Texans-Ravens, Colts-49ers among Week 3 must attend games
If you're into cliffhangers, you have to love the NFL season so far. Twenty-two of the first 32 games were decided by seven points or fewer -- the most in the first two weeks of any season in history -- including 11 games in which three or fewer points separated the two teams. Can the suspense continue in Week 3? Here are the can't-miss games.
Houston Texans (2-0) at Baltimore Ravens (1-1)
The Texans have been the biggest drama kings, as each of their victories came on the final play of the game. They overcame a 21-point, third-quarter deficit in San Diego and won, 31-28, on Randy Bullock's 41-yard field goal as time expired. Then they beat the Titans, 30-24, at home on Matt Schaub's 3-yard scoring pass to rookie DeAndre Hopkins 4:28 into overtime.
A Texans star may have been born in the Tennessee game. Hopkins, a first-round draft pick out of Clemson, came up big after Andre Johnson had to leave the game with concussion-like symptoms. Hopkins caught three consecutive passes for 64 yards on Houston's game-tying scoring drive in regulation before making his winning catch. He finished with seven receptions for 117 yards.
After the game, Hopkins, whose nickname is "Nuke," told reporters he could be better than Johnson. His career has a ways to go before Hopkins can start comparing himself to Johnson, but he's off to a good start.
The Texans' offense could face a stiff test against the defending Super Bowl champs, who sacked Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden five times (he left the game in the fourth quarter with a thumb injury) and held the Browns to 259 total offensive yards and a pair of field goals.
Baltimore's Ray Rice, who has played in 66 consecutive games, suffered a hip flexor against Cleveland. The Ravens hope their dynamo running back will be able to play Sunday. If not, the running load will fall on Bernard Pierce, who leads the team in rushing (79 yards on 28 carries).
With Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones sidelined by a sprained knee he suffered in the opener, speedster Torrey Smith has had to run more intermediate and underneath pass routes. The Ravens also need to get tight ends Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark more involved in the offense. Each player was targeted just once in the Cleveland game.
This game begins a challenging three-week stretch for Houston, which next plays Seattle at home before traveling to San Francisco. If the Texans can win at least two of those games -- even if they have to do it on the last play of the game again -- people will start talking about them as early Super Bowl contenders.
Atlanta Falcons (1-1) at Miami Dolphins (2-0)
Second-year Miami coach Joe Philbin told his players "We have a helluva team in the making" after Sunday's victory over the Colts, and former NFL coach Tony Dungy added his seal of approval later that night on NBC's Football Night in America. After opening the season with road victories in Cleveland and Indianapolis, the Dolphins come home to Sun Life Stadium, where they will play three of their next four games.
One of the biggest surprises for Miami has been third-year tight end Charles Clay, who has filled the void created when Dustin Keller, an offseason free-agent acquisition from the Jets, suffered a season-ending knee injury during the preseason. Clay, a sixth-round pick in 2011 who split time as a tight end and fullback at Tulsa, has had five receptions in each of Miami's wins. Against Indianapolis, he caught five passes for 109 yards and scored on a one-yard run.
The Falcons spent the early part of the week retooling their roster after a spate of injuries in last week's 31-24 win over St. Louis. The linebacker corps was hit hard with the losses of Kroy Biermann (torn Achilles tendon) and Sean Weatherspoon (thigh). Both players were placed on injured reserve, although Weatherspoon could return in Week 11.
Atlanta also will be without running back Steven Jackson, who injured his thigh on an eight-yard scoring reception, and fullback Bradie Ewing (separated shoulder). With Roddy White still slowed by a high ankle sprain, quarterback Matt Ryan will have to rely heavily again on wide receiver Julio Jones, who matched his career high with 182 receiving yards against St. Louis, including an 81-yard touchdown.
Indianapolis Colts (1-1) at San Francisco 49ers (1-1)
During a media session at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, 49ers coach Jim Harbaughj lavished praise on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Harbaugh then added that he wasn't looking forward to playing against Luck.
Well, that day is here. Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft, will lead the Colts into Candlestick Park Sunday.
Perhaps no NFL coach knows Luck better than Harbaugh, the QB's head coach for two years at Stanford. Harbaugh should have the 49ers, who are coming off a stinging 29-3 loss to Seattle, well prepared for his former pupil.
After a season-ending injury to running back Vick Ballard in Week 1, the Colts relied on Ahmad Bradshaw last week, but made a blockbuster trade on Wednesday to get Trent Richardson from Cleveland. His presence could make the Colts an even bigger playoff contender.
Oakland Raiders (1-1) at Denver Broncos (2-0)
AFC West teams went 4-0 in Week 2 and are tied with the AFC East with the best overall record (6-2). The Raiders will try to stop Denver's offensive surge, something the Ravens and Giants were unable to do.
Peyton Manning has thrown a league-high nine touchdown passes in the first two games, and the Broncos have scored 90 points. They are the third team in the last 30 years to score at least 40 points in their first two games. They did suffer a chink in their armor this week with the loss of All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady, who suffered a Lisfranc injury and will have season-ending surgery.
Denver's defense will have to make a stand against the Raiders, who lead the league in rushing (198.5 yards per game). Running back Darren McFadden leads the AFC with 177 rushing yards and quarterback Terrell Pryor ranks third with 162.