NFL Game Capsules
By Dalton Del Don
RotoWire Staff Writer
Baltimore (-4.5) at Cleveland, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: While the Browns' offense has been better than expected, their defense is as bad as Cleveland fans feared. Derek Anderson has proved capable of moving the chains, but he might be without Kellen Winslow (shoulder) this week. Braylon Edwards is quickly becoming one of the elite receivers in the league, and he's scored both times he's faced the Ravens during his career. Jamal Lewis faces ex-teammates for the first time, but it's Ray Lewis and company who figure to be exacting revenge…The Ravens had defensive letdowns during the second half of each of their past two contests, barely holding on to win. Steve McNair remains the starter at quarterback, but his leash gets shorter as each week passes. Derrick Mason has bounced back with a nice start to 2007, racking up 23 catches already; he's been targeted at least 12 times in every game this season and ranks fourth in the league with 37 looks thus far. Willis McGahee has been an upgrade at running back, but it's been more incremental than sizeable. He's struggled badly at the goal line, but his increased activity in the passing game has made up for it. This week's matchup against the Browns, who are ceding an average 176 rushing yards per game, is an excellent one.
Predictions: Derek Anderson commits a few turnovers but finds Braylon Edwards for a score, while Jamal Lewis is bottled up, gaining just 40 rushing yards as the team frequently stalls in the red zone. Steve McNair throws for 180 yards and finds Todd Heap in the end zone. Willis McGahee adds 110 yards and runs for a TD, as the road team prevails. Ravens 20-16.
Chicago (-3) at Detroit, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: Already saddled with an inaccurate quarterback and an ineffective running game, the Bears now have to deal with decimating injuries on defense. The first problem was addressed this week, as coach Lovie Smith finally decided to replace Rex Grossman with Brian Griese. Grossman has 10 turnovers through four games against just one touchdown pass, so the move is anything but unexpected. Griese may lack the arm strength to utilize the Bears' best offensive weapon, Bernard Berrian, but he should be able to minimize the turnovers, at least. It remains to be seen how Griese responds, and he's been very prone to injury throughout his career, but he has completed 63 percent of his passes, so the offense should be more efficient…With Tommie Harris sidelined, Chicago enters Sunday without arguably its best defensive player and two top cornerbacks. This would be a problem most weeks; against Detroit's frequent four-receiver sets it's a nightmare. Jon Kitna passed for a franchise-record 446 yards last week and is getting a remarkable 8.6 YPA this season. However, he may be missing one of his best playmakers, as Calvin Johnson might have to sit out with a badly bruised back. Roy Williams is going to take a major step forward this year if the first three weeks are any indication. With the Lions so pass-wacky, Williams has been targeted 29 times over the last two games and looks unguardable. Kevin Jones (foot) will be worked back into the game plan slowly, leaving Tatum Bell as nothing more than an afterthought…The Bears have won the last four meetings with the Lions.
Predictions: Brian Griese throws for 240 yards and a TD to Desmond Clark, while Cedric Benson runs for 75 yards and a TD. Jon Kitna counters with 300 passing yards and two TDs, with Roy Williams and Shaun McDonald the recipients. Kevin Jones only totals 40 yards, but he does reach the end zone, and Detroit takes advantage of their home surface. Lions 24-23.
Green Bay (-2) at Minnesota, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: Green Bay has used defense and a resurgent Brett Favre to power a surprising 3-0 start this season. Dating back to last year, the team has now won seven straight games, the longest current streak in the NFL. The Packers have accomplished this despite ranking dead last in rushing, netting just 57 yards per game. Vernand Morency (knee) is likely to return this week, but the run blocking will need to drastically improve for that to matter much, especially against a stingy Vikings front seven. Favre has thrown three TDs in back-to-back games and faces a Minnesota team that can be passed on. After struggling for most his career while playing in Minnesota, Favre has a 10:2 TD:INT ratio over his last four contests in the Metrodome…Kelly Holcomb didn't make anyone forget Joe Montana last week, but at least he protected the ball, something Tarvaris Jackson hasn't done. Last week, Adrian Peterson became the first opponent in three years to rush for 100 yards at Arrowhead - a span of 23 games. Peterson also leads the team in receiving with 160 yards (the next closest has 97). Expect the offense to take few chances and stick to the ground game Sunday, while the defense creates enough turnovers to put them over the top.
Predictions: Brett Favre throws for 250 yards and scoring strikes to Donald Driver and James Jones, while the entire Green Bay rushing attack gets stuffed. Kelly Holcomb puts up just 180 passing yards, while Adrian Peterson combines for 90 yards and runs in a TD, as Minnesota wins the low-scoring affair. Vikings 16-14.
Houston (-2.5) at Atlanta, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: Matt Schaub returns to Atlanta, so the team can see first hand what they traded away during the offseason. He's completed 75.9 percent of his passes, netting 8.3 YPA this season. However, he'll once again be without the team's most potent offensive weapon, as Andre Johnson remains sidelined with a knee injury. Teammate Ahman Green (knee) may join Johnson on the sideline, leaving Ron Dayne as the primary ballcarrier. He hasn't been great in limited action this year (2.5 YPC), but Dayne had a big finish to last season and figures to get the majority of the touches Sunday…Don't look now, but Joey Harrington has quietly put together consecutive quality performances. Excluding Week 1, Harrington has thrown two TDs with no INTs and gotten 8.8 YPA; maybe Byron Leftwich won't be taking over anytime soon after all. Harrington faces a much-improved Texans defense this week, but he's completed 68.8 percent of his passes this season and was better at avoiding the sack last week. Bobby Petrino's ability to engineer a solid air attack is apparent, and though the Falcons are 0-3, they are hardly a doormat at this point. Roddy White looks like one of the bigger breakout candidates this season; the third-year wideout is emerging as the team's No. 1 wide receiver. White has decent size and really good speed, giving him quite a bit of potential.
Predictions: Matt Schaub gets 225 passing yards, with a TD going to Owen Daniels. Ron Dayne runs for 75 yards and a score, while Joey Harrington answers with 240 yards and a TD to Roddy White. White adds 90 receiving yards, while Warrick Dunn runs in a TD, helping lead Atlanta to victory. Falcons 20-17.
New York Jets (-3.5) at Buffalo, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: Buffalo had a very difficult schedule to start the season, but that's not an excuse for how bad this team has been. The Bills rank last in the NFL in passing offense (92.0 YPG), total offense (200.0 YPG), total defense (458.3 YPG) and points scored (8.0 PPG). J.P. Losman (knee) has struggled, but things will only get worse with him out of the lineup. That's because the alternative is Trent Edwards, a rookie. Lee Evans has just five catches for 29 yards this season, but he faces a beatable Jets secondary Sunday, so expect him to break out this week, despite the uncertainty at quarterback…The Jets haven't excelled in any particular department this season, but the team is coached well and limits turnovers; Chad Pennington has accounted for five touchdowns without a turnover in two games this season. New York's offensive unit will enjoy a favorable matchup this week, as the Bills have been devastated by injuries and have many problems on the defensive side of the ball.
Predictions: Trent Edwards has an uneven first career start, resulting in 180 yards and a TD toss to Lee Evans. Marshawn Lynch continues to impress, totaling 90 yards and a score. Thomas Jones puts up a similar line, while Chad Pennington throws scoring strikes to Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, and New York finishes on top. Jets 21-20.
Oakland (+4) at Miami, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: The Raiders offense looks much improved from last year's version, but the defense appears to have taken several steps backward. Daunte Culpepper is expected to get his first start since Week 4 of last season, but he no longer has much mobility and has yet to fully grasp Oakland's playbook. Still, his career mark of 7.7 YPA suggests there's potential here, and he was solid in relief last week. He's likely to be extra motivated Sunday, when he faces the team that he acrimoniously divorced over the summer. LaMont Jordan has already nearly matched his yardage total from last season and leads the AFC with 471 total yards… Miami has yet to win this season, and strangely, the defense is mostly to blame; Miami's D has allowed more than 30 points in back-to-back weeks. Trent Green has improved with each game in his new uniform, and Ronnie Brown had a career day last week. Brown has taken over all of the backfield duties in Miami and should have another productive game Sunday. Miami is desperate to taste victory, while Oakland could be coming down from an emotional high after winning its first game in nearly a year last week…The Dolphins have won six straight against the Raiders.
Predictions: Daunte Culpepper commits a couple of turnovers but passes for 270 yards and a TD to Ronald Curry. LaMont Jordan totals 120 yards and scores, while Ronnie Brown counters with 110 yards and two TDs. Trent Green throws for 240 yards and a TD to Chris Chambers, as Miami finally gets into the win column. Dolphins 24-17.
St. Louis (+13) at Dallas, Sunday 1 p.m.
Comments: Through three weeks of the season, the Cowboys look like the class of the NFC, while the Rams appear to be the conference's worst team. Generally known for offense, St. Louis has struggled to put points on the board, and injuries continue to mount. Marc Bulger has reportedly been playing with broken ribs, and Steven Jackson is out with a torn groin. Jackson will reportedly be sidelined for 1-2 weeks, but the guess here is that it lasts much longer. Enter Brian Leonard, a rookie from Rutgers who is first in line to take over backfield duties. No matter who is toting the ball, the offensive line will need to improve its play significantly for it to matter. While Sunday's prospects may seem bleak for St. Louis, this team will be motivated to get its first win, and going on the road in Dallas isn't nearly as bad as playing outdoors…Only two other teams in NFL history have scored as many points as Dallas has tallied during their first three games with a new head coach. The Cowboys have scored an NFL-high 116 points so far and also lead the league with 18 plays of 20 yards or more. Tony Romo has seen his completion percentage fall off from last year, but that's because the team is going downfield with greater frequency, as evidenced by his 9.8 YPA. He should be considered a top-three fantasy quarterback from this point forward. When Marion Barber has been given 10 carries or more, he has gotten more than 5.0 YPC in eight straight games, setting an NFL record. Expect a huge offensive day from Dallas. The defense is considered a weak spot, but the unit has forced a league-high 10 turnovers so far.
Predictions: Marc Bulger's protection again breaks down, resulting in numerous sacks, and a couple of turnovers. He manages 260 passing yards, and finds Torry Holt in the end zone, however. Brian Leonard totals 80 yards and scores his first career TD, while Marion Barber combines for 110 yards and a score. Tony Romo continues his MVP-type season with 300 passing yards and scoring strikes to Terrell Owens (twice) and Jason Witten. Dallas rolls. Cowboys 34-17.
Seattle (-2) at San Francisco, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: The Seahawks might be one botched handoff from 3-0, but the team hasn't been especially impressive thus far. The defense ranks 26th in the league, yielding more than 375 yards per game. The offensive line is no longer a major strength, and Shaun Alexander, playing with a broken wrist, looks like a shell himself. That said, Mike Holmgren puts his offensive players in position to succeed more often than not, and Matt Hasselbeck remains a constant, getting a very solid 7.7 YPA this season. Nate Burleson continues to flash inconsistent hands, but he's getting plenty of opportunities (12 targets last week) and plays in a system that could lead to some nice stats…So far, Nate Clements has been worth every penny, as this 49ers secondary isn't as easy to pass on as in years past. But the offense has serious issues, ranking 31st in the league with 223 yards per game. Alex Smith finally threw his first TD pass last week, but after getting Vernon Davis more involved in the offense, he's now out with a knee injury. Still, the team needs Frank Gore to get going to truly turn things around, and a matchup against Seattle might do just the trick. He totaled 416 yards in two games against the Seahawks last season, so expect a breakout performance Sunday, as homefield is the difference.
Predictions: Matt Hasselbeck gets 230 passing yards and throws a TD to Deion Branch, while Shaun Alexander runs for 90 yards and a score. Alex Smith counters with 190 yards and a TD to Darrell Jackson, and Frank Gore adds 120 yards and scores twice, as San Francisco takes early control of the division. 49ers 21-20.
Tampa Bay (+3) at Carolina, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: Tampa Bay looks like one of the more improved teams this season - on both sides of the ball. The defense has really rebounded after a poor 2006, and Jeff Garcia has made a major difference on offense. He's getting 9.2 YPA and has yet to commit a turnover this season. Carnell Williams is exhibiting toughness playing through a rib injury, but his 3.5 YPC and two lost fumbles suggest more Michael Pittman may be in store…Through three weeks, Carolina has just two sacks and zero interceptions on the season. The offense, however, has been better, especially Jake Delhomme. Unfortunately, Delhomme may be forced to sit out with an elbow injury Sunday, leaving the starting job to David Carr, who has failed time and again to impress. He probably won't be asked to do too much this week, thouh he'd be well served to look Steve Smith's way early and often, as the diminutive wideout has gained 100 receiving yards in four straight games against the Bucs.
Predictions: Jeff Garcia gets 210 passing yards and finds Joey Galloway in the end zone, while Carnell Williams gets 60 rushing yards and a TD run. David Carr throws for 230 yards and a TD to Steve Smith, while both DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams score for Carolina, as the home team prevails. Panthers 21-17.
Denver (+10) at Indianapolis, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: The Broncos are 2-1 and rank sixth in total offense and third in total defense yet have somehow looked unimpressive thus far. The team is having a hard time turning all that yardage into points. After throwing for multiple touchdowns in three of his four starts last year, Jay Cutler has yet to do so this season, and he's already been picked off four times. A healthy Javon Walker (knee) will be needed for the Broncos to have a chance Sunday, though the team does have an emerging young star in Brandon Marshall. Third wide receiver Brandon Stokley may be especially important this week; Peyton Manning expects his former teammate to help the Broncos defense out by giving information about the Colts and their offensive signals…The Colts have proven they can win with speed, on the road and with physicality so far this season. The defense ranks fifth in the NFL, allowing just 286.7 yards per game. Expect Joseph Addai to be featured prominently Sunday, as Denver comes in sporting the game's toughest pass defense (88.3 YPG) and might be missing John Lynch (groin), which would make a suspect run defense all the more leaky. Reggie Wayne has typically abused the Denver secondary, as Champ Bailey stays locked onto Marvin Harrison. We'll see if the addition of Dre Bly changes that this time around…The Colts have won 11 straight games in September and 21 of their last 22 home games overall.
Predictions: Jay Cutler throws for 240 yards and a TD to Brandon Marshall, while Travis Henry runs for 80 yards and a score. Peyton Manning throws for 250 yards and TDs to Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Joseph Addai adds 125 total yards and scores twice, as Indy remains undefeated. Colts 31-20.
Kansas City (+12.5) at San Diego, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: It's safe to say both teams are disappointed with their 1-2 starts, but Kansas City didn't enter the year with even half of San Diego's lofty expectations. Surprisingly, the Chiefs defense currently ranks fourth in the NFL, but the offense has been brutal. Damon Huard has struggled to move the chains, while Larry Johnson is getting 2.8 YPC. Kansas City is one of only two teams in the league without a rushing touchdown this season…There's not a lot to like with the 1-2 record, but the Chargers' early season schedule hasn't exactly been easy. Lost in last week's defensive meltdown was a great game by Philip Rivers, who executed some extremely tough throws against a solid Green Bay secondary. Though the defense is worrisome, that problem takes a backseat to the ground game, as LaDainian Tomlinson is getting 2.3 YPC, good for 45th in the league. He has been held to three yards or fewer on 42 of his 57 carries this year. Expect the entire team to regain their fire and Tomlinson, who has been prone to slow starts throughout his career, to really get going. The Chargers have the roster to be an elite team; now, they better start playing like it…The Chargers have won nine straight regular season home games.
Predictions: Damon Huard throws for 170 yards and a TD to Dwayne Bowe, while Tony Gonzalez adds 80 receiving yards. Larry Johnson totals 80 yards, but the end zone continues to elude him. Philip Rivers answers with 230 yards passing and two TDs, with Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates on the receiving end. LaDainian Tomlinson breaks loose, rushing for 150 yards and two touchdowns, as San Diego wins in a rout. Chargers 28-13.
Pittsburgh (-6) at Arizona, Sunday 4:15 p.m.
Comments: With former Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and assistant coach Russ Grimm now on Arizona's sideline, it's safe to assume the Cardinals have a leg up entering this contest. With an improved defense and running game, this Cardinals team is no pushover. However, the QB situation remains murky, as Matt Leinart was pulled last week after a 2.7 YPA performance. Kurt Warner looked great in relief and now may run the hurry-up offense from time to time mid-game. Maybe the situation will light a fire under Leinart, but this week's matchup is a difficult one…The Steelers are 3-0 and have outscored their opponents 97-26 this season. The defense has been stingy, ranking second both in yards allowed (244.3) and sacks (12). On offense, Ben Roethlisberger (7.3 YPA) has been solid, but he will be missing Hines Ward (knee) this week. Expect a long connection to Santonio Holmes. Willie Parker will again be the focal point of the offense. He leads the NFL with 386 rushing yards and has passed the century mark in rushing yards during six of his past seven games.
Predictions: Matt Leinart upgrades his performance "terrible" to "mediocre" Week 4, throwing for 180 yards and a TD to Larry Fitzgerald. Edgerrin James adds 70 yards and a TD as well. Ben Roethlisberger counters with 230 yards and a TD to Santonio Holmes, while Willie Parker runs for 140 yards and a TD, as Pittsburgh wins it. Steelers 23-17.
Philadelphia (-3) at New York Giants, Sunday 8:15 p.m.
Comments: Both teams enter with injury concerns, as Brian Westbrook (abdomen) and Plaxico Burress (ankle) are game-time decisions. Burress is likely to give it a go Sunday, but the injury figures to hobble him over the course of the season. He may not like to practice and has attitude problems from time to time, but Burress is fast becoming an elite wide receiver. The defense finally stepped up last week, helping lead to a terrific second half comeback against Washington. Brandon Jacobs (knee) returned to practice this week, but his status for Sunday remains up in the air. Sub Derrick Ward has filled in admirably and is on pace to catch more passes this season than Tiki Barber ever did…The Eagles quieted early concerns over their offense by erupting last week, scoring 42 points during the first half against the Lions. Donovan McNabb looked like his old self after ditching his bulky knee brace, and Brian Westbrook had a huge game as well. Kevin Curtis exploded, but Reggie Brown has yet to get in on the act. Facing a porous Giants secondary could be just the remedy to Brown's slow start. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Philadelphia's nine sacks last week was the second highest total in NFL history.
Predictions: Eli Manning gets 250 passing yards and tosses a TD to Plaxico Burress. Derrick Ward totals 80 yards, but Reuben Droughns gets the score from in close, as Brandon Jacobs sits out one more week. Donovan McNabb throws for 290 yards and three TDs, with Brian Westbrook, Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown the recipients, as Philly comes out on top. Eagles 24-23.
New England (-7.5) at Cincinnati, Monday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: Through three weeks, the Pats are the clear Super Bowl favorites -- the team has looked dominant both on offense and defense. They've scored exactly 38 points in each game this season, and Tom Brady's numbers look like they've been taken from a video game - 141.8 QB rating, 10:1 TD:INT ratio, 79.5 completion percentage, 10.1 YPA. Randy Moss is the first wideout in NFL history to record three straight 100-yard games receiving with a new team. Wes Welker is an underrated addition to the offense, as he's the perfect complement underneath. As long as Laurence Maroney keeps improving his pass protection, he'll see the field more and more…The Bengals enter as losers of two straight and with the 29th ranked defense in the league. They'll also be missing Rudi Johnson (hamstring). He had the most carries in the NFL over the last three seasons; the heavy workload may finally be catching up to him. It's not like the switch to Kenny Watson is some huge downgrade anyway - Watson was the most effective Cincy runner last week, and has gotten 5.1 YPC on 176 career carries. As usual with Cincinnati, this game will come down to the passing attack. Remarkably, T.J. Houshmandzadeh leads the NFL in looks with 45 and teammate Chad Johnson comes in second with 40 targets on the year. One area of weakness that the Bengals could exploit Monday is red zone defense, as opponents are a perfect 5-for-5 scoring touchdowns when inside the Patriots' 20-yard line this season. New England looks unbeatable, but Cincinnati will be focused and eager to prove they belong in the conversation of elite teams in the NFL.
Predictions: Tom Brady continues his excellence, throwing for 300 yards and touchdowns to Ben Watson, Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Laurence Maroney runs for 100 yards, but Sammy Morris punches in the score. Carson Palmer counters with 280 yards and three TDs of his own, with Chad Johnson (twice) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh the recipients. Kenny Watson totals 75 yards and scores, as Cincy pulls off the upset. Bengals 31-30.
Article first appeared 9/27/07