Bucs-Patriots a study in contrasts
Green Bay (1-1) at Cincinnati (1-1)
Both teams come off strong performances after opening losses. The Packers’ offense has been in sync from the beginning, but their defense has been spotty and must contend with Cincinnati’s versatile attack. Rookie Giovani Bernard has added flash to the running game, which already had the power of BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Green Bay got a real boost from John Starks after first-round pick Eddie Lacy went out with a concussion against Washington. Starks, one of the heroes of the 2010 championship team, rushed for a career-best 132 yards last weekend, but the Bengals are stingy against the ground game.
Atlanta (1-1) at Miami (2-0)
The team the Dolphins host is not what the Falcons hoped to field, with linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, DE Kroy Biermann and fullback Bradie Ewing on injured reserve, although Weatherspoon can return in Week 11. Running back Steven Jackson, Atlanta’s key offseason acquisition, is out Sunday with a thigh injury.
Miami’s best work has come in pressuring the quarterback, and without Jackson, how much of a threat is Atlanta’s ground game to provide any balance? The Dolphins have nine sacks, but also have allowed nine on Ryan Tannehill.
Indianapolis (1-1) at San Francisco (1-1)
Andrew Luck goes up against his coach at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh. Look for lots of pressure from San Francisco’s defense against Indy’s suspect offensive line; Luck has been sacked seven times already.
San Francisco comes off one of its sloppiest efforts at Seattle: five turnovers and no touchdowns for just the third time since 1979.
Houston (2-0) at Baltimore (1-1)
The Texans have been living dangerously, needing to overcome deficits with late rallies in their two wins. Then again, that’s the sign of a resilient — and perhaps championship — team.
Baltimore had to pull out everything to, well, pull out last week’s win over Cleveland. The Ravens did so without star RB Ray Rice, who went out with a left hip flexor and is questionable for Sunday.
Chicago (2-0) at Pittsburgh (0-2)
Things haven’t been this dire in Pittsburgh since the Steelers started 0-3 in 1986. They can’t run the ball — only the Giants are worse — and rarely give Ben Roethlisberger time to survey the field. They need someone to step up and make a big play to provide the spark that is missing, and usually that is safety Troy Polamalu.
The Bears take to the road after two close wins at home. This is a chance to stamp themselves as a real contender.
Jacksonville (0-2) at Seattle (2-0)
The Jaguars are banged-up, and even when healthy they aren’t much trouble for opponents. They remained on the West Coast after a loss at Oakland and practiced at San Jose State, where some students might have mistaken them for the school team.
Seattle, on the other hand, could have a defense to rival some of the best of the last 30 years, including the 1985 Bears and 2000 Ravens.
Arizona (1-1) at New Orleans (2-0)
Could be plenty of points scored in this one, although Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s hamstring problem is very worrisome for Arizona. He missed a key portion of last week’s victory over Detroit.
New Orleans has its own topnotch receiver in Marques Colston, who has been battling through a foot injury. His 58 TD catches trail only Fitzgerald’s 59 since 2006.
Cleveland (0-2) at Minnesota (0-2)
In Minnesota, they are thinking it’s time for 2012 MVP Adrian Peterson to have a breakout game and get the Vikings out of their funk. Peterson is third in league rushing with 193 yards, not close to his 2,000-yard pace of last season.
The Browns might not be the best team to do that against, ranking fourth against the rush and sixth in overall defense. Their problem is a weak offense that is down to journeyman Brian Hoyer starting at quarterback for injured Brandon Weeden and they just traded running back Trent Richardson to Indianapolis.
Detroit (1-1) at Washington (0-2)
The Redskins will struggle until Robert Griffin III gets back to being the RG3 of 2012 — top offensive rookie, dynamic playmaker, all-around threat. Just as alarming is a defense that has been a sieve, allowing Philadelphia and Green Bay to pull away to big leads that Griffin couldn’t overcome.
Detroit remains among the most schizophrenic teams in the NFL, and must find a way to transfer its solid work at home to road games.
San Diego (1-1) at Tennessee (1-1)
After the Chargers blew a huge lead at home to Houston, then had to travel cross-country to Philadelphia, they seemed doomed to another loss. Instead, they gutted out a 33-30 win in which journeyman receiver Eddie Royal was unstoppable.
It won’t be so easy moving the ball against the Titans, whose defense was putrid a year ago but is much more competitive now, thanks to the teachings of Gregg Williams, back from his bounty suspension.
St. Louis (1-1) at Dallas (1-1)
After getting six takeaways in their opening win against the Giants, the Cowboys handed last week’s game to Kansas City through sloppiness, especially dropped passes, penalties and bad time management. Dallas is struggling to run the ball (inefficient blocking, mostly) and its pass defense is leaky.
Those issues play right into the Rams’ hands: St. Louis ranks fourth in passing and sixth in stopping the run. This could be an aerial show.
New York Giants (0-2) at Carolina (0-2)
The Panthers now are 2-14 in games decided by seven points or less under coach Ron Rivera, including 0-2 this season. Even with Cam Newton throwing and Steve Smith at wideout, they rank 30th in passing.
Turnovers have been the Giants’ bugaboo: a league-high 10, including seven interceptions of Eli Manning. New York also can’t find that vaunted pass rush and coach Tom Coughlin is afraid to use RB David Wilson for fear he’ll keep putting the ball on the ground.
Buffalo (1-1) at New York Jets (1-1)
There’s actually a worthwhile reason to watch this one: the two rookie quarterbacks.
EJ Manuel, the only QB selected in the first round of this year’s draft, guided the Bills on a last-ditch drive to victory against Carolina. His poise has been admirable.
Even though New York’s Geno Smith has been picked off four times already, he showed moxie in the rain at Foxborough in a Thursday night defeat. He also has far less help surrounding him than Manuel does.
Oakland (1-1) at Denver (2-0), Monday night
This looks like a mismatch, except the one thing the Raiders have done as well as anyone so far is get pressure on the quarterback. Oakland has nine sacks spread among seven players.
Denver has given Peyton Manning strong enough protection that he already has nine TD throws, and the Broncos have scored 90 points. Manning has connected with nine receivers and the running game made a big difference in the Manning Bowl last Sunday as Knowshon Moreno was outstanding.
— The Associated Press