By: Lucas Kochevar
Week three comes and goes with some truths coming out about certain teams. It seems to be three clear-cut contenders in the AFC between the Bills, Chargers, and Browns. The NFC saw a huge clash of its titans between the Rams and Buccaneers, where the Rams pulled ahead and never looked back. A couple teams remain undefeated and four game-winning kicks happened. The most impressive of those four kicks was clearly Justin Tucker, who also set the NFL record, with a game-winning 66 yard field goal. This week we have a handful of interesting games. Starting on Thursday, we get the Bengals and Jaguars, which isn't a great game, but it's the last two number one picks going head-to-head. Mahomes looks to bounce back against Jalen Hurts and the Eagles. There's a pivotal division game happening in the Bay area with the 49ers and Seahawks. The most anticipated game of the week will be Tom Brady's return to Foxborough. All these games will show some promise, however, I think there are far more interesting battles this week.
Carolina Panthers vs Dallas Cowboys
The undefeated Carolina Panthers travel to Dallas to play the surging Cowboys. The Panthers have been a surprise team early on with three relatively easy wins. The Panthers defense has been the story as they have dominated in all three games. They have been fantastic in all facets of the game. The pass rush is getting there with Brian Burns as they have 14 sacks through three games. They've built a wall in the run game too with Derrick Brown at DT. The secondary is incredibly opportunistic, but they lost rookie Jaycee Horn due to a fractured foot. Sam Darnold looks rejuvenated and has been a new QB from his New York Jets days. He found a favorite target in D.J. Moore and, even with a bad offensive line, they have found enough offense to look good. A big challenge will be life without Christian McCaffery, who injured his hamstring Thursday night. The Cowboys have seemingly put it together since dropping their first game against Tampa Bay. Dak Prescott looks up to his old tricks again as he is distributing the ball all around. Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard are one of the best 1-2 punches in the league. Overall, the offense looks as dangerous as ever, especially after their convincing win over the Eagles. The defense does look a lot more cohesive than last year and Trevon Diggs has been awesome at CB.
I expect this game to be a thriller. This will be a battle between two of the leagues best. The Panthers defense will have their hands full with Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and co. I think the Panthers will be able to slow down the run game and that will keep them in it. Similar to their week one loss, the Cowboys could fall back into a pass happy attack, which means two of their most dynamic players will have to commit to pass blocking. The Panthers offense will have to find their footing without McCaffery. They have Oklahoma St. rookie Chubba Hubbard, who has played well in limited snaps, but he isn't McCaffery. Losing a player of his caliber is a big chunk of plays gone from the playbook and a safety blanket is gone for Darnold. I could see them struggling at least through one half of football, but finding their footing in the second half. By then, it could easily be too late and they would have to play major catch-up. For that reason, I like the Cowboys in this spot to make somewhat of a statement win at home by beating an undefeated Carolina team.
Dallas Cowboys 31, Carolina Panthers 17
Arizona Cardinals vs Los Angeles Rams
Both teams will enter this game undefeated, but only one can remain. The Los Angeles Rams hold the title for best team in the NFL, in my opinion. They have looked fantastic so far and Matthew Stafford looks right at home. The offense looks explosive with Desean Jackson and Cooper Kupp running wherever they want. The Rams defense is as dominant as ever. Aaron Donald is doing Aaron Donald things and Jalen Ramsey is far and away the best cornerback in the league. Raheem Morris has stepped in for the departed DC Brandon Staley and has led the team right as they were. The Cardinals have started off the year hot, despite looking lost at times. The Cardinals dismantled the Titans, survived the Vikings, and handled business against the Jaguars. Kyler Murray has been a machine throwing and running all over the place. Each week, a new wide receiver will pop up as a 100 yard threat. The Cardinals defense hasn't done a whole lot since their week one domination of the Titans. They look to put pressure on Matt Stafford and the electric Rams air attack.
This game will show us if the Cardinals are a legit team or not. The Rams are another level of competition than anything they have faced and it will be interesting to see how Kyler fares against them. Kyler vs Donald and Hopkins vs Ramsey will be quite the show. I see this game as an absolute shootout if the Cardinals end up pulling it out. Either they go score for score or they hold the ball and make sure the Rams don't get on the field. With how Kliff Kingsbury coaches teams, they will not run the ball consistently. Rookie receiver Rondale Moore will be a key player in this to make sure the Cardinals have the big play threat outside of Hopkins. On the flip side, the Rams need to continue their dominance. Push the issue and make the Cardinals DBs make plays. Something interesting to note will be the Rams running game. Darrell Henderson Jr. was out last week so Sony Michel was the primary guy. Once again, the run game was far behind the passing game. I don't see this being an issue still. I like the Rams here to win comfortably after a close first half.
Los Angeles Rams 34, Arizona Cardinals 26
Las Vegas Raiders vs Los Angeles Chargers
Another divisional game for the week as the Las Vegas Raiders carry their undefeated record into LA to take on the Chargers. The Chargers are coming off an emotional win over the Chiefs as the game went down to the wire. Justin Herbert played near flawless and carried his team to the win. Herbert connected with WR Mike Williams and Keenan Allen plenty of times as center Corey Linsley looks to be a vital piece of the Chargers. The LA defense has been revitalized as Derwin James has rounded back into form from his pre-injury days. Joey Bosa has been playing well and rookie Asante Samuel Jr. already has two interceptions on the year. The Chargers have had tough games for all three weeks and it doesn't get any easier Monday night. The Raiders come into the game undefeated under Derek Carr. As of right now, Carr looks incredible and, very similarly to his 2016 breakout campaign, could be an MVP candidate. Maxx Crosby has been a defensive stonewall on the line. The team is playing together and Jon Gruden looks to have them on track. The Raiders have been a shocking team as many people projected another mediocre year. They could still come crashing down to Earth, but for now, the Raiders are here to stay.
This game last year was featured on a Thursday Night Football and provided a candidate for game of the year. Justin Herbert looked phenomenal and Marcus Mariota shined for Derek Carr, who got hurt early on. This game will be a different atmosphere and should test to see if the Raiders are legit. I think Herbert will be on the attack, as always. Herbert will press the issue and make the Raiders defense make a play, specifically the secondary. The Chargers could really give the Raiders some trouble with the Austin Ekeler as he is dangerous on the checkdown just as much as the run game. On the flip side, the Raiders offense has been strange. TE Darren Waller's involvement has changed week to week, but you can see players like Hunter Renfrow and Henry Ruggs stepping up when Waller has been covered. It'll be interesting to see how HC Brandon Staley will attack Las Vegas. This will be key because the passing attack has been the primary way the Raiders have done anything. The running game has been grossly inconsistent and who knows who will be healthy on Monday. This is by far the biggest game for Vegas and emotions will be running high, but I think the Chargers are a top-3 AFC team and they'll outpace the Raiders on offense.
Los Angeles Chargers 38, Las Vegas Raiders 27