Three games rise above the rest in this week’s NFL slate. The Kansas City Chiefs visit the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football, which may go down as the best game of the season. The Dallas Cowboys play the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon, and then the Green Bay Packers visit the New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football. After the injury mess that was Week 2, Week 3 is giving us a quarterback salve: Dak Prescott vs. Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers vs. Drew Brees, and then Patrick Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson. Normally in this column we take the games in chronological order, with the best game of the week highlighted on top, but we’re breaking that rule this week to jump directly into these three games, starting with ...
Monday Night Football
Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) @ Baltimore Ravens (2-0)
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Ravens -2.5
Clear your Monday night. Kansas City and Baltimore are the two best teams in the NFL, and they will face off in the best Monday Night Football showdown in at least two years. These teams were the top two seeds in the AFC last year, with a combined record of 26-6, and this season, they look like the conference’s best two teams once again. Jackson and Mahomes are the two most recent MVPs and Madden cover stars, and they lead the two most fearsome offenses in football. This could be the best game of the regular season—and perhaps a preview of the AFC championship game.
Football is a team sport, and these two franchises probably have the most well-rounded rosters in the game right now. But it’s hard to look at this matchup and not focus on Mahomes and Jackson. Monday night will be the first time two league MVPs younger than 25 years old have met in a game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. These are the two present and future faces of the league who have not only taken their teams to new heights, but have made football cooler and the quarterback position more accessible and diverse than it was just a few years ago. Plus, they play on teams that expand our imagination of what is possible on the football field. Any time they play each other, it’s must-watch television.
Sunday Night Football
Green Bay Packers (2-0) @ New Orleans Saints (1-1)
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Saints -6.5 (now Saints -3)
There were plenty of doubts about Aaron Rodgers entering this season, coming from both inside and outside the Packers’ organization. But so far, he has looked celestial. The Green Bay Packers lead the NFL in points and yards through two weeks, and that’s saying something considering the league’s points per game average is at an all-time high. But the Packers beat up on the hapless Lions and Vikings defenses in the first two weeks, and each of those teams are in the bottom eight in pressuring opposing quarterbacks. The Saints represent Green Bay’s first real test. Probably.
New Orleans is a Super Bowl contender that was just defeated by the Raiders on Monday Night Football, and now the Saints have to show that loss was a fluke and they are still a top team. This situation isn’t entirely new for New Orleans: In each of the past three seasons, this team has taken an awful loss in the first two weeks. But the Saints also have the NFL’s best record over those seasons, so perhaps this is part of the process. Still, the worst part of the team’s loss on Monday Night Football was that quarterback Drew Brees looked like he was up past his bedtime. Brees, who is 41, has lost arm strength late in seasons before, but now he’s declining in September rather than December. If he plays sleepy—or creaky—two weeks in a row on prime time, Saints fans could start asking to see more snaps from Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill at quarterback.
Aside from two legendary quarterbacks, this game also features two of the best running backs in football. Green Bay’s Aaron Jones and New Orleans’s Alvin Kamara are tied for the league lead with four touchdowns, and Jones leads all players with 312 yards from scrimmage. While Jones looks like a prime reason for Rodgers’s dominance, Kamara is a crucial crutch for this late stage of Brees’s career, especially with Saints receiver Michael Thomas out with a high ankle sprain. Green Bay’s Davante Adams, one of the few receivers on Thomas’s level, may also miss this game with a hamstring injury.
Dallas Cowboys (1-1) @ Seattle Seahawks (2-0)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Seahawks -3.5
Over/under: 55 (largest total of the week)
This game has the highest projected point total of the week, and for good reason. Russell Wilson has looked otherworldly for the past two weeks, with a league-leading 83 percent completion percentage and nine touchdown passes—almost the same amount of touchdown throws as incompletions (11). Dak Prescott, meanwhile, became the first player to record 400 passing yards and three rushing touchdowns in a game last week. This is the mid-round QB All-Star game.
Wilson will be more difficult to stop on Sunday. He is better than Dak, and Dallas’s defense is less talented and more injured than Seattle’s. The Cowboys are down their top three cornerbacks from last season: Byron Jones left for Miami, Chidobe Awuzie has a hamstring injury, and Anthony Brown has a ribs injury. That leaves rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs (who has a shoulder injury), Daryl Worley, and embattled slot cornerback Jourdan Lewis to take on Seattle’s stellar receiving group led by Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. Even so, Dallas is not afraid of a shootout. As Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters this week, “We want to score as fast as we can, and as many times as we can.”
That is a different mentality from former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, who operated a conservative offense that was obsessed with controlling the number of possessions, the clock, and the line of scrimmage. But the game has changed, and these two teams are changing with it. Just two seasons ago, the Cowboys and Seahawks met in an ugly, grinding slugfest of a wild-card game that Dallas won 24-22. In that game, Wilson threw the ball just two times in the first quarter, part of a decadelong Seahawks strategy of (stubbornly) sticking with the rush.
This year, though, Seattle has a different approach. Through two weeks, Wilson is 15 for 16 for 136 yards (8.5 yards per attempt) and three passing touchdowns in the first quarter. Dallas has evolved, too, swapping out Garrett for McCarthy. Rushing dominated football for a century, but rule changes have given an undeniable advantage to passing. Even the league’s most stubborn teams are finally understanding that quarterbacks must lead their offenses. Watch this game for Russ and Dak, but also for the old coaches who are learning new tricks.
Las Vegas Raiders (2-0) @ New England Patriots (1-1)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Patriots -6.5
After years of shoulder and foot injuries, Cam Newton looks comfortable in this new Patriots offense, and he’s already returned to the ranks of the league’s best players. Newton threw for 397 yards last week against the Seahawks, the most since his second career NFL game back in 2011, and he’s gained a league-leading 43 first downs through two weeks. This Sunday, the Pats will host the Raiders, who are looking to prove their win against the Saints wasn’t a fluke—and that they don’t have the Vegas hangover.
San Francisco 49ers (1-1) @ New York Giants (0-2)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: San Francisco -6.5
The 49ers thrashed the Jets last week but left devastated by injuries to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, running back Raheem Mostert, and defensive end Nick Bosa, the latter of whom tore his ACL and is out for the season. San Francisco blamed those injuries on the new turf at MetLife Stadium (it was described as “sticky”), and in a cruel twist of fate, the 49ers are returning to that very field this week to play the Giants. That back-to-back trip is usually an advantage for West Coast teams, as they can stay in the same city for two weeks, but now it just looks cruel.
The league inspected the field this week with representatives from the NFL, NFL Players Association, MetLife Stadium, the Giants, the Jets, FieldTurf (the company that provided the turf), and an independent field inspector. That group concluded that the field is fit for play, but San Francisco isn’t the only team that’s had injury issues at MetLife this season: Steelers right tackle Zach Banner tore his ACL in the team’s Week 1 game against the Giants. This may be a heart-wrenching game to watch for 49ers fans.
Chicago Bears (2-0) @ Atlanta Falcons (0-2)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Atlanta -3.5
The Bears are in limbo with a fraudulent 2-0 record that belies how bad Mitchell Trubisky has been playing, and the Falcons are facing an existential crisis after blowing another historic lead. Last week, Atlanta became the first team in NFL history to score 39-plus points with no turnovers and lose (such teams were 440-0 before Sunday)—but in a fortunate turn of events for the Bears, that game overshadowed the fact that Chicago nearly blew a 17-point lead to the Giants. The Bears have some breathing room with their two wins, but this is a back-to-the-wall game for Atlanta, especially if team captain Julio Jones misses the game with a hamstring injury.
Los Angeles Rams (2-0) @ Buffalo Bills (2-0)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Buffalo -3
Tired: If a tree falls in a forest but no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Wired: If Josh Allen has the best game of his career, but the CBS truck gets struck by lightning, did anyone watch it?
These are the questions of our times. Through two weeks, Josh Allen has zero interceptions and leads the NFL in passing yards. After never throwing for more than 266 yards in a game in his first two seasons, Allen has thrown for 312 and 415 yards in his past two starts. More important than the numbers, though, is the fact that Allen is finally putting touch on his passes, and the Bills offense is finally explosive. New receiver Stefon Diggs coleads the league in receiving yards, and his presence is opening up opportunities across the rest of the offense.
Allen’s been dominated against the doormat Dolphins and janky Jets so far, but if he performs like that against the Rams, he’ll join Russell Wilson in the (way too early) MVP conversation.
Washington Football Team (1-1) @ Cleveland Browns (1-1)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Cleveland -5.5
Both these teams are in a make-or-break season for their young quarterbacks. Baker Mayfield has handled pressure in the pocket poorly since entering the NFL, and Washington’s extremely talented defensive line will be a big test for Cleveland’s revamped offensive line.
Tennessee Titans (2-0) @ Minnesota Vikings (0-2)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Pick ’Em
Kirk Cousins looked horrible in last week’s shameful 28-11 loss to the Colts, and now the Vikings are facing an 0-3 start and a definitive end to their Super Bowl dreams. Cousins’s total quarterback rating, which is a better version of passer rating, is at 25 (out of 100) through two weeks, second to last in the NFL. For context, Josh Rosen registered a 24.7 in his lone season as an NFL starter for the Cardinals. Minnesota also ranks dead last in time of possession per drive, a product of an offense that can’t get first downs and a defense that can’t get stops.
That defense might get worse before it gets better. Minnesota’s already depleted cornerback group has two of its top three starters—Mike Hughes and Cameron Dantzler—on the injury report this week, and linebacker Anthony Barr is also out with a torn pectoral. Minnesota’s only saving grace is that Tennessee’s top receiver, A.J. Brown, is questionable with a bone bruise, though Tennessee looks capable enough to rout the Vikings anyway.
Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) @ Philadelphia Eagles (0-2)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Eagles -5.5
Carson Wentz has sucked this season. There is a more polite way to say that, but this is Philadelphia we’re talking about, so let’s dispense with the niceties. Remember a couple paragraphs ago when we mentioned that Kirk Cousins was second to last in total quarterback rating? That’s because Wentz is dead last with a QBR of 23.2 (out of 100), not to mention dead last in all the other fancy acronym QB stats, too. He is trying to do too much, and it is showing: He’s thrown the second-most bad passes (where the receiver can’t reasonably catch the ball) this season, behind only … Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow.
Even accounting for all of Philadelphia’s other issues—injuries, blocking, drops, coaching—Wentz was still Philly’s biggest problem in their first two weeks. If Wentz and this Philly offense don’t take flight this week against the Bengals and their bottom-three defense, then the Eagles might have a serious problem on their wings.
Houston Texans (0-2) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Steelers -6
Pittsburgh is the best pass-rushing team in the world, and the Texans are notoriously bad at protecting quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson has already been sacked eight times this season, tied for the most in the NFL, while the Steelers defense pressures and blitzes quarterbacks more than any other team. In boxing, they say that styles make fights, and the Steelers defense vs. the Texans offensive line is like watching Cookie Monster take on the cookie jar. Or, perhaps more accurately, this is a game of Family Feud.
This is the first time that the Watt brothers—Houston defensive end J.J., Pittsburgh defensive end T.J., and fullback Derek—will all be playing in the same organized game at any level of their football careers. (Derek Watt is the Cooper Manning of this bunch.)
New York Jets (0-2) @ Indianapolis Colts (1-1)
Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Colts -7 (now Colts -11.5)
The Jets were crushed by the 49ers last week and are now down their top two receivers—Jamison Crowder and Breshad Perriman—and running back Le’Veon Bell. They will also be without starting center Connor McGovern and right tackle George Fant. Head coach Adam Gase has addressed the Jets’ own injury issues by calling on “whoever has a pulse right now” to be prepared to play.
Carolina Panthers (0-2) @ Los Angeles Chargers (1-1)
Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Chargers -6.5
Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert will get his second consecutive start for Los Angeles this week after being unexpectedly thrust into last week’s game just minutes before kickoff—a result of a Chargers team doctor accidentally puncturing Tyrod Taylor’s lung during a pregame injection. Yikes.
Herbert looked great, considering he had not practiced with the starters, and he might get his first win against a Carolina team that lost Christian McCaffrey to a high ankle sprain. Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is sneakily fourth in passing yards through two games.
Detroit Lions (0-2) @ Arizona Cardinals (2-0)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Cardinals -3.5
If the Lions lose this game, head coach Matt Patricia may be in danger of getting fired. Last year, the Lions blew an 18-point fourth-quarter lead to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1, and the game ended in a tie. That was the NFL debut of Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury, and Arizona looks far better in 2020. If the Cardinals wipe the Lions off the field, it will be tangible proof that Detroit has plateaued (or gotten worse). The Lions’ next two weeks feature a game against the Saints and then their bye, and an 0-4 start might be enough to get Patricia canned during the off week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) @ Denver Broncos (0-2)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Opening point spread: Buccaneers -3.5 (now Bucs -5.5)
The Buccaneers looked overwhelmed against one of the better defenses in the NFL in Week 1 (New Orleans) and dominated one of the worst defenses in the NFL in Week 2 (Carolina). Now they take on a hobbled Denver unit that’s missing Von Miller. But the Broncos are worse off on offense, where quarterback Drew Lock (shoulder) is being replaced by Jeff Driskel, and top receiver Courtland Sutton is on injured reserve with a torn ACL. Driskel is friskier than his anonymity would suggest, but he can’t be counted on for a win here. A loss would all but end Denver’s playoff hopes, but honestly, whatevs: The Denver Nuggets are fighting for an NBA Finals appearance, so the Broncos can hide for the time being.