Sixteen teams enter Week 2 frustrated by an opening-game loss and can't wait to get on the field again. Last season, 10 teams that lost their openers fell again in Week 2, but three later won a division title, so all isn't lost. With that said, this week's games feature some tough matchups and great storylines.
1. Big defensive holes to fill
The Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers are missing their top defensive players because of injuries, but which team is the most damaged? Brian Urlacher, who's out for the season with a dislocated right wrist, has been an ironman at middle linebacker in Chicago and started every game since 2005. He missed seven games in 2004, and the Bears didn't win any of them. Urlacher's ability to drop into pass coverage, blitz or fake a blitz can't be replicated by any of his teammates. For Troy Polamalu and the Steelers, it's a different story. Polamalu, who likely will miss three to six weeks because of a knee injury, sat out eight games in the previous three seasons, and Pittsburgh went 6-2 without its five-time Pro Bowl safety. Tyrone Carter won't be all over the field like Polamalu, but he should play a solid game, and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will use pressure packages he might not have in the past. I think the Bears will miss Urlacher more in this game than the Steelers will Polamalu.
|James D Smith / Associated Press|
|Roy Williams finally showed big-play ability for the Cowboys, going 66 yards on a touchdown reception. |
» Williams' 66-yard TD catch
2. Who needs a big-name wideout anyway?
Most NFL quarterbacks never want to lose their go-to receiver, but in the New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys game, both signal-callers will be without their No. 1 wideout from 2008. Terrell Owens was shown the door in Dallas, and Plaxico Burress is out of the league after legal trouble. Interestingly enough, both quarterbacks seem excited about the future, and now they face each other. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has Roy Williams, who scored on a 66-yard pass play last week. Eli Manning spread the ball around to a number of young receivers in the Giants' victory last week, and he had to be excited when he audibled from a run to a pass and hit Mario Manningham for a 30-yard TD.
3. Better times ahead for Delhomme
Jake Delhomme has just experienced one of the worst two-game runs by an NFL quarterback in a long time, having surrendered the ball via fumble or interception 11 times. It's understandable if his confidence is shaken and just as understandable if his Carolina Panthers teammates and coaches are wondering about him, but Delhomme is a tough guy who will fight through this issue. Keep in mind that in his last three games against the Atlanta Falcons -- the Panthers' opponent Sunday -- Delhomme has thrown five touchdown passes and no interceptions. And in his last 11 games against NFC South opponents, Delhomme is 9-2 with 16 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. So he should bounce back.
4. Waiting for a meltdown
T.O. is on the clock. TV analyst and former Steelers coach Bill Cowher called for a T.O. meltdown by the end of the first half of the season opener. It didn't happen. The Buffalo Bills' no-huddle offense didn't give T.O. a chance to work quarterback Trent Edwards in the huddle in their season opener. T.O. watched rival Randy Moss be the target of 16 pass plays for the New England Patriots while he was thrown to just three times. Still no meltdown. It's coming, and an 0-2 record could do it, but I think T.O. has another week in him.
|David J. Phillip / Associated Press|
|Mark Sanchez's impressive debut has Jets fans optimistic he can upset the Patriots.|
5. Keep an eye on rookie QBs
Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez were paid a lot of money, then sent right out on the field. Now they're one-game veterans. Sanchez, who led the New York Jets to a win last week, is being held up on a pedestal in the Big Apple entering an AFC East showdown with the Patriots, and Stafford, who lost in his first game, is performing for Detroit Lions fans who remember how tough the team played the Minnesota Vikings last season. I just want to see Sanchez not lose to the Patriots on a blunder and Stafford eliminate the interceptions against the Vikings. Fans want more than that. So do I, but I'm also realistic about what both guys are about to face in Week 2.
6. Quite a long haul
The Arizona Cardinals will be the first NFL team to travel three time zones for a game this season, visiting Jacksonville to face the Jaguars. The Cardinals were 0-5 in the 2008 regular season when facing the same situation and gave up 36 points per game, but they overcame the problem in the playoffs with a 33-13 divisional-round victory over the Panthers. If Arizona loses again, the old West-to-East travel issue will be back.
7. Raiders should stick with the run
The Oakland Raiders had a chance to beat the San Diego Chargers on Monday night. The Raiders had 22 carries for 105 yards in the first half, but they ran the ball just 10 times after that in a close ballgame. The Kansas City Chiefs had the 30th-ranked run defense last season, allowed Raiders running back Darren McFadden to collect 164 rushing yards in his second NFL game and gave up 198 yards to the Baltimore Ravens last weekend. Mark my words: The Raiders will run the ball close to 40 times against the Chiefs and not drift away from the game plan.
8. Clean up the special teams
Early season games typically produce special-team blunders. There were punt returns for touchdowns and a blocked punt for a score. There will be more special-teams scoring this week as coaches finally see enough film to find weaknesses. I wouldn't be surprised to see a kick return for a score, another punt return or two into the end zone and a couple of blocked kicks.
9. Wildcat isn't so wild
Eight teams used the Wildcat package in their season openers, and as I warned a week ago, defenses were ready for it. No one scored a touchdown out of the Wildcat. One run gained 11 yards. Only one pass was attempted, and the one two-point conversion play failed. I think we will see more than the 13 plays run out of Wildcat last week, but I'd be surprised if the scheme is much more effective.
10. Put up or shut up
The Jets are talking, and the Patriots aren't even whispering about it. Rex Ryan, the Jets' new coach, has made himself the focus of media attention all offseason with his statements about the Patriots and having no intention to kiss Bill Belichick's Super Bowl rings. Ryan also left phone messages for the fans to come out and create the greatest home-field advantage in the NFL. Of course, his players followed suit with boastful claims. Believe me: The Meadowlands will be rockin' this Sunday. Meanwhile, Patriots players and coaches have gone about their business with no public display or predictions about this game. But a quiet rage is building north of the Meadowlands. I can't wait to see what happens in this game.