Week three was a crazy one in the NFL. Who could have envisaged the Cleveland Browns winning on the road in Minnesota, or the Giants getting shutout in a humiliating 38-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers? More interesting however is the way some of the favourites for the Superbowl have struggled through these first three weeks. Defeats for the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans dropped all three teams to 1-2, all four are still more than capable of making the postseason but all bar the Texans are now two games behind in their division. The AFC East has two unbeaten teams, the Patriots 3-0 start is little surprise but the Dolphins must be delighted with their start. The AFC West likewise has seen both the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs jump out to 3-0 starts, given the Chiefs picked first in the 2013 draft they have been one of the success stories of the season so far.
On the other side of the coin, perennially successful duo the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers headline a group of six winless teams, none are bad enough to go winless all year so the Lions legendary 0-16 season of 2008 doesn’t look in much danger. Can any of the 0-3 teams make the playoffs? History shows how tough that is to do and all six are very much up against it. The Giants are probably the most likely given the modest form shown by NFC East teams so far but they are already two games and a tiebreaker behind the Cowboys and put up their worst performance in recent history this week. The first bye weeks begin this week, the Packers must regroup during theirs and comeback better than the team beaten in Cincinnati last week, injuries have been a big part of their early struggles. Carolina’s comes at a bad time after their first win this past week, their defense has been excellent thus far but they need more consistency on offense when they return. Catching the New Orleans Saints is going to be mighty tough for them and the Falcons are surely better than their 1-2 start so making the playoffs is still unlikely for Ron Rivera’s team.
San Francisco 49ers @ St. Louis Rams
Consecutive defeats are one thing but the biggest concern for Coach Jim Harbaugh is the lack of production from his usually dynamic offense these past two weeks. San Francisco have struggled to run the ball in all three games thus far but since the first game teams have been able to nullify the dual threat of quarterback Colin Kaepernick also and the Niners have had real problems. The Rams hoped to compete with San Francisco and Seattle in this division but have showed through three games that they are still some way off doing so. They couldn’t stop the run or move the ball with any consistency in a heavy defeat in Dallas this past week. Rookie Tavon Austin hasn’t been the playmaker St. Louis hoped he would be so far and the Rams are struggling to run the ball with Steven Jackson gone. Defensively the Rams were excellent last year but have shipped 82 points and given up nearly 400 yards per game in their first three weeks. The way that they were gouged by DeMarco Murray this past week will give optimism to San Francisco who desperately need Frank Gore and co. to find their feet to kick-start their struggling offense. Also promising for San Francisco was the six sacks given up by the Rams in Dallas. Superstar rusher Aldon Smith’s problems with the law have hurt their pressure packages but they still have the ability to give Sam Bradford problems. This is a game which both teams need but for the 49ers defeat and a 1-3 record is unthinkable; they simply must win and on the fast surface of the Edward Jones Dome, Kaepernick can lead his team to victory.
ATPF Prediction– San Francisco win the Thursday Night Football game by around a touchdown.
Baltimore Ravens @ Buffalo Bills
The Ravens have slipped under the radar in gaining back to back wins after their humiliating week one defeat. To some extent they have gone back to basics, back to their roots in winning through defense. Just fifteen points, no touchdowns conceded in their last two outings shows just how well this unit is playing. Offensively they have struggled, ranking 30th in total yards so far but missing Ray Rice for a game and a half, Dennis Pitta’s injury and the loss of Anquan Boldin would shake most offenses.
The Bills had chances against the Jets but couldn’t protect their rookie quarterback from the Jets aggressive blitz schemes and dropped to 1-2. Explosive runner C.J. Spiller, their most dynamic player left the game injured and is questionable here. Baltimore’s tailback Ray Rice is expected to return, a major boost for Joe Flacco and the Ravens. With the way the Ravens defense is playing and the problems the Bills had moving the football against the Jets expect Baltimore to concentrate on ball security and field position on offense and let their strongest unit win them the game.
ATPF Prediction– In a low scoring game the Ravens get the win by nine or ten.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns
A shock win by Brian Hoyer and the Browns on the road came as a surprise to all but the most optimistic Browns fans, if there are any. The Browns and Hoyer rode their luck, he threw three touchdown passes but also three picks. The Vikings though could never quite peg them back; for once the Browns offense won them a game. So often their useful but hapless defense has fought hard in a losing cause. A divisional win here would be a sensational result but make no mistake; the Bengals are in a different league to the Vikings.
Cincinnati got to 2-1 after a huge victory over the Green Bay Packers. Their defense was excellent, again, but their offense and quarterback was not, again. The job this defense did was lost in the thirty points they gave up but bear in mind they had under 300 yards of offense, turned it over 4 times and were just 36% on third down and you see the uphill battle the defense was forced to fight. They kept arguably the league’s best quarterback to less than 300 yards and one touchdown, sacked him four times and picked him off twice. A couple of fumble returns compounded the job and saw them home for the win. Here the Bengals defense should play a smarter game than the Vikings did and offensively they will expect to move the ball even though Andy Dalton is struggling. Dalton has a sound offensive line and a plethora of big targets led by all-pro receiver A.J. Green; he remains the one man holding this team back from being contenders but should get enough points on the board here.
ATPF Prediction– Bengals do a professional job on the Browns, win by ten.
Arizona Cardinals @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs are in crisis, a catastrophic loss to the Saints was followed by a beatdown by the Patriots. They are winless and coach Greg Schiano, fighting for his job has not only benched quarterback Josh Freeman but has put him on the trade block. Rookie Mike Glennon, a strong armed, tall prospect will start here. He is probably most similar to Joe Flacco out of all current NFL starters but takes a big hike in ability from North Carolina State. The good news for Glennon is that he has an excellent receiver in Vincent Jackson, a developing star in versatile running back Doug Martin and a pretty solid offensive line when they are healthy. The Bucs defense are playing well enough to get a few wins if the offense fires.
The Cardinals got brutalised in the Superdome, they aren’t the first, won’t be the last. The loss dropped them to 1-2 in a rebuilding year but previous to that they had beaten Detroit and gone down by just a field goal to St. Louis, they are no pushovers. With the 23rd and 31st ranked offenses colliding this one hardly sets the pulse racing yet it is still an interesting and tough one to call. The Bucs are overall more talented and are at home but how will Glennon play? Arizona lack talent in many areas but have a reliable if average signal caller in Carson Palmer. We are hoping Tampa Bay’s defense which did a fine job against Drew Brees and co a fortnight ago can play to that level against a modest offense and that Glennon and Doug Martin between them can do enough to outscore them.
ATPF Prediction– Tampa Bay wins a close one here; a field goal may decide it.
New York Giants @ Kansas City Chiefs
Preseason this one would have been a Giants win in most books. Three defeats later, most recently a 38-0 demolition in Carolina and the Giants are in crisis. The perennially poor Chiefs however have been turned around by new head coach Andy Reid and have jumped out to 3-0 start. Reid has used his knowledge of the NFC East to his advantage, edging out the Cowboys before beating his old team last week. He would love to do the sweep and the Giants look there for the taking. Kansas has a pretty talented roster with a host of pro-bowl players on both sides of the ball. Their offense is playing smart, mistake free football and their defense is one of the league’s stronger units.
The Giants are playing mistake filled football, Eli Manning has already been intercepted eight times and they have lost four fumbles, running back David Wilson is already on the bench for his two in the season opener. The Giants defense is struggling although they have been put in some terrible situations. Jason Pierre-Paul is still a long way from his best, Justin Tuck is in decline and they are beaten up in the secondary and at linebacker. Yet for all of that, this team has won two superbowls in the last six years and still possesses the talent to give almost anyone a game. Somewhere along the line they will get it together, not turn it over and probably beat somebody soundly. The Chiefs must simply play hard and smart as they have been doing and hope that the Giants again implode.
ATPF Prediction– The Chiefs win but the Giants make a game of this and cover the Vegas spread
Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars
The Colts had a timely win and an impressive one in San Francisco last Sunday. All of a sudden with a 2-1 record and Trent Richardson in the backfield they look big dangers to the Texans in the AFC South, winning a division game on the road here would further aid their task.
Jacksonville had a thankless task for any team last week, visiting the mighty Seahawks; they were soundly beaten but got a few points in ‘garbage time’. They remain winless and favourites for the first overall pick in the draft next spring. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert returns and is expected to start, as previously eluded to at ATPF which of Gabbert or Henne starts makes little difference, neither is an NFL calibre starting quarterback. The Jags have offered nothing to suggest a win although we were saying the same about Cleveland last week. Andrew Luck and his decent supporting cast look sure to head home with the win here.
ATPF Prediction– Colts win by around 10 points here.
Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions
One of the more interesting and important games of the weekend. The 2-1 Lions host the 3-0 Bears in this NFC North battle. If the Bears win they open up a two game gap at the top and give themselves a great chance to win the division, if the Lions win, not only do they go ahead on the tiebreaker but they keep Green Bay right in contention. Chicago’s start has been hard fought, their opening two wins came by a combined four points before a comfortable success over the struggling Steelers this past week. Their defense has been a few notches short of its usual high standards and they lost defensive tackle Henry Melton to injury this past week, throw in injuries to starting cornerback Charles Tillman and backups Zack Bowman and Sherrick McManis and suddenly the secondary could be vulnerable come Sunday. Offensively quarterback Jay Cutler has started the season well, looking after the ball better with his new, expensive protection and the offense has been amongst the league’s most effective units thus far.
The Lions lost Nate Burleson to injury putting even more on wide receiver Calvin Johnson now but the likely return of Reggie Bush in the backfield and the slot will offset that and Bush looked ready to have a breakout year in a huge debut for the Lions. Detroit starting quarterback Matthew Stafford is like his counterpart Cutler a player who is always being questioned but he perennially puts up huge yards, has a massive arm and has started the season with six touchdown passes, two interceptions. The Lions defense continue to struggle against the pass and their secondary can be targeted, expect Brandon Marshall to be targeted early and often.
This is a game that can go either way but we are going for a home win and the Bears momentum to be halted, their banged up secondary will have its work cut out with Stafford, Johnson and Bush and if dynamic defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley can win on the line of scrimmage they can slow Matt Forte down and Cutler doesn’t have the weapons to compete with Detroit in this scenario.
ATPF Prediction– Lions win a close one by just 2 or 3 points.
Seattle Seahawks @ Houston Texans
The Seahawks continue to look the best team in the NFC but the Texans, one of last year’s fastest starters are at 2-1 but were poor against the Ravens last week and but for two big comebacks could be 0-3. Their problem, at least until the fourth quarter has been their stuttering offense. All-pro running back Arian Foster is struggling for form so far, just one touchdown and less than 200 yards rushing is not Foster like. Matt Schaub has been picked off four times already and the jury is still out on his legitimacy as a top class passer. Wade Phillips defense remain a dominant unit and rank second overall in yards surrendered.
Life is pretty good for Pete Carroll’s Seahawks right now, unbeaten and dominant; they are going to be tough to stop. Their defense is one better than the Texans as the league’s best. Seattle’s offense was slow to hit top gear in their opener but has performed strongly in two wins since. Running back Marshawn Lynch remains a relentless and powerful rusher and quarterback Russell Wilson is playing intelligently rather than spectacularly.
Houston’s best chance here is that J.J. Watt and co can shut down Lynch and pressure Wilson, for the Seahawks they will look to their shutdown corner Richard Sherman to take Andre Johnson out of the game. Both look probable so this could be a low scoring war, turnovers will be vital.
ATPF Prediction– This could go either way but the Seahawks can just edge it.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Minnesota Vikings
The first of the two Wembley games this year looked a good one on paper when it was announced. The mighty Pittsburgh Steelers and Adrian Peterson’s Vikings going head to head was a game to relish for British fans. Instead they get two struggling 0-3 teams both long since forgotten in terms of the playoffs, both absolutely desperate for the win. The fact that the Vikings are 0-3 with Peterson shows the weakness of the rest of the team. Quarterback Christian Ponder has started the season terribly and is a doubt for this game and losing the dynamic Percy Harvin has not been offset by new acquisition Greg Jennings. Defensively the Vikings are really struggling, they have surrendered nearly 430 yards per game so far and their veterans are slowing down whilst no younger players have stepped up.
Pittsburgh’s struggles have made more headlines due to their profile. Their offense is toiling, Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked ten times behind a woeful offensive line, they have no healthy running backs who can be relied upon and with Mike Wallace gone have virtually no weapons of note for Big Ben. The Steel curtain are playing well, as ever, giving up the 5th least yards despite being on the field a lot more than they would like. So where are we with this game? Well for the Vikings to win Peterson must have a successful day, against the Steelers defense that is not a given. Pittsburgh need to keep Big Ben upright and if they can he can have some success against a weak defense. With the better quarterback and better defense we can’t get away from Pittsburgh here.
ATPF Prediction– The Steelers conquer Wembley and beat the Vikings by around a touchdown.
Dallas Cowboys @ San Diego Chargers
The 2-1 Cowboys visit the 1-2 Chargers in a game that is set to be pretty close. For San Diego Phillip Rivers has been back to somewhere near his best so far, throwing eight touchdown passes to just one interception, he still needs more from his running game but at least Ryan Mathews is healthy which is a rare bonus. The Chargers problem is their defense; heavily retooled in the offseason they rank 31st so far and are giving up 470 yards per game and have already conceded 81 points. Like Chargers teams of the 1980s it looks like San Diego’s season will be aerial shootouts all the way but in a strong division (beyond the Raiders) that may not be enough to make the postseason.
Dallas impressed on both sides of the ball against the Rams. Their defense suffered a blow with the loss of starting defensive end Anthony Spencer for the season but opposite him DeMarcus Ware is still the best pass rusher in the league and linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are still healthy, vital to the Cowboys success. Much maligned quarterback Tony Romo has thrown six touchdown passes to just one pick so far and in Dez Bryant has a receiver who is unstoppable one on one. Key to the Cowboys smooth success last week was the return to form of DeMarco Murray, when he is successful the Cowboys offense can look pretty hard to stop.
Both teams will hope their defense can force turnovers here against turnover prone quarterbacks who as yet have not had problems with this so far. Dallas superior defense, and particularly superior cornerbacks give them the edge here.
ATPF Prediction– Plenty of points should be scored here as Dallas wins by a touchdown.
New York Jets @ Tennessee Titans
Two 2-1 teams both playing better than expected face off here and this could be a massive game to both at season’s end. The travelling Jets rode their excellent defense in a crucial division win over the Bills last week. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith and the Jets offense aren’t setting any records but much like he did with a young Mark Sanchez, head coach Rex Ryan is taking the pressure off his quarterback as much as he can albeit with a worse team than he had then.
Tennessee are still waiting for superstar running back Chris Johnson to catch fire and Johnson is without a touchdown through three weeks. The Jets will again focus on Johnson as quarterback Jake Locker continues to play conservatively. Locker at least hasn’t committed any turnovers but needs to complete more passes to keep drives going and give Johnson more opportunities. Defensively the Titans may be the league’s most improved unit; they are seventh in yards allowed and have only given up 50 points in regular time so far.
Defenses should rule the roost here but with Chris Johnson albeit an underperforming one and Jake Locker the Titans have the edge in two key offensive positions and at home look the favourites.
ATPF Prediction– Titans win a war, by under a touchdown.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Denver Broncos
The all conquering Broncos and Peyton Manning should feast on the Eagles weak secondary here, the Eagles are capable of putting up big yards themselves but Michael Vick can press the turnover self destruct button at any point. A tough loss to former coach Andy Reid saw the Eagles lose back to back home games to fall to 1-2 and Vick was the prime culprit as the Eagles coughed up five turnovers. The Philadelphia defense is in a new scheme and has a lot of square pegs for round holes it seems, they rank 30th overall and can’t seem to get any stops.
Denver are 3-0, have beaten the last two Superbowl winners and future hall of fame quarterback Peyton Manning is easily the league MVP this far, his 12 touchdowns, no interceptions have placed Denver as heavy favourites for the AFC. The Broncos defense rank 20th in yards conceded but that is misleading given that opponents are forced to go for it all the time to try and keep pace. This unit is strong enough to support their outstanding offense even though they are still waiting for Von Miller, their best defensive player to return from suspension.
No scenario you can view that gives Philadelphia a chance here. Best they can hope is that Vick is at his best and they can keep it interesting for a while.
ATPF Prediction– Manning picks Philadelphia apart as Denver wins by over 10.
Washington Redskins @ Oakland Raiders
The Raiders despite being 1-2 are outplaying expectations while the Redskins at 0-3 know that their chance of a repeat win in the NFC East is gone if they lose here. Oakland had a thankless task last week going to Denver but previously had easily beaten Jacksonville and came oh so close to upsetting Indianapolis. Dual threat quarterback Terrelle Pryor has been pretty effective so far but is facing a concussion test to determine his eligibility here. Running back Darren McFadden, the Raiders best player is facing eight in the box all the time but is still having some success. Defensively the Raiders completely revamped squad are certainly outplaying expectations, ranking near mid table in most statistics.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III’s rustiness was blamed for the Redskins opening defeat to Philaldelphia but the culprits for their struggles are on the other side of the ball. It was hoped in Washington that getting key starters back would improve their defense but if anything the unit is even weaker than a year ago. Griffin is gradually getting back to his best even if he isn’t ready to carry the ball ten or fifteen times a game yet. He and bruising Alfred Morris are a dynamic duo but lack of any playmaking pass catchers is still a problem.
At the start of the season you wouldn’t have given the Raiders a prayer here, they can compete but RG3 will be hard to contain.
ATPF Prediction– Redskins win by just over a touchdown.
New England Patriots @ Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are usually very, very hard to beat at home and at 1-2 they need the Georgia Dome to again be their solace. Their inability to get it into the Saints endzone in week one is looking bigger by the week and Falcons know that falling three games behind may be game up. Biggest issue for Mike Smith has been injuries. Roddy White missed last week’s loss and is out again as is Steven Jackson who likewise got banged up in week two. Julio Jones is himself not 100% and they have injury worries on the o-line also. Quarterback Matt Ryan is an above average quarterback but unlike his counterpart here can’t turn water into wine.
The Patriots survived two close ones before steamrolling the reeling Buccaneers last week. They too have had major issues on offense, with Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez gone they could ill afford to be without Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola as they have been yet Tom Brady finds a way. With that duo both possible to return here and rookie Kenbrell Thompkins emerging last week things looks better for Tom terrific now. The major turnaround for New England has been on their defense, a unit which was like an open gate a year ago has been outstanding thus far, giving up just 34 points. This should be a much bigger test for the defense but with so many injuries they will hope to again contain.
Injuries are threatening to derail Atlanta’s whole season, at home usually they are unopposable and even against the Patriots I would favour them but with only Tony Gonzalez of the skill players 100% they will struggle to score as many as New England.
ATPF Prediction– Patriots remain unbeaten, win by between three and seven.
Miami Dolphins @ New Orleans Saints
Two unbeaten teams clash on Monday night yet neither are getting much attention as far as being contenders. The Saints defense under Rob Ryan is one of the most improved; they are playing hard and seem inspired by Ryan. A goal line stand in week one followed by twice keeping rivals to under 15 points has helped Drew Brees guide them to 3-0 and a two game lead in the NFC South. Brees is as ever playing both cerebrally and expansively and the Saints offense remains one of the most feared.
The Dolphins have seen quarterback Ryan Tannehill take the next step as they hoped and he is a hugely gifted individual given his lack of experience. He guided them to a game winning drive last week, outplayed Andrew Luck in week two and had few problems with the Browns in week one. Defensively the Dolphins rank 22nd but they have forced 5 turnovers and rank near the league’s best in getting off the field on third down.
There is still the suspicion that someone will unwind the Saints defense but Tannehill could struggle with a deafening Superdome crowd and he has been sacked five times already this year. The Dolphins have got by on defense but will see an offense on a different level here and could struggle. The Saints, at home are strongly fancied.
ATPF Prediction– Not as close as you may expect, Saints win by ten or more.