This is a huge week for a number of NFL teams attempting to avoid the dreaded 0-3 start.
The 0-2 teams in this boat are the Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks, and Detroit Lions. The teams that lose from this group likely don’t make the playoffs.
Let’s take a closer look at the challenges these teams face, and all the Sunday action around the NFL . . .
Cincinnati Bengals (2-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-2)
The Ravens defense performed terribly last week, getting shredded by Raiders quarterback Derek Carr for 351 yards and three touchdowns. So it’s far from ideal to host the Bengals coming to town, a team that has amassed 57 points in their two games and averages 392.5 yards of offense. The usually stout Ravens defense missed 13 tackles last week.
“I didn’t feel like we were playing with energy,” confessed Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
Expect a supreme effort from the entire Ravens teams in the team’s home opener, and for them to avoid a 0-3 start.
New Orleans Saints (0-2) at Carolina Panthers (2-0)
The Saints are a train wreck. They are 0-2 and will be without their franchise quarterback, Drew Brees, due to a rotator-cuff injury.
Journeyman Luke McCown, who is on his fifth team and has started just nine games since entering the league in 2004, replaced Brees.
This is a tough game to call because it’s hard to discern what the Saints will get from Luke McCown, who hasn’t started a game since 2011, and the Panthers are pretty banged up.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) at Houston Texans (0-2)
You wouldn’t want to play quarterback in this game, a battle of teams with bad offensive lines and talented defensive lines.
The NFL’s best defensive player, Texans end J.J. Watt, enjoys a diverse choice of guys to exploit on the Bucs’ line, whether it’s the backup center, or one of the two rookie starters. Even with two starters out on their offensive line, the Texans should win this game, led by Watt, who will force Tampa Bay’s rookie QB Jameis Winston to move his head on a swivel.
“The player I’m most looking forward to play against has to be, probably J.J. Watt.,” Winston said after his the Bucs drafted him. Be careful what you wish for.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) at New England Patriots (2-0)
This could get ugly. The Jaguars travel to Foxboro without as many as six starters and two backups due to injuries.
The Patriots offense looked unstoppable in the first two games, led by Tom Brady, who has thrown for 754 yards, seven touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Expect him to add significantly to those numbers against the ravaged Jaguars.
You might have a better chance of spotting a unicorn than seeing the Jaguars win this game.
Philadelphia Eagles (0-2) at New York Jets (2-0)
Some stats mislead, but not the turnover ratio. It’s a huge factor in the outcome of games.
A big reason the Jets boast a 2-0 record is their NFL-best 10 takeaways in two games. They hold a plus-eight turnover margin, and parlayed 31 points off turnovers.
Interesting match-up this week between the Jets’ top-shelf defense, and Eagles coach Chip Kelly, considered an offensive mastermind, who should have the mother of all game plans to avoid an 0-3 start.
The Jets have a lot of injuries. This game could go either way.
Oakland Raiders (1-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-1)
The Browns go with Josh McCown at quarterback instead of Johnny Manziel. He is the brother of Luke McCown, starting for the Saints this week.
Which game will the McCown family in Jacksonville, Texas watch?
McCown looked solid against a very good Jets defense in Week One, before leaving the game with a concussion, forcing him to miss last week’s game against the Titans. The Browns defense looks to take away the quick throws and hot reads that Raiders Derek Carr succeeded with last week against Baltimore.
Cleveland should figure out a way to win this game.
Atlanta Falcons (2-0) at Dallas Cowboys (2-0)
Dallas faces two-to-three months without quarterback Tony Romo, sidelined by a broken clavicle.
The Cowboys go with inconsistent backup Brandon Weeden. And if that doesn’t work, they will likely turn to well-traveled Matt Cassel, who they traded for this week. But Jerry Jones still feels good about his team’s chances. He’s either the second coming of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale or delusional.
“I know how to daydream,” Jones said. “This is the kind of thing that fits itself, dreaming about the story we could have here. I can write the story.”
This is a tough game to call because who knows what the Boys will get from Weeden.
Indianapolis Colts (0-2) at Tennessee Titans (1-1)
It’s hard to imagine Andrew Luck’s Indianapolis Colts starting 0-3. And they likely won’t be.
Luck, one of the most talented NFL quarterbacks, losing a tete-a-tete with Titans rookie QB Marcus Mariota in just his third start seems unlikely.
San Diego Chargers (1-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-1)
This game should get big ratings in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with two graduates of their high school in this game, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon and Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes.
The Chargers struggle stopping the run, so facing Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson, a future Hall of Famer, appears a nightmare matchup.
This game is a toss-up.
Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) at St. Louis Rams (1-1)
This game could exude the feel of a Steelers home game.
First of all, Rams fans remain dismayed with the uncertain future of the team thanks to non-communicative owner Stan Kroenke, who won’t level with them. The Rams sold only 50,000, and speculation abounds that as many as 20,000 Steelers fans pass through the turnstiles at the Edward Jones Dome.
The Steelers high-powered passing attack, on the fast turf in St. Louis, should spearhead a Pittsburgh victory.
San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (2-0)
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians won’t let his 2-0 team get to high on themselves.
“When they’re patting you on the back, they are looking for a soft spot, where to stick the knife,” Arians said.
This game favors the Cardinals for a couple of reasons.
First of all, their attacking defense should be able to exploit the right side of the 49ers line, which is a weakness. Secondly, the Cardinals field one of the best passing attacks in the NFL, led by QB Carson Palmer, 16-2 in his last 18 starts. The 49ers pass defense comes off a horrid performance vs. the Steelers.
The Steelers went after inexperienced CB Ken Acker early and often. Expect the Cardinals to do the same thing and to win this game.
Buffalo Bills (1-1) at Miami Dolphins (1-1)
The Dolphins play without starting left tackle Branden Albert. That poses a big problem against the Bills’ talented defensive line. Miami QB Ryan Tannehill won’t be able to trust his blindside.
Speaking of talented defensive lineman, it’s time for the Dolphins’ defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to start earning his huge salary. Miami ranks only 27th against the run, and he’s not earning his keep.
This game could go either way.
Chicago Bears (0-2) at Seattle Seahawks (0-2)
This could get ugly.
The Bears are bad team, and injury-laden as well. They travel to Seattle without quarterback Jay Cutler and the team’s top receiver, Alshon Jeffrey. The Seahawks should get a huge emotional and talent boost with the return of star safety Kam Chancellor, who missed the season’s first two games due to a contract dispute.
All signs point to a Seattle win in this game.
Denver Broncos (2-0) at Detroit Lions (0-2)
The Lions, coming off a terrific season, with high hopes in 2015, appear as a big disappointment thus far.
Their defense has stepped back sans their two best players from last season, linebacker D’Andre Levy, who is hurt, and Suh, who is now a Dolphin. The Lions rank 31st in yards allowed.
But you know what? The Lions, in their den and trying to avoid an 0-3 start, should put forth a herculean effort this week. Don’t be surprised if they prevail.