Falcons favored at Dallas? You bet
Betting lines don't usually surprise NFL observers. The bookies know what they are doing.
Yet seeing the Falcons being favored at unbeaten Dallas can be startling - except when the Cowboys are undermanned.
That's precisely the scenario Sunday when Atlanta (2-0) heads to Texas. The Falcons already have wins over the NFC East's Eagles and Giants, and their turnaround easily could continue against the Cowboys, who won't have injured Tony Romo or Dez Bryant, suspended Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy, and might also be missing star tight end Jason Witten.
Not that anyone in Atlanta is getting overconfident, even with the vast improvement the Falcons have made under new coach Dan Quinn.
"It comes down to us each week," Quinn said. "We never determine by who we're playing how we get ready. They've got a terrific team. All across the league, people get injured and other people step up. It's no different with them. We expect a heck of a fight."
And the Cowboys expect to put up one.
"Everybody on this football team, we have high expectations of how they approach it and how they're going to perform," coach Jason Garrett said. "One guy goes down, the next guy has got to go in and play. We'll be ready to play our best on Sunday, no matter who's in there for us."
The weekend began with the New York Giants actually holding onto a late lead and beating Washington 32-21.
New York (1-2) had lost twice by falling apart in the fourth quarter, but this time built a big margin on the sloppy Redskins (1-2) and staying in front.
Kansas City (1-1) at Green Bay (2-0), Monday night
The Chiefs' most recent prime-time appearance was a fiasco, blowing that Thursday night home game against Denver in the final minute, allowing two scores. If anything, look for running back Jamaal Charles to better protect the ball.
"I just know better as a vet, playing this game a long time," Charles said. "I have to know not to fumble the ball at the end of the game, know to try to make it go to overtime to compete for a win. I didn't give us any chance and that's the hardest feeling right there."
Green Bay has two relatively close wins, and 2014 MVP Aaron Rodgers is at his very best at home. He's thrown 451 straight passes there in the regular season without an interception, and has 38 consecutive TD passes at home without a pick, both NFL records.
For historians, it's a rematch of the first Super Bowl, won by the Vince Lombardi-led Packers 35-10 in January 1967. But Kansas City is 3-0 at Lambeau Field.
Denver (2-0) at Detroit (0-2)
After squeezing out two tight victories, the Broncos are looking strong on defense, mediocre with the ball. If Peyton Manning (29th in passer rating, sacked seven times already) is going to break out, this could be the time. Denver is well rested after a Thursday nighter at Kansas City, and Detroit has the 30th-ranked defense.
Special teams also have been an issue with the Lions, and the defense clearly misses the big-play ability of Ndamukong Suh.
Cincinnati (2-0) at Baltimore (0-2)
Baltimore can't afford to fall three games behind Cincinnati in the rugged AFC North, but the Bengals have won four of the past five meetings. In the Ravens' home opener, Cincinnati probably will need to throw: The Ravens haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 28 straight games, the NFL's longest active streak.
With the way Andy Dalton has begun the year, though, the aerial game is just fine by the Bengals. Top receiver A.J. Green has a TD catch in three straight matches against Baltimore.
Chicago (0-2) at Seattle (0-2)
This one could get very ugly.
The Seahawks are angry after two close defeats, both of which they were in position to win.
"It's always been the battle cry about finishing is that you do right longer than the other guys," coach Pete Carroll said. "We've made enough little errors, not in position here or there like we have been earlier in the game or like we need to be. And so it's really just the focus on the details as we finish the game out. This is an area we can specifically improve on..."
They get strong safety Kam Chancellor back after his holdout, though his status for Sunday is uncertain.
Regardless, the Seahawks play at home for the first time and the Bears, who already have dropped two home games, figure to use Jimmy Clausen at quarterback. He's 1-10 lifetime as a starter.
Jacksonville (1-1) at New England (2-0)
Another seemingly huge mismatch, although the Jags showed lots of gumption in beating Miami last week. That's hardly enough in Foxborough, of course, and the Patriots are 9-1 against Jacksonville. Tom Brady has never lost to the Jaguars and he needs one TD pass for 400 in his career.
Jacksonville's best hope might be New England's porous secondary. Wideout Allen Robinson caught six passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns against Miami.
Buffalo (1-1) at Miami (1-1)
A key matchup in the AFC East with New England and the Jets both unbeaten.
The Bills must cut down on the penalties, a league-high 25 for 253 yards, and shore up their pass defense. Miami also has similar flag issues, getting 13 penalties in the loss at Jacksonville, its most since 2005.
This is the Bills' first road game and the Dolphins' first home contest.
Philadelphia (0-2) at New York Jets (2-0)
Those of you who had one of these teams at 2-0 and one at 0-2 - and the way it turned out - stand up proudly.
While New York has forced 10 turnovers after managing all of 13 last season, it also has been efficient and balanced on offense. All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis had an interception and two fumble recoveries at Indianapolis and leads NFL with three recovered fumbles.
Philadelphia leads the league in head scratches. Nobody seems to know what's going on with the underachieving Eagles. Least of all, perhaps, coach Chip Kelly.
San Francisco (1-1) at Arizona (2-0)
Carson Palmer has not lost as Arizona's starting QB since the 2013 finale - against San Francisco. He's looked sharp so far after returning from a knee injury that cost him much of last season, and he connected with Larry Fitzgerald for three touchdowns in a win at Chicago.
49ers RB Carlos Hyde leads the NFL with 211 yards rushing. He'll need another solid performance to keep San Francisco's porous pass defense off the field against Palmer and company.
Indianapolis (0-2) at Tennessee (1-1)
Indy's shockingly slow start can be attributed in great part to making eight turnovers. The offense has stumbled badly, but Andrew Luck is 6-0 against the Titans.
Titans rookie Marcus Mariota, the second overall pick this year, is the first player with six TD passes in his first two career games, and his 129.9 passer rating is the highest of any player since 1966 in first two career starts. But to improve on that, he needs better protection after being sacked seven times by Cleveland last week.
San Diego (1-1) at Minnesota (1-1)
Adrian Peterson loves the sight of the Bolts. The last time the Chargers visited Minnesota in 2007, Peterson set the NFL single-game rushing record with 296 yards, scoring three touchdowns. After a poor opener, Peterson had a big game last week vs. Detroit.
The Chargers already have six giveaways and have one sack, while opponents have six. After rallying to beat Detroit in their opener, they flopped at Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh (1-1) at St. Louis (1-1)
The Steelers get back All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell from a two-game suspension, but his sub, veteran DeAngelo Williams, was outstanding with 204 yards rushing in his absence. Ben Roethlisberger, coming off a three-TD performance against the 49ers in career win No. 107, will pass Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw for Pittsburgh's record by a quarterback if he beats the Rams.
St. Louis gets some reinforcements in the backfield, too, as first-round draft pick Todd Gurley likely makes his NFL debut after recovering from knee surgery.
Oakland (1-1) at Cleveland (1-1)
Two teams that stunk it up in their openers, then turned it around in Week 2. The Browns go back to quarterback Josh McCown, returning from a concussion, even though Johnny Manziel led the victory over Tennessee. Oakland ranks dead last in overall defense, but comes off a scintillating victory against Baltimore.
New Orleans (0-2) at Carolina (2-0)
With Saints star QB Drew Brees bothered by a rotator cuff injury, New Orleans looks to be in desperate straits. He's never missed a game for New Orleans in nine seasons because of an injury. Luke McCown is the backup.
Carolina's defense has been the stingiest as far as points allowed, with only 26. They have done much of that without standouts LB Luke Kuechly and tackle Star Lotulelei.
Tampa Bay (1-1) at Houston (0-2)
Rookie QB Jameis Winston seems to have found a favorite target in TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who has 139 yards receiving and two TDs. He is averaging 19.9 yards a catch, enormous for the position.
Houston's disappointing start is not due to 2014 Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. He's already got three sacks as he wreaks havoc all over the field, and LB Brian Cushing has 17 tackles.