NFL: Patriots-Raiders finally has some meaning

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It's been a decade since the "Tuck Rule Game," which probably is the last time the Patriots and Raiders had a meaningful meeting. On Sunday, there's plenty of significance, even as early as Week 4, when they go at it in Oakland.

For the Silver and Black, consecutive wins over the Jets and Patriots would mean an impressive 3-1 start. It would be an early validation of the coaching change from Tom Cable to Hue Jackson, and it would give them a head start on their first winning record and divisional title since the 2002 Super Bowl season.

"It's a group that one, expects to win," Jackson said. "It's a group that works to win. It's a group that is becoming something and they're working at it each and every day. I think they can see the vision, that they have an opportunity, regardless of who we play, where we play to win.

"But I hope the rest of the league can see this is a different and improved football team."

The Patriots have noticed.

"They're very physical, they're tough, they're big, they're fast," said Tom Brady, who comes off the rarest of performances, throwing four interceptions as New England (2-1) went from a 21-0 lead at Buffalo to a 34-31 defeat. "It's always a certain kind of player out there: big, fast, and tough. They play well at home. It's going to be a big challenge."

New England hardly ever faces big challenges so early. A loss todaywould match its total from last season.

"We are trying to bring a fresh new plan, new energy," Brady said. "We're trying to put it together against a good football team. We're going to learn more about our team going on the road and playing a tough opponent than anything more than that."

San Francisco (2-1) at Philadelphia (1-2)

Coming off their ugly win in Cincinnati, the 49ers headed to Youngstown, Ohio, where their ownership has roots, to prepare for this one. That ploy doesn't often work, but it's surely worth a shot to save a few thousands miles of wear and tear.

The wear and tear on Michael Vick has led to a severely bruised right hand, which would affect his ballhandling if not necessarily his left-handed throws. This is a key early season measuring stick for Philly, which has yet to jell and put all of the fruits of free agency into action.

Pittsburgh (2-1)

at Houston (2-1)

The Texans wasted a chance for a statement victory last week at New Orleans, blowing a nine-point fourth-quarter lead. Now comes another opportunity to in their bid to pass the litmus test they usually fail - Houston never has made the playoffs in almost a decade in the NFL.

Pittsburgh has been maddeningly inconsistent, particularly on defense, and ranks last in the league with a minus-9 turnover margin. The Steelers' 10 giveaways are worrisome, and their one takeaway is unbelievable.

New York Jets (2-1) at Baltimore (2-1)

It was odd to see the Jets manhandled the way Oakland managed it, and now they face the most physical defense in the league. New York does so with both its offensive and defensive lines struggling - losing All-Pro center Nick Mangold with a sprained ankle was a huge blow - and its running game stuck in neutral.

All of which should make the Ravens salivate. Their offense is showing some balance, and their defense is, well, what anyone expects it to be: rugged, emotional, and ball-hawking, with 10 takeaways already.

Detroit (3-0) at Dallas (2-1)

If Tony Romo had any second thoughts about facing Washington with his busted ribs and other knocks, maybe he should have third, fourth and fifth thoughts about seeing Ndamukong Suh and the vastly upgraded Detroit defense this week.

Buffalo (3-0)

at Cincinnati (1-2)

Buffalo is leading the league with 113 points, a franchise record over a three-game stretch; not even the Super Bowl Bills of the early 1990s managed it. Buffalo also has staged two tremendous comebacks in the previous two victories.

"We never flinch I guess is part of it," QB Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "We prefer not to do it that way, but the last two weeks that's how it's gone. It takes a great team effort to overcome deficits like that. There's no panic and nobody's flinching. That's the kind of team that we are."

Denver (1-2) at Green Bay (3-0)

The lone predictable unbeaten team, Green Bay looks even more formidable than in 2010, when all it did was win the championship.

Yet, there's a feeling the Packers haven't come close to putting everything together. They never seemed threatened in Chicago a week ago, but also never quite pulled away.

New Orleans (2-1)

at Jacksonville (1-2)

The Saints are having big issues stopping other teams from moving the ball and scoring. Other teams are having an even tougher time stopping the Saints from piling up points. New Orleans is displaying a decent ground game to go with its prolific passing.

Jacksonville's defense has posted some good numbers, but has yet to face a dangerous offense. That changes Sunday.

New York Giants (2-1)

at Arizona (1-2)

The Giants quieted many doubters (for now) with their win in Philadelphia, where a hard-nosed defense re-emerged. Certainly, Eli Manning, coming off a four-TD performance in Philly, has fond memories of University of Phoenix Stadium.

Arizona showed how far it still must climb by falling at Seattle last Sunday, even though DE Calais Campbell had a career-high 2 1/2 sacks, 10 tackles, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits.

Miami (0-3) at San Diego (2-1)

While the Tony Sparano countdown continues on South Beach, the Dolphins head west knowing they have won seven of the last eight against the Chargers, four of those in San Diego. Sparano coached only one of those victories, though.

Atlanta (1-2) at Seattle (1-2)

Few teams are off to a more disappointing start than the Falcons, who like the Seahawks won their division in 2010. Atlanta did it at 13-3, Seattle at 7-9.

Most distressing is the way the Falcons' offense hasn't progressed as expected and how they keep falling behind. Atlanta has outscored opponents 30-0 in the fourth period, yet is 1-2.

Indianapolis (0-3) at Tampa Bay (2-1), Monday night

After the Colts kept things close with Pittsburgh last todaynight, maybe this prime-time appearance won't be must-miss television. Then again, the Colts put defensive leaders Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt on injured reserve this week.

Washington (2-1)

at St. Louis (0-3)

So close to being perfect, the Redskins face a team that is completely imperfect. The Rams' defense, supposedly the strong suit of coach Steve Spagnuolo, was torn apart the last two weeks and ranks 31st overall. It has the worst D against the run.

There was little peace in Washington after Dallas edged it Monday night. Reminiscent of last year's turmoil, cornerback DeAngelo Hall profanely criticized the coaching staff following the 18-16 defeat.

He backtracked a bit later.

"I might have been a little overzealous. ... I'm passionate about football," Hall said. "I definitely feel that was a football game we should have won. I was pretty frustrated. The Cowboys might actually send me a bill. I broke a couple of things down there, so I don't know if I'm going to get billed for that."

As long as they keep losing to Dallas, no bill likely is forthcoming.

Carolina (1-2)

at Chicago (1-2)

Now that Cam Newton has his first pro victory, the challenge is putting together a winning streak. Chicago offers a formidable sacks duo in Julius Peppers and Henry Melton with three apiece, and will test Newton's escapability, as well as a line that has allowed eight sacks.

The Bears' blockers are even worse (12 sacks allowed) and can't get the running game on track.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera returns to Chicago where he spent nine seasons as a linebacker and another five as an assistant coach.

"I'm not going to downplay it," Rivera said. "Some people would say it's just another game; no it's not. They're all big, but this has a little personal meaning for me because it's Chicago."

Tennessee (2-1)

at Cleveland (2-1)

It's conceivable the winner of this one will stand alone atop its division todaynight. The Titans must go it without top receiver Kenny Britt (torn right knee ligament) the rest of the season, which will hamper a surprisingly efficient passing game. It's time for Chris Johnson to make more than a token contribution and ramp up the running game.

Cleveland is hoping star running back Peyton Hillis is back from the strep throat that sidelined him a week ago.

Minnesota (0-3) at Kansas City (0-3)

Once upon a time (1970), these powerhouses met in the fourth Super Bowl. Any resemblance to those teams - outside of Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Tambi Hali and Brandon Flowers - is purely coincidental.


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