The Game Plan: The AFC South Is The New NFC West

Sep 16, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers wide receiver Malcom Floyd (80) points after making a first down catch during the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

Which games are worth your time this week? Hint, if they involve the AFC South, you might as well mow your yard.

The early season hiccups are getting sorted out in the NFL. We're starting to get a better sense of what teams really look like, strengths, weaknesses and just how far they can go this year. It also means we have arrived at that point in the schedule where a handful of games really start to stink, and this year it looks like those will involve most of the AFC South rather than the usual cast of characters from the NFC West.

Here's your handy viewing guide for Week 3 in the NFL.


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1. Atlanta Falcons (2-0) Vs. San Diego Chargers (2-0)

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, Fox

Atlanta is pretty impressive so far, a 1b to the 49ers in the NFC right now. They handled Peyton Manning last week, picking him off three times, but Philip Rivers and the Chargers will require more than elder abuse. San Diego is scoring 30 points per game. This game offers an early peek at the viability of both teams.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) Vs. Arizona Cardinals (2-0)

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, Fox

One of these teams is going to lose, and when that happens all of America will hear the deafening cheer of "I told you so." Don't get lured in by the Vick vs. Kolb billing, either. This is a matchup of two outstanding defenses, and by the fourth quarter we could be talking about Foles and whatever other sap forced at gunpoint to play quarterback for the Cardinals.

3. St. Louis Rams (1-1) Vs. Chicago Bears (1-1)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Chicago was never my top pick for the team that first succumbs to public meltdown. That's why I don't do predictions. Every American should have the kind of job security that J'Marcus Webb does, or Mike Tice, for that matter, since he was the one somehow convinced that the five large men he rescued from a flaming clown car would suffice as linemen. The Rams' defense has already frustrated two quarterbacks with a much cooler head than Jay Cutler. An opportunistic secondary and a defensive end duo of Chris Long and Robert Quinn could be the catalyst that implodes the Bears.

4. New York Giants (1-1) Vs. Carolina Panthers (1-1)

Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network

The NFL is really going all out to sell off the new Thursday night football package with some nice early season matchups. Because if there's one thing the NFL needs, it's more money. Cam Newton got things rolling against the Saints last week, and Eli Manning did the same in his 510-yard comeback win. Right now, the line is dead even for this game, and that feels entirely appropriate.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) Vs. Dallas Cowboys (1-1)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

The Buccaneers have somehow been thrust into the important role of playing NFC East slump buster. Dallas no doubt saw what Eli Manning did against Tampa Bay last week; it had to be better than watching the coach's film from its own ugly loss to the Seahawks. Tony Romo had four first half touchdowns against Tampa last year, three in the air and one rushing score. He might only throw two touchdowns in the first half this time against an improved Bucs team. If he does, watch for Greg Schiano to lead his team across the field at the half, charging the Dallas sidelines like Gen. Pickett, just as crazed but without the 19th century facial hair.

6. Houston Texans (2-0) Vs. Denver Broncos (1-1)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS

This will either be a bounce back performance from Peyton Manning or the game that makes him question his decision to return to the NFL. Houston's defense is suffocating, holding opponents to an average of 8.5 points per game. Of course, two games against the Dolphins and Jaguars have a way of helping any team's defensive stats.

7. New England Patriots (1-1) Vs. Baltimore Ravens (1-1)

Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

A rematch of last year's AFC Championship game looked much better on paper a week ago, before the Patriots lost their home opener to the Cardinals (that really happened) and Baltimore's vaunted defense was not enough to force the Eagles to beat themselves. Of course, Baltimore looks far more on track toward expectations than New England does.

8. Green Bay Packers (1-1) Vs. Seattle Seahawks (1-1)

Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

I don't really know what to think about this game. Seattle is developing an identity under Pete Carroll, mediocrity punctuated with a few big, upset type wins. They lost to Arizona, but beat the Cowboys. And this week they welcome Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Of course, Rodgers and his Packers are more consistent bunch than Jerry's Cowboys.

9. Cincinnati Bengals (1-1) Vs. Washington Redskins (1-1)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

It's hard to believe that RGIII has yet to play a regular season home game. That changes this week with what should be a pretty tough matchup against the Bengals. The chips are definitely down for the Redskins, without Adam Carriker and the otherworldly Brian Orakpo for the season. Sounds like the stuff legends are made of to me, and watching RGIII feed off what should be the most electric, non-partisan crowd in Beltway history is going to be fun.

10. San Francisco 49ers (2-0) Vs. Minnesota Vikings (1-1)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

San Francisco is the toast of the NFC right now after beating Green Bay and Detroit, two of the tougher teams in the conference. The road to 3-0 is still running through the NFC North, this time with a side trip into that division's cellar. The key for the Vikings: don't let Christian Ponder be devoured by Justin Smith, et al. Live to fight another day.

11. New York Jets (1-1) Vs. Miami Dolphins (1-1)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Rex Ryan and the Jets would be well advised to work out some of their issues this week against a young Dolphins team. After this game, they face the 49ers and the Texans, good teams. The Jets seem like they could have some problems against good teams this year. Then again, if C.J. Spiller can gash the Jets for 169 yards and a touchdown, Reggie Bush could be in for a big day.

12. Kansas City Chiefs (0-2) Vs. New Orleans Saints (0-2)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Nobody figured both of these teams would be winless at this point in the season, but people tend to underestimate just how bad the Saints' defense really is. And Kansas City has Matt Cassel, so 0-2 isn't all that far-fetched for either team. The good news is that one of these teams will have a win, and the confidence to go on a run for a few games.

13. Buffalo Bills (1-1) Vs. Cleveland Browns (0-2)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Cleveland may still be looking for its first win, but at least it had both its first-round picks on the field last week doing important things for them. The best news is that Brandon Weeden played a good game last week. Mario Williams has yet to record a sack for the Bills. This would be a nice week to see their premier free agent's name in the box score.

14. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) Vs. Oakland Raiders (0-2)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS

This looks like a slam dunk for the Steelers on paper, but they have serious cracks in their aging foundation. They could be without James Harrison and Troy Polamalu again this week. A 4-point spread in favor of Pittsburgh is not where you would have this line when the season started. This is my sleeper pick for a game that could be much better than it looks.

15. Detroit Lions (1-1) Vs. Tennessee Titans (0-2)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Well, if there's one player the Lions need to be concerned about, it's Chris Johnson ... oh, wait. Did you know that Jake Locker was the Titans' leading rusher with 32 yards? No, you didn't. If Tennessee has any hope of avoiding an 0-3 start, they need Locker to do a little better than the 50 percent completion rate he had last week. Detroit's secondary should help with that, but he still has to play behind an offensive line where J'Marcus Webb would feel right at home.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) Vs. Indianapolis Colts (1-1)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

What kind of rookie hiccups are you expecting to see from Andrew Luck? I get the very distinct feeling that we'll see fewer and fewer as the season continues, especially at home where the neck beard is an appropriate version of the Golden Fleece for Indianapolis. Then again, this is one of those games that could be more about Maurice Jones-Drew, who very much likes things to be about him. He averages 101 rushing yards against the Colts. One more rushing touchdown will make him the all-time franchise leader for Jacksonville, but it probably won't get him another contract there.

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