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Game Rankings: Week 3 menu not nearly as tasty, but here's hoping for better order


Ray Rice should be in for a busy day at the office when the Patriots visit. (US Presswire)  
Ray Rice should be in for a busy day at the office when the Patriots visit. (US Presswire)  

Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm just not as hungry this week. Could just be my appetite and feeble attempts at dieting. But to me, I just don't see quite the feast here this week.

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If anything, I may have stretched it to get a few of these games into the foot-long category, and I feel like in general this is a six-inch kind of week -- not much in terms of divisional rivalries, a fair amount of games between teams that rarely play, and I'm probably a little muted as well by the agony of officiating blunders around the league in Week 2. May have taken a little of the shine off of it, with the delays and chippy stuff and things tending to get out of hand.

I'm hoping for a bounce-back week from the zebras and fewer controversies all around. Finding some middle ground between Week 1, when it was anything goes in some cases, and Week 2, when some real ticky-tack stuff helped decide some big games, might be in order. Then perhaps, I'll have a little more mayo and pickles and extra meat to sprinkle around on the docket come this time next week when we size up Week 4.


New England Patriots  at  Baltimore Ravens

Sunday, Sept. 23, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)

Why to watch: It wasn't that long ago they met with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, and New England persevered when Lee Evans couldn't pull in a game-winning touchdown pass and Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying kick. Worth noting, neither stuck around all that long in Baltimore after that. One of these teams will be 1-2 after both lost games they believe they should have won last week, with officiating at least partly the story. Tom Brady's offensive line is not quite as stout as in the past, and Vince Wilfork must still chuckle to himself whenever he thinks back to that AFC Championship Game, and the way he tormented Baltimore's center and guards. Joe Flacco, playing for a fat new contract, needs to play better than he has in many other prime-time outings, but few teams have been better at home than the Ravens. Huge game.

What to watch for: Haloti Ngata is off to an MVP-type start, and there won't be a Brian Waters to get in his way this time. ... Both Courtney Upshaw and Paul Kruger, who were supposed to help offset the losses of Terrell Suggs and Jarrett Johnson, have been banged up and struggling some, however. ... The Wes Welker watch will be on, and corner Cary Williams has been picked on early, in the slot and otherwise. ... How much do the Pats suffer without Aaron Hernandez to complement Rob Gronkowski? ... Brady will be in beast mode, and he doesn't do a lot of losing streaks, even two games. ... Ravens rookie kicker Justin Tucker has been unreal, while Stephen Gostkowski comes in having missed a game-winner he usually makes. ... The Ravens leaned too heavily on the shotgun last week and abandoned what had been a fertile running game; look for Ray Rice to get a ton of touches in the screen game.

Houston Texans  at  Denver Broncos

Sunday, Sept. 23, 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why to watch: Which Peyton Manning will show up? Isn't that what we all want to see every week? Will it be the unflappable dude who threw precise passes all over the field to triumph over Pittsburgh late in the opener, or the guy throwing picks all over the place in Atlanta a few days later, and looking noodle-armed at times in the process? Everything Manning does will be a big story, and no one knows exactly how his body will respond to the continued rigors of the game. And he just happens to be facing what might be the most fearsome defense in the NFL this week, and one that he used to torment as a division rival when with the Colts. J.J. Watt and the boys ain't playing. This game could have tiebreaker potential down the line as well.

What to watch for: Does Manning come out firing? Can he make anything happen in the vertical game? How does he hold up against this pass rush? Is it a ton of quick hits to Brandon Stokley and the tight ends in the slot? ... Arian Foster and Ben Tate are both in good form, and Gary Kubiak knows he doesn't have to get too cute, especially with Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller having their sights set on Matt Schaub. ... Denver's running game is not looking nearly as robust as it did playing Tebow ball a year ago. ... Guys like Champ Bailey will be very familiar with the kind of offense Houston runs, from the Kubiak/Shanahan ties, and he may need to gamble and guess a few times to jump a route and force a turnover.

Philadelphia Eagles  at  Arizona Cardinals

Sunday, Sept. 23, 4:05 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why to watch: Raise your hand if you saw this one coming. Kevin Kolb faces his former team with the Cardinals 2-0, fresh off a win at Gillette, while for the second straight week the Eagles won a game by a single point with some late heroics and good fortune. It's the Kolb Bowl, baby! And the Cards just happen to be the NFL's hottest team over the past 11 games. Michael Vick took an absolute beating from the Ravens last week but hung in there to make crucial plays and throw for over 300 yards. No team has more sacks than the Cardinals over the past 11 games, so Vick's Kevlar jacket might get another workout.

What to watch for: Patrick Peterson can win a game in the secondary or on special teams. ... The Cards will throw a lot of zone blitzes at you and Vick's ability to read them and not force the ball will be critical. ... Expect a heavy dose of LeSean McCoy, trying to get Darnell Dockett running around and chasing outside and hoping to tire him out. ... Kolb loves to throw to the tight end. As long as Todd Heap's body holds up, which is a quarter-to-quarter proposition at this stage of his career, he could see a lot of targets. ... The Eagles are down a center and a couple of tackles at this point, so Vick's health falls even more into question. ... Arizona's offensive line will have its hands full with Jason Babin and Trent Cole.

Atlanta Falcons  at  San Diego Chargers

Sunday, Sept. 23, 4:05 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why to watch: Atlanta continues to apply for its charter membership in the AFC West while facing San Diego after already taking on K.C. and Denver this season. Matt Ryan has looked the part against those foes, and if Atlanta's defense can continue turning teams over like it has been, it's going to be a fun year for the Falcons. San Diego is also undefeated, expects to get Antonio Gates and Ryan Mathews back and very quietly has re-established some bark on defense, looking more aggressive and swarming to the ball. Both of these teams have something to prove after the Chargers missed the playoffs in 2011 and Atlanta went out meekly in its first playoff game, again.

What to watch for: Michael Turner was arrested for DUI following Atlanta's Monday night win over Denver, so he will be under the microscope in terms of how much he plays, and how well he plays. Turner is a former Charger, and this would have been an emotional game for him, already. ... John Abraham will be testing the Chargers' tackles, and left tackle in particular is an area of concern with Jared Gaither still ailing. ... Ryan has not been as good on the road and outdoors in his career, though the weather in San Diego is rarely daunting, and by midweek the Chargers were still 11,000 seats short of a sellout. ... If the game turns into a blowout, or is long and slow and marred by questionable officiating, you can always try counting the empty seats.


St. Louis Rams  at  Chicago Bears

Sunday, Sept. 23, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why to watch: WWJCDN? What will Jay Cutler do next? He is becoming must-see TV, especially when things don't go his way. He might shove his left tackle, rip a coach on the sidelines, give off the too-cool-for-school nature of an arrogant schoolboy, but the dude is also one helluva quarterback when he's not acting as a double agent. Jeff Fisher will try to exploit Chicago's protection issues and with no Matt Forte the Bears aren't nearly as diverse offensively. The Rams have a few corners who can bait you into a bad throw and they are a clock operator error away from being 2-0. Oh. And Sam Bradford is playing like a stud.

What to watch for: With starting left tackle Rodger Saffold out, does Wayne Hunter have a prayer of a chance if the Bears start moving Julius Peppers around? ... Brian Urlacher's knee is not right and he wasn't the same last Thursday, so will the extra rest help him? ... Have a feeling Steven Jackson comes out hard after either being benched or suffering from a minor muscle injury last week, depending on who you talk to. ... With Mike Martz gone, who takes the blame in Chicago if Cutler continues to be thrown around like a pillow pet? ... Do the Bears have a nickelback who can handle Danny Amendola in the slot?

Cincinnati Bengals  at  Washington Redskins

Sunday, Sept. 23, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why to watch: Robert Griffin III is capable of something unreal at any given moment, but it's riveting to watch the weekly chess match as teams figure out and try to take away what the Redskins want to do with him. The Rams used a physical approach, crashing the ends to force him out of read option plays. Carlos Dunlap could be a key to this game. And Andy Dalton must be licking his chops, with the Redskins losing linemen Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker for the year last week and the Redskins lacking anything close to a complete corner and looking particularly shoddy in the secondary. This could be an old-fashioned shootout, because the Bengals defense hasn't been effective through two weeks.

What to watch for: Uber-aggressive Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is in a real jam. The team was built to get major pressure with Orakpo, Carriker and Ryan Kerrigan, but it is suddenly one-dimensional, using practice-squad pass rushers and still stuck with those defensive backs. So does Haslett run as much Cover 1 and Cover 0 as he normally would? And is putting DeAngelo Hall on A.J. Green the best he can do? ... Keep track of how many of Washington's successful runs are to the left side; they're pretty lopsided right now. ... How many reps does Josh Morgan get at receiver for Washington after his bone-headed penalty took the Redskins out of range for a tying field goal last week?

Green Bay Packers  at  Seattle Seahawks

Monday, Sept. 24, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Why to watch: The Packers seemed to find their way, both defensively and in the run game, against the Bears, and perhaps are primed for a tear. The Seahawks have one of the best defenses in the NFL, a distinct home-field advantage and will be crazy fired up Monday night (or, well, just past happy hour PT). Marshawn Lynch and that physical run front could create some problems for Green Bay, and Russell Wilson is fun to watch while he is learning on the job. I'm sure when this game became destined for Monday night, it was probably with the idea that ex-Packers quarterback Matt Flynn would be starting for the Seahawks, but it's an intriguing matchup nonetheless.

What to watch for: Can anyone block Clay Matthews? He's pushing seven sacks already and the Seahawks have been wounded on the line. Russell Okung will need to come up big. ... Seahawks GM John Schneider spent years in the Green Bay front office, playing a role in drafting many of these Packers and should have plenty of inside info on this bunch. ... Might be hard for the Packers to go as run-heavy as they did at times against Chicago, but beware of the Seahawks' safety tandem. ... When does Charles Woodson not show up big in prime time?

Kansas City Chiefs  at  New Orleans Saints

Sunday, Sept. 23, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why to watch: There might not be a more desperate team in the NFL than the Saints. They're 0-2, Drew Brees is giving the ball away and the defense hasn't been capable of making a play, much less a stand. They badly need to get something going, and lucky for them they stumble into an even more hapless bunch than they are. If New Orleans were to somehow find a way to blow this, at home, it's going to doom their season, and I sense they know it. Because, you know, Sean Payton is not walking back through that door ... at least not until 2013.

What to watch for: Romeo Crennel is going to face more questions about remaining coach and defensive coordinator if he can't find a way to stifle the Saints downfield. ... Kansas City safety Eric Berry doesn't look right following his return from knee surgery, and running back Jamaal Charles has been limited following his surgery as well. Can either do more this week? ... Jimmy Graham is clearly Brees' go-to target now, and the Chiefs' linebackers have had some big-time coverage issues. ... If Aaron Kromer is going to remain some sort of hot-shot coaching candidate, he had better find a way to hang 35-40 points on the Chiefs, since that's all the rage these days.

New York Jets  at  Miami Dolphins

Sunday, Sept. 23, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why to watch: It's the Sparano Bowl. Peeps! Dontcha remember, wasn't much less than a year ago that people were putting out pools on when the Dolphins would fire Tony Sparano and whether or not his house was for sale, and now he's the architect of Team Tebow! Play calling was pretty unimaginative last week, though, and now Sparano's former boss, Miami GM Jeff Ireland, is under fire. You just know Sparano would love to have a trick or two up his sleeve after Ireland tried to replace him with Jim Harbaugh, you know, with Sparano still on the job and all. So we've got that going for us.

What to watch for: Mark Sanchez gets to face a team that can't really cover, but will it matter? ... How many balls will Santonio Holmes drop? ... Ryan Tannehill should be a little more settled down after getting a win last week. ... Reggie Bush is going all Barry Sanders through two weeks, but you know Rex Ryan will sell out to shut that down, so can the kid QB take advantage? ... This could be the week Cameron Wake goes off with the right side of the Jets' line still under review. ... If the Dolphins are able to shut down New York's ground game even close to the way they did to the Raiders, this could be a pretty interesting game.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers  at  Dallas Cowboys

Sunday, Sept. 23, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why to watch: Will the real Dallas Cowboys please stand up? Or perhaps they already have -- same ol' up-and-down team. Consistency escapes them. Josh Freeman seems more willing to air the ball out, and after Russell Wilson got the better of Dallas a week ago, aided greatly by a power run game, one would expect a heavy dose of ground and pound from Tampa. On the converse, not sure this is the week you want to flopping right tackles if you are the Bucs, what with DeMarcus Ware coming to town and all. Ronde Barber remains the kind of dude who can jump on a Tony Romo pass or two. Can't wait to see how taskmaster Greg Schiano gets his team rallied after allowing 25 points in the fourth quarter a week ago.

What to watch for: Victory formation, sucka! Who isn't waiting to see what happens, if, say, the Cowboys are up by three and they take a knee with like 30 seconds left from their own 30? Will Schiano call off the dogs or attack the quarterback with hopes of causing a turnover? Will Tom Coughlin's words have a chilling affect? Or will the opposite happen? And Cowboys owner Jerry Jones came out this week and said he thinks kneel-downs should be eliminated. Delicious! And God forbid if Romo actually turned the ball over in such a scenario. Get your DVRs ready.

Detroit Lions  at  Tennessee Titans

Sunday, Sept. 23, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why to watch: Lions coach Jim Schwartz called Nashville his home for a long time as Titans defensive coordinator and he has a good feel for what Tennessee coach Mike Munchak is trying to accomplish. The Lions' lack of a run game shouldn't be an issue considering how good Matthew Stafford is and how weak the Titans' secondary has been. Chris Johnson needs to get himself going at some point, but the Lions' DL is stout. If the Titans fancy themselves a wild-card team, or the second-best team in the AFC South, they had best show a little something now because they've been dominated twice already this season.

What to watch for: Jake Locker showed no signs of life at all through the air last week and Schwartz likes to rush four and play coverage, which could have DBs in position to feast if Locker sails balls as he is known to do. ... Do the Titans make any schematic changes to rediscover the run game? Can Munchak crack the whip enough to get his team's attention and they finally get back to their physical ways? ... Calvin Johnson for 200 yards wouldn't surprise me. ... I bet Brandon Pettigrew goes off as well.

Pittsburgh Steelers  at  Oakland Raiders

Sunday, Sept. 23, 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why to watch: Carson Palmer is looking like someone who might be searching for a job in 2013 and the Raiders can't run the ball a lick even with Darren McFadden finally healthy. The Dolphins absolutely ravaged Oakland's front seven in the run game a week ago, and the Raiders get the Steelers at a time when coach Mike Tomlin has let it be known he is far from pleased with the state of Pittsburgh's ground attack. Could make for an ugly combination. If the Steelers sell out to continue the McFadden shutdown, can Palmer make them pay?

What to watch for: Should Rashard Mendenhall complete his stunning recovery from knee surgery and dress for this game, monitor the carries. The goal is just for some game conditioning and then a more regular role coming out of the bye as long as the knee keeps responding. ... Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has the book on Palmer dating back to his years with the Bengals. ... If this thing get lopsided, keep a close eye out for beer, batteries and other various sundries that might come flying out of the Black Hole.

Jacksonville Jaguars  at  Indianapolis Colts

Sunday, Sept. 23, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why to watch: Maybe this should be a slider. You could make that argument. But watching the week-by-week development of Andrew Luck is enough to draw me in. He's going to be real tough to beat in his home dome soon enough, just like Peyton was, and I figure he come out emboldened by his game-winning drive from a week ago. Meantime the Jags are already reeling, they could be looking at some major offseason overhauls and their young quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, is coming off a woeful game in which a somewhat mysterious injury seemed to emerge. He will be something less than emboldened or empowered heading into Week 3, with backup Chad Henne flinging it around while he was on the sidelines.

What to watch for: The Colts are vulnerable to being gashed on the ground, and Maurice Jones Drew is generally jacked up for divisional games. ... Gabbert needs to have a good first quarter, and I expect a very rudimentary game plan early on to ease him into the game. ... Do Jags receivers like Laurent Robinson and Justin Blackmon get frustrated at some point by the lack of downfield intent? ... Can Colts rookie TE Coby Fleener start to find his way after a rough start? ... The Colts are going through tackles like Sean Payton spits out Chiclets, and the Jags need to find a way to exploit that.


San Francisco 49ers  at  Minnesota Vikings

Sunday, Sept. 23, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why to watch: Are the 49ers in a proverbial trap game? Are they due for a letdown after playing consecutive highly charged, emotional games against playoff teams from a year ago? Will Alex Smith never throw another interception? Is A.P. ready to carry a team the way AD once did? Have you noticed how solid Christian Ponder has been through two weeks? Won't you cry a little bit on the inside once you can't watch games telecast from the Metrodome anymore? Yeah, me neither. Oh, and did I happen to mention Randy Moss is returning to Minnesota? That might provoke just a smidge of fan reaction.

What to watch for: Would be a good week for Jared Allen to get it going, with the Vikings desperate for an edge somewhere. ... Do the Vikings come out playing seven or eight in the box, with Frank Gore still formidable? ... Vernon Davis could be a total beast against the Cover 2. ... Get ready for the now perfunctory footage of Harbaugh in the huddle with his team and throwing the ball around during pregame warmups. My, what a staple it has become. ... How long before all the fantasy football owners who took Toby Gerhart organize and begin a revolt outside the stadium?

Buffalo Bills  at  Cleveland Browns

Sunday, Sept. 23, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why to watch: Um, well, Brandon Weeden threw for 300 yards last week and looked a lot better than he did in the opener. And the Bills bounced back from their debacle in Week 1 and showed signs of life. C.J. Spiller is gashing people all over the place and averaging like 10 yards a carry, and the Browns are suspect against the ground attack. And Ryan Fitzpatrick actually didn't go out and undermine his team with a bevy of picks last week, which is definitely progress. So there you go -- convinced?

What to watch for: Trent Richardson needs to be a bell cow, and with Mario Williams feeling a boost from having that apparatus on his wrist, and Kyle Williams finally healthy, the Bills might be finally getting that pass-rush thing together. ... Can Josh Cribbs come up with a moment of brilliance for old-times' sake? ... The Browns are still without suspended corner Joe Haden, which could be an invitation for both the best and worst of Fitzpatrick. ... The Browns could use a win, what with a new owner about three weeks from taking over and all.

Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday during the season on The NFL Today.

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