No one can say the first two weeks of the NFL season haven’t been eventful. Already, injuries and upsets have probably altered what you thought you knew when September began. Here’s Week 3’s Thursday and Sunday slate:
Houston at New England: Although Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder) hasn’t officially been ruled out for this one, it’s likely rookie Jacoby Brissett will make his first career start as he tries to move the Patriots out to 3-0 in the penultimate game before Tom Brady returns from suspension. Former New England offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien brings his Texans in for this battle unbeaten, patiently utilizing the run game to play to his team’s strengths and keep the pressure off Brock Osweiler. Lamar Miller has had 53 carries through Houston’s first two games.
Denver at Cincinnati: The Broncos hit the road for the first time this season as Trevor Siemian looks to continue his impressive start, but it’s the defense that has been the real star of the show for the defending champs. Even with DeMarcus Ware (fractured arm) out, that could pose major issues for the Bengals, who have largely struggled offensively outside of hitting a few big plays to A.J. Green against Darrelle Revis in the season opener. Considering Cincy barely won that opener, a loss in this first home game could yield panic among the natives.
Oakland at Tennessee: Marcus Mariota went from appearing dehydrated on the sidelines to producing the largest Titans fourth-quarter comeback in a decade. Both the offensive line and secondary have stood out thus far, making a 2-1 start possible with the Raiders in town. Only Oakland has surrendered over 30 points in each of the first two games.
Arizona at Buffalo: The Cardinals bounced back from a Week 1 loss to the Pats by trouncing the Bucs, but now have to go across the country to face a desperate Bills squad that should benefit from a few days of extra rest after playing last Thursday. With the buzzards circling around Rex Ryan and New England on tap next week, this is a must-win for a team that still has Sammy Watkins (foot) limited and top DT Marcell Dareus suspended.
Baltimore at Jacksonville: The Ravens rallied past the Browns to improve to 2-0 and saw TE Dennis Pitta make a triumphant return from what many felt would be a career-ending injury. Despite the good vibes, the combined record of Baltimore’s opponents entering this one is 0-6 and Joe Flacco has looked rusty as he returns from last year’s ACL and MCL tears, so the Jaguars have an opportunity to snap a five-game losing streak that dates back to December.
Cleveland at Miami: Rookie Cody Kessler, who started for years at USC, will lead the Browns in place of Josh McCown (shoulder), becoming the third different player to open at quarterback in as many weeks. The Dolphins have come up just short in losses in Seattle and New England and were encouraged by Sunday’s rally from a 31-3 deficit against the Patriots as QB Ryan Tannehill found his rhythm. Despite its 0-2 mark, Miami is about a double-digit favorite as it opens its home schedule.
Washington at N.Y. Giants: Despite puzzling playcalling in the red zone, New York survived in an unexpectedly low-scoring game against New Orleans and can go up three games on the ‘Skins by taking care of business here. Victor Cruz made another clutch catch to set up the win, but all eyes here will be on Odell Beckham Jr. as he matches up with Josh Norman for the first time after last season’s memorable fight-filled duel when the corner was a member of the Panthers.
Detroit at Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers’ two costly turnovers prevented the Panthers from a win at NFC North rival Minnesota on Sunday night, but he’s clearly more comfortable with Jordy Nelson back as his security blanket. The Packers will make their regular-season debut at Lambeau against a Lions squad that saw all the momentum from their Week 1 win over the Colts dashed by a late collapse at home against the Titans. Detroit snapped a 24-game losing streak in Green Bay that dated back to 1991 with an 18-16 win last season.
Minnesota at Carolina: Adrian Peterson tore his meniscus on Sunday night, which makes him week-to-week and unlikely to suit up as the Vikings visit the defending NFC champs. Sam Bradford connected with Stefon Diggs the way predecessor Teddy Bridgewater was starting to, helping balance out the offense, while Minnesota’s defense looks fierce enough to give Cam Newton fits in what looks like perhaps the top matchup in the entire league this week in spite of AP’s likely absence.
San Francisco at Seattle: Russell Wilson looks like he’s operating at less than 75 percent due to an ankle injury suffered in Week 1 and the offense has struggled immensely, producing a single touchdown and 15 total points through the first two weeks. The 49ers have been able to put points on the board behind Blaine Gabbert, so this game could get very interesting if the Seahawks continue to sputter.
Los Angeles at Tampa Bay: The Rams have only scored nine points in two games, but arrive in Florida 1-1 after the upset of Seattle. Case Keenum will look to lead the offense to their first touchdown against a defense that got carved up in Arizona, but any chance of an upset hinges on turning over Jameis Winston, who went from being Week 1’s highest-rated QB to one of Week 2’s worst. Top running back Doug Martin (hamstring) is very questionable, which would likely thrust Charles Sims into a starting role.
Pittsburgh at Philadelphia: The Keystone State’s NFL reps square off in the final game before Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell returns from suspension, so Pittsburgh hopes to get to its bye week unbeaten by winning here. The Eagles will be playing on a short week after visiting Chicago on Monday night, so you can understand why Carson Wentz & Co. are a home underdog despite the rookie’s unexpected success.
N.Y. Jets at Kansas City: Neither of these AFC teams are likely to win their division, but both veteran squads expect to make the playoffs. That makes this game pivotal as one we’ll likely look back upon as a huge potential tie-breaker. The Chiefs are expected to get Jamaal Charles back from his knee injury for his 2016 debut, while Brandon Marshall survived his own knee scare last Thursday night, enough that he’s listed as “probable” here.
San Diego at Indianapolis: The Chargers have lost key offensive players to torn ACLs in each of the first two weeks, watching RB Danny Woodhead suffer the same fate that befell WR Keenan Allen in the season opener. The 0-2 Colts have seen their secondary decimated by injuries and are struggling with keeping Andrew Luck clean and giving him time to throw.
Chicago at Dallas: The Bears will be back in prime time, looking to prevent Dak Prescott and the Cowboys from a second straight win. Rookie Ezekiel Elliott has excelled in leading the Dallas ground game and keeping pressure off Tony Romo’s replacement, so all eyes will be on him to continue his strong start. Jay Cutler needs to take advantage of a vulnerable defense to give the visitors a chance to pull the upset.