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Milt Northrop’s Sunday playbook: Playoff previews could be at hand

Three games that look like potential postseason matchups highlight the Week Three schedule Sunday and Monday in the National Football League.

Defending NFC champion Carolina will be at home against Minnesota, which won the NFC North championship, then lost to Seattle in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

Even though they will be missing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Adrian Peterson, the Vikings are viewed as dangerous because of their strong defense, new quarterback Sam Bradford and new receiving standout Stefon Diggs.

Super Bowl champion Denver plays at Cincinnati, last year’s AFC North winner, and the New York Jets, who just missed the AFC playoffs, will face a Chiefs team that made it as a wild card, in Kansas City.

A capsule look at the Week Three games:

Game of the day

Vikings (2-0) at Panthers (1-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Panthers (-7).

The scoop: Carolina turned 17-10 halftime lead against Niners last week into 46-27 rout. Panthers rolled up 529 yards despite losing three fumbles and an interception. ... That shouldn’t happen against Minnesota defense. Vikings have given up just 30 points in wins over Titans and Packers and rank fifth in league in total defense. ...Minnesota will be without RB Adrian Peterson (knee surgery). Carolina RB Jonathan Stewart carried only five times for 9 yards last week because of hamstring issue.

Outlook: Panthers are hitting their stride and playing at home. Cam Newton and Panthers able to squeeze out 20-17 victory.

Top attractions

Broncos (2-0) at Bengals (1-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bengals (-3).

The scoop: Cincy not that impressive in one-pointer over Jets, then lost on road to rival Steelers. Important test for Bengals against a quality opponent. Cincy running game producing only 51.5 yards per game. Denver’s C.J. Anderson is sixth in league with 166 yards and 4.2 average.

Outlook: Broncos are conservative on offense with Trevor Siemian at QB. Denver lost only twice on road in 2015, both one-score games against Colts, Steelers. Denver, 24-23.

Jets (1-1) at Chiefs (1-1)

TV: CBS, 4:25 p.m.

The line: Chiefs (-3).

The scoop: New York lost one-pointer at home to Bengals. Chiefs could produce only four FGS in loss at Houston. ... Jets may be real wild-card contender if Ryan Fitzpatrick keeps playing as he did in rout of Bills. Fitz has history of playing well vs. KC and should be able to handle amped up Arrowhead crowd noise ... Jets rank fourth in league in offense.

Outlook: Jets match up well with Andy Reid’s Chiefs. New York, 20-13.

Steelers (2-0) at Eagles (2-0)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Steelers (-3½).

The scoop: Only game on Week Three schedule matching undefeated teams. ... Keystone State rivals haven’t met in Philly since 2008. ... Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberg leads league with six TD passes and RB DeAngelo Wlliams is first in rushing with 237 yards ... Eagles rank No. 2 in league in total defense, but remember: They’ve faced Browns and Bears. ... It will be interesting to see how Eagles’ rookie QB whiz Carson Wentz performs against a first-rate opponent for first time.

Outlook: Steelers’ “D” bothers Wentz. Pittsburgh 23-13.

Falcons (1-1) at Saints (0-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Saints (-3).

The scoop: Not long ago outcome of this rivalry decided NFL South. Now, they are two worst teams in division behind Carolina and Tampa Bay. ... Dan Quinn, second-year Atlanta head coach, is only 1-6 in division. ... Falcons lead NFL in offense at 451 yards a game helped by 528 yards in win at Oakland last week. QB Matt Ryan is No. 1 with 121.4 passer rating. He’s completing 72.6. Drew Brees of Saints has passed for 5 TDs with no INTs, but was handled roughly in loss to Giants last week.

Outlook: Saints were shut down by Giants, but Falcons aren’t the Giants. New Orleans 31-21.

Best of the rest

Cardinals (1-1) at Bills (0-2)

TV: Fox, 1 p.m.

The line: Cardinals (-4½).

The scoop: Aside from national anthem salutes or lack of them, Rex Ryan’s firing of his offensive coordinator is talk of league in last week. ... With missing players due to injury and suspensions, Bills can’t come close to matching talent with Cards. Arizona’s loss at home to Patriots doesn’t look so bad now.

Outlook: Expect Bills to play their best game and hang with Cards for three quarters or so, then bow to the inevitable. Arizona, 33-24.

Lions (1-1) at Packers (1-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Packers (-7).

The scoop: Each won on the other’s field last year. Pack avoided first sweep at hands of Lions since 1991 when Aaron Rodgers threw 61-yard Hail Mary pass to Richard Rodgers on last play of game for 27-23 win in nationally televised Thursday Night game ... Green Bay offense producing only 278.5 per game so far against Jaguars and Vikings. Lions average 411.5 yards on offense but giving up 406.5

Outlook: These Packers may be hugely overrated unless A. Rodgers snaps out of it. Green Bay, 31-27.

Ravens (2-0) at Jags (0-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Ravens (-1).

The scoop: Is Baltimore for real? Hard to say because wins have been over Bills and Browns. ... Jaguars put on pitiful performance at San Diego after throwing scare into Green Bay. ... Underperforming Jaguars, who were expected to have breakout year, have coach Gus Bradley on hot seat.

Outlook: Former Steeler Mike Wallace is alive and well in Baltimore and catching TD passes (3) from Joe Flacco. Ravens, 28-10.

Redskins (0-2) at Giants (2-0)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Giants (-4½).

The scoop: New York spent a ton of money to upgrade defense and so far has allowed 32 points in wins at Dallas and at home against Saints. ... Giants scored no offensive touchdowns in 16-13 win over New Orleans but had 417 total yards, with Eli Manning throwing for 386.

Outlook: New Redskins CB Josh Norman will have hands full with either Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz or rookie Sterling Sheppard, whoever lines up on his side. Giants, 23-17.

Raiders (1-1) at Titans (1-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Titans (-1).

The scoop: What’s happened to Oakland defense? After giving up 363.6 in 2015, opponents (Saints, Falcons) are averaging a walloping 517.5 ... That’s almost cancelling out work of QB Derek Carr and impressive offense (470.0). ... Titans never led at Detroit last week until winning TD pass from Marcus Mariota to Andre Johnson with 1:33 left.

Outlook: Tennessee Mike Mularkey is 0-4 as head coach versus Oakland. Raiders, 27-24.

Rams (1-1) at Bucs (1-1)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Bucs (-5 ½).

The scoop: Rams haven’t scored a TD yet, but are 1-1. Win over Seahawks in L.A. opener may border on miraculous. ... After road win in Atlanta, Bucs put on sad performance in Arizona with Jameis Winston throwing four picks. It’s Tampa home opener. ... Rams’ defense limiting opponents to 313 ypg, which is remarkable when you consider offense is no help.

Outlook: Rams have no offense (234 ypg). Tampa Bay, 17-6.

Chargers (1-1) at Colts (0-2)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Colts (-2½).

The scoop: After blowing 21-point lead at Kansas City, Chargers jumped all over Jacksonville for 38-14 win. but lost RB Danny Woodhead a week after losing WR Keenan Allen. That’s a lot of big-play potential sidelined ... Colts had a shot at winning in Denver with the ball and down just 26-20, before an Andrew Luck sack-fumble was returned for touchdown with 1:42 left to ice it.

Outlook: Luck adds to his 5 TD passes. Indy, 34-20.

Bears (0-2) at Cowboys (1-1)

TV: NBC, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Cowboys (-7).

The scoop: Bears’ QB Jay Cutler will try to play with sprained thumb on passing hand ... Dak Prescott, rookie QB for Cowboys, being held back but he still impresses. No TDs, no INTs yet, however. ... Rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott broke out with 83-yard game in win at Washington last week.

Outlook: Bears won last visit to Cowboys in 2012, but not this time. Dallas, 24-14.

49ers (1-1) at Seahawks (1-1)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Seahawks (-9).

The scoop: Colin Kaepernick of Niners gets more camera time than guys who actually can play. Which Seahawk will try to steal his spotlight today? ... Seattle leads league in defense (248.5 yards, 19 points allowed). However, Seahawks are last in league in points scored (15).

Outlook: With Russell Wilson hobbling, Seahawks’ offense has run aground. Seattle, 13-10.

Dog of the week

Browns (0-2) at Dolphins (0-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Dolphins (-10).

The scoop: New coach Adam Gase still looking for his first win with Miami. Same with Hue Jackson of Browns. One will be rewarded today. ... After getting handled in Seattle, Dolphins fell behind 31-3 at Patriots then scored 21 in second half. Was that a sign of anything? ... Browns took 20-0 first-quarter lead over Ravens at home then got nothing the rest of the way. With a second QB injured, Cleveland will start Southern Cal rookie Cody Kessler.

Outlook: Dolphins win home opener against Browns team that has lost last six on the road. Miami, 27-10.

Last week’s record: 10-6 straight up; 6-10 versus spread.

Season’s record: 21-10 straight up; 18-13 versus spread.


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