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Tampa Bay (3-1) at San Francisco (3-1)

The 49ers come off an impressive two-game eastern swing in which they won at Cincinnati, held what QB Alex Smith called a “mini-training camp” in Youngstown, Ohio, then headed to Philadelphia. They won there, rallying from 20 points down for a 24-23 victory.

Now they are back at Candlestick Park and it’s the Buccaneers who have the big road challenge, coming off a short week after Monday night’s win over Indianapolis, and traveling cross-country.

New York Jets (2-2) at New England (3-1)

No team has more incentive this week to pound its opponent than the Patriots. They can ignore questions about the fire burning within all they want, but Bill Belichick’s guys have been itching for the chance to avenge last January’s flop in the playoffs against their division rival. They also can’t wait to lay about 40 points on Rex Ryan’s defense and pummel QB Mark Sanchez the way Baltimore did last Sunday.

One caveat: When the Jets get angry and seem at their lowest point under Ryan, they tend to rally. They must solidify their offensive line and find a pass rush for that to happen.

“I think there needs to be a return to winning. Whatever that is, passing the ball, running the ball, I don’t care what it is,” said All-Pro center Nick Mangold, whose sprained right ankle forced him out of the two road losses and deeply damaged the blocking. “We need to get back to winning.”

Oakland (2-2) at Houston (3-1)

Set up the DVRs for this one.

Two explosive offenses, especially on the ground _ Oakland is first in rushing, Houston is fourth _ and two defenses that give up some big plays.

The Texans need Arian Foster and Ben Tate to produce in the run game with star receiver Andre Johnson sidelined by a right hamstring injury that required minor surgery. They also need Mario Williams to continue his improvement as a linebacker after five seasons as a defensive end.

Oakland has the NFL’s top rusher, Darren McFadden, who already has 468 yards, is averaging 6.2 per carry and has three TDs rushing, one receiving.

Story Continues →