Inside Slant  

IBM  

Divisional games, tests for upstarts highlight Week 3

It's still awfully early in the season, but we just might learn something about a few upstart clubs this week. The undefeated Bills and Lions get some interesting tests. Are they for real? Both could make a statement this week, particularly if the Bills managed to pull off a win against New England.


Listen to the 2011 NFL season LIVE -- hear all the action online in premium sound quality with NFL Audio Pass. Sign up now!

Half the slate of games this weekend are division battles, whereas a week ago we had not a single one of those contests. And, I must admit, there are a lot of finger sandwiches (remember, games here are rated as either a footlong, a six-inch, a pita or a finger sandwich) in this mix as well -- a slew of games featuring teams yet to show they belong, or potentially lopsided games with a decided favorite.

In what has already been the year of the huge passing game and the blowout (six games already decided by 21 points or more), I would not be surprised to see both trends continue in Week 3. (Overall, the average margin of victory thus far this season is 12.88, compared with 11.75 in 2010.)

    • Green Bay at Chicago

      Sun 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Remember the NFC Championship Game? Jay Cutler being knocked from the game, the tweets from Maurice Jones-Drew and all of that? Well, the Bears have already allowed 11 sacks, and the Packers know something about getting to the quarterback.
    • Inside slant:

      The Bears are one of few teams that match up well with the Packers. They can rush the passer and have stifled Green Bay's prolific offense for long stretches. They can slow the game down when need be, which they showed in that NFC title clash by keeping Aaron Rodgers in check with two TDs and two INTs. Wonder if they can duplicate it again.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Atlanta at Tampa Bay

      Sun 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Two of the better young quarterbacks, who happen to be divisional foes, meet with both coming off dramatic comeback wins. All kinds of potential playoff ramifications here, featuring two spunky teams with a lot to feel good about.
    • Inside slant:

      Matt Ryan has had some struggles this season and for the second straight week he faces an elite secondary. Few people can bait younger quarterbacks better than Ronde Barber, and Aqib Talib is a ball hawk. Rookie Julio Jones is getting more looks every week in Atlanta's offense.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • New England at Buffalo

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Do you like offensive fireworks, with two teams chucking it all over the place? In the mood for an old-school AFL shootout? Tom Brady is out of control right now, while the Bills are scoring 40 points a game. Bring an abacus with you for this one. Somebody might hit triple digits. We'll find out how legit the 2-0 Bills are.
    • Inside slant:

      The Bills gave the Patriots a heck of a game in Week 3 a year ago, ultimately falling, 38-30, on the road. And surprisingly a lot of the damage was done on the ground, where Buffalo averaged more than six yards per carry. The Pats have added a lot of beef to the defensive front since then, but they look plenty vulnerable in the back.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • New York at Philadelphia

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Philadelphia's quarterback situation and Michael Vick's concussion bring more intrigue to an already key game. Philly's front four have been getting after the passer and Eli Manning has been known to turn it over a time or two, in case you hadn't noticed.
    • Inside slant:

      The Giants are still fuming about losing receiver Steve Smith to the Eagles. Big Blue felt he couldn't play until sometime in October, and they thought he wasn't going anywhere. He ends up signing with their rivals, being active for the opener and making plays in Week 2. Now he faces his old team.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Houston at New Orleans

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      We finally get to see how legit the 2011 Texans are, as this game will be their first true test. They don't want to get in an all-out track meet with the Saints, so if Houston can continue its potent ground game, even with Arian Foster not yet 100 percent, it would go a long way toward slowing down New Orleans. The Saints' new run-stuffer Aubrayo Franklin will be tested.
    • Inside slant:

      Two defensive coordinators, the Saints' hyper-aggressive Gregg Williams and the Texans' Wade Phillips, could be the difference here. While we'll talk about all of the offensive potential in this matchup, the defensive coaches know each other very well and whichever one comes up with the big play and turnovers here will likely be the victor. (Note: Williams is more of a gambler than Phillips.)
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Detroit at Minnesota

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Did you ever think the Lions would be road favorites and about to be 3-0, while the Vikings would be on the verge of starting the season 0-3? Watching Stafford to Megatron is as good as it gets, and the Vikings got carved up by Stafford's draft classmate Josh Freeman last week. Can the Vikings find a way to get a vertical game going, and do it against the Lions' ferocious pass rush?
    • Inside slant:

      Adrian Peterson has 814 yards rushing in eight games against the Lions. And given Minnesota's passing woes, and Detroit's pass rush, running the ball might be the way to go here.
    • Rating:

      Six-inch
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • New York at Oakland

      Sun 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Viva la Heidi game! New York has to travel for the first time this season, facing a wounded Oakland team that blew a big lead in Buffalo. The new-look Jets should have a chance to exploit a few things in Oakland's Nnamdi-less secondary. Darren McFadden is making 150 yards a game look easy for Oakland, but the Jets pride themselves on stopping the run.
    • Inside slant:

      The Raiders will look to blitz the A-gap with Jets star center Nick Mangold out with a high ankle sprain, and the Jets will try to find a way to get running back Shonn Greene going (2.9 yards per carry). Raiders coach Hue Jackson and Jets coach Rex Ryan spent time together on Baltimore's staff and have some insight into each other.
    • Rating:

      Six-inch
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Washington at Dallas

      Mon 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Don't look now, but the Redskins lead the NFC East and face their archrivals at a time when Dallas is very vulnerable amid injury concerns. Rex Grossman reverted to some turnovers in Week 2 but has found ways to win games. Washington heads out on the road for the first time, while the Cowboys get their first home game after two weeks of high drama on the road.
    • Inside slant:

      Dallas is desperately banged up in the secondary and at receiver. All of their top playmakers on offense are dealing with some malady or another and Tony Romo is really hurting. Redskins tight end Fred Davis provides issues for Dallas in coverage. Could something special be brewing in D.C.?
    • Rating:

      Six-inch
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Baltimore at St. Louis

      Sun 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Which Ravens team will show up? The one that pummeled Pittsburgh, or the one that went meekly to the Titans? Baltimore's secondary could be ripe for Sam Bradford to find a few big plays.
    • Inside slant:

      Ben Grubbs' toe has become quite the big deal. Without him in Tennessee, Baltimore's offensive line took a major step back, particularly in the run game. They want to be a physical team, and it all starts up front. They're also getting thin at wide receiver at a time when Joe Flacco is desperate for more weapons.
    • Rating:

      Six-inch
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Jacksonville at Carolina

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      We get the first meeting of the class of 2011 quarterbacks. The Jags, with the offense flailing under Luke McCown, have turned the team over to 10th overall pick Blaine Gabbert, who was taken nine picks after the Panthers took Cam Newton at No. 1.
    • Inside slant:

      Newton might throw for 500 yards Sunday. Seriously. The Jags got torched by the Jets last week. Newton does not rattle and he does not flinch and the Jags are going to have a heck of a time handling Steve Smith. This could be Newton's first NFL win, after a couple of tough losses to start the year.
    • Rating:

      Pita
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Miami at Cleveland

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Each week is an audition for Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne and his Browns counterpart Colt McCoy. They want to be the long-term answer for their teams but the jury is still out for both. Tony Sparano got a contract extension in the offseason, almost by default, but his long-term status in Miami will start to come under more scrutiny should the team start 0-3. The Dolphins need to figure out exactly how Reggie Bush fits in, too.
    • Inside slant:

      Brian Daboll was cast aside as the Browns coordinator and play-caller as the team shifted to a West Coast system under new head coach Pat Shurmur, who also runs the Browns defense. Daboll was then hired by the Dolphins and has gotten their offense a bit more vertical with Brandon Marshall, which is a positive step.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Pittsburgh at Indianapolis

      Sun 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      It once was an annual precursor to a potential AFC Championship Game, but now this looks like a second straight blowout win for the Steelers. If there are any Curtis Painter fans out there, you might just get your wish in this game because Kerry Collins is going to be under duress.
    • Inside slant:

      At some point the deeper questions about the Colts' talent and scheme are going to be asked. Peyton Manning is great and all, but for the second straight week they suffered on defense and special teams and have had hardly any of their big-money players step up in the QB's absence. I thought one man does not a football team make.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Denver at Tennessee

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Each team got its first win for its new head coach a week ago, and they did it despite some issues working against them. Denver suffered still more injuries, and the Titans are still working with a Chris Johnson who is trying to round into regular-season form. With the AFC South wide open, this would be a key win for the Titans.
    • Inside slant:

      Both these teams want to be standouts with the power running game, but haven't established it yet. Matt Hasselbeck has quietly made some things happen for the Titans, though, and he and Kenny Britt have something going right now that Denver's beat-up defense might not be able to stop.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Arizona at Seattle

      Sun 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Well, it is a divisional game and the Seahawks did win the NFC West last year. But Seattle has nothing going whatsoever on offense and not much on defense, and at least the Cardinals have a passing game. Kevin Kolb has been very solid for them, with little fanfare.
    • Inside slant:

      Given the state of Seattle's offensive line, I have to think Darnell Dockett is licking his chops. Could be some serious matchup issues there. I'd be moving the big man all over the place.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • San Francisco at Cincinnati

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Coach Jim Harbaugh, already being second-guessed in San Francisco for some controversial decisions, goes on the road for the first time. Can the 49ers find a way to get something out of their receivers, with several nicked up? How long before the calls for Alex Smith's job begin anew? And has anyone in the NFL had an easier opening schedule than the Bengals, getting Cleveland, Denver and San Francisco -- all with new head coaches?
    • Inside slant:

      Prior to making a trade to move up and get quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second round, the 49ers were working hard on a move to the end of the first round for Andy Dalton, but could not pull it off. They knew the Bengals would take Dalton at the top of the second round. Dalton threw for 300 yards last week and Kaepernick's time could come this season.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @jasonlacanfora.

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop

NFL News
CONTENT
15