With Week 1 of the NFL season firmly in the rear-view mirror, we look forward to the second week of action. There are some teams seemingly already in must-win mode, especially the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens of the world.
Meanwhile, there are other teams looking to build off what were successful performances on the opening weekend of the regular season. A matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins will decide an early AFC East division leader. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Titans look to continue their momentum after an impressive opening week win.
In what will be a weekly feature here at Sportsnaut, we take a gander at the top storyline for each Week 2 NFL game.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore Looks to Avoid Disaster
Let’s pretend for a minute that the primary focus of the CBS broadcast this upcoming Thursday night won’t be on the Ray Rice situation. And then for a second, let’s look at exactly what this game means for the home team. Baltimore fell to the Cincinnati Bengals at home in Week 1 and faces the real possibility of losing its first two games, both at home against division opponents.
A loss here against Ben Roethlisberger and Co. would place John Harbaugh’s squad behind the proverbial eight ball early in the season. An eight-ball that likely will keep coming up “outlook not so good” for the remainder of the year. For Pittsburgh, it’s an opportunity to start 2-0 and send a message to the AFC North early in the season.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills: One Cellar Dwellar Will Start 2-0
The AFC East is going to be up for grabs throughout the 2014 season. These two teams join the New York Jets with a 1-0 record after the first week of the season. And they are both coming off stellar performances against teams that were considered on another tier prior to the start of the year.
Miami’s performance against the New England Patriots was among the best of Week 1. Its offense ran up nearly 200 rushing yards in the 33-20 victory. Meanwhile, Buffalo grabbed a solid road victory in overtime against the Chicago Bears. Whoever wins this early-season matchup will lay claim to a 2-0 record and the top spot in the AFC East.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Washington Redskins: Struggling Quarterbacks All Over the Place
In a sign that statistics mean very little in the grand scheme of things, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III completed 29-of-37 passes for 267 yards in their Week 1 loss to the Houston Texans. When all was said and done, Washington scored one touchdown in 11 possessions. In a span of two third quarter drives, RGIII led the Redskins to 157 yards without putting up a single point. It doesn’t matter how many yards you put up, all that matters are the numbers on the scoreboard. And this is something that Washington has struggled with for some time now.
On the other hand, Jacksonville opened up a surprising 17-0 lead before allowing the Philadelphia Eagles to score 34 unanswered points to close out the scoring. The Jaguars last nine drives netted 124 total yards, as Chad Henne struggled getting anything going through the air against a bad Eagles’ secondary.
Washington and Jacksonville now square off in a matchup between two teams that will likely be battling for last place in their respective division. Each needs an early-season victory against a beatable opponent in order to get any sort of momentum going after horrendous Week 1 performances.
Dallas Cowboys at Tennessee Titans: Jason Garrett’s Hot-Seat Watch
Make no mistake about it, Jason Garrett is firmly on the hot seat after a disastrous and embarrassing Week 1 performance against the San Francisco 49ers. Not only was Dallas destroyed by a much better football team, that team took over its home stadium in record numbers. This is a sign that there simply isn’t the passion for Cowboys football in Dallas like there had been over the past four decades. Even more so than the four-turnover performance against San Francisco, this had to get the attention of owner Jerry Jones.
On the field, it was a complete dumpster fire. Dallas was trailing 28-3 before putting up two meaningless touchdowns against a prevent defense in the second half. It now goes up against a Titans team riding high after an impressive victory on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs. Another embarrassing loss, and Garrett’s seat will be molten lava hot. Considering Tennessee’s level of talent and the fact that this is a home opener, the Cowboys have to be on top of their game to come away with a win.
Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants: Eli Manning’s Continued Struggles
Manning has now thrown five touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions in his last six starts. Including the Giants Week 1 loss to Detroit, Manning is 10-15 in his last 25 starts. Needless to say, the veteran quarterback is struggling big time. He needs to get over the hump, and it must happen sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately for the Giants, they’re tasked with going up against a Cardinals defense that performed extremely well against the San Diego Chargers in Week 1 and possesses the necessary talent in the secondary to shut Manning down through the air. Another blowout loss for Manning and Co. could very well raise even more questions about his future with the franchise. And let’s not even get into what head coach Tom Coughlin might be thinking at this point.
New England Patriots at Minnesota Vikings: Patriots Must Rebound as Road Favorite
Losing to the Miami Dolphins on the road in Week 1 is one thing. Following that up with another poor performance against a team in the Vikings who many had pegged to finish in the cellar in the NFC North is a completely different thing. It’s rather apparent that New England has a lot of things to work on after watching a replay of its 33-20 loss to Miami last week.
The issue here is that Minnesota is playing some darn good football under new head coach Mike Zimmer and won’t be pushovers in this one. Miami ran for nearly 200 yards against the Patriots in Week 1. Now going up against the likes of Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson, the Patriots have their work cut out for them. Are they up for this surprisingly difficult matchup?
New Orleans Saints at Cleveland Browns: All Eyes on Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel
If it wasn’t for a second half comeback against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, fans in Cleveland would be calling for Manziel to start against the Saints this upcoming weekend. Hoyer led the Browns back from a 27-3 halftime deficit, which culminated in a nine-yard touchdown to Travis Benjamin to tie the game with just over 11 minutes remaining in the game. This comeback fell short as Pittsburgh kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired.
But it might not be enough to keep Hoyer in the starting role for a few more weeks. If Cleveland struggles offensively early on in its home opener on Sunday, we know very well that fans will turn on the starting quarterback. Depending on where the game is at that point, head coach Mike Pettine may call on Manziel to take over. This is something to definitely keep an eye on.
Atlanta Falcons at Cincinnati Bengals: Matt Ryan and Co. Look for Second Consecutive Impressive Win
Ryan put up a career day in Atlanta’s surprising Week 1 win over the Saints. He completed 31-of-43 passes for 448 yards and three scores in the overtime victory.
Now with a healthy group of receivers and running backs, Ryan looks to prove that the Falcons are back after a down 2013 campaign. A win against the Bengals in Cincinnati Sunday would go a long way in proving skeptics wrong. It would also send a message to the rest of the NFC South that there is a new/old sheriff in town. It’s going to be a difficult matchup, but Atlanta has the talent to keep up with a dynamic Bengals offense in what promises to be another high-scoring affair.
Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton Returns Following Carolina’s Week 1 Victory
No one really expected Carolina to win against the Buccaneers on Sunday after it was announced right before the game that Derek Anderson would get the start over an injured Cam Newton. But the veteran backup more than proved his worth in a surprising 20-14 road victory.
Now that Newton is reportedly ready to go, the Panthers can build off that performance with their best football player back in action. They might have a difficult time against a Lions team that was impressive in Week 1, but this is a game that Newton and Co. must win in front of its home crowd to prove that last year wasn’t a mirage and they’re ready to compete with both New Orleans and Atlanta in the NFC South moving forward.
St. Louis Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lovie Smith Looks for First Win as Bucs Coach
Tampa Bay’s Week 1 performance is not something that Lovie Smith is going to put on his coaching highlight film for us to see. His team played like absolute crap, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Falling down 17-0 midway through the fourth quarter, it took a couple desperate possessions for the Buccaneers to pull close in a 20-14 loss to the Panthers.
With that performance behind them, the Buccaneers will play host to a Rams team that simply doesn’t have the necessary talent on offense to compete on a weekly basis. For all intents and purposes, Tampa Bay should come out of this game with a two-score victory. Unfortunately, we have no idea how good this team is right now. And a loss to a lowly Rams team at home could very well spell doom for the remainder of the season.
It’s also important to keep an eye on how Josh McCown performs in this one. He was nowhere near as good as advertised in his Buccaneers debut. While Smith brought the veteran with him to Tampa to be the starter, the head coach might have to make the decision to go with Mike Glennon should McCown continue to struggle.
Seattle Seahawks at San Diego Chargers: Can Seattle Continue to Prove it Can Win on the Road?
Seattle was an impressive 6-2 on the road last season. That came on the heels of the team finishing just 3-5 away from CenturyLink the previous season. Why is this important? Other NFL teams will be lucky if Seattle loses one game at home in 2014. This means that it must return to 2012 form away from the Pacific Nortwhest if Pete Carroll’s squad isn’t going to have home-field advantage in the playoffs.
With some difficult road games on the slate in 2014, Seattle could very well be vulnerable. But we will definitely learn a lot about the defending Super Bowl champions going up against a darn good Chargers team in Southern California. It’s also important to note that two of Seattle’s top cornerback are going to be out of action in this one. Both Jeremy Lane and Tharold Simon are injured and unlikely to play for the next few weeks. In addition to being tested on the road, Seattle’s cornerback depth is going to be put into question here. In reality, this game could be more telling than the Seahawks Week 1 blowout of Aaron Rodgers and Co.
Houston Texans at Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr’s First Regular Season Home Start
Two of the worst teams in football going up against one another at a rundown Oakland Coliseum. There really isn’t a whole heck of a lot to talk about in this one, especially with Jadeveon Clowney out of action for the near future.
With that said, I want to see how Derek Carr performs in his first regular season home start. The rookie was pretty impressive in the close loss to the Jets last week. He’s going to need Oakland’s coaching staff to open up the offense a bit in this one, but the youngster has to feel good about how he’s playing right now. And that’s all that really matters for a Raiders team that likely going to be battling for last place in the AFC West when all is said and done this season.
New York Jets at Green Bay Packers: Jets Look to Make a Statement at Lambeau
Can Rex Ryan and Co. go into Lambeau and come out with a victory? That’s going to be a huge indication of where this team is at in the AFC East. Green Bay is pretty much in desperation mode right now. It cannot afford to fall to 0-2 in the ultra-competitive NFC, especially after getting blown out by Seattle last week. This is likely an indication that the Packers will put up a solid performance in their home opener.
For the Jets, it’s all about continuing to improve on the offensive side of the ball. Geno Smith did what was asked of him against Oakland in Week 1, but he’s going to have to step up his game and put up more points if the Jets are going to pull off the upset here.
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos: Are the Chiefs Really This Bad?
The answer to this question will likely come when the final whistle blows at Mile High on Sunday evening. Sadley for fans in Kansas City, the answer is going to be a resounding yes. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Andy Reid’s squad can go into Denver and make a game of this one, especially after the terrible performance they put up against Tennessee last week.
In order for Kansas City to pull off a minor miracle here, Alex Smith is going to have to perform at an exceptionally high level behind a below-average offensive line and with a lackluster receiving group. If he is able to somehow pull out the victory, Kansas City’s season might be saved. If not, fans in Arrowhead could be looking a long final 14 games directly in the face. I’ll take the latter here.
Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers: Jim Harbaugh and Co. Officially Open up Levi’s
More so than what direction these two teams might be heading in early this season, Sunday night’s matchup is going to be all about Levi’s Stadium and the opening of San Francisco’s new digs in Santa Clara. It’s not only an historic night for the franchise, it will tell us a lot about the home team. There were times during the preseason where the crowd was extremely loud. And the 49ers need that to continue into the regular season to show that OTHER NFC West team that there is another strong home-field in the division.
As it relates to the game, San Francisco is coming off a strong Week 1 performance against Dallas and is looking to build off that in its home opener. Meanwhile, Chicago crapped all over itself against Buffalo in a home-opening overtime loss last week. Are these two teams destined to go in opposite directions as the season progresses or are they closer to one another than we think?
Philadelphia Eagles at Indianapolis Colts: Must Win Early-Season Game for Indianapolis
Prior to the start of the season, it was a forgone conclusion that Indianapolis would run away with the AFC South. Heck, I had it winning the division by a full six games. Now that we have completed just over six percent of the schedule, Indianapolis might not be that much better than a Titans team that was impressive Week 1.
Andrew Luck and Co. will have to perform at a high level on Monday Night Football to come away with a win against a good Eagles team. They can’t afford to get off to another slow start, especially considering how Chip Kelly runs the Eagles offense. In this, we need to see a full four quarters from the Colts in this one. If that doesn’t happen, they could be looking at an 0-2 start when all is said and done.
Photo: USA Today