Week 3 Preview: Conspiracy Theories
To me, it finally feels like fall is here. The weather in New York is getting cooler, Spogo is closer to launch, Eli is throwing for tons of yards, and Michigan is playing Notre Dame. A week after having lost my survivor league, I find myself looking for reason in a league turned upside down. Twenty teams start the season 1-1, the most in over 20 years. In this disarray, what makes sense? Do we pick the logical and expect the illogical? Does that make the illogical, logical? Where are DiCaprio and the rest of the “Inception” crew when you need them? Maybe this is what happens when you take the normal referees out of the equation? Maybe the NFL is more like the WWE and Roger Goodell plays Vince McMahon, but letting these school-teaching part-time refs in on it would unveil their secret? It’s a conspiracy I tell you!
Players to Watch
Cam Newton (QB, Carolina Panthers)
If you’ve been reading these with any frequency, you know how I feel about the Giants secondary. Sophomore Cam exposed the Saints defense last week with a signature Newtonian performance (253 Yds passing, 1TD, 71 Yds rushing, 1 TD). He even went all Superman celebration for the first time this year. While the Saints coaching staff is depleted, the Giants secondary is worse. Hospital wings have less messed up patients. Brandon LaFell is coming into the limelight as a solid target, and Steve Smith is back and seemingly healthy (listed as probable). I expect Cam to have a great game, both through the air and scrambling for yards. Whether that will be enough to out-sling the all powerful Eli Manning, is another question.
Jay Cutler (QB, Chicago Bears)
The enigma of which Cutler is going to show up this week continues. He was absolutely putrid last week. I don’t know if this bothers Bears fans, but when he’s having one of those days, after an early pick or two, he seems to shut down. He has a pouty look on his face the rest of the game and throws the ball more like Rex Grossman did (basically, throwing it deep and hoping for the best) than the guy they hoped they traded for. The Bears square up with the Rams this week back in Chicago. The Rams are not as good a football team as the Packers, but their defense may be comparable. Personally, I expect Jay to show up and perform at a high level. I’d put him in my top 5 QB’s for this week. But I admit, with Cutler, you just never know.
Andrew Luck (QB, Indianapolis Colts)
O.K., so I went a little QB heavy with the players to watch, but Andrew Luck just got so much better in Week 2. He more than doubled his QB Rating (39.2 in Week 1 to 95.7 in Week 2), looked much sharper hitting his windows, and completed just shy of 15% more passes in Week 2. He’s getting more comfortable, and the Colts seem to have some bright spots. Their running game is just miserably bad. I don’t blame Donald Brown, it’s the offensive line, but they have to throw the ball to be successful. While this puts more pressure on Luck, he seems to be taking it well. He’s a hardworking kid, and this week’s game at home against Jacksonville should be an even more reasonable opponent than Minnesota. Could the Colts start 2-1?
Games to Watch
Houston Texans @ Denver Broncos – 4:25 PM EST Sunday
The Steelers, Falcons, and now Texans? Peyton Manning is sledding through some serious competition in the early part of
this season. The Texans are one of the teams that are somehow staying out of the biggest spotlight, but are contenders. Schaub is still trying to find his form a bit (mostly on the deep balls). The QB is still 46-66 passing the ball, but it’s the rushing attack that has Houston 2-0. Arian Foster has been the most consistent football player the last 3 years, outside of the QB field. Him getting 80+ yards and a touchdown is as consistent as gravity. No… as consistent as Tom Brady appearing on the cover of GQ. The Texans defense is also a solid unit of players that have been together for a few years. Peyton will have to burn the midnight oil in order to get ready for this one on short rest. He is also trying to shake a 3-interception first quarter (which he did the rest of the game). If anyone can move on, it’s this guy. Hopefully the thinner air and home cooked whatever-they-eat-in-Denver (venison?) provides a better performance from this team. It’s hard to work out of a 4-turnover hole.
New England (read: Boston) Patriots @ Baltimore Ravens – 8:20 PM EST Sunday
Two teams that stormed through their Week 1 opponents with gusto turned and floundered in Week 2. The Ravens did play Philly, a quality opponent whose win was not shocking. The Patriots on the other hand, words can’t express how angry I am that they knocked me out of my survivor league. I’m going to be bitter for weeks. It’s bad enough to get knocked out, but having a team I hate be the one to do it on a 13.5 point favorite lock?! I guess this is payback for beating them in two Superbowls. How will these teams bounce back? If I we’re Josh McDaniels, I would watch film from the last years, see that Wes Welker is an amazing receiver, and start actually using him. The loss of Hernandez might give Welker more looks, but the Pats need to spread the field and do what they do best. The Ravens will be trying to grind through an improving Pats defense. Like Cutler, it’s unclear what Flacco you’re going to get in any given week. The Ravens offense goes as Ray Rice does. The human bowling ball needs to get going, and open up seams for Flacco to find his receivers. I like the Ravens at home with a better defense.
Green Bay Packers @ Seattle Seahawks – 8:30 EST Monday
This matchup is the opposite of the aforementioned. Both of these teams took Week 1 losses, and turned around in Week 2 to smack seemingly quality opponents. The Cowboys took one to the chin from Seattle, and the Packers ran through the childish Cutler Bears. Week 3 is the week when the good teams start to separate themselves from the pack. Rodgers hasn’t looked his normal self yet, but the much-improved defense has kept them in games. While Jermichael Finley’s agent has stirred up some questions about Rodger’s leadership (he should be fired by Finely for this, it’s comparably idiotic as posting “I hate my boss” lines on Facebook when you’re boss is a friend. It’s on that level.) I have no doubt in it. Packers have come to back him up about this, but it may be a small distraction. Playing in Seattle is also one of the tougher places in this league to compete. Home field advantage with a crowd like this plays big. This game may fall on the shoulders of an unsuspecting Russell Wilson. Is he ready to shine on the Monday Night Football stage and prove Bill Simmons (predicted a Seattle Superbowl win this year) competent?
Injuries, News and Notes
- John Skelton (QB, Cardinals) did not practice again. One more solid start from Kolb and Skelton’s job security (if at all existent) is erased.
- Running back Jonathan Stewart (RB, Carolina Panthers) is questionable and I don’t suspect his status will be known until this afternoon or evening. Is it just me or is he always a game time decision? For years now…
- Matt Forte (RB, Chicago Bears) did not practice. While it’s been reported by Lovie Smith on Chicago local radio that he did not suffer a high ankle sprain as previously reported, it doesn’t seem likely he’ll be back this week.
- Packer’s WR Greg Jennings returned to full practice Tuesday. This is great news for a receiving core that’s had trouble without him.
- Hakeem Nicks (WR, New York Giants), the Week 2 standout receiver in a dramatic Giants win will not play tonight against the Panthers. This will definitely hurt their passing game; look for Hixon and Randle to get increased looks with Cruz getting smothered.
- Antonio Gates (TE, San Diego Chargers), who was scratched from a Week 2 start late, was limited in practice this week. He normally plays in these half-injured scenarios. But if last week is any barometer, make sure to check his status on Sunday.
- Brian Orakpo (LB, Washington Redskins) is out for the year with a re-aggravated pectoral injury. He had surgery on this in the offseason. Re-injuring surgically repaired issues is never a good sign for the future.