Rap Sheet Rankings  

 

Patriots-Ravens, Eagles-Cardinals highlight Week 3 matchups

After two weeks of football, we know so little. Thought you learned something in Week 1? Bet that changed in Week 2.

Media darlings like the Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos and New York Jets landed with loud thuds thanks to ugly offensive displays. Some who faced harsh questioning after the season's opening stanza -- the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants -- emerged looking even stronger after fighting and winning last week.

Sure, there were a few who began to solidify their standing based on two weeks of similar performances. (The lowly Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders, and maybe even the New Orleans Saints, come to mind.) But mostly, through two weeks of action, it's fairly apparent that we don't know very much.

A whopping 20 teams are 1-1 -- average after two games. This makes the annual early-season conclusion-jumping exercise difficult. It's almost impossible to make dramatic statements after the first two weeks of the 2012 campaign, which is unthinkable in the hyperbolic world of the NFL.

Thankfully, teams are hurtling toward a third game ... and a bunch more after that. But this week, beginning Thursday night with an intriguing matchup between the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers, we'll focus on the third.

And maybe wisdom will come, particularly regarding five of the remaining six undefeateds. The unblemished Houston Texans face their first true test in old foe Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, while there are two matchups between 2-0 teams: Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons at San Diego Chargers. (The San Francisco 49ers are the only perfect team with a relatively manageable task, taking on the Minnesota Vikings -- which is a road game, after all.)

If the Cardinals take down the talented Eagles, who would argue they aren't for real? And if the Chargers do the same to the Falcons, won't we all admit this might really, finally, be their breakthrough year?

Here is your Week 3 primer, with games ranked in order of intrigue, from 1 to 16:

    • New England at Baltimore

      Sun 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 1:

      How much time do you have? Do you really need convincing on this one? Let's see ... It's a rematch of a classic AFC Championship Game from last season, one that featured Patriots CB Sterling Moore's game-saving pass breakup and the wide left that precipitated former Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff's move to the Washington Redskins. It's a showdown of two conference superpowers who share a healthy respect (but not a lot of love) for one another. Sure, both are reeling a bit, coming off close losses in Week 2. But no one will need to manufacture emotion. Remember (now-injured) pass rusher Terrell Suggs and Tom Brady going facemask-to-facemask? Or Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis discussing his hatred for how the league protects quarterbacks like Brady? And on and on. This will be a fun one.
    • What to watch:

      After what is sure to be an interesting week of walk-up coverage of one of the AFC's most intense rivalries, there is a lot to look for on the field. Brady and Co. are fresh off a stunning loss in which Arizona stymied the normally dynamic New England offense, and the Pats will face a complex defensive scheme that has always given them problems. But with former Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees pulling the strings, these aren't the same Ravens, ranking toward the bottom of the league in total defense. Or they are, just older and more banged-up (no Suggs). Can Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels find a rhythm, even without injured tight end Aaron Hernandez? The Ravens' no-huddle offense will supremely test a new-fangled Patriots secondary that has more than impressed thus far. And don't think the Patriots won't be watching for Ravens safety Bernard Pollard, who has been present for or directly involved in all of their major injuries since 2008. #NEvsBAL
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Philadelphia at Arizona

      Sun 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 2:

      Of course -- we all knew this Eagles-Cardinals showdown would be the most anticipated game between undefeateds in Week 3. ... Wait, what? OK, not really. But it is. Michael Vick's Eagles have pulled out two wins via late-game heroics, overcoming mistakes to do so. But given that they began the season with a trip to Cleveland and a home game against Baltimore, their 2-0 record isn't shocking. The Cardinals' 2-0 start is. Taking down the Patriots in their Gillette Stadium opener, thanks to the star turn of cornerback Patrick Peterson and an underrated/stout defense? Yes, the NFL certainly took notice. This week will tell us tons about Arizona.
    • What to watch:

      No one rushes the quarterback like the Eagles, and they'll be zeroing in on a familiar face. Kevin Kolb is squaring off against his old team, a storyline that might get mentioned a time or two in Philadelphia this week. The Cardinals host the Eagles, and the atmosphere could make things even more interesting. A win would surely create more than a few believers. For Arizona to pull it off, harassers Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett must collapse Vick's pocket and keep him from getting loose. Easier said than done. #PHIvsAZ
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Houston at Denver

      Sun 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 3:

      The Texans have quietly rolled to a perfect record with two easy wins over below-average teams from the Sunshine State (Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars). A few more folks will pay attention to Houston this week, when the Texans visit Denver to play Peyton Manning -- a serious challenge for a secondary they believe is improved. And don't think things will be easy for the Texans' offense, either, which will have to block Denver's active front in order to spring productive and cerebral running back Arian Foster. One thing in Houston's favor: Denver has a short week of preparation after the Monday night game. For years, the Texans measured themselves (and their season) by how they did against Manning. Some things never change.
    • What to watch:

      The news that Broncos rookie Brock Osweiler was preparing to come in to throw a potential Hail Mary against the Atlanta Falcons should not have been jarring. Plenty of teams have implemented similar tactics through the years, with former Patriots backup Michael Bishop being the example that always stands out to me. But it was something to note. Concerns about Manning's arm strength and health will be part of this year's narrative, and his ball did appear to wobble more than normal on Monday night. There's so much to look forward to in a great matchup, but all eyes will be on every one of Manning's throws, particularly his deep ones. #HOUvsDEN
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Atlanta at San Diego

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

      Another rumble between undefeated teams, only one of which is a proven entity. It's tough to doubt what the Falcons have done, especially after they hit the pause button on the Peyton Manning lovefest with some inspired ball-hawking in the Georgia Dome. It's a little harder to figure out the Chargers. Victories over two winless teams haven't offered solid proof that this year won't be like the last two. And local enthusiasm seems to be lagging, particularly when it comes to selling tickets. But a win over Matt Ryan's team could trigger a belief that the core is strong, even while San Diego deals with several key injuries.
    • What to watch:

      Ryan Mathews could return to action after missing the first two games of the season with a broken clavicle. The third-year running back's talent is never in question, but Mathews needs to stay on the field, especially after an offseason full of anticipation and hype. If he manages to do that, the Chargers' offense could be as balanced as any. The Falcons' juggernaut of an offense, meanwhile, hit a bit of a roadblock against the Broncos, despite getting four turnovers from their defense. Can they rebound? And what should we expect from running back Michael Turner, who was arrested and charged with a DUI after Monday night's big win? #ATLvsSD
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Kansas City at New Orleans

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

      A matchup between two 0-2 teams is in the top 10? Well, yeah. These aren't any two winless teams. On the one hand are the Saints, whose hopes of putting the bounty scandal behind them were stymied when they suddenly couldn't tackle anyone. The value of coach Sean Payton is becoming more and more evident every game. As for the Chiefs, they were a sexy sleeper pick to win the AFC West. Instead, they've just played like they're sleeping. One team can begin to turn the corner on Sunday; the other will fall to 0-3.
    • What to watch:

      The way these two teams have been playing defense, this one could be 50-49. But one fact shouldn't be overlooked: Both have respected gurus behind their schemes. Romeo Crennel isn't giving up coordinator duties just yet, while Steve Spagnuolo is preaching accountability in New Orleans. One of them will get it figured out on defense, and maybe both will. But is this the week? A shootout wouldn't bode well for the Chiefs, who aren't built for a high-scoring affair with Matt Cassel under center. Which squad will stay in contention with a 1-2 record and plenty of time left? Oh-and-three is much more daunting. #KCvsNO
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • New York at Carolina

      Thur 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL NETWORK Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 7:

      The Thursday nighter is a good one, with the suddenly surging Panthers taking on the defending champions. It doesn't promise much off-the-field intrigue, unless you consider that a team that has guaranteed a Super Bowl is taking on the team that just one won. Panthers-Giants will just be a good game. Tom Coughlin's bunch is coming off a stirring come-from-behind win that was impressive and telling. Eli Manning kept turning it over, but when he stopped, the Giants rolled. As explosive as the Panthers' offense can be, the G-Men can't turn the ball over that many times and come out with a win this week. Carolina did solid work last Sunday in taking down the Saints; beating the Giants would make a loud statement to the league.
    • What to watch:

      Cam Newton can break down a defense, and this will stretch the Giants in a lot of ways. Do the G-Men take a defender out of their scheme and have him spy the quarterback? Do the Panthers become the run-first team they hope to be with three healthy, productive backs? It's actually an odd matchup for the Giants' defense, one that will be intriguing to pick apart. An aggressive pass-rushing team can hurt itself by forcing Newton to flee the pocket. Perhaps an in-your-face run game from Carolina keeps New York honest and takes away its key strength. A lot to look for. #NYGvsCAR
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Green Bay at Seattle

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

      Perhaps all those worrying about the Packers' offense can simmer down. Sure, Green Bay struggled against the 49ers, but San Francisco's defense makes everyone uncomfortable. The way the Packers played in the win over Chicago was more like it, but this is an undercover tough game. Seattle can be a miserable place to play for a visiting offense, especially one that relies on communication. Aaron Rodgers will have his work cut out for him. That could mean good things for the Seahawks, who served notice by thumping the Cowboys.
    • What to watch:

      Seattle might hold one key to slowing down a fiercely productive Green Bay pass rush: They can run, as the Cowboys found out. Marshawn Lynch's beast mode is always available, and quarterback Russell Wilson has done his part early on. Throw in some improved health on Seattle's offensive line, and the Packers will be hard-pressed to duplicate their impressive Week 2 performance. Of course, the Packers have four more days to prepare than the Seahawks do, so who knows what they could unveil? Defensive coordinator Dom Capers might have a few surprises for Seattle's rookie signal-caller. #GBvsSEA
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • New York at Miami

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 9:

      An old-school AFC East showdown, there have been years where this is a much-anticipated game. This doesn't seem to be one of those years. The Jets might have Tim Tebow (yay!), but the offense no-showed against the Steelers. Another woeful performance could turn New York radio into a chorus, so that's one reason this is worth watching. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are coming off a 35-13 pounding of the Raiders; a win over Gang Green would quiet those doubters (like me) who say this is a rebuilding year.
    • What to watch:

      Amazing to think that in his seventh season, Reggie Bush is finally becoming the No. 2 draft pick everyone was expecting in 2006. Suddenly that boast about leading the league in rushing isn't so silly. Bush is averaging 6.0 yards per rush for the Dolphins, becoming one of the league's dynamic players. But running against the Jets' defense -- really, doing anything against the Jets' defense -- isn't easy. Can he be productive? #NYJvsMIA
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • St. Louis at Chicago

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

      Is this a game featuring teams heading in opposite directions? The young and talented Rams shined against the Redskins last week, as quarterback Sam Bradford sent out an alert that he's still pretty good, throwing for 310 yards in an impressive win. The Bears, meanwhile, are coming off a Thursday-night loss in Green Bay that featured plenty of controversy. Quarterback Jay Cutler is still defending his decision to yell at J'Marcus Webb, but bumping the left tackle caused his leadership to be questioned. A win would come to his aid.
    • What to watch:

      After every incompletion or interception by Cutler, won't we all just be watching to see how he reacts? What if Webb allows a sack? Cutler has put himself in the national crosshairs with his dramatic ways, and he seems to be teetering on the brink of losing all respect. He said the right things this week, but his play will have to speak louder. It won't help, however, that St. Louis will try to get after him in a hurry. #STLvsCHI
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Jacksonville at Indianapolis

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 12:

      Maurice Jones-Drew showed up, but Blaine Gabbert has been up-and-down and the defense is giving up too many yards. An 0-2 start isn't what new Jaguars owner Shahid Khan was looking for, but here is another winnable game. Colts rookie Andrew Luck passed his way to his first win on Sunday by taking down the Vikings, so he's got that under his belt. He'll try to get No. 2 in an otherwise blah game.
    • What to watch:

      Gabbert has been Jekyll and Hyde, and even after the preseason optimism about his progress, we don't really know how different he is after last year. If the Colts pressure him -- specifically if Dwight Freeney is playing -- we'll begin to learn a little more. We'll similarly watch Luck, who is trying to prove rookie quarterbacks don't have to get beat around in Year 1. #JACvsIND
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Pittsburgh at Oakland

      Sun 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 13:

      It was a new world under new leadership for the Raiders this offseason, but the results haven't improved. Two ugly losses make you second-guess the belief that they would compete in the AFC West race. Another loss here to the Steelers might serve as the death blow. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, abused the Jets last week despite missing defensive starters James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. That's how solid the Steelers' defensive core is.
    • What to watch:

      Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer has been fine, but he hasn't become the stellar signal-caller some thought he would be in his return to the game. Not yet, at least. Regardless, the Raiders' fortunes truly hinge on running the ball and stopping the run. Darren McFadden has to be better than 2.1 yards per carry. He won't find anything easy against the Steelers. #PITvsOAK
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Buffalo at Cleveland

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

      A week ago, this would've seemed like a matchup between two of the NFL's most hapless teams. Yet the Bills' demonstrative win over the Chiefs made us feel guilty for wanting to write them off after the opener. The biggest development: Mario Williams and that defensive front began to look nasty and create turnovers. If Mario and Co. can shut down Browns back Trent Richardson, Buffalo can improve to 2-1, allowing some hype to rebuild.
    • What to watch:

      The Browns don't have much reason for optimism, but they do have some points of pride. They are hard-nosed up front on both sides of the ball; facing the NFL's leading rusher (C.J. Spiller) will challenge the defense. Cleveland might try to knock Spiller around early. Will that change the third-year man's desire to go hard? On the other side, it's always worth checking on the progress made by quarterback Brandon Weeden. #BUFvsCLE
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Detroit at Tennessee

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

      An emotional week for the Lions ended in defeat to San Francisco, but they did enough right to exit that game feeling optimistic. The 49ers did their best to clamp down on star receiver Calvin Johnson, and Detroit was forced to make things happen anyway. Don't be surprised to see other teams, like Tennessee, try to do the same. Speaking of the Titans, they simply need to get something going. Anything.
    • What to watch:

      Two straight losses, two straight weeks where the run game was nonexistent and the passing game was inconsistent for Tennessee. Chris Johnson has to get it going, even if his offensive line isn't providing him with the running lanes he desires. The season began with some real hope in Tennessee. It's too early to cancel all of that, but a loss this week could be damning. #DETvsTEN
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • San Francisco at Minnesota

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

      Minnesota has shown some real progress, specifically when it comes to second-year quarterback Christian Ponder, who is currently the most accurate passer in the NFL. But doing it against the nasty bunch of individuals on San Francisco's defense ... That's a little different. Don't be surprised to see Ponder knocked off his spot and hit into inaccuracy. The 49ers are just too physical to keep this one close, it seems.
    • What to watch:

      There is one redeeming quality of this game: Getting to watch star runner Adrian Peterson take on the 49ers' front, one of the NFL's stoutest. Peterson vs. linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman will be a good fight, though Peterson isn't all the way back from a torn ACL, so it won't be a fair one. Wish this game was happening in Week 10; then we could really gauge the battle. #SFvsMIN
    • Watch: Game Preview

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop

NFL News
CONTENT
15