NFL Week 3: Biggest Storyline for Every Sunday Matchup

760918d8-a62c-11de-93d0-001cc4c03286.preview-620Houston Texans (2-0) at Baltimore Ravens (1-1): Top Running Backs Struggle Getting it Going, Backups in the Spotlight

Ray Rice and Arian Foster have combined to averaged 3.3 yards per attempt this season, and both remain banged up. Rice is doubtful for Sunday’s game with a hip injury, while Foster is probable after being slowed down during training camp and the preseason. The good news here for both teams is that Bernard Pierce (Ravens) and Ben Tate (Texans) are more than capable of handling the load and would likely be starting for at least a dozen teams around the league. They may have an opportunity to showcase their talents in this game between two playoff teams from a season ago.

 

Cleveland Browns (0-2) at Minnesota Vikings (0-2): Completely New Backfield in Cleveland, Must Win for the Vikings

Cleveland just traded its franchise running back in Trent Richardson and brought in an injury-plagued veteran in the form of Willis McGahee to replace him. It also decided to start one average backup Brian Hoyer over another, Jason Campbell, to replace an injured Brandon Weeden. So, now the Browns go into a must-win game with a completely different and less-than-talented backfield against a Vikings team with none other than Adrian Peterson in the backfield. That’s sure to magnify the loss of Richardson. For Minnesota, this is also a must win. Looking to repeat a surprising postseason trip from a year ago, the Vikings simply cannot start 0-3 against a suddenly poor Browns team at home.

 

Can Newton lead the Panthers over the top against the Giants?

Can Newton lead the Panthers over the top against the Giants?

New York Giants (0-2) at Carolina Panthers (0-2): Which Bottom Feeder Can Avoid 0-3 Start? 

Through two weeks, these are a couple of the worst teams in the NFC. It’s interesting because both the Giants and Panthers have the talent to contend in their division, but continue to struggle in numerous aspects of the game. New York can’t find any balance on the offensive side of the ball and has turned the ball over a ridiculous 10 times in two games. Meanwhile, Carolina has lost two close games as Cam Newton‘s maturity continues to come into question. Whoever loses this game is practically eliminated from postseason contention after just three weeks.

 

Green Bay Packers (2-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-1): Aaron Rodgers’ Dominance to be Tested Against Elite Front in Cincinnati 

This could very well be a Super Bowl preview. My favorite to grab the AFC Championship hosts one of the best teams in the “senior circuit” in an early-season showdown in Cincinnati. Can Aaron Rodgers overcome questionable offensive line play and continue what has been one of the most awe-inspiring two-year stretches in the history of the NFL or will Cincinnati’s talented defensive front win the day? I am also intrigued to see how Giovani Bernard does with more playing time at running back for the Bengals.

 

St. Louis Rams (1-1) at Dallas Cowboys (1-1): NFC Best Against the NFC Worst

No, I am not indicating that the Rams are the best team in the NFC while the Cowboys are a bottom feeder. Instead, this pits a team from the worst division in the conference against another team that might very well be favorites if they were in said division. Can St. Louis make a statement by beating Tony Romo and the Cowboys on the road or will the home team rebound from a disappointing Week 2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs?

 

Detroit Lions (1-1) at Washington Redskins (0-2): ‘Skins Disastrous Secondary Taking on Calvin Johnson and Co. 

Just how many yards will Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson put up in this game? It really is a fantasy football wet bream this weekend against the worst defense in the NFL through two weeks. Washington has yielded over 1,000 total yards and is playing absolutely horrible football in the secondary. That being said, Washington has to win this game if it wants to have a decent chance of repeating as NFC East champions. Teams that start 0-3 have made the playoffs 2.8 percent of the time since 1990.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2) at New England Patriots (2-0): Struggling Teams on Opposite End of the Spectrum

A lot has been made about the Patriots struggles this season, but it’s important to remember that they are one of just eight undefeated teams remaining in the NFL. Meanwhile, the 0-2 Buccaneers need a win in the worst possible way. Starting out 0-3 would add further credence that the organization, which seems to be at a crossroads, isn’t performing up to the level of its talent. A loss to the Patriots in this one will pretty much end Tampa Bay’s season before it really starts.

 

Which star will lead his team to a win today?

Which star will lead his team to a win today?

Arizona Cardinals (1-1) at New Orleans Saints (2-0): Statement Game for Carson Palmer and Co.?

Arizona remains the least-talented team in the most-talented division, but a win against the undefeated Saints could go a long way in showing that its prepared to take on the other three teams in the NFC West. Palmer has been pretty good in his first two starts in the desert, but will be going head-to-head with the best in the business in Drew Brees. Can he lead the Cardinals to an upset victory in the Bayou? That’s the real question here.

 

San Diego Chargers (1-1) at Tennessee Titans (1-1): Where Has This Philip Rivers Come From? 

Minus one really bad pick-six against the Houston Texans in Week 1, Rivers has been on spot this season. He is completing nearly 66 percent of his passes for over 600 yards with seven scores and just that one interception. Rivers helped San Diego in an come-from-behind effort against the Philadelphia Eagles last week and will be looking to lead it to a second consecutive road victory. Meanwhile, the Titans are one late-game meltdown at the hands of the Houston Texans from being 2-0 right now. A home win against San Diego could prove their legitimacy as a wildcard contender in the AFC.

 

Will this be a familiar scene today?

Will this be a familiar scene today?

Atlanta Falcons (1-1) at Miami Dolphins (2-0): Dolphins’ Defense Looks to Earn Their Keep Against Matt Ryan

This could get ugly relatively quickly. With left tackle Sam Baker sitting out, it appears that journeyman Jeremy Trueblood will get the start at right tackle, which means he’ll line up against Cameron Wake. On the other side of the line, Lamar Holmes will go up against a combination of Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan. That’s not exactly a fair matchup. In addition, the likes of Steven Jackson, Kroy Biermann and Sean Weatherspoon  are out of action this week, Miami is in prime position for a stunning 3-0 start at home.

 

Buffalo Bills (1-1) at New York Jets (1-1): Battle of the Rookie Quarterbacks

It’s not quite Andrew Luck vs Robert Griffin III, but this quarterback matchup is pretty good. Both EJ Manuel and Geno Smith have their teams with a .500 record through two weeks and will be looking at keeping pace with both the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins in the AFC East. Smith’s last performance ended in disaster with two fourth quarter interceptions, while Manuel led the Bills to a come from behind win against the Carolina Panthers.

 

This reunion comes at a bit of a crossroads for both parties.

This reunion comes at a bit of a crossroads for both parties.

Indianapolis Colts (1-1) at San Francisco 49ers (1-1): Trent Richardson vs San Francisco’s Run Defense, Andrew Luck vs Jim Harbaugh

Most of the news surrounding this game has had to deal with the arrest of Aldon Smith on DUI charges, but that will quickly fade come game time at Candlestick Park this afternoon. Richardson will be making his Colts’ debut debut after a mid-week trade from the Cleveland Browns. He’s going up against a 49ers front that appears to be shaken up at this point. Nose tackle Ian Williams was lost for the season after breaking his ankle last week, while both Justin Smith and Ray McDonald missed practices during the week. Oh, and this game pits two former Stanford Cardinal’ against one another with Luck taking on his former coach. It’s also as much of a must win as you can get this early in the season for both teams.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) at Seattle Seahawks (2-0): 19.5-Point Vegas Spread, Over or Under? 

This has to be one of the most lopsided NFL matchups in recent history. The Jaguars are 0-2 and have scored a total of nine points on the offensive side of the ball. They go up against a Seahawks team that just got done destroying the reigning NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers 29-3 and have outscored their last five opponents 177-23 at home. Vegas has the spread at nearly 20, but barring unforeseen circumstances we could be looking at an even larger blowout in this one.

 

Chicago Bears (2-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-2): Two Teams, Two Different Directions

Can the Bears pretty much land a knockout punch to Pittsburgh’s playoff aspirations here? Teams that start 0-3 have less than a three percent chance of earning a trip to the playoffs, and that’t the situation Ben Roethlisberger and Co. might find themselves in following this Sunday Night Football matchup. Meanwhile, Chicago looks to start 3-0 for the first time since its last playoff appearance in 2010.

 

Vincent is the head sports editor at eDraft, co-host of eDraft Sports Radio (which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. ET) and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus. He’s also the news director here at PFC and co-host of Football Debate Central with Ryan Riddle every Friday. He’s also a former league-wide featured columnist at Bleacher Report.