GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Seattle at Houston
The line: Seattle by 3
The story: We know Seattle is one of the NFL's best teams. What we don't know is what Houston is, and this may be where we find out.
If the Seahawks are vulnerable anywhere, it's on the road. While they're 9-1 over their last 10 games, their only loss was in Atlanta. And while they're 15-6 the past two seasons (including the playoffs), they're only 5-6 away from home.
So that bodes well for Houston. So does this: The Texans five of their last six at home in September, which means the intangibles tilt ever so slightly toward the Texans.
One problem: Logic does not. Quarterback Matt Schaub must produce a signature win over a big-time opponent. The running game is dead-flat ordinary, averaging 3.3 yards a carry. Andre Johnson is handicapped by a bruised shin. The ever-reliable defense has only one takeaway. And the Houston kick and punt coverage units are among the league's worst.
Now you know why Seattle is favored.
Something to remember: Seattle's Russell Wilson has 12 touchdown passes, one interception and a passer rating of 127.3 in four career games vs. the AFC. Seattle is 10-1 when Wilson's passer rating is 100 or better.
THREE GAMES YOU SHOULDN'T MISS
Chicago at Detroit
The line: Lions by 3
The story: It's not just an undefeated opponent the Lions must overcome; it's a bleak history. The Bears won nine of the past 10 games between these two, with the only Detroit victory in 2011.
That game was at Ford Field. So is this one. So that's in Detroit's favor. But little else is. The Lions just lost Nate Burleson, possibly for the season, and he's not just a valuable weapon; he was the team's leading pass receiver.
Running back Reggie Bush looks as if he could return, so that's a bonus, but the issue here is not putting up points; it's stopping Jay Cutler. The guy has been money vs. Detroit, throwing for 12 touchdowns and only one interception vs. the Lions since taking over in Chicago. If the Bears can protect him -- and he's been sacked only three times this year -- this one becomes a tennis match, with Detroit hoping Matthew Stafford has the last serve.
Something to remember: The Bears have an NFL-best 44 points off takeaways.
Dallas at San Diego
The line: Cowboys by 2
The story: The Cowboys are off to their third straight 2-1 start under Jason Garrett, and they're expected to win here. But there are speed bumps that could present problems, beginning with Miles Austin's ever-present hamstring issue. San Diego is vulnerable to the pass, and not having a healthy Austin improves the Chargers' chances.
Then there is San Diego at home. The Chargers are a tough out there, with quarterback Philip Rivers
Rivers and Dallas quarterback Tony Romo are key figures here, and not just because they're the quarterbacks. For the first time in a long time, their offensive lines offer reasonable protection, and the results speak for themselves: Rivers and Romo have a combined 14 touchdown passes and three interceptions. The mistakes that plagued each the past two years haven't been visible ... yet.
If San Diego is to pull the upset, that must change. The Chargers have only one takeaway through their first three games, all of which were decided in the last minute.
Something to remember: The Chargers and Cowboys each scored on five of their six series beginning the first and third quarters. Nobody is better.
New England at Atlanta
The line: Falcons by 2
The story: A month ago, Atlanta was considered not just one of the NFC's dominant teams but one of the best in the NFL. Not anymore. It lost the opener in New Orleans, and, yeah, OK, so it happens. But then it was caught from behind by Miami a week ago, and, suddenly, the Falcons aren't the best team in their own division anymore. New Orleans is.
That's why this feels like a statement game for the Falcons. They believe they're playoff material, and we all know New England is, so long as Tom Brady is healthy. The Patriots are unbeaten, but seldom has an unblemished record looked more flimsy, with the Patriots lucky to escape the Bills and Jets. Nevertheless, it's New England, and nobody has been better the past decade than these guys ... which is why Atlanta must respond.
The Falcons won't have Steven Jackson for this game, but they're not a running team; they can win this game with their passing attack -- provided, Matt Ryan has time to throw. New England is better defensively, holding its past two opponents to a combined xxx points, and Brady is Brady. Still, he's struggling with his new receivers. New England ranks last in Red Zone offense, which could be an issue except for this: Atlanta's defense is tied for 23rd in that department.
Something to remember: Under coach Mike Smith, Atlanta is 43-1 when leading after three quarters.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
Miami at New Orleans
The line: Saints by 6 1/2
The story: With both teams unbeaten, why is the spread so high? New Orleans is home. And people trust Drew Brees more than they do Ryan Tannehill.
New also Orleans has a history of recent success; the Dolphins do not.
The bottom line is New Orleans is expected to win here because the expectation is that Brees -- who won his last eight Monday Night starts -- solves the Miami secondary where Tannehill will struggle vs. Rob Ryan's new and improved defense.
The Saints are on a mission this year, and the mission is to demonstrate that they're not just a playoff worthy club that, they believe, got jobbed last year by Bountygate, but that they're a Super Bowl worthy team. We know they have the quarterback and receivers to get there. The problem has been a leaky defense ... until now, that is. New Orleans ranks in the top 10 of 12 defensive categories and is fourth overall.
If there's a weakness, it's defending the run, where opponents average 5.3 yards per carry. Look for Miami to try to exploit that first -- 1) because it appears to be a vulnerable area and 2) because it could help keep Brees and Co. nailed to the bench.
Something to remember: The Dolphins committed only two penalties the past two games, including none vs. Indianapolis.
CRUMMY GAME OF THE WEEK
Pittsburgh at Minnesota, in London's Wembley Stadium
The line: Steelers by 1 1/2
The story: England gives us the Beatles and the Who; we respond by offering this stinker. No wonder there's a balance of trade deficit. Pittsburgh and Minnesota are a combined 0-6 this season, with the two combining for 19 turnovers and neither of their quarterbacks ranked among the league's top 20.
We all know Pittsburgh can't protect Ben Roethlisberger with its running game or offensive line, but it's the defense that should be of equal concern. It not only can't sack opposing quarterbacks (it has only three), but it can't create a turnover. You can look it up: The Steelers have no takeaways through their first three losses.
Minnesota, of course, has its own problems, beginning with embattled quarterback Christian Ponder, who was booed off the field a week ago at the Mall of America Dome. He has a rib injury suffered a week ago and is iffy for Sunday. That could mean Matt Cassel starts. If nothing else, it meant more reps for Cassel in this week's practice. If he plays he must reduce the mistakes (five interceptions, two fumbles) that dogged Ponder the first three games. Either that, or keep handing the ball to Adrian Peterson.
Something to remember: Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh has 11 field goals of 50 or more yards without a miss.
FIVE GUYS IT'S GOOD TO BE
1. Cincinnati WR A.J. Green. He has four TD catches in four career games vs. Cleveland.
2. Chicago QB Jay Cutler. Since joining the Bears, he's 7-1 against Detroit, with 12 TD passes, one interception and a passer rating of 100.5. He has a passer rating of 108.8 with seven touchdowns and no interceptions, at Detroit.
3. San Diego LB Dwight Freeney. He has four sacks in three career games vs. Dallas.
4. New England QB Tom Brady. He's 3-0 vs. Atlanta, with seven touchdowns, one interception and a 114.5 rating.
5. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. He won his last eight Monday Night Football games, with 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
BELIEVE IT ... OR DON'T
1. Through three games the Pittsburgh Steelers have no takeaways.
2. Since 2012, Chicago has 12 defensive touchdowns (10 interceptions, two fumble returns), the most in the NFL. Cornerback Charles Tillman has five career interceptions vs. Detroit, returning three for TDs.
3. Seattle won its last eight regular-season games, outscoring opponents by an average of 34.9-10.9.
4. Kansas City aims for its first 4-0 start since 2003.
5. The Atlanta Falcons are 33-1 when quarterback Matt Ryan has a passer rating of 100 or better.
6. Kansas City tied for the league lead a year ago in turnovers with 37. Through three games this year it is one of only teams without a giveaway. Tennessee is the other.
7. A year ago, Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick met in the Super Bowl. This year, they're not among the league's top 20 passers. Flacco is 23rd and Kaepernick 25th.
8. No offense is worse inside the 20 than New England, with four TDs and nine scores on 13 possessions.
9. Denver's Peyton Manning not only leads the league in touchdowns (12) and passer rating (134.7); he's the leader in third-down passing (132.0) and fourth-quarter passing (158.3).
10. The New York Giants (32), Pittsburgh (31) and Jacksonville (30) -- teams that historically run well -- are the last ranked teams in that department. The Jags average 2.4 yards per carry, the Giants 2.7 and Pittsburgh 3.0.
TEN NUMBERS THAT MAY MEAN SOMETHING
28-3 -- Baltimore's record when Joe Flacco has a passer rating of 100 or more.
10-1 -- Cincinnati's record when Andy Dalton has a passer rating of 100 or more.
1-7 -- Jim Schwartz's record vs. Chicago.
22-5-1 -- Alex Smith's record dating back to 2011.
Minus-9 -- Pittsburgh's takeaway/giveaway ratio
14 -- Denver's consecutive game winning streak in the regular season, longest in the NFL.
146 -- Demaryius Thomas' yards after the catch, best in the NFL.
18-0 -- Dallas' record when DeMarco Murray has 18 or more rushing attempts
34-5 -- Matt Ryan's record at home.
7.45 -- Philadelphia's average gain on first downs, best in the league