Week 3 storylines: Brave new world
Things are starting to get weird in the NFL.
The Colts are arguably the league's worst team right now, while the Bills, Lions, Redskins and Texans currently all sit in playoff position. Sure, it's still very, very early in the season, but we're set up for a fascinating run through 2011.
Week 3 features a healthy dose of intra-division games that could go a long way toward determining the playoff picture down the line. Some of those upstart teams face critical tests this weekend, but they're far from the only ones worth watching.
A look at the biggest Week 3 storylines:
• Potential statement game for Buffalo
The Bills have lost 15 (!!!) straight to the Patriots, a streak that dates to the 2003 season. Buffalo has been one of the surprises of the early season, blitzing the Chiefs in Kansas City and then rallying for a thrilling win over Oakland.
We'll see just how good the Bills really are Sunday. They came into the season as an afterthought in the AFC East, where the Jets and Patriots were expected to be Super Bowl contenders. Both those teams have joined Buffalo with 2-0 starts, so Sunday could thrust the Bills to the top of the division or put them in the familiar position of looking up in the standings.
• Another streak on the line
Speaking of long losing skids ... the Lions haven't won in Minnesota since 1997, when Herman Moore caught a TD pass from Scott Mitchell late. The Vikings' starting quarterback in that game was Randall Cunningham. In other words, it has been a long while since a Detroit triumph in the Metrodome.
But the 2-0 Lions, streaks be damned, are favored heading into Sunday. While Detroit's been busy bashing Tampa Bay and Kansas City, the Vikings' offense has struggled to get into gear. It'll need to put some points up in Week 3, because the Lions' attack is already rolling.
Oh, one more streak for you: Detroit hasn't been 3-0 since ... 1980.
• Rookie QB showdown in Carolina
Cam Newton has been the star of the rookie show thus far, but Blaine Gabbert's about to get his time on stage. Gabbert will make his first NFL start Sunday for Jacksonville against, of course, Newton and the Panthers.
Newton has set the bar pretty high -- more than 800 passing yards in to games. The Panthers are still winless, though, so even with all those numbers, Newton still needs to show he can close one out. Gabbert steps into a pretty nice situation, since all the attention will be on Newton. But if Gabbert picks up a win, the Jaguars would be 2-1 and right in the thick of the AFC South chase.
• Calling Chris Johnson
Since signing a $55 million contract extension, Johnson has rushed for a measly 77 yards in two games. The Titans' franchise player has a chance to shake off the doldrums Sunday against a Denver defense that's allowing 131 rushing yards per game.
Getting Johnson going would really push Tennessee's season in the right direction -- the Titans are coming off a surprising Week 2 thumping of the visiting Ravens and, counting Sunday, play four of their next six games at home. If Johnson can rediscover his normal form, the Titans could find themselves in the playoff hunt.
• NFC East quarterback woes
The NFC East might be even more competitive than we expected at the start of the season -- Washington currently sits alone in first at 2-0, with Philadelphia, Dallas and the Giants all 1-1. The Giants visit the Eagles Sunday and the Cowboys host the 'Skins Monday night.
But both home teams in those key early-season grudge matches have major question marks at QB. Michael Vick left a Week 2 loss to Atlanta with a concussion, while Tony Romo rallied Dallas despite fracturing a rib and puncturing a lung.
Both quarterbacks are expected to start this weekend -- how long they'll last is another matter.
• Rivals clash in Chicago
Few rivalries in sports carry the tradition and venom of the Packers-Bears series. The two teams added another chapter last playoff season, as Green Bay knocked Jay Cutler from the NFC title game en route to a Super Bowl crown.
The Bears, winners of the NFC North last season, would love to extract some revenge early in 2011. That's especially true given Chicago's loss in New Orleans last week -- the Bears would be looking a two-game deficit in the division with a loss Sunday.
Can Chicago keep Cutler upright? That's the big question heading into Sunday. The Bears have already allowed a league-high 11 sacks and the Packers would no doubt like to add about 10 more to that total.
• Whither the NFC West?
When Seattle won this division last year with a 7-9 record, it really didn't cross anyone's mind that things could get worse in 2011. Well ...
The division is a combined 2-6 so far this season, with Arizona and San Francisco each scoring a win. The 49ers are in Cincinnati Sunday; the Cardinals visit Seattle. It's a must-win for the Seahawks, who currently have all the firepower of one of those water pistols from the carnival. St. Louis gets Baltimore at home, another tough draw for a Rams team that's opened the season against the Eagles and Giants.
If any of these teams could run off even three wins in a row, the division might be locked up.
• Indianapolis' last stand
The Colts' fall from Super Bowl contender to bottom-feeder has been unbelievably rapid with Peyton Manning out of the lineup. Indianapolis dropped its opener in Houston, then laid an egg in Week 2 at home against the Browns.
Pittsburgh visits Sunday night for a game NBC probably wishes it wasn't showing. If the Colts have any hope at all of salvaging this season, they need to find a way to pull off the upset.