Cleveland (-12.5) at Baltimore, Thursday 8:20 p.m.
Comments: Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson will get their second crack at an AFC North opponent when they travel to Baltimore on a short week. The Bengals defense that allowed both rookies to shine in Week 2 isn’t quite indicative of the black and blue division, and their numbers, bodies and egos figure to be every bit as purple as the Ravens' jerseys when they leave bloodied and bruised Thursday night. Given the incredibly emotional win Baltimore is coming off, the best the Browns can hope for is a huge letdown, but the more realistic expectation is that they will face the most physical defense they've seen all year and struggle to move the ball from the coin flip on... Joe Flacco figures to take major advantage of a Cleveland defense sans Joe Haden (suspension). That said, Torrey Smith may not be the prime beneficiary that he was versus New England. He turned in an inspired, remarkably focused performance, but with several days for the loss of his younger brother to sink in, he’s likely to be emotionally and physically exhausted. Look for Jacoby Jones in particular to step up, with Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin also heavily involved. Ray Rice has seen his carries increase each week, finally getting 20 against the Patriots, and should again see a big workload versus one of four defenses yet to allow a rushing score.
Predictions: Richardson toughs his way to 64 total yards and a score, while Weeden throws two picks en route to 174-yard night. Flacco hits Jones and Pitta for scores while going for 268 yards. Rice totals 144 yards and nets two scores on the ground. Ravens 34-10.
Carolina (+7) @ Atlanta, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: There may be no such thing as a sophomore slump, but Cam Newton sure is off to an inauspicious start to his second season. After a miserable performance versus the Giants (zero TD's, three picks), Newton now has just two passing scores in three games versus five interceptions. He has been able to push the ball downfield however, as evidenced by his league-leading 9.6 yards per attempt, so Steve Smith remains a must start. In three games Smith has yet to turn in less than 85 yards and it's only a matter of time until he scores. That score though may have to wait another week, as Smith and Newton get a Falcons defense that's allowed just two passing touchdowns so far have picked off more passes (seven) than any team. Having allowed 5.0 yards per carry (31st in the league), Atlanta hasn't been nearly as strong versus the run. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart (toe) could make solid flexes as a result… Matt Ryan has been spectacular so far in the young season and leads the league with a sparkling 114.0 passer rating. His 8-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is tied for tops in the league with Ben Roethlisberger and with weapons like Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez at his disposal, he doesn't figure to slow down anytime soon. The Panthers have been solid against the pass, but so had the Chargers until Ryan carved them up for an effortless 275 yards and three scores. If Michael Turner can build off of last week's improved play to soften an already awful Carolina run defense, the Falcons offense will continue to hum en route to a 4-0 start.
Predictions: Newton throws for 218 yards and a score to Greg Olsen, while adding 32 and another touchdown on the ground. Williams and Stewart combine to contribute 112 total yards. Turner punches in a short score to cap an 86-yard day. Ryan hits Jones and White for TD's in a 288-yard winning effort. Falcons 27-17.
New England (-4) @ Buffalo, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Last year the Patriots and the Bills traded comebacks, with each overcoming an early 21-0 hole. In those contests the losing quarterback threw four interceptions, so the key to victory may come down to who protects the ball better. After back-to-back brutal losses on last-second field goals that didn't go their way, the Patriots are 1-2 for the first time since 2001 when some guy named Drew Bledsoe started both losses. If the Patriots can protect Tom Brady against a greatly improved Buffalo front seven that's already registered nine sacks, New England will be fine. Wes Welker looks like his usual ball-magnet self after a poor Week 1, and the growing chemistry with Brandon Lloyd and Brady adds a new dimension to the passing game. To be truly effective, however, the Pats must be able to pass block without having to keep Rob Gronkowski on the line for help. If Stevan Ridley can threaten an average Bills run defense, it will certainly aid that cause… If Ryan Fitzpatrick can take care of the ball, Buffalo can contend with most teams and certainly has a strong chance facing a Patriots defense that needs to force mistakes to slow their opponents. The big issue facing Buffalo will be keeping their third-ranked rushing offense churning with the likely absence of C.J. Spiller (sprained shoulder) and at best a less-than-100% Fred Jackson. It's possible that Tashard Choice will have to handle the load, and while he did so admirably last week when Spiller went down (20 carries, 91 yards), the Patriots are a far cry from the Browns in all facets of the game. If Buffalo wants to win, Fitzpatrick's arm will have to make that happen, so Steve Johnson should see a heavy dose of targets and has a good shot to keep his three-game scoring streak going.
Predictions: Ridley rushes for 109 yards and a score, while Brady posts 277 yards and tosses touchdowns to Gronk, Welker and Lloyd. Choice does the heavy lifting with Jackson less than 100%, going for 68 yards and a score in the process. Fitzpatrick throws for 306 yards and scoring strikes to Johnson and T.J. Graham but comes up short. Patriots 34-27.
Minnesota (+3.5) @ Detroit, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Vikings have a phenomenal shot to put some separation between themselves and the Lions in the NFC North after a huge, potentially season-defining upset over the Niners last week. If they want to steal one in Detroit though, they'll need Christian Ponder to continue his highly efficient play. He's emerged as a true franchise quarterback, and one that can win ball games with his arm even when Adrian Peterson is not steamrolling the opposing defense. Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph have been tremendous targets for Ponder. Harvin has led the league in receptions as he continuously makes plays to move the chains, while Rudolph has been a drive-closer with three red-zone TD's. Jerome Simpson adds a major speed element to a passing attack that should flourish against a Lions secondary that was just torched by Jake Locker to the tune of 378 yards and has yet to pick off a pass this season… In one of the more wild finishes in recent memory, the Lions recovered an onside kick and converted a Hail Mary to get two scores in the last 30 seconds only to get stuffed on a 4th-and-1 play in overtime when a field goal would tie it. Jim Schwartz better have a stronger gameplan against a suddenly stiff Vikings defense that just limited the 49ers to less than 300 total yards and 13 points. The health of Matthew Stafford's hip has to be monitored closely all week to see if he can go. If he's out, Shaun Hill is an interesting play versus a normally weak Vikings pass defense. Hill's had strong chemistry with Calvin Johnson in the past and could post big numbers in a spot start. Unlike Stafford, the health of Mikel Leshoure no longer appears to be a question mark after the young back became a featured runner overnight. After Leshoure saw 30 touches to Kevin Smith's goose egg last week, he's clearly a must-start.
Predictions: Leshoure runs for 104 yards and a touchdown, while Stafford grits his way to 262 passing yards and scoring strikes to Johnson and Tony Scheffler. Peterson finds paydirt en route to 114 yards, but Ponder makes the difference with scores to Harvin and Rudolph in a 288-yard effort. Vikings 27-24.
San Diego (pick 'em) @ Kansas City, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Chargers were exposed a bit last week by a Falcons team that is simply much better all-around. Philip Rivers couldn't get the ball moving against a defense that thrives on turnovers and forced San Diego into four of them. The defense meanwhile was equally bad, if not worse, as they let Michael Turner run all over them after Matt Ryan dissected the secondary. Fortunately, Ryan Mathews returned just in time and a Chiefs defense that's allowed an average of 33 points per game is up next. Unfortunately, Mathews immediately went back to his fumbling ways, losing one inside the 10 and possibly now losing carries to an impressive Jackie Battle. Also, the Chiefs appear on the uptick, and with their health realigning on defense, they will be extremely tough at home… The Chiefs got up off the mat versus the Saints to pull off an awesome 18-point road comeback for their first W of the season. So despite opposite starts for these two AFC West foes, the Chiefs look like the better team right now. Jamaal Charles shook off his knee soreness to inflict some soreness in the Saints defense, and his 33-carry, 233-yard monster effort made a loud statement to the league that he's all the way back from last year's torn ACL. Meanwhile, Matt Cassel is doing enough to produce points and his go-to guy, Dwayne Bowe, is getting enough opportunities (37 targets so far) to produce them for fantasy owners.
Predictions: Cassel throws for 254 yards with scores to Bowe and Jon Baldwin. Charles wins the RB battle as he tops Mathews' 95 total yards with 138 of his own and adds a score. Rivers hits his tailback for one TD and his favorite tight end, Antonio Gates, for another in a 236-yard day. The Bolts fall short. Chiefs 21-17.
Seattle (-1) @ St. Louis, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: It's hard to blame the replacement refs when, one, they were terribly under-qualified to have to make calls of such magnitude, and two, they were strapped by an extended weekend of "Luck of the Irish." First, ND put the defensive hammer down on Michigan to go 4-0 for the first time in 10 years, then Kyle Rudolph caught two TD's in a stunning upset of the Niners and Michael Floyd snagged the first catch of his career-fittingly for a score-in a beatdown of the Eagles. So of course Golden Tate would be awarded his second touchdown grab on MNF. That it was a miraculous and spectacularly controversial game-winner was just circumstance. Facing a Rams team that struggles to stop the run though (five rushing scores allowed, 120 yards per game), Marshawn Lynch figures to rule the day instead of the duo of Russell Wilson and Tate… The Rams are in a miserable stretch of schedule. Last week they got Chicago's fifth-best scoring defense on the road. This week they host the stingiest (just 13 points allowed per game by Seattle) and next week they welcome the No. 2 scoring D in the Cardinals. Sam Bradford simply doesn't have the weapons to do damage on these units and with a bad and beaten offensive line and a gimpy Steven Jackson (groin, did not practice Wednesday), the Rams are in a bad way for both real and fantasy football hopes. Feel free to bench any Rams until further notice.
Predictions: In an ugly slugfest, Lynch is the difference maker, as he piles up 130 yards rushing and a Skittles plunge. Wilson goes for 171 in the air with a TD toss to Sidney Rice, while Bradford dinks and dunks to 180 yards and a score to Steve Smith. Jackson limps his way to 52 total yards in the loss. Seahawks 17-13.
San Francisco (-4) @ New York Jets, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The 49ers followed up two big victories over 2011 playoff teams with a major letdown loss against a team at the bottom of last year's pile. John Harbaugh won't let that happen again. The team is practicing this entire week in Ohio so as to avoid the jetlag of a cross country trip, and Alex Smith, Frank Gore and the rest of the offense should bounce back strongly versus a Jets defense whose plans for replacing Darrelle Revis (ACL) include moving tailback Joe McKnight to corner. The pass defense allowed 275 yards and two scores to Ben Roethlisberger when Revis was out with a concussion in Week 2 and their 28th-ranked run defense isn't much better, so this one could get ugly in a hurry… After barely squeaking out an overtime win in Miami, and losing Revis for the season in the process, the Jets are looking like a mess right now. They don't pressure the quarterback (three sacks in three games), can't stop the run (148 yards per game) and run it about as effectively (3.3 yards per carry) as they stop it. Mark Sanchez likely won't have the services of Stephen Hill (doubtful with a hamstring injury), but may have Dustin Keller (hamstring, officially questionable) return to the lineup. Either way, his top options will remain Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley, though none of them is an advisable start versus San Fran. On the ground, Bilal Powell figures to continue stealing carries from Shonn Greene, especially when the latter can't get past the line of scrimmage this week.
Predictions: Smith throws for 218 yards and scores to Randy Moss and Vernon Davis, while Gore dominates on the ground with 129 yards and a touchdown. The stifling Niners defense limits Sanchez to a measly 165 yards while holding the Jets out of the end zone. Powell leads New York with 43 yards rushing. 49ers 27-6.
Tennessee (+12.5) @ Houston, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Titans had a major offensive revival last week. After posting just 23 combined points the first two weeks, Jake Locker exploded for 378 yards and two scores. Of course, getting to 44 points was aided enormously by three return touchdowns (a punt, a kickoff and a fumble). With Kenny Britt finally healthy enough to log more snaps (he saw 11 targets) and Nate Washington still a reliable downfield threat, the passing offense has plenty of promise. Unfortunately, the Texans figure to put a one-week hold on that potential as they've allowed just a 50.5% completion rate to opposing QB's and have the 2nd-ranked total defense. So yes, that also means Chris Johnson should be on benches across the country… The Titans offense may have showed signs of life, but their defense is still absolutely dreadful. They've allowed a league-worst-and jaw-dropping-37.7 points per game, are 31st in total defense and give up 150 rushing yards a contest. So even though it goes without saying, let's just say it for the sake of clarity: start all your Texans.
Predictions: Matt Schaub hits Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels for TD's in a 260-yard effort. On the ground, Arian Foster hammers his way for 126 yards and a score, while Ben Tate chips in 54 and a touchdown of his own. Locker throws for 217 yards and connects with Britt and Kendall Wright for scores, but Johnson's 41 total yards bury the Titans. Texans 31-14.
Miami (+6.5) @ Arizona, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: What the Dolphins lack in talent, they nearly make up for in fight. A week after shellacking the Raiders on the ground, they made the Jets take nearly 69 minutes to beat them in overtime. While Ryan Tannehill is working through some expected rookie growing pains, the running game in South Beach has kept them competitive. Even with Reggie Bush leaving the game against the Jets with a minor knee injury, the team racked up 185 yards on the ground behind a combined 117 from Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller. The more explosive of the two, Miller looks like a nice speculative pick-up until Bush (he's questionable this week) proves his health is in the clear… Though the Dolphins are 4th in the league running the ball, the Cardinals defense should have little trouble limiting them this week. They boast the 2nd-best scoring defense (just 13.3 points allowed weekly) and are simply playing lights out right now. And if last week is any indication, they are finally clicking offensively as well. Against the Eagles' highly ranked pass defense, Kevin Kolb threw for 222 yards and two scores, while most importantly getting on the same page with Larry Fitzgerald who went off for 114 on nine grabs. Moreover, with Ryan Williams running the ball strongly (13 carries for 83 yards), the Cardinals 31st-ranked offense might finally have enough balance to move the ball. Williams could even be a quality flex play now that Beanie Wells will spend at least eight weeks on IR with turf toe.
Predictions: Bush rests, opening the door for a committee of Thomas and Miller that produces 113 total yards and a score to Miller. Under constant pressure, Tannehill throws for just 182 yards, while Kolb connects with Fitz for a score in a 230-yard performance. Williams adds his first career touchdown on the ground as he goes for 101 total yards. Cardinals 23-10.
Cincinnati (-1) @ Jacksonville, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: The Bengals offense has been steamrolling of late, but then again facing the Browns and Redskins didn't hurt their cause. Andy Dalton threw for 646 yards and six scores in those two matchups and is currently second in the league with 9.1 yards per pass attempt. Having the sensationally gifted A.J. Green and an athletic contingent of complimentary weapons, namely Andrew Hawkins and Armon Binns, has certainly helped. With Jacksonville allowing over 150 yards per game on the ground and having only given up two passing scores, this could be a matchup more suited to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Nevertheless, Dalton may be the best passer they've faced, so he could still get his… Jacksonville should have paid Maurice Jones-Drew just for what he's done to the Colts over the years. After his 193 total-yard outburst last week, it is apparent MJD's holdout will have zero impact on his play. In the passing game Cecil Shorts has 153 yards and two scores on just five catches, including a game-winner and what should have been another game-winner in the last minute of fourth quarters. Justin Blackmon meanwhile has been a ghost after a big preseason with just four catches and 31 yards in three weeks. Against a Bengals defense that's bottom in the league in both total yards and points allowed, there's no time like the present for Blaine Gabbert to get these guys more involved.
Predictions: The Dalton and Green show continues as the two hook up for a score, with the former throwing for 286 yards. BJGE adds 104 rushing and a TD plunge. Jones-Drew bowls his way to 110 yards and a score, while Gabbert finds Blackmon for the rookie's first career touchdown, adding 219 passing yards in a close loss. Bengals 23-20.
Oakland (+6.5) @ Denver, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: The Raiders are coming off a huge comeback victory over a tough Steelers club and now have to travel to face a Denver team that is reeling from two straight comeback attempts that fell short. That's the usual setup for a letdown, but given the intensity of a divisional rivalry, Oakland should be ready to go. However, they'll likely have to do so without the services of Darrius Heyward-Bey who suffered a scary concussion last week and figures to rest through their Week 5 bye. His absence could slow Carson Palmer some, but Denarius Moore appears to be back to full strength, so his play could offset the loss of DHB. Given that Denver has allowed at least two passing scores in each game, that bodes well for both players. Conversely, a run defense that's awarded just one rushing score could prove tough sledding for Darren McFadden, who finally got going on the ground versus Pittsburgh… The key for the Broncos will be to start fast-something they have yet to do this season. They have just five first-quarter points all year and have not taken a lead into halftime. With Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker both playing well (a combined 465 yards between them), Peyton Manning definitely has the weapons to put more points on the board, and considering the Raiders defense has yet to register an interception, this may be the game for Manning to go off. Having Willis McGahee tough it out through a rib injury will help.
Predictions: McFadden rushes for 88 yards and adds a receiving touchdown, while Palmer also hits Moore and Derek Hagan for scores in a 249-yard showing. Manning matches him in TD's with strikes going to Thomas, Decker and Jacob Tamme and he finishes with 310 yards passing. McGahee chips in 74 on the ground in the W. Broncos 30-24.
New Orleans (+9) @ Green Bay, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: One has to wonder what the Vegas odds might have been on these two teams coming into this showdown with just one combined win. The Packers had a tough schedule, so their two losses is significantly less shocking than New Orleans, but somehow, here we are. The teams met in a classic shootout in Week 1 of 2011, but this contest doesn't have the makings of a similar display of pyrotechnic passing. It's hard to envision the Saints holding up their end of that bargain. Drew Brees was unstoppable in 2011-including 419 yards and three TD's at Green Bay-but he's often looked rattled at times this year. His line has not protected him well and the Packers revamped defense is actually first against the pass after being historically bad a year ago. They've been excellent at putting pressure on opposing QB's and have 12 sacks and four picks to show for it. And after having one pick and a win robbed from them in one of the worst game-deciding calls ever, the Packers defense figures to be out for blood (as if they needed extra motivation to prevent Brees from tying Johnny Unitas' record of 47 straight games with a TD pass)… The Saints bottom-of-the-barrel defense may allow Aaron Rodgers (just three TD's in three games!) to finally find some rhythm with his receivers and open up the passing game, so the quarterback dual certainly won't be without any fireworks. Moreover, the Saints have been run into the ground to the tune of 215 yards and two scores a game on average, so Benson looks like a must start.
Predictions: Rodgers throws for 341 yards and touchdowns to Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley, while Benson adds 109 yards and a score rushing. Pierre Thomas leads the Saints with 76 ground yards, but Brees can't match Rodgers through the air, going for 288 and strikes to Marques Colston and Darren Sproles. Mark Ingram chips in a goal line dive in the loss. Packers 34-24.
Washington (+3) @ Tampa Bay, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: The Redskins would be lost without Robert Griffin III. While their defense has allowed over 400 yards and nearly 34 points per game, RGIII has done everything he can to keep them competitive. And he almost has them at 3-0, were it not for two potential game-tying drives stalling just a bit too short. The Skins have yet to face a good defense, however, so the RGIII show may not keep racking up fantasy points as the season progresses. The Bucs present an interesting matchup, as they've been absolutely smothering defensively in two of three games, but allowed over 500 yards passing in the third. If the same Tampa defense that beat up Tony Romo shows on Sunday, it won't matter if RGIII gets Pierre Garcon back. He'll need a lot of Alfred Morris, and possibly some of new signee Ryan Grant to soften the league's best rush defense and open him up to some play-action… The Redskins defensive futility has been noted, so don't be too surprised when Vincent Jackson has a monster week, and to a lesser extent Mike Williams. Josh Freeman obviously should benefit as well, though his 164 yards per game through the air suggests a low ceiling even despite the tasty matchup. As bad as Washington has been defending the pass, if they allow Doug Martin and/or LeGarrette Blount to run the ball more efficiently than they have been, this game might not come down to a last minute drive.
Predictions: Martin gets 86 on the ground, but Blount vultures a goal line score. Freeman throws for 264 yards and three TD's going to Jackson (2) and Dallas Clark. Griffin gets a score to Fred Davis and adds one on the ground to complement his 238 yards passing. Morris chips in 64 yards. Buccaneers 33-20.
New York Giants (+1) @ Philadelphia, Sunday 8:20 p.m.
Comments: Eli Manning can make just about any receiver look good. That's not to take anything away from the nine-catch, 138-yard performance Ramses Barden had last week, but the proof is in the putting, and Manning has made several guys throughout his career appear to come from nowhere. Like Victor Cruz last year, Barden will be here to stay. His eruption could just be a sign of things to come, as he has all the physical tools at 6-foot-6, 224 lbs. to be a nightmare in the red zone. Hakeem Nicks (foot) is expected to return this week, but while he or Cruz is blanketed by Nnamdi Asomugha and the other is swarmed by double-teams, Barden may remain Manning's go-to for another week. He looks like a good flex start, while Martellus Bennett has become a must-start as a touchdown magnet and chain-mover for Manning. In the run game, Ahmad Bradshaw's anticipated return pushes Andre Brown back to the bench, though the latter's recent play has been so strong he could force an almost even split and ruin each players' value against a Philly defense that just allowed 95 total yards to Ryan Williams… The story for the Eagles' season hasn't changed. Keep Michael Vick relatively clean and he'll at least give you a chance to win. But that's a tall task facing Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. With Jeremy Maclin on track to play after missing last week, Vick has plenty of weapons to deal the ball to if he can get time. Look for the Eagles to ride LeSean McCoy early to set up the play-action for a game that will be decided by turnover margin and who makes the most explosive plays.
Predictions: JPP goes nuts with four sacks, pressuring Vick into three turnovers and helping to limit him to 218 yards passing and just one score to Brent Celek. McCoy keeps it close with 114 rushing yards and a TD, but Manning ends it with scores going to Cruz, Barden and Bennett in a 305-yard day. Brown and Bradshaw combine for 92 yards. Giants 26-20.
Chicago (+3.5) @ Dallas, Monday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: The Cowboys offense has been downright anemic the past two weeks after 433 total yards and 24 points in Week 1 against the Giants. They've since been held under 300 total yards in each game and scored just 23 combined points. Unfortunately for Tony Romo and owners of the Cowboys stars, the road does not get any less bumpy this week with a swarming, highly physical Bears defense coming to town. Chicago leads the league with 14 sacks and has only allowed 16.7 points per game, good for the 5th-fewest in football. Behind a very shaky offensive line, one of two things figures to happen. Either the real refs will be calling holding penalties and backing up Dallas all night long, or Romo is going to get hammered consistently. Either way, DeMarco Murray, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant all need to be downgraded accordingly this week… As bad as the Cowboys offense may have it with the Monsters of the Midway, Jay Cutler and his weapons don't exactly have it much better. The Cowboys actually have the league's stingiest offense in terms of total yards allowed and are seventh in scoring. While it's true that Dallas has upgraded significantly on defense, particularly with a much-improved secondary, those numbers were skewed by the anemic passing offenses they faced from Seattle and Tampa Bay, so Chicago could be effective if they protect Cutler long enough to get Brandon Marshall going. Matt Forte (ankle) has a chance to return this week, though he's questionable at best, and with or without him the Bears will need to run the ball to set up the pass. Look for Michael Bush to be leaned on early to make life easier on Cutler, Marshall and the Bears awful offensive line.
Predictions: Cutler throws for 225 yards and a score to Kellen Davis. Bush totals 78 yards and a goal line TD, while Murray totes it for 76 scrimmage yards. Romo connects with Bryant and Kevin Ogletree for touchdowns in a 265-yard performance in primetime. Home field prevails. Cowboys 17-14.