The Steelers' offense takes an unexpected journey, the Bills corner the breakfast market yet again and Russell Wilson proves that success is in the jeans, though not necessarily his jeans. Peyton Manning is no longer king of the world, the Chiefs scramble for solutions and the Chargers have a ticket offer you cannot refuse. Plus, who dares call Jay Cutler a creep? Karma police … arrest this Lowdown.

(All times Eastern; all Sunday games ranked by quality of matchup.)

New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens

8:20 p.m. Sunday, NBC
Line: Ravens by 2 ½

The Patriots had one of their Radiohead games last week.

The band Radiohead, like the Patriots, is made up of a group of extraordinarily talented individuals who have achieved remarkable success and influence for a long period of time. Radiohead's "OK Computer," "The Bends" and "Hail to the Thief" albums are the musical equivalent of three Super Bowl rings, and their second-tier albums still reach the critical and commercial plateaus equivalent to 14-2 seasons.

But Radiohead sometimes forgets that its job is to provide recognizable music to human customers, their high-concept toots and yodels descending from "haunting" to "challenging" to "inaccessible" to "sounds like the planetarium guy is going through a messy divorce." They forget there is an audience. Similarly, the Patriots get carried away with their evolutionary march toward a new plane of offensive transcendence full of all-tight-end formations and intricately crafted three-yard passes. They forget there is an opponent, capable of blocking punts and forcing turnovers. The Patriots still nearly win these games, just as Radiohead manages to sell 250,000 copies of "King of Limbs," but that does not make either any less excruciating.

The Ravens used to be the least likely team to lapse into introspective football navel-gazing. Their simple, pile-driving approach took the Patriots to the wall in last year's AFC Championship Game, and it obliterated them in the 2009 playoffs, when Ray Rice personally steamrolled over the Patriots' fussy arrangements. But the Ravens got experimental in the second half against the Eagles last week, exploring the limits of their new timing-based passing game and almost immediately finding them.

Beware, Ravens: If you start imitating the worst elements of the Patriots, you may become the NFL's Coldplay.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Ravens 20

* * *

Atlanta Falcons at San Diego Chargers

4:05 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Chargers by 3

It is hard to maintain enthusiasm for the Falcons. They dominate the season-opener against the Chiefs, but star cornerback Brent Grimes gets seriously injured. They beat the Broncos convincingly on Monday night, but Michael Turner gets arrested for a post-game DUI after leaving a strip club. Turner will remain with the team while his case is processed, but the phrase "post-game DUI after leaving a strip club" doesn't conjure an image of a 2-0 team with its nose to the grindstone, focused exclusively on taking the next step in the playoffs.

On the other hand, the Chargers are generating no enthusiasm whatsoever after two convincing wins. The Chargers are so desperate to avoid television blackouts that they offered fans who bought one of the 11,000 unsold tickets for this game preferential seating opportunities for the upcoming Broncos game. (Buy four tickets, and you get a promise that you will never be asked to pay to watch the Titans again, signed by Dean Spanos.) The Chargers look solid on both sides of the ball this year, and this could be the best game that no one sees this week, a battle of two teams that might have faced off in a Super Bowl if they weren't so good at self-defeat.

Prediction: Falcons 24, Chargers 17

* * *

Pittsburgh Steelers at Oakland Raiders

4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Steelers by 3 ½

The Steelers' running game has moved in fits and spurts through two games. Mike Tomlin said the team might scale back the complexity of its rushing attack, while Isaac Redman told a Pittsburgh radio station that the team plans to "stick to the certain amount of plays that we do well."

All of this means the Steelers must trick Todd Haley into parting with his precious playbook. It will go something like this:

TOMLIN: "What have I got in my pocket?"

HALEY: "Not fair, what it asks! Super Bowl ring, iss it?"

TOMLIN: "No. What have I got in my pocket?

HALEY: "S-s-s-s. Rashard Mendenhall's latest MRI?"

TOMLIN: "No. Last guess."

HALEY: "Nasty and cruel it iss, this Tomlin. Terrible towel? Or nothing?"

TOMLIN: "Wrong. Time for me to escape from your cavern of lunacy."

HALEY: "No. No!!! It has stolen my precious!"

Mendenhall is being eased back into the practice routine. He won't play this week, but should arrive before Haley's game plans make the Steelers' offense disappear.

Prediction: Steelers 23, Raiders 13

* * *

Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals

4:05 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Eagles by 3

The Eagles plan to lead the league in everything this year. First in yards, and in yards allowed. First in sacks, and sacks allowed. First in giveaways and takeaways. First in questions raised about their own quarterback, and about opposing quarterbacks. First in two-minute warnings (they have that one sewn up). The Eagles are so extreme that if they end up .500, it will be with a 16-16 record.

The Cardinals, by contrast, specialize in messy, droopy little wins. They ended last season with a 5-1 run built from fluky 21-19 and 20-17 grinders, then spent the offseason acting like that was their new business model. That's a little like basing your retirement plan finding lost pirate treasure with a metal detector, but it appears to be working, so long as everything keeps breaking exactly the team's way in the last few seconds of each game.

Oh, we're obliged to comment on the 2011 trade that sent Kevin Kolb to the Cardinals in exchange for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a draft pick that became (after some wheeler-dealing) top rookie prospects Vinny Curry and Brandon Boykin. On second thought, life is too short to be tied down with silly obligations.

Prediction: Eagles 20, Cardinals 16

* * *

Houston Texans at Denver Broncos

4:25 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Texans by 1

Abandon ship! Man the lifeboats! Sound the Osweiler claxons! Women, children and people shouting "We should have stuck with Tebow" first! The Peyton Manning ocean liner was too big to be a mere bandwagon after Week 1, and the folks trapped in steerage are starting to get cold, wet feet.

A bit of perspective can help you keep your head while those around you lose theirs. Manning threw four interceptions, each in back-to-back games against the Chargers and Cowboys in 2010. He threw six interceptions against the Chargers in 2007. He can be caught off guard by opponents who use shifting fronts to limit his ability to call pre-snap audibles. The Texans know this, but Manning is also familiar with the Texans, so the element of surprise will not be as big a factor as it was Monday night.

This week's Peyton panic is even sillier than last week's Peyton praise. The truth, as it always does, rests somewhere in between. There are both clear waters and a few more icebergs ahead. Remain calm, and carry on.

Prediction: Broncos 22, Texans 17

* * *

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins

1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Jets by 2

One peculiar vector of the Jets' pathology is the team's ability to add a "this time, it's personal" tagline to every game on the schedule. This week, we have Tony Sparano's Grudge Match and Yer's Revenge, as Tony Sparano and Yeremiah Bell set out to prove the Dolphins wrong for letting them go.

Rex Ryan's new Jets aren't playing along with the pro-wrestling storyline. Sparano has not commented on facing the team that fired him in the middle of last season. Bell gave standard answers about facing former teammates. "I'm still friends with a lot of guys, so we'll have our laughs before the game, but only before. When the game starts there are no friends," he said. Santonio Holmes spent the week chirping, but Holmes will be standing on street corners with pamphlets and a megaphone in three years.

C'mon, Tony and Yeremiah. You are Jets now! You are facing the team that spurned you, cast you away, disrespected you. This time, it's personal. No? You guys are really trying to act more professional? That's commendable, I suppose.

At least Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland can still be counted on to call someone who criticizes him an "a--hole."

Prediction: Jets 16, Dolphins 13

* * *

Kansas City Chiefs at New Orleans Saints

1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Saints by 10

Every time the Saints' defense sees a play fake, it's like aboriginal people gaping at an iPhone. "If they can make the football disappear like that, what can they do to … our souls?"

The Saints' defense was completely befuddled by the faking and running of Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton. Matt Cassel runs really well, and the Chiefs can find some options and pistol formations if they rummage through the closets for Chan Gailey's old playbook. Nothing else they are doing offensively is working, so maybe they spent this week hard at work on a tricky read-option package!

No, wait: The Chiefs suffered so many injuries against the Bills that they weren't even practicing in pads by midweek; Romeo Crennel was too worried about the health of offensive starters Jamaal Charles, Kevin Boss, Steve Breaston, Ryan Lilja, Dexter McCluster and others to install much of anything.

Other Saints opponents, however, must have noticed their inability to cope with option plays. Coming in two weeks, to a nightmare near you: the Philip Rivers Wildcat.

Prediction: Saints 31, Chiefs 27

* * *

Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Redskins

1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Redskins by 3

With defenders Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker out for the season and receiver Pierre Garcon unlikely to play this week, the Redskins may resort to the Bugs Bunny vs. The Gashouse Gorillas lineup. Outside linebacker: Robert Griffin! Wide receiver: Robert Griffin!

While the Redskins fill multiple holes, the Bengals are happy to have filled one: 5-foot-7 receiver Andrew Hawkins has emerged as the counterpoint to A.J. Green in the passing game. Hawkins' story comes straight from Horatio Alger: overlooked because of his height, forced to tryout on Michael Irvin's reality show (reality television is a huge part of the Alger mythos), signed but rejected by the Rams and Browns, and resigned to work double shifts in a wind turbine factory while waiting for his NFL chance and (possibly) perfecting his open-field moves by dodging turbine blades.

 

Hawkins is the kind of player the Bengals would have signed, but rejected, in seasons past. He is the also the kind of player the Redskins sign six years from now for $54 million so he can play out the downside of his career in style.

Prediction: Bengals 22, Redskins 17

* * *

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys

1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Cowboys by 9 ½

kneel_small
The figure to the right shows the Buccaneers' new signature play, a storm-the-beaches approach to the end-of-game kneel, which Greg Schiano defends as both effective (it forced a few fumbles for Rutgers) and sportsmanlike (the game is played until the final gun.) The ethics of treating the final kneel like a cavalry charge have been debated all week, but whatever the benefits or consequences, Schiano may not want to establish precedent as an expert on what to do when opponents kneel at the end of the game. Successful coaches focus on stopping opponents before they kneel at the end of the game. 

Prediction: Cowboys 24, Buccaneers 19

* * *

Buffalo Bills at Cleveland Browns

1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Bills by 2 ½

You know you have made it -- sort of -- when you have your own limited-edition cereal. Bills pass rusher Mario Williams now has MariOs. They are made by the same people who brought you Flutie Flakes, Ochocinco's and Ed McCaffrey's Rocky Mountain Horseradish, who are thrilled to have found a variation on the name "Mario" not copyrighted by Nintendo.

MariOs are probably just Ochocinco's in a new box, and Ochocinco's were just knockoff Honey Nut Cheerios, but proceeds are going to charity, and generic Cheerios make a much better breakfast for your kids than, say, Rocky Mountain Horseradish. Coming soon in Bills-related breakfast products: C.J. Spillers, the cereal that dumps the milk from the sides of the bowl itself, saving your toddler the effort.

Prediction: Bills 27, Browns 16

* * *

San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings

1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: 49ers by 7

Christian Ponder has a 75.8 percent completion rate and has not thrown an interception in two games. His secret? "I'm a lone wolf right now. Football is my girlfriend. Painful girlfriend." It sounds like Ponder is doing football right but some other important things wrong. The brutal 49ers defense and bloody-faced Alex Smith are coming to town, but any more speculation on such matters and Lowdown will be filed in the bookstore under "Dark Romance."

Prediction: 49ers 23, Vikings 13

* * *

Detroit Lions at Tennessee Titans

1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Lions by 3 ½

After every Titans loss, everyone asks why Chris Johnson isn't gaining more rushing yards. But there are deeper questions. Why does everyone keep thinking that Chris Johnson should gain more rushing yards? Why are the Titans trapped in the third year of a doomed spiral of waiting for Chris Johnson to gain more rushing yards? The Titans are less a football team these days than a philosophical thought experiment on the nature of the running game. Does Johnson limit the Titans, or vice versa?

These chicken-or-egg philosophy sessions make great dormitory icebreakers, but when you are all grown up and cold sober, they become rambling, circular and inconsequential, three great descriptors for both the Johnson speculation and the Titans running game.

Prediction: Lions 26, Titans 10

* * *

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts

1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Colts by 3

One benefit of the Colts' bulldoze-the-landscape rebuilding effort is that it lowers expectations. They now come across as the NFL's cuddly, eager puppies. "Awww, did the widdle Colts beat the Vikings after doing potty-wotties on the floor against the Bears? Who's a good team that's gonna go 2-1?" Enjoy the Beggin' Strips while they last; the Jaguars can attest to how quickly an adorable pup, without proper care and grooming, can age into a mangy cur.

Prediction: Colts 20, Jaguars 10

* * *

St. Louis Rams at Chicago Bears

1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Bears by 9

Smokin' Jay Cutler has a message for all the haters, naysayers, detractors, teammates and doubters who criticize his demeanor and decision-making: None of you know what it's like to be Smokin' Jay Cutler! So quit guessing, and stop pretending that you know anything about the Cutler behind the sneers, shoves, interceptions, back-footed throws and sheer determination to come across as an insouciant punk at every public opportunity. The real Cutler is nothing like the public, professional, seemingly omnipresent Cutler, according to Cutler.

The Rams won last week by goading the Redskins into an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and cornerback Cortland Finnegan is a master at getting under opponents' skin. He won't break a sweat this week.

Prediction: Bears 20, Rams 14

* * *

Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks

8:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN
Line: Packers by 3

The national, prime-time NFL audience gets its first look at Russell Wilson, the Seahawks' feisty rookie quarterback sensation who combines the best elements of all the other rookie quarterbacks into one conveniently sized package. If you cannot wait to see Wilson scramble around and toss seven-yard passes, you can get inoculated against Russell Mania with his whopping two-and-a-half minute long Levi's commercial.

The commercial features a touching story about Wilson and his late father, inspirational advice about how short people can achieve great things and lots of footage of life in greater Seattle. (No one throws fish, which means the ad probably violates a local ordinance.) It does not actually show any blue jeans until well after the 90-second mark. When we finally see some denim, it's in two separate, lovingly framed close-ups of Wilson's wife Ashton … well, the close-ups undermine both the sincerity of the "achieve your dreams" message and the whole theory that Wilson has enough charisma to carry a two-minute advertisement without a distraction or two.

Though the jeans look great.

Oh yeah, football. Wilson is gritty, fun to watch and effective in short spurts, but he is an undersized rookie who still plays like one. The Seahawks' defense and home-field advantage, plus Packers offensive gear-grinding, will keep this game close. But dungarees commercials are for Packers quarterbacks, and don't you forget it.

Prediction: Packers 23, Seahawks 20