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Friday September 16th, 2011

Jay Cutler and the Bears could pose some problems for the Saints on Sunday. (Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE)

Consider Week 1 a terrific appetizer for this NFL season -- record passing numbers, huge TV ratings, thrilling upsets. It was an enthralling start to the year, but it left us with plenty on our minds heading into Week 2.

A glimpse at the biggest storylines heading into the NFL's second week:

• Can the Saints get back on track?

New Orleans defense was smoked like a Wisconsin bratwurst in the NFL's season opener at Green Bay, which makes two consecutive meltdowns dating to last year's playoff debacle in Seattle.

The Saints face another tough test Sunday in Jay Cutler and the Bears, who dominated Atlanta in Week 1. Starting 0-2 would be inadvisable for New Orleans, though the schedule gets easier in the weeks ahead. Even more than needing a win, though, the Saints defense has to show that it can stop, well, anyone at this point.

Chicago has an elite weapon in running back Matt Forte and a solid passing attack, but the offensive line is still suspect and Cutler will make mistakes under pressure. Whether or not New Orleans can actually generate that pressure, we'll have to wait to see.

• Pittsburgh in need of redemption

Plenty of people have hung Pittsburgh out to dry after a 35-7 Week 1 loss in Baltimore, a game in which the Steel Curtain was about as effective defensively as a shower curtain -- and not the deluxe, high-end ones; one of those plastic ones with the fish all over it.

A visit from Seattle may cure what ails the Steelers. It had better, because a home loss to the Seahawks and their inept offense on the heels of the beatdown in Baltimore, and we really will have to consider the possibility that Pittsburgh's group is over the hill.

• Are the Colts really that bad?

It's only Week 2, but you get the feeling that if the Colts lose at home to Cleveland Sunday, they may start turning at some attention to 2012. Week 1 of the Kerry Collins era in Indy was a nightmare, with the Colts' new but old QB turning it over twice en route to a 34-7 loss in Houston.

After this one the Colts host Pittsburgh, then visit Tampa Bay, so 0-1 could turn into 0-4 real quick. Collins should be better with an extra week of practice and one game under his belt in the Indianapolis offense.

In any Peyton Manning-included season, Cleveland at Indy would set up like a blowout. Instead, the Colts have their fingers crossed.

Philip Rivers vs. Tom Brady

Brady and Miami QB Chad Henne threw for a combined 906 yards, an NFL record, in the Patriots' Week 1 win over the Dolphins. That mark might be in danger Sunday, when Brady matches wits with San Diego QB Philip Rivers.

Rivers is coming off a 33-completion, 335-yard effort of his own in a win over Minnesota. Of course, expecting an aerial assault in this one might be misguided -- when New England and San Diego met last season, the Patriots won despite just 159 passing yards from Brady.

Kyle Orton's last stand?

The Denver fans launched into their "Te-bow! Te-bow!" chants about midway through the first quarter of a Week 1 loss to Oakland. If Orton and the Broncos struggle against Cincinnati Sunday, those fans might start begging for Brady Quinn, John Elway or just about anyone else to quarterback their team.

Denver was destroyed on both lines by Oakland, struggling to protect Orton on offense and watching Darren McFadden run wild on defense.

Cincinnati doesn't present the same types of physical fronts that Oakland did, but Cedric Benson can get going if he's given some space. A win for the Bengals here would thrust them into the playoff mix -- they won at Cleveland last week and head home for San Francisco and Buffalo in Weeks 3 and 4, respectively. 

Michael Vick's return to Atlanta

The first time Vick played in the Georgia Dome as a visitor, in 2009, he did so as Donovan McNabb's backup and a situational weapon. That day, Vick threw two passes for 48 yards and a touchdown and ran in a TD as well, helping Philly to a 34-7 victory.

It doesn't figure to be quite as easy Sunday night, though the hype surrounding Vick's return should have the Falcons' home crowd worked into a fervor again. Vick received a mixed reaction in his first trip back to Atlanta -- boos early, taken over by "We want Vick" chants late.

Aside from all that hubbub, this stands as a key game in the NFC. Philadelphia could set itself up for a huge season with a win in Atlanta on the heels of a Week 1 victory in St. Louis. But the Falcons are coming off an embarrassing performance in Chicago and cannot afford to fall to 0-2.

• Early must-win for the Giants

Starting 0-2 doesn't absolutely guarantee a team will miss the playoffs. For the Giants, though, it would be difficult to come back from. The banged-up New Yorkers looked lousy in a 28-14 Week 1 loss in Washington. And after this one, they travel to Philadelphia in Week 3.

That makes Monday night's game against the Rams a huge one for Eli Manning's group. St. Louis will also be trying to avoid 0-2, in the midst of a brutal opening stretch.

But the Rams' spot in the NFC West means they could recover from an 0-2 (or worse) start. Playing in the brutal NFC East, the Giants don't have that luxury.  

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