NFL GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS – WEEK 3

By: Arvind Pendurthi

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (0-2) AT ATLANTA FALCONS (1-1)

Week 2 Results
Buccaneers: L (17-19) vs. St. Louis Rams
Falcons: L (10-24) at Cincinnati Bengals

The Buccaneers’ vaunted defense suffered a tough loss at the hands of the St. Louis Rams, led by Austin Davis. The effectiveness of Tampa Bay’s offense has yet to be determined as week 2 added several variables, rather than providing any clarity. With running back Doug Martin inactive (ankle), backup Bobby Rainey took off for 144 yards on just 22 carries. Meanwhile, Josh McCown displayed better mobility, rushing for 2 touchdowns and getting sacked just once.

Atlanta’s offense was stifled last week by the Bengals, resulting in 3 Matt Ryan interceptions. Steven Jackson ran well (4.18 YPC), but was given just 11 carries. Although most of Atlanta’s talent – namely Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White – lies in the passing game, if Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers continue to run as well as they did last week, the Falcons’ coaching staff needs to consider leaning on its running backs a bit more.

The key factor in this matchup is which team plays to its potential. Tampa Bay is far more lethal than the past weeks’ box scores suggest, and Atlanta was inconsistent after a strong week 1 performance. That being said, Tampa Bay’s pass defense and Atlanta’s run defense will have a major impact on the game’s outcome. If the latter comes out strong and allows the Falcons’ offense to build a comfortable lead, the Buccaneers’ aerial attack will not catch up.

Players to Watch: Bobby Rainey (RB – TB), Matt Ryan (QB – ATL)

PREDICTION: BUCCANEERS 14, FALCONS 27


 SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (1-1) AT BUFFALO BILLS (2-0)

 Week 2 Results
Chargers: W (30-21) vs. Seattle Seahawks
Bills: W (29-10) vs. Miami Dolphins

San Diego has plenty of momentum coming into this week’s matchup after a huge upset over the Seattle Seahawks. However, bruising running back Ryan Mathews suffered an MCL sprain last week, so the Chargers will rely on the tandem of Donald Brown and Danny Woodhead. San Diego should manage just fine, as Brown played well for the Colts last year – averaging 5.26 yards per carry on the season – and Woodhead is a reliable passing down back.

The current frontrunners in the AFC East, the Bills are 2-0 to start the season. Last week’s thrashing of the Dolphins flashed plenty of offensive potential; surprisingly enough, the source was not Buffalo’s running backs, who averaged just 3.4 YPC, but the pass game. Rookie Sammy Watkins had a monster performance, putting up a stat line of 8 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown.

Buffalo’s defensive line manhandled the Dolphins, sacking QB Ryan Tannehill 4 times on the day. However, Philip Rivers is far more experienced than Tannehill, so he will handle the pressure better. One intriguing matchup to monitor is rookie CB Jason Verrett’s coverage of Watkins, provided Verrett is given another opportunity to start (Brandon Flowers, groin). If San Diego can limit its mistakes, they will improve to 2-1.

 Players to Watch: Donald Brown (RB – SD), CJ Spiller (RB – BUF)

 Prediction: Chargers 28, Bills 17


DALLAS COWBOYS (1-1) AT ST. LOUIS RAMS (1-1)

 Week 2 Results
Cowboys: W (26-10) at Tennessee Titans
Rams: W (19-17) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Although they got the win, Dallas is still not playing convincing football, with the exception of DeMarco Murray, of course, who leads the league in rushing yards with 285. Tony Romo continues to play below his potential with an underwhelming QBR of 75.1. One bright spot is that Dallas’ highly criticized defense did well against the Titans, intercepting 2 passes and forcing a fumble.

The Rams defeated Tampa Bay on a last-second field goal, Greg Zeuerlein’s fourth of the day. Although the offense, led by Austin Davis, has not been very pretty, it did just enough to get St. Louis the win. The special teams unit was a key factor in the victory; specifically, TJ McDonald who had both a blocked punt and a blocked field goal.

The one positive of the Cowboys’ pass game is the chemistry and consistency between Romo and Dez Bryant. Similarly, St. Louis’ aerial attack is dependent on the connection between Davis and receiver Brian Quick (7 catches, 74 yards). Neither team has a very strong secondary, but Romo’s offense is too talented to lose to be outpaced by the Rams.

 Players to Watch: Tony Romo (QB – DAL), Brian Quick (WR – STL)

 Prediction: Cowboys 24, Rams 13


 WASHINGTON REDSKINS (1-1) AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (2-0)

 Week 2 Results
Redskins: W (41-10) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Eagles: W (30-27) at Indianapolis Colts

Bad news – the Redskins lost Robert Griffin III (dislocated ankle) for several weeks. Good news – the Redskins could do much worse than Kirk Cousins as their backup. Despite star receiver DeSean Jackson also leaving the game (AC joint sprain), Washington’s offense looked unstoppable, scoring 41 points on the ground and through the air, and their defense was formidable, allowing just a touchdown and a field goal.

The Eagles’ defense, on the other hand, was repeatedly exploited by the Colts. All 3 of Andrew Luck’s touchdown passes came on a simple rollout dump-off to the flat. Though Philadelphia has put together two consecutive second-half comebacks, they will not be able to do so 14 more times. The defense has to clamp down and give Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy some breathing room.

Darren Sproles had a huge game, showing off his trademark combination of quickness, agility and toughness en route to 152 yards on just 7 receptions and another 26 yards on 4 carries. Though he is only the Eagles’ backup running back, Sproles will be the x-factor in this matchup – one the Redskins will find too difficult to contain.

 Players to Watch: Kirk Cousins (QB – WAS), Darren Sproles (RB – PHI)

 Prediction: Redskins 21, Eagles 27


HOUSTON TEXANS (2-0) AT NEW YORK GIANTS (0-2)

 Week 2 Results
Texans: W (30-14) at Oakland Raiders
Giants: L (14-25) vs. Arizona Cardinals

Houston routed the Raiders last Sunday using a one-two punch of efficiency and explosiveness. The former was provided by QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (139 yards, 2 touchdowns), who completed 73% of his passes, while the latter came from Arian Foster’s 138 yards on the ground including a touchdown. Bill O’Brien showed some creativity as well, running a play that resulted in a TD reception for defensive end JJ Watt.

The Giants, on the other hand, were a complete dumpster fire. Eli Manning’s first interception ricocheted off his own lineman, Quintin Demps coughed up the ball on a kick return, and Rashad Jennings slipped on the turf, untouched, fumbling in the process. Meanwhile, the defense, tasked with stopping a quarterback who had not had an NFL pass attempt in 4 years. They proceeded to concede 25 points.

Until New York can sort out its offensive situation, the team will be lucky to scrape together more than 2 wins. Although they have yet to face a truly tough opponent, the Texans showed vast improvement, specifically offensively, over their week 1 performance. If they continue this trend, the Giants do not stand a chance.

Players to Watch: Arian Foster (RB – HOU), Reuben Randle (WR – NYG)

 Prediction: Texans 23, Giants 9


MINNESOTA VIKINGS (1-1) AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (0-2)

Week 2 Results
Vikings: L (7-30) vs. New England Patriots
Saints: L (24-26) at Cleveland Browns

The Vikings are yet another team involved in the rash of abuse allegations (Adrian Peterson, indefinite suspension) that have surfaced throughout the NFL over the past weeks. Matt Cassel had a terrible outing last weekend, with a 1:4 touchdown-interception ratio. As far as the run game, expect the backfield of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon to split carries. The latter is an athlete to keep a close eye on, as he possesses truly remarkable athleticism; Nike’s SPARQ ratings gauge players’ athleticism numerically – an elite athlete scores roughly 140. McKinnon’s score is 147.5.

Surprisingly enough, the Saints have opened the 2014 with two consecutive losses. The opportunities have been there, but the execution has not. QB Drew Brees had an uncharacteristic miscue, overthrowing an open Jimmy Graham and giving up a pick-six in the process. On the game’s final drive, a blown defensive assignment allowed the Browns to set up the winning field goal. Head coach Sean Payton will ensure a performance like that does not happen again.

While the Saints will sorely miss Mark Ingram (fractured thumb, 1 month), who was on track for a career year, Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson are more than capable of carrying the load in his absence. Brees’ ability to keep defenses honest by spreading the field will take a toll on Minnesota’s defense this week.

Players to Watch: Jerick McKinnon (RB – MIN), Khiry Robinson (RB – NO)

Prediction: Vikings 10, Saints 27


TENNESSEE TITANS (1-1) AT CINCINNATI BENGALS (2-0)

Week 2 Results
Titans: L (10-26) vs. Dallas Cowboys
Bengals: W (24-10) vs. Atlanta Falcons

The Titans were disappointing against the Cowboys, specifically the passing attack and run defense. QB Jake Locker threw for 234 yards and a touchdown, but gave up 2 interceptions and completed just 53% of his passes. Meanwhile, Tennessee’s defense allowed 220 yards on the ground alone. Although Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster were both effective, the running backs were barely utilized as the offense had to play catch-up all day.

Cincinnati continues to look dominant, bringing the Falcons back down to Earth this week. Andy Dalton performed very well without #1 receiver AJ Green (sprained foot), completing several key passes under intense pressure. The Bengals’ formidable running back tandem of Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill amassed 265 all-purpose yards to go with 2 touchdowns. If Cincinnati maintains its play, the AFC North is theirs to lose.

While Tennessee works out its kinks, the Bengals will be running on all cylinders this Sunday. Their stifling defense that intercepted the ball 3 times, in addition to several huge plays including a key George Iloka deflection, should have no problems flustering Jake Locker and company.

Players to Watch: Delanie Walker (TE – TEN), Geno Atkins (DT – CIN)

Prediction: Titans 14, Bengals 27


BALTIMORE RAVENS (1-1) AT CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-1)

Week 2 Results
Ravens: W (26-6) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Browns: W (27-26) vs. New Orleans Saints

John Harbaugh and the Ravens’ defense must have read last week’s predictions because they were anything but “average” on Thursday night. The Steelers found out the hard way as Baltimore played fast, ferocious, unrelenting defense in a dominant victory. Joe Flacco had a nice game (166 yards, 2 TDs, 72% completion rate), showcasing the effortless deep ball for which he is so well-known.

Cleveland also looked anything but average – high praise for the long-suffering Browns – in an upset over the Saints. In Ben Tate’s absence, rookies Terrance West (68 yards, 1 TD) and Isaiah Crowell (54 yards, 4.91 YPC) continued to run very well, opening the pass game up for QB Brian Hoyer. The Browns’ underrated defense held the Saints in check and will try to carry their performance over this week.

Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett (7.00 YPC) will have their hands full with Cleveland’s tenacious defense, but the same can be said for the Browns. Baltimore’s hard-hitting defense, anchored by Courtney Upshaw and CJ Mosley, will disrupt their opponents’ offensive attack, both on the ground and through the air. Expect a big game from Torrey Smith, courtesy of a few Joe Flacco, signature deep bombs.

Players to Watch: Torrey Smith (WR – BAL), Isaiah Crowell (RB, CLE)

Prediction: Ravens 21, Browns 13


GREEN BAY PACKERS (1-1) AT DETROIT LIONS (1-1)

Week 2 Results
Packers: W (31-24) at New York Jets
Lions: L (7-24) at Carolina Panthers

Green Bay scraped by the Jets at Lambeau Field thanks to a second-half comeback courtesy of Aaron Rodgers. Jordy Nelson had a huge day, reeling in 9 catches for 209 yards and a touchdown. Rodgers picked New York’s defense apart, exploiting coverage gaps and releasing the ball quickly from the pocket. The Packers’ defense struggled early on, but showed improvement throughout the game, culminating in a 4th & 8 stop on the final drive.

Detroit struggled in Carolina, on both offense and defense, losing by 17 points. The offense turned the ball over 3 times, the Panthers made Calvin Johnson look human and the running backs could not get anything going. The defense, meanwhile, allowed touchdowns to Jason Avant and Jonathan Stewart while forcing no turnovers. Detroit simply cannot win that way.

While the Lions did not have a very good outing last week, they also have a much easier matchup offensively. Then again, their defense will also be facing a much tougher opponent. Expect a high-scoring shootout between Rodgers and Stafford, with a victory coming the former’s way.

Players to Watch: HaHa Clinton-Dix (S – GB), Joique Bell (RB – DET)

Prediction: Packers 38, Lions 35


INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (0-2) AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (0-2)

Week 2 Results
Colts: L (30-27) vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Jaguars: L (10-41) at Washington Redskins

Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson came out strong in the first half, running all over the Eagles’ defense. While Richardson slowed down over the course of the game, finishing with a YPC of 3.76, Bradshaw remained consistent, totaling 70 yards on 13 carries and a pair of receiving touchdowns. Andrew Luck is an elite quarterback in the making, but the Colts’ run game is key to his development. Chuck Pagano and his staff need to lean more heavily on Bradshaw.

Jacksonville floundered on Sunday, constantly leaving receivers wide open and failing to shut down the run, giving up 191 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, the Jaguars’ offensive line was horrid, allowing 10 sacks on the day. To put that number in perspective, Jacksonville is now on pace to give up 104 sacks over the course of the season, which would tie for the worst in NFL history (Eagles, 1986).

Although Chad Henne is not to blame for the Jaguars’ loss, Blake Bortles must be taken into consideration as the starting quarterback. He flashed tons of potential throughout the preseason and may give Jacksonville the element their offense is missing. In addition, their starting receivers need to get healthy quickly, as Cecil Shorts, Marqise Lee, and Allen Hurns are all in danger of sitting out this week.

Players to Watch: Ahmad Bradshaw (RB – IND), Chad Henne (QB – JAC)

Prediction: Colts 23, Jaguars 14


OAKLAND RAIDERS (0-2) AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (1-1)

Week 2 Results
Raiders: L (14-30) vs. Houston Texans
Patriots: W (30-7) at Minnesota Vikings

The Raiders suffered a tough loss at home, unable to slow the Texans’ offense down and failing to convert when they possessed the ball with a third-down efficiency of just 22%. Derek Carr has struggled to find his rhythm, throwing 2 interceptions and completing just 27 of his 42 passes. James Jones continues to be the focal point of the offensive attack with 9 catches for 112 yards and a touchdown.

New England dominated both offensively and defensively on Sunday. RB Stevan Ridley eclipsed 100 yards, adding a touchdown in the process, while Julian Edelman reeled in 81 receiving yards and a score on 6 catches. The defense shut Minnesota down, forcing 5 turnovers and allowing just one touchdown.

Although the Raiders will put together a few wins, their first will not come this week. The Patriots are simply too powerful for Oakland to keep up. They will outmuscle the Raiders all day long, coasting to an easy win.

Players to Watch: James Jones (WR – OAK), Shane Vereen (RB – NE)

Prediction: Raiders 9, Patriots 35


SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (1-1) AT ARIZONA CARDINALS (2-0)

Week 2 Results
49ers: L (20-28) vs. Chicago Bears
Cardinals: W (25-14) at New York Giants

One week removed from a thrashing of the Cowboys, the Niners imploded against Chicago. Penalties, turnovers and 21 points allowed in the 4th quarter alone all contributed to San Francisco’s home loss. Frank Gore continued to run hard, using his trademark vision and field awareness to make effective cuts out of the backfield, finishing with 63 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

The highest scoring player for the Cardinals was none other than Chandler Catanzaro? The rookie kicker went 4/4 on the day, contributing 12 of Arizona’s 25 points. With Carson Palmer a late scratch (shoulder), backup quarterback Drew Stanton was serviceable, but unimpressive, completing just 48% of his passes.

Arguably the toughest division in the NFL, any NFC West matchup will be fun to watch. The winner of this battle will be determined by two factors: Palmer’s health and Colin Kaepernick’s performance. Both teams boast strong defenses, but Jim Harbaugh’s squad will fix its mistakes and add another game to the win column.

Players to Watch: Colin Kaepernick (QB – SF), Patrick Peterson (CB – ARI)

Prediction: 49ers 20, Cardinals 13


DENVER BRONCOS (2-0) AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (1-1)

Week 2 Results
Broncos: W (24-17) at Kansas City Chiefs
Seahawks: L (21-30) at San Diego Chargers

Although the game was closer than many would have liked, the Broncos defeated division rival Kansas City last Sunday. Somewhere in Dallas, Jerry Jones weeps, after watching DeMarcus Ware terrorize the Chiefs’ weak offensive line. Thanks to the tuck rule, however, his pivotal forced fumble was declared an incomplete pass. Peyton Manning and the Denver offense were brutally efficient, committing 0 turnovers.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s offense was uncharacteristically ineffective, rushing for just 108 yards; furthermore, that number – and their point total – are both inaccurate, as the referees incorrectly ruled WR Percy Harvin inbounds on a long TD run. Surprisingly enough, the Seahawks defense was the team’s weakest link, conceding 3 touchdown passes to tight end Antonio Gates alone.

Last year’s Super Bowl was an absolute massacre by the Seahawks. As a result, the Broncos spent the offseason shoring up its defense. However, taking on the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field very rarely ends well for the visiting team – Seattle has gone 24-8 at home since 2010. Pete Carroll and the 12th man will ensure the home team gets the “W”.

Players to Watch: Julius Thomas (TE – DEN), Kam Chancellor (S – SEA)

Prediction: Seahawks 37, Broncos 31


KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (0-2) AT MIAMI DOLPHINS (1-1)

Week 2 Results
Chiefs: L (17-24) vs. Denver Broncos
Dolphins: L (10-29) at Buffalo Bills

The Chiefs’ defense, one of the top units in the NFL last season, struggled throughout their matchup against the Broncos. They failed to force a turnover and sacked the QB just once, allowing three touchdown receptions to separate receivers in the process. Furthermore, Jamaal Charles is in danger of sitting out week 3 with a high-ankle sprain suffered early in the game.

7 days after embarrassing the New England Patriots, the Dolphins were trounced in Buffalo. Poor play by the linebackers allowed EJ Manuel to connect with Sammy Watkins repeatedly, the special teams unit handed CJ Spiller a 102-yard kickoff return TD whuke the offensive line gave up 4 sacks. Adding insult to injury – or rather, injury to insult – offensive catalyst Knowshon Moreno will miss at least a month with a dislocated elbow.

Since starting the 2013 season with a 9-0 record, the Chiefs have steadily come crashing back down to Earth. The lone bright spot for their offense is Knile Davis (79 yards, 2 touchdowns), who can carry the load well in Charles’ absence. However, Miami’s secondary and wide receiver corps has more than enough talent to defeat Kansas City.

Players to Watch: Knile Davis (RB – KC), Brent Grimes (CB – MIA)

Prediction: Chiefs 14, Dolphins 20


PITTSBURGH STEELERS (1-1) AT CAROLINA PANTHERS (2-0)

Week 2 Results
Steelers: L (6-26) at Baltimore Ravens
Panthers: W (24-7) vs. Detroit Lions

With the exception of Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers did not look overly impressive in week 1; they played even worse in week 2. Pittsburgh was sluggish on offense, failing to convert on either of their 2 red zone opportunities. The one bright spot was, once again, Bell (5.36 YPC). Although they gave up two easy touchdowns, the defense played fast, physical football, suffering from incorrect calls by the referees.

Carolina looked strong, moving the ball well and limiting their mistakes in a big win over the Lions. The run game, led by Jonathan Stewart was not particularly effective averaging a lowly 2.58 yards per carry. However, Cam Newton made up for it through the air, spreading the ball to 7 different receivers for 281 yards. Once again, the Panthers’ defense was their biggest strength, forcing an interception and 3 fumbles and limiting the Lions’ high-powered offense.

While Pittsburgh struggled to execute on both sides of the ball, the Panthers have set the stage for a strong season. The NFC South is, as of right now, riddled with question marks with the exception of Carolina. The Big Cats will take the Steelers down in a statement win.

Players to Watch: Ryan Shazier (ILB – PIT), Charles Johnson (DE – CAR)

Prediction: Steelers 17, Panthers 24


CHICAGO BEARS (1-1) AT NEW YORK JETS (1-1)

Week 2 Results
Bears: W (28-20) at San Francisco 49ers
Jets: L (24-31) at Green Bay Packers

After giving up 17 straight points to open the game, the Bears came back in a big way on Sunday night. Cornerback Charles Tillman left the game with a ruptured triceps (possibly season-ending), which then led to a breakout performance by rookie CB Kyle Fuller. The Virginia Tech product blanketed Michael Crabtree, securing two game-changing interceptions in the 4th quarter.

Conversely, New York opened their matchup strong, converting on early Green Bay turnovers. Geno Smith looked very good, rushing for a touchdown on a play action rollout, then delivering Eric Decker (4 catches, 63 yards, 1 touchdown) a beautiful 29-yard score while getting hit. Although he regressed over the course of the game, Smith is showing plenty of progress towards fulfilling his potential.

The Jets’ defensive line, arguably the best in the NFL, will terrorize Jay Cutler and Matt Forte – provided DE Muhammad Wilkerson can last the whole game without getting ejected. However, the Jets’ suspect secondary will have trouble containing Brandon Marshall (5 catches, 48 yards, 3 touchdowns), and Alshon Jeffery. The Bears will leave New York with the win on Monday Night Football.

Players to Watch: Alshon Jeffery (WR – CHI), Sheldon Richardson (DT – NYJ)

Prediction: Bears 27, Jets 17

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