Each week in the NFL has its own unique flavor. Week 3 in the 2007 season has so many developing stories that it was hard to limit this list to 10. But here are the things I will be looking closely at as this weekend's games are played:
1. The AFC vs. the NFC
What a weekend to test the battle between the AFC and the NFC. In recent years, the AFC has dominated. After two weeks of this season, it stands dead even at 4-4. With six interconference games on the slate, the AFC could take a big step in regaining the lead for 2007.
Baltimore, Cincinnati, Kansas City, San Diego and Tennessee had a combined record of 16-4 against the NFC last season, and they all play NFC teams this week. Their NFC counterparts this week -- Arizona, Seattle, Minnesota, Green Bay and New Orleans, respectively -- were 4-16 against the AFC last year. I can't see more than two of the NFC teams getting a win this weekend.
Why the imbalance of power? No one knows for sure. Is it the quarterbacks? The running backs?
Andy Reid officially can be labeled a slow starter when you look at his career in Philadelphia. In his nine seasons, his Week 1 record is 3-6. His Week 2 record is 4-5, for a combined record of 7-11 in the first two weeks of the season. For the rest of the season, his career record is 73-39.
3. Battle of the QBs looking for new contracts
When the Cowboys take the field in Chicago, we will be watching Tony Romo and Rex Grossman playing for (among other things) new contracts in 2008. Right now, it looks like Romo has the lead for the big bucks, but both clubs have taken a wait-and-see approach, which sets this game up as a pivotal moment. Some believe this game is a preview of the NFC Championship Game.
It might be just that, but no one is sure. What I am sure of is that the quarterbacks stand to make a lot of money down the road if they play well.
4. 2006 playoff teams at a crossroad
As Herm Edwards said to me during the week, "Five of the 10 0-2 teams were playoff teams last year, and some of them will make it back to the playoffs in 2007." He should know. He did it last year, when the Chiefs made the playoffs after an 0-2 start. Desperate teams with their backs to the wall don't go down easy, and it doesn't take a genius to realize an 0-3 start is a total disaster.
5. When will the big three get on track?
I know everyone is blaming the slow start by the big three running backs -- LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and Steven Jackson -- on the lack of contact and preseason game experience, but that can't be proved. Frank Gore missed most of the preseason due to injury, and he still looks ready to go. So the question is: When will Tomlinson, Johnson and Jackson light it up?
Tomlinson faces a very tough Packers defense this week. Johnson finally should get his 30 touches this week after two weeks of averaging 18 touches, but he faces a tremendous Vikings run defense. Jackson travels to Tampa Bay, where the Bucs played old-style Bucs defense last week in shutting down Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush. It might be another tough week for all three, but it won't be because they didn't play in meaningless preseason games.
Matchups to watch:
6. A can of worms at QB
Two QB situations require a closer look this weekend. Steve McNair is scheduled to go for Baltimore, but Kyle Boller won a game last week for the Ravens, and McNair lost the week before. In McNair's last five starts dating to last season, he has thrown three touchdown passes to five interceptions and has fumbled three times. Boller and his athleticism might be a better choice, but only a bad performance by McNair this week will bring that subject to the surface.
In New York, meanwhile, Chad Pennington needs to play well to keep the Kellen Clemens supporters off his back. I think both starters will answer the bell this week, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
7. What if Anderson does it again?
Derek Anderson threw five touchdown passes last week and led the Cleveland Browns to 51 points and a victory. I remember last Thanksgiving, when Tony Romo threw five TD passes in a victory over Tampa Bay. What if Anderson goes into Oakland's Black Hole this weekend and throws two or three touchdowns and gets a road victory? Is he the next Romo? Does he keep Brady Quinn on the bench for the season? What would he be worth on the open market? I remember when a backup named Jay Fiedler had a big game for the Jacksonville Jaguars and wound up as the starter for Miami.
8. Is the AFC East race over?
The Patriots can put a three-game lead on the Bills with a win this weekend. Meanwhile, one of the other AFC East teams will fall three games behind when the Jets meet the Dolphins. The winner of that game would be two back (and if it's the Jets, they already have a head-to-head loss to the Pats). The season is not slipping away for the rest of the division -- it's falling away.
9. Keep on throwing, Brett
Brett Favre threw three touchdown passes last week. With a weak running game, the Pack has little choice but to let Favre keep firing away. There are other teams throwing the ball a lot, too, but without the same 2-0 results. The leaders in pass attempts so far are Drew Brees (85), Marc Bulger (83), Carson Palmer (82), Favre (80), McNabb (79) and Trent Green (78).
Throw out Favre, and the others have a combined record of 1-9.
Do we realize what Vince Young is doing?
The Titans are rarely on national TV, so we tend to lose sight of what Vince Young is doing down in Tennessee. He is 7-2 in his last nine games, and he continues to bring the element of escape-ability for which teams have no answer. In this nine-game stretch, Young is averaging just more than 50 yards rushing per game. Well, he's in the national spotlight this week on Monday night, and the Saints will have their hands full with him.