"They’re what we thought they were. …" – Dennis Green
How many teams can we say that about thus far in 2010?
• The Texans are making fans sweat in the AFC South.
• The Packers are tied for the division lead in the NFC North with the Bears.
• The Steelers are making fans and pundits lean forward in their seats with great interest, as they’ve pushed out to 2-0 despite a decided void in the passing game.
• Michael Vick is starting for the Eagles, and numerous teams are starting new quarterbacks in Week 3. At least one other team (Jacksonville) might have pulled the trigger if not for a late injury.
• And, of course, three would-be Super Bowl contenders in the NFC have yet to win a game (Dallas, Minnesota and San Francisco).
I love this game.
Let’s return to the field and roll through the last of this week’s “Lineup Calls” evaluations. It’s time to celebrate defense, starting with a bounce-back effort by the Patriots.
Top 5 Defense/Special Teams
(other than New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers)
New England vs. Buffalo
The Bills are, well, the Bills. The insertion of Ryan Fitzpatrick under center does give the Buffalo offense more of an opportunity to make plays against the New England secondary, the weak point of this squad. However, there remains no true No. 2 option to longtime deep threat Lee Evans. Vince Wilfork and the New England defensive front will slow the Marshawn Lynch/Fred Jackson/C.J. Spiller (does he count anymore?) and put Fitzpatrick into rough passing situations.
San Francisco at Kansas City
The 49ers took a big step forward in Week 2 against the vaunted New Orleans offense last week. San Francisco still took the loss, but we saw some of the teeth that made the 49ers one of the top defenses to come off the board on draft day. The Chiefs haven’t show much offensively as of yet. Todd Haley hasn’t demonstrated great faith in Jamaal Charles, and the downfield passing game has been virtually invisible.
Cincinnati at Carolina
The Bengals tortured Joe Flacco and the vaunted Baltimore offense in Week 2. Now, they set their sights on rookie Jimmy Clausen, who truly has one receiving option in Steve Smith. I anticipate that the Panthers gain more traction on the ground with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to big-time production overall. The Bengals will get after Clausen and generate turnovers.
San Diego at Seattle
The Chargers gave up several big plays in the Kansas City rain during the opener, but played well overall. San Diego then terrorized David Garrard en route to a blowout win. I anticipate that San Diego brings forth another strong effort on the road. Seattle has yet to demonstrate the ability to run the ball, and the offensive line is shaky in front of Matt Hasselbeck.
Miami vs. New York Jets
I put the Dolphins on the table for this tough divisional battle. Miami currently ranks as the top scoring defense in the game. Although we must take the opener against the Bills with a grain of salt, and they were but several feet from surrendering multiple scores to the Vikings. Ultimately, they made big goal-line stops and got the job done.
Miami ranks in the middle of the pack against the run, having ceded a ton of yardage against Adrian Peterson. I suspect that the combination of Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson produces some success on the ground, but that the defense comes up big in the red zone.
Washington at St. Louis
Which defense shows up in St. Louis? Do we see the one that shut down the Cowboys in Week 1 and the Texans early last week before Matt Schaub started his aerial assault? Or, can Sam Bradford start to pile up yardage and wreak havoc? I’m anticipating a big effort out of the defensive front and more success against Bradford, given his lack of big-time playmakers (outside of the surprising Mark Clayton).
Oakland at Arizona
The schedule makers give Oakland another interesting matchup in Week 3. The Raiders travel to Arizona to take on the enigmatic Cardinals and Derek Anderson, who may be on a short leash and become the latest quarterback to be replaced. Tim Hightower should find success against the Oakland run defense, but can Anderson finish the deal, or will he throw errant passes once again?
Tennessee at New York Giants (both teams)
This one has the potential to go either way. We’re not quite sure what to make of the Titans, and the Giants present a more balanced attack than they’ve seen to date. The Giants performed well overall against the Panthers in Week 1 before getting bounced by the Colts in the "Manning Bowl 2010." Chris Johnson may run wild, and the run-pass balance may give Jeff Fisher fits.