I have my eye on four teams. All made the playoffs last year. All got off to bad starts this season. And all appear to be turning things around.
» The Chiefs started out 0-3 and there was talk of firing coach Todd Haley. Now they have won four straight and are tied for the lead in the AFC West. They have a very winnable game this weekend against the 0-7 Dolphins at home.
» The Eagles have won two straight after a 1-4 start. Andy Reid and his coaching staff, most notably defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, were under attack, but the past two wins have done wonders for the entire organization. Right now they might be the second-best team in the NFL, but a loss to the Bears at home will conjure up all the bad things being said earlier in the year.
» The Jets talked Super Bowl all offseason and then got off to a 2-3 start. Rex Ryan was being questioned from Joe Namath on down. Their two-game win streak happened because they got back to the ground and pound. Now they travel to the Bills, who control their own destiny in the AFC East.
» The Falcons, 13-3 last year and looking stronger heading into 2011, got off to a 2-3 start and could not protect Matt Ryan. Now they are on a two-game win streak and no one seems to be able to stop Michael Turner. It should be a three-game winning streak with the Colts on Sunday.
The 'new' Steelers
The biggest game of the weekend is the Ravens-Steelers rematch. Baltimore destroyed Pittsburgh in the opener, as Ben Roethlisberger had five turnovers and was sacked four times. Since that game, the Steelers QB has six turnovers in seven games and the team has gone 6-1.
What is amazing about the Steelers is that they have had to overcome many injuries and plug in young, inexperienced players in the process. Wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders have stepped up to the plate while Hines Ward has been out, and many think the offense is more dangerous now. Rookie Marcus Gilbert has been pressed into duty with all the offensive line injuries and may never give his job back. Ziggy Hood made the transition from defensive end appear seamless, and corner Keenan Lewis is an upgrade over Bryant McFadden. With all the injuries at linebacker, get ready to see Stevenson Sylvester and even Chris Carter play important roles. Never heard of these guys? Well, tune in Sunday night to see the 'new' Steelers.
Tough tests for Saints, Pats
New Orleans hasn't lost two in a row since 2009, but it does struggle against Tampa Bay. The Bucs have already defeated the Saints this season and are well rested coming off a bye. Saints coach Sean Payton is still not on the sidelines due to his knee surgery and his lack of presence is starting to show up as New Orleans has gone 1-2 in the past three weeks.
The Patriots lost last week on the road to the Steelers as the offense continues to disappear. The most points New England scored this year was in the opener (38) and their point totals have gone 38, 35, 31, 31, 30, 20, and 17. Here come the Giants into Foxboro and they are very much aware of the 31-game winning streak Brady has at home. The Giants beat New England in the Super Bowl with pass rush and they lead the NFL in sacks.
Microscope on three QBs
No one is under more scrutiny this weekend than Tim Tebow, Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers. Tebow looked like a running back under center last week. Palmer was, to say the least, rusty in his first appearance as a Raider. And Rivers leads the league in interceptions.
Tebow will probably continue to struggle and the nasty things people say about him will continue. Palmer should look like the Palmer of old with two weeks of work and the addition of his old friend, T.J. Houshmandzadah. Rivers is anyone's guess as he faces the Packers. Rivers will have to throw 40 times and must connect down field to receivers not running backs.
There were 88 sacks in 13 games last week. Another weekend like that and the number of quarterbacks who have thrown passes in games will rise. We have already had 52 QBs throw a pass in an NFL game and it could start to approach 60 if pass protection doesn't improve. Too many coaches and quarterbacks think they can get away with five-man protection schemes. Over the past three seasons, the NFL averaged 66 sacks a weekend and quarterbacks were still hurt an alarming rate.