Well, two weeks are in the books, and another slate of games is just ahead. Let’s take our weekly spin through the upcoming schedule, starting with the most compelling games and working our way down. I’m not gonna try to hoodwink anyone — there appear to be the potential for more one-sided, less-compelling games on the docket, but there’s always a storyline or two worth exploring.
San Francisco at Minnesota: A battle of undefeated teams that want to run the heck out of the ball with caretaker quarterbacks (except one makes $12 million bucks). The Vikings have attempted one real downfield pass and have one reception of 20 yards or more. The 49ers have one completion of 20 yards or more. This is power football, people, and the first test for a Vikings team that has been given cupcakes to this point.
Tennessee at N.Y. Jets: The Titans are desperate for a win and will be looking to make Mark Sanchez finally look like a rookie with all their stunts and twists and rotation along the defensive line. Tennessee’s once-potent secondary has been a mess, and I can’t wait to see what Chris Johnson can come up with against the Jets’ stout front-seven. Hard for me to imagine the Titans starting 0-3, and the Jets seem to be caught in the old letdown scenario here.
Atlanta at New England: The template for attacking Tom Brady is well established now, but will the Falcons have the ability to pull it off? John Abraham can bring it, and if the Pats can’t muster a better pass rush against Matt Ryan, he will slice them. The Pats have already thrown 101 passes and are throwing 70 percent of the time. Hard to imagine that continuing without Brady getting hurt again. New England needs to wake up, now.
Indianapolis at Arizona: Kurt Warner is coming off a record game for accuracy (I blew that one, bigtime, and thought the Cards would continue to sputter last week), while Peyton Manning produced one of the most efficient games in NFL history — 27 points despite having the ball for less than 15 minutes. Indy’s defense was spent, however, and the short week plus long travel won’t help. The Cardinals have a chance to exploit a sagging run defense after Miami torched the Colts in the Wildcat formation.
New Orleans at Buffalo: The Bills have been playing physical football on offense and it will have to continue to keep Drew Brees off the field. Buffalo also has one of the best young secondaries in the NFL and this game could get interesting. Fred Jackson will be a key again, especially in the screen game. This game could be closer than some might think.
Chicago at Seattle: A potential playoff tiebreaker special. Hard for me to imagine Matt Hasselbeck playing with the rib injury he suffered, and I think the Bears will settle into a comfort zone on offense. First big breakout game for Jay Cutler with da Bears.
Miami at San Diego: A couple of division winners from a year ago, who look much more vulnerable now. The Chargers have been steamrolled physically twice already and I look for the Dolphins to give them a heavy dose of the Wildcat here. The Dolphins age on defense seems to be a factor, and they will need to force Philip Rivers off his spot and into tight situations.
Washington at Detroit: The Redskins needed a late punt return TD from Santana Moss to beat the Lions at Ford Field last year, and this could be another ugly affair. Detroit made strides in Week 2, Calvin Johnson presents match-up issues and Washington’s scoring offense is inept. If the Redskins fall behind early I like the Lions’ chances. I’m calling for the upset. The slump will end at 19 games.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati: The Steelers are not going to win every close game they play — as we saw last week — and they don’t seem ready to put together a complete game just yet. The Bengals shredded Green Bay’s sloppy offensive line Sunday and Pittsburgh’s line is ripe to be exploited as well. The Steelers need to figure out a run game. I like the Bengals’ chances to make this a game. With no Troy Polamalu in the secondary, maybe this is the game Carson Palmer gets going (assuming they can keep him upright). Laveranues Coles, Chris Henry and Chad Ochocinco spreading it out will cause some problems for the Steelers’ defense.
Jacksonville at Houston: The Texans finally met a physical challenge last week, now they get a chance to do it again within the division. Arizona shredded that Jags’ secondary Sunday and the Texans will be looking to do the same with Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub coming off monster games. If the Texans are ever to truly turn the corner, then they need to stay consistent and string together quality games.
Okay guys, from here on out I feel the need to say that the rest of these games could be over by the half.
Carolina at Dallas: The Cowboys might be feeling sorry for themselves after that Sunday night debacle (Tony Romo strikes again). But if they simply pound the ball on the ground — whether Marion Barber plays or not — and play to the strengths of their offensive line, I like their chances. The Panthers are a wounded team and DeMarcus Ware is just the kind of guy to flick back on Jake Delhomme’s turnover over-drive switch. Carolina’s offensive line must be the difference in trying to get back to that smashmouth routine with multiple backs.
Denver at Oakland: JaMarcus Russell was Ryan Leaf-bad last week. I thought he would make strides this season, but that was difficult to watch. The Broncos have a chance to be the feel good story of the year, with coach Josh McDaniels getting a karmic cleansing each week. I’m not liking what I see from San Diego, and a 3-0 start from the Broncos could make things mighty interesting in the AFC West all season long.
Kansas City at Philadelphia: If there is any risk at all to Donovan McNabb, I’m resting his ribs and giving Kevin Kolb the look before the bye week. I’m also getting the ball in Mike Vick’s hands — and not just at quarterback — and going hyper-aggressive against Matt Cassel, who I think will struggle this season. The Eagles should get up early and sit on this game.
Green Bay at St. Louis: The Packers better start protecting their young franchise quarterback, because I’m not liking my Super Bowl pick right now from the NFC. This should be a great opportunity to get Aaron Rodgers back on track. The Rams let one slip away last week and need more from their proven players.
N.Y. Giants at Tampa Bay: This should be like a home game for the G-Men, with plenty of New Yorkers in the Florida sun. Eli Manning looks as good as I’ve ever seen him play, his young receivers are making plays for him and that defense is going to continue to get better. The Bucs lack the talent to make much of this, and will probably put up some hollow yardage in the second half but not much more.
Cleveland at Baltimore: The Browns seem to lack any direction at this point. It looks and feels like a patch-work operation, which I suppose is what it is. The Ravens have to yet to put together a full game in all three phases of play, but this is as good a time as any.