Entering NFL Week 3, the many rookie QBs have survived their professional intros, but a couple of teams (yes, you Dallas and New Orleans) are mysteriously inept -- making game predictions a dart-throwing endeavor.
Announcer of the Week: Jon Gruden was so irritated at the dreadful officiating on Week 2's Monday Night Football that we actually saw the "Chucky Face" for the first time since he left the sidelines. It was a nostalgic moment.
Quote of the Week: From FOX announcer Chris Myers when the Redskins took over with 2:40 on the clock: "Now can Robert Griffin III add to his legacy?" Legacy? Time to cut down on the energy drinks, Chris.
Thursday Night Football
New York Giants at Carolina Panthers. Eli Manning is so used to ridiculous winds at the Meadowlands that any other stadium is a piece of cake. New Giants TE Martellus Bennett is finally making the plays that the Cowboys drafted him to make. Oops.
The Giants must run the ball. Ahmad Bradshaw is out with a neck injury* so it must be comer Andre Brown or doghouse rookie David Wilson. Offensive line injuries are going to be a factor. The RBs combined compiled 94 yards versus the Bucs. Eli alone accounted for 510 yards.# Does that seem fair?
Carolina had no such issues. The Panthers gained 219 rushing yards and all three of their marquee backs scored. As for the passing attack: NFL Films has a clip of Tom Brady complaining that, "It's like throwing into a forest." It was in the Super Bowl and he was referring to Big Blue's D-line. Good luck with that, Cam.
Prediction: Panthers by one.
Sunday Early Football Games
St. Louis Rams at Chicago Bears. Thanks to Jay Cutler for completely disregarding my prediction that he would be a Pro-Bowler. The only Chicago bright spot in Week 2 was DE Shea McClellin, who is worth his high draft status. Matt Forte's ankle injury is not serious, but he is questionable. Signing Michael Bush is looking smarter by the day.
Sam Bradford has averaged 7.9 yards per pass attempt in September, throwing from the best St. Louis pocket since 1999. Too bad that two starting tackles got hurt. Danny Amendola hauled in 15 passes. Guess he's the new go-to guy while Brandon Gibson still looks like a legit pro deep threat.
The Rams D is finally coalescing -- even in the absence of an official coordinator. Nasty DB Cortland Finnegan continues to live down to what he told Dallas Clark (via NFL Films Sound F/X): "I'm not likeable." Okay, we believe you.
Here's the matchup: Rams rushers versus a Chicago D that may be elderly but is only allowing 3.7 yards per carry. And Steven Jackson has a groin injury. Looks like another chance for rookie Daryl Richardson to strut his stuff.
Prediction: Bears by a Field Goal.
Buffalo Bills at Cleveland Browns. Assuming that only Ohioans watched the Bengals/Browns game Sunday, here's the news: Browns rookies QB Brandon Weeden and RB Trent Richardson have arrived in the NFL. We all now understand why people compare Richardson to Adrian Peterson.
Too bad that star CB Joe Haden is suspended and the reserve DBs are playing like reserves. Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will complete a few big ones to WR Stevie Johnson
The primary battles will be between the Cleveland O-line and the Bills multi-million dollar D-line and between Buffalo RB C.J. Spiller and the Browns formerly suspect run D.
Prediction: Browns by one.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys. It's starting to look like Tampa Bay has a defense. As usual lately, Dallas can't remember its identity. The 'Boys should fare better against the Bucs injury-thinned secondary than they did versus Seattle's monster DBs, but they have to do better than their average of just over 15 points.
The Bucs RB tandem of LeGarrette Blount and Doug Martin are thrilled that Dallas has given up an average of 132 rushing yards in the first two weeks. The questionable status of two safeties and DE Jay Ratliff won't help.
Prediction: Cowboys by six.
Detroit Lions at Tennessee Titans. Call me when the Titans put Matt Hasselbeck back in at QB. Secondary injuries have hurt the Lions defense, so maybe Jake Locker will have a more effective outing.
Is Chris Johnson over-the-hill (2.1 yards per carry? 29 yards per game?)? Second-string rusher Javon Ringer has an elbow injury. Great.
Matthew Stafford is a master passer in the making and this week his team may (at last) get some run support from Mikel Leshoure -- if he can manage to not get arrested between now and Sunday.
Prediction: Lions by a Touchdown. So much for the home underdog theory.
Kansas City Chiefs at New Orleans Saints. If the Saints can't pull it together at home against the Chiefs, it's time to put a fork in them. The Chiefs secondary is giving up 9.4 yards per pass. Drew Brees, this is your moment.
Steve Spagnuolo is a good coach. Fielding a Saints D this sub-standard is shocking. Still, they should be able to shut down a sputtering Chiefs offense. RB Jamaal Charles is having trouble with his knee, Peyton Hillis is making fans wonder if he was a one-year wonder after all and Matt Cassel is not equipped to carry a team. He may have backed up Tom Brady -- but he isn't Tom Brady.
Prediction: The Saints should prevail by ten points. If they start scoring, they may not ease up after such a rough start.
San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings. We'll see exactly how much progress Vikes QB Christian Ponder has made this week against a frankly ferocious Niners D. Better him than me. The score will consequently turn on Adrian Peterson's carries.
Alex Smith continues his climb back to respectability. Sure, it helps when your defense holds Matthew Stafford to less than 300 yards and when Frank Gore is your RB. However, Smith's 70 percent completion percentage and near 115 QB rating are the real deal.
Prediction: Of course the Vikings have a chance. Niners by a Touchdown.
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins. Joe Philbin looks a bit smarter this week for starting rookie QB Ryan Tannehill. Reggie Bush looks a bit like he truly is a featured back (172 yards and two scores certainly qualifies). Just as startling, the defense held the Raiders stud Darren McFadden to 22 yards rushing and 19 receiving.
All we know for sure about the New York Jets is that the offense is better than feared. That doesn't mean Sanchez and company are striking fear into defenders' hearts.
Both squads won against weak teams and lost against strong teams. If Darrelle Revis comes back at corner for Gang Green, he should tip the balance against a rookie Dolphins QB.
Prediction: Jets by a field goal.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts. Andrew led a drive with seconds on the clock and Adam Vinatieri punched in the field goal for a Colts win. Sound familiar?
The Jaguars defense is tremendously disappointing. They've given up 400 yards, 4.4 yards/carry, 7.4 yards/pass and 26.5 points per game! And just when QB Blaine Gabbert seems to be catching on, he strains his leg.
Prediction: Colts by a Field Goal. It would be more, but the Colts O-line is in the infirmary.
Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Redskins. Robert Griffin III was ready to begin his "legacy" when WR Josh Morgan reverted to adolescence -- and two defensive starters landed on IR. WR Pierre Garcon, who was sorely missed in Week 2, is still questionable. Not helping.
For all of the "young guns" hype, this game will be decided on the ground. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a reliably productive back, while Mike Shanahan finally has a QB who can balance out his famous zone-blocking rush attack. Whether it's Alfred Morris, Ryan Torain or Roy Helu toting the rock -- their success will determine what RGIII tries to do.
Bengals linebackers, start your engines.
Prediction: Redskins by a Field Goal.
Sunday Late Football Games
Atlanta Falcons at San Diego Chargers. Look out, Philip Rivers; the Falcons defense has a new attitude. Unfortunately, starting TE Antonio Gates and starting rusher Ryan Mathews are still questionable. Mathews swears he's going to play after breaking his collarbone in August. Eew.
Matt Ryan is doing that "taking a big leap" thing in his fifth year. New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, two killer wideouts and Tony Gonzalez are helping.
The Chargers defense has been better than expected as well and their effort against Atlanta's O will decide the day.
Prediction: Chargers by one.
Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals. Michael Vick has nine lives -- but surely his luck will run out some day. And people thought Brett Favre took chances! If Vick continues this kind of recklessness Sunday against Calais Campbell and his fellow defenders, No. 7 won't make it through the game.
One assumes Kevin Kolb will continue his turn at the helm for the Cards. Kudos to the Arizona coaching staff for what amounted to a character win in New England. Hopefully the running backs will chip in this week.
Prediction: Cardinals by one.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Oakland Raiders. If you hate the Steelers, this could be a long year. Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley have crafted a fireworks-worthy offense that is popping all over the place. If the mature D can hold themselves together with duct tape, this team will roll into January.
Raiders signal-caller Carson Palmer seems more comfortable and RB Darren McFadden is an undisputed stud, but the Black Hole will be a darker place than usual this week.
Prediction: Steelers by a Touchdown or more.
Houston Texans at Denver Broncos. I didn't worry about Peyton Manning's interceptions too much -- until I noticed that the Texans D has given up an average of less than 200 total yards so far. Hmmm.
Then there's that two-headed rushing assault with Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Hmmm.
However, perspective was regained when it was revealed that Houston has beaten Jacksonville and Miami while Denver has played Pittsburgh and Atlanta.
Prediction: Broncos by a Field Goal (A Touchdown if they can keep Manning clean.)
Sunday Night Football
New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens. This could devolve to an ugly place if the NFL doesn't assign some officials with, um, guts. Both teams should have won last Sunday -- and didn't. The Ravens should have won last January. And didn't.
When your offense is based on two TE sets and one of those guys goes down, things get off-kilter. That's why the Patriots signed Kellen Winslow this week. Yeah, 'cause he's such an awesome blocker and rush option. Come on, Patriots -- pay Wes Welker and stop trying to phase him out.
The Ravens lost because Eagles TE Brent Celek suddenly channeled Edwin Moses and vaulted over All-World Ravens safety Ed Reed. That's probably not going to happen twice.
Baltimore should be the better team, but nobody ever got rich underestimating Bill Belichick.
Prediction: Ravens by a Field Goal.
Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks. If you haven't been paying attention to Seattle, now would be the time to tune in for a look at their enormous secondary and diminutive quarterback. Oddly, it's a combo that just might win a lot of games. The defense has allowed less than two TDs per game this season.
The Packers are a much more accomplished group and even the 'Hawks DBs probably can't stop the Aaron Rodgers attack. However, that's probably what Dallas thought, too.
The game will hinge on Seattle's ability to keep the ball away from Rodgers via running backs Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington and newcomer Robert Turbin (who is on the edge of being an official 2012 draft steal).
Prediction: Seahawks by one.
#Statistics from espn.com.
*Injury information via cbssports.com and usatoday.com