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NFL-Week 4-Monday night football-Chiefs at Broncos game preview

Patrick Mahomes is making the Kansas City Chiefs’ brain trust look like geniuses for trading away veteran Alex Smith in the offseason and turning the offense over to the second-year quarterback.

The Chiefs are off to a blazing 3-0 start under Mahomes and are averaging a league-high 39.3 points as they prepare to visit the Denver Broncos in a prime-time matchup on Monday night.

Mahomes already has made history before Kansas City hits the quarter-pole of the 16-game campaign, becoming the first quarterback to throw for 13 touchdowns in the first three games of a season. Mahomes, who also has not been intercepted, eclipsed the previous record held by Peyton Manning.

“It speaks to the guys that we have,” Mahomes said after throwing for 314 yards and three scores in last weekend’s 38-27 win over the San Francisco 49ers. “We’re really deep at every single position. Knowing that I have those weapons whenever someone has to get a break — we say if you’re tired get a break, because I know that I can trust the next guy coming in that he’ll make a play.”

Mahomes’ early success comes as no surprise to the best defensive player on the Broncos. Linebacker Von Miller got a close-up view of Mahomes in the 2017 regular-season finale in Denver.

Making his first career start, Mahomes finished 22 of 35 for 284 yards and an interception. Mahomes left the game in favor of third-string quarterback Tyler Bray but re-entered the contest for his team’s final drive, leading the Chiefs to a game-winning field goal.

“From that game you could tell he’s going to be the future,” said Miller, who is tied for the NFL lead with 4.0 sacks. “He’s a great quarterback, he can make all the throws, quick, athletic, young. He’s got everything you want.”

Mahomes has completed touchdown passes to nine different receivers. Explosive wideout Tyreek Hill already has eight catches of at least 20 yards to go with three touchdowns while tight end Travis Kelce boosted his team-high total to 16 catches with back-to-back 100-yard games.

Denver head coach Vance Joseph noted the difficulty of preparing for the Chiefs, who have another deep threat in Sammy Watkins and a top-flight running back in Kareem Hunt, the NFL’s leading rusher a year ago with 1,327 yards as a rookie.

“It’s really difficult to get ready for a team like this along with trying to find the matchups first of all and then to match the matchups, that makes it hard facing this offense,” Joseph said.

Although the Broncos at least have the luxury of having seen Mahomes on the other side of the line of scrimmage, Joseph noted that Kansas City operated with a watered-down playbook in last season’s matchup.

“When you watch (this year’s) games, I think offensively they’re a lot different,” acknowledged Joseph. “Obviously last year in Week 17 he was probably operating under probably 35 percent of the offense.”

Kansas City head coach Andy Reid also was uncertain if familiarity would help the Broncos slow down Mahomes and his offense.

“Whether it’s an advantage or not I can’t tell you that, I don’t know that,” said Reid. “But they have seen him and we’ll see how it goes.”

Mahomes is certain of one thing — the Broncos will try to apply pressure to him and he must be aware of Miller at all times.

“They move him around, they try and get him different ways he can rush the passer and make plays,” Mahomes said. “The thing is with their defensive front, they have weapons all over the defensive front, so you always know where Von is but you have to have a plan for their whole defense, so we’re going to have a good one going in.”

Denver needs to get its offense untracked against a defense that has surrendered 30.7 points per game. The Broncos won their first two games at home by a combined four points before dropping a 27-14 decision at Baltimore last weekend.

Quarterback Case Keenum has struggled in his first season in the Mile High City. He had passed for three touchdowns against five interceptions and is coming off a season-low 192 yards passing at Baltimore. Emmanuel Sanders has been his favorite target with 19 catches, but the team learned Thursday that tight end Jake Butt is done for the season with a torn ACL.

Broncos rookie running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman have combined for 350 yards rushing and rank second and fourth, respectively, among rookie rushing leaders. Lindsay has 198 yards on 33 carries while Freeman has 152 yards.

NFL-Week 4- Sunday football- Betting preview

Miami at New England (-7/48.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Dolphins have a chance to go up three games on the Patriots in the AFC East inside the first month with a victory here, joining on the Rams in establishing that large a lead. With the offense routinely breaking off chunk yardage via speed and a few perfectly executed gadget plays that have paid off handsomely, the Patriots have to be concerned coming off last Sunday night’s disaster where they looked slow and disjointed. Pats safety Patrick Chung and defensive end Trey Flowers are both expected to play, which should give the defense teeth it didn’t have in Detroit.

Tackle Marcus Cannon should also play to help give Tom Brady more time to operate, but it remains to be seen if Josh Gordon will be able to improve a mediocre receiving corps due to Julian Edelman’s absence since he’s still learning the offense and working his way back from the hamstring injury that contributed to the Browns cutting him loose. The Patriots had just 209 yards of total offense against the Lions but will have Rob Gronkowski out there despite an ankle issue that’s been bugging him for the last week-plus. New England has an eight-game winning streak working and Miami hasn’t won in Foxborough since 2009, so history is playing a role in this spread. It was colder overnight than the Dolphins have grown used to in sunny South Florida, but conditions for the game will be ideal with highs in the low 70s. In other words, bitter cold won’t be a built-in advantage for New England this early in the season.

Houston at Indianapolis (PK/48), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Deshaun Watson and Andrew Luck have only resembled their best pre-injury versions in occasional flashes as both appear to be laboring. Luck’s arm is healthy enough to get things done in front of him but he struggles to stretch the field. That contributed to 209 yards of total offense in the loss to Philly as Luck managed a minuscule 4.9 yards per completion. He won’t have tight end Jack Doyle as a weapon to lean on but will have his offensive line healthier than it has been this season. Luck came up one pass short of pulling off an upset of defending champion Philly, so whoever wins this duel is going to feel like October offers countless possibilities. The world won’t feel quite as conquerable for the loser here, especially if it’s Houston remaining winless.

Watson is moving around better but accuracy remains an issue. Throwing a last-gasp “meaningless” TD pass in last week’s loss to the Giants not only delivered the ‘over,’ but helped his offense see that he’s out there battling and trying to figure things out. Guard Senio Kelemete couldn’t go last week due to knee pain and is a game-time decision. A receiving corps that has been dealing with hamstring issues is getting healthier, so DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and Sammie Coates should be more productive and rookie Keke Coutee finally gets a chance to make an impact. Houston has lost 14 of 16 in Indianapolis against its AFC South rival and has dropped 10 straight outright. The Texans haven’t even covered a spread since Nov. 27 of last season, .

Cincinnati at Atlanta (-4/53), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Even though he’s reportedly close to returning, Falcons RB Devonta Freeman (knee) isn’t ready to so today, so Tevin Coleman will again get the work. Despite losing to New Orleans in OT, last week’s developments were largely positive since Matt Ryan threw five touchdowns and found himself a shiny new weapon in Calvin Ridley. Steve Sarkisian hasn’t gotten a lot right since being hired to run the Falcons offense but last week’s work was impressive. Ridley’s emergence means the Bengals can’t key in on Julio Jones, so expect the Falcons to build on a run of nine touchdowns over the past two games.

Cincinnati is seeing Todd Boyd emerge in similar fashion as Andy Dalton has utilized the respect A.J Green commands as a weapon to get him and speedy John Ross more touches. Green came off the injury report after dealing with groin soreness earlier in the week, while Dre Kirkpatrick will also be in the mix after overcoming back pain and is looking forward to reuniting with fellow ‘Bama products and former teammate Mohamed Sanu, calling this matchup “personal.” Linebacker Preston Brown is also back, while Atlanta will have pass rusher Takk McKinley back. The Falcons’ attrition on defense has been well-documented and now includes DE Derrick Shelby (groin) and Justin Bethel (knee) missing games since neither will participate here.

Buffalo at Green Bay (-9.5/44) 1 p.m. ET, CBS: This game features banged-up superstars playing to their strengths in order to help their teams avoid disastrous starts. LeSean McCoy is suffering from cracked ribs and has been limited in practice but should play, splitting carries with Chris Ivory. Aaron Rodgers will take every snap he needs to but isn’t doing much moving around on his injured knee. The Packers couldn’t get out of their own way in Landover last week, losing to the ‘Skins due to a drop epidemic from Rodgers’ receiving corps and a defense that got pushed around all day. The injury news isn’t great either since Bryan Bulaga (back) is a game-time decision and guard Justin McGray (shoulder) has been ruled out, which means Rodgers will have to deal with suspect offensive line play. That’s nothing new but disconcerting since the franchise isn’t moving fluidly. The expectation is Bulaga will play to give an offensive line that has already surrendered 12 sacks a fighting chance to block the disruptive Bills’ defensive front. Buffalo excelled in harassing Vikings QB Kirk Cousins into miscues and will have Shaq Lawson and Trent Murphy on board to help make life difficult for Rodgers on a day where the hope is the rain will stay away.

Rookie Josh Allen delivered at a high level in his first career start, executing a game plan that was designed to take advantage of Minnesota being aggressive and underestimating his poise. He’s still going to have the element of surprise at his disposal here, but it remains to be seen whether last week was a fluke or if he’s capable of accurately hitting his mark and applying touch to his passes, both big concerns. The Packers won’t be as stacked defensively as they’ve been, having lost DT Muhammad Wilkerson to IR last week and potentially missing LB Nick Perry, CB Kevin King and safety Josh Jones.

Detroit at Dallas (-3/44), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Jason Garrett looks more and more like a lame-duck coach by the quarter. Despite averaging six yards per carry, the Cowboys’ offense has been anemic. Dax Prescott has already been sacked five times in a game twice this season, something that happened to him only once in his first two years under center. That reflects poorly on the suspect offensive line, but don’t lose sight of the fact receivers have struggled to get open, forcing Prescott to hold it longer. Cole Beasley will shake off an ankle injury to play today, but there hasn’t been much to get excited about from a group that badly needs someone like rookie Michael Gallup to take off.

Rookie Kerryon Johnson was a spark plug for the Lions last Sunday night, becoming the first Lions running back in 70 games to top the 100-yard mark, snapping a streak that dates back to Thanksgiving 2013. He’s capable of catching the ball out of the backfield, but the presence of Theo Riddick and LeGarrette Blount means the Auburn product won’t take the job full-time but certainly serves to upgrade the position. Matthew Stafford should be able to take advantage here and benefits from not having to match wits with standout Cowboys LB Sean Lee, who has long been the lynchpin of the Dallas defense. He’s out 2-4 weeks due to a bum hamstring, so the Lions have an opportunity to win outright and get back to .500 after suffering demoralizing losses to the Jets and 49ers.

N.Y. Jets at Jacksonville (-7/39) 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Jags RB Leonard Fournette has been a full participant in practice this week and will return to at least split carries with T.J. Yeldon. After not throwing the ball downfield against Tennessee following a breakout game against New England, Blake Bortles is counting on Fournette’s return to loosen up the Jets defense so he can take some shots against their secondary, which comes in vulnerable since safeties Doug Middleton and Marcus Maye are nursing injuries and CB Buster Skrine is working his way back from a knee injury suffered against the Browns.

Speaking of which, there are probably some bruised egos to deal with if you’re New York’s defense, getting picked apart by a rookie coming in cold off the bench. Maybe that’s why Jets safety Jamal Adams was so quick to admit that the staff hadn’t prepared players to contend with Mayfield, focusing solely on Tyrod Taylor. Rookie Sam Darold will be facing a Jags defense that comes in close to full strength, but the absence of rookie corner D.J. Hayden was felt against Tennessee and could factor in a once again. Temperatures on the field will feel like they’re in the high 90s, so conditioning and stamina over four quarters should be major factors.

Tampa Bay at Chicago (-3/46.5), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Mitchell Trubisky has been the subject of criticism since the Bears had a tougher time than they should’ve against overmatched Arizona due to how many plays last year’s first-round pick left out on the field. It’s too early to call for Chase Daniel, especially given how vital Trubisky’s development is for the future of the franchise, but an offensive mind like Matt Nagy doesn’t want his defense to do the heavy lifting in carrying the Bears into contention even though they’re definitely equipped to. In this one, Chicago needs to produce offense to pull off a win since corners Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper will be sidelined by hamstring injuries.

That’s good news for Ryan Fitzpatrick as he looks to stretch his NFL-record streak of 400-yard passing game to four. He’s getting the nod ahead of Jameis Winston, though Tampa Bay isn’t publicly admitting it. The Bucs are hoping that Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin continue to create explosive pass plays, but the offensive line will need to buy time for plays to develop downfield, so count on an interesting chess match there. Tampa Bay will see first-round pick Vita Vea, a powerful defensive tackle, make his debut after missing most of the preseason with a calf injury. Be advised that it’s expected to rain most of the day in Chicago but the forecast is that large portions of this game should be unaffected.

Philadelphia (-3/41) at Tennessee, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Titans have given up just 50 points over their first three games and should give Carson Wentz some trouble with their aggressive schemes. The presence of new head coach Mike Vrabel and coordinator Dean Pees has immediately impacted the defense they’re playing in Nashville since the new coaching staff is making good use of all their athleticism. LB Kemalei Correa and safety Kendrick Lewis are going to play, so the unit will be at full strength.

Philly’s offensive line surrendered five sacks of Wentz in his debut against the Colts. Wentz’s debut was rocky all the way around, but he did find a new tight end to mold in rookie Dallas Goedert, getting him his first pro touchdown. He also engineered a go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth, making it a wildly successful debut, albeit bumpy. A virus going around the Eagles facility may keep Alshon Jeffery from making his return. Marcus Mariota’s elbow prevents him from throwing much, but he’s still able to move the offense by using his legs and making solid reads in running the spread option alongside Derrick Henry , who has been quiet of late. Philly will have its bellcow, RB Jay Ajayi, back to anchor a ground attack that also has Corey Clement available but will again be missing versatile veteran Darren Sproles. If Mariota is unable to finish for any reason, newly acquired Austin Davis will take over.

Seattle (-3/40) at Arizona, 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX: The Seahawks earned their first win of the season against Dallas by utilizing Russell Wilson’s ingenuity, a strong running game and a stifling defense that grows empowered by a blissfully conspiratorial 12th Man. Same recipe, new faces. Chris Carson can be this team’s Marshawn Lynch if he stays healthy and Earl Thomas can guide this group as long as he’s still in town. It was easy to be engaged last week against his hometown Cowboys that he wanted to be traded to. We’ll see whether winless Arizona warrants the same intensity. Linebacker K.J. Wright is out again and pass rusher Dion Jordan is questionable, but the Seahawks are otherwise pretty healthy on both sides of the ball.

Seattle hopes to make Josh Rosen’s starting debut as forgettable as the Bears made his first appearance, which came in crunch time in relief of an ineffective Sam Bradford. Chicago came after him relentlessly and Rosen didn’t handle it well, so we’ll see how he fares with a full week of normal reps and preparation with the knowledge he’d be starting. Tackle Andre Smith is a game-time decision while WR Larry Fitzgerald should be available to help play safety valve despite not being 100 percent. The Cards are going to need their defensive front to play a large role here and expect Robert Nkemdiche, Corey Peters and Olsen Pierre to be available despite being listed as questionable.

Cleveland at Oakland (-3/44.5), 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX: The Raiders haven’t been able to establish a pass rush since trading Khalil Mack and have ran out of gas in the second half of games. Oakland has been outscored 37-3 in the fourth quarter of its three losses this season and have been unable to cover when it counts or move the ball effectively. Part of the issue is the continued lack of chemistry between Derek Carr and Amari Cooper, who haven’t grown like they were expected to. Tackle Donald Penn, who has been in concussion protocol, has been cleared and will play, but the Raiders have major concerns in the secondary since they’ve been victimized by big plays and will again be missing suspended corner Daryl Worley, serving the last of a four-game suspension. Safety Karl Joseph won’t play due to a hamstring, which is the same issue rendering veteran Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie a game-time decision.

The Browns are looking to build off their first win in years and made the right choice in sticking with rookie Baker Mayfield after he delivered the goods when Tyrod Taylor got banged up. This will be his first road start, but anyone who has watched him work in college or in his brief pro career can assure you that he won’t be rattled by the Black Hole or Jon Gruden’s sideline glares. If he gets comfortable, the Browns could win outright in order to improve to 4-0 ATS. Taylor will be available to back up Mayfield, while the defense will be bolstered by the availability of safety Jabrill Peppers and LBs Christian Kirksey and Emmanuel Ogbah.

San Francisco at L.A. Chargers (-10/46), 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: After a tough 35-23 loss in the “Battle for L.A.” at the Coliseum saw them get outclassed, the Chargers again look to prove they’re a resilient group under Anthony Lynn. After last season’s near-misses, they rallied to nearly make the playoffs, so this year’s group will look to try and build on a favorable schedule over the next four weeks that will see them at “home” in Carson. While the advantage may not be meaningful – there will likely be more 49ers fans in the house today and more Raiders fans next week – not facing an undefeated league power should aid the cause considering their losses have come against the Chiefs and Rams. Keenan Allen will play through knee pain after not practicing most of the week, while Travis Benjamin (foot) will join the receiving corps for the first time. Up front, tackle Joe Barksdale (knee) won’t play but counterpart Russell Okung will.

San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL in the fourth quarter of last week’s loss in Kansas City and is done for the season. He was off to a rough start, but considering how much of an investment the 49ers made to get his services, this is a disaster. The tune 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is singing is ‘next man up,’ which is really all he can do but sounds hollow given how committed his offense was to Jimmy G. Beathard played at Iowa and had some nice moments last season but looked best suited for a backup role. We’ll see what he does with this opportunity. With Matt Breida and Alfred Morris both cleared to participate after knee injuries, Beathard will have his ground game to help ease him in.

New Orleans (-3/53) at N.Y. Giants, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: Drew Brees reconnected with Cameron Meredith, who is now ready to contribute after getting back to full strength from being limited most of the preseason. That gives the Saints yet another option in addition to Mark Ingram, who is serving out the last of a four-game suspension. The loaded Saints have been dominating through force-feeding Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas but will now be able to spread the ball around even more, which should make Brees even more formidable. Since the defense has looked so suspect in losing to Tampa and hanging on for tight wins against Cleveland and Atlanta, another shootout is expected here.

The Giants won’t have Olivier Vernon to help rush Wade and corner Eli Apple is set to miss another game, but DT Damon “Snacks” Harrison and LB Connor Barwin will play through knee injuries. The new-look offensive line got a game together last week and helped give Eli Manning a chance to get his key playmakers involved, Saquon Barkley has already shown he can break one whenever he touches the ball, while receivers Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Shephard should be able to take advantage as Barkley becomes more consistent.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-3/51), 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC: The Steelers have been carved up by opposing QBs and rank 28th in pass defense since Patrick Mahomes and Ryan Fitzpatrick each had big games against their zone coverage. You can stretch the field on them, which gives Joe Flacco an opportunity to continue his impressive start. Even Cleveland’s offensive success in Week 1 came on passes over the top to ultimately force OT. The Ravens have scored touchdowns the first 12 times they reached the red zone, becoming the first NFL team to ever do so. The addition of TE Hayden Hurst, who debuts after dealing with a foot issue, provides another big target that Flacco can utilize in the end zone.

The Steelers aren’t far behind Baltimore, ranking third in red-zone efficiency despite Le’Veon Bell sitting out, which is a credit to the team’s offensive line. Tackle Marcus Gilbert and guard David DeCastro have been banged up with nagging injuries but have been cleared to participate. JuJu Smith-Schuster, dealing with an abdominal strain, will play and make life easier for James Conner as he continues to fill in for the absent Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers have won its last 13 night games and is 10-0-1 against the AFC North. Baltimore has dropped 24 of the last 33 in Pittsburgh.

NFL-Week 4- Thursday night football- Vikings at Rams game preview

Minnesota at L.A. Rams (-7, 49), 8:20 pm ET, FOX/NFLN

If these teams meet for the NFC Championship in roughly four months, few will be surprised.

The Vikings are hungry to get back to the point where last year’s dreams got snuffed out in Philadelphia. To get so close and no-show stays with you, especially when it costs you a trip to a Super Bowl set to be played in your own stadium. Minnesota lost to the Eagles despite being favored and marching right down the field to go up 7-0, surrendering the final 38 points.

Ownership ponied up a fully guaranteed $84 million over three seasons for Kirk Cousins to come on board and replace Case Keenum, whose ill-timed pick-six opened the flood gates in Philly. A 22-point fourth quarter to overcome a double-digit deficit at Lambeau to rival Green Bay suggests that was a good idea, especially since Cousins made some incredible throws to push the game to OT and put his team in position to win twice only to be denied by a pair of misses from rookie kicker Daniel Carlson, who was subsequently released.

A talented young kicker who Minnesota utilized a fifth-round pick on found no grace period. The Vikings don’t have the time for people to figure things out. They’ve got places to go and needed to get there yesterday. Head coach Mike Zimmer is all about winning, which is why he’s become the most reliable option to ride every postseason since he got a head gig. If there’s a score, Zimmer is trying to be on the right side of it.

That’s what makes this past Sunday so puzzling. The Vikings are entering a key stretch where they’re visiting two of their top contenders for games they circled on the calendar, visiting each coast in back-to-back weeks. On Oct. 7, they return to the scene of the crime at the Linc, challenging an Eagles team that will be playing their third game with Carson Wentz. This week, they make their first trip to Los Angeles since 1992 to play their first Thursday game since beating Detroit last Thanksgiving. The Rams are unbeaten and have looked dominant.

Is that what happened last week? Were the Vikes counting on a layup of a game before getting serious and buckling down? A 17-point favorite against a Bills team that had been outscored 78-23 by the Ravens and Chargers the first two weeks, you can imagine that human nature set in and minds started wandering, jumping ahead on the schedule. Even against the likes of Buffalo, complacency can kill in the NFL. It’s surprising that Zimmer was powerless to stop it, but once adversity hit, it turned into an avalanche. Buffalo become the largest underdog since 1992 to win a game outright. That’s not the kind of history the Vikes are trying to make.

Rookie Josh Allen started and played so well that he got others to follow his lead and buy in despite the absence of starting RB LeSean McCoy due to a rib injury. He jumped over Minnesota standout linebacker Anthony Barr to get a first down, playing with an infectious reckless abandon that overwhelmed a team that didn’t look like they wanted to be out there. Despite being as as a steak that spends only a handful of seconds on the grill, Allen leaned on his physical gifts, tremendous athleticism and a rocket arm, able to keep everything simple due to the 17-point first-quarter cushion that Minnesota’s no-show provided.

Buffalo’s defense got after Cousins, who despite his 40 completions and 296 yards, produced only a single score with the game already decided. It took 13 plays to go 92 yards on a defense keeping everything in front of them to avoid being shut out. The Vikings have scored a grand total of 17 first-half points through three games, used turnovers to escape a dicey opener against the 49ers and needed that aforementioned 22-point fourth quarter, complete with two-point conversion, to avoid a loss in Green Bay.

They’ve got tremendous personnel but haven’t put it together yet. The Buffalo game was an aberration, sure, but one thing that came through loud and clear is that they’re nowhere near where they need to be to get away with overlooking any opponent, even the league’s worst.

The Rams have taken no prisoners. They spoiled Jon Gruden’s Oakland debut by scoring 23 unanswered second-half points, posted a 34-0 rout of overmatched Arizona and took the opening possession against the Chargers 80 yards to make it 64 straight points before Philip Rivers hit a big pass to Mike Williams, ending the run. Despite their dominance to date, Sean McVay’s unbeaten team is vulnerable. As you’ll read below in the injury report, there are a number of reasons L.A. has to be extremely concerned as it faces its first opponent that made last year’s postseason.

Getting the type of wakeup call the Bills game afforded on a short week makes for an interesting dynamic considering they’ll be visiting one of the two teams that has most effectively hit the round running. Although QB Patrick Mahomes’ emergence has become the talk of the NFL since he’s shiny, new and taking the Chiefs to another level, L.A.’s Jared Goff has picked up right where he left off after last year’s breakthrough and has helped L.A. build the league’s largest point differential by a long shot, currently 102-36 entering this Thursday nighter.

Mahomes has thrown an NFL-record 13 touchdowns, which dwarfs Goff’s six, but the Rams’ former No. 1 overall pick has one in every game this season. Cousins has thrown seven. Both have been intercepted twice.

On paper, this is one of the top matchups the schedule makers have bestowed upon us to date, right up there with the season-opening Atlanta-Philadelphia, the AFC Championship rematch between the Patriots and Jaguars, that Packers-Vikings Week 2 classic and last week’s Saints-Falcons shootout. Hopefully it lives up to billing. Weather won’t be a deterrent since clear conditions and sublime temperatures in the 70s are expected throughout.

After missing last week’s game, Dalvin Cook will return to try and revive a running game that couldn’t get much going with backups Latavius Murray and rookie Mike Boone running behind an offensive line that got dominated. Cook is more of a threat receiving the ball out of the backfield, so Cook’s return from a hamstring injury should make the attack more dynamic if he’s close to 100 percent. Linemen Riley Reiff and Pat Elflein should play, which also certainly helps since Rashod Hill and Brian O’Neill are better suited for backup roles.

Corner Marcus Sherels (ribs) has been ruled out, but with Mackensie Alexander back and rookie Mike Hughes stepping up alongside holdovers Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, there is enough talent to deal with the Rams skill players. DE Everson Griffen (mental health) remains away from the team.

L.A. has placed Aqib Talib on IR due to an ankle injury and are hoping he’ll return to aid a playoff push. The calf injury suffered by fellow standout corner Marcus Peters isn’t as severe but ended up being more than just a scare. He’s unlikely to see action til mid-October at the earliest, which means the Rams secondary could be extremely vulnerable. Linebacker Mark Barron (ankle) is listed as doubtful, while pass rusher Dominique Easley will be a game-time decision. Defensive depth was certainly a major strength early on that L.A. no longer gets to enjoy the next few weeks. Veteran coordinator Wade Phillips will have to get creative and can probably use McVay calling a few more runs for Todd Gurley to chew up clock in order to keep defenders fresher.

Kicker Greg Zuerlein (groin) also remains sidelined, so we’ll see how backup Sam Ficken fares if he’s called upon to knock through a key field goal. Dan Bailey didn’t get to kick in his Vikings debut since they went for two after their only touchdown.

RECENT MEETINGS (Minnesota 6-2 SU, 6-2 ATS last eight; TOTAL 4-4)

11/19/17 Minnesota 24-7 vs. L.A. Rams (MIN -1, 46)
11/8/15 Minnesota 21-18 (OT) vs. St. Louis (MIN -1, 40)
9/7/14 Minnesota 34-6 at St. Louis (MIN +3.5, 43.5)
1216/12 Minnesota 36-22 at St. Louis (MIN +2.5, 39.5)
10/11/09 Minnesota 38-10 at St. Louis (MIN -10.5, 41)
12/31/06 St. Louis 41-21 at Minnesota (STL -2.5, 44)
12/11/05 Minnesota 27-13 vs. St. Louis (MIN -7, 45.5)
11/30/03 St. Louis 48-17 vs. Minnesota (STL -6/51)

NFL-Week 3- Monday night football – Steelers at Buccaneers game preview

The Pittsburgh Steelers are off to a rough start — on and off the field — and it doesn’t figure to get any easier when they visit the suddenly potent Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night.

Pittsburgh first-team All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell is holding out and first-team All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown didn’t report for work Monday, and implied on Twitter that he wanted to be traded. But the Steelers’ biggest problem could be Tampa Bay quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick became the first player to record back-to-back 400-yard, four-touchdown games to start a season, and could be licking his chops after Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes tossed six touchdown passes in the visiting Chiefs’ 42-37 victory over the Steelers last week.

Brown showed up for work Wednesday, and Roethlisberger said he’s not concerned about Brown’s role in the offense.

The Chiefs doubled Brown for much of the game, which allowed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Jesse James to each get more than 100 receiving yards.

“He’s been garnering a lot of attention for a long time now,” Roethlisberger said of Brown. “I think it’s early in the season. In the first game, we had some elements that didn’t let me get him the ball to him as much as I should have. Last week they put a lot of guys on him. But other guys were open too. I’m not worried about A.B. He’ll be just fine.”

Brown’s production isn’t up to his usual standards, but he still has 18 receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown. Rather than use social media to voice his frustrations, or have sideline confrontations with his coaches, Roethlisberger would rather Brown come to him with any grievances.

“He’s not the only guy who gets frustrated in games,” Roethlisberger said. “We all get frustrated. When you’re the best in the world, you might get a little more frustrated than others. A.B. is a very passionate football player. We all know that. Fans know that. That’s what makes him special — the passion for this game and the passion to be great. So we’re not going to take that away from him.

“When he’s getting frustrated in games, I just want him to stay with me and talk to me, communicate with me and let me know. If I missed you on something, or if you’re getting open and I didn’t see it, let’s just talk and communicate.”

Buccaneers fans have embraced Fitzpatrick, who has completed 78.7 percent of his passes, in a big way, with some wearing faux beards to the game.

“His numbers are off the charts,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said of Fitzpatrick, who is playing because Jameis Winston is suspended for the first four weeks. “So how would you expect everybody to respond? Of course, our team is playing well. They’re doing something not many thought they could. We have a good locker room of guys believing each other right now. So any player that’s playing well and backing it up with his play.”

Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson has been the biggest beneficiary of Fitzpatrick’s play, leading the NFL in receiving yards with 275 yards. His three touchdowns matches his 2017 total.

Defensively, the Buccaneers face a huge challenge against Roethlisberger, who is second to Fitzpatrick with 787 yards. Tampa Bay (2-0) was without both starting cornerbacks last week. Brent Grimes has missed two games with a groin injury and Vernon Hargreaves is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury he suffered in the season opener.

That puts some pressure on rookie cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart. The Buccaneers could also be without safety Chris Conte (knee), which would force rookie Jordan Whitehead in the lineup.

The Steelers’ secondary could receive a boost from cornerback Joe Haden, who missed the Chiefs game because of a hamstring injury but returned to practice and is expected to play Monday. He will draw the assignment on Jackson.

Pittsburgh (0-1-1) appears to have the advantage in the rushing game with James Conner filling in admirably for Bell. Conner had 135 yards in the opener against the Browns, but was held to 17 yards on eight carries against the Chiefs because the Steelers fell behind early.

Pittsburgh leads the series 8-2 but the Buccaneers won the last encounter 27-24 at Heinz Field in 2014 on a last-second TD pass from Mike Glennon to Vincent Jackson.

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