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
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.
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
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.
<strong>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
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
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
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
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
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
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
<h3 style=”text-align: center; “> 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
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
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
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
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
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
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 rea