There are a ton of intriguing storylines heading into the third week of the 2014 NFL season. From a Super Bowl rematch between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks to DeSean Jackson’s return home, we can expect some drama to unfold in front of us in Week 3.
In some cases, drama will be overshadowed by must-win scenarios for a couple teams that had high expectations heading into the year. Can Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints avoid a disastrous 0-3 start? What about the defending AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts? These two teams are in early-season do-or-die situations.
On that note, let’s check in on the top storyline for each Week 3 NFL game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons: Buccaneers Quarterback Situation
Tampa Bay ranks 27th in the NFL in points and has lost games to teams with the following starting quarterbacks: Derek Anderson and Austin Davis. Needless to say, this is a team that is in must-win mode heading into Week 3. Will Lovie Smith have a quick hook with Josh McCown, who is averaging just 181 yards per game and boasts a 75.1 quarterback rating? Ask those close ot the situation in Tampa and second-year signal caller Mike Glennon could very well be close to getting the nod.
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns: Home Team Looks to Continue Momentum
Take away the first half of Cleveland’s Week 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and this team has played some damn good football thus far this season. Fresh off a stunning upset over the New Orleans Saints, Mike Pettine’s squad looks to gain momentum against a pedestrian Ravens team. The focus here is going to be on what Brian Hoyer can do on offense and whether he will have his full complement of weapons in order to continue what has been a dramatic improvement on that side of the ball.
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles: DeSean Jackson’s Return to Philly
Despite suffering a shoulder injury against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, Jackson fully intends on playing Sunday against his former team. The storylines here are pretty self-explanatory. Jackson spent six seasons with Philadelphia before being unceremoniously kicked to the curb this past offseason after rumors of issues with head coach Chip Kelly and ties to gangs in Southern California.
The three-time Pro Bowler was always an enigmatic figure in Philadelphia and won’t be received well by a fan base that has continually shown indifference to former stars returning home. It should be a very interesting day in the “City of Brotherly Love,” especially considering Jackson chose to sign with the Eagles’ division rivals after being released.
Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints: Must Win for Drew Brees and Co.
In a game that features a winless Saints team, it’s highly expected that Drew Brees will get his team back on track. That matchups decisively favor the home team in this one, especially with Matt Cassel having to hit the road after throwing four interceptions in a blowout loss to the New England Patriots last week.
With that said, the Saints have struggled a great deal on defense through the first two weeks. Rex Ryan’s squad ranks dead last in the league in yards allowed, which could be an opening for Cassel to do something through the air. A loss here by New Orleans would pretty much end any realistic shot at the playoffs just three weeks into the season.
Houston Texans at New York Giants: Will the Giants Continue Their Early-Season Struggles?
Eli Manning ranks 31st in the NFL in quarterback rating and 27th in completion percentage. He leads an offense that is 28th in scoring offense and 30th in total yards. In addition to this, Manning is completing less than 50 percent of his passes to wide receiver Victor Cruz. Needless to say, the Giants need to improve a whole heck of a lot on offense in order to rebound from an 0-2 start.
They will be lining up against a Texans team that won their first two games against less-than-stellar opponents, but boasts one of the better defenses in the league. If Manning and Co. cannot pull out a win here, their season could very well be on the brink.
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars: Potential Blake Bortles Sighting?
Chad Henne’s struggles have been well documented over the first two weeks, but he’s simply not getting the necessary help from an offensive line that has allowed 13 sacks. Everyone wants to point the finger at Henne for Jacksonville’s slow start. While he might share some of the blame, it would be hard for any quarterback to succeed under those circumstances.
Enter into the equation rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, who may very well end up getting a few snaps should Henne continue to struggle moving the ball through the air. The issue here is that Jacksonville can’t afford to throw the first-round pick out there behind a disastrous offensive line and hope for him to succeed. As you already know, the growth of a young quarterback can be impacted by bad pass protection. That’s the worry here.
Dallas Cowboys at St. Louis Rams: Will the Real Cowboys Please Stand up?
Fresh off an impressive 26-10 win over the Tennessee Titans, Jason Garrett’s squad looks to nab a second consecutive victory against what can be considered a pretty bad Rams team. While the Cowboys showed a lot last week, they are only two weeks removed from a disastrous season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
In order to acquire an understanding of where this team stands this season, we need to see how the Cowboys will perform on the road against an inferior opponent. The key to success here will be running the ball against a Rams defensive front that can get to the quarterback. If Dallas displays the same balance on offense we saw last week against Tennessee, it should come away with a 2-1 record heading into Week 4.
Tennessee Titans at Cincinnati Bengals: Can the Bengals Continue to Show They’re the Best?
Cincinnati has been the most impressive team in the NFL through two weeks. And it’s evidenced by the fact that Marvin Lewis’ squad tops most power rankings around the football world. With A.J. Green expected to play in this one, Andy Dalton should be able to have his way against a Titans defense that struggled a great deal last week.
A big win here and the Bengals will show that they are the class of the AFC. Unfortunately, this is a team that has had some bad early-season losses in previous years. They fell to the Cleveland Browns in Week 4 last season and lost a stinker of a game against the Miami Dolphins in Week 5 of the 2012 season. Simply put, Cincinnati cannot afford to fall victim to another “trap game.”
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions: Early-Season NFC North “Barometer” Game
Fresh off a disappointing loss to the Carolina Panthers last week, Matthew Stafford and Co. look to hold court at home where they were just 4-4 last season.
For the Packers, this is a game that affords them an opportunity to prove that they are not the average team that they have shown over the first two weeks of the season. After losing to Seattle in Week 1, Green Bay fell down at home to the New York Jets 21-3 before mounting a comeback that was aided a great deal by the road team. Both of these teams are extremely talented and have flaws in certain areas. Whoever takes advantage of the matchups will come out on top and gain momentum heading into Week 4.
San Diego Chargers at Buffalo Bills: Statement Game for the Home Team
At 2-0, Buffalo has a chance to prove that it belongs in the conversation in the AFC East. It followed an impressive opening-day victory against the Chicago Bears with an even more impressive 29-10 beat down of the Miami Dolphins last week. For a team that has not earned a playoff trip since 1999, the Bills need to prove that this early-season success isn’t a fluke.
Buffalo will welcome in a Chargers team that dominated the defending Super Bowl champions last week and will look to take their impressive play to Western New York. E.J. Manuel will have to continue to manage the game without turning the ball over, while the Bills defense must put pressure on Philip Rivers. If this happens, Buffalo could very well start the season 3-0.
Oakland Raiders at New England Patriots: Tom Brady’s Early-Season Struggles
New England may have destroyed the Minnesota Vikings 30-7 last week, but Brady simply hasn’t been on his game thus far this season. He completed 15-of-23 passes for just 149 yards as the Patriots were aided by four Matt Cassel interceptions.
In a game that Brady and Co. are expected to win going away against a rookie quarterback, New England must show that it can dominate inferior opponents at home. Even if this team wins a close game come Sunday, it won’t be enough to show the rest of the NFL that it is back with the big boys. In reality, the Patriots need a decisive victory to prove skeptics wrong. And, unless something goes wrong, they will get it.
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals: Bruce Arians Squad Looks to Prove it Belongs
Arizona can make a real statement at home against a 49ers team that is coming off a late-game meltdown against the Chicago Bears. Unfortunately for fans in the desert, Drew Stanton will get his second start in lieu of an injured Carson Palmer. All things equal, the Cardinals would normally stand a really good chance winning this game against a Super Bowl contender. With a backup quarterback now thrown under center, that might prove to be difficult.
With that said, the Cardinals do have matchup advantages in this one. Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd will be lining up against a struggling and injury-plagued secondary. If they can take advantage of these matchups and help Stanton out, the Cardinals could be looking at a 3-0 start.
Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks: Super Bowl Rematch
Don’t let anyone in Denver fool you into believing that they are not amped up for this Super Bowl rematch. After two somewhat uninspiring performances against the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs, the undefeated Broncos will be tasked with not only taking on an angry Seahawks defense that struggled last week, they will have to do it at CenturyLink.
As it relates to the defending champions, they are coming off one of the worst performances we have seen from a Pete Carroll-led squad in some time. Dominated on both sides of the ball, Seattle lost by more than one score for the first time since Week 9 of the 2011 season. In order to prove that they are still the class of the NFL, the Seahawks need to make a statement here. It’s going to be somewhat hard considering how Seattle’s cornerbacks (outside of Richard Sherman) have played this year. Expect Peyton Manning to look in Demaryius Thomas’ direction a whole heck of a lot against Byron Maxwell. And that could very well help decide the outcome of the game.
Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Dolphins: No Doubt About it, Must Win for Kansas City
Since 1990, Only three teams have earned a trip to the playoffs after starting 0-3. The Chiefs may have already placed themselves behind the proverbial eight-ball here, but they now need to overcome a disastrous early-season performance in order to get back in the conversation in the AFC.
Despite mounting a decent second half performance against the Denver Broncos last week, Alex Smith and Co. have struggled a whole lot on the offensive side of the ball. Now going up against a vastly improved Dolphins defense, this unit might find it difficult to get back on track. But make no mistake about it, a loss here and the Chiefs season is pretty much over.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers: Is Carolina the Class of the NFC?
Carolina’s defense ranks second in the league in points allowed and is fifth in total yards against through two weeks. The likes of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis from the linebacker position are playing lights out football right now. In addition to this, Carolina’s secondary has performed at a much higher level than originally anticipated.
The Panthers will now be tasked with going up against a potent Steelers passing game without the services of Greg Hardy, who was placed on the Exempt/Commissioner’s list on Wednesday due to an ongoing domestic violence court case. If the Panthers are unable to get pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, their defense will struggle against the likes of Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton on the outside. And in the process, Ron Rivera’s squad may see it’s early-season success come crashing down in front of a national audience on Sunday Night Football.
Chicago Bears at New York Jets: Jay Cutler Looks to Continue Momentum From Week 2 Performance
Random stat. For the first time in NFL history a team that blew a 17-point victory will be taking on another team that overcame a 17-point deficit in the same season. Chicago’s fourth quarter performance against the 49ers last week could very well act as a springboard for a talented team that has failed to live up to expectations over the past couple seasons.
With Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall healthier now than they were last week, Jay Cutler should be able to take advantage of a poor Jets secondary at home on Monday Night Football. But as we have seen so many times in the past, Cutler isn’t predictable. He needs to show consistency if the Bears are going to be considered serious contenders in the NFC. That opportunity comes in front of a national audience for the second straight week.
Photo: USA Today