My weekly look at key matchups and storylines to watch in one game at each time slot. (All times Eastern).
Sunday, 1 p.m.New York Giants at New Orleans Saints
The junior-varsity portion of the Giants' schedule is over and, to paraphrase former NFL coach Dennis Green, it's time to find out who they really are. Their ability, however, to immediately and decisively dispatch all of the also-rans they faced over the last three weeks is the mark of a very solid football team. Too often teams in the NFL allow sub-par groups, like the Bucs, Chiefs and Raiders, to eke out undeserving wins. Not this year's business-like Giants.
But New York isn't a threat to Drew Brees and the Saints, who are rested coming off a bye. Before their week off, the Saints notched two victories with their running game and defense providing the biggest boosts. That's not a good sign for a Giants defense that was surprisingly gashed on the ground by the last legitimate opponent it faced in the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2.
That means it is a pick-your-poison game for new Giants defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. Does he keep both safeties back to prevent the big play from Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and company? That could lead to a slow death, thanks to the Saints suddenly punishing ground game. But putting eight defenders in the box and leaving only one safety deep could lead to an even quicker demise. Decisions, decisions.
Sunday, 4:15 p.m.Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots
This game, which I'm calling for SportsUSA Radio, looked like one of the marquee matchups before the start of the season. As expected, the game is noteworthy, but not because of hot starts from either team.
For New England, it is clear the offense isn't in sync, and Tom Brady's rough return from knee surgery is a big reason. Maybe there is some truth to the fact that our expectations for him are too high based on his 2007 performance, but those are the standards Brady sets for himself as well. That the Patriots flaunted their ability to score 17 points against the Broncos is telling -- for both teams.
The Titans, meanwhile, have done a complete 180 since their 10-0 start a year ago. What makes their drop even more amazing is they have 20 of 22 starters back from last year, and one of the replacements, Nate Washington, is a major upgrade from Justin McCareins. The other starter lost is AlbertHaynesworth, and no matter how dominant he was the last couple of seasons, his departure can't be blamed for Tennessee's woes. The Titans pass defense, with three returning Pro Bowl performers, has been absolutely dreadful, and injuries, such as Nick Harper's broken forearm, continue to take their toll. If Brady and the Pats can't get it rolling against this bunch, I'm not sure they ever will.
Sunday, 8:20 p.m.Chicago Bears at Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta couldn't have played better last week as it dismantled Mike Singletary's squad on the road. If the Falcons play like that again Sunday, the Bears have no shot. None. In fact, I'm not sure anyone would, which is a testament to head coach Mike Smith and the back-to-basics mentality with which Atlanta approached its bye week prior to the 49er massacre.
The Bears will need to protect surging quarterback Jay Cutler from defensive ends John Abraham and Kroy Biermann, both of whom have favorable matchups against the Bears offensive tackles. And it would help if Chicago could find a way to get Matt Forte on track, as well. Last year's rookie sensation has been mired in a sophomore slump, and even though the Bears are 3-1, they aren't going anywhere this season unless Forte regains his form from 2008.
Monday, 8:30 p.m.Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
It feels weird writing this so early in the season, but this is a do-or-die game for the Chargers. They can't afford to fall three games down to the Broncos in the AFC West because this Denver squad does not look like a bunch that will fold down the stretch as it did last year.
The Chargers depth on the offensive and defensive line has been severely tested by injuries, and the backups have not held their end of the bargain. That's the biggest reason the Chargers are a disappointing 2-2. Their lack of balance on offense is startling. They should try to revive the ground attack since the Broncos have one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
Mail time ...
Do you think the players actually respect Dick Jauron? A coach can't possibly expect to win in this league without the respect of his players. I don't want my coach being the most likeable coach in the league; I want him to be the most respected coach in the league.--Steve Hutsal, Brooklyn
Every player with whom I have ever spoken with that played for Jauron, whether in Chicago or Buffalo, has the utmost respect for him. That respect stems from the way in which he treats his players, which is honestly and fairly. That said, this is a result-oriented business and even though Jauron is both well-liked and respected, the results clearly have not been there, with the exception of the Jim Miller-led 2001 season in Chi-town.
Do you know how teams keep their playbooks secret over a season? With the release of players, the high stakes, etc., it just seems odd that more teams don't try to steal playbooks.--Ryne, New York City
I don't think the loss of a playbook would be nearly as harmful as others do. NFL teams do exhaustive film study, and they already have a great feel for what plays a team runs and even what some of their code words are when they audible. You may be surprised to know that players typically turn in their playbooks at the end of the preseason. During the regular season, they get a separate game-plan book specific to each week's opponent.
What goes on in a team locker room at halftime? Is there a quick team meeting then guys get with their respective position coaches to go over the second half, or do the coaches just get together to discuss things while the players either get IVs, numbing shots or play Madden? What's the deal? Who does what?--Curt, North Palm Beach, Fla.
Nobody has time to do much of anything. NFL halftimes, which last all of about 12 minutes, are so short that players pretty much only have time to use the restroom, grab a Gatorade and listen to their coach tell them one or two things they are going to focus on in the second half before taking the field. I've always thought the notion of halftime adjustments is overrated. In the NFL, those adjustments better be made on the fly from one series to the next, or else you are in big trouble.
Are the throwback uniforms a confusing distraction for the players?--Matt Pokress, Arlington, Mass.
Not at all. I think a lot of players actually like it, especially if they get to keep the jersey and helmet as a keepsake. The only concern is making sure you actually wear the throwback helmet a couple times in practice before the game so that you can make sure it fits right and to break it in.
Is Joe Thomas one of the top 5 LTs in the league?--@ccorydavis, via Twitter
Easily. Very smooth and professional in his weekly approach. I like him, Clady, Roos, Gross and Whitworth, though I wish all of them would be a bit more physical and nasty than they are.
Will Jerry Jones ever change his management style, bring in a GM for the Cowboys? The only way they will every compete again.--@bmill0982, via Twitter
I highly doubt it. Jones, like the Redskins' Dan Snyder, is playing the ultimate game of Fantasy Football or Madden, only with real people. They love being involved in the decision-making and the thrill of the hunt that goes along with player personnel. I don't think that will ever change for either one of them.