Sunday NFL Preview: Week Three

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: September 20, 2008

NFL PHILADELPHIA — As summer moves out the door and autumn is set to return, it is time for “Separation Sunday” around the NFL.

Teams are either trying to extend their lead, stay with the pack, get back in the race, or just plain survive as the NFL inches closer to the first quarter pole of the 2008 NFL season.

Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said of his team’s 2-0 start, “It’s a great way to start the season”, “But it would be a lot better to be 3-0. That’s where my mind-frame is.” The 2008 “Believe in Now” season has been a great one, so far and has been filled with a grab bag of some good and some not so good tidbits.

High Scoring Games – Cowboys and Eagles on MNF combined for an amazing 78 points in a pinball machine slugfest that included seven lead changes.

Rookies making their mark at a surprisingly early rate - Bears RB Matt Forte, Eagles WR DeSean Jackson, Raiders RB Darren McFadden, Rams DL Chris Long, Broncos WR Eddie Royal, and a host of other outstanding NFL freshmen.

Key Injuries to high profile players – Patriots QB Tom Brady – knee, Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson – toe, Titans QB Vince Young – knee, Chargers OLB Shawne Merriman – knee, and unfortunately many others that would fill this page.

Controversy - Referee Ed Hochuli blowing a fumble call that could have contributed to a Chargers loss.

Coaches on the Hot Seat – With most of the coaches on list starting wither 1-1 or 0-2, the heat is on the Raiders Lane Kiffin, Bengals Marvin Lewis, Chiefs Herman Edwards, Rams Scott Linehan, Niners Mike Nolan and some other coaches that probably don’t even know it yet.

Exciting finishes - In week two there were 8 games decided by 7 pts or less. The close finishes included 3 three teams (Carolina, Indianapolis and San Francisco) overcoming deficits of at least 14 points to win – the first time that many teams have done so since Week 13 of 2006.

One thing is for certain, “parity” is all over America’s game as a breakdown of the teams after two weeks of NFL action that there are 10 teams at (2-0), 10 teams at (1-1), and 10 teams at (0-2) in the current NFL standings — there also is 1-0 Baltimore and 0-1 Houston, who did not play this week due to problems from Hurricane Ike at Reliant Stadium.

No matter where a team currently sits in the standings, they all have a legitimate chance to still make the playoffs heading into crucial “Separation Sunday”… Did you hear that Texans fans.

Since realignment in 2002, 42 of the 72 playoff teams (58.3 percent) began the year at either 1-1 or 0-2. There were eight such teams in 2007 including the New York Giants — Since 1990, 19 teams started 0-2 and still qualified for the postseason.

To refresh your memory, the G-Men started 0-2 and went on to win the Super Bowl. In fact, four of the past seven Super Bowl champions began their seasons with a 1-1 or 0-2 record. The main thing is to not get in the almost impossible hole of 0-3, which could very well be a death sentence to a season.

As is the case with most NFL slate of games this week features some great rivalries. The key political battleground state of Pennsylvania takes center stage on the gridiron as Eagles and Steelers renew their acquaintance with the “Battle for the Keystone State” at Lincoln Financial field in Philadelphia.

The two teams from opposite ends of Pennsylvania have met 75 times over 70 years with the Eagles currently holding a winning record of 45-27-3 in the series.

Other rivalry games will be AFC rivals the Dolphins at the Patriots (remember the snowplow game), two battles of old versus new in the Texans facing the Titans (The old Houston Oilers – left after ’96 season — battle the new Houston franchise) and Browns at Ravens (Art Modell moved and renamed his Browns team to Baltimore in 1996); AFC South must-win game as the beat-up Jaguars travel to the Colts and Cowboys vs. the Packers on Monday Night Football (Played in NFL Championship game in 1967 called “The Ice Bowl”).

Lloyd’s Leftovers

Monday Night Mayhem – There were seven lead changes in Week 2′s Monday Night Football game won by Dallas over Philadelphia, 41-37. That is the most in an NFL game since seven on December 24, 2006 when Tennessee topped Buffalo 30-29.

Favre’s jersey is hot – From April 1 – Aug. 26, 2008, the top selling NFL jerseys are Brett Favre, New York Jets; Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys; Eli Manning, New York Giants; Tom Brady, New England Patriots; and Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts.

Gonzalez goes for record – Kansas City Chiefs tight end and all-around good guy Tony Gonzalez, who is already the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions (831) and touchdowns (67) for TE’s, this week aims to become the career leader in receiving yards by a tight end when the Chiefs travel to Atlanta. Gonzalez (9,976) needs 85 yards to surpass former Broncos and Ravens TE Shannon Sharpe (10,060) on the all-time list.

Not Ocho Cinco, just yet – Before Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson can wear a jersey with his new surname on the back, he first must buy every “C. Johnson” jersey for sale nationwide. Good luck #85 as there are thousands at a production cost of about $48 apiece. NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said, “When a player requests a name change or a number change, the player is responsible for that unsold inventory”.

Featured Game

Saints (1-1) at Broncos (2-0) 4:05 PM ET (FOX)

I hope the scoreboard is ready for these two teams, who both have averaged over 24 points per game in the first two weeks of the season. This game features a team everyone picked to be a playoff team (Saints) against a team that everyone expected to be near the bottom of the AFC (Broncos). The host Broncos are coming off a scintillating come from behind 39-38 win over the Chargers and everybody knows that they have had a little help from the officials.

The Saints hung tough with the Redskins, but in the end their defense allowed 455 total yards including a couple of big plays by receiver Santana Moss. Turnovers (3) were also the Saints undoing and they had a hard time running the ball as returning from injury running back Deuce McAllister only had 10 yards on two carries.

The Saints will lean on quarter Drew Brees as he has experience playing the Broncos from his days playing for the Chargers (2001-2005). Brees’ passing numbers are respectable at 45-65, 559 yards, 4 TDs, and 3 INTs. But the Saints offense maybe leaning on RB Reggie Bush as he leads the team in rushing (79 yards), Punt Returns (Touchdown last week) and receiving (15 receptions for 175 yards).

On defense, the Saints need to improve on their yards allowed (average of 403.5) and get more turnovers (-2). If the defense is to improve they will need more pressure from their front four and better coverage in the secondary. Watch for MLB Jonathan Vilma versus Broncos TE Tony Scheffler (2 TD’s last week) in a key match-up over the middle.

The Broncos’ stroll into the game on a 2 game winning streak led by the NFL’s top-rated offense (463.5 yards per game) and having scored 80 points in those victories. So far 2008 has been a great year for third year quarterback Jay Cutler as he leads the NFL in passing yards (650) and has had all-day to through the ball downfield.

Cutler has a great compliment with breakout player second-round draft

Choice WR Eddie Royal (caught the big two-point conversion last week and had 146 receiving yards in Week 1) and WR Brandon Marshall (returned from a suspension last week to post 18 catches). As good as the Broncos offense has been, their defense has had trouble stopping their opposition (allowed 381.5 yards).

The defense will need sack man Elvis Dumervil to get some pressure to help a secondary that has big names Dre Bly and Champ Bailey, but has so far had trouble tracking receivers like Vincent Jackson.

LV’s Pick: On thing for certain this game will have some scoring, but I do believe that the defenses will finally play up to expectations. The Saints and Broncos both want to be recognized as an elite team ready to get back to the playoffs after a missing them in ’07.

These to teams have only met eight times with the Broncos holding 6-2 edge, but I expect Saints head coach Sean Payton (just received an extension through 2012) to exert a game plan that will keep Reggie Bush all over the field. Drew Brees has had success in the past versus the Broncos and Denver’s Jay Cutler may not find the going as easy with DE’s Charles Grant and Will Peterson chasing him. The underdog Saints win a high scoring game 38-24 over the Broncos as Denver head coach Mike Shanahan’s luck runs out this week.

Week 3

Sunday’s Games

KC @ ATL 1:00 PM (CBS)

OAK @ BUF 1:00 PM (CBS)

TB @ CHI 1:00 PM (FOX)

CAR @ MIN 1:00 PM (FOX)

MIA @ NE 1:00 PM (CBS)

CIN @ NYG 1:00 PM (CBS)

HOU @ TEN 1:00 PM (CBS)

ARI @ WAS 1:00 PM (FOX)

NO @ DEN 4:05 PM (FOX)

STL @ SEA 4:05 PM (FOX)

DET @ SF 4:05 PM (FOX)

CLE @ BAL 4:15 PM (CBS)

JAC @ IND 4:15 PM (CBS)

PIT @ PHI 4:15 PM (CBS)

DAL @ GB 8:15 PM (NBC)

Monday’s Game

NYJ @ SD 8:30 PM (ESPN)