Top storyline for each Week 3 NFL game

By Vincent Frank
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The first two weeks of the NFL season offered us a bunch of stories. Some of them carry into the third week of action, especially when we look at the teams who remain winless. Yeah, we’re checking in on the Pittsburgh Steelers here.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers boast NFL’s top offense and will be taking on the above-mentioned Steelers Monday night. That should be fun.

Sunday’s action brings a hapless Bills squad to Minnesota against a Vikings team that is huge favorites. At the very same time, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will be looking to continue his early-season domination.

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

New York Jets at Cleveland Browns: Time for Baker Mayfield?

Lost in all the recent Josh Gordon drama is the fact that Cleveland might now be forced to go with this rookie No. 1 pick under center at some point soon. Still without a win since New Year’s Eve of 2016, Tyrod Taylor didn’t do his team any favors this past week against New Orleans. With a chance to beat a superior opponent on the road, he came up small.

Given just how well Cleveland’s defense has played thus far this season, it’s a crying shame. GM John Dorsey and head coach Hue Jackson are on the verge of wasting a great defense by refusing to play Mayfield. Going up against a team Cleveland certainly can beat, it will be interesting to see if Hue has a quick hook with Tyrod in this one.

Buffalo Bills at Minnesota Vikings: Heavy home favorites

There’s no way on this green planet that Minnesota drops a home game to the hapless Bills on Sunday, right? Fresh off a frustrating tie against the division-rival Packers last week, these Vikings are 16.5-point favorites against a squad that could very well go 0-16 this season.

The question is now obvious. What exactly can Buffalo do to make this a game? The answer to that is rather obvious. Nothing. LeSean McCoy is questionable to go after suffering a rib injury. Josh Allen will be making his first regular season road start against the NFC’s best defense. It’s not good. Not good at all. Short of Minnesota having some sort of epic collapse in this one, we could witness one of the biggest blowouts in recent NFL history.

New York Giants at Houston Texans: Must win for both squads

Less than three percent of the 173 teams that have started 0-3 since 1980 went on to make the playoffs. Given that New York exists in a division with the defending champs and the Texans are tasked with taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars twice, this isn’t a good sign for either team. It also means that their Week 3 matchup is a must win for each squad.

But how did we get here? For the Giants, it’s rather obvious. Their offense has been absolutely horrible through the first two weeks. New York’s most-recent loss to Dallas paints this picture. How in the world was Saquon Barkley targeted 16 times while attempting 11 runs? Meanwhile, in Houston, Deshaun Watson just has not lived up to the billing behind a weak offensive line. The time is now for one of these teams to avoid what would be a season-ending 0-3 start.

Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins: Aaron Rodgers’ early-season brilliance

Rodgers and the Packers might have been done in by Mike McCarthy’s conservative playcalling late in last week’s tie against the Minnesota Vikings. In no way does this mean Mr. Rodgers hasn’t been absolutely brilliant through the first two games. Including his legendary Week 1 performance, the MVP candidate is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Green Bay will face a somewhat difficult test Sunday on the road against a Redskins defense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL stopping the pass and has yielded a 67.0 quarterback rating. Another strong performance here, and the Packers will remain undefeated. Don’t count against Mr. Rodgers.

San Francisco 49ers at Kansas City Chiefs: The history-making Patrick Mahomes

Brett Favre says he’s among the most-talented players in the NFL. His Week 2 opponent threw a ton of praise in the quarterback’s direction. Whether it’s overreaction or something more concrete, Mahomes has shown out in a big way early in the season. He boasts a Super Bowl-era record 10 touchdowns in the first two games and is facing a 49ers pass defense that’s already back on its heels.

We’re fully expecting Mahomes to connect with the likes of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins for a whole bunch of numbers against a lesser 49ers defense on Sunday. We’re also expecting Kansas City’s defense to give up a whole plethora of yards against Jimmy Garoppolo and Co. This makes the conditions ripe for Mahomes to put up yet another dazzling performance in a young season that’s already been defined by them.

Oakland Raiders at Miami Dolphins: Gruden still looking for first win

For all intents and purposes Jon Gruden and the Raiders should have taken out the Broncos in Denver last week. Derek Carr completed 29-of-32 passes for nearly 300 yards without an interception. Amari Cooper rebounded from a disastrous Week 1 performance to put up north of 100 yards. Oakand led 19-10 heading into the fourth. But it was not to be. Dumb plays on defense and an inability to pick up key first downs on offense led to a 20-19 loss.

Things are unraveling rather quickly for the Raiders. They’re at 0-2 on the season, two games behind both Kansas City and Denver in the AFC West. Gruden continues to face questions about the now-infamous Khalil Mack trade. The team is now in must-win mode against an undefeated Dolphins squad on the road. A loss here, and things will certainly unravel even further.

Indianapolis Colts at Philadephia Eagles: Battle of two QBs coming off injuries

This one should be a whole lot of fun. Andrew Luck is coming off his first win in just his second start since the end of the 2016 campaign. He’s done well over his first two starts, completing north of 71 percent of his passes with four touchdowns. He also has three interceptions. The good news? Luck will be taking on an Eagles pass defense that’s been torched by the likes of Julio Jones, Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson over the past two weeks.

From an Eagles standpoint, this is really the start of their 2018 season. They’re 1-1 through two games and will trot franchise quarterback Carson Wentz out there for the first time since he suffered a torn ACL in December of last season. We’re highly intrigued to see how Wentz shakes off the rust while working with a makeshift group of receivers for an injury-depleted Eagles squad.

Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars: Just how good is Doug Marrone’s squad?

Last week’s win over the Patriots told us more about Jacksonville than the defending AFC champs. With Leonard Fournette sidelined, embattled quarterback Blake Bortles picked up the slack big time. He completely outplayed Tom Brady in the 31-20 win, completing 29-of-45 passes for 377 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. If we’re going to criticize Bortles for his struggles, we have to give him credit when he shows out. He did that in a big way Sunday.

Jacksonville now has an opportunity to continue proving its worth as the NFL’s best team. That comes at home Sunday against an inferior Titans squad dealing with a multitude of injuries. In the past, this has been a game the Jags have lost. Last season it was an overtime road loss to the New York Jets and a game in Santa Clara that saw the 49ers put up 44 points. This can’t continue to be a theme for the Jags.

Cincinnati Bengals at Carolina Panthers: A flash in the pan?

At 2-0 on the season, Cincinnati is off to its best start since the last time the team made the playoffs back in 2015. Even then, it came against two teams likely to miss out on the playoffs in the form of the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens. Sunday’s game is a completely different monster.

Can Cincinnati take out a Panthers team in need of a win after dropping to the division-rival Atlanta Falcons last week? Is Andy Dalton’s early-season performance a mirage or something we can bank on moving forward? Having lost 11 of 17 road dates since the start of the 2016 campaign, history doesn’t speak well to Cincinnati’s chances here. It’s certainly an opportunity to prove they have turned the corner.

Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens: Early-season playoff implications

If nothing else, both Denver and Baltimore will be contending for a wildcard spot when December comes calling. Denver boasts a 2-0 record with home wins against substandard teams. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s season-opening win over the Buffalo Bills looks a lot less significant given just how bad Buffalo is and the Ravens’ Week 2 loss to Cincinnati. Here’s a chance for both teams to not only prove they’re good, but get a upper-hand on an inevitable playoff race.

It really starts with the quarterbacks in this one. Joe Flacco followed up a brilliant Week 1 performance by tossing two interceptions in Baltimore’s loss to the Bengals. Meanwhile, Case Keenum has thrown an eye-opening four interceptions in his first two games as Denver’s starter. That’s not sustainable for this team moving forward, especially after Denver exhausted a huge contract on him to upgrade a previously fledgling quarterback position.

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons: Road team needs to make a statement

New Orleans is a few Zane Gonzalez’ missed kicks away from starting the season with an 0-2 record, both games coming at home. After seeing Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bucs dominate their defense in Week 1, these Saints were not impressive against Cleveland at home last week. It’s a game that saw the Browns take a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter, only to see their kicking game win it for the home squad.

Moving forward into Week 3, New Orleans must find a way to play up to the level we saw last season. That includes the likes of Cameron Jordan, Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams imposing their will on defense. There’s absolutely no excuse for what we’ve seen from this defense thus far. And another bad outing will lead to even more questions about this squad moving forward.

Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams: A rivalry is born in So Cal

For the first time ever, these two organizations will play one another with both being part of the Los Angeles football scene. In fact, the Chargers and Rams have only played six times with them both calling Southern California home. The last time was all the way back in 1994. Set to be co-tenants in the new Hollywood Park location two years from now, it should be an electric atmosphere at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

On the field, both teams boast Super Bowl aspirations. The Chargers followed up a Week 1 loss to Kansas City by routing the hapless Buffalo Bills last week and have won 10 of their past 14 regular season games. Meanwhile, the Rams are 2-0 on the season and have outscored their opponents by a margin of 54 points during that span. It should be a blast.

Chicago Bears at Arizona Cardinals: This is how bad Steve Wilks’ squad is

This one Vegas oddsmaker came out with odds focusing on who is favored to be the first coach fired. After just two games as the Cardinals’ head man, Wilks’ came in with the third-best odds. There’s certainly a reason for this. Arizona has been bad. Historically bad. Last week against the Rams, it racked up five first downs and ran one play on Los Angeles’ side of the field. Through two games, the Cardinals are averaging three points and 175 yards per game. It’s also been outscored by 52 points during that span.

Already seen as in over his head, Wilks will trot out a struggling Sam Bradford against a Bears defense that recorded six sacks of Russell Wilson last week and has shown elite-level tendencies. Khalil Mack will be ready to bite. Coordinator Vic Fangio won’t let up. And in the end, we could very well be looking at a another humiliating defeat for a Cardinals squad that could very well be the worst in the NFL.

Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks: Getting Russ some help 

One thing has become apparent in the Pacific Northwest over the first two games of the season. The front office’s struggles in the draft and finding any type of offensive line help for Russell Wilson has come back to roost. Wilson has now been sacked 12 times in two games and is being hit on 20.9 percent of his dropbacks. It’s bad. Really, really bad.

Now at 0-2 on the season and facing irrelevance, Seattle must take on a Cowboys team that ranks third in the NFL in sacks and No. 5 overall defending the pass. Taco Charlton and Demarcus Lawrence might be enough to dominate a horrible Seahawks offensive line. But we also expect defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to continue throwing out blitz packages. That’s not good for Russ and Co. It also leads us to wonder what Pete Carroll plans on doing about this abomination moving forward.

New England Patriots at Detroit Lions: Josh Gordon, baby!

It’s happening. Gordon will now likely make his debut as a member of the Patriots Sunday night after the shocking trade that brought him over from Cleveland earlier in the week. Never really bandied about as a landing spot for the troubled receiver, New England picked him up for a mere conditional fifth-round pick. He’s now the most-talented wide receiver Tom Brady has had since Randy Moss.

None of this will amount to a hill of beans if Gordon’s substance abuse demons continue to plague him. New England will move on from him at the first sign of trouble. The Patriots know this. Gordon knows this. It’s now time to see what the still-young 27-year-old former top receiver can bring to the table on the field. Popcorn. Pop it.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A tale of two seasons

If we were to tell you back in August that one of these teams would be 0-2 and dealing with a ton of drama, 99 percent would have guessed that’d be the Buccaneers. If we were to tell you that the other team would be 2-0 and boast a quarterback leading the league in passing, the obvious answer would’ve been Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Alas, that’s not the case.

Fresh off a surprising win over the defending champion Eagles, Tampa Bay heads into this Monday Night Football matchup at 2-0 while boasting the No. 1 overall offense and No. 2 scoring offense in the NFL. It’s Ryan’s Fitzmagic, guys. On the other hand, Pittsburgh is still without holdout Le’Veon Bell and saw fellow Pro Bowler Antonio Brown in the news for all the wrong reasons this week. Did we mention the team is 0-1-1 and just yielded six touchdown passes to Patrick Mahomes? Fun times in Steel City, indeed.