Four upstarts staring down statement games in Week 3

The draft is built to help poor teams become better teams. It doesn't always work that way, though, so sometimes teams have to go out and get lucky in free agency. But sooner or later, winning has to happen or it is all torn down and rebuilt again.

Four teams who are very familiar with that cycle just so happen to be 2-0 and staring down statement games in Week 3. Win, and the corner will be considered turned. Lose, and people will say it was a nice story, but they are the same team they've always been.

» The Lions have lost 13 in a row in Minneapolis but go into Sunday's game with the Vikings with their best chance to win in over a decade. Matthew Stafford has yet to be sacked while throwing seven touchdown passes. Can Jared Allen and company stop him?

» The Texans have never been 3-0, but they were 2-0 last year before they fell apart. They lead the NFL in points allowed, defense against the pass and total defense, but now they go to New Orleans to face the Saints, who score close to 30 points a game. Saint DE Will Smith returns after a suspension and will be looking to take his frustrations out on Matt Schaub.

» The Redskins weren't on many radar screens in August, but now they are 2-0 and go to Dallas where they are 2-13 since 1995. In five starts for Washington dating back to last year, Rex Grossman has averaged 287 yards passing and the Washington defense already has seven sacks.

» The Bills play host to the Patriots, a team they are 1-19 against since 2000. Bills running back Fred Jackson said to me this week, "Things are going like we thought they would. We're a bunch of misfits led by a real smart QB." Rysn Fitzpatrick has as many touchdown passes as Tom Brady (seven). These two teams have combined for 152 points in two games. There could be some real fireworks.

Keep your eye on the center

We all know what happens in the NFL when a quarterback goes down with injury; just ask the Indianapolis Colt fans. But little is said when the center is missing in action.

The center is the QB of the line; he makes the line calls, directs the protections, snaps the ball and protects the midline. So it's no coincidence that Atlanta has been without Todd McClure for two games and Matt Ryan is taking a beating. And now the Patriots just put their center Dan Koppen on injured reserve, so keep an eye on replacment Dan Connolly, who faces dominant nose tackle Kyle Williams of the Bills on Sunday.

The biggest center issue, however, is in New York, where the Jets may be without all-pro Nick Mangold in Oakland on Sunday. The Raiders have two fine defensive tackles, Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly, who should be in the backfield a lot against an undrafted center, Colin Baxter, picked up on waivers from the Chargers.

Keep your eye on the no-huddle offense

The no-huddle offense isn't new. I can remember when Boomer Esiason's Bengals and Jim Kelly's Bills gave teams fits with their versions of the hurry-up. Now, it is back and many teams (like the Patriots) are using to great success in the NFL.

The biggest change in today's no-huddle offense is teams don't have to substitute offensive personnel groups to get all the formations they want. This, in turn, is putting a lot of pressure on defenses. Obviously, faking injuries has been a hot topic this week, but as Texans OT Eric Winston clarified to me, players aren't doing because they are reeling from the pace of play but rather to get a sub defense on the field or to spell the defensive linemen.

This topic isn't going away and will be under the microscope this weekend.

Three questions that need answers

Where is the Arizona defense? The Cardinals have already given up 952 yards in two games and seem to be out of position way too much. If it persists against the woeful Seahawks, there are real problems.

Where is the Chicago pass protection?Jay Cutler, already sacked 11 times this season, could be a sitting duck Sunday with starting right tackle Gabe Carimi now out.

Will the Tampa Bay offense start fast? The Bucs take too long to get going. When they went to the hurry-up in the first two weeks, they started to click. I hope to see them start the game with the up-tempo offense.

Several teams in desperate situations

Not sure you noticed, but the media and fans tend to get a bit riled up when teams start 0-3. These next three are especially desperate:

» Indianapolis looks lost, scoring just two offensive touchdowns in two games. The Colts haven't been 0-2 since 1998.

» Kansas City won its division last year, but only has one offensive touchdown in two games. And now the Chiefs face Philip Rivers and the Chargers, who beat them 31-0 the last time they met.

» Miami plays the beatable Browns on the road, where the Dolphins are much better than at home. Chad Henne is 9-5 as the starter away from South Florida. But now the Dolphins defense has disappeared, giving up 361 yards a game through the air.

Can Cam win?

Cam Newton is the most exciting player to enter the NFL in years. I thought it was astronomical last year when the Rams let Sam Bradford have 85 pass plays in his first two games. Cam Newton has 91 pass plays, plus he's the leading rusher on the team with 18 carries for 71 yards and many of those runs came on pass plays when he just took off. Can he reduce his interceptions, increase his touchdown passes and lead the Panthers to his first win? I think so, and if he also puts up his third straight 400-yard game, he will start to take on a legendary persona.

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