Houston Texans (2-0) at New England Patriots (2-0)
SERIES HISTORY: 7th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead the all-time series 5-1. These two teams have alternated over the years between blowouts and hard-fought battles. The first-ever meeting in 2003 was a New England overtime win in Houston. Three years later the Patriots owned a 40-7 blowout in Foxborough. The next meeting in the 2009 finale was a Texans 34-27 win in Houston, a game marked by Wes Welker tearing his ACL in an essentially meaningless game. The most recent battle came in December 2015 with a Patriots 27-6 victory in Houston. New England has never lost to the Texans at Gillette, holding a 3-0 mark.
KEYS TO THE GAME: It is hardly news that the Patriots will be without QB's Tom Brady (Deflate-gate suspension) or his stand-in, Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder injury). So New England's offensive game plan is a major question in the first career start for third-round rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Some things OC Josh McDaniels drew up for Garoppolo should carry over to his new pupil. That will include screens and quick, high-percentage throws. Look some boot-leg passes and moving pockets, to cut down the field and reads and buy time/health against a Texans' ferocious defensive front that features J. J. Watt. Running back LeGarrette Blount could get a workout.
Perhaps the biggest decider will be the Patriots trying to do what Belichick teams do best -- stop big plays. Texans QB Brock Osweiler will push the ball down the field to talented WRs DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. The Patriots are giving up 401.5 yards per game but shouldn't be able to reach their average of 414 yards on offense against these Texans.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Patriots Master, HC Bill Belichick, vs. Texans' Student(s), HC Bill O'Brien, formerly Mr. Bill's assistant. Houston's coaching staff includes a several former Patriots assistants in O'Brien, Romeo Crennel, Mike Vrabel, Larry Izzo and George Godsey. That could create an advantage as they prepare for the Patriots. Conversely, Belichick certainly knows his former assistants very well. The battle of game plans, adjustments and chess moves could be interesting and impactful.
--Patriots DBs vs. Texans WRs. A week after the Patriots allowed a pair of 100-yard performances by Dolphins wide receivers Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker, New England's secondary faces another impressive challenge. DeAndre Hopkins and rookie Will Fuller combined for 21 receptions for 378 yards and three touchdowns. Fuller is averaging a crazy 23.4 per catch. Malcolm Butler, New England's Pro Bowl No. 1 cornerback is struggling with an ankle injury.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Patriots CB Logan Ryan. New England's No. 2 cornerback is a polarizing player. Some think he is similar in play and production to Pro Bowl teammate Malcolm Butler. Others, see a guy who leaves opponents open way too often and is lucky more often than good. Ryan and the entire secondary fell apart last week in the second half against Miami. Now, the unit faces a Texans team that sports one of the better young receiver duos in the game to open the new season as DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller have been on fire to open the season, combining for 21 catches for 378 yards and three touchdowns. Whoever draws Ryan will likely be Brock Osweiler's first option. The fourth-year cornerback has a chance to prove his worth.
FAST FACTS: Texans QB Brock Osweiler won only start vs. Patriots (11/29/15 with Denver). ... Texans punter Shane Lechter has gross average of 49.2 yards per punt and Pats' Ryan Allen 36.2.
PREDICTION: Patriots are running out of chess pieces for coach Belichick to maneuver and Texans' defense should be able to use sheer muscle to outmatch the master's next-man-up mindset.
OUR PICK: Texans, 24-17.
SERIES HISTORY: The Cardinals and Bills meet for the 11th time in a series that dates to 1971. Buffalo holds a 6-4 advantage in the series and has won five of the last six games. This is the first time the teams have met since Week 8 of the 2004 season. The Cardinals have lost in each of their previous three trips to Buffalo and haven't won there since the first matchup between the teams in 1971.
KEYS TO THE GAME: What the Bills are going to do is a bit of mystery now that offensive coordinator Greg Roman has been fired and replaced by running backs coach Anthony Lynn. Lynn has never been a coordinator at any level, so no one is quite sure how he may call plays. But one thing is clear: The Bills won't stray too far from their principles and will try to get LeSean McCoy going in the ground game because the Bills wide receivers do not match up well with Arizona's strong secondary. This is going to be a huge test for Lynn in his debut.
The Bills must find a way to get pressure on Cardinals QB Carson Palmer or this will be a very long day. The Bills backed off on the blitzes against the Jets because his CBs, Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby, were having such a tough time holding up in coverage. Gilmore and Darby have to be much better so that Ryan can utilize some of his blitz packages because right now. Buffalo's front line isn't good enough to generate pressure alone, not good news to a secondary facing a Cardinals pass-catching troika of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bills CB Stephon Gilmore vs. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald. Gilmore is coming off what may have been his worst game as a professional as he was repeatedly beaten by Jets wideouts Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall. Now he will probably see Fitzgerald on the bulk of defensive snaps, and Fitzgerald has been his usual dynamic self with 14 catches for 162 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games. If Gilmore can't hold up, the Cardinals could have a field day through the air.
--Bills RT Jordan Mills vs. Cardinals SOLB Chandler Jones. The Bills are familiar with Jones' ability to disrupt a passing game from his days with the Patriots. Mills is considered the weak link on the Bills' offensive line and he'll have to find a way to keep Jones away from Tyrod Taylor without constant help from a tight end or back. The Bills need to open up their passing game and they can't do it if they have to max protect.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bills WR Greg Salas. If the Bills' passing game is going to have any success in this game, or any other game, it has to get more production from the wide outs behind Sammy Watkins. Not that Watkins is blowing anyone's socks off right now, but he draws double teams almost every snap, so someone else has to take advantage. Salas got free for a 71-yard touchdown reception against the Jets, and he needs to play a bigger role in the offense. He's also a player who can go over the middle, which has been a noted weakness in the Bills offense.200 or so words on somebody for some reason, try not to duplicate a matchup subject
INJURY REPORT: Cardinals -- Out: G Evan Mathis (foot, toe). Doubtful: LB Kareem Martin (knee), DT Frostee Rucker (knee). Questionable: CB Justin Bethel (foot), DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle). Bills -- Out: S Colt Anderson (foot), T Cordy Glenn (ankle). Questionable: TE Charles Clay (knee), CB Ronald Darby (hamstring), QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder), WR Greg Salas (groin), WR Sammy Watkins (foot).
FAST FACTS: Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald caught at least one pass in 181 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL. The last time Fitzgerald failed to record at least one reception in a game came during the seventh game of his rookie year in 2004, his only previous visit to Buffalo. ... Bills RB LeSean McCoy has 9,476 all-purpose yards since 2010, second only to Matt Forte, formerly of Chicago and now with the Jets.
PREDICTION: Now that HC Rex Ryan made Greg Roman disappear, rookie replacement Anthony Lynn will need another feat of magic to overcome too many mismatches against the Cardinals.
OUR PICK: Cardinals, 32-14.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Nissan Stadium. TV: CBS, Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein.
SERIES HISTORY: 45th regular season meeting. Raiders lead all-time series 24-20, including a 24-21 win in Nashville last Nov. 29. Quarterback Derek Carr completed 24 of 37 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns, with a 2-yard strike to Seth Roberts with 1:21 left as the game winner. The Raiders out-gained the Titans 407 to 249 but Tennessee had three touchdown passes from Marcus Mariota, who also had a pair of interceptions. The Titans last win over the Raiders in Oakland was 38-13 in the 2010 regular-season opener.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Titans made the Detroit Lions settle for field goals and kept the score within reach at the end. According to our Tennessee insider the Titans would like to do the same thing against Oakland, running the football effectively and keeping quarterback Derek Carr on the sideline as much as possible. Still, the Titans will be tempted to use their tight ends and passing game to exploit a Raiders defense that has surrendered an average of 518 yards in two games. The Titans won't be pass happy, because they can't get into a shootout. But expect them to take their shots on occasion, if nothing to keep the Raider defense honest against the run and to loosen up the box.
Sure enough, word from Oakland is the Raiders' defense will be geared to stop the run. After being shredded by both Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, one might think the Raiders would be wary of Titans' QB Marcus Mariota. But expect the Raiders to load the box to stop the run, spying on Mariota with a linebacker or safety and forcing Tennessee to the air. Then the hope is Khalil Mack and Co. will the pass rush on track.
The Raiders rushed for 167 and 155 yards in two games, a dramatic improvement, and will look to strike through play-action when possible. If the Titans play their safeties deep, Carr has the ability to take the short throw and not force mistakes.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Titans CB Perrish Cox vs. Raiders WR Amari Cooper. Cooper is off to an explosive start, averaging 18.9 yards per catch and is a threat both downfield and in run after catch. Corners that have the most success against Cooper must be physical, a style Cox is capable of playing. However, given the amount of zone blitzing the Titans do under Dick LeBeau, Cooper will have his chances to run free and is capable of finding open areas and getting yardage in chunks. Through two games, Cox has an interception and a pass defensed
--Raiders SS Keith McGill and Karl Joseph vs. Titans TE Delanie Walker. A trio of Atlanta tight ends torched the Raiders for 10 catches and 180 yards last week, something that surely didn't escape Titans coach Mike Mularkey. A so-so receiver with the 49ers, Walker was transformed as a big-play receiver with Tennessee with four receptions of 50 yards or more since 2013. McGill had a solid first game but played poorly against Atlanta, with Joseph scheduled to get his first playing time. At 5-foot-10, 207 pounds, Joseph has a physical style but is giving away height and bulk to the 6-2, 248-pound Walker.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Titans G Josh Kline. How quickly Kline can acclimate himself to the Titans offense will be tested this week. After two weeks of being inactive, Kline is likely to be pressed into the starting lineup with Chance Warmack's season-ending injury.
INJURY REPORT: Raiders -- Out: T Austin Howard (ankle), T Matt McCants (knee). Questionable: CB David Amerson (concussion), C Rodney Hudson (knee), G Gabe Jackson (knee), RB Taiwan Jones (knee), DT Darius Latham (concussion), DE Jihad Ward (hip), T Menelik Watson (groin). Titans -- Questionable: LB Derrick Morgan (hamstring), TE Delanie Walker (hamstring), WR Kendall Wright (hamstring).
FAST FACTS: Raiders opponents are averaging a hefty eight yards per play through two games, easily the most generous in the league. New Orleans is 31st at 6.5. ... Raiders DE Khalil Mack has 10 sack, 12 TFL in past 8 games and made 2 sacks in last meeting. ... Titans RB DeMarco Murray leads active players with 28 rushing TDs and is 2nd with 3,799 rush yards. Rushed for career-high 3 TDs in last game vs. Oak. (11/28/13 with Dal.).
PREDICTION: Although both sides want to avoid it, this could be a shootout between two of the NFL's top young guns with takeaways deciding the outcome.
OUR PICK: Raiders, 34-32.
SERIES HISTORY: 166th regular-season meeting. Giants lead series, 97-65-4. The Giants have won the last six out of eight games played between the two clubs dating back to 2012, including a four-game winning streak spanning the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The Giants are 4-0 at home against Washington since 2012.
KEYS TO THE GAME: After doing a decent job of running the ball in Week 1, the Giants running game took a step back last week. Things could be picking up this week against the NFL's 28th-ranked run defense which is allowing 124.5 yards per game; however, a big key for the Giants will be the right thumb of bell cow RB Rashad Jennings, who was in a protective cast earlier in the week, but vows to play
Washington appears outclassed in the trenches, where New York's additions on the defensive line have proven stout so far. The Redskins need to run the ball more, but they aren't ever going to be known as a running team. They are too inexperienced in the backfield, lack power up front and have too many other weapons in the passing game. The Redskins need to be better in the red zone. Last year they were third in the NFL in converted opportunities inside the 20. So far they have been a disaster with a pair of interceptions, six field goals and just three touchdowns in 11 chances.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
-- Redskins CB Josh Norman vs, Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. Will they reprise their simmering feud from last season? By the end of that Dec. 20 game in New York against the Carolina Panthers, Norman's former team, Beckham was whistled for three personal foul penalties, including one after he got a 10-yard running start and smashed into Norman's helmet. For his part, Norman was fined over $26,000 and had two personal foul calls of his own. When Norman signed with Redskins, a lot of fans circled this twice-a-season matchup on the calendar.
-- Giants RDE Olivier Vernon, who has five tackles in two games and proved a handful for both Dallas and New Orleans' offensive lines in the first two weeks, vs. Redskins LT Trent Williams, who has a sore right knee and has battled nagging injuries throughout training camp. The two saw each other last September when Vernon and the Miami Dolphins played Washington in the 2015 season opener.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Giants WR Sterling Shepard. While all eyes are going to be on Odell Beckham Jr., Sunday is a golden opportunity for the suddenly red-hot Shepard to continue his play-making ways. Shepard caught 11 of 12 pass targets so far this season, and has emerged as a nice third-down threat for the Giants. Last week, six of Shepard's eight receptions helped move the chains; five of those came on third down. Beckham might have the bigger name and might draw the more premier attention, but that's good news for the rookie, who has looked just as good out there and who may soon start seeing his share of umbrella coverage if he continues to play as he has so far.
INJURY REPORT: Redskins -- Out: DE Kendall Reyes (groin). Questionable: DE Chris Baker (rib, elbow, toe, knee), S Su'a Cravens (hip), WR Josh Doctson (Achilles), C Kory Lichtensteiger (back), T Ty Nsekhe (foot), LB Martrell Spaight (concussion). Giants -- Out: T Marshall Newhouse (calf), DT Robert Thomas (illness), S Darian Thompson (foot). Questionable: RB Rashad Jennings (thumb).
FAST FACTS: The Redskins have thrown 89 passes in two games and run the ball 29 times. That is first and last in NFL in those categories respectively. ... Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul has 6.5 sacks in four home games vs. Redskins.
PREDICTION: Redskins started pointing fingers, wagging tongues after last loss and Giants aren't about to make their visitors more comfortable.
OUR PICK: Giants, 28-10.
Cleveland Browns (0-2) at Miami Dolphins (0-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET at Hard Rock Stadium. TV: CBS, Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots.
SERIES HISTORY: 17th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 8-8. The Browns beat the Dolphins four straight times before Miami won, 23-10, in 2013. Romeo Crennel coached two of those victories. Eric Mangini and Pat Shurmur coached one each.
KEYS TO THE GAME: For the fifth consecutive regular-season game, the Cleveland Browns are starting a different quarterback. This time, it's rookie third-round pick Cody Kessler, who replaces Week 2 starter Josh McCown, the stand-in for Robert Griffin III, who was hurt in the opener.
To ease the burden on Kessler and attack the Dolphins' porous run defense (136.5 yards per game allowed this season), head coach Hue Jackson is likely to emphasize the run featuring Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. The Browns like to run to the left behind tackle Joe Thomas and guard Joel Bitonio. Johnson has only six carries through two games and could see more touches out of necessity. A hand injury to standout rookie receiver Corey Coleman robs Kessler of a familiar outlet. Coleman had two touchdowns last week.
A groin injury might keep Arian Foster on the sideline, but the Dolphins are rarely running -- 36 times in two games -- and QB Ryan Tannehill should have time to rock and fire against this Cleveland front seven. If the Dolphins do get traction in the running game, Miami could really roll to a big number at home.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Browns LT Joe Thomas vs. Dolphins DE Mario Williams: Williams had only one tackle in the game at New England in Week 2, but he is always a dangerous pass rusher. He has 97 career sacks since entering he league in 2006. Thomas might have to protect a little longer than normal with rookie Cody Kessler at quarterback.
--Browns NT Danny Shelton vs. Dolphins C Anthony Steen: Dolphins Pro Bowl C Mike Pouncey is battling a hip fracture. Even if Pouncey is able to play, this matchup favors the Browns. Shelton, in his second season, is coming off the best game of his career. He made eight tackles against the Ravens last week. He has learned to throw aside the lineman blocking him and make the tackle.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Browns RG Alvin Bailey -- Bailey is being forced into the starting lineup because normal right guard John Greco is shifting to center because regular center Cameron Erving is out with a bruised lung. Bailey will be tasked with blocking Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Pressure will be on Bailey because pass protection has been an issue for the Browns the first two weeks.
FAST FACTS: Cody Kessler will be the 26th different starting quarterback for the Browns since 1999. ... Browns CB Joe Haden intercepted two passes last week, giving him 18 career picks in 78 games.
INJURY REPORT: Browns -- Out: S Ibraheim Campbell (hamstring), WR Corey Coleman (hand), C Cameron Erving (chest, lung), QB Josh McCown (left shoulder), DE Carl Nassib (hand). Questionable: CB Joe Haden (groin), K Patrick Murray (left knee). Dolphins -- Out: RB Arian Foster (groin), C Mike Pouncey (hip)
PREDICTION: Between a Hard Rock and Man named Suh is no place for a rookie third-rounder to break in, but Browns QB Cody Kessler doesn't have a choice. With modest skill talent around him, the Dolphins get head coach Adam Gase his first career win and make it look easy against the already ailing Browns.
OUR PICK: Dolphins, 27-10.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET at EverBank Field. TV: CBS, Tom McCarthy, Adam Archuleta, Chris Fischer.
SERIES HISTORY: 20th meeting, all in the regular season. Jaguars lead the series 11-8. Jacksonville won last year 22-20 when LB Elvis Dumervil was called for a facemask penalty as time expired. That gave the Jaguars an untimed down on which Jason Myers kicked a 51-yard field goal for the win. Jaguars have won six of the eight meetings on its field, though four of the wins were by five points or less. The teams met twice in each of the first six years that the Jaguars joined the NFL when they were in the same division, but have met just seven times in the last 14 years.
KEYS TO THE GAME: After facing two of the NFL's elite quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers) and with Andrew Luck on the docket next week, the Jaguars get a little relief this week in going against Joe Flacco. Rivers threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns against what was deemed to be an improved Jaguars secondary.
Flacco has numerous weapons on offense and he has thrown to seven or more receivers for the past two games. Mike Wallace has already caught three touchdown passes and he will be a challenge for Jacksonville's secondary. However, the Ravens will look to set the tone on the road with an effective running attack, which has struggled so far, and take an occasional shot downfield.
Offensively, the Jaguars should get Chris Ivory back this week and that will greatly enhance a running game that has been among the league's worst the first two weeks.
Over their two victories to start the season, the Ravens have managed to limit big plays by their opponents. They will look to keep that going against Blake Bortles, who has thrown for 649 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Ravens RB Justin Forsett vs. Jaguars linebackers. Forsett was with the Jaguars in 2013 but saw little action (6 carries, 31 yards) that season due to several injuries. He was let go by the team and signed with the Ravens where he's been the starter the last two seasons. Surprisingly he was cut by the Ravens in their final roster cuts, only to be resigned by the team two days later. He's now reclaimed the starting position and will look to improve on his 53 rushing yards last year against his former team. Jaguars MLB Paul Posluszny ranks among the league's best in stopping the run and gets good support from outside 'backer Telvin Smith. They'll have the most responsibility in shutting down Forsett.
--Ravens LB Elvis Dumervil vs. Jaguars RBs Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. This normally wouldn't be that significant of a matchup except for a couple of extenuating circumstances. The Jaguars' running game has been among the league's worst, ranking 30th in the NFL after the first two weeks. That can partially be attributed to the absence of Ivory, who first dealt with a calf injury and then missed last week's game in San Diego due to an undisclosed medical issue that neither he nor the team have discussed publicly. Ivory should return to action this week and he'll be looking to make up for the two missed games. Dumervil will be playing with a chip on his shoulder after last year's blunder of grabbing a Jaguars facemask on the final play. The Jaguars got an untimed down and kicked a winning field goal from 51 yards.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: TE Dennis Pitta is fully recovered from a pair of hip injuries that almost ended his career. Over the first two games, Pitta has caught 12 passes for 141 yards and is a favorite target of quarterback Joe Flacco. He will look to keep the momentum going against a stout Jaguars team that has the eighth-ranked pass defense in the NFL.
INJURY REPORT: Ravens -- Out: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee). Questionable: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), T Ronnie Stanley (foot), G John Urschel (shoulder). Jaguars -- Out: T Kelvin Beachum (concussion), TE Ben Koyack (knee). Questionable: CB Prince Amukamara (hamstring), S Tashaun Gipson (hamstring), RB Chris Ivory (not injury related - illness), G Brandon Linder (knee), DE Jared Odrick (triceps).
FAST FACTS: Baltimore QB Joe Flacco passed for 316 yards and three TDs in the last meeting. He threw for 302 yards last week, his 27th 300-yard game. ... Baltimore WR Steve Smith has 14,015 receiving yards -- 10th in NFL history. Smith and Tim Brown are the only two in NFL history with 900 catches and touchdowns via run, catch, punt return and kick return. ... QB Blake Bortles passed for two TDs in last year's win vs. Baltimore. He has 43 completions of at least 25 yards since 2015, the most in the NFL.
PREDICTION: The team that gets its running game in gear figures to get the win. With Chris Ivory back and the Jaguars in a 0-2 hole at home, they probably will run a little harder.
OUR PICK: Jaguars, 24-20.
Detroit Lions (1-1) at Green Bay Packers (1-1)
SERIES HISTORY: 172nd regular-season meeting. Packers lead 96-68-7. Lions and Packers split the season series last year, with each team winning on the road. The most historic meeting was in the 1993 playoffs, when Sterling Sharpe caught the winning 40-yard touchdown pass with 55 seconds to play.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Lions had success last year by putting pressure on Aaron Rodgers, and they'll need to do that again Sunday. Rodgers was sacked five times and had three fumbles (with one lost) in Green Bay's loss to the Vikings. Ziggy Ansah might not play for the Lions because of an ankle injury, so Haloti Ngata, Devin Taylor and Kerry Hyder will have to shoulder more of the pass-rushing load.
The Lions lost starting running back Ameer Abdullah to a season-ending foot injury in their Week 2 loss to the Tennessee Titans. That should play right into Green Bay's hands for being stout against the run after the first two games and allow the Packers to focus on disrupting the Lions' potent passing attack with frequent pressure.
Matthew Stafford doesn't have Calvin Johnson anymore, but a Packers secondary that still could be without cornerback Sam Shields (concussion) must be wary of the big-play potential of Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr. and Anquan Boldin as well as effective check-down back Theo Riddick.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Lions WR Golden Tate vs. Packers CB Quinten Rollins. Tate, the Lions' leader in receptions each of the last two years, is off to a slow start this season with just nine catches for 54 yards. He had two drops last week against Tennessee, but will have a more favorable matchup Sunday if starting cornerback Sam Shields misses his second game with a concussion. Rollins played well as a rookie and has two pass breakups this year.
--Lions DT Tyrunn Walker vs. Packers LG Lane Taylor. Walker has had a quiet start to the season with six tackles and no sacks through two games. Last week, he played fewer snaps than backup Khyri Thornton. Walker has a favorable matchup this week, though, against Taylor, a first-time starter. The Packers cut long-time Lions nemesis Josh Sitton before the season to give Taylor the job.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: RB Dwayne Washington. Ameer Abdullah's foot injury means a changing of the guard at running back for the Lions. Theo Riddick will start this week and get the bulk of the snaps, but Washington is in line for an expanded role as the No. 2. Riddick had a career-high 11 carries last week, but he's still best suited to play a receiving role out of the backfield. Washington has shown flashes of potential in his limited playing time so far. He's already in most of the Lions' goal-line sets, and if he gets hot, there's no reason the Lions won't get him more involved in the running game.
INJURY REPORT: Lions -- Out: DE Ezekiel Ansah (ankle). Doubtful: LB DeAndre Levy (quadricep), LB Antwione Williams (hamstring). Questionable: CB Adairius Barnes (ankle), TE Eric Ebron (back), DE Wallace Gilberry (abdomen), T Riley Reiff (ankle), DE Devin Taylor (ankle), LB Kyle Van Noy (calf), DT Tyrunn Walker (calf), G Larry Warford (illness). Packers -- Out: CB Sam Shields (concussion); LB Clay Matthews (ankle, hamstring). Questionable: S Morgan Burnett (groin), DT Letroy Guion (knee), DE Datone Jones (Knee) G T.J. Lang (hip), .
FAST FACTS: WR Anquan Boldin caught a TD pass last week, his first with the Lions. He and Terrell Owens are the only players in NFL history to have at least 1,000 receptions and record TD catches with four teams. ... Detroit DE Devin Taylor had two sacks and forced a fumble in the last meeting. He recorded 1.5 sacks last week. ... Green Bay TE Richard Rodgers caught eight passes for 146 yards in the last meeting, including the winning 61-yard TD catch as time expired.
PREDICTION: Aaron Rodgers will be eager to bounce back from a subpar game and come up big at home.
OUR PICK: Packers, 24-17.
SERIES HISTORY: 30th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 20-9. Broncos have won five of the last six. The most historic meeting between these teams was on Oct. 22, 2000, when Cincinnati running back Corey Dillon ran for a then-league-record 278 yards in the Bengals' 31-21 upset.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bengals' offense has been one-dimensional through the first two weeks, with Andy Dalton leading the league in passing yards without any semblance of a running game. That won't suffice against the Broncos, who have the NFL's top defense so far. Denver is allowing only 83.6 rushing yards and the Bengals will need to find a way to establish a running to take pressure off Dalton and help them extend drives.
The quick-hit passing game that worked well in the opener against the New York Jets could be useful Sunday if the running game isn't working. Look for a concerted effort by the Bengals to run the ball early and for pass rushers Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins to try to disrupt young Broncos QB Trevor Siemian, who has played well in his first two games.
For the Broncos to control the game, they will have to continue having the balance and consistency they've displayed in their drives the last two weeks, while adding greater efficiency in scoring range. Twelve of the Broncos' 18 possessions have crossed the opponent's 30-yard line, but just four have ended in touchdowns, with another four field goals giving the Broncos 40 of a possible 84 points.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Broncos CBs Aqib Talib, Bradley Roby and Chris Harris Jr. vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green. Although Green is one of four Bengals with at least 100 receiving yards so far this season, he's not the only target the Broncos will have to watch. In the teams' Week 16 meeting last year, Talib, Roby and Harris took turns covering Green. Green scored once but averaged just 11.4 yards per reception, with no catches covering more than 17 yards with AJ McCarron at quarterback.
--Broncos offensive line vs. Cincinnati DT Geno Atkins. With right tackle Donald Stephenson out this week because of a calf injury, the domino effect of position changes could leave right guard in flux, which could leave Atkins targeting that spot. When Stephenson left last week, Michael Schofield moved outside to right tackle, leaving Darrion Weems at right guard. Weems struggled, allowing pressures on Trevor Siemian while not getting much of a push against the Colts' defensive line. Ty Sambrailo's expected return from an elbow injury could put him back at right guard -- where he started training camp -- or at right tackle, which would move Schofield back inside to right guard, where he fared well in Week 1.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: DE Derek Wolfe isn't a Pro Bowler -- yet. But he's emerging as one of the best interior pass rushers in the game, and he has maintained his presence despite the loss of Malik Jackson, with whom he tag-teamed for most of his big plays in the previous two seasons. Wolfe has 9.5 sacks in his last 12 games, including 1.5 in last week's win over Indianapolis.
INJURY REPORT: Broncos -- Out: TE Virgil Green (calf), T Donald Stephenson (calf), LB DeMarcus Ware (forearm). Questionable: WR Bennie Fowler (elbow), LB Corey Nelson (ankle), S Justin Simmons (hand), LB Dekoda Watson (elbow). Bengals -- Doubtful: TE Tyler Eifert (ankle). Questionable: CB Darqueze Dennard (hamstring), G Eric Winston (back).
FAST FACTS: Denver RB C.J. Anderson aims for his fifth game in a row with a rushing TD. He has 219 scrimmage yards and two rushing TDs in two career meetings. ... Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton leads the NFL with 732 passing yards. He has 16 TD passes vs. five interceptions in his past nine home games. ... Bengals RB Giovani Bernard had career-high nine catches for 100 yards and a TD last week. He caught a TD pass in his last home game vs. Denver as well.
PREDICTION: If the Bengals can't create some offensive balance, they won't have a chance against Denver's No. 1 defense.
OUR PICK: Broncos, 20-13.
Minnesota Vikings (2-0) at Carolina Panthers (1-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET at Bank of America Stadium. TV: FOX, Chris Myers, Ronde Barber, Jennifer Hale.
SERIES HISTORY: 13th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 7-5. Vikings are 1-2 at Carolina. They won there in 2011 when Christian Ponder led them to a 24-21 come-from-behind victory during his rookie season. The last time these teams met was Nov. 30, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium, the Vikings' temporary home from 2014-15. In 12-degree weather - the seventh-coldest game in franchise history - the Vikings won 30-13 while becoming the fifth team in NFL history to return two blocked punts for touchdowns in the same game.
KEYS TO THE GAME: If there's a silver lining for the Vikings in the wake of RB Adrian Peterson's knee injury, it's that Minnesota has won its first two games with A.P. rushing for an average of 1.6 yards on 31 carries. The run-blocking has been abysmal as a whole, and shifty Jerick McKinnon (2.7 yards per carry) and bruising Matt Asiata (2.7) will now share the backfield load. QB Sam Bradford was impressive in his first start in a Vikings uniform last week despite often shaky protection. One dynamic McKinnon brings is a versatile threat out of the backfield, and Bradford has the ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly with possession receivers Adam Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph combining for 15 receptions.
The Panthers will have their own committee approach in the backfield with Jonathan Stewart sidelined by a hamstring injury. Fozzy Whittaker rushed for 100 yards in his place last week, but coach Ron Rivera indicated Cameron Artis-Payne is likely to be active and carry the bulk of the load, with Mike Tolbert serving as the short-yardage option. Of course, quarterback Cam Newton also figures heavily into the running game. The Vikings will continue to lean heavily on a defense that has playmakers at all three levels, with Minnesota ranking fifth in total defense and sixth against the run. Carolina racked up 46 points against San Francisco last week and has the ability to keep the pressure on in the running and passing games.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Vikings LT T.J. Clemmings vs. Panthers RDE Kony Ealy: Matt Kalil was placed on injured reserve after starting the first 66 games of his NFL career as Minnesota's left tackle. T.J. Clemmings, who started at right tackle last season, will take over on Bradford's blind side. Clemmings started all 17 games including the playoffs as a rookie, but struggled with speed rushers and stunts and was replaced on the right side by free-agent signee Andre Smith.
--Vikings S Harrison Smith vs. Panthers QB Cam Newton: Newton is averaging 5.4 yards per carry and his sheer size concerns the Vikings as much as his arm strength. Smith is Minnesota's most versatile defender and has the ability to play single-high safety or play in the box and rush off the edge. It will be a game of cat-and-mouse as Smith plays somewhat of a rover position.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Panthers CB James Bradberry - Nominated for rookie of the week after a solid performance against the 49ers, Bradberry could see significant snaps against Stefon Diggs, who was named the NFC's Offensive Player of the Week.
INJURY REPORT: Vikings -- Out: DT Sharrif Floyd (knee), RB Adrian Peterson (knee). Questionable: TE MyCole Pruitt (knee), CB Xavier Rhodes (knee). Panthers -- Out: RB Jonathan Stewart (hamstring). Doubtful: LB Jeremy Cash (hamstring). Questionable: DT Kawann Short (shoulder), G Trai Turner (ankle).
FAST FACTS: Diggs has a league-high 285 receiving yards this season, the most by a Vikings player in the team's first two games since 1969. ... The Vikings have recovered an NFL-high four fumbles through two games. ... The Panthers have rushed for a league-high 17,954 yards since 2008, with the Vikings second at 17,341 during that time frame. ... Newton has thrown for a touchdown and run for a touchdown in an NFL-record 32 career games.
PREDICTION: Vikings coach Mike Zimmer did an excellent job in refocusing his team in the wake of Teddy Bridgewater's season-ending injury just before the beginning of the season, and Minnesota's defense has been instrumental in a 2-0 start. But losing RB Adrian Peterson and LT Matt Kalil while trying to compete with the reigning NFC champions on the road is too much to ask at this stage.
OUR PICK: Panthers, 26-17.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET at Raymond James Stadium. TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, Chris Spielman, Krista Pink.
SERIES HISTORY: 22nd regular-season meeting. Rams lead series, 13-8. The Rams have beaten the Buccaneers each of the past four years. The Buccaneers' last win came in 2010 when they rallied from an 11-point deficit to win 18-17. The teams have met twice in the NFC Championship Game, with the Rams winning each time (1979 and 1999).
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Rams have had success against Tampa Bay, winning the last three meetings. The key this week -- at least defensively -- is getting consistent pressure on QB Jameis Winston and forcing him into mistakes. He threw four interceptions against the Arizona Cardinals while under duress, and the Rams would like to replicate that approach.
Offensively, the Rams will again try to establish the run with Todd Gurley -- although that's proven to be fruitless thus far the first two weeks. The Rams believe they are getting closer to busting him free, and feel they just missed on a couple of runs against the Seattle Seahawks. That said, it's time for Case Keenum and the passing game to join the party. If not, it could be another long day for Gurley and the Rams' offense.
The Buccaneers have to find more balance on offense, but the loss of RB Doug Martin won't help. Dirk Koetter will use both Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers and the Rams have given up more than 100 yards per game. The Buccaneers need to slow the Rams' pass rush, led by DT Aaron Donald, who wrecked the game for the Buccaneers in St. Louis last season.
QB Jameis Winston wasn't accurate enough last week, throwing four interceptions and losing a fumble. One pick was a Hail Mary at the end of the game and the other was a pick-six off a tipped pass. He still lacks any kind of rhythm with veteran WR Vincent Jackson. Since Evans draws the double teams, the Bucs need to get Jackson and Adam Humphries involved early.
Defensively, the Bucs have been beaten by the deep ball. They let a 51-yard bomb get over their heads at Arizona. Case Keenum had two deep passes to build a 14-0 lead at St. Louis in their game a year ago. But getting pressure on Keenum will be rough with an ankle injury limiting defensive end Robert Ayers.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Rams RB Todd Gurley vs. Buccaneers LB Kwon Alexander. Gurley is off to a slow start with only 98 yards in two games. Alexander had 17 tackles in the first game at Atlanta but only seven Sunday at Arizona.
--Buccaneers C Joe Hawley vs. Rams DT Aaron Donald. Hawley won't be asked to block Donald alone. He will have help from G Ali Marpet and G Kevin Pamphile.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Cornerback Troy Hill, a second-year undrafted free agent, replaced Coty Sensabaugh early in the win over Seattle. While the Seahawks went right after the unproven CB, completing a 53-yard pass to Tyler Lockett in the closing minute, he held his own while playing 44 of 67 defensive snaps. Hill should see plenty of time against Tampa Bay and will be under the gun just as much as he was last week.
INJURY REPORT: Rams -- Doubtful: WR Pharoh Cooper (shoulder), WR Nelson Spruce (knee). Questionable: S Maurice Alexander (thigh), RB Benny Cunningham (knee), CB E.J. Gaines (thigh), CB Lamarcus Joyner (toe). Buccaneers -- Out: DE Robert Ayers (ankle), LB Lavonte David (shoulder), RB Doug Martin (hamstring), WR Cecil Shorts (hamstring). Questionable: T Donovan Smith (hip), S Ryan Smith (hand), TE Luke Stocker (ankle).
FAST FACTS: Rams coach Jeff Fisher is 8-1 vs. the Buccaneers. ... Tampa QB Jameis Winston passed for 363 yards and two TDs in a 31-23 loss to the Rams last season. ... Rams QB Case Keenum completed 14 of 17 passes for 234 yards and 2 TDs in the last meeting. He has won six of his past nine starts.
PREDICTION: The Rams and their staunch defense figure to stretch their winning streak over the Bucs to five games.
OUR PICK: Rams, 20-17.
San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at Seattle Seahawks (1-1)
SERIES HISTORY: 35th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 19-15. Seahawks won both meetings last season. Seattle has won four straight over the 49ers and six of the last seven games played.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The 49ers rank ninth in points per game at 27.5 through two games, but coach Chip Kelly admitted concern over the Seahawks' playmakers at all three level on the league's top-ranked defense. San Francisco's personnel is still adapting to Kelly's system, and there have been breakdowns in protection, routes and timing in the passing game. The goal is to get RB Carlos Hyde untracked early and keep QB Blaine Gabbert out of dangerous down-and-distance situations in a hostile road environment. San Francisco scored a combined 16 points in dropping both meetings last season and while Kelly's system is new to the 49ers, the Seahawks have seen it before and allowed only 14 points in a victory in Philadelphia in 2014.
Seattle's offensive issues are arguably far more concerning. The offensive line has been dominated in each of the first two games and QB Russell Wilson was unable to utilize the rollouts and read-option that have been so integral to his success over the past three seasons. Seattle hasn't shown the ability to establish a consistent ground game, which has left the offense in a slew of long passing down it has proven ill-equipped to convert. Look for the 49ers to test Wilson's mobility early, clog the ground game and then pressure the edges of the pocket on third down. RB Thomas Rawls has a leg contusion that could leave the brunt of the carries to Christine Michael, especially with rookie C.J. Prosise (hand) also uncertain. Knee injuries to WRs Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett bear watching as well, although TE Jimmy Graham did play the bulk of the snaps last week in an increased role.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--49ers WR Jeremy Kerley vs. Seahawks CB Jeremy Lane: When opponents have gone with three receivers, Lane has typically moved inside with DeShawn Shead playing outside. With Richard Sherman on the other side of the field, Shead has been a popular target. Kerley largely plays the slot, but has picked up the offense quickly with a team-high 10 catches for 90 yards and will see plenty of time against the Seahawks' veteran slot corner.
--49ers ROLB Eli Harold vs. Seahawks LT Bradley Sowell: Harold has yet to record a sack this season, but is one of several pass rushers Sowell can expect to do battle with on Wilson's blind side. The journeyman won the left tackle job in the preseason, where he was a pleasant surprise, but has been largely overwhelmed during the first two games of the regular season.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: 49ers LB Michael Wilhoite. With Ray-Ray Armstrong placed on injured reserve, Kelly indicated Wilhoite will be the reserve asked to step up and fill the coverage role of Armstrong, who was a converted safety. Armstrong won a battle for that role over Wilhoite during the preseason.
INJURY REPORT: 49ers -- Out: T Anthony Davis (concussion). Questionable: S Marcus Cromartie (ankle), S Jaquiski Tartt (knee). Seahawks -- Doubtful: G Germain Ifedi (ankle), RB Thomas Rawls (shin), TE Nick Vannett (ankle). Questionable: WR Tyler Lockett (knee), RB C.J. Prosise (wrist).
FAST FACTS: Gabbert has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 12 consecutive games. ... 49ers LB Ahmad Brooks has 5.0 sacks in the past four meetings. ... Wilson is 6-2 with a 93.7 passer rating in eight career starts against the 49ers. ... Rawls had 209 rushing yards in the last meeting in Seattle last November, the second-most rushing yards in a single game in franchise history (Shaun Alexander, 266 vs. Oakland in 2001).
PREDICTION: The Seahawks have a slew of offensive issues, and the offensive line issues are typical of recent seasons. In what shapes up as yet another low-scoring game, it's Seattle's defense that finally begins to generate turnovers and short fields to help the offense show signs of life.
OUR PICK: Seahawks, 23-19.
New York Jets (1-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-1)
SERIES HISTORY: 36th regular season meeting, series is tied 17-17-1. The Chiefs evened the series with a 24-10 win in the most recent game between the teams on Nov. 2, 2014. Jets QB Michael Vick, making his first start with the team, threw a three-yard touchdown pass to WR Eric Decker. This will be the Jets' second straight visit to Arrowhead Stadium but only their fourth since 1989.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The status of multiple offensive superstars - running back Jamaal Charles for the Chiefs, wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker for the Jets - could alter game plans. Marshall and Decker were each injured during last Thursday's 37-31 win over the Buffalo Bills. Charles has not played since October 2015, when he suffered a torn ACL.
Both defenses are preparing to face a strong running game. Matt Forte has been stellar for the Jets, including a 30-carry, three-TD game against the Bills in Week 2.
With Spencer Ware grinding out yards in Charles' absence, the Chiefs might break personality and attack downfield, as the Bills and Cincinnati Bengals did successfully. Chiefs No. 1 receiver Jeremy Maclin will likely be matched with LCB Darrelle Revis, who has a chance to regain his bearings.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Jets C Nick Mangold vs. Chiefs NT Dontari Poe: Forte has the second-most rushing yards in the NFL (196). The Chiefs have allowed the third-most rushing yards (252). If Mangold can get the best of Poe and open up some holes for Forte, it opens up the rest of the offense. However, Poe, who missed training camp and is just getting his legs, had a very good game at Houston in Week 2.
--Chiefs interior OL vs. Jets DL Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson: Injuries left the Chiefs with two backup guards in the starting lineup against Houston's tenacious 3-4 defense last week. C Mitch Morse can hold his own - though a bad snap cost the Chiefs a possession at Houston - but will need to be a helping hand to keep the Jets' talented three-man line in check.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: WR Quincy Enunwa's surprising emergence over the first two games -- 13 catches on 14 targets -- gives the Jets perhaps the top trio in the entire NFL. Enunwa has gained the trust of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and could be in for an even bigger role Sunday with Marshall (knee) and Decker (shoulder) banged up.
INJURY REPORT: Jets -- Out: QB Bryce Petty (right shoulder). Questionable: LB David Harris (shoulder), LB Erin Henderson (foot), WR Brandon Marshall (foot, knee). Chiefs: Out: LB Sam Barrington (hamstring), G Parker Ehinger (concussion, foot), T Jah Reid (knee, ankle). Doubtful: RB Jamaal Charles (knee). Questionable: G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (ankle), CB Phillip Gaines (knee).
FAST FACTS: The Chiefs have 53 total turnovers in Andy Reid's 50 games as head coach. ... Chiefs WR Jeremy Maclin had only one drop last season, but was charged with two last week at Houston, when he caught six of 15 passes on which he was the intended receiver. ... Jets WRs Decker and Marshall have 15 combined touchdowns at Arrowhead Stadium.
PREDICTION: Alex Smith was uncharacteristically reckless in Week 2 and the Chiefs lost three fumbles. If Kansas City takes care of the ball and is able to win a downfield gamble or two, the Chiefs can ground the Jets' aerial attack with a young but game secondary.
OUR PICK: Chiefs, 29-24.
SERIES HISTORY: 26th regular season meeting. Chargers lead series, 16-9. San Diego also leads in post season meetings, 2-1. Indianapolis has lost their last three games with the Chargers, including playoffs, and have dropped six of their last seven overall matchups with San Diego. The Colts' last win in the series came on Nov. 23, 2008 as Indianapolis posted a 23-20 road decision. Indianapolis is 3-11 against the Chargers in home games and 6-5 on the road.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Slow starts are making matters ugly early again for the Colts. Indianapolis is winless after two games for the third straight season, and the Colts continue sleepwalking through part or all of the first half to set themselves up for a cleats-on-fire second half rally. If Indy starts slow again, it might not catch up.
The Chargers are 29th in the NFL against the pass - 324.5 yards per game - and Luck could come out gunning.
Chargers QB Philip Rivers fired four TD passes last week and San Diego sprinted ahead of the Chiefs in Week 1 only to let that one slip away. Attrition is hitting San Diego, losing No. 1 receiver Keenan Allen to an ACL injury in Week 1 and dynamic running back and receiver Danny Woodhead last week.
San Diego may choose to rely more on second-year running back Melvin Gordon against a Colts' defense ranked 29th against the run (125.0 yards per game). Gordon rushed for 102 yards versus the Jaguars for the first 100-yard game of his NFL career.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Chargers RB Melvin Gordon vs. Colts run defense: Gordon has rushed for 159 yards in 38 carries and three touchdowns so far this season. San Diego has one of the NFL's best overall rushing attacks. Indianapolis, meanwhile, continues to struggle at stopping the run (125 yards per game). Colts coaches are harping on missed tackles this week.
--Chargers CB Jason Verrett vs. Colts WR T.Y. Hilton: Verrett is feisty and mostly under the radar but figures to draw Hilton when the Colts spread the field with three- and four-receiver sets. Hilton, 26, said this week he's "ticked" and needs to "make more plays" with Moncrief out. Hilton caught four passes on 11 targets last week.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Colts WR Chester Rogers -- With WR Donte Moncrief sidelined 4-6 weeks with a broken shoulder blade, the undrafted Grambling receiver will see the field. He led all Colts receivers in total receptions during the preseason. Rogers (6-1, 180) has good size and has shown the ability to be a playmaker downfield.
INJURY REPORT: Chargers -- Out: S Jahleel Addae (collarbone), DE Joey Bosa (hamstring). Doubtful: TE Antonio Gates (hamstring). Questionable: G Orlando Franklin (hamstring). Colts -- Out: CB Darius Butler (hamstring), T Denzelle Good (back), WR Donte Moncrief (shoulder), CB Patrick Robinson (concussion). Questionable: LB Trent Cole (back), CB Vontae Davis (ankle), S Clayton Geathers (foot), S T.J. Green (knee), WR T.Y. Hilton (knee), C Ryan Kelly (shoulder), QB Andrew Luck (right shoulder).
FAST FACTS: The Chargers have won four of the past five meetings. ... Chargers TE Antonio Gates is the only tight end in NFL history with 100 touchdown receptions with one team. ... Hilton is averaging a league-leading 16.1 yards per reception since 2014 among players with at least 150 receptions.
PREDICTION: Andrew Luck has protected the ball at home but needs more help to get the Colts in the win column. In a matchup of Brothers Pagano, John as Chargers defensive coordinator and Chuck running the Colts, San Diego's comes out sunny side up.
OUR PICK: Chargers, 30-27.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET at Lincoln Financial Field. TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson.
SERIES HISTORY: 78th regular-season meeting. Eagles lead series, 46-28-3. The Steelers have not won in their past eight trips to Philadelphia. The previous time they won there was 1965. This is only the fifth meeting since 2000. The Steelers lost to the Eagles, 21-0, in the only playoff game between these two teams in 1947.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Steelers' offense struggled to move the ball through the air in sloppy conditions against the Bengals last week, but should be more balanced in Philadelphia. RB DeAngelo Williams leads the NFL with 237 rushing yards, and there is no reason to take it easy on the 33-year-old's legs with Le'Veon Bell returning from suspension next week. Philadelphia's front seven on defense has been far more effective while not asked to spend as much time on the field as it did under former coach Chip Kelly, and enters having allowed just 24 points through two games.
This will be the toughest test to date for Eagles rookie QB Carson Wentz, who has commanding victories over Cleveland and Chicago under his belt. But the Steelers are 19-2 against rookie quarterbacks since 2004 and will bring a variety of blitzes that the young signal-caller has never seen - at least not at regular-season NFL speed. Coach Doug Pederson has done an excellent job of putting Wentz in positions to success, folding in misdirection passes, spreading the field and changing the launch point to keep defenses from honing in. The Steelers haven't blitzed much through two games, but that could change if Pittsburgh is able to bottle up the ground game and underneath passing attack and back Wentz into third-and-long.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Steelers WR Markus Wheaton vs. Eagles CB Jalen Mills: Wheaton is expected to play for the first time this season after missing two games due to a shoulder injury. Mills was pressed into action when veteran Leodis McKelvin left with a hamstring injury last week, and McKelvin remained out of practice midweek, Adams was beat over the top a few times, although Chicago wasn't able to convert on each of them.
--Steelers ROLB Jarvis Jones vs. Eagles LT Jason Peters. Jones is playing with plenty of motivation in a contract year after Pittsburgh declined to pick up the fifth-year option of his rookie deal. He has yet to record a sack, but will be a constant presence on Wentz's blind side. The 34-year-old Peters is an eight-time Pro Bowl pick and two-time All-Pro who remains one of the league's top blind-side protectors.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Steelers WR Sammie Coates -- The second-year receiver is developing into the offense's big-play threat. He only has four catches through the first two games, but he's averaging 38.2 yards per reception. He had catches of 56 and 44 yards to help set up two of three touchdowns the Steelers scored in last week's victory against the Bengals.
INJURY REPORT: Steelers -- Out: CB Senquez Golson (foot), C Cody Wallace (knee). Doubtful: RB Roosevelt Nix (back). Questionable: G Ramon Foster (elbow). Eagles -- Out: TE Zach Ertz (rib), CB Leodis McKelvin (hamstring), G Isaac Seumalo (pectoral). Questionable: LB Mychal Kendricks (nose, quadriceps).
FAST FACTS: Williams needs 10 yards to reach 8,000 rushing yards for his career. Only 49 other players in NFL history have reached that milestone. ... Wentz is the first rookie quarterback since 1970 to win his first two starts of the season while throwing no interceptions.
PREDICTION: Showing veteran savvy against the Browns and Bears is one thing. The Steelers aren't exactly the Steel Curtain of yesteryear, but Pittsburgh's defense is on the rise and presents quarterbacks with wrinkles few rookies have been able to handle for four quarters without a few mistakes.
OUR PICK: Steelers, 27-19.
SERIES HISTORY: 24th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series 12-11. The Bears are 2-0 at AT&T Stadium and have won three of the last four in the series overall, but Dallas won the last meeting 41-28 in 2014 at Soldier Field.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Cowboys rookie QB Dak Prescott has not made many mistakes. His 75 pass attempts through two games without an interception is a record for rookies, and Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said the biggest concern for an injury-riddled Chicago defense is Prescott's athleticism.
The Bears are down three front seven defenders and might go more conservative to contain Prescott and the Dallas running game. Fangio doesn't typically lean on a soft zone in the secondary but he will have to measure any aggressive plays against the relative inexperience the Bears are putting on the field to fill holes.
Brian Hoyer is likely to start for Chicago with Jay Cutler (thumb) expected to miss at least two games. But Hoyer is capable of functioning at a high level with big targets such as Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White on the perimeter. It will help if Dallas is without CB Orlando Scandrick (hamstrings), but don't be surprised to see coach John Fox demand a power-running attack.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bears WR Alshon Jeffery vs. Cowboys CB Brandon Carr: Jeffery has 201 receiving yards in two games and Carr has one interception and two passes defended. At 6-foot, Carr might be the ideal cornerback for Dallas to put on Jeffery, who likely will be featured as prominently by quarterback Brian Hoyer as he would have with Jay Cutler playing. Defenses have tried taking Jeffery out one on one, but eventually switched to double coverage. Expect Dallas to keep from making the mistake others did and come out taking him away from the start to prevent Hoyer and Jeffery from getting into a rhythm together.
--Bears LT Charles Leno Jr. vs. Cowboys DE Benson Mayowa: At 6-3, 236, Mayowa certainly isn't going to overpower Leno, and Leno's foot quickness is his strength as a pass blocker. The Bears might want to get their zone blocking scheme moving to the left and bring two more big bodies to support Leno on that side in overpowering Mayowa.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bears DE Akiem Hicks -- At 330 pounds, he's going to have to be the rock on the Bears defensive front with many of the other stout run stoppers injured, like Danny Trevathan, Lamarr Houston and Eddie Goldman. The offensive line is Dallas' greatest strength and Hicks has to stand alone and plug the gap.
INJURY REPORT: Bears -- Out: LB Danny Trevathan (thumb). Doubtful: RB Ka'Deem Carey (hamstring), QB Jay Cutler (right thumb), DT Eddie Goldman (ankle). Questionable: S Adrian Amos (concussion), CB Bryce Callahan (concussion), CB Kyle Fuller (knee), WR Alshon Jeffery (knee), T Bobby Massie (toe), CB Tracy Porter (knee), S Chris Prosinski (calf), G Josh Sitton (shoulder), DT Will Sutton (elbow), LB Willie Young (knee). Cowboys -- Out: QB Tony Romo (back), DE Charles Tapper (back). Doubtful: LB Mark Nzeocha (Achilles). Questionable: DE Jack Crawford (shoulder), T Doug Free (quadricep), CB Orlando Scandrick (both hamstrings), T Tyron Smith (back).
FAST FACTS: Bears QB Brian Hoyer is on an 0-2 team to start the season for the third time in three years. ... Chicago has seven second-half points this season. ... Dallas has lost eight consecutive home games. ... Cowboys slot receiver leads the Cowboys with 13 receptions.
PREDICTION: The Cowboys bring pressure at Brian Hoyer and hammer Chicago's shorthanded front seven to move to 2-1 thanks to a breakout effort from rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott.
OUR PICK: Cowboys, 28-16.
SERIES HISTORY: 94th regular-season meeting. Falcons lead series 48-45. The Saints have won four of the past five meetings in the Superdome, including last season's 31-21 victory on a Thursday night game.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Falcons players have been clamoring for more of the no-huddle offense since the middle of last season, and coordinator Kyle Shanahan has incorporate more of it through the first two weeks of the season. QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones have been outspoken proponents of the no-huddle in an effort to keep defenses off-balance. Coach Dan Quinn still wants to use it in small doses so the zone-blocking ground game remains effective, and estimates Atlanta has gone no-huddle about 25 percent of the snaps. New Orleans ranks 31st through two games, allowing an average of 461.5 yards per game. At the heart of the issue is a pass defense allowing an average of 336 yards with only two sacks and no interceptions.
It's likely to be another high-scoring affair between the rivals, as Atlanta enters having allowed eight touchdowns drives of 75 yards or more over 23 possessions to start the season. The Falcons have forced only four three-and-outs, although New Orleans did struggle offensively in last week's 16-13 loss to the New York Giants. Saints QB Drew Brees is off to a hot start with five touchdown passes against no interceptions and has already spread the ball to 10 different receivers. The trio of Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Michael Thomas will really stress the depth of Atlanta's secondary, especially with the Falcons having recorded just one sack through two games. New Orleans must be more committed to the ground game after calling just 13 rushing attempts last week.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Falcons TEs Jacob Tamme, Levine Toilolo, Austin Hooper vs. Saints SS Kenny Vaccaro: Vaccaro will be key in defending Atlanta's trio with FS Jairus Byrd focused on containing Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu on the outside. Tamme leads the Falcons with 11 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown, while Hooper and Toilolo have combined for six catches for 119 yards through two games.
--Falcons CB Desmond Trufant vs. Saints WR Brandin Cooks: The Falcons had Trufant shadow Raiders WR Amani Cooper last week, and he held the emerging second-year star to five catches for 71 yards. Cooks is a smaller, explosive home-run threat who enters with 13 catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Falcons S Keanu Neal - The 17th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft has yet to play a regular-season snap while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. The Falcons are hopeful he will be able to return this week to provide a physical presence against the run and also contribute as a blitzer to bolster the anemic pass rush.
FAST FACTS: Brees has 61,589 career passing yards, passing Dan Marino for third-most all-time, and has thrown for 300-plus yards and at least three touchdowns in four of his past five Monday night games.
PREDICTION: A horse race between two offenses revving at high speed against defenses that have stumbled badly out of the gate with little semblance of a pass rush. Slight edge goes to at home to Drew Brees, who has thrown for 300-plus yards in each of the past four meetings.
OUR PICK: Saints, 37-34.