Week 2 of the NFL season promises to bring us a ton of intrigue. It starts with Rex Ryan leading the Buffalo Bills against his former New York Jets squad at a time when the head coach is on the hot seat.
The week concludes with rookie No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz looking to follow up what was a stellar regular season debut.
In between these two nationally televised games, the Cincinnati Bengals will look to exact revenge against the Pittsburgh Steelers in an important AFC North rivalry game.
These are among the top storylines for Week 2 of the 2016 NFL season.
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills: Rex Ryan’s hot seat
It might sound absurd to be discussing the NFL coaching hot seat this early in the season. After all, each team has played a grand total of one game.
Unfortunately for Ryan and Bills, that one game was an absolute stinker against an equally mediocre Baltimore Ravens squad. It also comes as Ryan moves forward in his second season already on the proverbial hot seat in Western New York (more on that here).
Ryan even berated his team recently over just how hot his seat was before the season. That came prior to Buffalo putting up seven points, 11 first downs and 160 total yards in a 13-7 loss to Baltimore this past Sunday.
A loss to his old team would put Buffalo in a 0-2 hole to start the season. While not insurmountable, definitely enough to make Ryan’s seat that much hotter.
Listen, he’s coaching a team that has not earned a playoff spot since 1999. Buffalo’s brass simply can’t afford to be patient. That’s not the way it works in today’s NFL.
New Orleans Saints at New York Giants: Can anyone stop these offenses?
Last time the Saints-Giants played, November of 2015 pic.twitter.com/a2Hag4pghJ
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) September 13, 2016
Over 1,000 total yards and 13 combined passing touchdowns. These are the numbers that defined last year’s matchup between the Saints and Giants. Now, heading into Week 2, the burning question here is whether either of these defenses can do anything to make a stand.
It sure does look like New York is on better footing heading into this one. Its defense played at an extremely high level against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1, allowing just 328 yards of total offense. That might not seem like a big deal given the Giants were going up against a rookie quarterback.
This is until we realize how patently bad the Giants’ defense was last season. Ten different times this unit allowed 400-plus yards last season, including 608 against this very same Saints team.
On the other hand, New Orleans defense still looks like a mess. It yielded 210-plus yards to the Oakland Raiders in the fourth quarter alone last week. This enabled the up-and-coming Raiders to pull off a surprising upset.
There’s really no other way to put it. If the Saints’ defense can’t find a way to improve this Sunday, the team will find itself in a 0-2 hole to start the season — pretty much crippling its shot at rebounding from last year’s less-than-stellar performance.
Tennessee Titans at Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford’s recent excellent play
Matthew Stafford in the nine games since Jim Bob Cooter took over as OC. pic.twitter.com/OXEEce0XyT
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) September 15, 2016
It’s one thing to put up fantasy football numbers. We’ve seen that from Stafford in the past. It didn’t make him an exceptional quarterback by any stretch of the imagination.
The sample size is rather small here. Though, Stafford has proven that he can put up eye-opening numbers while still leading his Lions to wins.
This was evident last week, when the former No. 1 overall pick tallied 340 passing yards and three touchdowns in a win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Overall, the usually mistake-prone Stafford has not thrown an interception in his past 160-plus regular season pass attempts. That’s yet another reason the Lions are having success as a whole.
Taking on a still struggling Titans defense that yielded a 101.1 quarterback rating last season, Stafford should have his pick of the litter here. If so, the Lions will likely find themselves with a 2-0 record after Sunday.
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins: How to utilize Josh Norman
It’s absolutely absurd what we saw from Washington in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. How in the world can the team justify not having high-priced free agent Josh Norman tail the top receiver in the game?
When all was said last week, Antonio Brown caught 8-of-9 passes with two touchdowns when covered by Redskins’ No. 2 corner Bashaud Breeland. He didn’t catch a pass on two targets with Norman covering him (more on that here).
We’re not too sure what the Redskins are looking to do here. Do they not trust Norman to mirror the best players the other team has to offer? If not, why pay him the big bucks?
Norman will once again have an opportunity to prove he can be the shutdown guy Washington signed him to be, especially with Dez Bryant looming on the other side. It just remains to be seen whether the Redskins will afford him that opportunity more often than not come Sunday.
Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans: Playoff rematch
This promises to be one of the best games on the Week 2 docket. The last time these two teams met, it was an absolutely embarrassing game for both the Texans and the NFL Playoffs as a whole.
With Brian Hoyer starting, Houston was blanked by the score of 30-0. The team put up 226 total yards of offense and turned the ball over a ridiculous five times.
Don’t expect a repeat performance Sunday in Houston. Coming off a solid season-opening win over the Chicago Bears, Bill O’Brien’s squad is riding high. It has a revamped backfield with free agents Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller shouldering the load. Rookie receiver Will Fuller put up 100 yards while leading the team in targets in his regular season debut.
In reality, Houston looks to be a much more well-rounded team than the squad that we saw earn a playoff appearance a season ago.
On the other hand, Kansas City could very well be a serious conference title contender. Veteran Alex Smith put up a career performance against the San Diego Chargers this past week. He completed a whopping 34 passes on 48 attempts, tallying 378 total yards and three scores in the process.
It wasn’t just that Smith put up good numbers. He led Kansas City back from a 21-3 halftime deficit (watch here), proving that naysayers may have to look another way this season.
Two teams likely battling for playoff positioning taking on one another in an important early-season game. Doing so while matching up for the third time in just over a calendar year. It should be fun.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots: Can Miami be competitive?
If there was ever a time for Miami to put up a big early-season win, it would be now. With Tom Brady still suspended and coming off a solid all-around performance in a close loss to Seattle, Miami should be competitive in this one.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, they have lost the past seven games at Gillette Stadium by an average of 20 points. Interestingly enough, their last win in New England came back in 2008 when Matt Cassel was starting for the injured Brady.
Maybe that will give the Dolphins a boost of confidence heading into this game. Then again, it was so long ago that it’s hard to imagine the team focusing on that.
Either way, Miami must find a way to remain competitive against the top teams the NFL has to offer. It happened last week with a 12-10 loss to the Seahawks in Seattle. Can it continue this week in New England?
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns: Just how bad are the Browns?
Josh McCown will be taking over for the injured Robert Griffin III for the long term. That’s not good for anyone in Cleveland. McCown boasts a 2-17 record as a starting quarterback over the past two seasons.
The excitement some felt in Cleveland regarding the potential that Griffin III might ignite this organization has now been replaced with more despair. Yet another starting quarterback. Yet another lost season. The same old crap fans in Cleveland have been dealing with for the past 20-plus years.
It’s not like the Ravens are world beaters here or anything. They barely got past a Bills team with a disastrous offense last week. John Harbaugh and Co. are also coming off a 5-11 2015 campaign.
If Cleveland is not able to stay competitive at home against another mediocre team, it will tell us what we need to know about this squad.
“I’m going to do the best job I can with our staff and these players and we’re going to keep working at it,” first-year Browns head coach Hue Jackson said Wednesday, via Cleveland.com. “My point is eventually they will love me because we’re going to win. We’re going to win a championship here for the Cleveland Browns.”
That’s a heck of a lot to promise an organization that hasn’t won a title in over 60 years. It’s also a lot to expect Browns fans to continue to be patient.
We’re talking about a team that has not earned a playoff win since the current version of the Ravens were playing in Cleveland back in 1994. That’s the same season that saw Bill Belichick lead his Browns past the New England Patriots in the playoffs. Really, think about how long ago this was.
Jackson wants to talk titles, but can we see a little bit of progression early in the season? Getting blown out by 19 in Philadelphia doesn’t help. If the team follows that up with another disastrous performance in its home opener, there’s going to be issues here.
San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers: All eyes on Cam and the officials
That’s not necessarily why all eyes will be on him against San Francisco. Instead, the officials and how they call the game will be the biggest story here. By now you likely already know what’s happening. But here’s a refresher.
Both the NFL and NFLPA are running investigations into how officials handled the protocol last week. Meanwhile, commissioner Roger Goodell would not rule out discipline directed at the officials who called the game (more on that here).
From a players’ perspective, multiple Broncos defenders were fined for illegal hits to Newton’s head.
San Franciso’s pass rush might not be as good as the Broncos, but its defense did pitch a shutout against the Los Angeles Rams last week. We can definitely expect the 49ers to bring the house a whole lot come Sunday. How the officials respond will be the story.
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: You know where we’re going here
This is a rematch of last year’s wild card playoff game in Cincinnati. It pits two perennial playoff contenders against one another in an important early-season divisional game. That’s all fine and dandy. That’s also not the story here.
Unless you were hiding under a rock last January, you know very well what transpired between these two AFC North division rivals.
Multiple personal foul penalties against Cincinnati, including this one on Vontaze Burfict, helped Pittsburgh drive down the field as the game expired. The scene at Paul Brown Stadium was about as ugly as it gets. Fans throwing stuff at players, coaches mixing it up with players and penalties playing a role in the final outcome.
One integral member in the melee, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, remains suspended for this game. Though, other important figures will ultimately take to the field against one another.
There’s hatred. An unbridled hatred. There’s a rivalry we rarely see in today’s NFL. And there’s playoff importance. These two teams are considered the favorites to bring home the AFC North title. Even with the season in its infancy, there’s a whole heck of a lot on the line here.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arizona Cardinals: Statement game and a must win
It’s not an overreaction to conclude that Arizona needs to win this game. Losing your first two outings of the season is bad enough. Losing both at home magnifies that further.
Even if we were to conclude (we are) that the NFC West is not anywhere near what it was just three years ago, an 0-2 start to the season would place Arizona behind the proverbial eight ball in its hopes of a division title and home-field advantage in January.
For the Buccaneers, it’s rather simple. Much like with the Oakland Raiders last week, Tampa Bay is looking for that one signature early-season win.
The matchup to watch here will be Cardinals corner Patrick Peterson taking on young Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans. One is already the best at his position. The other is looking to ascend in that direction. Whoever comes out on top in this one-on-one duel will likely help his team to victory.
Though, the real question here has to surround Carson Palmer and the Cardinals’ offense. It just hasn’t been the same recently.
Including the playoffs, Arizona is averaging just 17 points per game over its past four outings. In the team’s 15 games before that, it averaged 32-plus per. That’s going to be the biggest key against a vastly improved Buccaneers offense. Simply put, Arizona needs to get back on track offensively.
Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams: Pete Carroll, Rams both back in L.A.
Can the Los Angeles Rams score their first point since 1994 after being shutout by San Francisco last week? How will the fans in Southern Calfornia greet former USC head coach Pete Carroll?
These are two big questions heading into the Rams’ first home game in Southern California in over two decades.
The backstory here is almost as interesting. The Rams have actually beaten their NFC West counterparts three of the past four times, including a 2-0 mark at home.
It’s a little bit different now that the Rams are in Los Angeles, not St. Louis. We also have no idea what home-field advantage will look like at the Coliseum. We’re just hoping the Rams can potentially score a point or two here.
Atlanta Falcons at Oakland Raiders: 2-0 start for the home team?
Expectations haven’t been this high in Oakland since Rich Gannon was tossing the rock around the ballpark to Tim Brown and Jerry Rice.
Coming off an impressive comeback win on the road in New Orleans last week, the Raiders are looking for their first 2-0 start since 2002. It’s not a coincidence that’s the last season Oakland earned a playoff spot.
As we mentioned prior to last week’s game, the Raiders have struggled to maintain a certain level of consistency early in the season. They will play great one week, only to fall flat on their face the following week.
That’s the only real danger. Armed with Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and one of the league’s top offensive lines, the Raiders should have success against a lackluster Falcons defense.
It might not be to the level we saw against New Orleans last week. After all, Carr and Co. put up over 200 total yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter of that game. It should still be enough to overcome an average Falcons team.
Should that happen, the Raiders will find themselves with a 2-0 mark for the first time in 15 years.
Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers: Jaguars’ September struggles
Jaguars have struggled a ton under Gus Bradley in September. pic.twitter.com/whd2uMwp73
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) September 15, 2016
As you can see above, Jacksonville has struggled a great deal early in the season under Gus Bradley. In previous years it really didn’t stand out too much. The Jaguars were seen as attempting to build something for the future.
Well, with the most-talented team the Jags have seen in over a decade, that future is right now. Simply put, Jacksonville needs to find a way to have some success in September in order to avoid another lost season.
That might seem a bit harsh, but it really is the truth here. Taking on a Chargers team that blew an 18-point halftime lead and lost Keenan Allen for the season to injury last week, there really aren’t any excuses here.
It’s time for Blake Bortles to ascend from his current standing as a fantasy relevant quarterback to someone that can lead the Jaguars to wins on a consistent basis.
It’s time for the Jaguars’ ultra-talented young defense to step up against a Chargers offense missing one of its top players.
If this doesn’t happen, questions will be raised about Bradley’s ability to take this squad from a rebuilding project to contention status.
The time is now, and Jacksonville must prove that on the field. Last week’s close loss to Green Bay was a start, but it’s not what this team had in mind heading into the season (more on that here).
Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos: An old rivalry with a new look
This will be the first Colts-Broncos game without Peyton Manning involved since 1993. To put this into perspective, that game saw Jack Trudeau and John Elway act as the starting quarterbacks.
Andrew Luck will look to follow up last week’s stellar performance with an equally good outing on the road against the defending champs. He’ll be doing so with the Colts needing a win in order to avoid an 0-2 start to the season.
On the other hand, Denver is coming off a solid win over the Carolina Panthers in a rematch of last year’s Super Bowl. Can it continue to get dominant performances from the defense? That will be the biggest key here for the Broncos.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings: Sam Bradford’s Vikings debut
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer will likely wait until Sunday afternoon to name a starter. That’s fine and dandy, but it’s not hard to read between the lines here. Bradford received all the first-team reps over Shaun Hill at practice on Wednesday (more on that here).
This has to be good news for Adrian Peterson who felt the impact of the Vikings possessing no real threat in the passing game last week. Peterson was held to just 31 yards on 19 attempts in Minnesota’s Week 1 win over the Tennessee Titans. Any real threat of a down-field passing attack should help him against a stout Packers defense.
More than anything, we simply want to see how comfortable Bradford is running an offense he’s only been studying for three weeks.
Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears: Carson Wentz up for an encore performance?
How good was Wentz in his regular season debut? He averaged a ridiculous 12.6 yards per completion and 7.5 yards per attempt while completing 60 percent of his passes and not throwing a single interception.
Those aren’t rookie numbers right there. And in reality, Wentz’s performance pretty much spit in the face of what most of us believed he’d be able to accomplish as a rookie.
There’s one important thing to look at here, and it might not take place in Week 2. Once defenses start acquiring game tape on the rookie No. 2 overall pick, he’ll have to adjust accordingly.
What this one scribe is going to want to see is progression and consistency from the North Dakota State product. He will surely be faced with a ton of blitzes from Vic Fangio’s Bears defense. How Wentz responds to the deck being thrown at him will be highly intriguing.