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NFL Week 3 picks and predictions

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Peter Schrager

Peter Schrager is the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com and the national sports correspondent for FOX News Channel's "FOX Report Weekend." He's the co-author of Victor Cruz's New York Times' best-selling memoir "Out of the Blue" and lives in New York. Feel free to e-mail him at peterschrager@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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Though there seems to be widespread panic in Dallas (Fire Wade!), Minnesota (Get Vincent Jackson!) and San Francisco (umm ... weren’t we supposed to win this division?) this week, the season is far from over.

Since realignment in 2002, 55 of the 96 playoff teams (57.3 percent) began the year at either 1-1 or 0-2. Four of the past nine Super Bowl champions began their seasons with a 1-1 or 0-2 record. The ’93 Cowboys dropped their first two games, only to rebound and win a Super Bowl five months later (signing Emmitt Smith sorta helped, too). The ’06 Giants gave up 80 points in their first two games of the season and started the year in a 0-2 hole. They pulled themselves together in time for a playoff run, beat three division winners in the postseason and took down an undefeated Patriots squad in the Super Bowl.

The bottom line is the season is still very young and there’s still plenty of reason for hope.

Except, of course, if you’re a fan of the Bills. In that case, well, you might as well start scouting Andrew Luck and Ryan Mallett on Saturdays from here on out. One will most likely be your quarterback come April.

As for the games at hand? Let’s dig into the Week 3 Cheat Sheet and get to the picks.

Week 2 Record: 10-6

Overall Record: 18-14

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET games

Tennessee at New York Giants: Stat of the weekend? Disgruntled Giants running back Brandon Jacobs had just 7 more rushing yards than he did helmets tossed into the crowd on Sunday night. And he allegedly wants to be traded? Though I haven’t polled all NFL general managers, I severely doubt there are many lining up for the chance to acquire an overpaid, malcontent running back who runs like an offensive guard and can’t go anywhere other than straight ahead. The Colts — the NFL’s 32nd-ranked rush offense in 2009 — ran all over the Giants last weekend in Indy. It’s scary to think what Chris Johnson and the Titans might do on Sunday.

The Pick: Titans 27, Giants 17

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Cincinnati at Carolina: Well, so much for the Matt Moore era in Carolina, huh? That sure lasted long. All we heard after Jimmy Clausen was drafted in the second round last April was Moore was still “the guy” and Clausen was merely the best player left on the board. Sure enough, it’s not even October and Clausen has been given the gig. He’s in for a long day on Sunday. After being embarrassed opening week in New England, the Cincy D intercepted Joe Flacco four times en route to a 15-10 victory. Defensive team captain and world-class globetrotter Dhani Jones may have very well been the best defensive player on a field not named Clay Matthews last Sunday. Look for Mike Zimmer’s defense to swallow the rookie whole in his first NFL start this weekend.

The Pick: Bengals 31, Panthers 13

Atlanta at New Orleans: Before Week 1’s Texans-Colts bout, I said it was Houston’s biggest game of the season. I feel exactly the same about the Falcons' Week 3 trip to New Orleans. Dreadful against the Steelers in Week 1, the Atlanta offense found its wings and flew all over the Georgia Dome in a 41-7 blowout of Arizona in Week 2. The defense has been solid, but is about to face a Saints offense ready to explode. Losing Reggie Bush hurts, but Sean Payton and Drew Brees find a way. They always do. Give me the defending champs in a shootout on Sunday.

The Pick: Saints 30, Falcons 27

Buffalo at New England: Back in August, I wrote, “Edwards, Fitzpatrick and Brohm sounds more like a law firm that advertises on city benches and subway cars than an NFL quarterback depth chart. The fact that not one of Buffalo’s three quarterbacks has done a thing in their pro careers scares me. The fact that not one has done a thing to distinguish himself from the other two in training camp is downright horrifying.” Well, one down, two to go — as Chan Gailey announced Monday that Trent Edwards is out as the starter and Ryan Fitzpatrick is in. He said the Bills are looking for a “spark.” I’d hardly call Fitzpatrick the “fire starter.” If ever there was a time to ride the Patriots in your survivor pools, now is the week. And then whomever the Bills are playing next week. And the week after that. And so on. And so on.

The Pick: Patriots 38, Bills 10

Detroit at Minnesota: Maybe Brett Favre wanted it this way all along. What a story it would be — after going 9-0 in games played in the Metrodome in ’09, Favre starts the season 0-2 in 2010, with a grueling 14-game slate up ahead. He wakes up one September morning, puts on his Wrangler jeans and saves his coach’s job and a city’s faith with a masterful four-month Super Bowl run. Or he just fades quietly into the sunset with a ho-hum final season, similar to the ones Troy Aikman, Steve Young and Rich Gannon have all had before him. At this point, it looks like the latter is far more likely than the former. Either way, Minnesota finds a way to avoid 0-3 with a win over the Lions on Sunday.

The Pick: Vikings 31, Lions 21

Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay: A few days before the start of the regular season, I told Warren Sapp I had Tampa Bay as one of three NFL teams I could see finishing with the worst record of the 2010 season. His response? Verbatim: “Really? Wow. (Disgusted glance at me.) Hey, say what you want, but as long as they have that defense, they’ll always have a chance to win at least eight games.” I listened to Sapp, nodded my head politely, then proceeded to write the young Bucs off as not one, not two, but still three years away from being competitive. Sure enough, three weeks into the regular season, Tampa Bay is 2-0 and looking as feisty as ever on defense. The lesson? You should probably listen to a future Hall of Famer when he gives you his opinion on a franchise he happens to know quite well. The offense will struggle at times vs. the Steelers D on Sunday, but it will limit the turnovers and keep it close. I’m smelling an upset special here. Josh Freeman finds a way. Break up the Bucs!

The Pick: Buccaneers 16, Steelers 14

Cleveland at Baltimore: What’s up with Joe Flacco and Ray Rice? Everybody’s preseason fantasy football darlings have struggled in two games against elite defenses, leading the Ravens offense to just 20 combined points in two outings. Look for the dynamic duo from Baltimore’s ’08 draft class to break out of their respective funks on Sunday in the Ravens’ home opener. Expect a lot of Josh Cribbs out of the wildcat, too. Don’t expect Ray Lewis and Co. to be fooled one bit by it. Mangini starts the season 0-3? Ah, and the hot seat gets even warmer. Does that new HBO show Boardwalk Empire need a cameo? The Mangenius might be available soon.

The Pick: Ravens 28, Browns 16

San Francisco at Kansas City: How about the job Romeo Crennel has done in K.C. this year? Through two weeks, the Chiefs defense — ranked 30th in the league in 2009 — has given up an average of just 14 points and has already scored one game-winning touchdown. Oh Romeo, my Romeo! San Francisco is coming off a short week, traveling to Kansas City just six days after getting its heart broken in a Monday night thriller with the Saints. All the team meetings, terse radio interviews and evil glares from Mike Singletary have netted zero wins for the Niners so far. Gimme Todd Haley — a guy who was criticized for his coaching style last year — and the upstart Chiefs in this one. A former Mr. Irrelevant, kicker Ryan Succop, hits a game-winner in the closing seconds.

The Pick: Chiefs 20, 49ers 17

Dallas at Houston: Wade Phillips has been on the hot seat in Dallas since before even taking the job in 2007. The guy I’m wondering about, though, is wunderkind offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. The $3 million man completely abandoned the run in Sunday’s loss to the Bears, passing the ball close to 75 percent of the time, despite never trailing by more than 10 points. Unfortunately, the passing attack isn’t clicking. The Texans are playing out of their minds right now. Get ready for a fun bye week filled with Wade Phillips press conferences, screaming talking heads and rumors galore coming out of Dallas. How ‘bout ‘dem Cowboys?

The Pick: Texans 34, Cowboys 23

Washington at St. Louis: Through two games, the Redskins — with a brooding Albert Haynesworth on the roster with ancient running backs Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson getting the bulk of the carries, with geriatric receivers Santana Moss and Joey Galloway starting at wide-out and with the unwanted Donovan McNabb at quarterback — have been far and away the most impressive team in the NFC East. Could they win this thing? Why not? They’ll need to win on the road to do so. Look for Jim Haslett’s defense to rebound off last Sunday’s collapse with a dominant performance over the Rams in St. Louis on Sunday.

The Pick: Redskins 20, Rams 10

4 p.m. ET games

Philadelphia at Jacksonville: What was your favorite moment of the Kevin Kolb era in Philly? The unforgettable preseason game he had against the Jets? The 10 pass attempts he threw in Week 1 against the Packers? Conan O'Brien hosted the Tonight Show 10 months longer than Kolb was the starting quarterback in Philly. Of course, this isn’t without precedent. Despite winning a Super Bowl and leading the Giants to a 10-1 start to the 1990 season, Phil Simms never got the starting gig back from Jeff Hostetler when he went down with an injury in Week 12. Drew Bledsoe was a franchise quarterback who’d led the Patriots to a Super Bowl, but never got the starting job back from Tom Brady after going getting hurt in 2001. Denny Green did it with Randall Cunningham over Brad Johnson in '98, too. Andy Reid is going with the hot hand here. I respect it. I’d be lying if I wasn’t a bit surprised, but hey — this is the NFL. Nothing should surprise us.

The Pick: Eagles 27, Jaguars 16

San Diego at Seattle: How about that insane Week 1 crowd in rain-soaked Kansas City? There were guys shirtless, dudes wearing headdresses, grown men jumping all over each other after every play — all in a monsoon, mind you. It was like a Joe Francis business venture gone horribly, horribly wrong. The next closest thing to that atmosphere? Seattle’s Qwest Field. Sure enough, the Chargers have to make the trek up north to the Pacific Northwest this weekend. The Chargers defense caused six turnovers and all but silenced Maurice Jones-Drew in last weekend’s blowout of the Jaguars. The offense may struggle battling that crowd noise, but the defense will do enough to ensure a big road victory.

The Pick: Chargers 20, Seahawks 16

Oakland at Arizona: The silver and black are back! OK, so maybe an ugly, 16-14 win over the Rams in a game with just 40,000 fans in the building isn’t worth getting too excited over. But the Raiders’ previous two first-round picks — running back Darren McFadden and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey — had their best games as pros on Sunday and seem to be quietly shedding their “bust” labels. This year's first-round pick, Rolando McLain, also had the highlight of the weekend, body-slamming Danny Amendola WWE-style in the victory. You know I’ve got Oakland going to the playoffs this season. I can see the bandwagon filling up — maybe just a little bit? — after a rare road win in Arizona on Sunday.

The Pick: Raiders 26, Cardinals 21

Indianapolis at Denver: It’s tough to think about football after the tragic news we found out Monday night. Kenny McKinley was an outstanding player at South Carolina, and from everything we’re reading this week, an even better person and teammate. “Kenny was certainly one of my favorite all-time players,” McKinley’s college coach Steve Spurrier said on Monday. “He was a wonderful guy. It's hard to figure out why this happened. It's a sad day.” Josh McDaniels held a team meeting on Tuesday morning, and there are grief counselors available for Broncos players and staff. McKinley was just 23 and is survived by his young son.

The Pick: Colts 34, Broncos 17

Sunday night

N.Y. Jets at Miami: Deadspin summed up Tuesday’s Braylon Edwards news best with the headline, “Wealthy Jets Receiver Braylon Edwards Gets Pinched for DWI In City With Most Cabs Ever.” They’re right. With Edwards or without Edwards on the field Sunday, I was taking the Dolphins. Through two games, Miami’s front office is looking awfully smart, as Jason Taylor and Joey Porter have done next to nothing in New York and Arizona, while CFL retread Cameron Wake, rookie Koa Misi and free-agent acquisition Karlos Dansby have looked like first-team All-Pro linebackers. The Dolphins beat the Jets twice last year. They’ll take the first of their two meetings on Sunday night.

The Pick: Dolphins 20, Jets 9

Monday night

Green Bay at Chicago: Clay Matthews sure looks good this year, huh? The second-year Packers linebacker has six sacks through two games. Doing a little math, that means he’s on pace for, umm, 48 sacks this season. That’d be a pretty decent year, no? Matthews famously spent the summer training with Jay Glazer doing all that MMA stuff. He looks so good this year, I’m considering buying a bunch of tight Ed Hardy T-shirts and giving the octagon a shot next summer myself. Meanwhile, the Bears offense has put up enough points to beat the Lions and Cowboys, but the O-line has been porous. The Packers get to Cutler early and often and the hand the Bears their first loss of the season in a shootout on Monday night.

The Pick: Packers 38, Bears 28

Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week

The 1998 Bills were the last NFL team to start the season 0-3 and still make the playoffs. Who coached that team? (Answer below)

Reader E-Mail of the Week

Peter,

You’ve had a running joke about guys who put their own names on the back of their favorite teams’ jerseys. I think I can one-up you. I was at temple this past weekend for Yom Kippur and saw a guy — on the holiest of holy days — wearing a yarmulke with a Jets logo knitted onto it. Here he was, praying and fasting and all serious and all the while he’s got a giant Jets logo, the one with the little green plane, on his yarmulke!

--Jeffrey, Great Neck, NY

Jeffrey,

It must have worked. The Jets beat the Patriots, 28-14, on Sunday. Mazel tov!

Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer of the Week:

Wade Phillips
 

Tagged: Bills, Bengals, Broncos, Packers, Titans, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Dolphins, Vikings, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Jets, Eagles, Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers, Jaguars, Ravens, Cardinals, Chargers, Michael Vick, Joey Porter, Drew Brees, Ray Lewis, Larry Johnson, Chris Johnson, Vincent Jackson, Braylon Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Trent Edwards, Kevin Kolb, Matt Moore, Joe Flacco, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, Danny Amendola, Ryan Succop, Kenny McKinley, Josh Freeman, Clay Matthews, Jimmy Clausen

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