There are actual football games to be played this weekend? It seems like the past 10 days have consisted of NFL reports on only off-field issues rather than on-field results. Sure, the Ray Rice fall out and emerging details on Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, and Jonathan Dwyer among other players in trouble are compelling and warrant national discussion, but it will definitely be a welcomed break come Sunday when the conversations revert back to the actual games.
Week 3 is full of important division matchups and interesting non-conference storylines, so without further wait, here is Callie’s Picks from the Sideline for Week 3.
1. Houston Texans @ New York Giants: 1:00 p.m. on CBS
After a number of regularly competitive teams have started 0-2 this season like the Giants, the national media has begun to recite the statistic that teams that lose their first two contests have an 11.6% chance of making the playoffs. That’s not where the Giants want to be. Then again, the Texans started with the same 2-0 record last year and finished the season at 2-14. With the early-season record nonsense aside, this should actually be a compelling game.
The Texans are coming in on a hot streak after handling the Redskins and Raiders with ease. They have relied heavily on their running game and defense to take pressure off of journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. J.J. Watt has been absolutely monstrous on defense and even got involved in the offensive game plan against Oakland, notching his first receiving touchdown.
The Giants, on the other hand, sit 0-2 and have clearly been anything but successful. They have averaged just 14 points scored per game while opponents have scored an average of 30. Quarterback Eli Manning and the offense have managed to generate only an average of 267 total yards, most likely due to their lack of a top running back and healthy wide receiving corps.
Sunday’s tilt between Houston and New York should be closer than the numbers on paper suggest. I anticipate Giants head coach Tom Coughlin will have his team desperate and motivated for a much needed win. Houston, on the other hand, may be in for a slight let down. New York presents a bigger task for the Texans than their previous two opponents have provided, so I see the Giants picking up their first win this season.
2. Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints: 1:00 p.m. on FOX
New Orleans was a favorite of many fans and pundits alike to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in preseason predictions, but they currently sit at 0-2 after two extremely close losses to the Falcons and Browns. The Vikings opened with a blowout of the Rams, but after deactivating star running back Adrian Peterson hours before the game following an indictment for child abuse, they were crushed by the Patriots last weekend. Neither team coming into this Sunday’s contest has any sort of momentum.
The Vikings’ quarterback Matt Cassel was proficient in Week 1 but threw four interceptions when left without the help of his running game last week. Part of the Vikings’ ineptitude could be attributed to the late loss of Adrian Peterson, who is now on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List, ruining their game plan, but this week, Minnesota’s defense needs to find ways to contain the Saints’ tight ends while playing better on the offensive line to give Cassel time to settle in and find electric wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Sunday is the home opener in New Orleans. It has been well documented that the Saints are a much more dominant, complete team when playing indoors and on turf in the confines of their Mercedes Benz Super Dome. Thus far, the poor play of their defense has been the reason for their late game woes (not to mention the reason the games are so close to begin with, given their offensive firepower). Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and head coach Sean Payton were seen arguing on the sideline during last week’s game. Ryan’s unit has been guilty of poor tackling, breaks in coverage schemes, and lack of pressure on the defensive line, recording just two total sacks to this point.
The Vikings will be able to better prepare and stick to their game plan this week because the Adrian Peterson situation, at least in terms of game availability, has been sorted out. However, the Saints, along with their loud, diehard fans, will be amped up to ensure a 0-3 start is not their result. New Orleans should win this one easily.
3. San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals: 4:05 p.m. on FOX
With Seattle looking to reign supreme in the NFC West, this game between the 49ers and Cardinals is likely the first of two matchups to decide who can claim second place and one of the NFC wildcard spots. Both teams have begun strong so far this season with the 49ers entering at 1-1 and the Cardinals at 2-0.
San Francisco played like their preseason disappointments were a fluke in Week 1, a strong victory against the Dallas Cowboys, but allowed 21 fourth quarter points to the Chicago Bears on Sunday night to lose 28-20 after leading 20-7 before the final 15 minutes. Colin Kaepernick, who threw three interceptions, was as much the culprit of the collapse as the defense. Were these problems an anomaly or a sign of the loss of so many standout players for the 49ers?
The Cardinals currently occupy first place in the division after Seattle’s Week 2 loss. After a Monday night, come-from-behind victory against the Chargers in Week 1, Arizona easily handled the New York Giants in a 25-14 victory. Quarterback Carson Palmer, however, sat out with a shoulder nerve injury and is questionable to play Sunday. Much like the Vikings, one of Arizona’s running backs, Jonathan Dwyer, was been arrested this week for aggravated assault, so they are thin in the backfield. The Cardinals’ defense and special teams should be sufficient to keep the game tight.
Like all division matchups, especially in the NFC West, this contest is going to be cut throat, as neither team wants to forgo an early opportunity to gain ground in the division. The 49ers have a stronger team on paper, especially if Palmer is unable to suit up, but traveling to Arizona after a gut wrenching, primetime loss may be too big of a task. I like Arizona in a close game after another standout day for their special teams unit.
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