As some media outlets continue to show bad judgment, leading newscasts with the problems of a few NFL players when ISIS and Ebola are on the move, the NFL gets back on the field with an interesting slate of games on Sunday.
Several of those troubled players were deactivated this week by their teams, including RB Adrian Peterson by the Minnesota Vikings and DE Greg Hardy by the Carolina Panthers. These are two of the best players at their respective positions in the league, and their absences very well could impact the outcomes of their team’s games.
Let’s dive in and preview the action . . .
San Diego Chargers (1-1) at Buffalo Bills (2-0)
With starting tailback Ryan Mathews out, the Chargers will go with the tandem of Donald Brown and Danny Woodhead, a pair of runners who are both very good receivers out of the backfield
A big challenge for Buffalo will be dealing with tight end Antonio Gates, coming off a three-touchdown performance against Seattle, one of the NFL’s top defenses.
Bills QB E.J. Manuel needs to get it going in the red zone with just three touchdowns in ten trips. The absence of talented edge pass rusher Melvin Ingram, and perhaps his backup Jerry Attachu, too, might help Manuel’s cause.
Tennessee Titans (1-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-0)
The Bengals are quietly emerging as one of the NFL’s better teams. A couple of big reasons they have been able to get off to a 2-0 start is giving up no sacks and committing no turnovers in the first two games.
Cincinnati’s struggling pass defense, ranked 26th in the league, will have their hands full with tight end Delanie Walker, coming off a 10-catch game in Dallas, and wide receiver Justin Harper, who has an exotic size-speed ratio.
The Bengals haven’t lost a home game since December of 2012, and they will probably extend that streak on Sunday.
Baltimore Ravens (1-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-1)
What an amazing signing wide receiver Steve Smith has been for the Baltimore Ravens. The former Carolina Panthers star has 13 catches through two games, and is clearly still at the top of his game at 35. All the attention speedster Torrey Smith gets on the other side, helps Smith get favorable matchups, and he’s taken advantage of them.
Joe Flacco has been dealing with some kind of illness all week that has limited his practice time, never a good thing at the quarterback spot.
Browns coach Mike Pettine has a great feel for the Baltimore Ravens operation after spending seven years there as an assistant, so that should help his game plan.
Don’t be shocked if the Browns pull the upset.
Green Bay Packers (1-1) at Detroit Lions (1-1)
What a great history these two teams have. This is the 168th meeting between the Packers and Lions.
Aaron Rodgers is coming off a prolific outing against the Jets, and he’s likely to continue where he left off against a Lions defense that has major issues on the back end. The Lions already lost starting cornerback Bill Bentley, and key reserve Nevin Lawson, for the season, and will be without nickel back Cassius Vaughn this week. Also, starting safety James Ihedigbo will miss the game with a neck injury. What a disastrous situation for any team facing Rodgers.
Another potential problem for the Lions–starting right tackle LaAdrian Waddle is out, so a backup right tackle will have to deal with Julius Peppers and Clay Mathews, who the Packers move around.
This matchup certainly favors the Packers.
Indianapolis Colts (0-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2)
The Colts are a surprising 0-2. The Jaguars aren’t a surprising 0-2.
All those people calling for Jacksonville to start rookie quarterback Blake Bortles should check out the film of the Jaguars’ loss to the Washington Redskins last week. The Jaguars offensive line is a mess, and QB Chad Henne was sacked 10 times. The Jags’ brass doesn’t want to subject their prized quarterback of the future to that kind of beating, which can ruin a developmental QB.
The Colts should be able to figure out a way to win this game against a Jaguar team that isn’t very good at home. They have won just twice at EverBank Stadium in the last two years.
Oakland Raiders (0-2) at New England Patriots (1-1)
Oakland’s veteran safety Charles Woodson put it best when asked about his team, and replied, “We suck.”
One of the problems is they are starting a rookie quarterback, Derek Carr, who isn’t ready to play. And with most rookie quarterbacks, the only way he can be successful is with a strong running game and a stout defense, and the Raiders have neither.
Carr threw a pair of picks last week against Houston, and now he heads to Foxboro to face a team that leads the NFL in interceptions with five.
This could get ugly.
Minnesota Vikings (1-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-2)
This is a very tough spot for the Vikings.
Not only are they without their best player, running back Adrian Peterson, but they head to the Superdome, where the Saints almost never lose. New Orleans was 8-0 at home last year.
The Vikings quarterback Matt Cassell needs a running game to lean on, because he’s not the kind of quarterback who can put a team on his back, with a pass-happy approach. You saw that last week then threw four picks against the Patriots. Cassell needs Peterson, and he’s not going to have him for a while.
It’s hard seeing the Saints losing this game, which is their home-opener.
Houston Texans (2-0) at New York Giants (0-2)
You have a Houston team that has allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season, against a Giants team that struggles scoring.
The Giants have picked up where they left off last year on the turnover front. They led the NFL with 44 last year, and had four in their Week Two loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
You have to figure the Giants’ offense will get better as the season progresses. They will get more comfortable with the system of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. But while they learn, they don’t want to dig a hole they can’t get out of.
So they must beat Houston at home, which is doable.
Washington Redskins (1-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-0)
True, the Washington Redskins lost their starting quarterback Robert Griffin for a while with an ankle injury. But it’s not a big deal because there is no drop-off to backup Kirk Cousins, who threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns in relief last week.
But what could hurt Cousins and the Redskins passing attack is the shoulder injury to DeSean Jackson. He’s going to try to play, but his catching radius is going to be limited due to his injury.
The Redskins will look to establish the run in this game to take some pressure off Cousins and take the crowd out of the game. What could help them on this front is the absence of the Eagles’ talented inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks, a tackling machine, who is out with a calf injury.
Dallas Cowboys (1-1) at St. Louis Rams (1-1)
A great matchup to watch in this game is the Dallas Cowboys offense line, one of the NFL’s best, against the St. Louis Rams defensive line, which is loaded with talent, led by Robert Quinn.
Tony Romo should be able to get a lot done through the air in this game against a St. Louis secondary down two corners–Trumaine Johnson and Brandon McGee, who are both out with injuries.
The Rams quarterback situation is up in the air with the thigh injury to Shaun Hill, but St. Louis might error on the side of caution, and give him extra time to heal, since Austin Davis did a solid job last week.
This matchup favors Dallas.
Kansas City Chiefs (0-2) at Miami Dolphins (1-1)
The injury issues continues for the Kansas City defense. In Week One they lost two starters for the season, and they will be without the leader of their secondary, safety Eric Berry, out with an ankle injury.
But you have to give kudos to the Chiefs for their defensive effort last week in a 21-17 loss to Denver. They did a great job on Peyton Manning.
The Chiefs hope that star tailback Jamaal Charles can play with a high ankle sprain. If he does play, look for him to platoon with Kniles Davis, who looked good last week in Denver.
Speaking of tailbacks, the Dolphins will be without Knowshon Moreno, who hurt his elbow last week. This is a major blow to a team that needs to run for Ryan Tannehill to be at his best.
Even with all their injuries, the Chiefs could easily pull the upset here.
Denver Broncos (2-0) at Seattle Seahawks (1-1)
Obviously this is a re-match of the last Super Bowl, a blowout win for Seattle.
The big difference in this match-up is the presence of Ryan Clady, one of the game’s best left tackles, who missed the Super Bowl, and Seattle certainly took advantage of his backup.
Another difference: the Super Bowl was in New Jersey on a neutral field, and this game is in Seattle, where the Seahawks have won 18 of their last 19.
Denver needs their secondary to step up. The free agent additions of cornerbacks Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward haven’t paid many dividends yet as they currently rank 30th in the NFL in pass defense.
This game is a toss-up.
Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) at Carolina Panthers (2-0)
Cam Newton had a terrific debut last week, but that was against a lousy Detroit Lions secondary. The Steelers will present a much bigger challenge to him.
Another challenge for him this week are injuries at wide receiver. Both Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery have thigh injuries and are questionable.
The Steelers have a rising star in second-year tailback Le’Veon Bell, who is a threat on the ground and through the air. He will have his hands full against a talented front seven, but not as talented as they could be with the de-activation of Greg Hardy, an outstanding player.
The Steelers have had ten days to prepare and rest-up for this game, so they certainly can pick-off the Panthers in Charlotte.
San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (2-0)
Both of these teams are excellent against the run, so this contest will likely be decided by which quarterback plays better.
Colin Kaepernick is coming off a lousy game last week against the Chicago Bears, but this could be a nice bounce back game for him against a Cardinal team he torched twice last year.
With Carson Palmer dealing with a shoulder injury, Drew Stanton will likely get the start for Arizona. He was serviceable last week against a struggling Giants team, but they will need more from him this week.
You’d have to favor the 49ers in a Kaerpernick-Stanton match-up.