Top storyline for each Week 3 NFL game

By Vincent Frank

Week 3 of the NFL season offers us some rather interesting drama and intrigue. Fresh off a dominating defensive performance against Dallas last week, the Denver Broncos set their sights on Tyrod Taylor and the Buffalo Bills.

Later on Sunday afternoon, Cam Newton looks to end his early-season struggles when his Carolina Panthers take on a disastrous New Orleans Saints pass defense. And in an AFC-NFC tilt, the Oakland Raiders look to prove they’re among the game’s elite Sunday night against the Washington Redskins.

These are among the top storylines for each Week 3 NFL game.

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers: Any offense from the home team?

Kyle Shanahan's 49ers coaching debut was brutal.

Nine points and zero touchdowns in two games. A total of 89 net passing yards in a narrow Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Needless to say, offensive guru Kyle Shanahan has been anything but that early in his 49ers coaching tenure. This will have to change in short order if the 49ers want to avoid losing their 20th game in the team’s past 23 outings.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, this comes at the very same time that the team’s defense has stepped up big time. That unit ranks in the top 10 of the NFL against the pass and in points allowed. Anything of substance from Brian Hoyer and the offense would make San Francisco a much more competitive team. It has that opportunity at home against less-than-stellar competition. It’s now time for Hoyer to step up.

Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars: Just how over his head is Blake Bortles here?

When tasked with simply managing the game on offense, Bortles succeeded in Week 1. He completed 11-of-21 passes for 125 yards without a turnover in a surprising win over Houston. Then, in Week 2, Bortles was asked to actually play a paramount role on offense. He responded by turning the ball over three times in a 37-16 loss to Tennessee.

It doesn’t take a football genius to realize that a repeat of last week’s game plan against Baltimore would end in complete disaster for Bortles and Co. The Ravens head into Week 3 yielding an average of five points per game. They have forced 10 turnovers and boast eight quarterback sacks on the season. Heck, opposing signal callers boast a 35.0 rating when throwing against this defense. The Jags will be in trouble if they ask Bortles to do too much here.

Denver Broncos at Buffalo Bills: Broncos’ absolutely dominant pass rush

Derek Wolfe Denver Broncos

Tyron Smith acted as a turnstile for the Broncos’ defense in Week 2, yielding 11 quarterback pressures of Dak Prescott. Tyron Smith is one of the best left tackles in the game. He might be the best pass-protecting left tackle of his generation. Despite this, Denver’s defense made mincemeat out of the best offensive line in football last week.

How the Bills protect Tyrod Taylor will be key in determining whether they can pull off the upset at home. That starts with Cordy Glenn taking on Von Miller and Jordan Mills being tasked with going up against up-and-comer Shaquil Barrett. For the most part, protection has been average to below average for the Bills this season. Taylor has been sacked five times and pressured on over 30 percent of his drop backs in two games.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Chicago Bears: Quick hook for Mike Glennon?

Some in Chicago are jonesing for rookie Mitchell Trubisky to replace Glennon under center here soon. After a pretty strong Week 1 performance in a narrow loss to Atlanta, Glennon struggled something fierce against his former Buccaneers squad this past Sunday. He put up over 300 passing yards, most of that coming in garbage time. Glennon also turned the ball over three times, including his horrendous pick-six.

The issue as it relates to throwing Trubisky to the wolves is that Chicago boasts a talentless and injury-plagued offense. Receivers Cameron Meredith and Kevin White are lost for the season. Fellow pass catchers Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright are also banged up. Meanwhile, Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard was seen with his arm in a sling after last week’s loss. Is this really a situation indicative of Trubisky having success? We think not.

New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers: Getting Cam right

NFL stars

In watching tape of his first two games, it’s rather clear that Cam Newton is not 100 percent right. Whether it’s the rust coming off  shoulder surgery or lackluster offensive line play, he’s struggled a great deal with accuracy. The stats tell us one thing. Newton is averaging just seven yards per pass and has put up 399 yards in two games. The tape itself tells a story of a quarterback that continues to struggle with the easy pass.

Newton will now have an opportunity to shake the rust off against one of the worst passing defenses in the modern history of the NFL. Through two games, the Saints have yielded an average of nearly 390 passing yards with an 80.3 completion percentage and 141.4 quarterback rating. Should Newton struggle here, the concern will be real in Carolina.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings: Early-season statement for road team

Jameis Winston and the Bucs took care of business in their season-opening win over the hapless Bears last week. Though, that was more a case of playing Madden on rookie mode. Tampa will now take on a real NFL team Sunday afternoon when it heads to Minnesota to play the Vikings.

The Buccaneers will be facing one of the top defenses in the NFL. It will be interesting to see how this squad responds in its first road game of the season. Can Mike Evans break the early-season trend of receivers struggling against Xavier Rhodes? Will pass protection hold up in front of Winston with the likes of Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter pinning their ears back? This is a true first test of the season for an up-and-coming Buccaneers team.

Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis Colts: The tank bowl

Fans in Indianapolis and Cleveland may push back against the idea that their teams are tanking. But the transparency here is about as real as the team’s two quarterback situations. Cleveland is throwing out a rookie in DeShone Kizer who is in over his head and turned the ball over three times last week. Meanwhile, Indy will go with the recently required Jacoby Brissett, who replaced a disastrous Scott Tolzien under center in Week 1.

More than anything, this game could have a huge impact on how the 2018 NFL Draft order plays out. That’s only magnified with Andrew Luck seemingly ways away from actually taking to the field in Indianapolis. Considering the Browns are favored for the first time since 2015, this tells us everything we need to know about the matchup at hand.

Miami Dolphins at New York Jets: Jay Cutler, building off strong start

Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler speaks to reporters ahead of NFL preseason Week 2

Cutler was solid, if not unspectacular in his Dolphins regular season debut last week. He completed 24-of-33 passes for 230 yards with a touchdown and zero picks in a 19-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. The game was mostly defined by Cutler throwing the ball short or intermediate, sans a couple long passes to Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker.

This week, Miami will likely look to open it up some against a Jets pass defense that is yielding a 70 percent completion mark and 114.1 quarterback rating. The likes of Parker, Jarvis Landry (if he plays) and Kenny Stills should absolutely eat against this unit. It will be interesting if Cutler can continue last week’s success while taking more shots down the field.

Houston Texans at New England Patriots: Benchmark game for Deshaun and Co.

Not too often will we look at a quarterback making his second NFL start and call it a benchmark game. But that most definitely has to be the case for Watson in the second consecutive road start to begin his career. Outside of this questionable quarterback situation, Houston boasts enough talent to compete for a conference title. The team’s last matchup against New England — in the playoffs last year — is a prime example of this.

The Texans were down by just one point at the half and had the game within one score early in the fourth. A disastrous overall performance from then starter Brock Osweiler (three interceptions) made all the difference in what would ultimately end up being a 34-16 loss. Watson now has an opportunity to prove that Houston’s quarterback situation has changed for the better. Whether that happens is anyone’s guess.

Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions: Improved Falcons defense

We saw it first hand Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers. The Falcons held Aaron Rodgers and Co. to 10 points until Green Bay scored a couple garbage-time touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant continues to play at an elite level on the outside. Meanwhile, it now appears fellow corner Robert Alford has stepped up his game. Add in the presence of the newly acquired Dontari Poe to help out against the run, and this defense has definitely taken the next step.

It will, however, be a test Sunday against the Lions on the road. Atlanta will be without 2016 NFL sack leader Vic Beasley, who suffered a hamstring tear last week. It’s also going up against a quarterback in Matthew Stafford who is completing 71 percent of his passes with a league-leading six touchdowns compared to one pick through two weeks. This is a nice game for the Falcons to see where their defense stands.

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles: Consistency from Carson Wentz

Wentz’s numbers look absolutely great through two games. He’s completing 60 percent of his passes, has passed for well over 600 yards with four scores and two touchdowns. But much like we’ve seen throughout the early part of the season in the rest of the NFL, stats aren’t indicative of overall play. Wentz has been horribly inconsistent and some of his numbers have been padded by fluke plays like this.

In order for the Eagles to show more consistency themselves, they’re going to have to get better all-around play from the young quarterback under center. That continues Sunday afternoon against a Giants team that allowed just one touchdown compared to three interceptions to the signal caller during his rookie season. Surely, Wentz wants to prove that he’s progressed since then. It’s in this that Week 3 is incredibly important for the young quarterback.

Seattle Seahawks at Tennessee Titans: Seattle’s continued offensive line woes

It’s a downright travesty what the Seahawks’ front office has done to Russell Wilson. He legitimately has no NFL-caliber offensive linemen pass protecting in front of him. Here’s a dude that has been pressured on 45 percent of his drop backs this season. He was hit 10 times in a narrow 12-9 home win over the hapless 49ers last week. His offensive linemen are a joke. An absolute joke. It’s been pretty darn embarrassing.

Now set to take on Derrick Morgan, Brian Orakpo and the Titans on the road Sunday, it doesn’t promise to get any better. Through two games, Seattle is averaging all of 7.5 points and has scored one touchdown. And in reality, none of the blame should be placed on Russell Wilson. It’s now time for whatever talent the Seahawks have on the offensive line to actually step up. If that doesn’t happen, this will be a lost season. Plain. And. Simple.

Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers: Embarassment at StubHub

At this point, the Chargers’ relocation from San Diego to Los Angeles has proven to be a downright disaster. They drew less than 26,000 fans in their home opener last week, with more than half supporting the road tripping Miami Dolphins. Billboards can be seen mocking the team outside of its stadium. It lost another one-score game after being on the wrong end of 18 over the past two seasons. Should we continue?

Some had hoped for a nice intimate setting at StubHub Center. That has obviously not happened thus far this season. The scene is one of depression and apathy from a fan base that likely couldn’t have cared less if the team remained in San Diego. Now set to take on a Chiefs team that boasts a well-traveled fan base, are we to expect anything different this week? Oh, and the Chargers find themselves at 0-2 following a last-place finish in 2016. Yeah, this organization isn’t doing too well right now.

Cincinnati Bengals at Green Bay Packers: A lost locker room

Someone should break it to Bengals players. Following last week’s game multiple members of the team indicated that they just lost to the worst team in the NFL. Well, if you lose to the worst team in the league, doesn’t that actually make you the NFL’s worst?

As it is, Cincinnati heads into Week 3 with a 0-2 record and having failed to score a single touchdown in two games. It’s averaging 4.5 points per outing, its quarterback has thrown zero touchdowns compared to four interceptions. And its head coach is out here threatening the jobs of his players, as if his own job wasn’t on the line.

Needless to say, things aren’t going too swimmingly in Cincinnati. Short of that changing against a much more talented team at Lambeau on Sunday, we can expect a complete overhaul within the Bengals’ organization here soon.

Oakland Raiders at Washington Redskins: Another statement game for Derek Carr and Co.

Derek Carr and the Raiders are hot.

At this point, it’s hard to dismiss the Raiders as anything less than legitimate Super Bowl contenders. They absolutely laid into the New York Jets by the score of 45-20 in Week 2, a game that saw hometown boy Marshawn Lynch dancing on the sideline. For his part, Carr has now completed 75 percent of his passes with five scores and zero picks in two games. The Raiders themselves are averaging 35.5 points while giving up a surprisingly low 18 points per game.

Week 3 against Washington provides the Raiders’ defense with an actual opportunity to prove that it is not as bad as it seems. It will come on national television against a quarterback in Kirk Cousins who has struggled mightily thus far this season. Another statement game on both sides of the ball will launch Oakland into the conversation with New England as the class of the NFL.

Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals: Time to phase Dez out?

Bryant has caught just 36 percent of the 25 passes thrown in his direction through two games. For comparison’s sake, Dak Prescott is completing 63 percent of his passes to the rest of his Cowboys teammates. This has been an issue for the two since Prescott took over as the team’s starter last season. In fact, Bryant posted an alarmingly low 52 percent catch rate in 2016.

At some point, the Cowboys need to decide that it’s not working between Prescott and Bryant. And considering the team is locked into Dak as the starter, should Bryant be the one thrown to the bench here? Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams have both proven to be more reliable targets. Bryant simply hasn’t panned out. Now set to take on Patrick Peterson, it will be interesting to see what happens Monday night.