Sure, the most important thing to every team each week is getting a win. But whether players and coaches are willing to admit it or not, sometimes there’s more than just a W on the line.
For example, the Houston Texans and New England Patriots Thursday night matchup was not only a battle to stay unbeaten, it also had massive implications beyond this week. The Texans were trying to legitimize themselves as true contenders in the AFC, while Bill Belichick was looking for yet another ego boost. As we all witnessed, Belichick made Jacoby Brissett look like a very capable quarterback, solidifying his early claim to Coach of the Year and, quite possibly, greatest coach of all-time.
I’m sure reading that gave many of you chest pains; know that I didn’t like writing it, either. What will be even worse for us non-Pats fans is when Belichick beats the Bills in Week 4 with Julian Edelman as his quarterback.
I’m tired of swallowing my pride and giving credit to the Patriots, though. So, let’s move on, quickly …
Thursday’s game wasn’t the only one in which more than just a win or loss will be awarded. Let’s take a look at the other teams and even individuals who have a lot riding on their Week 3 performance.
Playing for Their Job
Entering the 2016 season, the Jags were going off like a share in Amazon.com, Inc. This team had all the offensive tools to put points on the board, and addressed their defensive issues with promising draft picks and prized free agent signings. Most saw the AFC South as a division ripe for the picking, and the Jags had their arms stretched out, fruit baskets by their side.
Yet, here we are in Week 3, and the Jags look like the same old Jags at 0-2. Head coach Gus Bradley has escaped a lot of criticism over the past few seasons because he was developing a young quarterback and lacked any significant names on the defensive side of the ball. But this was the year that it was all supposed to come together. Could this team still be developing a young quarterback, and suffering from a lack of chemistry on defense with a lot of new names? Of course, but Bradley’s value is falling about as quick as British banks after Brexit. Will he recover?
Jacksonville is now a combined 12-38 under Gus Bradley, and have been blown out far too many times by teams with similar talent levels. Another bad loss at the hands of the Ravens, a team that was lucky to beat the Browns in Week 2, will likely result in Bradley’s job.
Not only are Blaine Gabbert and Gus Bradley connected on the 2013 Jaguars team, but they’re also both playing Week 3 with their respective jobs on the line.
There’s no nice way to put this: Gabbert has been awful this season – like Jay Cutler-bad. Not only did he and Case Keenum make a mockery of the position on Monday Night Football in Week 1, but the second act saw little improvement. On the season, Gabbert has only completed 54.9-percent of his passes for 413 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. The 49ers have scored 55 points in their first two games, combined, but they don’t have Gabbert to thank for that.
The 49ers are averaging 107.5 yards on the ground (12th), and their defense has set them up with short fields on multiple occasions, creating six turnovers (tied for second). Their 28th-ranked passing attack is holding them back.
Not many are expecting Gabbert to go all Joe Montana on the Legion of Boom this Sunday, Chip Kelly included, but he definitely needs to alter the definition of laying a “Gabbert.” If not, the Niners will be left with no choice but to throw in Colin Kaepernick. Whether the decision is made in the third quarter of Week 3 or further in the future, Gabbert’s demise is a certainty if his stats don’t get a lot better.
Is Ryan Tannehill a good quarterback? Is this going to be the year Tannehill breaks out? Those are two questions that we’ve been asking for years, and the Miami faithful are begging for a final answer. Tannehill’s first four years in the league have left us all feeling like we just watched Inception for the first time. What does Tannehill’s stellar second-half against the Patriots mean? Is he always going to be miserable when it matters and great when it doesn’t? Will he ever perform against the league’s top defenses? Was the final scene real or a dream?!
Don’t take this the wrong way; whether the Dolphins win or lose, Tannehill won’t be yanked on the spot. Matt Moore is not the quarterback to save this franchise; there’s no value in putting him in. But a poor performance against the lowly Browns should be enough to convince the franchise to invest in a quarterback early in the 2017 draft.
Playing for Respect
Odell Beckham Jr.
I’m not going to sugar coat this: OBJ almost cost the Giants the game in Week 2, dropping two would-be touchdowns. Both balls were right on the money (which may have been the problem). Despite facing some very favorable matchups, Beckham has yet to record a 100-yard game and does not have a touchdown in 2016.
Week 3 holds one of the matchups football fans have been waiting for since Josh Norman signed with Washington: Beckham v Norman II – Return of the Bat.
Not only will Beckham be looking to makeup for last week, but he will also need to demonstrate that he can keep his cool when play gets chippy.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ Offense
Aaron Rodgers’ non-Rodgers-esque 2015 was written off because of the absence of his top receiver, Jordy Nelson, and Eddie Lacy’s weight issues. But his 2016 is off to a very similar start.
Rodgers is completing less than 60-percent of his passes – he’s never finished below 60-percent in any season as a starter – and has only passed for 412 yards and three touchdowns in two games, while adding an interception. If his current 82.6 passer rating holds, it would be a new career low for Rodgers as a starter. Not only is Rodgers not performing at an MVP pace, but he’s beginning to lose credibility as an elite quarterback.
Jordy Nelson may not be 100-percent yet, but he isn’t that far off; Randall Cobb is not playing through injury anymore, as he was in 2015; and Eddie Lacy looks to be in the best shape of his career. So what’s wrong with Rodgers and the Packers offense now?
One easy answer is the offensive line, which has allowed Rodgers to be sacked six times already this season. But even with the organization foolishly letting Josh Sitton go, the line shouldn’t take all the blame for that stat. Rodgers has been holding the ball and doesn’t seem to trust himself to throw receivers open, as he so famously has in the past.
In Week 3, the Packers get a Detroit defense that’s allowing 296 yards per game through the air and has surrendered six passing touchdowns in two weeks. This is the tuneup game Rodgers and the offense need to regain their confidence.
The Raiders’ Defense
Since 1968, do you know how many teams have allowed 500 total yards of offense in their first two games of a season? One. I’m sure you can figure out who from the heading. For those who don’t want to look back up, it’s this year’s Oakland Raiders.
The Saints put up 507 total yards on the Raider defense in Week 1, only to be outdone by the Falcons in Week 2, who racked up 528 total yards.
Let’s put it this way, playing Oakland right now is similar to preparing for a seven-on-seven pass skelly against your scout team. Khalil Mack (zero sacks) and the rest of the Oakland pass rush have been non-existent, and the secondary is comparable to a colander. I’m a Broncos fan, and even I feel bad for what Raiders fans have had to deal with this season.
Fortunately, Week 3 brings a Titans offense that’s averaging 238 net passing yards and is helmed by a second-year QB who’s still learning the pro game. Tennessee is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and more than 100 yards per game on the ground. But still, on the fireworks scale of explosiveness, that offense is nothing more than a black snake. If the Raiders sacrifice another 500 yards this week, then Dennis Allen and the Saints D will get a reprieve from constantly being maligned as the worst unit in the league.
Playing to Make a Big Statement
The Philadelphia Eagles
Despite being 2-0, the Eagles are not garnering much respect. This is largely due to their two wins coming over the Browns and Bears.
Carson Wentz and company have a prime opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the league in Week 3 when they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, another 2-0 team.
The Steelers were a popular pick to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI entering the season and have only justified the hype through two weeks. It’s hard to argue that Antonio Brown isn’t the best receiver in the league, and Big Ben does one hell of a job throwing the ball in his direction. DeAngelo Williams has done a great job keeping the running game strong in Le’Veon Bell’s absence, yet again. This offense is complete; the defense has been stout against the run and good enough against the pass.
If Carson Wentz, who has overtaken Ezekiel Elliott as the front-runner for OROY, can make enough plays to keep the Eagles in this game, then it’s time to really start believing in the rookie and putting our faith in this Eagles team.
The Minnesota Vikings
While most wrote the Vikings off when Teddy Bridgewater went down in the preseason, head coach Mike Zimmer assured everyone that his team would not roll over and die. What he forgot to clarify was that they were still going to win the NFC North.
Alright, so there are still 14 games left to play, which leaves plenty of time for Sam Bradford to get hurt and Green Bay to sort out its offense. But Minnesota has a golden opportunity in front of them in Week 3 to really throw down the gauntlet: the Carolina Panthers.
A road win against the reigning NFC champions would quiet any and all doubters. The first step in accomplishing this will be slowing down Cam Newton and figuring out a way to cover Kelvin Benjamin. Second step: find a way to run the ball, which may be more difficult without Adrian Peterson. Finally, Sam Bradford will have to play like he did in Week 2, proving he’s capable of shouldering an offense and making big plays. (Another massive day from Stefon Diggs is probably a pre-req, as well.)
If the Vikings can pull off the upset on the road, it would be hard to dispute that they’re the best team in the NFC.