The Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens face off in the best game of the week. Plus, the point spreads, injuries, story lines, and everything else you need to know for every Week 3 game.
Don’t take health for granted. New Orleans’s Drew Brees, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, Jacksonville’s Nick Foles, New York’s Sam Darnold, and Darnold’s backup Trevor Siemian are all out with injuries or illness this week, and Carolina’s Cam Newton is likely to join that group by Sunday. That list does not include Indianapolis’s Andrew Luck, who retired three weeks ago due to constantly being in pain. Factor in that New York’s Eli Manning and Miami’s Ryan Fitzpatrick have already been benched, and more than a quarter of the league’s quarterbacks have turned over just an eighth of the way through the regular season. Brees, Manning, and Roethlisberger missing time is particularly jarring. All three are in the top 10 for career passing yards, passing touchdowns, pass attempts, pass completions, and games started by an NFL quarterback. They have combined for 51 years of NFL experience, and all three suffered a career-changing blow in the same 48 hours. Their absences this week could be the end of an era.
Endings lead to new beginnings, and Week 3 looks like a preview for the next wave of quarterbacks. We have 24-year-old reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes’s Chiefs hosting 22-year-old Lamar Jackson’s Ravens, as well as 2016 no. 1 pick Jared Goff’s Rams visiting 2018 no. 1 pick Baker Mayfield’s Browns. Their youth is a trend, not an anomaly. More than half of the league’s starting quarterbacks this week (19 of 32) will be younger than 27, the highest number since the league used replacement players in a strike-shortened 1987 season. The new blood has brought new ideas. Almost a third of the quarterbacks who will start in Week 3 played in an Air Raid offense in college. The Air Raid comes from college football, and like many sports innovations, it was devised by downtrodden teams trying to keep up with more talented and better-resourced programs. To oversimplify it, Air Raid coaches focus on football’s most effective plays and have their players practice them until they are perfect. It’s the football version of building an entire airplane out of the material for the black box. Luckily for us, the most effective plays double as the most fun, and we will get a glimpse of more fun offenses this week, starting with an unexpectedly elite Week 3 headliner.
Plan Your Weekend Around This Game
Baltimore Ravens (2-0) @ Kansas City Chiefs (2-0)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Kansas City -6
Key Ravens injuries and absences: Tight end Mark Andrews (foot), cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee)
Key Chiefs injuries and absences: Receiver Tyreek Hill (shoulder), running back Damien Williams (knee), left tackle Eric Fisher (groin)
What to watch: Two MVP candidates leading two of the league’s most fun offenses in a duel
Rarely does Week 3 deliver a matchup that feels like a playoff game, but rarely do two of the best teams in the league meet so soon. Patrick Mahomes has been better through two weeks of 2019 than he was in the first two of his 50-touchdown MVP campaign last year. For two weeks in a row, Mahomes has had exactly 313 passing yards at halftime. He threw for 278 yards and four touchdowns in the second quarter (!) against Oakland last week, and the shortest of those four touchdowns was 27 yards. Only Jared Goff has thrown that many deep touchdowns in a game in the past four years. The season is young (and so is Mahomes, who turned 24 on Tuesday), but this game may be a test for whether Mahomes will have competition for MVP. Mahomes and Lamar Jackson have seven passing touchdowns apiece, tied with Dak Prescott for the league lead. Combined, Mahomes and Jackson have more passing touchdowns (14) than Goff, Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, Kirk Cousins, Cam Newton, and Mitchell Trubisky (11).
We will see whether Mahomes has met his match in Jackson as well as whether the Ravens are ready to join the Chiefs in the top tier of AFC contenders. Both teams are in the top four in points, yards, yards per play, and first downs through the first two weeks, which explains why this matchup has the highest over/under point total of the week. Neither team has had serious competition so far, with the Chiefs playing the Jaguars and Raiders and the Ravens beating the Dolphins and Cardinals, so this is the first true test for both teams.
The Backup Quarterback Games
There are five games on Sunday’s late-afternoon slate, and four of them are likely to feature a quarterback thrust into the starting job.
New York Giants (0-2) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1)
Kickoff time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Announcers: Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber (former Buccaneer), Tiki Barber (former Giant and Ronde’s twin), Sarah Walsh (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Tampa Bay -4
Key Giants injuries and absences: Quarterback Eli Manning (benched), receiver Cody Latimer (concussion), guard Kevin Zeitler (shoulder)
Key Buccaneers injuries and absences: Linebacker Devin White (knee)
What to watch: The beginning of the Daniel Jones era
For the second time in 15 years, someone other than Eli Manning will start at quarterback for the New York Giants. Manning goes to the bench, and onto the field goes … someone who looks a lot like Manning. Jones, the no. 6 pick out of Duke in this year’s draft, resembles Manning down to the height, weight, and personality traits.
The main difference between Manning and Jones is that Jones is mobile. In college, where sacks count as negative rushing plays, Jones had 1,323 rushing yards in 36 games. That is more than twice as many as Manning had in 232 starts as a pro. Giants general manager Dave Gettleman drafted Jones because he could play in the pocket, but don’t be surprised if the Giants work read-options into their game plan on Sunday (Devin White, the linebacker picked directly before Jones, may miss the game, which would make their life easier). Giants head coach and de facto offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who is 5-13 since being hired last year, deserves to have his slate wiped clean and be judged solely off of how the offense looks with Jones for the next 14 games. The first test for Jones is not winning, but converting a third-and-7 or longer, which the Giants have not done this year in 12 tries.
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-2) @ San Francisco 49ers (2-0)
Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Announcers: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Melanie Collins (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Pick ’em, moved to San Francisco -6.5 after Ben Roethlisberger’s injury
Key Steelers injuries and absences: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (elbow), running back James Conner (knee), cornerback Joe Haden (shoulder), linebacker Vince Williams (hamstring)
Key 49ers injuries and absences: Left tackle Joe Staley (fibula), running back Tevin Coleman (ankle), pass rusher Dee Ford (quad), pass rusher Nick Bosa (ankle)
What to watch: The quietly surging Jimmy Garoppolo
The main story entering this game is whether Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh’s 2018 third-round pick out of Oklahoma State, can adequately replace Ben Roethlisberger, who is out for the season. There’s a real chance that Rudolph might be better than Roethlisberger was this season. But our eyes, as they often do, may wander toward Jimmy Garoppolo. The 49ers quarterback looked skittish in the preseason but excellent while carving up the Bengals secondary last week for 296 yards and three touchdowns on just 17 completions and 25 passes (11.9 yards per attempt), including 10-of-10 for 213 yards and two touchdowns on play-action. Garoppolo will still make one or two infuriatingly overconfident throws per game, like the interception he threw into a crowd of five defenders last week, but it’s hard to blame someone who makes $60 million in two years and looks like this for being overconfident. Rudolph has our curiosity, but Garoppolo may get our attention.
New Orleans Saints (1-1) @ Seattle Seahawks (2-0)
Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Seattle -4
Key Saints injuries and absences: Quarterback Drew Brees (thumb), receiver Tre’Quan Smith (ankle), guard Andrus Peat (ankle), defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (Achilles)
Key Seahawks injuries and absences: Safety Tedric Thompson (hamstring), cornerback Neiko Thorpe (hamstring), offensive lineman D.J. Fluker (ankle)
What to watch: The quarterback(s?) filling in for Drew Brees
Since Brees joined the Saints in 2006, here is where he ranks among all players, according to Pro-Football-Reference.
- No. 1 in pass attempts
- No. 1 in completions
- No. 1 in completion percentage
- No. 1 in passing touchdowns
- No. 1 in passing yards
- No. 2 in passing yards per game (Mahomes is first)
- No. 1 in Pro Bowls (tied with Tom Brady)
- No. 2 in interceptions (Eli Manning is first)
- No. 1 in pick-sixes
- No. 5 in adjusted net yards per attempt, the most comprehensive quarterback stat we have (behind Mahomes, Brady, Peyton Manning, and Aaron Rodgers)
- No. 3 in games played
Longevity is a major factor. Only a handful of quarterbacks have played nearly uninterrupted since 2006. For a year-by-year look at how Brees stacked up, here is where the Saints offense has ranked in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and net yards per pass attempt since 2006.
The easiest way to replace that production may be to not even bother trying. Teddy Bridgewater is Brees’s backup, but Payton hinted this week that Taysom Hill, the Swiss army knife who already subs in for Brees on gadget plays, might get a much bigger load of the Saints offense, and that would change their entire team. Hill is used unlike any other NFL player. He’s listed as a quarterback because the Saints have to call him something, but he throws deep passes, runs read-options, catches intermediate routes, blocks defensive ends, and plays special teams. If Hill ends up playing quarterback instead of Bridgewater for any chunk of this game, New Orleans could boast the most interesting offense pro football has seen in years.
Carolina Panthers (0-2) @ Arizona Cardinals (0-1-1)
Kickoff time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Announcers: Dan Hellie, Brady Quinn, Sarah Kustok (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Carolina -3, moved to Arizona -2.5 after Cam Newton injury
Key Panthers injuries and absences: Quarterback Cam Newton (foot), defensive tackle Kawann Short (shoulder), pass rusher Bruce Irvin (hamstring)
Key Cardinals injuries and absences: Defensive end Jonathan Bullard (hamstring)
What to watch: The Panthers without Cam Newton
Newton did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday and is not expected to start on Sunday. After his 2018 ended with a six-game losing streak while playing through a shoulder injury that sapped his strength, Newton added a foot injury this preseason that has not healed. In July, he talked to NBC Sports’ Peter King about playing through injuries last year and how he recognizes he needs to change his physical style of play.
“You can look back at any type of player,” Newton told King. “You can look back at any type of sport and as a player grows, your game has to change. I remember reading and seeing a lot of clips about Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Brett Favre, even Peyton Manning to a degree. When you get old, you have to change certain things. … So at this point in my career, it’s not about velocity. It’s not about throwing a ball 70 yards. It’s about efficient football that’s gonna win football games.”
The Cowboys and Patriots are both favored by more than 20 points, the first time two teams have been favored by that much since Joe Montana and Jerry Rice’s 49ers matched up against replacement players in 1987 (strangely, the other team that week favored by 20 points was also the Dallas Cowboys). Excluding the strike season, two teams have not been favored by this much in the same week since 1977.
Miami Dolphins (0-2) @ Dallas Cowboys (2-0)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Dallas -16, bet up to Dallas -22.5
Key Dolphins injuries and absences: Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (traded), safety Reshad Jones (ankle), receiver Albert Wilson (hip, calf)
Key Cowboys injuries and absences: Receiver Michael Gallup (knee), receiver Tavon Austin (concussion), defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford (hip), safety Xavier Woods (ankle)
What to watch: The Cowboys join the pile-on
The Cowboys look like bona fide Super Bowl contenders for the first time since they went 13-3 and were the NFC’s no. 1 seed in 2016. On Sunday they’ll try to become the third elite team to annihilate Miami, this time with the benefit of the Dolphins traveling to Dallas. The Cowboys offense is second in yards, first in yards per play, third in first downs, and fifth in points through two games, and it could be first in points by the end of the week if they cover the spread. The Dolphins have scored the fewest points in the league (10) and allowed the most (102) through two weeks for a point differential of minus-92, the fourth worst for a team through two weeks since 1970. Miami’s defense is even worse after trading Minkah Fitzpatrick, their 2018 first-round cornerback out of Alabama, to Pittsburgh this week. That trade prompted this tweet from Miami cornerback Xavien Howard.
Josh Rosen will be starting this game, his first as a Dolphin. A 22.5-point underdog at Jerryworld might be his toughest game yet.
New York Jets (0-2) @ New England Patriots (2-0)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Dana Jacobson (sideline reporter)
Opening line: -22.5
Key Jets injuries and absences: Quarterback Sam Darnold (mononucleosis), quarterback Trevor Siemian (ankle), linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin), defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (ankle)
Key Patriots injuries and absences: Left tackle Isaiah Wynn (toe), right tackle Marcus Cannon (shoulder), center David Andrews (blood clots), fullback James Develin (neck)
What to watch: Luke Falk try
A week ago Luke Falk was on the Jets practice squad. Now the no. 199 pick in the 2018 draft is the Jets starting quarterback, and his first career start is in Foxborough against the Patriots and another guy who went no. 199 overall, Tom Brady.
Brady was Falk’s idol long before the Jets’ new starter was drafted. This is how Cole Madison, one of Falk’s teammates at Washington State, described Falk’s obsession on WEEI: “‘Tom Brady this, Tom Brady that, Tom Brady does this, so this is what we should do.’ He is ride-or-die Tom Brady, for sure.”
In proof that truth is better than fiction, Falk’s first career start will be against Brady in Foxborough. And he isn’t facing just any Patriots team—through two weeks, New England’s defense looks like one of Bill Belichick’s best. They have allowed just three points in two games and have not surrendered a touchdown since the AFC championship game. They have allowed the fewest points, yards, yards per play, and first downs while tying for the most turnovers and the second-most sacks. Against New England, the Dolphins had just 38 yards and two first downs through three quarters, a staggeringly low output for an NFL team, regardless of whether they are tanking. That said, it’s worth keeping an eye on the health of New England’s offensive line. They are already down multiple starters, and even a victory over the Jets at the cost of another O-line injury could hamper New England significantly.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown will likely play on Sunday despite two major off-field developments this week. Britney Taylor, who said in a lawsuit that Brown raped her in 2018 and sexually assaulted her on two other occasions, met with the NFL for 10 hours on Monday as part of a league investigation. On the same day, Sports Illustrated reported that another woman said that Brown sexually harassed her in 2017. Brown could be facing a suspension from the league when the investigation ends.
Protect Your Quarterbacks, Please
With QBs dropping like flies, these games have the same theme: Please don’t let your starting quarterback get injured
Los Angeles Rams (2-0) @ Cleveland Browns (1-1)
Kickoff time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter), Terry McAulay (rules analyst)
Opening line: Rams -2.5
Key Rams injuries and absences: Defensive tackle Aaron Donald (back), guard Austin Blythe (ankle), tight end Tyler Higbee (chest)
Key Browns injuries and absences: Tight end David Njoku (concussion/wrist), offensive lineman Kendall Lamm (knee), offensive lineman Chris Hubbard (foot), linebacker Christian Kirksey (chest), safety Damarious Randall (concussion), safety Morgan Burnett (quad)
What to watch: Baker Mayfield vs. Aaron Donald, Jared Goff vs. Myles Garrett, Odell Beckham Jr.’s watch vs. Aqib Talib
A fun fact nobody cares about but the Sunday Night Football broadcast will mention anyway: The Cleveland Browns franchise was created in 1947 after the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles in 1946 (technically those Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996, but we don’t have time for that here). Seven decades later, they are in the same place spiritually, if not physically. Both teams drafted a quarterback no. 1 two years apart, have entered the 2019 season with large expectations, but have been unable to block for that quarterback through two games. Goff had a sterling start to 2018 but has struggled without center John Sullivan, whose 2019 option was declined by Los Angeles, and guard Rodger Saffold, who left for Tennessee this offseason. Goff has an 80.0 completion percentage from clean pockets (fifth best in the league) but a 37.0 completion percentage under pressure (29th among 36 quarterbacks), according to Pro Football Focus.
The Browns have had a far harder time protecting Mayfield, who has taken eight sacks, two shy of the league lead. His sack total would be far higher if the Browns didn’t lead the league in penalties, many of which were holding calls against the offensive line (holding is at an all-time high through two weeks). Their pass protection likely won’t improve against the Rams and Aaron Donald, who is expected to play.
This game also features the fascinating subplot of Odell Beckham’s possibly fake watch, a saga in its own right, being worn on the same field as cornerback Aqib Talib, the preeminent on-field jewelry robber of our time.
Detroit Lions (1-0-1) @ Philadelphia Eagles (1-1)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Philadelphia -7
Key Lions injuries and absences: Safety C.J. Moore (heel)
Key Eagles injuries and absences: Wide receiver DeSean Jackson (abdomen), wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (calf), tight end Dallas Goedert (calf), defensive tackle Malik Jackson (foot), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (foot), running back/kick returner Corey Clement (shoulder)
What to watch: Philahealthya?
The word decimated does not do justice to what happened to the Eagles last week, because decimated technically means destroying a tenth of something. Two-tenths of the Eagles’ active roster, including Carson Wentz, left last week’s Sunday Night Football with injuries at some point during the game. The Eagles need a victory against the Lions, but also need to leave the game without losing more key pieces, with Wentz at the top of the list.
Houston Texans (1-1) @ Los Angeles Chargers (1-1)
Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta
Opening line: Los Angeles -4
Key Texans injuries and absences: Left tackle Laremy Tunsil (ankle), guard Senio Kelemete (wrist)
Key Chargers injuries and absences: Tight end Hunter Henry (knee fracture), running back Melvin Gordon (holdout), left tackle Russell Okung (blood clots), safety Derwin James (foot), cornerback Michael Davis (hamstring), kicker Michael Badgley (groin)
What to watch: Deshaun Watson run from Joey Bosa
No team needs to protect its starter as much as Houston. The Texans traded two first-round picks and a second-rounder to Miami for a package headlined by left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Now that the cavalry has arrived, Watson is … still the most-sacked quarterback in the league. In fact, he’s on pace for more sacks than his league-leading figure last year. Also, Tunsil is hurt. Zoinks.
The Rest of the 0-2 vs. 2-0 Matchups
Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) @ Buffalo Bills (2-0)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Tom McCarthy, Jay Feely
Opening line: Buffalo -4
Key Bengals injuries and absences: Receiver A.J. Green (ankle), offensive tackle Cordy Glenn (concussion), offensive tackle Jonah Williams (shoulder), offensive tackle Andre Smith (groin), guard Michael Jordan (not that Michael Jordan) (knee), defensive end Carl Lawson (hamstring)
Key Bills injuries and absences: Running back Devin Singletary (hamstring), cornerback Taron Johnson (hamstring)
What to watch: The wagons circle
After beating the Jets and Giants in the Meadowlands in consecutive weeks to claim the title of the best and only team in New York, the Bills are rewarded with five of their next six games at home. Buffalo is a serious contender to get a wild card in the AFC.
Denver Broncos (0-2) @ Green Bay Packers (2-0)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin
Opening line: Green Bay -6.5
Key Broncos injuries and absences: Receiver Courtland Sutton (ribs), offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James (knee)
Key Packers injuries and absences: Tight end Jimmy Graham (groin)
What to watch: Aaron Rodgers
Here are two quarterback stat lines:
- Quarterback A’s past 16 games: 4,291 passing yards, 23 passing touchdowns, 62.5 percent completion (on 658 pass attempts), combined record of 7-9
- Quarterback B’s past 16 games: 4,287 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns, 61.5 percent completion (on 589 attempts), team went 7-9
Quarterback A is Joe Flacco. Quarterback B is Aaron Rodgers. Important information was omitted to make them indistinguishable. Rodgers destroys Flacco in every efficiency metric, as he has accrued virtually identical stats (and seven fewer interceptions) on 69 fewer pass attempts. But still.
The Rest of the 1-1 Matchups
Atlanta Falcons (1-1) @ Indianapolis Colts (1-1)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Andrew Catalon, James Lofton
Opening line: Indianapolis -2
Key Falcons injuries and absences: Guard Chris Lindstrom (foot), tackle Kaleb McGary (knee), safety Keanu Neal (groin), punter Matt Bosher (groin)
Key Colts injuries and absences: Running back Marlon Mack (calf), linebacker Darius Leonard (concussion)
What to watch: Two first-place teams
Both of these teams are 1-1, won by the skin of their teeth last week, and have given up more points than they’ve scored, yet both are in a three-way tie for first place in a winnable division. A win for the Falcons would be massive with Drew Brees out for at least six weeks, while the Colts could stay at the top of the AFC South and be in better position than they were this time last year despite losing Andrew Luck two weeks before the season.
Oakland Raiders (1-1) @ Minnesota Vikings (1-1)
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Announcers: Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth, Jennifer Hale (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Minnesota -7
Key Raiders injuries and absences: Right tackle Trent Brown (knee), guard Gabe Jackson (knee), cornerback Gareon Conley (neck), linebacker Vontaze Burfict (shoulder/knee)
Key Vikings injuries and absences: Linebacker Anthony Barr (groin), cornerback Mackensie Alexander (elbow), cornerback Holton Hill (suspended)
What to watch: Dalvin Cook run ragged
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is great until he’s gotta be great, which was encapsulated by his game-losing interception to the division rival Packers last week. Like Cousins, Oakland’s Derek Carr is a franchise quarterback signed to a large contract who has been disappointing on the field and out of touch with his teammates on the sideline. Another thing Cousins and Carr have in common, other than dad jokes, is their teams may not retain them after next season, when Cousins’s deal expires and Carr can be released for little financial penalty.
Monday Night Football
Chicago Bears (1-1) @ Washington (0-2)
Kickoff time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Announcers: Joe Tessitore, Booger McFarland, Lisa Salters (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Chicago -5
Key Bears injuries and absences: Safety Eddie Jackson (shoulder), defensive tackle Eddie Goldman (oblique), tight end Trey Burton (groin), offensive lineman Kyle Long (hip)
Key Washington injuries and absences: Running back Derrius Guice (knee), quarterback Colt McCoy (leg), tight end Jordan Reed (concussion), defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (knee), cornerback Quinton Dunbar (knee)
What to watch: Sunday Night Football
Monday Night Football is a clunker this week, which is going to be a theme. Here are the next six games scheduled for Monday night. All three games from Week 7 to Week 9 could be over by halftime.
- Week 4: Bengals at Steelers
- Week 5: Browns at 49ers
- Week 6: Lions at Packers
- Week 7: Patriots at Jets
- Week 8: Dolphins at Steelers
- Week 9: Cowboys at Giants
From there the MNF schedule gets better.
- Week 10: Seahawks at 49ers
- Week 11: Chiefs at Chargers
- Week 12: Ravens at Rams
- Week 13: Vikings at Seahawks
- Week 14: Giants at Eagles
- Week 15: Colts at Saints
- Week 16: Packers at Vikings
The back half of the slate is much better, though it seems Monday Night Football won’t be appointment viewing until a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. That includes this Monday.