Ron Borges takes a look at the key match-ups as the NFL season starts to unfold.
Titans out to halt Jets' flying start
Only three weeks into the NFL season and one Super Bowl contender is on edge, another is trying to figure out how to use Michael Vick and two teams on the run are ready to engage in an early showdown. At the Meadowlands, the upstart New York Jets (2-0), who beat up the New England Patriots last Sunday by blitzing quarterback Tom Brady into submission, will try to knock out the play-off hopes of the winless Tennessee Titans.
A year ago Tennessee led the American Conference with 13 victories and came into the 2009 season with high hopes of unseating the defending Super Bowl champion, Pittsburgh, but lost their season-opener in overtime to the Steelers and were beaten again last weekend by a field goal after blowing a 14-point lead to the Houston Texans. Only one team since the NFL went to a 12-team play-off format in 1990 has survived a 0-3 start to win their division and only two others reached the play-offs so the pressure is on.
Tennessee will attack a Jets defence that has yet to allow a touchdown with an offence averaging 393 yards a game. The running-back Chris Johnson can score from anywhere and last week did, racking up three touchdowns all over 50 yards. New York have allowed a league low 482 yards. The surprising San Francisco 49ers' (2-0) travel to take on the Minnesota Vikings (2-0) in the only match-up of undefeated teams and both figure there is only one way to win - run over the opposition.
Minnesota boasts the league's leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, who is averaging 6.8 yards a carry. His production has left 39-year-old quarterback Brett Favre happily handing off while his team are last in the NFL in passing yards. The 49ers will use an eight-man defensive front to stop him while hoping their own back, Frank Gore, controls the ball. That assumes Gore's sprained ankle is mended after he rushed for 237 yards last Sunday. Expect the Vikings to run away with it.
The defending National Conference champions Arizona host the Indianapolis Colts in a game where footballs are bound to fly. Indianapolis (2-0) will have a hard time winning in the desert because you cannot play better than Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, who set an NFL record for passing accuracy by completing 24 of 26 for 243 yards last Sunday. He has more weapons and he will use them.
The Atlanta Falcons (2-0) face a serious challenge on the road against a Patriots team doubting themselves. New England failed to score a touchdown against the Jets and will take it out on Atlanta's weak secondary. In Philadelphia, newly-acquired Michael Vick comes off league suspension for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring that led to 20 months in jail and 33 months away from professional football. Donovan McNabb is out with a cracked rib but the Eagles will start Kevin Kolb ahead of Vick at quarterback against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Vick hopes to get his chance in the Wildcat formation, a style of play that allows him to take a direct snap from centre and then use his running skills while remaining a passing threat. The Chiefs face a budding quarterback controversy after Matt Cassel threw two interceptions in a dismal loss to the Oakland Raiders and left the Chiefs wondering why they paid him US$28 million (Dh103m). Elsewhere, the Miami Dolphins hope to avoid a 0-3 start against the high-scoring San Diego Chargers on the road. The Dolphins have been playing tremendous run defence. The problem is they have no pass rush and San Diego's quarterback Philip Rivers could make them pay.
The undefeated Denver Broncos could come back to earth against the Raiders if Oakland can get their quarterback JaMarcus Russell to complete a pass. There is no reason to think the New York Giants' defence will not over-run the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the same is true for the bruising Baltimore Ravens, who host the hapless (0-2) Cleveland Browns. The Chicago Bears travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks, who may be without quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. The Bears look stronger but need their quarterback Jay Cutler to fire.
In a game nobody cares about, the Texans figure to hold off Jacksonville Jaguars at home while the New Orleans Saints will show why they have the league's most explosive offence (46 points per game) at the expense of the Bills unless there is a snowstorm in Buffalo. The Steelers are coming off an odd loss to Chicago and should bounce back against the Bengals in Cincinnati but it will not be as easy as some think.