Week 4: NFL Game Previews

The Sports Xchange

Pittsburgh at Houston

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Reliant Stadium, Houston - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 706

*TV announcers: Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf

*Keys to the game: The Steelers have the playmakers to move the ball on the Texans' secondary the way Drew Brees carved them up in engineering a comeback victory for the Saints last week. But QB Ben Roethlisberger is under constant heat. LT Jonathan Scott was manhandled by the Colts' Dwight Freeney last week before leaving the game, and whoever lines up at left tackle draws OLB Mario Williams. RT Marcus Gilbert (shoulder), manned up to finish out the game for Scott but has his own injury and inexperience issues. That same offensive line isn't creating much room for RB Rashard Mendenhall to run, leading to long third-down situations. The Texans should move the ball with more ease, but can they capitalize on drives? Houston had four of five red-zone possessions stall and result in field goals in the first three quarters against New Orleans. Pittsburgh finally generated a takeaway last week and needs more impact plays.

*Matchup to watch - Steelers front seven vs. Texans offensive line: A key part of Houston's offensive growth has been the continuity built across the line. Few defenses provide a better litmus test than the Steelers. Houston is well-balanced, but establishing the run will be a key early test. QB Matt Schaub generally enjoys strong protection, and his offensive line should have good preparation practicing against its own 3-4 scheme.

*Player spotlight - Steelers NT Casey Hampton: Hampton plays in the base package and anchors the run defense. But if the Texans aren't able to get the ground game going, they'll marginalize Hampton by going with three-wide sets and putting the Steelers in their nickel package.

*Fast facts: The Texans are 25-3 under coach Gary Kubiak when they run the ball at least 30 times. They've averaged 149.9 yards rushing in those 28 games. ... The Steelers have won seven of their past 10 road games.


The Texans have to beat elite teams to be mentioned among them. After a tough loss in New Orleans, Houston gets a signature victory by attacking the Steelers' offensive line and protecting its secondary to a degree.

*Our pick: Texans 27-24

Washington at St. Louis

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 710

*TV announcers: Gus Johnson, Charles Davis, Tim Brewster

*Keys to the game: The Redskins' offense isn't as explosive as Baltimore's, but the Rams' secondary was torn apart by Joe Flacco last week as the Ravens used the deep passing game to open holes on the ground after building a big lead. A quick start and controlling the clock is imperative for the Rams, who hope to get RB Steven Jackson more involved after he received just four touches last week. QB Sam Bradford completed passes to seven different receivers against Baltimore and while he has completed the occasional big pass to Brandon Gibson or Danario Alexander, he lacks consistent playmakers in the passing attack. The Redskins' upgraded front seven can be difficult to find running lanes against so the Rams' passing game is going to have to move the chains.

*Matchup to watch - Redskins RDE Stephen Bowen vs. Rams LT Rodger Saffold: Bowen was given a $25.5 million contract to leave Dallas so the Redskins could upgrade their personnel for their 3-4 scheme. The 6-4, 306-pounder is strong against the run and has provided some upfield pass rush. After battling Dallas' Doug Free on Monday night, Bowen draws another one of the league's best young left tackles in Saffold, a second-round pick last year.

*Player spotlight - Rams WR Danario Alexander: The coaching staff wants to expand Alexander's role, but is also being cautious of his snap count due to his lengthy history of knee injuries. He's easily the Rams' most explosive playmaker in the passing game, although a miscommunication last week did lead to an interception.

*Fast facts: The Redskins' next three opponents are a combined 2-7. ... The Rams' offense has surrendered three touchdowns this season - two off Bradford fumbles and one on a lateral pass.


The Rams aren't as bad as their winless record and they catch the Redskins traveling on a short week. It's a good combination - along with more touches for RB Steven Jackson - to get in the win column.

*Our pick: Rams 23-19

Buffalo at Cincinnati

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 704

*TV announcers: Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker

*Keys to the game: The Bills' confidence in QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is growing by the week - bolstered by consecutive comeback victories in dramatic fashion. Yes, Buffalo will spread the field and let Fitzpatrick distribute the ball. But it starts with RB Fred Jackson setting the table; his ability to force opponents to respect the ground game can't be understated. The Bengals have confidence in their corners and will likely leave plenty of one-one-one matchups. The biggest question is whether the Bengals can put up enough points to be competitive into the fourth quarter. RB Cedric Benson's status is in question while he fights a three-game suspension, and he'll only be a factor as long as QB Andy Dalton can move the ball well enough to keep the game within reach.

*Matchup to watch - Bills wide receivers vs. Bengals cornerbacks: Cincinnati has quietly assembled a strong group of coverage personnel. Leon Hall is one of the league's top young corners, and while Nate Clements lacks great speed he is a cagy veteran. Kelly Jennings and Morgan Trent will also see significant snaps against the Bills, who love to use three- and four-wideout formations and Bills coach Chan Gailey is one of the league's more creative play-callers.

*Player spotlight - Bills OLB Shawne Merriman: The coaching staff is trying not to overextend Merriman following two injury-marred seasons. But he's the Bills' lone elite-level pass rusher who they need to make an impact in about 35 snaps per game.

*Fast facts: The Bills are the first team dating back to 1950 to overcome deficits of at least 18 points to win consecutive games, according to STATS. ... The Bengals have converted just two of 31 third downs the past two weeks.


The Bengals' solid defense can keep the game close and the Bills have gotten off to slow starts for two straight weeks. But eventually Ryan Fitzpatrick and Company pulls away from the Bengals' punchless offense.

*Our pick: Bills 24-16

San Francisco at Philadelphia

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 708

*TV announcers: Ron Pitts, Jim Mora

*Keys to the game: It's another week full of daily medical updates regarding Eagles QB Michael Vick. If his broken non-throwing hand keeps Vick out of the game, coach Andy Reid will have to chose between Mike Kafka and Vince Young, whose balky hamstring shouldn't be an issue. That's potentially three quarterbacks the 49ers need to prepare for. But the real battle will be RB LeSean McCoy, averaging 6.1 yards per carry against a 49ers defense that hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 25 games. San Francisco needs its defense to continue to set the tone. While Philadelphia's run defense leaves much to be desired, the Eagles can flat out get after the passer and 49ers QB Alex Smith has been sacked 11 times over the past two games.

*Matchup to watch - 49ers RB Frank Gore vs. Eagles MLB Jamar Cheney: The 49ers have been largely conservative on offense, while the Eagles have been extremely vulnerable against the run - prompting Cheney's move back to the middle last week. Gore is a tough runner between the tackles and is vital to the 49ers' ability to play ball-control offense. Look for Gore to be involved in the passing game as the Eagles' linebackers have struggled mightily in coverage.

*Player spotlight - 49ers TE Vernon Davis: The 49ers will find it difficult to move the ball against Philadelphia's excellent group of cover corners, but Davis creates mismatches Smith needs to exploit.

*Fast facts: The 49ers are staying and practicing in Youngstown, Ohio this week after playing in Cincinnati. ... Eagles DEs Jason Babin and Trent Cole and DT Cullen Jenkins each have at least one sack in all three games this season.


The Eagles' "Dream Team" is suffering through early-season drama and more injury concerns with QB Michael Vick. But the 49ers are playing their second straight game in the Eastern time zone and face a difficult matchup on offense.

*Our pick: Eagles 23-20

Detroit at Dallas

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Ford Field, Detroit - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 707

*TV announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver

*Keys to the game: The Lions average 2.8 yards per carry and attempt to run only for show in an offense averaging 39.3 pass attempts a game. That barely reduces the strain on the Cowboys' back seven to account for the many receiving threats the Lions have, including RB Jahvid Best and WR Calvin Johnson (six touchdown catches). Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has a deep bag of tricks. He'll want to avoid the call sheet used in Cleveland against the Lions in 2009, when Stafford put up 422 yards passing and five touchdowns in a 38-37 win. The Cowboys don't want to get caught up in a track meet with QB Tony Romo playing behind a young offensive line battling one of the league's most feared defensive fronts. One temptation Dallas must flirt with is using WR Dez Bryant on special teams. The Lions have been lashed repeatedly on returns -- opponents average 14.8 yards on punt runbacks and 34.1 yards on kickoffs.

*Matchup to watch - Cowboys RT Tyron Smith vs. Lions DE Cliff Avril: Avril had a sack last week and has the kind of speed to fluster most power-based right tackles. Smith has the quickness to mirror and recover, but he'll be asked to also keep one eye on the Lions' furious interior pass rush.

*Player spotlight - Cowboys NT Jay Ratliff: Ratliff's production is a byproduct of his relentless effort, and a major reason the Cowboys have vastly improved stopping the run. Ratliff can win his one-on-ones with scrappy, undersized veteran center Domonic Raiola -- who is partially responsible for the gaps that leaked pass-rush pressure against the Vikings last week -- and force the Lions to commit help. That presents a numbers issue, because the Lions already have to consider providing help to their tackles.

*Fast facts: The Lions are 3-0 for the first time since 1980. ... Dallas has won five of the last six meetings.


If the Lions keep QB Matt Stafford's jersey clean, their record can remain unblemished as well.

*Our pick: Lions 27-24

Tennessee at Cleveland

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Cleveland Browns Stadium, Cleveland - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 705

*TV announcers: Kenny Albert, Rich Gannon

*Keys to the game: The Browns' defense has shown teeth, but a young roster with few gamebreakers limits the margin for error for second-year QB Colt McCoy. The Titans' third-down defense (20 first downs allowed in 43 attempts) might be Cleveland's best focal point for McCoy, with RB Peyton Hillis likely to return to the lineup. The pressure falls to McCoy's receivers to beat single coverage they'll face from CBs Jason McCourty and Cortland Finnegan. The Titans won't ignore Cleveland's pass rush -- the Browns had five sacks of Chad Henne in Week 3 and own 11 this season -- but QB Matt Hasselbeck has a hurried trigger and has avoided risks while spreading the ball around to 12 different receivers already. The Titans are also attempting to revive a running game teetering on irrelevance at 2.4 yards per carry. Through three games, Chris Johnson doesn't have a run longer than nine yards.

*Matchup to watch - Browns ILB D'Qwell Jackson vs. Titans C Eugene Amano: Fill-in FB Quinn Johnson hasn't been the effective sledgehammer suspended starter Ahmard Hall is for the Titans. Jackson has led the team in tackles in all three games and covered a lot of ground last week vs. Miami with 11 tackles, a half-sack and a fumble recovery. His production has spared the Browns of the need for extra safety help against the run.

*Player spotlight - Titans WR Nate Washington: Without Kenny Britt for much of the Week 3 win, Washington became the go-to target for Hasselbeck. He's capable of creating in the open field when the ball hits him in stride and becomes the team's top vertical threat. No matter Johnson's numbers, defenses facing the Titans remain geared to stop the run first.

*Fast facts: The Browns' 2-1 start matches the team's best start since 2001. ... Hasselbeck is 57 of 78 (73.1 percent) with 669 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games.


The Titans might need defense or special teams to create short fields with RB Chris Johnson stuck on idle, but Cleveland lacks the big-play weapons to dent Tennessee's underrated defense, especially in the red zone.

*Our pick: Titans 20-13

N.Y. Giants at Arizona

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 713

*TV announcers: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa

*Keys to the game: The Giants found balance on offense last week with RB Ahmad Bradshaw rushing for 86 yards and adding five catches out of the backfield last week. That aided QB Eli Manning, who had his highest career passer rating despite working with an injury-thinned receiving corps. Arizona's secondary has been vulnerable all season and needs help from the front seven in shutting down the ground game and preventing Manning from setting up play-action. The Cardinals hope to get RB Beanie Wells back after turning to Alphonso Smith for the bulk of last week's loss in Seattle. The Seahawks might have provided a bit of a blueprint by attacking the edges and putting heat on QB Kevin Kolb when the ground game bogged down. But Kolb also has the weapons to put the Giants' injury-depleted secondary to a severe test.

*Matchup to watch - Giants offensive line vs. Cardinals defensive line: The Giants gave up 177 rushing yards in Philadelphia and now travel cross-country following an intense rivalry game, so a sluggish start wouldn't be a big surprise. Arizona needs its front five to come out and help establish the ground game early and not open Kolb up to the Giants' strong group of pass rushers.

*Player spotlight - Giants WR Victor Cruz: Mario Manningham (concussion) will likely return this week, but Cruz's two-touchdown game against the Eagles will help earn increased reps as the Giants' receiver rotation shakes out following early-season injuries.

*Fast facts: Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul has 4.5 sacks, equaling his total from his rookie season. ... Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald has surpassed Roy Green for the franchise record with 67 career touchdown passes.


The Cardinals catch the Giants napping out of the gate on a long road trip following a big divisional win. The question is whether their poor pass defense can hold a lead with Eli Manning coming off an excellent game.

*Our pick: Cardinals 24-21

Carolina at Chicago

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Soldier Field, Chicago - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 709

*TV announcers: Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin

*Keys to the game: The Bears' offensive line limits the play-calling options of coordinator Mike Martz. RB Matt Forte too often has been asked to be his own blocker, dodging traffic as he takes the handoff. Play-action chances are thereby limited, and the line hasn't shown it can hold blocks effectively enough for Martz to employ the deep five- and seven-step drops he prefers to create downfield passing windows for QB Jay Cutler. The Panthers' pass rush has been modest, but they'll send fire blitzes and deploy a cornerback off the edge to keep Martz and Cutler guessing. Carolina's run defense has been atrocious and the Bears can't altogether ignore their running game. The Panthers can be a thrill-a-minute offense with rookie QB Cam Newton at the controls even without a strong contribution from RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who are both averaging less than 4.0 yards per carry. Moving the pocket away from DE Julius Peppers might be in order unless Carolina's sputtering rushing attack catches fire early in the game.

*Matchup to watch - Bears RG Chris Spencer vs. Panthers blitz packages: Spencer acquitted himself poorly in blitz pickup and was a clear weak link facing the blitz-happy Saints in Week 2. Panthers coach Ron Rivera can be aggressive with linebackers and cornerbacks until the Bears find an answer. He has trusted CBs Chris Gamble and Captain Munnerlyn in one-on-one coverage regularly this season.

*Player spotlight - Panthers TE Greg Olsen: His acrimonious sendoff from Chicago might fuel Olsen's fire, but film review of the Bears' problems checking Saints TE Jimmy Graham (six catches, 79 yards) and Packers TE Jermichael Finley (three touchdowns last week) underlines his opportunity to sting a defense he knows all too well.

*Fast facts: Newton has 16 pass plays of at least 20 yards. ... The Bears' 13 rushing yards on 11 carries in Week 3 was the second-lowest total in franchise history.


The Bears' reliance on QB Jay Cutler behind a fragile offensive line opens Chicago to the upset bid, but only if Cam Newton can manufacture touchdowns when the Panthers reach the red zone.

*Our pick: Bears 22-17

Denver at Green Bay

Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET, at Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis. - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 715

*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

*Keys to the game: The game falls on the throwing arm of Kyle Orton with the Broncos failing to find a consistent spark in the running game. The Packers yield just 55.0 yards per game on the ground and one rushing touchdown this season. That leaves Orton to pepper the Packers with underneath routes while blending RBs Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno, who hasn't had a carry since Week 1 because of a hamstring injury, to keep Green Bay honest. The Packers' offense has been humming, and with a balance struck last week -- RB Ryan Grant's best game since 2009 including 92 rushing yards -- the Broncos have to search far and wide to uncover a weakness. QB Aaron Rodgers appears unflappable working with a pick-your-poison crew of receivers. WR Greg Jennings and TE Jermichael Finley, who caught three touchdowns last week, both have plays of 20 yards or more in every game this season and WR Jordy Nelson leads the team with 20.1 yards per catch.

*Matchup to watch - Broncos P Britton Colquitt vs. Packers PR Randall Cobb: Colquitt doesn't need mountain elevation to be a weapon and if Denver wants to have any breath left by the fourth quarter, it will need to win the field-position battle. Cobb has returned only six punts this season but has 10 total kick returns for 237 yards.

*Player spotlight - Packers RT Marshall Newhouse: A knee injury pushed Bryan Bulaga to the bench last week. Newhouse or rookie Derek Sherrod could be forced to start against the Broncos' multiple pass-rush threats. The chore becomes monstrous if DE Elvis Dumervil, inactive since Week 1, is back from a shoulder injury.

*Fast facts: Rodgers has a passer rating of at least 110.0 in 11 of his last 14 starts, including postseason. ... Orton has a passer rating of 10.2 and four interceptions in the last two minutes of either half this season.


The Packers survived injuries and multiple self-inflicted wounds -- seven penalties, two turnovers -- in Week 3 and haven't blinked this season even when they appear to be behind the 8-ball.

*Our pick: Packers 35-18

New Orleans at Jacksonville

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at EverBank Field, Jacksonville - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 711

*TV announcers: Sam Rosen, Chad Pennington

*Keys to the game: The Jaguars got about what you'd expect last week out of a rookie quarterback making his first start - a few good throws mixed in with three botched snaps and an interception. All the while, RB Maurice Jones-Drew was piling up yards on the ground even though Carolina's defense was geared toward shutting him down. The Saints are allowing 4.3 yards per carry, and the front seven will be tested as the Jaguars attempt to create favorable down-and-distance situations for Blaine Gabbert. Of just as much concern to Jacksonville should be its meager pass rush. The Jaguars have just three sacks, and DEs Aaron Kampman (knee) and Matt Roth (neck) continue to be hobbled. But if QB Drew Brees isn't pressured, he spread the ball to eight receivers last week and has far more weapons to work with downfield than Jacksonville has personnel to counter with.

*Matchup to watch - Saints MLB Jonathan Vilma/Jo-Lonn Dunbar vs. Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew: Vilma has been battling a knee injury and was replaced by Dunbar last week. A four-year veteran, Dunbar is a capable backup, but the Saints certainly want the heady Vilma in the lineup against a very run-centric offense. Shut down "MJD" and Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams can get very creative in pressuring/baiting Gabbert into mistakes.

*Player spotlight - Jaguars WR/PR Cecil Shorts: The Jaguars need to provide short fields for Gabbert. Shorts, a rookie out of Division III Mount Union, is already an important piece of the receiver rotation and has shown playmaking ability in the return game.

*Fast facts: Brees has a passer rating of at least 104.2 in every quarter, and his rating rises each quarter. ... Jones-Drew has three consecutive 100-yard rushing games against NFC teams.


The Saints bring as many different looks and pressure packages as anyone, and it will prove difficult for Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert to avoid big mistakes. And the defense isn't equipped to significantly slow Drew Brees minus a strong pass rush.

*Our pick: Saints 24-16

Minnesota at Kansas City

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 712

*TV announcers: Chris Myers, Tim Ryan

*Keys to the game: Both teams are winless, but struggling in somewhat opposite fashions. After a horrid start for the post-Jamaal Charles offense, the Chiefs finally started to discover a formula that works in the second half last week. QB Matt Cassel gave WR Dwayne Bowe opportunities to make plays and speedy RB Dexter McCluster ripped off chunks of yardage on draws and as a receiver out of the backfield. Minnesota has been outscored a combined 67-6 after halftime. The blame can be spread around - the offense has converted 1 of 15 third downs in the second half this season, while opponents are 13 for 22. The Vikings do have the ability to generate impact plays on defense, and like with Detroit's Matt Stafford last week they will attempt to rattle Cassel with an array of zone blitzes - provided they can handle RB Adrian Peterson (5.1 yards per carry).

*Matchup to watch - Vikings CB Antoine Winfield vs. Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe: Feisty and one of the league's best tackling cornerbacks, Winfield gives up five inches and 40 pounds to Bowe, who is also seven years younger. Bowe should be able to use his body and leaping ability to take advantage of Winfield in one-one-one situations, and getting solid help over the top will be important.

*Player spotlight - Vikings LT Charlie Johnson: Minnesota has seen some of the reason why the Colts weren't interested in bringing Johnson back as a blind-side protector. And he'll need double-team help in obvious passing situations against Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali.

*Fast facts: The Vikings are the first team in NFL history to blow three consecutive double-digit halftime leads in their first three games. ... Chiefs C Casey Wiegmann has started 162 consecutive games and has played in 10,332 consecutive snaps.


The Chiefs put together their first solid half of football to have something to build on, while the Vikings have utterly collapsed after halftime every week. If the Chiefs can run the ball at home, they get the slight nod.

*Our pick: Chiefs 21-17

Atlanta at Seattle

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, at CenturyLink Field, Seattle - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 714

*TV announcers: Craig Bolerjack, John Lynch

*Keys to the game: The Falcons are coming off a bitter divisional loss at Tampa Bay and would appear to have an excellent opportunity to wipe the sour taste out of their mouths against a Seahawks team averaging 10 points per game and a paltry 3.7 yards per offensive snap. However, it's also a long road trip to a loud venue and the Seahawks are allowing just 3.1 yards per carry behind a big defensive line. If Seattle can stuff RB Michael Turner, prevent play-action from being established and bring pressure off the edges, the defense can keep the game competitive. But the Falcons' run defense is also stout (3.6 yards per carry) and Atlanta should control the line of scrimmage against Seattle's overmatched front five. QB Tarvaris Jackson isn't making a lot of mistakes, but he's constantly on the run and the play-calling has been very conservative.

*Matchup to watch - Falcons RT Tyson Clabo vs. Seahawks DE Red Bryant: This could be confused for a heavyweight boxing match, with both players weighing in around 330 pounds. Clabo is solid in pass protection, but built his reputation as a massive road grader. Bryant began his career as a defensive tackle before the Seahawks moved him outside.

*Player spotlight - Seahawks OLB K.J. Wright: Drafted in the fourth round as an excellent athlete expected to be an edge rusher, Wright impressed the staff so much that he started the opener in the middle. With David Hawthorne healthy, Seattle wanted to keep Wright in the lineup badly enough that 2009 fourth overall pick Aaron Curry was demoted to second-team status.

*Fast facts: The Falcons have forced a turnover in an NFL-high 22 consecutive games. ... Despite missing the first two games, Seahawks WR Sidney Rice is tied for the team lead with eight receptions and second with 109 receiving yards.


The Seahawks are fortunate their strength is in defending the run - it gives them a fighting chance to keep it close. But Atlanta will own time of possession and eventually pull away comfortably.

*Our pick: Falcons 30-17

New England at Oakland

Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET, at Oakland Coliseum, Oakland - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 716

*TV announcers: Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots

*Keys to the game: Raiders coach Hue Jackson has preached building a bully on both sides of the ball. He has the formula brewing on offense, with RB Darren McFadden emerging as one of the game's truly elite running backs. But the secondary has been physically and mentally torched the past two weeks, giving up 597 passing yards while watching CB Chris Johnson (groin) and S Michael Huff (head) leave last week's victory. With Oakland's depth chart being tested and Tom Brady coming to down, it will be up to McFadden, who was hobbled during his career day last week, and Michael Bush to sustain drives and wear down New England's struggling defense. Patriots QB Tom Brady is coming off an uncharacteristic four-interception game, but has still thrown for an NFL-record 1,258 through the first three games of a season.

*Matchup to watch - Patriots linebackers vs. Raiders TE Kevin Boss: Boss isn't nearly as involved yet in the offense as the Patriots' tight ends are, but he has already put his excellent blocking skills on display. He sealed the edge on McFadden's 70-yard touchdown run last week in his first game of the season, and he should slowly emerge as a dependable target for QB Jason Campbell to move the chains and be a factor in the red zone.

*Player spotlight - Raiders WR Denarius Moore: The athletic fifth-round rookie out of Tennessee nearly made a spectacular grab on a Hail Mary in Week 2 and displayed his speed on a 23-yard reverse for a touchdown last week. Most important, he's taking advantage of injuries to the receiving corps and has nine receptions over the past two games.

*Fast facts: Brady has 37 career 300-yard passing games. ... McFadden is averaging 6.7 yard per carry in the first half and 6.0 in the second.


Unless the Raiders are able to take over the game in the trenches, Patriots QB Tom Brady will spread the field and take advantage of a secondary that would be severely overmatched even when healthy.

*Our pick: Patriots 30-27

Miami at San Diego

Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET, at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 717

*TV announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts

*Keys to the game: The Dolphins continue to get solid if unspectacular play out of QB Chad Henne, but expect the offense to shift toward a run-first approach with Daniel Thomas continuing to impress and the coaching staff keeping Reggie Bush involved. The backfield tandem combined for 38 touches in Cleveland last week, and the more the Dolphins can control the ball and put together sustain drives the more they can protect their subpar secondary from Philip Rivers. Rivers vowed to play better after being picked off twice last week. He completed passes to seven different receivers, but does miss TE Antonio Gates (foot). The Dolphins didn't register a sack last week and won't hold up downfield if Rivers is given ample time to go through his progressions. However, Rivers has taken two big shots to the chest this season and Miami has the opportunity to rattle him if it can generate pressure.

*Matchup to watch - Dolphins receivers vs. Chargers cornerbacks: Miami could make an adjustment if Chargers QB Quentin Jammer (hamstring) is limited or sidelined. That would push Dante Hughes or Marcus Gilchrist into the starting lineup, with the other filling the nickel role. That would create intriguing matchups when the Dolphins go three-wides with Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess and Brian Hartline.

*Player spotlight - Chargers RB Ryan Mathews: The second-year player said he feels "comfortable" in the backfield now, and toted the ball 21 times last week with Michael Tolbert limited by a leg injury. Mathews continues to improve his blocking as well, which is key toward earning even more snaps.

*Fast facts: Thomas' 220 rushing yards is the third-best by a Dolphins rookie over a two-game span. ... The Chargers are 2-1 for just the second time in five seasons under coach Norv Turner.


The Dolphins are more competitive than their record indicates, and they play far better on the road. But the Chargers have more consistent balance offensively, and too many weapons for Miami's secondary to cope with.

*Our pick: Chargers 28-20

N.Y. Jets at Baltimore

Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET, at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore - TV: NBC

*TV announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

*Keys to the game: The Jets' oft-maligned offense racked up 439 yards last week, but coach Rex Ryan's beloved defense was abused by the Raiders for 234 rushing yards on 7.3 yards per carry. Ryan shouldered the blame as he undertakes the task of preparing his defense for another physical offensive line with a quick running back. The Ravens have opened up the passing game this season and rookie WR Torrey Smith provided an exciting new vertical threat last week, but Baltimore won't win this game by attacking the Jets' secondary - although Antonio Cromartie's rib injury is worth monitoring. This will be a physical, hard-fought battle between AFC contenders, and the Ravens would be wise to test whether the Jets have plugged those holes in their run defense. Jets QB Mark Sanchez is coming off an impressive 369-yard passing game and the Ravens can be attacked on the corners. But with C Nick Mangold still out and Baltimore always sporting a strong pass rush, the Jets need to get their own running game untracked.

*Matchup to watch - Jets C Colin Baxter vs. Ravens NT Terrence Cody: Baxter's first NFL start came against two of the NFL's most physical defensive tackles in Richard Seymour and Tommie Kelly in Oakland. In Cody, Baxter has to grapple with a 350-pound behemoth who clogs running lanes. He'll also see time against Haloti Ngata.

*Player spotlight - Ravens WR Torrey Smith: Baltimore went out and acquired Lee Evans to fill the need for a vertical speed threat because Smith struggled during training camp. With Evans down with an ankle injury, Smith caught three touchdowns - on his first three career reception.

*Fast facts: Ryan was on the Ravens' coaching staff from 1999-2008. ... The Ravens are 19-2 when QB Joe Flacco has a 100-plus passer rating.


Both offenses are coming off mammoth performances, but don't be fooled. These AFC heavyweights locked horns in a 10-9 Ravens victory to open last season, and the defenses will come to play.

*Our pick: Ravens 19-16

Indianapolis at Tampa Bay

Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa - TV: ESPN

*TV announcers: Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden, Suzy Kolber

*Keys to the game: The Colts are facing another quarterback question - even if Kerry Collins is cleared following a concussion against Pittsburgh, Curtis Painter has a better grasp of the offense and Indianapolis is already 0-3. Painter has a strong arm, but accuracy is the primary concern. The Bucs have buttoned down their run defense a bit, allowing 4.1 yards per carry on the season, but Colts RB Joseph Addai was effective last week and helped keep the offense out of constant third-and-long situations. Tampa Bay would like to get RB LeGarrette Blount more than the 14 carries he's averaging per game. The Colts are used to teams attacking them on the ground, but they held the Steelers to 2.4 yards per carry. Where Indianapolis is most vulnerable right now is in the back end of the secondary when opposing quarterbacks have any time to look downfield.

*Matchup to watch - Colts DE Dwight Freeney vs. Bucs LT Donald Penn: Freeney and Robert Mathis almost single-handedly won last week's game as they terrorized whoever the Steelers trotted out at tackle and each finished with a strip-sack while knocking two linemen out of the game. If the Colts are to be competitive, Freeney must bring that same intensity and dominate this matchup. Mathis has an important duel of his own against RT Jeremy Trueblook.

*Player spotlight - Bucs MLB Mason Foster: The rookie leads the Bucs with 22 tackles and has arguably been the team's best linebacker through three games. He also has a pair of sacks and a forced fumble.

*Fast facts: Bucs QB Josh Freeman has three interceptions through three games. He had six all of 2010. ... Freeney has 97 career sacks and 43 forced fumbles.


The Colts showed last week not to count them out in a primetime affair. But the lack of consistent production from the quarterback spot continues to be fatal - barring the defense completely dominating the Bucs' offensive line.

*Our pick: Bucs 16-13

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