Game of the week
Minnesota (plus 2) at Chicago
Strength vs. strength. Can the Vikings stick to their run-first mantra (NFL-high 61.3% rushes) against Chicago’s fifth-ranked rush defense (68.7)? If running back Dalvin Cook has more carries than Kirk Cousins has throws, Minnesota wins.
Vikings 28, Bears 24
Lock of the week
Kansas City (minus 6) at Detroit
A nice bounce-back by the Lions, who blew their Week 1 game at Arizona (a tie), but have defeated the Chargers and Eagles. But now they really step up in class to face a Chiefs offense averaging 487 yards per game.
Chiefs 38, Lions 28
Upset of the week
Carolina (plus 5) at Houston
We had no faith in the Kyle Allen-led Panthers last week at Arizona and all Allen did was throw four touchdowns in a 38-20 win. The Texans (2-1) rallied last week against the Chargers, but will have a letdown.
Panthers 23, Texans 20
Around the AFC: Close-call wins in 2018 replaced by close losses so far for Chargers
Allen’s test. Business picks up Sunday for second-year Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen, formerly of Wyoming. The Bills are 3-0 and host 3-0 New England. Allen has a 83.4 passer rating (three touchdowns and interceptions apiece), but has carried 26 times for 105 yards (two touchdowns). “He’s like a running back,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s got good speed, he’s shifty and he avoids and breaks a lot of tackles.” New England quarterback Tom Brady is 30-3 all-time against the Bills (69 touchdowns/24 interceptions).
Watt gets going. Broncos outside linebackers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb — both without a sack through three games — can look toward Houston’s J.J. Watt for semi-comfort. Watt was shut out in the Texans’ first two games, but had two sacks last week in a road win over the Los Angeles Chargers. “I’ve always said, there’s a lot of skill involved, there’s a lot of technique and everything, but then there’s a lot of luck involved,” Watt said. “Obviously, I hope to keep the train rolling and keep progressing from here.”
Chargers re-group. Last year, the Chargers thrived in close games — 6-1 in regular-season games decided by eight or fewer points. But they already have two losses in that category this year — 13-10 at Detroit and 27-20 vs. Houston, leaving them two games behind Kansas City. “There are some things as a coaching staff that we have to do to help our players finish,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. At mid-week, the Chargers were a 15 1/2-point favorite at Miami, their biggest road favorite status since 2009 at Cleveland (minus-14, won 30-23).
Around the NFC: Kyler Murray having to carry Cardinals offense in early season
Keeping busy. Arizona rookie quarterback Kyler Murray is averaging, gulp, 45.7 pass attempts per game. He has four touchdowns, three interceptions and a 79.0 rating. Murray faces his first NFC West opponent Sunday vs. Seattle. “I think he’s competed every well,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “Obviously, there are things we have to clean up. Each game he plays is just going to make him better. We understand that process when you’re starting a rookie quarterback. He’s given us a chance late in the game the first three weeks and for a young guy, that’s saying a lot.”
Haskins’ waiting game. Dwayne Haskins continues to back up Case Keenum in Washington despite the Redskins’ 0-3 start. We get not turning to Haskins at halftime on Monday against Chicago because the Bears defense was operating at every cylinder. But why not soon? “I think it’s good for him to sit back and learn how to prepare and learn how to get ready for a game,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden told reporters. “He’s not far away.”
Cowboys’ balance. Dallas has taken advantage of a soft schedule (wins over the Giants, Washington and Miami; combined record of 1-8). A big reason for optimism is the offense, which is third in rushing (179.0), fourth in passing (302.3), first in fewest sacks allowed (two), first on third down (58.1%) and fourth in scoring (32.3).The effectiveness has allowed running back Ezekiel Elliott to have a somewhat reduced workload (55 carries). “That’s the biggest thing that will help, just keeping me fresh down the stretch and making sure I’m not piling those touches (up) early in the season,” Elliott said.