Romilly Evans assesses a tight tandem of live TV games for Week Three, starting with the big London showcase, where he expects Jacksonville to repel Baltimore "on the road" to Wembley
"The Ravens are without nose tackle Brandon Williams, a key playmaker whose absence Fournette can again exploit"
Jags' new running back can upset Baltimore's doughty defensive detail
Baltimore Ravens @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Start-time: Sunday, 14:30
TV: Live on Sky Sports Action
If you work hard, dare to dream, and set lofty goals, you can still wind up with your face smack in the dirt. It may not be the sort of reassuring maxim for life to teach your children, but it's well worth remembering.
Just ask the Jacksonville Jaguars who have been growing up the hard way. Only a few seasons back they were the NFL's whipping boys, with their once-passionate fanbase up on their feet and on their way out of the stadium as soon as any opponent took the lead. Or worse, wallowing in their bizarre ritual of watching the remainder of the game from inside brown paper bags.
It was that ugly. But a belated metamorphosis towards beautiful may finally be taking shape. And Jags' fans really should stick around for this tussle with the Baltimore Ravens in what could prove a sneakily competitive encounter for the term's first London Game. In any case, it's a long way home from Wembley, so it would be rude of Jacksonville supporters not to wait for the final whistle.
Reasons to be cheerful largely centre around running man Leonard Fournette, who is already shaping up as one of the rookie stars of the 2017 class. His gritty ground games enable Jacksonville to move the chains slowly on any rival, and control the clock while doing so. In short, if Fournette take 25+ carries in this game, it should at least prove a tight affair, where the Jags can keep inside a fair handicap being offered by an ultra-cautious Baltimore unit.
Blake Bortles, of course, can turn a game with a deep downfield strike or a series of scrambles. Trouble is, such moves invariably make for the worse, and Bortles has the look of a promising juvenile colt who has not trained on. No matter, if he simply minimizes the mistakes (53 picks in 48 career games, and two more interceptions against Tennessee last Sunday), and Jacksonville instead put the pigskin in the hands of Fournette (or perhaps the safer pouching paws of Allen Hurns) this should be a rare "home" victory on the road.
After all, for all Baltimore's reliably elite defense ( is 10 turnovers for the current campaign staggering or lucky?), their four-fella rush under Tyus Bower is not as effective against the run as the pass. Plus the Ravens are without nose tackle Brandon Williams, a key playmaker whose absence Fournette can again exploit. On the offensive side, hardy perennial Joe Flacco seems to be hitting his stride (two touchdowns for 217 yards last weekend) but another pre-season back injury means he remains short of his imperious best.
Granted, it's still the initial skirmishes of the regular season, and the Jaguars haven't started 2-1 in 10 years. So this is no time for maximum stakes. However, even if Baltimore do get up early, head coach John Harbaugh has shown time and time again that he regards discretion as the better part of valour. So any result could be kept within a field goal.
Back Jacksonville Jaguars (+3) to win on the Match Points Spread @ [2.04] or better
Back Jacksonville Jaguars (+1.5) to win on the First Half Handicap @ [2.04] or better
Back Over 39 Total Points @ [1.94] or better
Back A. Hurns to score First / Anytime Touchdown [16.0] / [3.5] or better
Skins can expose some Oakland flesh at FedExField
Oakland Raiders @ Washington Redskins
Start-time: Monday, 01:30
TV: Live on Sky Sports Action
If Kirk Cousins' star continues in the ascendant, Derek Carr's is shining even more brightly. Operating behind a to-die-for offensive line naturally helps, but Carr now has speed all over the park to call on, whether it be in the backfield (where a rededicated Marshawn Lynch now lurks at four yards per carry) or on his stud wideouts (led by the evergreen Michael Crabtree). Then again, galactic balls of fire are nothing if not combustible, and Carr's all-stars could be on the verge of supernova as they journey to the cauldron of FedExField.
For his part, on the other side of the field, Cousins is the slower and steadier type. A fact which has seen Washington's powers-that-be reluctant to reward him with the contractual clarity he probably now deserves. Cousins is aiming for another winning season, and while he won't be chasing Carr's dazzling numbers this year, he is once again coming to the boil nicely. Completing just 61.2% of his passes (for 419 yards, two TDs, and a lone interception) might not sound like much, but Cousins has got it where it counts: match-winning composure and a cool head, especially at home where his mind isn't scrambled by the din of away-day fans.
Of more concern to the 29-year-old has been the demands of blooding some fresh personnel, both amongst his receiving crew and along the rushing channels, whose early-season report card reads: work in progress, must do better (albeit they chalked up over 200 yards last Sunday). RB Rob Kelley should also miss tonight's game after succumbing to a rib injury (which has also accounted for TE Jordan Reed). Cousins, though, is fit and firing. And growing in stature, now that he's entering a third full year on the job under center. So expect another thoroughly professional performance from a leader who knows how to marshal his troops, even the new recruits.
Washington's D, under the tutelage of wily co-ordinator Greg Manusky, can do the rest. Sure, Carr's merry men are an offensive juggernaut which you slow rather than stop. Yet the Skins' defense can do just that, drawing from a deep well of veterans and versatility at both ends of the field. Cue, for example, Vernon Davis, Niles Paul and rookie Jeremy Sprinkle to ably plug the holes at tight end, while Carr could be in for an unexpectedly rough ride.
An end-to-end-zone scoring jamboree may be on the cards, but Washington's total points still appear to be pitched very low at around the 25 mark. As I say, Cousins is finding his range, and Oakland don't mind giving up some easy yards away from home, so confident are they that their offense will outstrip any rival. Such pride invariably goes before a fall. Watch Cousins skin them accordingly.
Back Washington Redskins (+3) to win on the Match Points Spread @ [1.91] or better
Back Washington Redskins to win on the Moneyline @ [2.5] or better
Back Over 25.5 Washington Redskins Points @ [1.94] or better