Top storyline for each Week 2 NFL game

Since 2007, less than 11 percent of the teams that have started a given season 0-2 ended up making the playoffs that year. This means 15 squads are practically in elimination mode heading into Week 2.

That includes the New York Giants taking on the Dallas Cowboys as well as the Detroit Lions having to travel to San Francisco against the 49ers following a disastrous Week 1 loss to the Jets. Can the Cowboys’ offense rebound from last week’s struggles? Is this a get-right game for the 49ers?

Over in the AFC, the Kansas City Chiefs head to Pittsburgh after a brilliant offensive showing in Week 1. Can Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill be stopped? Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars will be looking to avenge their AFC Championship loss to New England last January.

These are among the top storylines for each Week 2 NFL game.

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals: Continuing momentum from Week 1

Both seen as a few notches below Pittsburgh in the NFC North, Baltimore and Cincinnati enter Week 2 with an opportunity to gain sole possession of first place in the division. If we don’t think that’s a big deal. Consider this. Baltimore is coming off a complete dismantling of the Buffalo Bills last week by the score of 47-3. It’s a game that saw Joe Flacco continue his hot preseason play be completing 25-of-34 passes for 236 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. It’s Flacco’s first three-touchdown game since Week 13 of the 2016 season.

On the other hand, Andy Dalton completely outplayed Andrew Luck in an impressive season-opening win over the Indianapolis Colts. Both Baltimore and Cincinnati head into Week 2 with a ton of momentum. Whoever carries that over to this game will be in a good early-season position in the AFC North.

Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers: Can the Chiefs be stopped?

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Yeah, eliminate Tyreek Hill and Patrick Mahomes. As the Chargers found out last week, that’s much easier said than done. The two absolutely dominated in a 38-28 road win in Los Angeles. Hill put up an absurd 268 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns (watch here, here and here). That included catching 7-of-8 targets from Mahomes for 169 yards and two scores. Meanwhile, Mahomes completed 15-of-27 passes for 256 yards with four touchdowns and zero picks.

It’s going to be a bit more difficult on the road against a Steelers team with actual hometown fans. Coming off a disappointing tie against the cellar-dwelling Cleveland Browns, Mike Tomlin’s squad will look to make a statement. It’s now all about the dominating T.J. Watt and Co. proving their worth against Kansas City’s electric offense.

Miami Dolphins at New York Jets: Sam Darnold’s home debut

This is going to be a very interesting matchup. Following surprising Week 1 wins, both the Dolphins and Jets have an opportunity to continue their successful early-season runs. A loss here, and reality will set in. That’s where Sam Darnold, fresh off a dominating win over the Lions in Detroit, must show a level of consistency few rookie quarterbacks before him have displayed.

It’s not necessarily going to be an easy matchup for Darnold. After all, Miami picked off Titans quarterbacks three times in Week 1. Though, playing in front of his home crowd for the first time in the regular season should give Darnold a bit jolt. Defeating Detroit 48-17 last week should also play a role in what we see from the impressive rookie. It’s a major Week 2 storyline.

Philadephia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Fitzmagic looking to do it again

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What Ryan Fitzpatrick did in the season opener against the Saints in New Orleans was nothing short of extraordinary. Most figured the stopgap starter would struggle against a ball-hawking Saints defense, leaving Buccaneers fans on edge until Jameis Winston returns from his three-game suspension. That did not happen.

Instead, Fitzpatrick put up arguably the best performance of his career. He threw for an absurd 417 yards and four touchdowns, including this strike to DeSean Jackson. It really was something to behold. Now set to take on the defending champs at home this week, Fitzpatrick has an opportunity to create a major quarterback controversy in Tampa Bay. Let’s see if he’s up for the task and able to remain consistent.

Cleveland Browns at New Orleans Saints: Two separate stories define this matchup

We covered the Saints’ defensive futility a bit earlier in this article. But it’s still worth noting that this unit gave up 48 points and 529 yards to a Buccaneers squad that finished in last place a season ago. It’s in this that a matchup against a Browns team that has not won on a Sunday since 2015 would seem to be a get-right game. Not so fast.

Sure the Browns would have loved to come out on top against Pittsburgh last week. Seeing the game end in a tie on a blocked field goal had to be a bitter pill to swallow. Even then, Hue Jackson’s squad proved that it can be competitive against a top-notch team. It enters Week 2 on a high note. It does so against a Saints team that was destroyed by Ryan Fitzpatrick last week. Let’s not sleep on Cleveland’s ability to actually make this a game.

Indianapolis Colts at Washington Redskins: Is Alex Smith and Co. legit?

Most expected Washington to hang with the Arizona Cardinals this past week. No one really expected the complete and utter domination we saw. The Skins had their way with the home team in every possible way, outgaining Arizona 429-213 and racking up 30 first downs in a 24-6 win. The biggest takeaway here is how Alex Smith and Co. were able to move the ball at will against a defense that’s among the 10 most talented in the NFL. Smith himself completed all but nine of his 30 attempts for 255 yards and two scores. Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson put up 166 total yards in the win.

Heading into Week 2 at home against a mediocre Colts defense, Washington has an opportunity to prove its season-opening performance was not a fluke. Should Smith continue to excel in the passing game with Peterson doing his thing on the ground, it could tell us a story of a potentially surprising team in the nation’s capital.

Los Angeles Chargers at Buffalo Bills: Just how bad are the Bills?

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This was answered in more ways than one last week against the Baltimore Ravens. There’s now a chance that these Bills could join the Cleveland Browns as a recent team to go winless during a 16-game regular season. That might seem like hyperbole after just one game, but Sean McDermott’s squad is bad. Really bad.

That came out in droves during a 47-3 loss to the Ravens. It’s a game that saw second-year quarterback Nathan Peterman benched in favor of rookie Josh Allen with the team down 40-0. Peterman had completed 5-of-18 passes for 24 yards with two interceptions when benched. For his part, Josh Allen was sacked three times on 18 dropbacks. Now set to take on an even better team in that of the Chargers, another blowout is more than probable here. It’s now all on Allen to prove his teammate’s words correct.

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers: Big early-season NFC North showdown

The underrated storyline here is the health of one Aaron Rodgers after he suffered a knee injury Sunday night, only to return to the game en route to leading Green Bay back from a 20-0 deficit to defeat the Chicago Bears. Facing a defense that caused fits for Jimmy Garoppolo last week, Rodgers has noted he’s going to suit up in this one. How healthy he is remains anyone’s guess. But he didn’t look anywhere near 100 percent in closing out Green Bay’s brilliant win over Chicago.

On the other hand, Minnesota can stake its claim to being the best team in the old black and blue division with a win at Lambeau Field. Taking on a 49ers squad that many expect to compete for a playof spot, the Vikings played tremendous football in the season opener. It included Kirk Cousins throwing two touchdowns with zero picks in his regular season debut with the team. This should be a fun one.

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: Major test for the home team

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The Falcons might have thought their red-zone issues were behind them after struggling big time in that regard last season. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case Week 1 against the Eagles. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian continued to fail from a play-calling standpoint, leading Atlanta to going 1-for-5 in the red zone and coming away without points three times. It has Sark clearly on the chopping block heading into Week 2.

It’s not going to be any easier Sunday against a Panthers defense that yielded just eight points and sacked Dak Prescott six times in a win over the Dallas Cowboys last week. It’s going to be a major test to even get inside Carolina’s 20. Once there, the Falcons better hope that they find a way to improve in the red zone. If not, we’re looking at an 0-2 start to the season and more talk of Sark being replaced as offensive coordinator by quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp.

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans: Early-season must win for both teams

Houston might have made a game of it on the road against the Patriots last week. But the team struggled doing anything substantive against what was a swarming New England defense. Deshaun Watson completed just 17-of-34 passes for 176 yards with a touchdown and a pick in the 27-20 loss. A week that started with Houston looking to make a statement concluded with the team dropping its second consecutive season opener.

On the other hand, Tennessee’s trip to South Beach was a complete disaster for Marcus Mariota and Co. Outside of the ridiculous seven-plus hour weather delay, the Titans’ on-field performance was brutal against a lesser Dolphins team. In the end Mike Vrabel’s squad also lost by the score of 27-20. It’s a game that saw star tight end Delanie Walker lost for the season to a broken ankle. Meanwhile, both Mariota and left tackle Taylor Lewan departed to injury themselves. Ouch.

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams: Jose Rosen time?

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Any thought given to the idea that Arizona might be an under-the-radar playoff contender this season was thrown completely out the window during a blowout Week 1 home loss against the Washington Redskins. These Cardinals were manhandled in every possible way with the likes of Alex Smith and Adrian Peterson torching their defense. Offensively, Sam Bradford led the Cards to a grand total of six points while passing for 153 yards on 34 attempts.

Arizona might push back against starting Rosen as a rookie. Given the team committed $20 million to Bradford, that makes sense. But at some point, it’s all about seeing your future franchise quarterback under center. In what will likely be a lost season, that time should be soon.

Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo looking to rebound

There’s no other way to go about it. San Francisco must take care of business against a reeling and hapless Lions team at home on Sunday to be taken seriously in the NFC Playoff competition. That’s not an early-season overreaction.

Kyle Shanahan’s squad might have lost by just eight points on the road against a Super Bowl contending Vikings squad, but it’s the opportunities the team left on the table that is alarming. San Francisco scored 16 total points on five red-zone possessions. Garoppolo threw three interceptions, including a pick-six. Meanwhile, Alfred Morris lost a fumble at the Vikings’ one. That’s just not acceptable. Facing a Lions team that lost by 31 points at home against the Jets, it’s time for the 49ers to put their foot down and dominate a lesser squad.

Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos: Drama already brewing in Oakland? 

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Things started out so swimmingly for the Raiders in Jon Gruden’s return to the sideline Monday night. The team took a 7-0 lead against a vastly superior Los Angeles Rams squad, only to see itself outscored 33-6 from that point on. It led to Gruden calling out the battery mate of Derek Carr and Amari Cooper following the game.

Fresh off receiving a ton of flack following the trade of Khalil Mack, the pass rush was non-existent in that one. Meanwhile, Oakland’s offense sputtered in each and every way. Taking on their biggest division rival in the AFC West, the Raiders need to rebound in Week 2. If not, Gruden’s first season on the Raiders’ sideline in nearly two decades could turn into a major dumpster fire.

New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars: Early-season statement game

Last week saw New England take care of business against a Texans squad that was looking to make a major statement. The Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski connection was out in full force. Meanwhile, the Pats’ defense looked to be much better than advertised. It lends credence to the idea that internal turmoil within the organization won’t impact the on-field product we see from the two-time defending AFC champs.

For the Jaguars, this game offers them an opportunity to exact revenge after narrowly losing to New England in the conference title game last season. They’re coming off a hard-fought win over the New York Giants in a game that saw the defense dominate in every possible way. A win here, and the Jags will certainly take over the mantle as the early-season AFC Championship favorites. Is Blake Bortles up for the task?

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys: Home team’s offensive struggles

Dallas’ offensive line issues are by now already known. It led to Dak Prescott getting sacked six times in a season-opening loss to the Carolina Panthers last week. Even then, play-calling and Prescott’s own struggles played a larger role in the loss.

How in the world can head coach Jason Garrett and his offensive coaching staff call for Prescott to drop back 40 times in the very same game that saw Ezekiel Elliott run the ball just 15 times? It makes absolutely no sense. And it was vital in the Cowboys’ Week 1 performance. At home against a lesser Giants defense, it’s time for Garrett and Co. to rectify these issues. If not, the Cowboys will start this season at 0-2. In and of itself, that will lead to questions about Garrett’s own job security.

Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears: Who is really the better team?

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Blowing a 20-0 lead against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 certainly didn’t sit well with the Bears. But at the very least, Matt Nagy’s squad showed something of substance on both sides of the ball. Khalil Mack dominated on defense and tremendous play-calling kept Green Bay’s defense guessing early in the game.

The very same thing cannot be said about Pete Carroll and Co. Russell Wilson looked completely out of his element in a road loss to the Denver Broncos. He was sacked six times and threw two picks. Heck, Russ could have been picked of three or four times in this one. Defensively, Seattle allowed a Case Keenum-led Broncos offense to rack up 470 total yards. Lesion of Doom? Right now, Chicago seems to be the better of the two teams. And if it can hold home field, the Hawks themselves will start the season 0-2. Ouch.