Why We Watch: Return of the running backs in Steel Town
(Jamaal Charles photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs)
(Le'Veon Bell cover photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
GOLD JACKET GAME OF THE WEEK
KANSAS CITY @ PITTSBURGH, 8:30 p.m. ((EDT)
The line: Steelers by 5
The weather: AM showers, high of 70.
The story: Both teams are 2-1, and both return star running backs – with the Chiefs expected to get back Jamaal Charles and Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell returning from a three-game suspension. The Steelers are hurt, with linebacker Ryan Shazier among seven players out for this game. But they have Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Bell, and, somehow, I don’t believe Big Ben serves up six interceptions nor that the Steelers commit eight turnovers. If they avoid the critical mistakes that buried the Jets a week ago, they should win.
Hall of Fame worthy: Roethlisberger not only won his last three vs. the Chiefs; he has 13 TD passes in his last four home starts.
THREE OTHERS SUITABLE FOR HALL OF FRAMING
(Matt Ryan photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons)
CAROLINA @ ATLANTA , 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Panthers by 3
The weather: Dome.
The story: Consider this a litmus test for the Falcons. We know the Panthers are good. The Falcons? Ask Siri. We have no clue. This, then, is their opportunity to prove they belong. One problem: Defense. Theirs isn’t very good. And their pass rush? Still waiting for a sighting. Matt Ryan can lead the league in passing, but if you can't play defense or rush the quarterback you're going to lose to Cam Newton. Yeah, I know, Carolina's secondary has been underwhelming. But with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu hurt, what chance does Atlanta have? Ill tell you what: Next to nada.
Hall of Fame worthy: Carolina has run for 100 or more yards in 30 straight regular-season games, the longest current streak in the NFL.
OAKLAND @ BALTIMORE, 1 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Ravens by 3-1/2
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 75.
The story: The Raiders are 2-0 on the road for the first time since 2002 – which, it just so happens, is the last time they had a winning season. And that’s supposed to be evidence that these guys are for real. Maybe, except … except the teams they beat are a combined 1-5. Baltimore, on the other hand, hasn’t lost and is 49-16 under John Harbaugh at home. One other thing: The Ravens play sound defense; the Raiders don’t. The left side of the Ravens offensive line is hurt, with tackle Ronnie Stanley listed as doubtful, and while that may produce a Khalil Mack sighting it shouldn’t produce an upset.
Hall of Fame worthy: The Ravens are 5-0 vs. Oakland in Baltimore.
L.A. @ ARIZONA, 4:25 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Cards by 4
The weather: Mostly sunny, high of 95 (retractable roof).
The story: What's wrong with this picture? Arizona is 1-2; the Rams are 2-1. The Cards are supposed to contend for the Super Bowl, not follow L.A. in the NFC West. But, hey, it's three games into the season, and the Cards are back where they're most comfortable --home, where they won 20 of their past 26 starts (including the playoffs). That’s one reason to like the Cards here. Here's another: It begins a crucial four-week swing, where they play three at home, three vs. division opponents and three in prime time. Look for Arizona to rely more on David Johnson than the erratic Carson Palmer, with Johnson the first Cards' back to total 130 or more yards in each of his first two games since O.J. Anderson in 1979.
Hall of Fame worthy: Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald has more catches (153) and TD catches (16) vs. the Rams than any opponent.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
(Eli Manning photo courtesy of the N.Y. Giants)
MINNESOTA @ N.Y. GIANTS, 8:30 p.m. (EDT)
The line: Vikings by 5
The weather: Partly cloudy, high of 74.
The story: Minnesota has a lights-out defense that just shut down Cam Newton. The Giants have a vastly improved defense that was good until it ran into ... Kirk Cousins? Advantage: Vikings. But it's not the Giants defense that's the critical element here; it’s the Giants' quarterback. In seven starts vs. Minnesota, Eli Manning is 2-5, with five TDs, a 54.1 completion percentage and 14 interceptions – with five returned for scores. The Giants believe they have the material to win a division; the Vikings know they do … because they did it a year ago. This, then, is all about Big Blue and where it is headed the next three months.
Hall of Fame worthy: Minnesota's Stefon Diggs is tied for first in the NFL with 12 catches for first downs.
OUR BEST BETS
RICK GOSSELIN. Jacksonville +2-1/2. The Jaguars have too much talent to be 0-3. They have just one home game the next five weeks, so Indianapolis in London looms as a must-win.
RON BORGES. Carolina --3. Giving three to the Falcons in Atlanta may sound unwise, but the Falcons aren’t going to score the way they did against the Saints. If they can't pile up points they're in trouble, and no one does that to the Panthers' defense. Take the more desperate team – the Panthers – and don’t worry about the spread.
CLARK JUDGE. Baltimore –3-1/2. Two reasons: 1) The Ravens can play defense, and 2) the Raiders cannot.
(Kevin Greene photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
The Pittsburgh Steelers will honor Hall-of-Famer Kevin Greene at halftime of Sunday's game vs. Kansas City with a special ring ceremony. Greene, a member of the Class of 2016, is third on the NFL's career sack list.
THE WATCH LIST
KANSAS CITY CB MARCUS PETERS. With two interceptions Sunday, he would become the third player since 1970 to have multiple interceptions in three consecutive games. The others are Jairus Byrd (2009) and Ed Reed (2011-12).
BALTIMORE RAVENS. They aim for their first 4-0 start since 2006.
CHICAGO WR ALSHON JEFFREY. He aims for his fourth straight start vs. Detroit with a touchdown.
ATLANTA QB MATT RYAN. He aims for his fifth straight game vs. Carolina with 300 or more yards passing.
SAN DIEGO QB PHILIP RIVERS. He hasn't thrown an interception in the Chargers' first three games, the first time since Stan Humphries in 1994 that a Chargers' quarterback opened the season with three games without an intercept
THIS WEEKEND'S HALL-OF-FAMOUS
INDIANAPOLIS QB ANDREW LUCK. He won his last five starts vs. Jacksonville, with 8 TDs and two interceptions.
DETROIT QB MATT STAFFORD. In his last two games vs. Chicago he threw for 703 yards and seven TDs.
NEW ENGLAND LB JAMIE COLLINS. In his last two starts vs. Buffalo he has 3-1/2 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
L.A. DE ROBERT QUINN. He has nine sacks in eight career games vs. Arizona.
NEW ORLEANS QB DREW BREES. He averages 354.5 yards per game and has seven TDs in two starts vs. San Diego.
ARIZONA CB PATRICK PETERSON. In 10 career games vs. the Rams he has six interceptions, three touchdowns, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and 11 passes defensed
HALL OF NOTES-WORTHY
Seven of the 14 regular-season games played at Wembley Stadium have been decided by one score.
Through the first three weeks, 28 of the 32 teams have at least one win – tied for the third most since the NFL went to realignment in 2002.
With a victory Monday, the Giants would have 700 career victories – joining Chicago and Green Bay as the only franchises to eclipse 700.
Baltimore ranks first in second-half defense, allowing 102.3 yards and 3.3 points.
The Ravens have blocked an NFL-best 10 kicks since 2014 – including two this season.
The Patriots are an NFL-best 49-16 in October (including 29-4 at home) since the 2000 season.
Minnesota leads the NFL with five forced fumbles and allowed only four plays of 20 or more yards.
All three of the Giants' games have been decided by three or fewer points.
The Steelers have won five of their last six prime-time games vs. Kansas City.