Week 3: From A to Z

Week 3: From A to Z
September 20, 2013, 2:45 pm
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A month from now, all the NFL drama and headlines that we’re obsessing over today will be a distant memory. In two months, all the drama and headlines we’re obsessing over a month from now will be a distant memory. In three months . . . OK, you get it.

But right now, it’s the NFL!

It’s Week 3!!

It’s the return of the Alphabet NFL Preview!

AIR ATTACK: The NFL’s transition into a predominant passing league has been well documented over the years. Ever since Bill Polian led the charge to castrate the secondary nearly a decade ago, we’ve seen an assault on the quarterbacking record books on par with what steroids did to baseball. That said, 2013 is already poised to be the most prolific passing season in a long line of prolific passing seasons. Check out these numbers, courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau and ESPN:

* In Week 1, the league set new single-week records in total passing yards (8,143) and touchdowns (63).

* Through two weeks, teams have thrown for more yards (16,355) and touchdowns (111), than they have over they over the first two weeks of any previous season.

* Five quarterbacks have already thrown for at least 400 yards in a game without an interception. The record for most quarterbacks to accomplish that feat in an entire season? Six.

* Teams have combined for 36 rushing touchdowns and an average of 3.8 yards per carry, the lowest such marks through two weeks since the 2001 season.

* Officials have called more pass interference penalties over the past two weeks than they did the ENTIRE 1997 season.

OK, I made that last one up. But either way, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt: “This is getting regoddamndiculous.”

And you wonder why Tim Tebow can’t get a job?

(Sorry, just wanted to get that NFL-mandated reference out of the way early).

BIG ONE: It’s only Week 3, which leaves the schedule void of games with any real playoff or even serious division implications, so for Game of the Week honors, let’s roll with Indianapolis at San Francisco

For one, because it’s the first professional meeting between Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck. As you know, Harbaugh coached Luck at Stanford. Harbaugh loved Luck. He obsessed over Luck. He watched over Luck with a level passion and pure unbridled craziness that only Jim Harbaugh can:

Here’s he is on Luck back in 2010:

“I was thinking just the other night that two people in my life, my wife and our quarterback, Andrew Luck, have a lot in common in that they're just both perfect. With most people you say, 'If they only didn't do that. Or they didn't do this.' Or you wish they could do this, or you wish they could do that. But I don't do that with my wife Sarah or Andrew Luck. They are just absolutely perfect the way they are. For football coach that's pretty great -- to have a great wife and a great quarterback.”


Second, because Sunday also marks Trent Richardson’s Colts debut. Fresh off the midweek blockbuster, Richardson will no doubt be playing with a chip on his shoulder. Although as excited as he might be to join this up-and-coming Colts franchise, I’m sure deep down he’s wondering: Man, couldn’t this have waited until after the San Francisco game?

With Seattle facing a layup this week at home against the Jaguars, the Niners need this game to avoid falling two back in the NFC West. And while no one is expecting the Richardson to make a contender out the Colts just yet, a win at San Francisco will go a long way towards changing that tune.

Well, not really. But it would be a huge win for the organization.

CLOSE SECOND: In terms of storylines and drama, you also have to keep an eye on Ed Reed’s return to Baltimore. That is assuming he plays. And even if Reed does play, it remains to be seen how much he has left in that 35-year-old body and 65-year-old hip. Either way, it will be an emotional afternoon in Baltimore. Seeing how Reed won two Super Bowls there, it might be even more emotional than the other “Reid” homecoming that played out last night in Philly.

All that aside, this is a huge game for both the Texans and Ravens; two teams that hope to compete for the AFC title but haven’t had an easy time so far. Of course, the Texans are 2-0, but those wins (last second comebacks against San Diego and Tennessee) have been about as pretty as a topless photo of Wade Phillips.

On the other side, after taking a beating on opening night in Denver, the Ravens eked out a win at home last week against the Browns. They’re dealing with a lot of questions on defense (thanks to the departure of Reed, Ray Lewis and Bernard Pollard); their offense has been stalled by injuries to Denins Pitta, Jacoby Jones and now, questions about Ray Rice’s hip.

Considering they’ve already dropped a game this year, and play four of their next five games on the road, this one probably means more to the Ravens than it does the Texans.

But you imagine it means more than anything to Ed Reed.

DO OR DIE: The NFL expanded its playoff field to six teams per conference back in 1990, and since then only three teams have started 0-3 and gone on to make the postseason. Zero teams have done it since 1998. And the last one to do it, the Buffalo Bills, used up so much energy and karma climbing out of that hole that they’ve only made the playoffs once more in the 14 years since. (Maybe that explains it?)

Point is that while it’s hard to qualify any Week 3 game as a must win, for a handful of 0-2 teams with expectations of playing into January, this week is about as must-win as it gets.

I’m looking at you, Vikings (at Cleveland), Giants (at Carolina), Redskins (vs. Lions), Steelers (vs. Bears) and Jaguars (Nah, just kidding Jaguars).

EVERYBODY HATES TODD: Speaking of 0-2, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley is no stranger to controversy. He famously butted head with Kurt Warner (who fights with Kurt Warner?!) and Anquan Boldin in Arizona. Before that he had a rocky relationship with Terrell Owens (who fights with Terrell Owens?!) in Dallas. Over his nearly three years as head coach in Kansas City he had public spats with Matt Cassel and Larry Johnson and, last year, his first in Pittsburgh, was highlighted by a season-long tussle with Ben Roethlisberger.

Haley seems like the kind of guy who’s constantly involved in meaningless tiffs with neighbors over the condition of their lawn, getting in arguments with other drivers, and has probably been challenged to numerous fights by other parents at Little League.

This year, Antonio Brown is the latest player to get into with Haley. They had words on the sidelines during Pittsburgh’s Monday night loss to the Bengals. And you can understand the frustration. Through two games, the Steelers offense ranks 31st in total yards and 30th in points.

The good news? It looks like rookie second round pick Le’veon Bell is a go this week after missing the first two games with Lisfranc sprain.

The bad news? The Steelers host the 2-0 Bears on Sunday night, and while Chicago’s defense has started slower than expected, they still have one of the best units in the league and held Adrian Peterson in check last week.

FANBOYS: The NFL is a league deeply-rooted in trash talk and bravado, but this week we encountered more than a few instances of players trying to kill their opponents with kindness.

Tom Brady led the charge, in speaking about Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis: I’ve never played against anyone who is as good as him. He’s as good as there is that I’ve ever played against, so you just have to be careful when you throw his way because you know he’s going to be close.”

And then on safety Dashon Goldston: “(He’s) one of my favorite players . . . because if I were a safety, I would try to play like him."

Tom’s got it twisted. You’re supposed to be mean to the opposition, and nice to your teammates. Not the other way around.

In other NFL niceties: Over in Cincinnati, as the Bengals prepare for Sunday’s battle with the Packers, cornerback Leon Hall had this to say about Aaron Rodgers: “In my opinion, he's the best quarterback in the NFL. When you go up against guys like that, it's like when we play against receivers like [Detroit's] Calvin Johnson later in the year. We get pumped up when we face those guys.”

Not to be outdone, when asked about this weekend’s division battle in Buffalo, Jets coach Rex Ryan said that Bills kicker Dan Carpenter has “the most beautiful pair of feet he’s seen in quite some time.”

GIOGRAPHY: Besides the Haley hatefest, another big takeaway from last Monday night was the emergence of Bengals rookie running back Giovani Bernard — who scored two touchdowns in the win over Pittsburgh.

If you watched Hard Knocks this summer, first of all, my condolences, because this was the most boring season in the series history. But second, you also know how much the Bengals thought of their young back heading into this season, and with Monday night’s break out, expect to see a lot more of Bernard moving forward.

Of course, at only 5-9 and 210 pounds, it’s questionable whether Bernard can carry the burden of an every down back, so BenJarvus Green Ellis’ role won’t entirely disappear. But, if the Bengals are going to keep pace with “best quarterback in the NFL” Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Sunday they’re going to need some fireworks on offense. And out of the backfield, Gio is the only guy who can do it.

HEAD GAMES: It’s a shame that we need to have an entire section of the preview dedicated to concussions, but such is life in today’s NFL. Here’s a quick run down of the most high profile concussions suffered last Sunday and how they’ll affect this Sunday.

Eddy Lacy: While the Bengals hope to get big production from their own rookie running back against the Packers, Green Bay just hopes that their rookie runner will be in uniform. Lacy is still listed as questionable right now after being concussed last week, but even if he plays, he’s expected to be limited.

Andre Johnson: Johnson was on the wrong end of a (surprise!) Bernard Pollard hit to the head last week and came down with a concussion. However, he’s seems to have avoided anything super serious and is probable for Sunday’s big game against the Ravens.

Jeremy Kerley: Kerley is one of the only competent receivers on the Jets roster but missed Week 2’s loss to the Pats with a concussion of his own. However, he’s been cleared to play this week and should help Geno Smith.

Josh Thomas: If the Panthers are going to beat the Giants this week, it would help to have the services of their starting left cornerback, who suffered a concussion last Sunday. Thomas was at practice for the first time all week on Friday, but at the time of post it’s still unclear as to whether he’s been cleared.

Kendall Wright: The Titans second-year receiver suffered a concussion at the hands of Houston’s Kareem Jackson last week and hasn’t practiced at all this week. He’ll be missed if he can’t suit up against San Diego. Especially when replacement Kenny Britt’s head is all messed even without a concussion.

Interceptions: Eli Manning. Eli Manning. Eli Manning. Eli Manning. Eli Manning. Eli Manning. Eli Manning.

That’s one Eli Manning for every pick he’s thrown this season. Three more than any other quarterback in the league.

Now certainly Manning’s performance isn’t the only reason for the Giants 0-2 start, but you can guarantee that New York improve unless Eli does. This Sunday is a good start, against a Panther defense that’s only picked off one pass all year.

JUMBLED: That’s one way to describe what’s going on in Tampa. The two tough losses that, on paper, should have been easy wins. The disconnect between Josh Freeman and Greg Schiano, and really, the whole team and Greg Schiano.

As the Bucs prepare to take on the Pats this Sunday, it’s worth pointing out the relationship between Schiano and Bill Belichick. The two are good friends. Their connection is the main source of Belichick’s recent obsession with Rutgers and a major factor in Schiano even getting that job to begin with.

There’s no doubt that Schiano looks up to Belichick, and tries to carry himself in a similar way. And you can’t look at the way things seem to be unfolding with the Buccaneers without being reminded of what happened in Belichick’s first go round with Cleveland.

If Schiano’s going to turn this thing around, he better do it quickly. Beating his mentor on the road would be a great start.

K-GUN: One guy I didn’t mention up top is Colin Kaeperenick, who went from lighting up the Packers in Week 1 (and hearing his name involved in possible/way too early MVP talk) to having lunch handed to him, knocked out of him and then handed to him again against the Seahawks.

Not that Week 3 will ultimately define anything as it pertains to Kaepernicks’s season. After all, this time last year he wasn’t even the starter. But with one dominant performance and one embarrassing performance on his early season resume, Sunday’s game against Colts presents a big time opportunity to get his once-thought-to-be transcendent season back on track.

LASTING EFFECT: From the moment he took the field in the preseason, it was obvious that Reggie Bush had found new life as part of the Lions offense. But the major question, as always, was: Can he stay healthy?

The early returns say “no” as Bush is already dealing with a knee injury and is questionable for Sunday’s game in Washington.

It will really be too bad if Bush can’t stay on the field. Those glimpses we saw this summer, and in Week 1, showed a guy who might finally reach the heights of “wow” that we all watched at USC. If he can’t go, all the pressure falls back on Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, and while you can be sure that they’ll put up big numbers, in the past, those numbers have never been enough to take the Lions over the top. It would also help if they can get more production and fewer personal fouls from their currently 20th ranked defense.

MOST INTERESTING MAN IN THE NFL: OK, that might be an exaggeration, but there’s no doubt that Bears tight end Martellus Bennett has established himself as one of the most interesting personalities in the league.

He came into the NFL with tons of potential after the Cowboys selected him in the second round of the 2008 Draft. Soon after, thanks in large part to a starring role on Hard Knocks, Bennett earned the reputation as a slacker, and that stuck with him over four uneven seasons in Dallas. He then signed a one-year deal with the Giants, and played well-enough to earn himself a four-year deal with the Bears.

Over that time, he’s been fined for posting an explicit rap video on YouTube, has dubbed himself with the unforgettable nickname “Black Unicorn” and already this season he’s compared himself to Muhammad Ali and given first year coach Marc Trestman the nickname “Willy Wonka.”

"He's a genius," Bennett said of Trestman. "A lot of times when you're around really, really smart people, you don't really understand them. I thought Willy Wonka was brilliant. He had all kinds of candy. Who doesn't like chocolate and candies? Everybody wanted a Gobstopper. I just think he's brilliant.”

Well, that explains it.

But most importantly, Bennett’s already established himself as one of Jay Cutler’s favorite targets. Through two games, he already has three touchdowns (including the game-winner last week against Minnesota) and will be a huge part of the attack as the Bears look to take advantage of the struggling Steelers defense this Sunday night.

NO LEAD IS SAFE: Well, maybe some leads, but not when they’re held by the Carolina Panthers. The 0-2 Panthers have held the lead heading into the fourth quarter in both their games this season, and blown them both. Going back to 2010, they’ve lost an NFL-high 10 games in which they started the fourth quarter with the lead.

The obvious question: How does Ron Rivera still have a job?

On Sunday, the Panthers host the Giants, who will also be looking for their first win of the season, and will playing with a heavy heart after the tragic loss of Tom Coughlin’s brother.

This is actually the second consecutive Week 3 in which the Giants and Panthers have faced off in Carolina. The Giants won last year’s bout 36-7, and I’d expect a similar outcome this time around.

OSCAR WORTHY: There are a few teams in the league who could probably use the services of another veteran receiver, including New England, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and the Jets. And of all the veteran receivers currently toeing the unemployment lined, perhaps none are more qualified than Brandon Lloyd. Only problem is that Lloyd has his sights set on another line of work these days: The straight-to-DVD movie business.

Check out Lloyd’s scene in the forthcoming blockbuster “After Effect” starring the one and only Billy Baldwin.

That’s some Brando-esque hand-waving right there.

PICKING ON PETERSON: Last week in Arizona, the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson made history when he became the first defender since the NFL merger to throw a completion and make a reception in the same game. In honor of this achievement, Canton nabbed PP’s gloves and the ball he threw for the completion and will display them both in Canton. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that while Peterson’s been moonlighting as a receiver and a quarterback, he hasn’t been all that successful at his real job: Cornerback.

According to ProFootballFocus, when quarterbacks have targeted Peterson this season, they have a perfect Quarterback Rating of 158.3. They have completed eight of 10 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.

In Peterson’s defense, he did have to cover Calvin Johnson last week, and no one human can be expected to succeed there. But at the same time, it doesn’t get all that much easier for the Pro Bowler. This week, he and the Cardinals will head down to New Orleans to take on the Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and the Saints.

Not helping matters, Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t practiced all week with a sore hamstring and might not play for Arizona.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: How good is the Dolphins defense?

Miami gave up only three touchdowns and 30 points over the first two weeks, in a pair of wins over the Browns and Colts. Then again, given the competition, the Dolphins still have a ways to go before anyone is really sold.

Enter the Falcons, who certainly aren’t at the height of their powers heading into Sunday’s game in Miami. Steven Jackson is out. Roddy White is playing through an injury. But with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez healthy and ready to roll, this will be the biggest test the Dolphins have faced so far.

That is, until they travel to New Orleans next week.

REAL HOUSEWIVES OF DC: Robert Griffin III said this week that he needs to be harder on his teammates and be a better leader. Mike Shanahan said that RGIII should just worry about himself. Robert Griffin III said that his team needs him to scramble more, like he did last year. Pierre Garcon said that RGIII can’t scramble like he did last year because he’s not as fast as used to be. Meanwhile, the whole country’s in the midst of a heated debate over whether the ‘Skins should change their name.

It’s a mess in Washington right, and with the Lions coming to town, fired up after last week’s loss to the Cardinals, things are going to get worse before they get better in DC.

SURVIVOR SERIES: If you’re an NFL fan, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re in a survivor pool. And if you’re in a survivor pool, then there’s a pretty good chance that you’re rolling with the Seahawks this week at home against Jacksonville. Seattle’s a 19.5-point favorite against the sad Jags, which is the 10th highest point spread in NFL history.

The only thing working in the Jags favor is that their head coach, Gus Bradley, was formerly the Seahawks defensive coordinator, so there might not be a man in the entire league more familiar with the inner workings of Seattle’s dominant D.

In that sense, Bradley’s kind of like Bruce Willis in Armageddon – only if instead of having a team of experienced oil drillers, the government had sent him to the asteroid with a team of retired florists.

THE TRADE: You probably think that the Vikings caught a break with the Trent Richardson trade. And they did. They also caught a break with the news that the Browns are starting third string QB Brian Hoyer on Sunday. But with that game now very likely in the bag, here’s an interesting question for Minnesota: If Trent Richardson was worth a first round pick, what would Adrian Peterson be worth?

That might sound crazy but it’s something to think about. I mean, the Vikings aren’t winning a title with AP, so why not use him to try and build a team that will? It could be the second coming of the Herschel Walker trade, and Minnesota remembers how that one turned out better than anyone.

UNDEFEATED: The Titans moved to Tennessee from Houston in 1998 and since then have played eight games against the San Diego Chargers. They’ve won exactly zero of them. Making matters even more embarrassing for Titans, in one of those eight losses, Ryan Leaf was Chargers starting QB.

But the Titans have a few things working in their favor for Sunday’s meeting:

First, they’re at home.

Second, well, they’re at home.

This is a very evenly matched game, as evidence by the Titans being favored by three (homefield is worth three points), but if Tennessee is going to get off the all-time snide, here are two they need to do.

Stop Eddie Royal: It’s been years since anyone typed that sentence, but Royal’s been deadly out of the slot, and with Malcolm Floyd hurt and Antonio Gates not what he used to be, stopping Royal is a major to-do.

Find Chris Johnson: CJ2K has been all right (155 yards, 3.3 ypg), but they need him more in order to help young QB Jake Locker and help the offense develop some semblance of an identity.

VELCRO: Which quarterback has fallen victim to the most dropped passes this season? If you base your answer on sideline tantrums, my guess is that you guessed Tom Brady. But the truth is (according to Pro Football Focus) that Matthew Stafford, Robert Griffin III and (gasp!) Peyton Manning have all had more passes dropped this season than the seven balls that have fallen through his New England receivers’ hands.

See, Tom. It could be worse.

WILL POWER: Speaking of Brady, too much was probably made of his sideline antics last week. But because of all the attention, it will be a nice surprise to see a repeat performance. At least not a repeat of a Brady performance. In reality, it might look a lot like Jimmy Dugan in League of Their Own.

XFACTOR: Tavon Austin is the definition of an X-factor and not only because he plays the slot. With his two touchdowns last week, the rookie out of West Virginia (who had been kept under wraps for most of the preseason like some kind of secret weapon) officially introduced himself the NFL, and no doubt kept Cowboys coordinator Monte Kiffin busy this week.

Unleashing the Austin in Dallas will be key to the Rams pulling off an upset on Sunday. That, and something we’ll get to in a second.

YOUNG GUNS: If I’d asked you at the beginning of the year: Which rookie QB is going to start the season 2-1, EJ Manuel or Geno Smith? Your answer would have been neither. But short of a tie, that’s what’s on the line this week in Buffalo. A strong start for one of the AFC East two presumed bottom-feeders.

ZERO: Two years ago, the St. Louis Rams surrendered more sacks than any team in the league. Sam Bradford only played 10 games that season, but was still sacked more than half teams in the NFL.

So far this year? The Rams are the only team yet to surrender a sack, and that’s played a major factor in Bradford currently sporting career highs in completion percentage (63.2), yards per game (325.5) and QB rating (93.4)

On Sunday, the Rams (1-1) head to Dallas (1-1), where they’ll have to deal with Demarcus Ware. The NFL’s 4th active-leading sacker is currently questionable with a sore shoulder, but count on him to play, and after picking up two sacks last week against the Chiefs, he’ll take the field with the taste for blood. Whatever that means.

And that’s all for this week.

Enjoy the games.

Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine