As we head into Week 3, there are lots of intriguing story lines I’m keeping an eye on: teams firing on all cylinders like the Falcons, Broncos, Chiefs, etc. and teams reeling early on, like the Giants and Bengals.
I often get asked this time of year what you can gather from the first two weeks of the season. I tend to look at style of play. If you’re physical on defense now, you tend to be physical when it gets cold. If you’re running the ball well, just wait till the defenders get beat up.
I take win-loss records into account, but I’d rather look at efficiency. The Chargers are 0-2 with two missed field goals. That’s different than the 0-2 Bengals. Not all records are the same. The Panthers are well on their way to 3-0, playing the Saints at home this weekend. However, their offense has sputtered early on, with no run game. Those are signs of trouble.
Striving for perfection
The playoff picture in the AFC might be set after Week 3. The 2-0 Ravens, Steelers, Chiefs, Broncos, and Raiders all look to move to 3-0. Since 1990, teams that start 3-0 make the playoffs 73.5 percent of the time.
The Ravens and Steelers should easily move to 3-0, but the AFC West teams have a tougher road this week. The Raiders travel to Washington for a 1 p.m. kickoff, 10 a.m. for the West Coast Raiders. This is a type of game Kirk Cousins must win for his team, but hasn’t recently.
The Broncos head to Buffalo, after opening the season with two home games. This game will be a low-scoring slugfest, with both teams trying to run the ball and control the line of scrimmage. It will be a good test to see if Trevor Siemian is for real. The Broncos will need a drive or two from him to win the game.
The Chiefs head to KC West. (Sorry Chargers fans, you know it’s true.) The Chargers failed to sell out the StubHub Center for their home opener, and I would imagine 15k Chiefs fans in attendance on Sunday. This is a sneaky tough game for the Chiefs. The Chargers should be 2-0, and Rivers has played well this season. If the game is close though, the nod goes to the Chiefs. Since 2016, the Chargers have blown seven fourth-quarter leads and have lost 11 one-possession games during that span.
Stop rotating running backs, Bengals!
Bengals and Giants, I’m looking at you. Both teams were expected to be playoff teams but are staring down the barrel of an 0-3 start. Since 1990, 0-3 teams have made the playoffs just 2.3 percent of the time. That’s three out of 132 teams! And both teams have tough matchups this weekend.
The Bengals are the only team in the NFL that Aaron Rodgers hasn’t beat. If Rodgers can get both his tackles back and at least one of Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb to play, I don’t see how the Bengals can score enough to keep up.
The Bengals fired their offensive coordinator after an embarrassing first couple of weeks. They got shut out in Week 1 and scored only nine points on three field goals in Week 2. Their issues aren’t play calling. They rotate three running backs with a shaky offensive line. No Bueno.
I’m not a fan of a running back rotation in general. The starter should get 70 percent, the backup 30 percent, of snaps. The back has to get into a rhythm with his offensive line. They both need to run the same plays vs. the same looks. Can’t do that when you’re always rotating.
The Giants can beat the Eagles if ...
The Giants have an even tougher road to victory this weekend. Since 2009, the Giants are 2-5 in Philly, with most of those losses being in double figures. The Eagles have also dominated Ben McAdoo’s Giants offense at the Linc. In 2014, zero points for the Giants, seven points in 2015 and last season, in an Eagles upset, 19 points.
However, the Giants can get a win in Philly. They need to pass protect long enough against that fierce rush to allow the Giants wide receivers to exploit the weaker Eagles secondary. On the other side of the ball, the Eagles shouldn’t be able to run on the Giants, and the pass rush can force Carson Wentz into some bad decisions.
Big opportunity for the Titans
One low-key important tone-setting game this weekend is Seattle at Tennessee. This could be a monster victory for the Titans’ young group of players, especially on offense. If that offensive line can run the ball against Seattle and if Marcus Mariota can move the chains, their confidence will be through the roof.
How about this stat. Russell Wilson has played 41 games at home and is 35-6!!! That’s remarkable. He’s started 41 games on the road and is 22-18-1. Seattle doesn’t travel well, especially outside in warm weather. I lean toward the Titans here.
The gap between NFL offensive lines
There has been lots of chatter about poor offensive line play in the NFL and rightfully so. There are some bad offensive lines. I’m seeing, maybe more than ever, a big gap between a good line and a bad line. Lines are either above average or way below average. I tend to think this is due to the lack of veterans in offensive line rooms. There’s no depth. One injury, and your line is toast.
There are plenty of young super talented offensive linemen who get overlooked because people love the negative. Social media has put even more pressure and scrutiny on our position. Every bad rep you take now ends up there. I feel like that has hurt the overall impression of NFL offensive linemen.
That’s it for me. Enjoy the games this weekend. As you’re watching, if you see a block that is disrespectful or nasty, please send it my way on Twitter at @geoffschwartz, and I’ll include it in next week’s DBOW video!