The Falcons got some helpful preparation for facing sensational rookie QB Robert Griffin III when they played 2011's top offensive rookie, Cam Newton, last Sunday. But Griffin is part of a much better running game than the Panthers presented. That will test Atlanta's ground defense, which ranks 29th.
Houston (4-0) at New York Jets (2-2), Monday night
Just what the reeling Jets need on the heels of their worst performance of the Rex Ryan era: a visit from the top-ranked team in the AP Pro32.
The Texans have had only one close game so far, have yielded the fewest points in the league (56), have scored the second most (126), have the top-rated defense in yards allowed and ... shall we continue?
"I think we have to get better," Ryan said. "We can't worry about who we play. The fact that we're playing the team that is regarded as the best team in the National Football League, we have to improve ourselves. We have to go back and look at our football team first."
Might be more enjoyable to look at what the Texans are doing, Rex.
Denver (2-2) at New England (2-2)
Few quarterback duels get the blood flowing like Peyton Manning against Tom Brady. They had a decade's worth of memorable matchups when it was Colts versus Patriots. Now, Manning is in Denver, but that doesn't change the vibes much.
He's simply glad to be back on the field, regardless of who he is facing.
"I certainly didn't need a year off to re-emphasize how much I enjoy playing; I've never taken football for granted, so I didn't need a year off to remind me of that," Manning said. "But it certainly does reinforce that we are fortunate to be playing this game."
Both come off huge games against bad defenses, and the Patriots have improved their defense enough that it leads the AFC with 11 takeaways. Early in his career, Manning struggled against Bill Belichick designs, but not so much anymore.
Philadelphia (3-1) at Pittsburgh (1-2)
The Steelers have struggled, but with safety Troy Polamalu, LB James Harrison and RB Rashard Mendenhall expected back from injuries, they become a more formidable opponent. Pittsburgh has protected the ball well, but also has forced only three turnovers — hardly Steel Curtain football.
Everyone has profited in the turnover department against the Eagles, whose 12 giveaways are the most in the NFC. Philly has won its games by a total of four points.
Among the spiciest matchups will be the Eagles' speed with running back LeSean McCoy and receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin — not to mention quarterback Michael Vick — against a defense that has looked slow thus far.
Green Bay (2-2) at Indianapolis (1-2)
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians steps in as interim coach for Indy while Chuck Pagano battles leukemia. That adds to the challenges the Colts are facing as they come off a bye week.
"Obviously, we know what's going on and there's no doubt everyone still has that in the back of our heads," defensive end Cory Redding said. "But this team has to move on. We have to go out there and do our job."
Doing it against the revitalized Packers' offense will be extra difficult. Most of the matchups favor Green Bay, with the most intriguing perhaps being Packers center Jeff Saturday against the Colts' interior defensive line. Saturday left Indy as a free agent this year after 13 seasons.
Baltimore (3-1) at Kansas City (1-3)
Kansas City has allowed 136 points overall and 77 in two home losses, hardly the right approach against a Baltimore team that has become dangerous offensively. Even worse, the Chiefs have the NFL's most giveaways, 15, a bad sign against the Ravens' ball-hawkers.
"You look across that defensive board and they've got a lot of great veteran leadership with Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata and then also obviously Ray Lewis," Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel said. "But those guys have been playing together for a long time and they're a very instinctive, very experienced group."
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