TORONTO - Five storylines to follow:
1. BUFFALO BILLS ROADKILL
New England at Oakland. Both teams in the past two weeks suffered humbling losses in Buffalo after holding significant leads. The Raiders had their Buffalo wake-up call in Week 2. Since then they rolled over what had been an impressive N.Y. Jets team. The Patriots, on the other hand, started extremely well against a porous Miami secondary, got past San Diego relatively easily in Week 2 and then ran into the juggernaut Bills. It will be interesting to see how Tom Brady reacts the week after a four-interception game while equally worth watching will be how the Patriots defend Darren McFadden who is making the Adrian Peterson/Arian Foster/Chris Johnson debate redundant.
2. WILL BIG BEN SURVIVE TEXAS?
Will the Steelers have enough offensive lineman to protect Ben Roethlisberger? The Steelers head to Houston having escaped Indy with a win and who would have thought that would be so difficult? Obviously losing three starters on the offensive line played into that as the Colts defence was relentless. There won’t be much let-up in the Texans who are coming off the first loss of their season. The Texans will be the toughest competition Pittsburgh has faced since they were trounced in Week 1 by the Baltimore Ravens. The Texans have been getting by without Arian Foster for the most part but eventually he’s going to return. The Steelers might be the first to find out what kind of impact that will have.
3. ARE THE LIONS REALLY FOR REAL?
The cakewalk is over for the Lions. After opening the season with a big win over Tampa, the Lions had the patsy portion of their schedule and following wins over Kansas City and Minnesota roll into Big D with a 3-0 record. The Cowboys will be playing on a short week thanks to the Monday nighter with Washington but will give the Lions their first real test since Week 1. Matthew Stafford has thus far stayed healthy and for the most part upright. DeMarcus Ware and company might have something to say about that. Terrence Newman will have his hands full trying to slow down Calvin Johnson who is still producing at a two-touchdown-a-game pace.
4. THE BRAWL WILL HAVE IT ALL
Which Jets team and which Ravens team will show up? The Jets looked sharp through the first two weeks but got exposed by the athleticism in the Raiders lineup Sunday. The Ravens were all-world knocking off Pittsburgh in Week 1 but then inexplicably went into a funk against the Titans in Tennessee and lost a very winnable game. Baltimore rebounded to manhandle St. Louis and now head home to host the Jets. Rex Ryan will be extremely tough on his defence this week after allowing 383 yards to the Raiders. This one should be a brawl.
5. OUR FAVOURITE STINKER
The toilet bowl game of the week comes to us from K.C. where the winless Chiefs will host the winless Vikings. At least the Chiefs broke the pattern of blowouts last week almost stealing one in San Diego. Minny has remained true to form building up big leads in the first half and giving it all back and then some in the second. Neither team is very good right now but one will have to win. On paper the Vikings have the better talent but K.C. will challenge that with the home-field advantage and the edge in momentum thanks to their first competitive loss of the season this past weekend.
ON THE HOT SEAT
Eventually the calls are going to come for Spagnuolo. Now in his third season and having looked so good just a year ago with the quick development of QB Sam Bradford, Spagnuolo is looking equally bad this season. New offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has apparently taken the chains off Bradford, but so far the confined and tethered Bradford looks better than the free-as-a-bird Bradford.
New England Patriots at Oakland Raiders
I’m probably just as surprised as you, but the vaunted Pats actually have the worst defence in the league. Their pass defence is especially bad, allowing an outstanding 377 yards per game so far. While the Raiders’ main strength is running the ball with Darren McFadden — and the Pats are only average at defending the ground game — they have shown some signs of life in the aerial attack and could have a big week at home in the Black Hole on Sunday.
Miami Dolphins at San Diego Chargers
As if a cross-country flight was bad enough, the reeling Dolphins will be facing the Chargers in October, when they usually start turning it on every season. Despite giving up 423 yards to Tom Brady in Week 2, the Chargers are allowing a mere 93 yards per game to other opponents. You also have to figure that with San Diego’s high-powered offence, the Fins won’t have a lot of time on the ball, leading to less production.
FRED JACKSON, BUF
Having already boosted Ryan Fitzpatrick in this space, we now turn to his ultra-productive running back Fred Jackson. Jackson wants a new contract and based on his play he’s at least deserving of consideration. He had 74 yards rushing and his 6.4 yards per carry is tops in the NFL. He had another 87 yards through the air. Jackson is one of the main reasons the Bills are off to such a hot start.
CHRIS JOHNSON, TEN
Titans running back Chris Johnson has been a non-factor since signing his $53-million deal. Against the lowly Broncos he managed just 21 yards on 13 carries. That’s not exactly earning one’s money. More and more the Titans are looking like a passing team. Even Javon Ringer is taking touches away from Johnson. This likely won’t continue, but for now, Johnson is a stock that’s on the decline.
HYPE WE’RE BUYING
The New Orleans Saints are set for another Super Bowl run. This team has looked solid since opening night which was a loss to the Green Bay Packers. Even in that game, Drew Brees had that unstoppable look. The defence wasn’t quite ready for the Aaron Rodgers show in opening week but it’s been pretty good since. There’s nothing this team can’t do right now and even a rash of injuries isn’t holding them back.
HYPE WE’RE NOT
The 2-1 Tennessee Titans are a playoff-bound team? Sorry Matt Hasselbeck but we’re just not buying your quick start. We have no way to explain that win over Baltimore but eventually all these injuries and sub-par performances are going to take their toll. Chris Johnson is too talented to stay irrelevant for long but without Kenny Britt and a no-name receiving corps we don’t see the sweet ride continuing.
“He’s able to get to point A to point B faster than anyone I’ve seen. He’s just as fast as some of our receivers, and everyone knows we’re a fast bunch.”
Raiders QB Jason Campbell describes RB Darren McFadden after a 34-24 win over the Jets. McFadden ran for 171 yards on 19 carries and had two touchdowns. McFadden is getting plenty of accolades from all corners of the league, but the best still come from within the Raiders locker room.
BEEF OF THE WEEK
Chicago backers were fleeced by the refs in Sunday’s game with the Packers. Taking 4½ points and up by 10 with less than a minute to play, Green Bay punted to the Bears 12-yard line where a clever move allowed Chicago’s Johnny Knox to return the kick 88 yards for a supposed touchdown. Then, the dreaded flag. The Bears were assessed a holding call on Corey Graham. This was such a phantom penalty, it may as well have been called against Al Capone. Makes you wonder.
— The race is on for who gets fired first — and after Sunday’s games, Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio or Miami’s Tony Sparano are neck and neck. Both were horrible at the end of their respective games with Del Rio likely taking the dunce cap this week. The Jaguars head coach was unaware that time starts immediately after review of a completed pass. With 16 seconds left, trailing by 6 and at Carolina’s 36 and a chance for a cover, the Jags got one play off.
— What’s with these coaches that don’t use their feature backs when they need a mere yard or two? It cost the Vikings when they opted for Toby Gerhart over Adrian Peterson.
— Even worse is Andy Reid’s idiocy on the goal line. The Eagles are down a point, midway through the third quarter. They march 88 yards to the Giants two-yard line, 1st and goal. Let us remind you that they have LeSean McCoy, who ran for 128 and averaged 5.3 yards per carry. Instead, they give it to Owen Schmitt twice, a guy that’s had seven carries in his illustrious four-year career. And failing that, you allow your mashed-up, 100-pound quarterback try to muscle it in twice. Are you joking?
— Speaking of which, how’s that Michael Vick thing working out for you anyway, Philadelphia?