Top storylines for NFL Week 3

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Week 3 of the NFL season is a turning point for a ton of squads. Starting 3-0 almost guarantees a trip to the playoffs. Meanwhile, only six squads who have started 0-3 since the 1980 campaign earned a spot in the postseason.

The Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers are now at a breaking point heading into difficult Week 3 games. Losses on Sunday could send their seasons into a tailspin.

On the other end of the spectrum, the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys look to continue their early-season domination against much lesser opponents. Meanwhile, two early-season MVP candidates are doing battle in Kansas City.

These are among the top storylines for NFL Week 3.

Just how embarrassing is it going to get in Miami?

It’s highly unlikely that Dolphins players were in good spirits following yet another blowout loss to start the season. Miami has now been outscored 102-10 over the first two games of the year. It’s an historical level of ineptitude from this organization. That was only magnified earlier this week when the Dolphins traded second-year defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.

We’re now openly wondering how many players are going to have their head in the game this coming week against an undefeated Cowboys team in Dallas. The Cowboys are the biggest favorites they’ve been in over three decades at 21.5 points. This game could get even uglier than that. If so, how can the Dolphins’ brass justify asking their players to come to work and give it 100 percent? Human nature suggests this is already no longer a possibility. It could lead to the worst season for an NFL team in league history.

Young guns go head-to-head in Kansas City

Lamar Jackson has started his sophomore campaign at an historical clip. He continues to do things we’ve rarely seen from a quarterback in the modern NFL. We’re talking about seven touchdowns and 722 total yards of offense in two games.

In an interesting turn, Jackson and his undefeated Ravens head to Arrowhead to take on reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. The third-year quarterback has topped his younger counterpart by going for 821 passing yards and seven scores through two games. Mahomes has now tallied an absurd 6,202 passing yards with 57 scores in 19 career starts. This one should be an absolute blast.

Doing battle without Drew Brees

It’s a bitter pill for head coach Sean Payton and Co. to swallow. Now without Brees for the foreseeable future, the Saints must navigate through a difficult schedule in order to keep their heads afloat. It will start this week against an undefeated Seahawks team in Seattle.

Is Teddy Bridgewater going to be up for the task after underwhelming in Brees’ stead last week? If not, will Payton turn to Taysom Hill under center? The backdrop here is real. The Saints’ offense looked nothing like its former self without Brees under center in Week 2. With him facing an extended absence, things could free fall in the Bayou here soon.

Bills look for first 3-0 start since 2011

It hasn’t always been pretty, but the Bills find themselves with an opportunity to start 3-0 for the first time in nearly a decade. Second-year quarterback Josh Allen has improved leaps and bounds from his rookie season. Meanwhile, the Bills’ defense is taking names and not asking questions. The improvement we’ve seen from this squad under Sean McDermott has been eye opening.

But is the hype premature? This answer will come at home Sunday against a Cincinnati Bengals team that was blown out by the 49ers, 41-17, last week. If Buffalo struggles in this plus-level matchup, it might be time to pump the brakes on the hype.

Two teams going in opposite directions

Speaking of the 49ers, they will be looking to go 3-0 for the first time since 1998 when Kyle Shanahan’s squad hosts the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers Sunday afternoon. Led by a stingy defense and an improved Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers head into Week 3 averaging 36 points per game and ranked No. 8 in scoring defense.

On the other end of the spectrum, Pittsburgh is at a crossroads as it heads to Santa Clara. Big Ben is out for the season with an elbow injury. Second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph will make his first career start. Meanwhile, the Steelers will attempt to get the recently-acquired Minkah Fitzpatrick up to speed on the fly. A loss here, and it will be the first time since 2000 that the Steelers have started a season 0-3 — ending their playoff chances before the quarter point of the campaign.

A new era in Jersey

It didn’t take the New York Giants long to replace possible future Hall of Famer Eli Manning under center. Two weeks to be precise. For just the second time in his career, Manning has been benched. It comes as the Giants initiate the beginning stages of a rebuild.

Will Manning waive his no-trade clause? Is Daniel Jones going to hold down the fort for the remainder of the season? It all starts this week on the road against the Buccaneers. The No. 6 overall pick completed 29-of-34 passes for 416 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions during the preseason. Jones seems to be way ahead of the rookie curve. It will be interesting how the Duke product performs in his initial NFL regular-season start.

Already at breaking point in Mile High

At 0-2 on the season, the Broncos now head to Green Bay to take on an undefeated Packers team. Considering that only six teams since the 1980 season have earned a playoff spot after starting 0-3, this is a must win for Vic Fangio in his first season as a head coach.

Last week’s loss to the Bears was especially difficult for the Broncos. It came at home after Joe Flacco and Co. seemingly won the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion late. That’s until the defense let Mitchell Trubisky drive down the field for a game-winning field goal. At issue here is a lack of a pass rush (zero sacks and two quarterback hits this season). If this doesn’t change, 2019 will already be a lost cause in Mile High.

Start of a tough slate for the Browns

Cleveland finds itself playing three nationally televised games within a four-week span. That includes a “Sunday Night Football” tilt with the Los Angeles Rams this week. In getting their first win of the season Monday night, the Browns dominated an injury-plagued and less-talented Jets team. This won’t be the case with the defending NFC champs coming to Cleveland in Week 3.

We’re highly intrigued to see if Baker Mayfield and Co. can step up in front of a national audience after two up-and-down performances to open the season. It starts with Odell Beckham Jr. after he flashed big time last week. A loss here would be disheartening in that the Browns face the undefeated Ravens, 49ers, Seahawks and Patriots in their next four outings.

Just how darn good are the Patriots?

We have to look at the level of competition before drawing final conclusions as it relates to the defending champs. After all, the Steelers and Dolphins have not been the cream of the early-season crop. Even then, the domination we’ve seen from Tom Brady and Co. is something to behold.

New England has outscored its first two opponents be the wide margin of 76-6. You read that right, the team is giving up an average of 1.5 points per game. The Pats have also out-gained their opponents, 846-492, while putting up 51 first downs compared to 26. This is unlikely to change against an injury-plagued Jets squad come Week 3. But if the game is closer than anticipated, it could tell us a story heading into a Week 4 outing against the undefeated Bills in Buffalo.

Overcoming injuries in Philadelphia

The Eagles dropped a hotly-contested Week 2 game against the Atlanta Falcons after seeing their players drop like there was some type of avian flu outbreak. It was not the way head coach Doug Pederson and Co. expected the game to go. Now set to take on an undefeated Lions team at home on Sunday, Philadelphia hopes to overcome these injuries.

It’s not going to be easy. Both DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery have pretty much been ruled out for this game. Other core members on both sides of the ball are questionable. With two games in a five-day span and the Packers looming, the Eagles are almost in early-season must-win mode.

Colts looking for another statement win

A lot of experts discounted Indianapolis after Andrew Luck’s abrupt retirement this past summer. Luck is what made the team tick. We get that. But head coach Frank Reich and Co. were confident in a squad led by Jacoby Brissett. Through two weeks, said confidence has been warranted.

Following an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in their opener, the Colts took out the division-rival Tennessee Titans on the road last week. They now have an opportunity to move to 2-1 on the season hosting a questionable Falcons team Sunday afternoon. It will be interesting to see how this one goes.