NFL Nation: audibles AFC 4
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Last season, the Broncos started 2-0. Both of those wins came in the last seconds. Many around the league considered Denver more fortunate than fundamentally sound. Those perceptions turned out to be reality as Denver lost nine of its final 14 games. Those same concerns are swarming around the team now as the Broncos are one of the surprise teams with a 3-0 record.
Like last year, there's been some fortune involved. Denver has beaten San Diego and New Orleans in the last two weeks by a total of three points. Denver had luck on its side in the final moments of both games.
So are the Broncos another early-season fluke this year?
Overall, this doesn't have the feel of some fluky, lucky team. Denver has scored 114 points in three games. That's no fluke. This offense is as talented as any in the NFL. In last year's two early games, Denver was fortunate to win. But this year the Broncos have not been outplayed by anybody.
Heading into the game against the hapless Chiefs, the Broncos are riding a combination of fortune and talent. Can you think of a better winning combination if you're talking about an NFL team?
After the Chargers dispatched the Jets Monday night, talk turned to the Oakland Raiders in the San Diego locker room. Chargers tight end Antonio Gates was asked about the turmoil in Oakland the last couple of weeks surrounding coach Lane Kiffin.
Gates smiled and said, "There is always something going on in Oakland."
With the Chargers coming into town, the something going on in Oakland is usually running back LaDainian Tomlinson. He routinely crushes the Raiders.
Tomlinson has eight 100-plus yard games against Oakland, the most he has against any team. He averages 122 yards a game against the Raiders.
Tomlinson looks to duplicate his success against the Raiders after dealing with a nagging turf toe injury in the first three games of the season. LT's production has been hampered by the injury. He has 190 yards on 57 carries.
That is not Tomlinson-like numbers. Perhaps a trip to Oakland is the cure?
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
In the battle of winless teams from the state of Ohio, someone has to come out on top and someone will end up alone in the cellar of the AFC North. What's ironic is both of these teams have a lot of similarities in the way they have lost games this season.
Both teams are ranked at the bottom of the NFL in total offense, where Cincinnati is ranked No. 30 and Cleveland is dead last at No. 32. Poor quarterback play and a lack of a consistent running game also have hampered both squads offensively. The two defenses have been slightly better but not good enough to consistently win games.
For the Browns, Sunday could mark the final start for quarterback Derek Anderson, who is on the hot seat after playing poorly and garnering just a 43.5 quarterback rating in the first three games. Cleveland split first-team reps between Anderson and second-year backup Brady Quinn this week to have both signal-callers prepared to play.
For Cincinnati, it finally showed some life last week and enters this game a slightly more confident team after barely losing to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in overtime. Pro Bowl receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh had a breakout game with 12 catches for 146 yards and a touchdown.
Also, expect home-field advantage to play a factor in this game. The Browns have not won at Paul Brown Stadium since the final game of the 2003 season.
An expected AFC contender hosts one of the early surprise teams in the conference this season when the Steelers meet the Ravens at Heinz Field in a prime-time matchup on Monday Night Football.
Expect a hard-hitting affair as both teams are trash-talking and fired up for this game. The winner will have sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
The Ravens are winning with phenomenal defense and boasts the NFL's top-rated unit in that category. They are only allowing 161.5 total yards per game so far this season.
Expect Baltimore to come hard after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has been sacked 12 times in three games and already has shoulder and hand ailments as a result. Last week he was sacked a season-high eight times in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Pittsburgh will be without starting tailback Willie Parker and stud nose tackle Casey Hampton. Rookie first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall will get his first start against a Ravens defense that hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 21 straight games.
Last year these two teams split their season series, with each team winning at home.
The Jets need a victory amid myriad concerns arising from Monday night's loss to the San Diego Chargers.
The Jets are coming off a wobbly all-around game. They opened up their offense for Brett Favre, who nearly threw what seemed like 13 interceptions and injured his ankle. The defense allowed 48 points and yielded a slew of critical plays, especially after nose tackle Kris Jenkins left with a back injury. Jets coach Eric Mangini also had a rough game, making a controversial onside kick attempt that backfired in the second quarter.
That's a lot to recover from with a short week of preparation. Thankfully for Jets fans, Favre and Jenkins are expected to play, and their opponents are coming off a defeat of their own.
Arizona presents a potentially high-flying attack, with Kurt Warner flinging the ball to powerful receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. New York's secondary absolutely will have a busy day and probably will determine the outcome.
Good things happen to the Bills when they win their first three games. Over the past quarter-century it has happened four times. They reached the AFC title game each time and advanced to the Super Bowl twice.
The Rams are the perfect foil -- OK, the perfect NFC foil -- to help the Bills go 4-0 for the first time since 1992, their third Super Bowl season, and set them up for a possible 5-0 record (if they can beat the Cardinals on the road Oct. 5) heading into their bye week.
The Rams rank second-from-the-bottom in total offense and dead last in total defense. They're starting a quarterback known for throwing interceptions and getting concussed. The Bills, meanwhile, have one of the league's nastiest defenses.
Buffalo's defense ranks sixth in points allowed, fifth in yards allowed and first in third-down efficiency. The Bills might chase Green down I-70 and all the way back to the Chiefs.
Trent Edwards has been surgically efficient in the fourth quarter, and running back Marshawn Lynch has been strong like bull, but the Bills will give the Rams hope if their offense starts as slowly as it did last Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
The Jaguars have to find a pass rush against Matt Schaub. If they don't, he can be a completely different guy than he's been in the first two games. If he has time and is going against a secondary minus free safety Reggie Nelson (knee), Schaub could break out.
Houston has given the Jaguars fits in recent years, and Jack Del Rio points to lack of pass pressure as the primary reason why his teams are 4-6 against the Texans.
Jacksonville needs to cover kicks better. Andre Davis took five kicks 234 yards the last time he played against the Jags, including 104-yard TD. Houston needs to get to Maurice Jones-Drew better. In his last game against Jacksonville he gained 125 yards and scored twice.
Andre Johnson needs 55 receiving yards to become the second member of the 2003 draft class to get to 5,000. Arizona's Anquan Boldin is already at 5,705. Drayton Florence could spend more time tracking him than Rashean Mathis and should be tested by Johnson, who's going to be eager for redemption after a poor game last week in Nashville.
But it sounds like the Jaguars are confident they'll produce some big pass plays themselves. Jerry Porter is expected to make his debut, and the team viewed him as a big play solution when it grabbed him as a free agent. He could do a great deal to energize the offense and help gain a little extra space for Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor.
Two external factors: Florida State and Colorado play at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium Saturday. Back-to-back games are rare, so the condition of the turf may be in question. And the forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-80s with high humidity.
Here's one that's hard to believe: With the Patriots loss to Miami last week and the end of their 21-game winning streak in the regular season, the longest such streak in the league now belongs to ... Tennessee. In six consecutive wins the Titans are first in points allowed per game (10.3), first in total defense (252.8 yards per game), second in rushing yards per game (78.3), tied for second in sacks (19) and second in sacks allowed (seven).
Whether any of that translates to their first game against the Vikings at LP Field remains to be seen. The best way to beat Minnesota has often been not to even try to run and just sling it. While Kerry Collins is capable of executing such a plan, the Titans tend to be stubborn when it comes to establishing the run. Jeff Fisher will also want to limit the time the Vikings have the ball and opportunities to give it to Adrian Peterson, so he'll want to run it enough to chop into time of possession.
Defensively, the Titans generally have a sound tackling team and secondary that didn't do its best work in the first half last week against Houston's Steve Slaton. I feel like the Titans will be able to contain him enough to win, but building an early lead would certainly help as they would much rather the Vikings have to rely on Gus Frerotte to win. Another reason to try to play this game from ahead: The Vikings have lost 38 consecutive road games when trailing after three quarters, the longest such streak in the NFL since the 1989 Buccaneers. (Thanks to ESPN's crack research department.)
Two other tidbits worth noting: LenDale White is the first Titan with a rushing touchdown in the first three games of a season since Allen Pinkett did so for the Houston Oilers in 1991.
And since 2006, the Titans are 16-4 when scoring 20 or more points.
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