Here are some key matchups worth following in Week 3:
Dallas QB Tony Romo vs. Green Bay CB Al Harris
In regular-season games, Dallas leads the all-time series against the Packers, 11-10 -- but the Cowboys have never won in Green Bay (they've won three games played in Milwaukee, the last one coming in 1991). Of course, Tony Romo has won plenty of football games in Wisconsin -- he grew up southeastern Wisconsin, playing high school football in Burlington (population 10,500).
Romo joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and did not throw a pass in his first three seasons. Since then, he's been one of the more intriguing success stories in the NFL. He is somewhat of a riverboat gambler, with a strong arm, accuracy and a good touch. He has the ability to makes plays with his feet, though he has a habit of carrying the ball low (he had nine fumbles in 2006). During his short career as a starter, Romo has 59 TD passes, 23 interceptions and a completion rate of 65 percent (600 for 919).
Al Harris, who played college at Texas A&I-Kingsville, lines up most of the time at right cornerback for Green Bay. In last season's big game against Dallas, Harris stayed on Terrell Owens, regardless of what side of the field Owens was on. Owens finish with seven catches for 156 yards and a score. Harris is a "hands" player -- he likes to get up on the line in press coverage and try to redirect you with his hands. What he really wants to do is slow down the receiver by playing bump and run. He is smooth in transition, with good balance. He likes to peek at the quarterback's eyes and attempt to jump routes. Out-and-up routes have given him trouble, but he has very good hands and will make plays on the ball.
Note: There are plenty of great matchups in this important contest. When you're not watching Romo-Harris, don't miss the line battle between Packers DE Aaron Kampman and Dallas OL Marc Columbo. Kampman has 2.5 sacks through two weeks, and his 27.5 sacks over the previous two seasons are second-most during that time span.
New Orleans QB Drew Brees vs. Denver QB Jay Cutler
If you like offense, especially passing, you'll enjoy this game. Brees is no stranger to playing in Denver, thanks to his five seasons with San Diego. In seven career games against the Broncos, however, Brees has just two TD passes against five INTs. That said, Brees has had back-to-back 4,400-yard passing seasons since joining the Saints. During one five-game stretch in 2006, he passed for 1,954 yards -- the most in NFL history over a five-game period. Among his eight starts for New Orleans against AFC teams, Brees has a 400-yard game and a 500-yard game under his belt. Brees is just a shade over 6 feet tall, but he plays with great confidence. There is no question about his arm strength or mobility. Brees will be without his best receiver, Marques Colston.
Cutler, in his third season with the Broncos, leads the NFL in passing yards and is tied for league lead with six TD passes. Last week against San Diego, Cutler threw the ball 50 times -- with a little more than half of those attempts coming out of the shotgun. Denver has gone to an offense modeled after New England's, running a spread attack out of the shotgun. For the season, Cutler has completed 70 percent of his passes and has been sacked just once. He has outstanding arm strength, and can throw all passes required for success in the NFL. Don't expect this to be a short game or a low-scoring game.
N.Y. Jets QB Brett Favre vs. San Diego QB Philip Rivers
Favre has never lost to the Chargers -- he's 5-0 for his career, with 13 TD passes and four INTs. Don't forget Favre's Monday night prowess -- he has 57 career TD passes on Monday night. Favre doesn't move around with the ball as well as he used to, but he still has a rocket arm and is able to put the ball in tight spots. He is very loose with that ball in the pocket and will fumble because of it. But he has the ability to make teammates around him play better.
Rivers has shown no ill effects from offseason knee surgery. In two games, he has passed for 504 yards, with six TDs and an interception. His delivery is a little low, which leads to some tipped passes, but he can zip the sideline throw, has good touch and the accuracy needed to be successful. Rivers is throwing more to his wideouts than he has in the past, and Vincent Jacksion and Chris Chambers have reaped the rewards of that. Chagrers coach Norv Turner likes to run the ball a lot, but don't be surprised if Rivers finishes the season with 30-plus TD passes and 4,000-plus yards.
Houston DE Mario Williams vs. Titans DT Albert Haynesworth
The annual Texans-Titans games always take on extra meaning given the Titans' previous history in Houston (Titans owner Bud Adams still lives there). These games also draw attention to those who point to Houston's decision to take Williams with the first pick of the 2006 NFL Draft instead of Houston native Vince Young. But with Young on the sidelines for this meeting, the focus shifts to a comparison between the two best defensive players on the field.
Williams is a third-year player who is very tall (6-foot-7), has long arms and outstanding quickness. He plays with intensity and can be dominant at times. He will disrupt plays and create turnovers. Williams had 2.5 sacks in his last game against the Titans, and has eight sacks in his last nine games overall.
Haynesworth can be a dominant payer -- he's very explosive and powerful, with great quickness for a man his size. He has great feet, and it seems that he is better conditioned than in previous years. Haynesworth has 2.0 sacks on a defense that is ranked second in the NFL, allowing 202 total yards per game.
Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau vs.
Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson
Fortunately for these two teams, they employ two of the most highly-respected defensive coordinators in the game. LeBeau is an advocate of the 3-4 defense in Pittsburgh; Johnson's Philadelphia defense runs a 4-3 scheme. Regardless of the schemes, both coaches bring innovative blitz packages to the table. How each attacks the opposition will go a long way to determining the outcome of this game.
Cassel was king
Looking back at one of our key matchups from last week, Patriots QB Matt Cassel certainly got the better of Jets coach Eric Mangini. One of four quarterbacks who started in Week 2 after not starting in Week 1, Cassel was clearly the one under the most scrutiny. He displayed arm strength and athletic ability, and performed well in a hostile environment. I graded him a B-plus -- it would have been an A, only he did not throw a TD pass.