The Playbook: A complete guide to Week 3 action around the NFL
There's no such thing as a slow week in the NFL, but Week 3's slate doesn't have quite the same intuitively compelling storylines as the 2015 season's first two weeks of action. The primetime games pit playoff contenders from opposite conferences with little shared recent history, and the slate is light on tone-setting divisional games to anchor the afternoon schedule the way Patriots–Bills and Cowboys–Eagles did last Sunday.
Dig a little deeper, however, and there's intrigue in nearly every matchup. Few expected Chip Kelly or Chuck Pagano to be feeling the heat in mid-September, but both the Eagles and Colts could use a win Sunday to get their coaches off the schneid and jump back into their respective division races. A run of significant injuries has projected contenders in Dallas and Baltimore playing damage control as they welcome undefeated opponents to town. And what does Aaron Rodgers have in store for his latest matchup against the only quarterback to come off the board before him in the 2005 draft?
Chris Burke and Doug Farrar preview every game of Week 3 and offer their viewing recommendations for your Sunday and Monday, along with numbers to know, matchups to watch around the league and, most importantly, a Tecmo Bowl prediction.
Falcons at Cowboys (1 p.m., FOX)
This is the lone Week 3 game featuring two undefeated teams. If the Cowboys have any plans of exiting Sunday unscathed, they'll have to find a way to make do with Brandon Weeden at quarterback, leading an offense that is also still missing Dez Bryant.
“[Weeden's] a thing of beauty on throwing the football,” Jerry Jones told 105.3 The Fan this week, during an answer rife with hyperbole. “His passing motion ... just his arm is, frankly, you won't see a more gifted passer—power, accuracy, the entire aspect of it. If he can prepare, be the starting quarterback, come in and execute and keep his head right, I feel good about Weeden.”
The Cowboys traded for Bills backup Matt Cassel this week after losing Tony Romo for several weeks to a collarbone injury. This is Weeden's team for now, though. Can he hold Dallas together until Romo returns?
Weeden, who finished 7 of 7 for 73 yards and a touchdown last week, started one game in place of Romo last season, a 28–17 loss to the Cardinals. He hasn't won a game as a starter since Dec. 12, 2012, his next to last year with Cleveland.
One thing's for sure: The revamped Atlanta defense will get after him. The Falcons' pass rush has not yet thrived the way new coach Dan Quinn envisions it someday will, but that defense is allowing just 80 yards per game on the ground and twice has come up with a series of key late stops to pull out victories.
Of course, the D would not have been in those positions if not for the incredible Julio Jones. He followed up a 141-yard, two-TD season-opener with another 135 yards receiving last week against the Giants. His sprawling 37-yard grab with 1:45 left set up Atlanta's game-winning score.
There may be no answer for Jones, not with the Falcons finally beginning to find some balance on offense. The Cowboys' best chance against Jones and Matt Ryan is to not let them have the football. That would require the Dallas run game to crank it up a couple notches from its first two performances.
Weeden probably will need all the help he can get. — CB
Eagles at Jets (1 p.m., FOX)
To say that things aren't going well for the Eagles would be a historic understatement. Philadelphia is flirting with the wrong kind of history on offense, especially in the run game. Free agent running back DeMarco Murray has rushed for a total of 11 yards, the lowest two-week total for any defending rushing champion since 1936. The Eagles, who led the league in rushing two years ago, have 70 rushing yards total through two games.
Quarterback Sam Bradford is still figuring out the system, which has him looking tentative at the best of times, and the general assumption is that opponents have figured out Chip Kelly's schemes—a theory bolstered by the revelation that in last Sunday's 20–10 loss to the Cowboys, Dallas' defenders were heard calling out the Eagles' plays before they were run. That happens more than you might think in today's NFL, but something is very, very wrong here. Murray can't even get out of the backfield before he's set upon, and that's not just his problem—it's also happening to Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles.
Kelly has said that it's the execution of the plays, not their predictability, which probably doesn't endear him to his players. Bottom line, he's going to have to figure something out before his team's season goes completely off the rails.
Whenever that happens, it probably won't be this Sunday against a Jets defense that looks as strong as it did in the Rex Ryan glory years and may be even more disciplined under new head coach Todd Bowles. Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are playing as well as the team hoped they would when the front office paid big money to re-acquire them in the off-season. Eagles center Jason Kelce, who has not played well this season, has to deal with Damon Harrison, the Jets' massively underrated nose tackle, and Philly's offensive line doesn't seem up to the task of stopping the Jets' defensive line at any point. On offense, the Jets will certainly look to target Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell, who was signed to a $63 million contract in the off-season and has played more like an undrafted rookie. The trip to 0–3 for these Eagles seems almost predetermined. — DF
Broncos at Lions (8:30 p.m., NBC)
Two weeks into the regular season, Denver is still trying to mesh Peyton Manning's skills with Gary Kubiak's scheme—a challenge that received a wrinkle last Thursday when Manning rallied his team via his familiar up-tempo offense. But rocky as the transition has been, the Broncos still sit atop the AFC West at 2–0, with a huge road win over Kansas City in their back pocket.
Meanwhile, the Lions are a team without any semblance of an identity, and they're also saddled with an 0–2 start. Injuries along the offensive line contributed to a painful Week 2 for Matthew Stafford, who spent most of last Sunday picking himself up off the turf. The run game is nowhere to be found either, thanks to those blocking woes and some questionable play-calling.
Detroit offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said this week that he has to be more effective implementing his attack. Protecting Stafford and finding a run/pass balance are obvious goals, but so too is getting Calvin Johnson more involved. While his 122 yards receiving are a team high, his impact has fallen far short of what's expected from a player of his caliber.
Lombardi may bring significant adjustments into Sunday night's game. Kubiak has promised that he will not, regardless of what appears best for Manning in the short term.
“You stay committed to what you believe in,” Kubiak said, via ESPN.com. “We're going to get where we want to go offensively if we stay committed to something. We believe in what we're doing, been doing it a long time, we just got to get better at how we're doing it. ... You don't run away from something, you keep working at it.”
Denver does have a potentially dominant defense on which to lean. That's another noticeable step up from Detroit's situation. With Ndamukong Suh in Miami and DeAndre Levy on the shelf, the Lions rank 30th in total defense through two weeks.
All is not well for the Broncos, but it's already desperation time in Detroit. — CB
Chiefs at Packers (Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)
The Packers are dealing with injuries to running back Eddie Lacy and receiver Davante Adams, and receiver Jordy Nelson is already out for the season. No playmakers? No problem. The Packers still have Randall Cobb to catch passes and James Starks to run the ball, and they still have Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball, which makes all the difference. Against the Seahawks on Sunday night, Rodgers was ridiculously on point, making a number of throws that were just about impossible to defend even if Seattle's defense hadn't been struggling. And Green Bay has an ace up its sleeve in that it can put the versatile Cobb in the backfield, furthering the strain on opposing defenses.
The problem for Rodgers and the Pack in this game is on the outside of the offensive line, where tackles David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay will have to contend with the Chiefs' super pass rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Houston is the big issue—he hasn't lost a step from last season, when he put up 22 sacks. Houston has three quarterback takedowns through the Chiefs' first two games, and he's looked just about unblockable at times. Rodgers is a special quarterback when he's on the move, but he may be forced to show that often against Bob Sutton's defense.
The Kansas City offense is still struggling to find a playmaker in the receiver corps, but there's been no issue when it comes to tight end Travis Kelce, who already has 10 catches on 11 targets for 164 yards and two touchdowns. The Packers' defense tends to struggle against tight ends, and linebacker Clay Matthews may end up expanding his role as an inside linebacker to help with coverage. As a rusher and receiver, Jamaal Charles will get his reps, but this game could be up to Jeremy Maclin, Kansas City's high-priced receiver, who is expected to extend the Chiefs' generally conservative passing game. — DF
Bengals at Ravens (1 p.m., CBS)
Bengals QB Andy Dalton is riding one of the sharpest stretches of his career, and the Ravens watched Oakland's Derek Carr hang 351 yards (plus a late rally) on them last week. Advantage: Cincinnati? Sure looks that way. But don't discount the desperation factor for the Ravens, who would slip three games out of first—after three games—with a loss Sunday. Baltimore's offense started clicking a bit last week, too, and rookie receiver Breshad Perriman inches closer to a return. — CB
Steelers at Rams (1 p.m., CBS)
Considering the Rams' propensity for playing to the level of their competition, this matchup might be a gem. One towering obstacle standing in the way of St. Louis's second big home win of 2015 is Le'Veon Bell's return to Pittsburgh's lineup. Washington gashed the Rams' defense for 182 yards rushing last season, and Bell ought to be plenty motivated after serving a two-game suspension. The Rams also have to deal with that Ben Roethlisberger-to-Antonio Brown connection, arguably the league's best.
Rookie RB Todd Gurley is expected to make his debut for St. Louis, which should provide a welcome boost for an offense that barely topped 200 yards last week. — CB
Raiders at Browns (1 p.m., CBS)
Are the Browns wrong in sitting Johnny Manziel in favor of veteran Josh McCown despite Manziel's ability to create explosive plays? That remains to be seen, but McCown should be able to thrive against an Oakland secondary that ranks 30th against the pass in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics. This one is all on Oakland's offense, and the good news there is that quarterback Derek Carr showed an increased effectiveness against blitz packages and more complex coverages in last week's upset win over the Ravens. — DF
Chargers at Vikings (1 p.m., CBS)
Norv Turner spent six seasons from 2007 to '12 as the Chargers' head coach. On Sunday, he'll get his first crack at San Diego from the opposing sideline. Minnesota's offensive coordinator drew up a dandy of a game plan last week against Detroit, utilizing Teddy Bridgewater's mobility—plus a much larger dose of Adrian Peterson than in Week 1—to help the Vikings roll past Detroit.
This week's matchup with San Diego should feature some fireworks. Turner's former team boasts a top-10 offense, and rookie RB Melvin Gordon appears to be hitting his stride. Can the Chargers protect Philip Rivers? Minnesota knocked around Lions QB Matthew Stafford in a Week 2 win. — CB
49ers at Cardinals (4:05 p.m., FOX)
It seems that the Cardinals are the forgotten team among the league's 2–0 squads, but they have been incredible on offense, and the defense has played well despite the departure of coordinator Todd Bowles for the Jets' head job. Carson Palmer tore up the shaky defenses of the Saints and Bears in Weeks 1 and 2, and the 49ers' inconsistent defense could be his next patsy. San Francisco will need to get running back Carlos Hyde going early. He was an afterthought in last week's blowout loss to the Steelers. — DF
Bears at Seahawks (4:25 p.m., CBS)
This has all the makings of a blowout. The Bears come to CenturyLink field for the Seahawks' home opener with Jimmy Clausen replacing the injured Jay Cutler at quarterback, and the Seahawks have strong safety Kam Chancellor back from his holdout. Matt Forte is the only part of Chicago's offense that is working effectively right now, and Chicago's defense doesn't even have a sack. Seattle's primary challenge in this game may be to find a way to get the ball to tight end Jimmy Graham. It doesn't seem like a complicated proposition, but Graham has just seven catches for 62 yards through two games. — DF
Bills at Dolphins (4:25 p.m., CBS)
Two weeks ago, the Bills and Dolphins believed they could challenge the Patriots for AFC East supremacy. Now, they've both been (temporarily?) leapfrogged by the Jets, and the loser here will find itself in full-fledged damage control. Such is the fickle world of the NFL.
Rex Ryan's vaunted Buffalo defense had no answers for the Patriots last week, surrendering 40 points in a shockingly poor performance. Miami has its own issues on defense—the Ndamukong Suh-led front allowed an average of 142 yards rushing in Weeks 1 and 2—and its own run game has been borderline non-existent. This is a critical early matchup in the AFC wild-card race. — CB
Only for the faithful
Saints at Panthers (1 p.m., FOX)
Is Drew Brees going to play? Will it matter? If he is at less than 100%, as was the case in a loss to Tampa Bay last week, it might not. The Panthers again are living off their defense, even with star linebacker Luke Kuechly recovering from a concussion. These NFC South rivals split last year: New Orleans won by 18 in Carolina; the Panthers returned the favor with a 31-point win at the Superdome. — CB
Jaguars at Patriots (1 p.m., CBS)
The Jaguars know they're in for it after their impressive win over the Dolphins. Nobody outside of their own building expects them to even be competitive against the Patriots, much less win. The challenge for coach Gus Bradley and defensive coordinator Bob Babich will be to solve the dual problem of Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman with a relatively simple Cover Three base defense. If the Jags stay in this one, it could be considered a relative victory. — DF
Buccaneers at Texans (1 p.m., FOX)
The Buccaneers know who they have at quarterback, which is more than the Texans can say, and Jameis Winston played pretty well in Tampa Bay's Week 2 win over the Saints. The Texans are sitting at 0–2 after losing to two good defenses in the Chiefs and Panthers, and Bill O'Brien will have to keep flipping between Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett until one of the former Tom Brady backups shows something on a consistent basis. — DF
Colts at Titans (1 p.m., CBS)
Everything is going wrong for the Colts right now. Andrew Luck leads the league with five interceptions, veteran pickups Frank Gore and Andre Johnson haven't shown much, the offensive line has been a relative disaster, and the defense isn't playing well. Coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson are reportedly feuding, and Pagano was testier than usual after Indy's Monday night loss to the Jets. Who would have thought before the season started that the Titans would have the more attractive overall picture? That has a lot to do with Marcus Mariota, who has six touchdown passes and still hasn't thrown an interception this season. — DF
• How bad is the disconnect for Jimmy Graham in Seattle's offense? According to Pro Football Focus, he's been targeted on just 10 of his 77 overall routes through his first two games with the Seahawks. Last year with the Saints, he had been targeted 23 times in 71 total routes. Graham is reportedly frustrated with his role, and it's hard to blame him. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has said that it takes time to fit Graham into the system, which makes one wonder how much time it takes to scheme in a playmaker of Graham's status.
• When it comes to deep passing this year so far, there's Ben Roethlisberger, and there's everybody else. Through two games, Big Ben has completed 10 of 15 passes of 20 or more yards in the air for 406 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The next closest quarterback in yards on such passes is Blake Bortles, who has completed five of the 17 deep passes he's attempted for 185 yards and a touchdown. The scoring champ on deep balls so far is Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor, who has three deep touchdowns on four completions in nine attempts.
• Get ready to hear more of the name Jacquies Smith if things keep going the way they are. Tampa Bay's defensive end leads the league with four sacks, but he has no hits and no hurries on the season. It will be interesting to see if Smith can continue to take the quarterback down on all of his pressures. Houston's offensive line is the next up, and they've already given up four sacks and 29 total pressures on the season.
• Is there a cornerback playing better this season than Denver's Aqib Talib? The stats say that Talib is the man. Through two games, he's been targeted just nine times on 63 total pass defense snaps, allowing three catches for 32 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Thus, Talib has an insane opponent quarterback rating allowed of 5.1. San Diego's Patrick Robinson is second in passer rating allowed right now at 17.4.
Player with the most to prove
Jamell Fleming. Peyton Manning picked on the Chiefs' fill-in starter at cornerback last Thursday, including on a late, game-tying touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders. Kansas City still has one game to weather without a suspended Sean Smith ... and, unfortunately, that game happens to be in Lambeau Field against Aaron Rodgers. Count on Rodgers to find Fleming wherever the Chiefs happen to play him, whether it's outside against James Jones andDavante Adams or in the slot against Randall Cobb. Fleming has to be better than he was in Week 2 if the Chiefs are going to have any hope of an upset. — CB
Underrated player to watch
Josh Norman, CB, Panthers. The Panthers took Norman out of Coastal Carolina in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, but he didn't really show his potential until the 2014 season, when he backed out of his coaches' doghouse and put up a great season, allowing just 27 catches for 291 yards, one touchdown and two picks in 379 total coverage snaps. Negotiations between Norman and the Panthers on a contract extension didn't get far enough this off-season, which means that Norman could be in line for a major pay day if he's able to put up a repeat performance. Through two games in the new season, it's working pretty well. Norman has allowed just nine catches on 21 targets and 104 coverage snaps for 55 yards, one touchdown and one interception. There are people in the league who are convinced that he's going to be the NFL's next consistent shutdown cornerback. — DF
Since entering the league as an expansion team for the 1995 season, the Jaguars have scored regular-season wins over 30 of the NFL's 31 other teams. The lone outlier: New England. They'll get another crack at it Sunday, their seventh all-time meeting with the Patriots. Jacksonville did take down New England during the 1998 season's playoffs but is 0–6 in the regular season. The last meeting between these teams in Foxboro came six years ago: a 35-7 Patriots win in which Tom Brady threw for four TDs while the Jaguars' David Garrard fired two picks. — CB
Burke: Lions. Around 11 percent of teams to start 0–2 since 1990 have made it to the playoffs (23 in all). Just three teams have bounced back from 0–3 to get to the postseason, and the 1992 Chargers stand alone as the only squad to open 0–4 and rally for a playoff berth, but it took an 11–1 finish. Thanks to an ugly back-to-back in San Diego and Minnesota, Detroit already finds itself lumped with that 0–2 group. After their home opener Sunday night vs. Denver, the Lions must travel to Seattle next Monday. A win there would be surprising, so a Week 3 loss could end Detroit's season, for all intents and purposes, before the calendar even hits October.
Farrar: Colts. Andrew Luck's team was a prohibitive Super Bowl favorite before the season started, and they've become the latest lesson in the wisdom of letting things play out. Nothing is going right for the 0–2 Colts right now, from the field to the front office, and they might not be able to rebound from an 0–3 start, especially if that third loss comes against a division foe in the Titans.
Tecmo Super Bowl Upset Special
We’re simulating the entire 2015 season using updated rosters on the classic Tecmo Super Bowl video game. (Download the game at TecmoBowl.org.) Each week, The Playbook will spotlight the most surprising result:
The Chiefs are nearly a touchdown underdog Monday, so this definitely qualifies as an upset. You'll also notice that our simulation is calling for Aaron Rodgers's first home interception since December 2012. Making Kansas City's performance all the more impressive (and explaining Knile Davis's huge day) was the fact that this happened in the first quarter:
Hopefully, Tecmo gets at least that one wrong. — CB
GALLERY: Ranking the NFL's best mascots