loss. The 6-foot-8 native of Estonia had to fight to earn a roster spot coming out of training camp. But, his size and versatility on defense and special teams make him a valuable commodity. He had 17 blocked kicks while at Southern Methodist University, but the block on Sunday was his first in the NFL.
FAST FACTS: Bengals Geno Atkins has 41 sacks since 2011, most by an NFL DT in that time. Six were in the last eight games against Steelers. ... Bengals QB Andy Dalton won past 4 division starts and has 111.6 rating (9 TDs, 3 INTs). Owns 29 games with 100-plus rating (incl. 114 rating last week). His 51-26-1 (.660) record is best by Cincy. QB with minimum of 20 starts. ... Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is 19-7 (.731) vs. Bengals with a total of 6,032 passing yards, his most vs. any team. Last week passed for 300 yards, 3 TDs, 112.4 rating.
PREDICTION: This annual slugfest could turn into a shootout and Roethlisberger has the more lethal gun.
OUR PICK: Steelers, 42-28.
SERIES HISTORY: 113th regular-season meeting in the long-time NFC East rivalry. Cowboys lead series, 66-42-2. Dallas won at FedEx Field last Dec. 7, 19-16. That was Washington's final regular-season loss en route to a division title. The Redskins, having already clinched the division and a playoff berth, won a meaningless season finale in Dallas, 34-23.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Redskins don't have a choice. They have to find a way to stop the run against Dallas. Part of the reason Washington faded in the second half against Pittsburgh was because the Redskins' defense couldn't get off the field. That was in large part because the Steelers were constantly in third-and-short or fourth-and-short situations.
Meanwhile, Washington's offense was penalized far too often Monday. Dallas' defense has weaknesses, especially in the secondary. Of course, the same could have been said about the Steelers, and they held up well enough. One area where the Redskins' offense can be better: the red zone. They were excellent in that area in 2015. In the first quarter Monday, two drives stalled there and led to field goals. If the Redskins are to reach their potential, that can't happen again.
The Cowboys will try to pound the run against a Redskins defense that gave up 147 yards to the Steelers last week. They need to get RB Ezekiel Elliott going and the team's massive offensive line to dominate up front to take pressure off rookie QB Dak Prescott.
On defense, Dallas must stop the run and find a way to get consistent pressure on QB Kirk Cousins. If not, the secondary will have a long day against an explosive Redskins receiver corps led by the speedy DeSean Jackson.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Redskins CB Bashaud Breeland, who was burned by Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown for two touchdowns on Monday, vs. Cowboys WR Dez Bryant, who has just 32 receptions in his past 10 games. Expect Dallas to copy the Steelers' strategy of targeting Breeland if Washington doesn't adjust.
--Cowboys FS Byron Jones vs. Redskins TE Jordan Reed. Jones will be tasked with covering Reed, who caught 87 passes and scored 11 touchdowns last season. The Cowboys believe Jones has the athleticism to cover any tight end in the league, though he was slow to make plays in the preseason. He needs to be up to the task against the Redskins.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: WR Cole Beasley. With opposing teams focused on stopping Dez Bryant, Beasley will continue to get a lot of balls in the middle of the field. He caught eight passes for 65 yards against the Giants. However, he failed to get in the end zone, thanks largely to a huge drop at the 2-yard line. Teams will live with him nickel and diming his way down the field if doesn't cash in with touchdowns.
FAST FACTS: The Cowboys are 2-13 since Week 3 of last season. ... Dallas QB Dak Prescott & RB Ezekiel Elliott were the first rookie QB-RB tandem to start the season opener for the Cowboys since Roger Staubach and Calvin Hill in 1969. Prescott passed for 227 yards in Week 1, and Elliott scored his first TD. ... Dallas RB Alfred Morris spent the past four seasons with Washington. Since entering the NFL in 2012, he ranks second in the league with 4,748 rushing yards and sixth with 29 touchdowns. ... Washington QB Kirk Cousins passed for 329 yards in Week 1. He had three TD passes and a 155.1 rating in his last start vs. Dallas.
PREDICTION: Both teams have defensive shortcomings, which could lead to a high-scoring division battle. Expect the Cowboys to follow the Steelers' lead and pound it at the Redskins.
OUR PICK: Cowboys, 24-20.
SERIES HISTORY: 19th regular-season meeting. Series tied 9-9, but the Buccaneers have won six of the past nine meetings. The Cardinals beat the Buccaneers 13-9 in the teams' last matchup in Tampa. Under Raheem Morris in 2010, the Bucs won a shootout at Arizona 38-35 on their way to a 10-6 record.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
GAME PLAN: QB Jameis Winston looks to be in total command of the offense this season. In addition, his accuracy seems to have improved after working hard on his mechanics in the offseason. The biggest improvement for Winston has been in the deep ball. He hit two against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday for touchdowns.
Even so, the Buccaneers still are a run-first team. RB Doug Martin struggled against Atlanta, finishing with 18 carries for 62 yards. That's one of the reasons the Buccaneers were only 3 of 10 on third down. But Martin and RB Charles Sims are effective receivers and the Bucs might try to isolate some LBs and safeties on them.
Defensively, the Buccaneers believe they can rush Carson Palmer and pressure usually equals an opportunity to create some turnovers.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told reporters on Monday that he might have overused running back David Johnson during Sunday night's 23-21 loss to the Patriots and that he would have liked to get Chris Johnson more carries. Tampa Bay needs to be ready for both of them, but especially the versatile David Johnson.
In his six career regular-season starts, Johnson leads the NFL in both rushing yards (531) and total yards (790). That's more total yards than Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown (768) and Atlanta's Julio Jones (692) over the same stretch.
The Cardinals also will be looking to get their passing game back in sync. It was off most of the night against New England, specifically the deep ball that Arians always likes to shoot for six to seven times a game. Look for Palmer to attack the Buccaneers' secondary often in this game. His two fastest targets, however, may not be at full strength. John Brown looks a little off his game after dealing with prolonged concussion effects and J.J. Nelson injured his left shoulder against the Patriots and did not return to the game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. Bucs CB Brent Grimes. Fitzgerald still is a Pro Bowl receiver and may be the biggest game-breaking threat. With rookie CB Vernon Hargreaves starting at the other corner and playing in the slot in nickel, Grimes gives Tampa Bay the best matchup on Fitzgerald.
--Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson vs. Tampa WR Mike Evans. The Cardinals will have to consider moving Peterson to the right side to cover Evans, who caught five passes for 99 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown, against Atlanta. Evans lined up on the left side on that touchdown and Peterson is a far safer bet to shut down Evans than rookie Brandon Williams, who was burned badly on at least three occasions by the Patriots while playing the right-side corner position.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bucs S Chris Conte won't get a lot of credit for Sunday's win at Atlanta. But he made two touchdown-saving tackles against the Falcons. Coach Dirk Koetter says Conte is one of the most athletic players on the team who could play cornerback in a pinch.
FAST FACTS: Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston already is tied for 10th with Shaun King on the Buccaneers' list for career touchdown passes (26). ... Tampa Bay LB Kwon Alexander's 17 tackles against the Falcons tied for the NFL lead with Bears LB Jerrell Freeman. ... Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald caught two TD passes in Week 1 and now has 100 in his career. The Cardinals quarterbacks who have thrown touchdowns to Fitzgerald: Kurt Warner (39), Carson Palmer (23), Josh McCown (12), John Skelton (7), Kevin Kolb (5), Matt Leinart (5), Derek Anderson (4), Brian St. Pierre (1), Max Hall (1), Rich Bartel (1), John Navarre (1) and Shaun King (1).
PREDICTION: Pity the Bucs for having to face Bruce Arians' club the week after they blew a chance to beat the Patriots.
OUR PICK: Cardinals, 30-13.
SERIES HISTORY: 36th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 21-14. The Rams have won the last two meetings between the clubs, with CB Trumaine Johnson recording an interception in both wins against the Seattle Seahawks last year. Johnson tied for the third-most interceptions in the NFL a season ago with seven, establishing a career-high. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw eight interceptions in 2015, two of which were snared by Johnson.
KEYS TO THE GAME: It's back to the basics for the Rams, who need to return to their strengths. And that's running the ball effectively and stopping the run. They did neither against the 49ers, but it's incumbent they win the line of scrimmage against the Seahawks. If so, Todd Gurley can have a big game and control the pace, Case Keenum will have time to operate and the defense will not be on the field as much as it was Monday night.
Seattle needs to concentrate the majority of their focus on two players: Aaron Donald and Gurley. Donald has 24 tackles and four sacks in four games against Seattle. Finding a way to keep him blocked will be pivotal. Additionally, Seattle will have to keep Gurley from finding running room in order to put the game in the shaky hands of Keenum.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Rams CB Trumaine Johnson vs. Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin. Johnson had seven interceptions last year. Baldwin needs one reception to move into sixth place on Seattle's all-time receptions list and 234 yards to move in to sixth on Seattle's receiving yards list.
--Rams OT Greg Robinson vs. Seahawks DE Michael Bennett. Robinson, the second overall pick in 2014 NFL Draft, started all 16 games last year and was part of an offensive line that allowed an NFL-low 18 sacks. Bennett needs three sacks to move into ninth place on Seattle's all-time sacks list, with 29.5.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Seattle CB DeShawn Shead has climbed the ladder from undrafted practice-squad member to starting cornerback opposite Richard Sherman. After replacing Cary Williams as the team's starter in the second half of 2015, Shead has blossomed into a quality option on the right side of Seattle's defense. He had four tackles and two passes defended in Seattle's 12-10 victory over Miami last week.
FAST FACTS: This is the first regular-season game in Los Angeles since 1994. ... Pete Carroll coached at USC from 2001 to 2009. ... Seattle has won five straight road games. A sixth win in Los Angeles would set a franchise record. ... Seattle WR Doug Baldwin caught eight passes for 118 yards and a TD in the last meeting. He is aiming for his fourth straight game with at least seven receptions vs. the Rams. ... Rams DT Aaron Donald has four sacks and a forced fumble in four meetings vs. Seattle.
PREDICTION: As bad as the Rams looked in the opening 28-0 loss to the 49ers, they always play the Seahawks tough. But this one is in L.A., which makes Pete Carroll and his players happy.
OUR PICK: Seahawks, 20-13.
SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series 12-10, but the Colts won 27-24 last season in Indianapolis and have won three of the last four. The franchises have faced off three times in the postseason, with Indianapolis winning each. The Colts are 7-5 against Denver at home and 3-7 in road games.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Offensively, the Colts can't afford to sit back and let the Denver defense set the tone. The Colts have to be able to convert third down opportunities, which won't be easy against the Broncos. But Indianapolis' offense has had success against Denver in recent years.
As for the defense, the Colts have to be more efficient in their tackling. Indianapolis allowed too many yards after the catch in the loss to Detroit last week. The defense also needs to be more aggressive in terms of trying to get pressure on the quarterback. The Colts had only one sack against the Lions, although they were close on several other occasions. Indianapolis has to win the turnover battle.
Pressure on Andrew Luck did not prevent the Colts from racking up 27 points on the Broncos' defense, a figure surpassed only by the Steelers during Denver's championship season. On offense, the Broncos will try to avoid mistakes above all. Denver had a minus-2 turnover margin in last year's game; one interception led to a touchdown, and the other led to the drive that saw the Colts run out the clock, preventing a late Broncos comeback.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Colts QB Andrew Luck vs. Broncos secondary. Luck has an 88.2 passer rating in four career games against the Denver defense, completing 104 of 170 passes for 1,115 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He has been sacked six times in those games.
--Broncos WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders vs. Colts CBs Patrick Robinson and Antonio Cromartie. Detroit's receivers gashed Indianapolis' secondary, which played without Pro Bowler Vontae Davis, and the Broncos' pass-catchers could have the same opportunity. Pressure from the Panthers led the Broncos to emphasize their short and screen-pass game last week, nullifying the matchup advantage the Broncos had against Carolina's young cornerbacks. But the Colts' front seven can't generate the kind of mayhem Carolina's did, so Trevor Siemian should have more time to take chances downfield against an Indianapolis secondary that surrendered an average of 8.7 yards every time Matthew Stafford threw last Sunday.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: TE Jack Doyle. Doyle had a strong start to the 2016 season, hauling in three passes for 35 yards and a pair of touchdowns in last week's home loss to Detroit. The former Western Kentucky standout's 6-yard TD reception against the Lions gave the Colts a brief 35-34 lead late in the fourth quarter. Doyle had been used in recent years primarily as a short yardage and goal line receiver as well as an extra run/pass blocker. But with Coby Fleener now in New Orleans, the Indianapolis offensive coaching staff has decided to use Doyle more as a down the field receiver this year. He had a 16-yard reception against the Lions.
FAST FACTS: Since the start of the 2012 season, the Colts are 17-6 in regular-season games following losses. Indianapolis has outscored its opponents by an average score of 25-20 in those games. ... The Colts are 3-15 in games in which the defense has given up 30 or more points since Chuck Pagano has been the team's coach. ... Colts RB Frank Gore needs 22 rushing yards to move past Franco Harris (12,120) for 13th place on the NFL's all-time rushing list. ... Denver ILB Todd Davis was the coaches' defensive player of the week for his six-tackle, one-assist performance against the Panthers. ... Since 2012, WR Demaryius Thomas ranks second in the NFL with 5,835 receiving yards. He's the only player with 5,500 yards and 40 touchdowns TDs in that time.
PREDICTION: The Broncos' stifling defense should give Andrew Luck and company a tough time, so it will be up to C.J. Anderson to pound the Colts' defense.
OUR PICK: Broncos, 24-20.
SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 7-6. Falcons have won the last three games -- 23-20 in Atlanta in 2012, 24-0 in Oakland in 2008 and 35-10 in Atlanta in 2004. Last Raiders win was 41-14 in 2000. In last meeting, Carson Palmer threw for 353 yards and the Raiders controlled the ball for 36:26 to 23:34 for the Falcons, but Asante Samuel returned an interception 79 yards for a touchdown for the Falcons. The Raiders rallied to tie the score, but Matt Bryant kicked a 55-yard field goal at the gun for the win.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Saints game buoyed the Raiders in their belief they can become a balanced offense, and at home they will surely try to run early and often against the Falcons. As much as Derek Carr thrives from the shotgun formation, the plan has been to have more runs from scrimmage in conventional formations. Success in that area makes the Raiders a more dangerous team in terms of play-action passes.
Defensively, look for the Raiders to give plenty of safety help against Julio Jones, especially when he is on Sean Smith's side. Look for Justin Ellis and Dan Williams to get more snaps, which in turn could free Khalil Mack more often on the outside. Mack was a focal point of New Orleans blocking schemes.
The Falcons' run defense will face a stiff test. The defense held the Buccaneers to 3.2 rushing yards per carry. The defense also forced the Bucs to go 3-for-10 on third downs. Oakland rushed for 26 times for 167 yards and three touchdowns in their thrilling 35-34 victory over the Saints. Rookie running back Jalen Richard broke loose for a 75-yard score. The Falcons will not to shut down the Raiders rushing attack in order to get into some favorable third-down situations.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Raiders CB Sean Smith vs. Falcons WR Julio Jones. Smith was unceremoniously benched in his first game in a Raiders uniform after being torched by Brandin Cooks. Strange as it sounds, Jones may be a batter matchup. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Smith is one of the tallest (and biggest) corners in the NFL. Jones is a 6-3, 220-pound wide receiver, someone Smith matches up better with physically than Cooks, a smallish receiver who is adept at getting loose against bigger corners in space. Either way, Smith can expect to have some safety help whenever Jones is on his side.
--Falcons CB Desmond Trufant vs. Raiders WR Amari Cooper. One of the NFL's top young corners takes on one of its top young wide receivers. Trufant, a first-round pick out of Washington in 2013, made the Pro Bowl as an alternate last year despite having only one interception. Trufant equaled that total with a Week 1 interception against Tampa Bay. Cooper, a rookie last season who faded down the stretch because of a foot injury, had six catches for 137 yards (and caught a two-point conversion) in the Week 1 win over New Orleans and appears poised to surpass a solid rookie season by being more reliable, having dropped 17 passes as a rookie.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: TE Lee Smith. The Raiders blocking tight end does the dirty work and rarely finds a pass headed his way. He didn't catch a pass against New Orleans, but had a role in a running game that had 166 yards -- including a pancake block on Paul Kruger on Jalen Richard's 75-yard run. After the Raiders lost tackles Menelik Watson (groin) and Matt McCants (knee), Smith was next up as a tackle in event of another injury.
FAST FACTS: WR Mohamed Sanu had five catches for 80 yards and a score in his Falcons debut. He has two TD catches in two games vs. Oakland. ... Oakland QB Derek Carr passed for 319 yards and a touchdown last week, throwing the winning 2-point conversion to WR Michael Crabtree with 47 seconds left. The Raiders are the fourth team to score the winning points on a 2-point conversion in the final minute. ... Oakland RB Latavius Murray has 490 scrimmage yards in his past five home games. The Raiders are 3-0 when he rushes for 100 yards.
PREDICTION: The young, talented Raiders are becoming dangerous, thanks to coach Jack Del Rio's swagger, and figure to be tough for the Falcons to beat in Oakland.
OUR PICK: Raiders, 31-17.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Qualcomm Stadium. San Diego -- TV: CBS, Tom McCarthy, Adam Archuleta.
SERIES HISTORY: 9th regular-season meeting. Chargers lead series, 6-2. San Diego has won five straight in the series. The Chargers won last year in Jacksonville as Philip Rivers threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns, with Antonio Gates getting two of the scoring receptions. In the Chargers' dismal 4-12 season, it was considered the team's signature win.
KEYS TO THE GAME: With Chris Ivory not getting released from the hospital until Tuesday night for his mystery medical issue, his availability for Sunday's game remains most questionable. Without Ivory to share the load with co-starter T.J. Yeldon, there isn't much hope that the ground game (1.8 yds/att) will be any more effective than the dismal effort turned in last week against Green Bay. That means the Jaguars' success likely will rest with the passing fortunes of Blake Bortles. The quarterback passed for 320 yards last week, and did burn the Chargers secondary for 329 yards a year ago, but both games resulted in a Jacksonville loss.
The Chargers enter the brave new world of not having their No. 1 receiver, Keenan Allen, for the entire game and for the rest of the season. So while the Chargers seek how to maintain their identity as a passing team, it's time to lean on the running game. Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead were both productive, and that was in the din of Arrowhead Stadium. It should by sunny with a fast track on Sunday in San Diego and there's no better way to wear down a team in the heat than on the ground.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Chargers QB Philip Rivers vs. Jaguars secondary: Rivers has had his way with the Jaguars in the six previous meetings, five of which resulted in wins for the Chargers. In those six games, he has thrown for 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions while his 116.3 passer rating is the best of any team he has faced. His four TD throws a year ago against Jacksonville were one shy of the most allowed by the Jaguars in a single game. But the Jaguars made significant improvements in the secondary during the offseason. They brought in free agents Tashaun Gipson and Prince Amukamara and selected Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey with their first pick. All three players were starters last week against Green Bay and likely will be in the starting lineup against the Chargers. They played a key role in holding Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to less than 200 passing yards and two TD throws. With the Chargers' running game suspect, the key to a Jaguars upset will be how the secondary keeps Rivers in check.
Jaguars receivers vs. Chargers secondary: The strength of the Jaguars is their receiving unit. In Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, the Jaguars have a pair of 1,000-yard receivers. Robinson made his first Pro Bowl a year ago after an 80-catch, 1,400-yard season. Both have good size (6 foot 3) and jumping ability. Shorter, but quicker, are Marqise Lee and Rashad Greene, who find ways to get open and are long-ball threats. Then there's the two tight end-combo of Julius Thomas and Marcedes Lewis, which poses further problems to secondaries. Blake Bortles calls Thomas a "matchup nightmare" for defenders based on Thomas' size (6-5, 256) and speed. He caught 28 TD passes in his last two years in Denver before signing with the Jaguars last year. It's a good Chargers secondary that features a pair of nine-year veterans in Brandon Flowers and Dwight Lowery. The latter is no stranger to the Jaguars as he played three seasons with the Jaguars (2011-13), the first two years as a starter. He was with Atlanta and Indianapolis the last two years, starting 31 games. Lowery has 16 career interceptions. Flowers was a Pro Bowl selection in 2013 with Kansas City and has 20 career interceptions.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: DE Dante Fowler Jr. The first-round draft pick from a year ago who missed all of the 2015 season due to a torn ACL has been slow to adjust to life in the NFL. When the Jaguars played Cincinnati on national TV in the third preseason game, Fowler's name did not even show up in the final defensive stats. In the season opener last week against Green Bay, he was credited with two solo tackles and one assist. Both games were at home. This week's contest will be the first road contest in which Fowler gets significant playing time. He has put plenty of pressure on himself and he may just need to play a game away from the hometown fans. Fowler was supposed to be one of the biggest reasons the Jaguars showed a better pass rush. But, in last week's opener, the only sack recorded came from cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Fowler needs to come up with a big effort on Sunday against the Chargers.
FAST FACTS: QB Philip Rivers has won his past five starts vs. Jacksonville and has a 100-plus passer rating in all five. He has completed 124 of 165 (75.2 percent) for 1,590 yards, 14 TDs and just two interceptions. ... Jaguars TE Julius Thomas caught a 22-yard pass for a touchdown against Green Bay. It marked Thomas' 30th TD reception since 2013, the most by a tight end and the fifth-most in the NFL over that span. ... Jaguars P Brad Nortman's debut with the Jaguars last Sunday was as good as it gets. He registered two punts for a net average of 62.5 yards -- the best net punting average in the NFL through Week 1. Both punts were downed at the 3-yard line.
PREDICTION: Philip Rivers has owned the Jaguars, even when the Chargers have been dismal. Coming off a huge letdown loss, Rivers figures to lift his team at home.
OUR PICK: Chargers, 27-24.
SERIES HISTORY: 110th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 58-49-2. Minnesota's 20-13 win at Green Bay on Jan. 3 to end the 2015 regular season and earn the Vikings the NFC North title snapped a three-year run of dominance by the Packers in the rivals' head-to-head matchups. The Packers were unbeaten in the previous six games (5-0-1), stretching back to their 24-10 knockout of Minnesota in the wild-card round of the playoffs at Lambeau Field during the 2012 season. Going back to the 2010 season, Green Bay is 10-2-1 against the Vikings, including a 5-1 mark in Minnesota.
KEYS TO THE GAME: After the Titans held Vikings RB Adrian Peterson to a minuscule 31 yards on 19 carries, the 10th-year pro knows too well the target won't be taken off his No. 28 jersey when the Packers and Vikings renew their rivalry on Sunday night. Peterson already has been brushing up on Green Bay's revamped defense, which held the Jaguars to 48 rushing yards and less than two yards per attempt in its season-opening win.
The Packers excelled in bottling up Peterson in their two encounters with the Vikings last season in his return to football. He gained a cumulative 112 yards on 32 carries, scoring two touchdowns.
While Peterson is the top priority for the defense, the Packers can't neglect Minnesota's capable passing attack, whether it's triggered by journeyman Shaun Hill or recently acquired Sam Bradford. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer isn't expected to announce the starter until later in the week after going with Hill in their season-opening win. While Bradford went 0-2 against the Packers with the Rams, a game Hill set career highs with 54 pass attempts and 34 completions in throwing for 331 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions in Green Bay's narrow win over the Detroit Lions in 2010.
As for Green Bay's offense, coach Mike McCarthy would like to go up-tempo and take the Vikings' boisterous crowd for their first game at U.S. Bank Stadium out of play by striking early and often. Since defensive whiz Zimmer has had a way of confounding Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay's potent passing game with exotic coverages and pressures, the Packers may need to make liberal use of running the football with Eddie Lacy after limiting him to 14 carries in the hot conditions at Jacksonville last Sunday.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Vikings FS Harrison Smith, who has intercepted Aaron Rodgers twice in seven meetings, vs. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, who has thrown only five picks in 17 games against the Vikings. Smith is head coach Mike Zimmer's key piece in many of his third-down blitz packages. He can rush off the edge, line up close and drop or play in deep coverage. Rodgers will have to keep an eye on him as much as any other defender.
--Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, who averaged 1.6 yards on 19 carries in the season opener, vs. Packers OLBs Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. Peterson rushed for only 31 yards in the win over the Titans. His longest carry was a 9-yarder against a 3-4 defense that used several eight- and nine-man fronts to stop Peterson. The Vikings weren't able to clear out the middle of the Titans' defense, allowing the outside linebackers to swarm and box Peterson in.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Quarterback Sam Bradford has the arm strength and the deep-ball accuracy to help the Vikings' running game get some more favorable fronts. But will he know where to go with the ball on Sunday night, when he's expected to make his Vikings debut against the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium? Will he have had enough time to get the timing down with receivers he had never met a little over two weeks ago? And will he have enough of the plays, checks and protections down pat enough to keep the Packers off-balance? The Vikings aren't saying whether Bradford will start, but they have said they believe he will have had enough time to learn enough of what he'll need to know to be effective against the team that's trying to re-take the NFC North title it lost to the Vikings a year ago.
FAST FACTS: Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers passed for two TDs last week and added a rushing TD. He has at least two TD passes in 11 of the past 13 games vs. the Vikings and is looking for his 14th straight game with a TD pass vs. Minnesota. ... Eighth-year LB Clay Matthews has 68.5 sacks, tying him with the late Reggie White for second place on the Packers' all-time list. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila has the team record, with 74.5. ... TE Kyle Rudolph had four catches for 65 yards last week. He now has 186 career catches, which is tied with Jermaine Wiggins for the fourth-most by a tight end in Vikings history. ... Minnesota KR Cordarrelle Patterson's 61-yard kickoff return was the longest in the NFL in Week 1. ... Vikings DE Danielle Hunter, who was second among NFL rookies with six sacks a year ago, had his first of the season in the opener. He also scored his first touchdown off a 24-yard fumble return.
PREDICTION: The Packers know they need to beat the Vikings if they want to reclaim the NFC North, and Aaron Rodgers certainly will be ready to do his part.
OUR PICK: Packers, 27-17.
SERIES HISTORY: 40th regular-season meeting. Bears lead series, 28-10-1. While the Eagles won the last meeting in 2013 in Philadelphia, 54-11, the Bears have won the last two meetings in Chicago.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Offensively, the Eagles will follow the same script as Week 1, trying to get their ground game going to take the pressure off their rookie quarterback, Carson Wentz. The Eagles averaged just 3.9 yards per carry against the Browns, but ran the ball 34 times, which was more than enough to keep the Cleveland defense guessing. Defensively, they will try to use a four-man rush to get pressure on quarterback Jay Cutler and force him into mistakes.
Offensively, the Bears are preparing to face a group coached by their old antagonist, Jim Schwartz. The former Lions coach runs the wide-9 defensive front and it was always one the Bears had a good plan for attacking. Running at the gap between defensive tackle and the wide-9 or split defensive end is the best approach, and it plays to the Bears' strength with a power-O type of run that uses Josh Sitton pulling to provide an extra punch on the right side with Bobby Massie and Kyle Long. Getting someone to the linebacker in that gap is more of a key than actually blocking effectively on the end. Quicker throws on time in the passing game by Jay Cutler also can work to get the ball out before the pressure arrives from the wide side. The Bears sometimes have used wide receiver screens effectively against this defense, and it's something Kevin White can do without encountering problems running pass patterns downfield.
Defensively, the Bears have to be ready for an attack using West Coast elements, chiefly quick throws and ones that likely will try to hurt them throwing to the backs to attack the edges. Defensive linemen need their hands up for throws over the middle. The Bears have to attack with caution and the blitz is something they'll only be able to do in obvious passing situations. They may drop their outside linebackers more into short coverage in this one to protect against the quick throws. Disguising coverages will be more the order of the day.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Eagles DT Fletcher Cox vs. Bears C Cody Whitehair and RG Kyle Long. Whitehair, a rookie second-rounder, and Long, who is playing through a shoulder injury, are going to have their hands full with Cox.
--Eagles WRs Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor vs. Bears CBs Tracy Porter and Kyle Fuller. Matthews and Agholor both had touchdown catches in last week's win over the Browns. Porter and Fuller both are experienced cover men.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Eagles CB Jalen Mills, a rookie seventh-rounder, is expected to get a lot of playing time Monday night with Leodis McKelvin sidelined with a hamstring injury. Mills is a confident, physical corner who impressed the Eagles with his play in training camp and the preseason. It was his hit on Robert Griffin III last week that caused the arm injury that has knocked the Browns quarterback out for at least two months.
FAST FACTS: Eagles QB Carson Wentz passed for 278 yards & two TDs in his NFL debut. He was the first Eagles rookie to start at QB in a season opener since 1939 (Davey O'Brien) and had the highest rating (101) by a rookie Eagles QB since John Reaves in 1972. ... Eagles WR Jordan Matthews had seven catches for 114 yards and a TD vs. Cleveland. He has at least 50 receiving yards and a score in four consecutive games, the longest streak by an Eagles player since 2004. ... Chicago WR Eddie Royal caught a touchdown pass last week. He had 90 receiving yards and scored three times in his only game vs. Philadelphia, when he was with San Diego in 2013.
PREDICTION: Wentz got off to a good start and seems to have a solid supporting cast, on both sides of the ball. A 2-0 start sounds fun.
OUR PICK: Eagles, 20-13.