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NFL Week 3: Game Previews

(Sept. 20, 2006) -- After a year of unprecedented challenges, the 2-0 New Orleans Saints will return to the Louisiana Superdome for the first time since Hurricane Katrina this Monday night when they host the 2-0 Atlanta Falcons on ESPN at 8:30 p.m. ET.

The game will cap off day-long festivities and pregame activities.

During the day, the Saints will host a free football festival with elements from the NFL Experience and concerts for ticketholders and the general public on the Superdome concourses. The Goo Goo Dolls will perform just prior to the official opening of the Superdome. As part of its 45-minute concert, the group will perform its hit single "Better Days," which served as a theme song for many throughout the Gulf Coast region in the weeks following the hurricane.

The pregame show will feature live performances by U2 and Green Day on ESPN at 8:20 pm.m ET. The performance will benefit Music Rising, the campaign launched to help bring music back to the Gulf Coast. The national anthem will be performed by three legendary New Orleans artists -- Kermit Ruffians, Irma Thomas and Allen Touisasint. More than 150 first-responders from Gulf Coast search-and-rescue teams will be on the field during the coin toss ceremony, with former President George H.W. Bush flipping the coin.

Call it "Replay Weekend" in the NFL.

A combination of a team's return to its home after a year's absence … rematches of two 2005 playoff games … and a replay of one of last season's most memorable games all will help make for -- what else? -- a compelling NFL weekend this Sunday and Monday.

"Every week, you get great games," says head coach Jim Mora of the Atlanta Falcons, one of the teams involved in Week 3's highlight games.

CHICAGO BEARS (2-0) at MINNESOTA VIKINGS (2-0)

Storyline: Never too early for a divisional "Battle of the Unbeatens" (there are three this week).

And this one comes packed with storylines. It will be the NFL's oldest offensive player -- Vikings QB Brad Johnson (38, from Florida State) -- against one of its freshest, Bears QB Rex Grossman (26, from Florida). Johnson has won 61 percent (67 of 110) of his games for four teams in his 15-year career. Grossman has had his four-year career interrupted by injuries but had perhaps his best game as a pro last Sunday as he compiled a 148.0 passer rating by completing 20 of 27 attempts for four touchdowns with no interceptions in a 34-7 win over Detroit.

Both quarterbacks will face versions of the "Tampa 2" defense learned by Bears head coach Lovie Smith and Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin when they were at Tampa Bay.

NEW YORK GIANTS (1-1) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (2-0)

Storyline: Same teams, same place, and what a game it was!

These two met last Thanksgiving weekend in a game that had one dramatic twist after another. The Giants out-gained the Seahawks 490 yards to 355, led 13-7 in the third quarter, tied it at 21 at the end of regulation, suffered through three missed field-goal attempts by Jay Feely (two in overtime), and then saw Josh Brown 's 36-yard kick win it 24-21 with 2:45 left in OT. "It was a gut-wrenching way to lose a game," says Giants head coach Tom Coughlin.

The rematch will feature the top two rushers of last year (who are facial look-alikes) -- Seattle's Shaun Alexander (1,880 yards) and New York's Tiki Barber (1,860). It also will feature a re-battle between Seahawks LT Walter Jones and Giants DE Osi Umenyiora, who had two sacks in the last game.

Who will prevail? Giants tie Dallas and Seattle for an NFL-best 14-3 (.824) record in games played the week before a bye (they are off in Week 4), but the Seahawks have won 10 in a row at home.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-0) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (2-0)

Storyline: Another unbeaten division battle, between teams that play it "this close."

Since the Colts and Jaguars joined the AFC South in realignment in 2002, the average point differential in games between the two has been basically a touchdown (6.3 points), with no game being decided by more than 10 points.

Which side of the scrimmage line will prevail? The Colts lead the NFL in points (69), rank No. 1 in passing yards and come off a 515 total-yard eruption against Houston. And they scored on six of their first seven possessions.

But, looking at the Jaguars' performance last Monday night against Pittsburgh, the team just may have the defense to douse this explosiveness. Try to run it and you confront the roadblocks of John Henderson and Marcus Stroud at DT (the Steelers totaled 26 rushing yards Monday). Throw it and there waiting are people like CBs Rashean Mathis (two interceptions, four passes defensed Monday) and Vikings UFA Brian Williams (two passes defensed).

CINCINNATI BENGALS (2-0) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (1-1)

Storyline: It's Steelers week! It's Bengals week!

"It's going to be a fun week," says Cincinnati WR Chad Johnson. "This is a very big week." Indeed it is. These two are big-time rivals. Just look at last year. Each won at the other's stadium. The Steelers rushed for a season-high 221 yards in Cincinnati, but were limited to 95 in Pittsburgh. They both finished with 11-5 records, but Cincinnati won the division based on better division record. Then the Steelers knocked the Bengals out of the playoffs (wild card), along with their quarterback Carson Palmer (knee) … and went on to win Super Bowl XL. Palmer and the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger may have the hottest quarterback rivalry going in the NFL. "I hate them even more than I hate UCLA," says USC grad Palmer. Another reason for that dislike: Including the '05 wild card, Pittsburgh has won seven of its past nine games against Cincy.

DENVER BRONCOS (1-1) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2-0)

Storyline: Playoff rematch!

Last year the Broncos killed the Patriots' hopes of becoming the first team to win four Super Bowls in five years with a turnover-forcing 27-13 victory in the divisional playoffs, breaking New England's NFL-record 10-game postseason win streak. The Broncos forced five turnovers that led to 24 points.

You can bet the wise, old-hand coaches Mike Shanahan of the Broncos and Bill Belichick of the Patriots (with this outing, he totals the most games of a Patriots head coach, 110) will be retooling those divisional game plans. "We've seen it all through the years," says Shanahan. "If you pick up a weakness, it's not there very long." Shanahan is 4-1 against Belichick (including playoffs) since 2001, the season of the Patriots' first Super Bowl win.

One "adjustment" the Broncos have made since the divisionals is adding WR Javon Walker (trade, Green Bay). He had five catches for 79 yards against Kansas City in Week 2, setting up the winning OT field goal with a 24-yard grab.

ATLANTA FALCONS (2-0) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (2-0)

Storyline: The Saints return!

And will the Superdome be hopping, as their "Who Dat?" boys have done their part for the festivities by winning their first two games on the road. They bring in two big newcomers in QB Drew Brees and RB Reggie Bush to pair with injury-free RB Deuce McAllister. And from Hofstra … comes seventh-round draft choice Marques Colston -- the only rookie WR to start on NFL Kickoff Weekend -- who has two TD catches in two weeks.

The Falcons -- who won all three of their Monday night games last season -- bring in their own arsenal. Heading it up are QB Michael Vick (5-0 lifetime against New Orleans) and RB Warrick Dunn, who last week became only the third QB-RB duo to each top 100 yards rushing in the same game (Philadelphia QB Randall Cunningham & RB Heath Sherman vs. New England, 11/4/90; and Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb & RB Duce Staley vs. NY Giants, 10/28/02).

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