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Jets-Steelers, Lions-49ers, Broncos-Falcons headline Week 2

The first impressions came fast and furious.

The Dallas Cowboys, with their beatdown of the New York Giants taking place before the nation last Wednesday night, forced everyone to take notice. Caution is requested on the inevitable conclusion jump, but that defense already looks like one that will give the 'Boys a chance every week.

The New York Jets shut down their big top, fired their ringmaster and sent the elephants and clowns home. For one game, at least, the circus closed. That's how you answer a preseason of discontent.

Oh, and the San Francisco 49ers emerged as maybe the most complete team, roughhousing the Green Bay Packers on defense and doing whatever they wanted on offense.

Yet don't forget how the Saints, Bills and Chiefs hit the deck hard, a rude introduction to the 2012 campaign.

What about Act 2? The march to find out what's real and what isn't is upon us, and this top-heavy slate of games has what we need ...

» Rex Ryan's crew against a real defense? Check.
» A high-octane grudge match that will (hopefully) end in a conclusive handshake? Check.
» An up-tempo, wide-open pass-fest between Peyton Manning and the newest upstart vying for inclusion in the pantheon of great quarterbacks? Check. And more.

Here is your Week 2 primer, with games ranked in order of intrigue, from 1 to 16:

    • New York at Pittsburgh

      Sun 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 1:

      It's not because of Tim Tebow. I promise. Although ... We saw so little of the Wildcat, one wonders what Gang Green didn't show. But no, this one is about the suddenly viable Jets trying to show that their high-scoring offensive performance and thieving ways on defense against Buffalo weren't just happenstance. And the Steelers are licking their paws after watching Manning drive up and down the field on Sunday night.
    • What to watch:

      Besides Tebow (OK, I'll stop), all eyes will be on Mark Sanchez, who did his best in Week 1 to quiet any concerns about the Jets' quarterback position. If he can stay sound and productive against a Pittsburgh D that should be much more of a challenge than the Bills' side, folks just might stop talking about the viability of a two-quarterback system and start asking why the Jets need the Wildcat at all. As for the Steelers, offensive-line issues made it tough to run the ball against Denver and led to Ben Roethlisberger being sacked five times. Think Rex and his promising unit might go after him a little? #NYJvsPIT
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Detroit at San Francisco

      Sun 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 2:

      The drama over the NFL's best (or worst?) handshake of 2011 pulls us in. We're weak. Whatever happens after the game, whatever the score, the postgame greeting between 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Lions coach Jim Schwartz could be entertaining. Will they nearly come to blows again? Will it involve a back slap? Or, in the heat of the moment, will both of them offer levity? Before all that, though, it's merely a matchup of the NFL's nastiest defense vs. Detroit's pass-first offense.
    • What to watch:

      Quarterback Matthew Stafford's comeback took all the headlines, as he shook off a mistake-filled performance to thrive under fire and guide the Lions to a narrow win over the Rams. But under the radar, Detroit actually ran the ball. Kevin Smith averaged 4.8 yards per rush, and if that can continue, it should make their attack much more varied. But will anyone be able to run the ball against Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and company? Doubtful. On offense, San Francisco showcased quite an array of weapons in Week 1, with Randy Moss grabbing a touchdown. Can the Lions make Alex Smith revert to his old ways or is there too much talent around him? #DETvsSF
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Denver at Atlanta

      Mon 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 3:

      Suddenly, this game features two of the NFL's most intriguing offenses. We knew Denver would be hard to stop, but who guessed Manning would arrive at his familiar place in the game this quickly? Who knew the no-huddle would look so similar, despite the unfamiliar, orange uniform? On the other hand, who knew the Falcons would look so electric against Kansas City? Remember, this is the same team that didn't score a single offensive point against the Giants in an ugly playoff loss last January. On Monday night, it'll be a fireworks display.
    • What to watch:

      The Falcons suffered a brutal setback last week when cornerback Brent Grimes was placed on injured reserve. Definitely not what you want when your defense is trying to gear up to stop Peyton. Now, that trade for Asante Samuel is even bigger, as Atlanta suddenly has two No. 1 corners, instead of three. Manning could simply find the weak link and pick on him. The four-time MVP described himself as still having "limitations" -- that's kind of scary. We'll see the next step in his progression. #DENvsATL
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Baltimore at Philadelphia

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 4:

      Before opening week, it was obvious to say this game would feature one dynamic offense that makes the best use of its quarterback and a tenacious defense that never stops. Now, we must wonder, which team is which? It was the Ravens, of course, who destroyed the Bengals with a no-huddle offense that is bringing out the best in cannon-armed Joe Flacco. And it's Michael Vick who arrives on the heels of last week's struggles that almost caused his team to cough up a sure win. The defense won that game for the Eagles. Will each team revert back to form? Or are they both in a new reality?
    • What to watch:

      All eyes are on Vick, whose performance last week accelerated the grumbles of one of the NFL's most grumble-licious fan bases. Vick threw four picks in a gross win over the Browns and nearly had another stolen on his game-winning drive. An injury to receiver Jeremy Maclin's hip might also be a factor. Toss that together with the fact that Baltimore didn't seem to miss Terrell Suggs when it came to rushing the passer, and it'll be fascinating to see how the Eagles help Vick find his rhythm and comfort zone. #BALvsPHI
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Chicago at Green Bay

      Thur 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL NETWORK Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 5:

      Well, Jay Cutler wished the Packers' defensive backs "good luck," so that's something. Perhaps an impressive reunion with receiver Brandon Marshall gave the Bears quarterback some new-found guts, because needling a reeling Green Bay secondary might not go over well. In mocking the Packers' defenders, Cutler showed he has supreme confidence in his team. A win here would make it easy to believe they are the class of the NFC North. It all changes that fast.
    • What to watch:

      Watch to see if Cutler puts his money where his mouth is. Does he go right after that secondary? Bet on it. Aside from that, the Bears are one of the league's more well-rounded offenses, meaning they have two backs who can run it, but also have the ability to decorate the sky. The Packers didn't show they can stop the run at all against San Francisco. How much time does Chicago spend trying to jam the ball down Green Bay's throat before opening it up? And if the Bears do sit back and throw it, can they protect Cutler? #CHIvsGB
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Tampa Bay at New York

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 6:

      What looked to be a laugher before the season isn't so funny now. Fresh off a hard-nosed victory over the Panthers, the Bucs are no longer lost in the shuffle. Stifling, pressure defense, taking away what an opponent does best, sound football -- they looked like the Giants. And now, Greg Schiano's guys get to play the Giants. The fact that Tom Coughlin's team is fresh off a surprising loss to the Cowboys might not be as meaningful as the fact that the G-Men had four more days than usual to prepare. Bad time for Tampa Bay to face 'em.
    • What to watch:

      If Schiano made one lasting impression in his first NFL game, it's that he made us all forget that the Panthers are a running team. He completely shut that down. What will be the focus against the Giants? Victor Cruz in the slot? That one-two punch of Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson in the backfield? The problem with the G-Men is that they don't simply have one thing you need to stop. What will be interesting -- for those of us who like to jump to rash conclusions -- is the comparison between rookie running backs on opposite sidelines. One pick before the Giants grabbed Wilson, the Bucs took Doug Martin. And both teams claim they got the one they wanted. Let's start the comparisons ... now! #TBvsNYG
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • New Orleans at Carolina

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 7:

      The fact that both offensive juggernauts came out of the gates stumbling was a little surprising. Who predicted a home loss for the Saints (one that made Robert Griffin III look like the Superman cape socks he wears)? Who thought the Panthers would be humbled by the division-rival Bucs, after an offseason featuring more optimism than the franchise has enjoyed in years? All of that is intriguing. But the best thing about this game? It'll be really fun to watch. Both teams boast plenty of offensive talent and quick-strike capability. Edge-of-your-seat kind of stuff.
    • What to watch:

      All training camp, the Saints set themselves up as a franchise that could make a seamless transition from Sean Payton to interim coach to next interim coach. Will the adversity of a loss bolster them or send them into a tailspin? There is no way to predict because there isn't precedent. It's not something other teams have dealt with. While this game has plenty to watch for, including whether or not Cam Newton can get back on track, nothing is more noteworthy than gauging the Saints' early reaction to troubles. #NOvsCAR
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Kansas City at Buffalo

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 8:

      A must-win game for both teams so early in the season? Really? Nah, let's not get too carried away. Teams have come back to make the playoffs from 0-2. It's just not likely. The Bills no-showed their opener against the Jets, and the Chiefs allowed Atlanta's Julio Jones to set up shop in their secondary. Both teams badly need a bounce-back performance to validate the positive changes so many people believe they each have made. That's why, even featuring two winless teams, this game is must-see TV. Seasons can turn quickly.
    • What to watch:

      Just check out Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills quarterback whose late-game production couldn't overshadow a start that allowed the Jets to cruise ahead. Bone-headed decisions and poor throws marked his day, and already the questions have begun. Not having David Nelson, recently placed on injured reserve, won't help. Neither will the fact that Kansas City gets back the services of suspended pass-rushing monster Tamba Hali and possibly injured cornerback Brandon Flowers. #KCvsBUF
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Washington at St. Louis

      Sun 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 9:

      Because RG3 is involved. That helps. We won't be "Griffining" with the rest of an adoring fan base, but when Robert Griffin III is playing, we can't keep our eyes off him. Once considered an also-ran in the NFC East, is it possible one draft pick makes them a contender? The answer isn't yet known.
    • What to watch:

      The Rams are young and inexperienced -- the franchise has a ton of new faces from top to bottom. Even in the loss at Detroit, they made a positive impression. Standing out above all was the secondary that picked off Stafford three times. They got some game. How will RG3 go after the St. Louis secondary? #WASvsSTL
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Houston at Jacksonville

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 10:

      The Texans might be the least sexy of the teams that won last week, though that's probably no surprise to them. Efficient, boring, no frills -- they just bludgeoned the Dolphins with an offensive flurry in the second quarter, then sent them home. No worries. The Jags bring the intrigue. Maurice Jones-Drew's holdout is over. Blaine Gabbert's career is slowly on the rise. Perhaps Jacksonville is simply focusing on football.
    • What to watch:

      But how close are the Jaguars to competing? Was last week's overtime loss a sign that they are right there, or did it simply tell us they aren't ready to knock off the lowly Vikings? That will all play out. Don't be surprised if the offense once again centers on Jones-Drew, contract dispute or not, especially with Gabbert challenged far more than he was last week. #HOUvsJAC
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Minnesota at Indianapolis

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 14:

      Of all the games, this one has the most potential to backfire as an end-of-the-line call. It could turn exciting. Maybe Adrian Peterson busts out and makes us wonder which knee was even hurt? Or maybe Colts quarterback Andrew Luck does his best turn-back-the-clock and shows us a performance like in the preseason. But otherwise, there just doesn't seem to be a whole lot of sexiness to this contest.
    • What to watch:

      Facing the Jaguars' defense, Christian Ponder was shockingly efficient. The second-year quarterback completed 20 of 27 passes for 270 yards, exhibiting a poise not previously seen. He did it all without big-play (and suspended) wideout Jerome Simpson. The Colts have the propensity to allow a ton of yards, and Ponder could be looking at his second career 300-yard game. Or, given the state of the Vikings' secondary, Luck could be looking at his second in as many games. #MINvsIND
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Cleveland at Cincinnati

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 15:

      It's tough to imagine too many folks outside the state of Ohio tuning in to what should be a not-very-pretty game. The Browns might have a tough-as-nails defense, but their major quarterback issues and lack of skill players don't make for entertaining viewing. The Bengals, though, need to rebound from being overwhelmed by the Ravens on Monday night.
    • What to watch:

      Will it be another cringe-worthy performance for rookie QB Brandon Weeden? The key for him will be the offensive line getting Trent Richardson going. If the Browns can spring at least one rookie, their offense might have a chance to churn. Otherwise, it could be a confidence-builder for Cincy. #CLEvsCIN
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Oakland at Miami

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 16:

      The Raiders and Dolphins are both coming off woeful losses that offered little hope. Oakland's running attack that features Darren McFadden never got in gear, while Miami's rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill looked like a rookie quarterback. Not that his under-talented group of receivers helps. It doesn't figure to be an aesthetically pleasing three hours.
    • What to watch:

      How many different ways can Oakland get McFadden the ball? It'll be something to watch if the running game isn't working; they still must find ways to get him the ball in space. For the Dolphins ... They have a long way to go. #OAKvsMIA
    • Watch: Game Preview

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