LAS VEGAS // The second weekend of the NFL season features four marque games and a lot of early questions to be answered by teams on the rise. The Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was supposed to be their saviour but became their downfall, throwing four interceptions in a last-minute loss at Green Bay in Week One.
Today he must prove himself against the Pittsburgh Steelers - who are the defending Super Bowl champions and have the best defence in the league. The loss of key linebacker Brian Urlacher, who is out for the season with a broken wrist, will not help the Bears either, but Pittsburgh are also missing a key defender, with safety Troy Polamalu sidelined for three to six weeks with a knee sprain. The Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger passed for 363 yards in a 13-10 win over Tennessee but they do not want him throwing 43 times. They will get the running game moving and win.
For the second week, the New Orleans Saints face a quarterback with little or no experience when they journey to Philadelphia. The Eagles lost Donovan McNabb to a broken rib. He will be replaced by the 25-year-old Kevin Kolb, who is making his first NFL start against one of the league's best QBs, the Saints' Drew Brees. Brees tied a club record with six touchdown passes as they beat the Detroit Lions. The Saints, who intercepted Detroit rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford three times, would love to give Kolb the same treatment, but expect the Eagles to win.
New England travel to face the New York Jets, whose safety Kerry Rhodes has promised that the Patroits quarterback Tom Brady will "get hit more than six times". Last week against Buffalo, Brady was rusty after missing last season but still led New England to two touchdowns in the final five minutes for a one-point win. He will be matching throws with rookie Mark Sanchez, who passed for 272 yards and made no glaring errors in his debut for New York.
The way the Jets defence blitzed Houston on 70 per cent of their passes means that this is likely to be a dogfight not a pillow fight. The Patroits head coach Bill Belichick is 5-1 against rookie quarterbacks. Make it 6-1 by the final gun. The New York Giants play the first regular season game in Dallas' US$1.15 billion (Dh4.2bn) stadium and would love to get the jump on them in the NFC East.
New York's defence held Washington to 85 rushing yards, forced two turnovers, scored once and caused an interception. It will harass the Cowboys QB Tony Romo and his offensive line and expect the Giants to spoil the house-warming party. Around the rest of the league, the defending NFC champions Arizona try to get back on track at Jacksonville. The third-highest scoring team in the league last year mustered only 16 points in losing to the San Francisco 49ers.
The Jaguars gave up 365 yards to Indianapolis. They are exactly the type of team the Cards could hope to face. The upstart 49ers host a Seattle team that turned the ball over on three of their first four possessions last week. Do that again and San Francisco will start the season 2-0. Another NFC West team, St Louis, are lilely to get hammered in Washington by the Redskins. The Rams are 5-28 since 2007 for a reason. They stink.
Buffalo nearly upset the Patriots and will try to right themselves at home. They have the right opponent in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who gave up 462 yards to Dallas. How are they going to stop Bills receiver Terrell Owens? Oakland lost to San Diego on Monday night with 11 seconds to play and take a revitalised defence to Kansas City to face the depleted Chiefs. Oakland are stuck with quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who was three-of-18 on passes to wide receivers, but the Chiefs may again be without limping QB Matt Cassel. The Chiefs will open 0-2 for the fourth consecutive year.
The Houston Texans laid an egg on opening day. Now they travel to Tennessee to face the fired up and much superior Titans. Tennessee have too much defence for Houston to handle. In the NFC South, Atlanta host the struggling Carolina Panthers. Quarterback Jake Delhomme's job is on the line after being sacked five times and throwing five interceptions last Sunday. The Panthers have committed 11 turnovers in their last 22 possessions. The Falcons will soar today.
Minnesota travel to Detroit. The Vikings' veteran quarterback Brett Favre is 23-9 lifetime against Lions, whose QB Stafford is coming off that three-interception debut last week. That is a bad combination for the home team. Green Bay host hapless Cincinnati, San Diego face a Baltimore defence that has not allowed a runner 100 yards in 36 games and Cleveland visit Denver.
Tomorrow, Indianapolis travel to Miami. The Colts QB Peyton Manning is 18-3 in September games since 2003 and has won seven of his last eight Monday night appearances. firstname.lastname@example.org