Burning questions for NFL Week 2

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

With just 16 games on the regular-season schedule, every single one carries a mountain’s worth of weight. There are some exceptional matchups in NFL Week 2 that will set an early tone for teams — both in good and bad ways.

Looking ahead to the coming slate of games, we have some big questions. That’s what we’re diving into here looking at the second week of NFL action.

Which QB bounces back when Bucs visit Panthers?

Both Cam Newton and Jameis Winston got their 2019 campaigns started with a wet thud in losses at home, and both were heavily responsible for said losses. Of the two, Winston was particularly awful — throwing two unconscionable pick-sixes in a game that was decided by exactly two touchdowns.

One of these guys needs to step up. A loss in Week 2 would lead to an 0-2 start, and that’s usually a death knell for teams’ playoff chances.

Can Green Bay slow down Dalvin Cook?

The Minnesota Vikings unleashed hell on Atlanta last weekend with a potent mixture of stifling defense and a run game that piled up 172 yards and three touchdowns. Dalvin Cook was a dynamo, racking up 120 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. Kirk Cousins barely had to do anything, attempting just 10 passes in the entire game.

We know that Cousins is mistake prone if he has to carry the offense. We also know that the Green Bay Packers unveiled a dynamic new-look defense in Week 1 that stifled Chicago’s offense to the point of suffocation. If this defense can slow down Minnesota’s running game, and Cook specifically — forcing Cousins to win with his arm — then the Packers have a fantastic chance to improve to 2-0 on the season.

Will Big Blue unleash Saquon Barkley?

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is one of a few rare running backs in this league who can carry an offense all by himself. He did that plenty last year, putting together one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history. Unfortunately, the Giants pretty much forgot about Barkley in Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys.

Barkley touched the ball just 15 times — 11 rushes and four receptions — and therefore was unable to make a significant impact. Meanwhile, Eli Manning attempted 44 passes and coughed up a fumble in the red zone on a pathetic attempt at scrambling. The Giants ended up getting blown out. The only true star on New York’s offense is Barkley. If the Giants have any hope of beating Buffalo in Week 2, then they must unleash this second-year superstar.

Is San Francisco’s new-look defense for real?

Last season, the San Francisco 49ers had two interceptions…all season long. On Sunday against Tampa Bay, they piled up three picks and returned two for touchdowns. Richard Sherman made his first interception as a member of the 49ers and returned it for six, and the front four was a nightmare for the Bucs, tallying three sacks and seven quarterback hits.

San Francisco will be on the road against Cincinnati in Week 2. The Bengals lost in Seattle on Sunday, but they also piled up 418 passing yards and saw John Ross II have his best day as a pro with two long touchdowns. Zac Taylor’s influence has clearly been good for this offense. So, will the 49ers be able to continue wreaking havoc defensively, or will Andy Dalton and Co. romp at home?

Do the Steelers just suck, or was Week 1 a fluke?

The Pittsburgh Steelers were embarrassed on national television by the New England Patriots Sunday night. Ben Roethlisberger was awful. His receivers dropped easy passes. The game plan was atrocious. Pittsburgh’s vaunted defense was ripped to shreds by Tom Brady and Co. The Steelers looked utterly unprepared.

Things don’t get much easier in Week 2 with the Seattle Seahawks coming to town. Despite allowing more than 400 yards through the air, and despite a poor outing from their run game, the Seahawks showed they are going to be a formidable team in 2019. If Big Ben and the Steelers put up another stinker, it may be time to panic in Pittsburgh.

Can Lamar and Co. keep up this pace?

The Baltimore Ravens put up 59 points in Week 1. Lamar Jackson was the most potent quarterback in the league with five touchdowns on just 20 attempts and a jaw-dropping 16.2 yards per passing attempt. Veteran back Mark Ingram was highly effective, and rookie receiver Marquise Brown piled up 147 yards and two touchdowns on just four catches while playing a total of 12 snaps.

Baltimore is hosting the Arizona Cardinals Sunday in a game that should feature plenty of fireworks from both young quarterbacks. Arizona is more competitive than Miami and should provide at least some resistance — especially on the ground. If Jackson and the Ravens have another monster game, then it may be time to take this team seriously as a legitimate contender in the AFC.

Can Matt Ryan an Co. bounce back from disastrous opener?

Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn is on the hot seat. After going 7-9 last year and missing the playoffs, his team came out with one of the worst performances of any team in Week 1. The special teams unit gave up a blocked punt on the game’s first possession — setting the tone for an awful afternoon of football. Matt Ryan was brutally ineffective until the fourth quarter when the game was already over. Atlanta’s defense could not do anything to stop Minnesota’s run game.

The Falcons are now preparing to host the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2. If they don’t fix the offensive line issues — exasperated by the loss of rookie Chris Lindstrom — and figure out how to play team defense, it’s going to be another blowout. Which, in turn, would likely lead to yet another failed season in Atlanta.

Is Gardner Minshew the answer in Jacksonville?

The Jacksonville Jaguars paid big money to land Nick Foles in free agency this past spring, only to lose him indefinitely with a broken clavicle early in Week 1. Now, the offense is rookie Gardner Minshew’s to run. He did a phenomenal job on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, passing for 275 yards and two touchdowns. But can this young man keep it?

We’ll have a good idea about his immediate prospects in Week 2. The Houston Texans are hosting Jacksonville, and despite losing Jadeveon Clowney this summer they still feature a potent defensive front that can get after the quarterback as well as any team in the league.

Will the Saints get their revenge against the Rams?

This is a game many have had circled on their calendars ever since the schedule came out. Of course, the big reason why it’s so highly anticipated is that it’s a revenge game for the New Orleans Saints, who were robbed by officials of playing in Super Bowl LIII. The infamous non-call in the NFC Championship Game has forever altered the NFL’s landscape, and it also sets the stage for what should be a stellar game Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles.

Making this game even more compelling than a chance for revenge is the simple fact that both the Rams and Saints are two of the NFC’s best teams.

Can the Browns live up to their potential?

Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns were served a heaping portion of humble pie in their home opener against Tennessee, which romped to a blowout win. Mayfield arguably had his worst performance as a pro, throwing three interceptions and taking five sacks. Cleveland incurred 18 accepted penalties for a staggering 182 yards — a complete meltdown that showed a troubling lack of discipline.

Remember, this was a team many had their eyes on as a Super Bowl contender. So, was the first game just a hiccup? We’ll soon find out. Cleveland will be in New Jersey for a date with the New York Jets, who have something to prove themselves after blowing a 16-point lead late against Buffalo in Week 1. It should be a highly physical game, and neither team can afford another early loss.