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NFP Friday Forecast

Let's take a look at how teams across the league stack up against this week's competition in this edition of the NFP Friday Forecast. National Football Post

Print This September 23, 2011, 05:30 AM EST

Our special contributors break down Week 3 in the NFL and give you the inside info on impact injuries, the "X-Factor" and something that might surprise you on game day.

NFL Week 3


Arizona Cardinals

Cardinals at Seahawks by Jess Root of Revenge of the Birds

Impact Injuries: Linebacker Daryl Washington is recovering but still might not play. The playmaker in the middle of the field was missed against Washington. KR LaRod Stephens-Howling might be back. Will be a big boost to the return game.

The X-Factor: Larry Fitzgerald vs. Brandon Browner. Browner let all 10 balls thrown his way to be completed for 194 yds & TD. Larry Fitzgerald is arguable the best in the game at his position and Kevin Kolb has shown he can get him the ball. Sounds like a big game waiting to happen.

Don’t be surprised if: Arizona scores in the return game. LaRod Stephens-Howling likely will be back returning kicks and always is a threat. Patrick Peterson already has a punt return for a touchdown and was close to a second one. Seattle gave up both against San Francisco in less than a minute.

Follow Jess on Twitter: @senorjessroot
For more on the Cards click here

Atlanta Falcons

Falcons at Buccaneers by Daryl Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution
Impact Injuries: The Falcons hope that C Todd McClure can return and stabilize their offensive line. He returned to practice and appears set to make his 2011 debut. The line has given up nine sacks and 17 quarterback hits.
The X-Factor: Michael Turner. The Falcons RB had back-to-back 100-yard games to open the season and is facing a Bucs’ defense that has given up 156 yards per game and 6 yards per carry. Turner will get a shot to carry the team because QB Matt Ryan, despite a 5-1 record, usually struggles against the Bucs.
Don’t be surprised if: Rookie WR Julio Jones has a break out game. After TE Tony Gonzalez starred in man-to-man coverage against the Eagles, the Bucs will likely account for him and leave Jones free to roam. The Falcons have been looking to showcase Jones, but will not force the ball into him.
Follow Darryl on Twitter: @AJCFalcons
For more on the Falcons click here

Baltimore Ravens

Ravens at Rams by Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times
Impact Injuries: The Ravens might rest wide receiver Lee Evans due to his nagging left ankle injury. If he can't go, they would start rookie Torrey Smith opposite Anquan Boldin. The Ravens are also unlikely to get left offensive guard Ben Grubbs back from a right toe injury that sidelined him a week ago. They would go with either Mark LeVoir or Andre Gurode as his replacement.
The X-Factor: The Ravens regressed as a rushing attack a week ago in a loss to the Tennessee Titans after grinding out 170 yards in the season-opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now, they'll look to crank things up again with former Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice against the St. Louis Rams. The timing is right. The Rams have the NFL's worst rushing defense, ranking last in the league with 177.5 rushing yards allowed per contest. Plus, the Ravens would like to keep the Rams' offense off the field as much as possible.  The Rams are orchestrating a hurry-up offense, increasing the tempo with quarterback Sam Bradford. He's the focal point of the attack since star running back Steven Jackson is sidelined with a strained left quadriceps. It's imperative that the Ravens generate a pass rush to disrupt Bradford's timing. Otherwise, he'll pick them apart even with his depleted receiving corps. The Ravens will look to disguise coverage schemes to try to confuse him.
Don’t be surprised if: The Ravens struggle somewhat on defense against the Rams due to vulnerability at cornerback. Domonique Foxworth's knee has been bothering him, and Chris Carr has a left hamstring problem. Rookie first-round pick Jimmy Smith is out indefinitely with a high left ankle sprain.
Follow Aaron on Twitter: @RavensInsider
For more on the Ravens click here

Buffalo Bills

Patriots at Bills by Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News
Impact Injuries: The Bills lost WR Roscoe Parrish for the season to a serious ankle injury last week after already losing WR Marcus Easley for the season to a heart condition. They can't afford any more WR injuries. WR Stevie Johnson is nursing a sore groin but is expected to play. The loss of Parrish only affects the Bills in the true four-wideout set. Ruvell Martin would take his place.
The X-Factor: We're going to presume the Bills won't be able to hold New England under 24 points and will have to win a shootout - if they're going to upset the Pats. That means No. 2 WR Donald Jones will have to step up and make plays to keep the Bills' offense moving.
Don’t be surprised if: This is a close game. The Pats lost an "X-factor" weapon in Aaron Hernandez to a one- to two-week knee injury and New England is nursing a lot of bumps and bruises in the secondary.
Follow Mark on Twitter: @gggaughan
For more on the Bills click here

Carolina Panthers

Jaguars at Panthers by Greg Jones of Examiner.com
Impact Injuries: The loss of Carolina Panthers weakside linebacker Thomas Davis is colossal. Davis, who tore his ACL for a third time in less than two years, was playing really well, and he was named a team captain before the season. Also, starting safety Charles Godfrey could miss the Jacksonville Jaguars game due to a concussion. He did not practice Wednesday, and coach Ron Rivera said Godfrey has to receive clearance from doctors before taking the field.
The X-Factor: The Panthers have lost two starting linebackers, Davis and Jon Beason, in back-to-back weeks. With Maurice Jones-Drew coming to Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, middle linebacker Dan Connor and weakside linebacker Jason Williams will have to be on their games. Jones-Drew is a difficult matchup for any team because he is an excellent receiver and is difficult to tackle. In addition, the Panthers’ defensive line, which starts two rookies (Sione Fua and Terrell McClain) and a second-year pro (Greg Hardy) must play well.
Don’t be surprised if: Cam Newton throws for more than 400 yards again. He has a swagger that is off the charts, and Newton is a major reason four-time Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith is off to a great start. Aside from Smith, Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen, Newton has found another target in receiver Brandon LaFell, who caught four passes for 49 yards last week against the Green Bay Packers.
Follow Greg on Twitter: @gjjones_sports
For more on the Panthers click here

Chicago Bears

Packers at Bears by Brad Briggs of the Chicago Tribune
Impact Injuries: So much for continuity along the offensive line. The Bears will roll out their third lineup in as many games now that rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi, the first-round draft pick from Wisconsin who grew up a Packers fan, is out with a right knee injury. He’ll be replaced by veteran Frank Omiyale and he’ll draw the matchup with outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Wide receiver Earl Bennett is out with a chest injury and that’s a significant loss because he’d give quarterback Jay Cutler a solid target in the middle of the field. Hester and Knox have traditionally struggled vs. Green Bay and Bennett is a security blanket for Cutler. So, that puts pressure on Roy Williams to perform after he missed last week with a groin muscle injury.
The X-Factor: The Bears have traditionally had one of the best return games in the league with Pro Bowl performers Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. But they’ve done very little through the first two games and coach Lovie Smith has harped on it all week. He knows in a close game where the opponent has him outmanned with offensive firepower, his team will need to win the battle of field position. The Bears have traditionally excelled on special teams vs. the Packers, getting a punt return for a touchdown by Hester in the first meeting last season along with a blocked Mason Crosby field goal from Julius Peppers.
Don’t be surprised if: Running back Matt Forte has another big game catching the football. He made 10 receptions vs. the Packers in the NFC Championship Game last season and without options he trusts on the outside, Cutler is quick to turn to him. In space against Green Bay’s inside linebackers, he could do some damage.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradBiggs
For more on the Bears click here

Cincinnati Bengals

49ers at Bengals by Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer
Impact Injuries: It could be an interesting week for the receivers. Jordan Shipley is on injured reserve due to a torn ACL in his left knee and Jerome Simpson, who had 4 receptions for 136 yards in the Denver loss, might be inactive while an investigation into the shipment of 2.5 pounds of marijuana to his home continues. A.J. Green was also limited in Thursday's practice due to a toe injury. Green and Andre Caldwell could get the start with rookie Ryan Whalen becoming the slot guy in three-receiver packages. DE Robert Geathers (shoulder) is expected to miss a second-straight game with Jonathan Fanene getting the start.
The X-Factor: Andy Dalton. The rookie quarterback threw for 332 yards, including 280 in the second half of last Sunday's loss at Denver, with a mix of short- and medium-route throws. He has more confidence in his receivers and has finally built a rapport with all of them. He also displayed a tenacity in the huddle that has surprised most players because he is a rookie.
Don’t be surprised if: You see offensive coordinator Jay Gruden open it up more and Dalton continue to attack downfield. The Niners have the top rushing defense in the league but are 25th against the pass. Jermaine Gresham, who had only one catch against Denver, could come back and have a big game. He led the team in receptions (six) in the Week 1 win at Cleveland.
Follow Joe on Twitter: @joereedy
For more in the Bengals click here

Cleveland Browns

Dolphins at Browns by Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Impact Injuries: The Browns might still be without starting right tackle Tony Pashos (ankle) and are using a combo of Artis Hicks and Oniel Cousins to replace him. The Dolphins have been without starting cornerback Vontae Davis (hamstring) in practice all week.
The X-Factor: Brian Daboll. All eyes will be on the former Browns and current Dolphins offensive coordinator to see what he cooks up for the team that fired him at the end of last season. Daboll took plenty of heat last season despite the fact all three Browns quarterbacks went down with high ankle sprains? Break out some Wildcat perhaps?
Don’t be surprised if: Josh Cribbs takes one to the house. Cribbs was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for a KOR of 52 yards that set up a TD and a PR of 43 yards that set up another. Now, he wants one for himself and Tony Sparano admits "I'll be nervous unless we kick it into the Dawg Pound.''
Follow Mary Kay on Twitter: @MaryKayCabot
For more on the Browns click here

Dallas Cowboys

Redskins at Cowboys by Charean Williams of the Star-Telegram
Impact Injuries: The Cowboys will be without starting receiver Miles Austin, who re-injured his hamstring against the 49ers, and could be without starting center Phil Costa (knee). Dez Bryant hopes to return from a bruised thigh that kept him out last week, and cornerback Terence Newman will play for the first time since injuring his groin early in training camp. Running back Felix Jones, who has a dislocated shoulder, will play with a harness.
The X-Factor: Tony Romo will try to play with painkillers and a flak jacket. He has a fractured rib and a punctured lung, which he played with during the second half of last week’s game. Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said this week that he is hoping to inflict even more pain on Romo.
Don’t be surprised if: The Cowboys lose at home. In two years, they have yet to establish a home-field advantage. The Cowboys, who have been on the road for the past four weeks, including two preseason games, went 2-6 at Cowboys Stadium last year. They were 4-4 on the road. They were 7-2 at home in 2009, including a playoff victory over the Eagles.
Follow David on Twitter: @NFLCharean
For more in the ‘Boys click here

Denver Broncos

Broncos at Titans by Lindsay Jones of the Denver Post
Impact Injuries: The Broncos had to play last Sunday without five starters, and lost two other key offensive players during the game. The injury news is better this week with the return to practice of defensive end Elvis Dumervil, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, running back Knowshon Moreno and linebacker D.J. Williams. Star corner Champ Bailey is expected to remain out, as do receiver Eddie Royal, all three of the Broncos? Thomases: wide receiver Demaryius, defensive tackle Marcus and tight end Julius.
The X-Factor: The Broncos offensive line improved its play substantially from Week 1?s loss to Oakland to Week 2?s win against Cincinnati, and those five players will be critical to the Broncos? chances to win at Tennessee. Last year against the Titans, Kyle Orton was sacked six times, and the Tennessee defensive line acted like bullies. Still, the Broncos won that game, giving this group confidence it can win again in Nashville.
Don’t be surprised if: This is a penalty-fest. There is some bad blood remaining between the Broncos and Titans after last year?s 26-20 Denver win, a game that was chippy from the opening kickoff. Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton called Tennessee corner Cortland Finnegan ?cheap? after that game. Denver comes into Sunday?s game as one of the league?s most penalized teams, with 17 accepted penalties in two games, including six for offensive holding, and four for various forms of personal fouls.
Follow Lindsay on Twitter: @PostBroncos
For more on the Broncos click here

Detroit Lions

Lions at Vikings by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press
Impact Injuries: Tight end Brandon Pettigrew missed practiced Wednesday and Thursday with a shoulder injury, but Pettigrew is expected to play against the Vikings. He landed hard on his shoulder trying to make a sideline catch in last Sunday’s win over the Chiefs, left temporarily then returned in the second half. It’s not an injury, but Gosder Cherilus is expected back at right tackle after he was benched last week for his personal foul penalty against the Bucs.
The X-Factor: Nate Burleson. Calvin Johnson is a touchdown machine and every team gears up to stop him, but Burleson is the Lions’ leading receiver so far this year (12 catches, 153 yards) and he’s got two forms of added motivation: He’s playing against his old team and he’s fallen behind tight end Tony Scheffler in the memorable touchdown celebration department.
Don’t be surprised if: This game goes down to the wire. As good as the Lions have looked this year, and as bad as the Vikings have played at times, Minnesota has historically been a tough place for the Lions to play. They haven’t won at the Metrodome since 1997, and something weird always seems to happen (like Dan Orlovsky running out of the back of the end zone for a safety). Still, the Lions are good enough to start 3-0 for the first time since 1980.
Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveBirkett
For more on the Lions click here

Green Bay Packers

Packers at Bears by Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press Gazette
Impact Injuries: The Packers lost 15 players to season-ending injuries last year during their Super Bowl run, but none was a Pro Bowl player. On Sunday at Carolina, they lost three-time Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins to a neck injury that also could threaten his career. Though he didn’t break any bones or sustain spinal cord damage, he’s believed to have suffered a disc injury, which could require surgery a la Peyton Manning. The Packers will replace Collins at free safety with Charlie Peprah, who played more than 900 defensive snaps last season after strong safety Morgan Burnett’s season-ending knee injury in Week 4. Now, Peprah and Burnett will be paired together. Peprah is a smart, assignment-sure veteran but lacks Collins’ speed, sure-handed tackling and ball-hawking skills.
The X-Factor: Teams keep blitzing Aaron Rodgers, and he keeps picking them apart. The previous two seasons combined, he had the NFL’s best passer rating (108.7) against the blitz, according to STATS LLC. In two games this season, he’s blown away that with an almost unheard of mark of 144.6 when teams pressure with five or more or rush a defender who is not lined up on the line of scrimmage. Against blitzes this season, Rodgers has completed 20-of-29 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
Don’t be surprised if: Charles Woodson goes back to playing mostly in the slot this week even though he was part of three takeaways — two interceptions and a fumble recovery — against the Panthers while playing exclusively outside. If Tramon Williams returns as expected after missing the Carolina game because of a bruised shoulder, Woodson can move back inside, where he can both blitz and cover. Williams is the Packers’ best cover cornerback and without him, the Packers had to use Woodson exclusively in coverage.
Follow Rob on Twitter: @RobDemovsky
For more on the Pack click here

Houston Texans

Texans at Saints by Steph Stradley of the Houston Chronicle
Impact Injuries: In addition to Foster, both the 2(a)(b) receivers have injuries: Kevin Walter missed the last game with a severe shoulder bruise and Jacoby Jones (also punt returner) injured his knee and is experiencing swelling. Early talk is both will play but how well? The Texans don't want to get into a shootout with Brees, and if they do, expect plenty of TE catches.
The X-Factor: RB Arian Foster experienced "tightness" in his hamstring and will likely be a game time decision. Though Ben Tate has shown he can run the ball in Foster's absence, how will his pass protection be in the loud Superdome against a Gregg Williams' defense? Gary Kubiak suggests Tate's pass pro has been inconsistent.
Don’t be surprised if: The Saints put up a lot of rushing yards against the Texans. The Texans do not have a traditional 3-4 space-eating NT, and the two poor running teams they've faced averaged 4.9 yards a carry against them. The Texans have been giving extra help to the secondary to help with pass defense, and often rely on the front six to stop the run. The Texans will also want to run the ball to play keep away from QB Drew Brees.
Follow Steph on Twitter: @StephStradley
For more on the Texans click here

Indianapolis Colts

Steelers at Colts by Brad Wells of StampedeBlue.com
Impact Injuries: Middle linebacker Gary Brackett is likely out again, and it is possible starting strong safety Melvin Bullitt will sit with a shoulder injury. This is likely the same shoulder that has bothered Bullitt his whole career, and that he had a metal pin inserted into this offseason. Quarterback Kerry Collins also has a shoulder problem, but he practiced on Wednesday.
The X-Factor: Believe it or not, it might be the run defense. The Colts are only allowing an average of 3.64 yards a rush in two games. Though they have surrendered over 100 rushing yards in both games, including four rushing touchdowns, when the team is 0-2 and looks like the worst club in football, you pretty much take any positive you can get.
Don’t be surprised if: The Colts suffer their worst home loss since Lucas Oil Stadium opened in 2008. Seriously, the Colts are a bad football team. Really bad. The Steelers are the defending AFC Champions, and they are still upset at how the Baltimore Ravens destroyed them in Week One. The Ravens play at the St. Louis Rams Sunday afternoon. Regardless of the outcome, the Steelers will be highly motivated to crush the Colts. Should they not do so, that would constitute a major choke by Pittsburgh, because their roster is significantly better than Indy's at this point.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @StampedeBlue
For more on the Colts click here

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars at Panthers by Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union
Impact Injuries: Marcedes Lewis expects to play after missing last week's game in New York and the Jaguars will get cornerback Derek Cox back as well. Kassim Osgood, a receiver and key cog on special teams, didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and could miss Sunday's game. Defensive end Aaron Kampman remains out as the Jaguars want to make sure his knee is recovered before they play him.
The X-Factor: The Blaine Gabbert era begins for Jacksonville in a game the Jaguars will face this spring's No. 1 overall draft pick Cam Newton. Gabbert does not lack confidence and his poise has impressed his teammates. He says he is more ready now than he was two weeks ago when Luke McCown was named the starter.
Don’t be surprised if: The Jaguars offense puts up big numbers. Newton has been spectacular, though with a few mistakes, but the Panthers are still 0-2 in part because their defense has a problem bottling explosive plays. Taking advantage of that will be part of Gabbert's challenge.
Follow Tania on Twitter: @taniaganguli
For more on the Jags click here

Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs at Chargers by Joel Thorman of ArrowheadPride.com
Impact Injuries: RB Jamaal Charles. This will be the Chiefs first full game without Charles, who tore his ACL last week. How the Chiefs handle replacing his production is up in the air but expect RB Thomas Jones to see plenty of time, as well as increased touches for RB Dexter McCluster.
The X-Factor: Chiefs pass rush. If KC can disrupt QB Philip Rivers in the pocket, they stand a small chance against San Diego. That means guys like LB Tamba Hali and LB Justin Houston will need to pressure Rivers consistently throughout the day. If that's something they can't do, Rivers will have a field day against the Chiefs secondary.
Don’t be surprised if: the Chiefs get blown out again. KC's last two trips to San Diego resulted in a 31-0 loss (2010) and a 43-14 loss (2009). Injuries and an 0-2 start have blowout written all over this game for the Chiefs.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @ArrowheadPride
For more on the Chiefs click here

Miami Dolphins

Dolphins at Browns by Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post
Impact Injuries: Davis, the Dolphins’ 2009 first-round pick, would be a huge loss if he can’t play. The drop-off from him to Allen, Sapp and Carroll is significant. Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby has been limited by a groin injury, and he may not play at full-speed on Sunday. And running back Reggie Bush is battling a slight groin injury that limited him to 25 snaps last week.
The X-Factor: Cornerback Will Allen. The Dolphins brought him back in Week 2 to be the Nickel corner after cutting Benny Sapp. But now that Vontae Davis is questionable at best to play Sunday with a hamstring injury, the Dolphins may need Allen to cover the boundaries.  Last week Allen remained in the slot while second-year corner Nolan Carroll took over for Davis, and the Texans immediately picked on Carroll, burning him for a 23-yard game-clinching touchdown to Andre Johnson. Allen, a 10-year veteran, has much more experience on the outside, and newcomer Nate Jones could handle slot duties.
Don’t be surprised if: The Dolphins pull out all the stops on offense. We’re not just talking about the Wildcat. We expect the Dolphins to use every trick in the bag – flea-flickers, wide receiver option passes, the Statue of Liberty – to pull off a win on Sunday. At 0-2, the Dolphins are already desperate for a win to save Tony Sparano’s job.
Follow Ben on Twitter: @BenVolinPBP
For more on the Phins click here

Minnesota Vikings

Lions at Vikings by Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press
Impact Injuries: Wide receiver Percy Harvin, a critical piece of an already struggling passing attack, missed Thursday's practice with a stomach illness. After Harvin missed two games and nearly 50 practices last season with migraine-related symptoms and various injuries, any time Harvin's not on the field is alarming. But the Vikings still expect him to play Sunday. Cook (groin), linebacker E.J. Henderson (knee) and defensive end Jared Allen (knee) have been limited in practice with soreness but should be ready for the Lions.
The X-Factor: Cornerback Chris Cook. At 6-foot-2, the second-year corner has the height and athleticism to at least make Calvin Johnson work for his yards. Cook has shown flashes of potential but hasn't played the complete, marquee game to make the league take notice. He'll have his chances as the nickel corner alongside starters Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin, who don't have the size to win lob-pass battles with Johnson.
Don’t be surprised if: The Vikings offensive line looks to fluster defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh with several misdirection running plays and pulling guards. Matching up with Suh one-on-one will be an arduous task for right guard Anthony Herrera, who will get help with pushes from the interior and fullback Jim Kleinsasser on runs to the left and right. After all, Adrian Peterson needs just enough space to hit the second level and take the play over from there.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @VikingsNow
Fore more on the Vikes click here

New England Patriots

Patriots at Bills by Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald
Impact Injuries: Patriots safety Patrick Chung is out following surgery on his hand, forcing the team to rely on untested Josh Barrett and Sergio Brown against the NFL's top scoring offense. Chung is only out this week, but it will severely test this duo. In addition, Myron Pryor landing on Injured Reserve and Albert Haynesworth's back injury means the team is thin on the defensive line. Don't be surprised if Vince Wilfork and Shaun Ellis are the team's inside rushers on third down.
The X-Factor: Chad Ochocinco. Tight end Aaron Hernandez is almost certainly out with a sprained knee, but the bet is it's not a tight end taking his spot. Look for Chad Ochocinco to step in and fill his role, building on a two-catch, 45-yard performance against the Chargers. The Patriots need to see where he is, and playing him full-time is a test. He'll be out to prove he gets it.
Don’t be surprised if: The Patriots defense stands tall. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has exploded onto the scene, even leading that dramatic comeback against the Raiders last week. He's never seen a defensive coordinator like Bill Belichick. Expect Belichick to confuse Fitzpatrick, while also unleashing a blitz package like he hasn't exposed yet. The defense has depth issues, but Belichick will scheme them out of it. It's statement time.
Follow Ian on Twitter: @RapSheet
For more on the Pats click here

New Orleans Saints

Texans at Saints by Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune
Impact Injuries: The Saints defense is dinged up, which is bad timing against an explosive and balanced Houston offense. Cornerback Tracy Porter appears unlikely to play for the second straight week with a calf injury. The Saints are more optimistic that linebacker Jonathan Vilma will be able to come back from a knee injury, though his status has been in doubt this week.
The X-Factor: Second-year cornerback Patrick Robinson will play a big role in this game if Porter can’t go. The speedy athlete looked great in training camp, then got picked on by the Packers in Week 1, then bounced back nicely against the Bears in Week 2. Houston quarterback Matt Schaub will certainly look to attack Robinson more often than steady veteran corner Jabari Greer, so Robinson needs to rise to the challenge.
Don’t be surprised if: Darren Sproles thrives again. Saints quarterback Drew Brees may have to unload the ball quickly against pass rusher Mario Williams and the Texans’ revamped 3-4 front. And clearly Sproles has been a hot read he can rely on, with 15 catches through two games.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @miketripletttp
For more on the Saints click here

New York Giants

Giants at Eagles by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News
Impact Injuries: The Giants' WR corps took a huge hit with the loss of Hixon for the season, but the bigger loss for this week may be Mario Manningham, who is still feeling the after effects of a concussion. That leaves very little opposite Hakeem Nicks. Victor Cruz, the likely starter, has two NFL catches. Veteran Brandon Stokley, another possibility, has been with the team for only a little more than a week.
The X-Factor: Punt returns. This could be a big factor both ways. Everyone remembers what DeSean Jackson did to the Giants' porous coverage teams last year. But the Giants don't have a rookie punter anymore and veteran Steve Weatherford isn't likely to do anything but kick the ball straight out of bounds every time. Meanwhile, the Giants lost their punt returner, Domenik Hixon (torn ACL). They'll likely give the job to CB Aaron Ross, but keep your eyes on rookie WR Jerrel Jernigan, who had the job this summer before he literally fumbled it away.
Don’t be surprised if: TE Travis Beckum gets a lot of action on Sunday. He hasn't played yet this season because of a hamstring issue, but the plan was to use him as a slot receiver on third downs. He's not much of a blocker, so he can't play a traditional TE role, but he was an outstanding college receiver and is a terrific check-down option for Eli Manning. With the Eagles likely to blitz a lot, Beckum could become a frequent target.
Follow Ralph on Twitter: @TheBlueScreen
For more on the G-Men click here

New York Jets

Jets at Raiders by Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News
Impact Injuries: All-Pro center Nick Mangold won’t play due to a high ankle sprain suffered last week. Mark Sanchez, who bruised his right forearm in Week 2, took all his regular reps in practice and will be ready to go. Santonio Holmes’ quad is fully healed.
The X-Factor: Calvin Pace. The Jets’ outside linebacker was a disruptive force in Week 2 with a team-high five tackles and could make life uncomfortable for Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell. He'll face a formidable Oakland offensive line that gives up a sack on only 1.8 percent of Campbell's drop backs.
Don’t be surprised if: The Jets’ wide receivers (Plaxico Burress, Derek Mason and Santonio Holmes) exploit the Raiders’ man-to-man, bump-and-run underneath coverage. Sanchez should find success on the outside thanks, in part, to an Oakland scheme that predominantly plays with a single high safety.
Follow Manish on Twitter: @TheJetsStream
For more on the Jets click here

Oakland Raiders

Jets at Raiders by Vittorio Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle
Impact Injuries: It looks like receiver Jacoby Ford (hamstring) and safety Mike Mitchell (knee) are out again. Ford has been missed in the return game.
The X-Factor: WR Denarius Moore. The rookie made some sensational catches last week against the Bills, as Ford, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy weren't missed at all.
Don’t be surprised if: Middle linebacker Rolando McClain ends up with a lot of tackles but most of them are 7 or 8 yards downfield.
Follow Vittorio on Twitter: @VittorioTafur
For more on the Raiders click here

Philadelphia Eagles

Giants at Eagles by Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer
Impact Injuries: As of Thursday, all signs pointed to Michael Vick being cleared to play Sunday. In the slight chance he can't go, second-year quarterback Mike Kafka will get his first career start ahead of Vince Young, who is still recovering from a hamstring injury. On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles are banged up at defensive end. Both Juqua Parker (high ankle sprain) and Darryl Tapp (pectoral strain) didn't practice early in the week, so their readiness is in question.
The X-Factor: Asante Samuel gobbles up the Manning brothers like Andy Reid does cheesesteaks. But he has quite the appetite for Eli, who he's picked off four times in his career. (Samuel has intercepted brother Peyton three times). The Eagles cornerback, who has had the most interceptions in the NFL since 2006 with 37, got off the snide with a circus catch last week off Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. With Manning down at least one receiver with Domenik Hixon out for the season with a torn ACL -- and possibly another if Mario Manningham can't come back from a concussion -- Samuel will be licking his chops.
Don’t be surprised if: Jamar Chaney is once again a tackling-machine against the Giants. Last December, the linebacker racked up 16 tackles and a forced fumble in the Eagles' miracle victory at the New Meadowlands. It was his first career start at middle linebacker. Chaney is back in the middle -- where he belongs -- after the Casey Matthews experiment failed. The Eagles shuffled their linebackers this week after two games in which the middle of their defense was gutted on the ground. Matthews slides over to weak-side linebacker and Moise Fokou moves over to strong-side. Chaney, meanwhile, will man the middle and should be an upgrade against a Giants offense that may be forced to run more in light of injuries to their receivers.
Follow Jeff on Twitter: @Jeff_McLane
For more on the Eagles click here

Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers at Colts by Michael Bean of BehindTheSteelCurtain.com
Impact Injuries: The Steelers are in fairly good shape in the injury department. Brett Keisel has been ruled out for Week 3 with a knee injury (PCL), and third-year DE Ziggy Hood will start in his place. Based on how Keisel has played to start the year and the promise that Hood has shown in limited action, there's not too much of concern about a potential dropoff in play at the position.
The X-Factor: Like it does so many weeks with the Steelers, the play of the Steelers' offensive line will play a large role in whether they leave Indianapolis with a Week 3 win. Both Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney have not practiced this week and are listed as questionable, but even if the Colts' two star defensive ends are out, tackles Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert will still need to play well in the dome of Lucas Oil Field.
Don’t be surprised if: the Steelers try to throw the ball early and often to build a lead and force Kerry Collins to play from behind. If the Colts' become one-dimnesional against this Steelers defense, it could be a long night for already downtrodden Colts fans.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @btsteelcurtain
For more on the Steelers click here

San Diego Chargers

Chiefs at Chargers by Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune
Impact Injuries: Malcom Floyd (groin).
The X-Factor: Shaun Phillips has made a big play in both games so far and usually plays big against Chiefs.
Don’t be surprised if: Ryan Mathews has the best game of his career as the Chargers wear down the Chiefs.
Follow Kevin on Twitter: @sdutChargers
For more on the Bolts click here

San Francisco 49ers

49ers at Bengals by Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee
Impact Injuries: Starting receiver Braylon Edwards will miss about a month after suffering a meniscus tear on the 49ers’ opening drive against Dallas. Edwards was hurt while making a 21-yard reception, and he averaged more than 17 yards a catch last year for the Jets. That is, he’s a big-play receiver on an offense that has been without big plays through the first two games. The 49ers average 3.9 yards per play, the second-worst average in the league. Meanwhile, Michael Crabtree is likely to take part in Sunday’s game in Cincinnati, but it’s unlikely he’ll play a full game on his still-healing left foot. That means Joshua Morgan and Ted Ginn will have to carry the load for the 49ers at receiver. Meanwhile, quarterback Alex Smith suffered a concussion in the first half against Dallas but never left the game. He was cleared to practice early this week and is not expected top be affected against the Bengals.
The X-Factor: Justin Smith will get a lot of attention this week given that he began his career in Cincinnati. But fellow defensive end Ray McDonald deserves some hype, too. McDonald already has two sacks on the season from a position not expected to rack up big numbers, and he and Smith are part of a defensive line that has been putting steady pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That has allowed the 49ers to mostly drop seven defenders in coverage, which ought to be a factor against rookie quarterback Andy Dalton on Sunday.
Don’t be surprised if: Ted Ginn breaks another big return on special teams. He had two touchdowns in Week 1, and while he was held in check against Dallas on Sunday, he had room to roam on two returns. The 49ers are very well-coached on special teams by coordinator Brad Seeley, and they have several talented young players in Blake Costanzo, C.J. Spillman and Bruce Miller. This is a matchup of two not-so-hot teams that are trying to forge an identity. The winner will be the one who gets a big play on defense or on specials teams.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @mattbarrows
For more on the Niners click here

Seattle Seahawks

Cardinals at Seahawks by Danny Kelly of FieldGulls.com
Impact Injuries: It's looking like wide receiver Sidney Rice might be a go. He practiced fully this week, testing out the labrum injury he's been battling, seeing how it would hold up. So far, so good. His return would be a big boost to the Seahawks heretofore impotent offense. Robert Gallery is out with a groin injury, and 6th year pro Paul McQuistan fills in for him at left guard. Byron Maxwell and Michael Robinson, two key special team players, are likely out as well.
The X-Factor: Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner, -- one week after getting torched by allowing 10 catches, 194 yards and a touchdown to the Steelers wideouts, most notably the speedster Mike Wallace--, will have his hands full with Cardinals all-world receiver Larry Fitzgerald. In theory, it's a more suitable matchup for Browner, who at 6'4, 220 has the size and length to play physical with Fitzgerald and give him a hard time on jump balls. In reality, there aren't many receivers that are better than Fitz, so I'd guess the Seahawks' new cornerback will get challenged a lot on Sunday. You can't stop Fitz, you can only hope to contain him, and that's exactly what Browner will try to do. If he succeeds, it will give the Seahawks an edge.
Don’t be surprised if: Both teams look to pass the football. The Cardinals rushing attack has been solid thus far but the Seahawks' main strength on defense is stopping the run. If the Hawks can continue to do this, the Cards will be forced to air it out. That's where Browner, mentioned above, comes into play. The Seahawks, on the other hand, have yet to establish any semblance of a run game so if that continues they'll be forced to rely on the arm of Tarvaris Jackson. If Sidney Rice is able to play it should help, but he'll need to target Mike Williams, Zach Miller, and Golden Tate more often and with more authority and decisiveness.
Follow Danny on Twitter: @FieldGulls
For more on the Seahawks click here

St. Louis Rams

Ravens at Rams by Tony Softli of 101 ESPN
Impact Injuries: (RB) Steven Jackson was a game time decision against the Giants last week after suffering a Rt. Quad injury on the first play vs. Philadelphia Eagles. After missing a week of practices, he passed all pre-game test including change of direction, short area burst and acceleration, but the coaches, trainers along with Jackson didn’t feel good about the final test, which was the forty yard dash. This was not for time, but the ability to sustain a long run full speed. While he participated in Thursdays practice session, he was limited and based off that performance late in the week, he will again be a game time decision.
(RB) Cadillac Williams (Jacksons back-up) sustained a low-grade Lt. Hamstring strain against the Giants, and has yet to practice this week. If Jackson and Cadillac can’t go, the keys to the car will be turned over to Jerious Norwood and Quinn Porter newly added (last week).
(TE) Michael Hoomanawanui was limited all week and is still nursing the calf strain he suffered during training camp.
(LB) Ben Leber suffered Groin strain last game and was limited all week. He is considered day/day, I think I mentioned that yesterday. It’s a low-grade strain, but it will be day-to-day. We’ll see where he’s at. All these guys we don’t know about right now going into the game.
(WR) Danny Amendola who suffered a dislocated Lt. Elbow, did not practice all week and is listed day-to-day. The swelling has gone down, and range of motion is coming around per Rams source.
The X-Factor: While the Rams offense is ready to explode by eliminating turnovers and creating production in the red zone, the defense is posed to tighten down the hatch and buck up against the run. The key for the Rams will be on special team’s coverage units and Rookie Punt returner Greg Salas. Is he up for the challenge against a very physical Ravens team. He fumbled his very first return last week against the Giants, which resulted in a touchdown, but redeemed himself with a 29 yard return later in the game finishing with a 14.5 average. Newcomer Quinn Porter (RB) and kick-off return man as shown suddenness, gear change with speed and flashed skills and production returning kick-offs.
Don’t be surprised if: The Rams have been in every game, and understand there is a fine line between winning and losing in the NFL, the difference has been turnovers. With or without Steven Jackson and Cadillac Williams, don’t be surprised if the Rams pull off a win at home as underdogs to the Baltimore Ravens. Look for Sam Bradford to deliver thru the air, the defense keep it close, so Rams Place kicker Josh Brown can win it at the end.
Follow Jim on Twitter: @SoftliSTL
For more on the Rams click here

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Falcons at Buccaneers by Anwar Richardson of the Tampa Tribune
Impact Injuries: Tampa Bay appears to be without linebacker SLB Quincy Black and rookie MLB Mason Foster will call plays on Sunday. Black was supposed to call plays until Foster developed and it looks like Tampa Bay’s rookie will be thrown into the fire against Atlanta. Bucs WR Sammie Stroughter is still recovering from foot surgery, but Preston Parker took his place and had six receptions for 98 yards against Minnesota last week.
The X-Factor: Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount must be involved in order for the Bucs to have any success against Atlanta. Blount rushed 13 times for 71 yards and two touchdowns last week after having only five carries for 15 yards in week one. He workload should increase against Atlanta if Tampa Bay does not fall behind early. Blount rushed 20 times for 103 yards and one touchdown in Tampa Bay’s second meeting against Atlanta last season, making his success important to the Bucs.
Don’t be surprised if: Tampa Bay continues to be plagued with slow starts. In Tampa Bay’s past 56 games, its offense has failed to score more than seven points in the opening quarter. This season, Tampa Bay has been outscored 37-13 in the first half of two games, but outscored opponents 31-10 in the second half.
Follow Anwar on Twitter: @TBO_Buccaneers
For more on the Bucs click here

Tennessee Titans

Broncos at Titans by Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com
Impact Injuries: Kenny Britt's hamstring is a bit tight, and that always bears monitoring, even though he is likely to play. Also, Chris Johnson has sore ribs that kept him out of practice Wednesday.
The X-Factor: Matt Hasselbeck was so-so in the opener and brilliant last week against Baltimore. The Titans hope that his accurate play continues this week against the Broncos.
Don’t be surprised if: Cortland Finnegan blitzes Kyle Orton from the nickel position. It was Orton who called Finnegan a “cheap player” last year over an incident with a Denver lineman.
Follow Terry on Twitter: @terrymc13
For more on the Titans click here

Washington Redskins

Redskins at Cowboys by John Keim of the Washington Examiner
Impact Injuries: Once more, it’s SS LaRon Landry (hamstring) who will be a game-time decision. There’s more optimism about his chances of playing Monday, but he still needs to prove he can go full speed. CB Josh Wilson (back/neck/head) has been limited in practice and will be a game-time decision as well.
The X-Factor: C Will Montgomery. Dallas NT Jay Ratliff is one of the tougher players to handle up front. And because the Redskins love running the stretch zone, Ratliff’s ability to shoot gaps is more dangerous. Also, with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the Cowboys will show more looks than most teams. That means Montgomery must be sharp with his line calls.
Don’t be surprised if: The Redskins struggle to defend TE Jason Witten. Their linebackers have played well this season, but coverage is not their strength. And in the past three years, Witten has had at least one big game vs. Washington (10-140; 6-117 and 7-90). Rookie Ryan Kerrigan will be tested, but look for the Redskins to double Witten at times, especially if Dallas is thin at receiver.
Follow John on Twitter: @john_keim
For more on the Skins click here

 

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