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NFL 2011 Season – Week Three Preview

Drew Brees Saints QB
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Week Three of the 2011 NFL schedule kicks off the first weekend of fall. Two games feature undefeated teams pitted against each other, while several, key intra-divisional rivalries meet for the first time this season. Meanwhile, winless teams are scrambling to save their 2011 season before it’s too late.


NFL schedule for Sunday, September 25:

Houston Texans at New Orleans Saints – 1 P.M.

Houston (2-0) sends linebacker Mario Williams after Saints (1-1) quarterback Drew Brees in an effort to make the first 3-0 start in franchise history. New Orleans hopes to take the blitzes in stride and watch Brees find receiver Devery Henderson, who has 100 or more receiving yards in each of his two games this season. The Saints expect to blitz on defense as well and hope to stifle the Houston running attack. Texans running back Ben Tate, who has gained more than 100 yards each game this year, may start in place of 2011 NFL rushing king Arian Foster, who is nursing a strained hamstring.

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills – 1 P.M.

With nearly 1,000 yards passing in the first two weeks of the season, New England (2-0) quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots offense has been all but unstoppable in its two victories. New England passes against a Buffalo (2-0) defense that yielded several big plays against Oakland last week. The Bills hope to slow the offensive onslaught by keeping the New England defense on the field by controlling the ball with running back Fred Jackson, whose 229 yards rushing leads the NFL. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has seven touchdown passes, tying him for the league lead with Brady and Matthew Stafford of Detroit.

San Francisco 49ers at Cincinnati Bengals – 1 P.M.

With a 300-yard passing day last week, Cincinnati (1-1) rookie quarterback Andy Dalton showed that he can play in the NFL, but can he perform under pressure? The San Francisco (1-1) defense that cracked the rib and punctured the lung of Dallas’ Tony Romo will find out. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks leads their attack. The 49ers league-best rushing defense may render the Bengals backfield useless. San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith has completed 70.5 percent of his passes this year. He won’t have Braylon Edwards as a target; the receiver is out for three weeks after undergoing knee surgery.

Miami Dolphins at Cleveland Browns – 1 P.M.

The Miami offense has played better than the team’s 0-2 record reflects. The Dolphin defense, however, is last in the league. Cleveland (1-1) needs quarterback Colt McCoy to lead scores against a Miami defense that gave up 747 passing yards in two weeks. Miami rookie running back Daniel Thomas, who gained 107 yards against Houston last week, may be taking reps away from free agent acquisition Reggie Bush. They’ll team with Dolphin quarterback Chad Henne to try to outscore the Browns.

Denver Broncos at Tennessee Titans – 1 P.M.

If Denver (1-1) wants to build on its win over Cincinnati last week, it must pressure Tennessee (1-1) quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. The veteran QB was not sacked by the highly-regarded Baltimore defense last week and threw for more than 100 yards to receiver Kenny Britt alone in the Titans victory. Broncos rookie linebacker Von Miller needs to mature faster to help the Denver defensive line rush the passer. The Titans defense must keep Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton from throwing for 341 yards and two touchdowns as he did in last season’s Denver win over Tennessee.

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings – 1 P.M.

Detroit (2-0) looks to prove that its hot start is not a fluke by keeping Minnesota (0-2) winless. The Vikings pass defense has been victimized by quarterbacks who are not as talented as the Lions Matthew Stafford. He’ll continue to target receiver Calvin Johnson. The Vikings figure to lean heavily on running back Adrian Peterson for offense as quarterback Donovan McNabb ranks 29th in the NFL in passer rating (71.3). The Lions young defense wants to force mistakes like those that caused the Vikings to yield a 10-point fourth quarter lead to Tampa Bay last week.

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles – 1 P.M.

Philadelphia (1-1) quarterback Michael Vick, who suffered a concussion in last week’s loss to Atlanta, may play in the team’s home opener at Lincoln Financial Field. If not, the Eagles (1-1) may give backup Mike Kafka his first start. Led by defensive lineman Justin Tuck, New York (1-1) expects to pressure the quarterback with a constant pass rush, regardless of his jersey number. With a depleted wide receiving corps missing Domenik Hixon, who is out for the season with a torn knee ligament, look for the Giants to run Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs at what has been a shaky Philadelphia run defense. The Eagles replaced rookie Casey Matthews with Jamar Chaney at middle linebacker to attempt to remedy the problem.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Carolina Panthers – 1 P.M.

With 854 passing yards in two games, Carolina (0-2) rookie quarterback Cam Newton has done everything but win for the Panthers. Rookie Blaine Gabbert, chosen by Jacksonville (1-1) nine picks after Newton in this year’s draft, makes his first NFL start. Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who is averaging 92.5 yards rushing per game, should help Gabbert move the ball against a Panthers defense that is 26th in the league. Steve Smith, the NFL’s receiving yardage leader with 334 yards, runs routes against a Jacksonville defense that figures to implement coverages and blitz packages designed at slowing Newton’s aerial assault.

New York Jets at Oakland Raiders – 4:05 P.M.

Oakland (1-1) sends its powerful rushing attack, led by Darren McFadden, against the vaunted New York (2-0) defense in what should be an exceptionally physical game. The key to victory for the Jets may come in how their rushing attack helps quarterback Mark Sanchez  convert third downs to wear down the fast, but undersized, Raider defense like Buffalo did last week. Oakland rookie receiver Denarius Moore had 146 yards and a touchdown against the Bills. It’s difficult to imagine him doing that against Jets cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis.

Baltimore Ravens at St. Louis Rams – 4:05 P.M.

St. Louis (0-2) quarterback Sam Bradford has been solid outside of the red zone, but the Rams have only scored two touchdowns in two games. The Baltimore (1-1) defense is aggressive, talented and mad, especially after last week’s loss to Tennessee, when the Ravens didn’t record a sack. Worse still for Bradford, the St. Louis line has not protected him well, and his best potential weapons – receiver Danny Amendola and running back Steven Jackson – may not play. Ravens running back Ray Rice leads Baltimore’s offense against a Rams defense that has been susceptible to giving up big yards and points.

Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers – 4:05 P.M.

Both teams are turnover-prone, with Kansas City (0-2) having committed nine turnovers and San Diego (1-1) giving away six. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers looks to connect with tight end Antonio Gates and receiver Vincent Jackson, who had 10 catches against New England last week. Decimated by injuries, Kansas City’s only hope is to keep the San Diego offense off the field. The Chiefs must find a way to create some offense; they have managed just 10 points this year. With running back Jamaal Charles out for the season with a knee injury, this will be a year-long challenge for Kansas City.

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears – 4:15 P.M.

Among the NFL’s best rivalries, this game is a rematch of the teams that played in last year’s NFC Championship, won by Green Bay (2-0). Chicago (1-1) quarterback Jay Cutler, whose toughness was questioned when he left the NFC title game with a sprained knee ligament, will be looking for vindication against a Packers defense that is 30th overall in the NFL. The loss of safety Nick Collins to a season-ending neck injury last week will hurt Green Bay. Chicago needs to protect Cutler, who has been sacked a league-high 11 times. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown five touchdowns with no interceptions. He’ll look to mix up the aggressive Chicago defense, led by lineman Julius Peppers, by mixing the run-pass ratio of the Green Bay offense.

Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks – 4:15 P.M.

After giving away an eight-point lead in the last six minutes against Washington last week, Arizona (1-1) may be eager to see Seattle (0-2), who was ineffective while being shutout by Pittsburgh. The Cardinals will look to grab the lead by running the ball to set up quarterback Kevin Kolb’s accurate passing attack. While the Arizona defense is among the league’s worst (29th), the Seahawks offense is the NFL’s least potent; Seattle has just 95 yards rushing this year.

Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 4:15 P.M.

Atlanta (1-1) figures to use running back Michael Turner, who is averaging nearly 7 yards per carry, to take advantage of Tampa Bay’s (1-1) weak rushing defense. The Buccaneers have given up an average of 156 yards a game on the ground. Look for the Falcons to use the run to set up the downfield passing of quarterback Matt Ryan. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman will throw against the Falcons shaky secondary. The Buccaneers hope that Freeman continues to find ways to rally his team to win games that seem to be sure losses.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts – 8:20 P.M.

Indianapolis (0-2) quarterback Kerry Collins, who is still subbing for the inured Peyton Manning, endured the rumors of the team signing another retired quarterback, like Jeff George or Brett Favre, to replace him. Sunday night, Collins will have bigger problems: the Pittsburgh (1-1) defense. With the Colts porous offensive line and the Steelers blitz-happy defensive packages, Collins, who isn’t a mobile quarterback, figures to have a long evening unless he can get some production from running back Joseph Addai. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Mike Wallace should provide all the points Pittsburgh needs against the Colts 29th-ranked defense.

Monday, Sept. 26

Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys – 8:30 P.M.

Washington (2-0) looks to move to 3-0 for the first time since 2005 by pressuring Dallas (1-1) quarterback Tony Romo, who suffered a cracked rib and a punctured lung last week in San Francisco. The pressure is also on the Cowboys foundering running game, which must keep the Redskins aggressive defense honest by establishing itself as a threat. In the opposite match-up, Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware and his NFL-high four sacks will try to stop Washington quarterback Rex Grossman from sustaining drives and controlling the clock. The teams have split their 14 previous Monday Night Football meetings.

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