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A Little Ray of Sunshine for State

Times Staff Writers

It was expected to be a state of confusion, a state of disarray.

Instead, the state of Florida -- home to the Buccaneers, Jaguars and Dolphins -- is also the scene of some of the NFL’s best football.

Through three weeks, those three teams are 7-2, and each is coming off a breathtaking victory. Miami beat Carolina by three points, Tampa Bay beat Green Bay by one, and Jacksonville knocked off the New York Jets in overtime.

Two solid defenses will be on display at 10 a.m. Sunday when Jacksonville plays host to Denver. The Jaguars, who are favored by four, have the AFC’s top-ranked defense; the Broncos are ranked fifth in the conference.

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The Broncos have never won in Jacksonville, although their two losses there were by a total of four points, and they outgained the Jaguars in both games. Coach Mike Shanahan also is 0-3 in games played at Miami, including the Broncos’ 34-10 loss in the opener.

Not all of Shanahan’s Sunshine State memories are bad, though. His Broncos won Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami to finish the 1998 season.

Elsewhere:

Detroit plus 6 1/2 at Tampa Bay, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Representing the Motor City, the Lions will get their first look at the smooth-driving and seemingly built-to-last Cadillac -- Carnell “Cadillac” Williams -- that has powered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the top of the NFC South.

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Indianapolis at Tennessee plus 7, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Peyton Manning has not passed for a touchdown since the opener, but the Colts are unbeaten and rolling because they’ve given up an average of only 5.3 points a game.

St. Louis plus 3 at New York Giants, Sunday, 10 a.m., Channel 11 -- If only he could borrow his brother’s defense: Led by Eli Manning, the Giants have scored a league-high 92 points in three games but have given up an average of 24.7 after being torched last Sunday by San Diego, 45-23.

Buffalo vs. New Orleans, even, at San Antonio, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The Saints finally play a home game, or at least a reasonable facsimile of one. Displaced by hurricane damage, they’re based in San Antonio and will play the first of three games in the Alamodome.

Seattle plus 2 at Washington, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Shaun Alexander, second in the NFL in rushing after missing out on the league rushing title by one yard in 2004, takes on a Redskin defense that has given up only 2.8 yards a carry.

Houston plus 9 1/2 at Cincinnati, Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The Bengals are off to their first 3-0 start since 1990, when they last reached the playoffs, because Carson Palmer has eight touchdowns, only two interceptions, and has completed more than 70% of his passes.

San Diego plus 5 1/2 at New England, Sunday, 10 a.m., Channel 2 -- Life without safety Rodney Harrison, perhaps their best defensive player and the latest piece missing from their banged-up secondary, begins for the Patriots. Harrison suffered a season-ending knee injury in last Sunday’s victory over Pittsburgh.

N.Y. Jets plus 7 at Baltimore, Sunday, 1 p.m. -- With the Jets’ top two quarterbacks sidelined indefinitely because of shoulder injuries and 41-year-old Vinny Testaverde looking over his shoulder, Brooks Bollinger makes his first start.

Minnesota plus 6 at Atlanta, Sunday, 1:15 p.m. -- The Vikings, porous defensively in their 0-2 start, were better in last Sunday’s 33-16 victory over the Saints, forcing four turnovers. But Michael Vick presents an altogether different challenge. “He’s a nightmare,” Viking defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell said.

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Dallas plus 3 at Oakland, Sunday, 1:15 p.m. -- The Raiders, who had high hopes after adding Randy Moss during the off-season, face long odds: Since 1990, only three teams have made the playoffs after losing their first three games.

Philadelphia plus 2 at Kansas City, Sunday, 1:15 p.m., Channel 11 -- Donovan McNabb continues to carry a heavy load for the Eagles, despite an abdominal strain that is expected to keep him at less than full strength all season. He leads the league in passing yardage and is tied for the lead with eight touchdown passes.

San Francisco plus 2 1/2 vs. Arizona at Mexico City, Sunday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN -- You’d think the NFL would have picked a more attractive matchup for the first regular-season game outside the United States in the league’s 83-year history. But a 1994 exhibition at Mexico City drew 112,376, so maybe it doesn’t matter.

Green Bay plus 7 1/2 at Carolina, Monday, 6 p.m., Channel 7 -- Who would have guessed that the only victory claimed by these teams to this point would be the Panthers’ Week 2 win over the Patriots? The Packers, who rallied from a 1-4 start to reach the playoffs last season, are 0-3 for the first time since 1988.


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