It may be early in the season still, but NFL teams are starting to solidify and it is making it a lot easier to see which games have the making to be worth watching. Although some games are clear-cut classics, there is always a few that unexpectedly turn out to be exhilarating. This week there’s more than just matchups between serious contenders, but division games which could make the difference when playoffs come around. This week the best three games on Sunday that you don’t want to miss will be the Atlanta Falcons vs. Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks vs. Tennessee Titans, and New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles. Keep reading to find out where to watch them, and my predictions for who will come out victorious.
Atlanta Falcons (2-0) at Detroit Lions (2-0), 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
It will be hard not to watch this game between two teams that are desperately trying to prove they are elite in spite of the skeletons in their closet. Detroit may finally have the team needed to shake their notorious history of failure which has just recently improved to mediocrity. Atlanta looks as good if not better than last year with an improved defense and the same offensive weapons, but it is not secret they are still trying to shake off their crushing loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl 51. Both teams are red hot and will come out swinging for the chance to go undefeated their first three games, but only one will be able to walk away with the victory.
The Falcons’ defense has already impressed fans across the board, but the Lions’ has been just as ball-hungry in the first two weeks. Ziggy Ansah leads a defensive line that recorded five sacks against the Giants, while their secondary has quietly perched itself as first in the league in passes defended (17) and second in interceptions (4).
Although the Lions have shown an improved defense so far, the real key to the game will be Atlanta’s ability to defend against the up-tempo offense run by Matthew Stafford. Detroit’s offense leads the NFL in plays run without a huddle (38.4%) since the start of the season, and have completed 78% of their passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns out of the no-huddle in that time. We all saw what happened to the Falcons when they had to deal with the Patriots up-tempo, no-huddle offense in the Super Bowl, so it will be Atlanta’s defenses’ first real test to see if they have improved their game.
While it’s hard for me not go with the defending NFC Conference Champions, Detroit seems like the real deal this year. I know it has been said before, but an improved secondary might just be the piece this perenniel failure of a franchise needs to lift itself to the top of the NFC North. Atlanta looks good, but I don’t know if they can keep up this act that they aren’t still reeling from last year’s finale.
Prediction: Lions 35, Falcons 24
Seattle Seahawks at Tennessee Titans, 4:05 p.m. (FOX)
The final matchup showcases an up-and-coming AFC team that has struggled for years to rise to a playoff caliber team against a recently legendary NFC team that has shown signs of collapse in the past year. Russell Wilson has been unable to carry the offense with a paper-thin line in front of him, and the defense has not been able to defend the pass and turn the ball over like it has in the past. Last season Marcus Mariota showed he may have what it takes to be a long-time starter in the NFL, throwing 26 touchdowns to 9 interceptions and completing 61.2% of his passes for 3,426 yards. This game will be a great test no matter which side you’re looking at: how will Mariota perform against a secondary that has a history of making quarterbacks pay for their mistakes?Will Seattle’s offensive line be able to hold its own against the Titan’s defensive line, coached by legend Dick LeBeau, and allow Russell Wilson time to gain control of his offense?
The running back duo of Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray are a factor that could mean life or death for the Titans. While both have shown powerful, capable running in the past neither has managed consistency in the NFL. Tennessee has an impressive offensive line, but they will have a challenge withholding pressure from the likes of Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Sheldon Richardson. The Seahawks allowed the fewest rushing yards per carry in the NFL last year and have continued to impress this year, but they will certainly struggle to contain Henry, Murray, and the quick-footed quarterback Mariota. No matter which team is driving down the field, it will be an absolute battle every down in the trenches.
The Titan’s running game is dangerous due to its multiple threats, but I think a bigger factor for this game comes down to Seattle’s running backs. The Seahawks were unable to find a suitable long-term replacement for Marshawn Lynch last season, but that never stopped them from playing hard nose, between the tackles football. This provides a clear explanation as to why the offense has been struggling worse than before, they don’t have an effective run game to take pressure off Russell and increase the power of the play action. Thomas Rawls came back from injury last week to limited snaps and should have more in this game; Chris Carson showed Hawks’ fans he may be something special in the two games he took over the starting role, running for 132 yards on 26 carries (5.1 average yards per run). While neither looks like they measure up to Beast Mode, Rawls, Carson, and C.J. Prosise have the talent to make an effective committee that could work miracles for the Seahawks offense.
This matchup is so close I think it will come down to a single play by either side that decides it. A win for the Titans would elevate them to the tier of professional football and give them huge momentum going into the thick of the season while a loss for the Seahawks would confirm they have fallen from greatness and once again become a mediocre northwest team like they have been in the past. Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll will most likely pull out all the stops to make sure they secure a tough win on the road, but I don’t think it will be enough to defeat an up-and-coming team that has its eyes on its first playoff appearance since 2008.
Prediction: Titans 21, Seahawks 14
New York Giants (0-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-1), 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
This matchup pits a promising Eagles team against the tragic dumpster-fire that is the New York Giants. Despite Eli and the Giants getting a wild card bid last year with an 11-5 record, they have shown complete failure putting points on the board and stopping their opponents from scoring. The Eagles on the other hand, have been rolling hot under NFL sophomore quarterback Carson Wentz. While this may seem like a lopsided battle, it is a must-win game for the Giants. If they don’t come out to perform it may send their season into a nosedive, especially considering the New York media spotlight and the amount of people just waiting for a chance to pounce on Eli.
The Eagles have only allowed an average of 88 rushing yards per game to opponents, but did allow two touchdowns. Granted, 112 yards of the yards and the touchdowns came from a Chiefs running game which puts the Giants to shame. New York has only managed 97 yards on 30 carries over their first two games, an average of 48.5 per game compared to 88.3 last year. Although Eli has managed to complete 73% of his passes so far, he only has one touchdown (and two interceptions). You can’t only blame him, when his receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shephard, and Brandon Marshall have been ineffective at making big plays — or any at all.
Expect to see the Giants trying to run the ball as much as possible, but if that doesn’t work by the half then Ben McAdoo will probably put Eli to the test throwing the ball deep. So far his long pass has been suspect to say the least, as showcased in their Monday Night Football game against the Lions, so it could be just another week in a long season of disappointment. The Giants won’t be able to run or pass the ball effectively if their offensive line continues to underperform, so be on the lookout for McAdoo switching up the line from last week.
If the Giants are able to salvage their line and can show us something better in the running game then they certainly make it an intense game and even upset, but it may be hard on the road against a team with a lethal pass rush that is hungry for a win after a tough loss to Kansas City. Depending if and how well the Eagles beat the Giants they could elevate themselves to favorites to win the NFC which looks particularly weak this year.
Prediction: Eagles 24, Giants 10