Week 2 offers more clues about which teams have a legitmate chance to compete for a Super Bowl and which teams have more work to do. While all the attention in Sunday night's Manning Bowl (Giants at Colts) will be placed on the quarterbacks, this game will offer concrete clues to all Giants fans about their team. If the G-Men can play well against the explosive passing game of the Colts, especially in their secondary, then we will know the Giants are a seroius playoff contender.
For some teams, starting the season 0-2 will not be a death sentence for the playoffs, just as 2-0 will not guarantee the playoffs. Last year, four of the nine teams (49ers, Broncos, Falcons, Giants) that started 2-0 failed to make the playoffs. That's why this week will offer more clues -- but I'm not ready to draw any final conclusions.
The script: My first 15
1. I will be in Tennessee to watch the Steelers and Titans battle, and boy do I expect it to be battle. These are two of the toughest, hardest-hitting teams in the NFL, and I expect both defenses to lay some major hits on the opposition. I am also excited to see how far Vince Young has grown. The Titans will need him to be a prolific passer, one capable of making big plays down the field. If Young does not make the plays in the passing game, it wlll be hard for the Titans to move the ball and they will have to win a low-scoring battle. The Steelers, with limitations in their offensive line, especailly at tackle (I wonder how many false starts Flozell Adams will have this week), will rely on their run game and punishing defense to steal another win.
2. No place like home for the Falcons, as Matt Ryan is 13-1 as a starter in the Georgia Dome, where Atlanta can run the ball effectively, make big plays in the passing game and, thus, get an early lead that allows the pass rush to take over. Ryan has as many wins at home since he entered the league as Peyton Manning and Brett Favre do in that time span. The Falcons should be able to run the ball on Arizona, which then helps Ryan execute the play-action pass package.
3. The Bucs welcome back sensational corner Aqib Talib from his one-game suspension. Talib is one of the best cover men in the league, but many fans outside of Tampa don't realize this. Talib might not get many chances this week in pass defense, because the Panthers -- on the road with the snap count against them -- will mostly run. Look for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to dominate this game. In the last three games against the Bus, the Panthers have 118 rushes for 723 yards and eight touchdowns -- 241 yards per game at an average of 6.1 yards per rush.
4. One of the most impressive things about Week 1 was Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco showing toughness after being hit hard on the first play of the game, getting back up off the ground and making some incredible throws in the win over the Jets. Flacco showed mental and physical toughness, which also shows that his game is maturing and developing. Flacco did not play well against the Bengals last season, losing both games and throwing four interceptions. I have a hunch Flacco will play much better this time, and the Bengals wil have a hard time sweeping the AFC North this year.
5. Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz is an incredible play caller and play designer, but in Sunday's game against the Cowboys he will have some fundamental problems blocking the Cowboys' front. Bad offensive lines don't travel well and the Bears' offensive line is bad. Counting the preseason, the Bears have allowed 23 sacks this year and if the Cowboys get an early lead and make the Bears play from behind, that sack total might reach 30.
6. Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham will dust off his old Michael Vick game plans and make sure his defensive line stays in front of Vick and forces him to throw the ball from the pocket. Vick shocked me last week, showing his old speed and burst that I had not seen on any tape this summer. But on the other side of the line, I think the 2010 defensive rookie of the year might be decided, as Lions rookie tackle Ndamukong Suh has been sensational and, at times, unblockable. The Eagles will struggle to get him under control.
7. How bad is the Bills offense? If you watched the Red Zone channel last week, you never saw the Bills -- as they never made an appearance in the red zone. It's going to be a long one in Buffalo, and it doesn't seem to be getting better. Playing the Packers this week will require the Bills to score more than 20 points, and I am not sure they can score 20 on Alabama.
8. Miami travels for their second road game of the year (Arizona and Baltimore do as well), to face a well-rested Vikings squad. Minnesota has had 10 days to improve its offensive timing, but the reality for the Vikings is they do not have a receiver that can win a one-on-one matchup on the outside. Expect the Dolphins to double tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and disrupt the timing of the Vikings offense. This is going to be a sensational game, and the mentally and physically tough Dolphins match up very well with the Vikings.
9. Watching the tape of last week's Seattle-San Francisco game, the 49ers dominated in the trenches but made too many mistakes. The tape reconfirmed my belief that Seattle is not talented, and having to play on the road will be a challenge. The Broncos moved the ball, but they made their share of mental mistakes during their game with Jacksonville. One thing was clear from the tape: Receiver Brandon Lloyd is an outstanding downfield playmaker.
10. I know it's early, but Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is really good, and I mean really good. Unfortunately, he does not have anyone to throw the ball to that can win one-on-one match ups. Traveling to Oakland won't be as hard for the Rams, and they should be able to move the ball against the Raiders in spite of the fact they are so below par at the skill positions. Even with Jason Campbell, the Raiders offense looks bad, as Campbell hangs onto the ball too long and the Raiders offensive line, especially at tackle, is well below average. If the Rams win this game, the Tom Cable watch begins in Oakland.
11. New England travels to the Jets with a collection of offensive skill players who can cause some problems for the Jets. Everyone in the league will take shots down the field on the Jets' defense, as it is vital to make big plays against this team. The Jets are not going to allow many 12-play drives, therefore it is vital to make big plays. The Patriots have a unique collection of tight ends, drafted with the Jets in mind. The Jets safeties do not match well on good receiving tight ends, and if the Pats protect they will make plays down the field.
12. I heard Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez this week say that everything is going to be fine with his team's offense. And I am sure they will start off well Sunday against New England. But Sanchez must make plays in the game; he will have to take some chances and show mental toughness and leadership to win the game. These are the kinds of games in which only the strong survive -- as evidenced by Tom Brady's 7-1 road record against the Jets.
13. The Chargers lost a tough one last Monday, but watching the game tape did not diminish my enthusiasm for their team. I thought they were physical against the Chiefs. Playing at home on a fast track will allow Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to control the game. Rivers does not get enough credit for being an incredibly talented player who makes throws that make you stop the tape and marvel.
14. The Texans impressed me this past weekend. And I have been one of their most vocal critics, citing their lack of toughness. But last week they showed physical toughness on both sides of the ball and had the Colts wanting the game to be over by the third quarter. If they keep this approach each week -- and by all indications this summer they have made toughness a priority -- they can beat anyone on any field.
15. The Manning Bowl will be interesting to see if the Colts can bounce back from their butt-whipping in Houston and be able to match the physical toughness of the Giants. Peyton Manning will be as good as ever, but can this defense stop any running game and show the red-zone ability that saved them last year?
» I thought Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis looked sensational last week, all over the field and playing a physical style that I have not seen from him in a while.
» The Jets are the best screen defense in the league, which limited Baltimore from utilizing a huge portion of thier playbook. The Patriots are a quick-screen team that uses the outside screen to help defeat overload pressure. Last year in the Meadowlands, the Patriots had 197 yards in the first half, but failed to make plays in the red zone.
» Speaking of the Meadowlands, I am told New Meadowlands stadium is very quiet, very sterile and does not provide the loud home field advantage that can enhance a pressure defense.
» Don't underestimate the loss of former line coach Howard Mudd for the Colts. Peyton Manning was hit more in the first game without Mudd than anytime in recent memory. Mudd was one of the game's best, and I am sure they miss him in Indy.
» When Atlanta's Dunta Robinson becomes a shutdown cornerback, please let me know. Watching him on tape, he does not cover well and the Falcons have to be wondering why they paid so much for so little.
» Not sure why the Browns traded linebacker Kamerion Wimbley to the Raiders, but he has looked sensational for the Raiders so far, showing the unique pass-rushing skills the Browns hoped he would bring to their defense.
Sure to be special
How good will it be to watch the kicking game during the Chiefs-Browns game this weekend? Both teams feature incredible returners, and every play in this phase of the game might determine the outcome, as both offenses are not explosive (even though last year's Week 15 matchup between these teams produced a 41-34 Cleveland win). FYI, Josh Cribbs brought two kickoffs back last year against the Chiefs, so expect this phase to be exciting and determine the outcome of the game.
Jeffrey Chartier, a devoted family man and Patriots fan, was attending the Cincinati-New England game last week with his 6-year-old son, Tedy, when he suddenly had a heart attack. Stadium medics worked diligently to save Chartier, bringing him onto the field, where a defibrillator was used to try to resuscitate him. All attempts failed and Chartier was pronoucned dead. His son was taken to the Public Safety building unaware of what happened to his father until his mother arrived.
After working the sidelines for NFL Network that day, I left Gillette Stadium with a heavy heart. I hope we can all help the family deal with this tragedy by making a contribution to the Tedy and Amber Chartier Educational Fund, c/o Polish National Credit Union, Chicopee, MA 01020.
Follow me on Twitter @Michaelombardi.