NFL Week 2 storylines: Michael Vick’s big test, RGIII’s encore
So, you like high-scoring games, do you? Well, the NFL is the league for you then.
Five teams scored in the 40s in Week 1, with four more getting into the 30s. Heck, seven teams put up 21 points or more and lost. Defenses continue to have a harder and harder time getting off the field without allowing points, which means that the league’s elite skill players are in the spotlight like never before.
What does Week 2 have in store after an electric Week 1? Here are some of the storylines to watch:
• Can Michael Vick get his act together?
The Eagles escaped Cleveland with a Week 1 win, but only after overcoming four Michael Vick interceptions. While Vick did manage to lead a late, game-winning scoring drive to get Philadelphia to 1-0, he’ll have to be much better in Week 2 as the Ravens, fresh off an impressive 44-13 romp over Cincinnati, visit the City of Brotherly Love.
Joe Flacco will be the subject of some scrutiny, too. Was his Week 1 performance indicative of a QB who’s taken the next step or did he just take advantage of Cincinnati’s subpar effort?
Both teams have Super Bowl hopes. We’ll know a lot more about them — and about their quarterbacks — after Sunday.
• Somebody’s gotta win (probably) …
Four games in Sunday’s early time slot pit 0-1 teams against one another: Oakland at Miami, Cleveland at Cincinnati, Kansas City at Buffalo and New Orleans at Carolina.
Of those eight winless squads, Cincinnati and New Orleans probably entered 2012 with the highest expectations coming off playoff berths in 2011. The Bengals, though, were victims of the Flacco outburst mentioned above, while the Saints had no answers for Robert Griffin III. Cincinnati’s road gets easier in Week 2 with a home game against the rebuilding Browns, but the Saints have to hit the road to take on a Carolina team also searching for answers.
Don’t forget about Kansas City and Buffalo, either. Plenty of people predicted one or the other to rise up and steal a playoff spot in 2012; starting the season 0-2 would make that possibility much more unlikely.
• Andrew Luck returns home
The Colts’ No. 1 pick did not have the start he wanted, as his Indianapolis team was overmatched in Chicago. Luck will try to get back on track, and keep the hometown fans energized early in 2012, against the Vikings on Sunday. This is the first of three straight home games for Indianapolis. Luck should have Austin Collie back at WR too, easing Reggie Wayne’s burden.
As for the Vikings, they could find themselves all alone in first in the NFC North Monday morning — a Minnesota win coupled with a San Francisco victory over Detroit would do the trick.
• AFC powers shoot for 2-0
Houston and New England rolled in Week 1 (though Houston needed a little longer to get going), taking down Miami and Tennessee, respectively. And the stars are aligned for the Texans and Patriots to bump their marks to 2-0 on Sunday.
Houston heads out on the road for the first time to battle Jacksonville. The Jaguars let one get away in overtime against Minnesota last week, so Blaine Gabbert & Co. would like nothing more than to even their record at 1-1. New England, meanwhile, opens its home schedule against Kevin Kolb and the Arizona Cardinals. At last check, New England was this weekend’s biggest NFL favorite, laying nearly 14 points.
• Eleven days later, the Giants get another shot
It must have been an excruciating week-plus for the defending Super Bowl champs, who turned in a lackluster effort against the Cowboys in the NFL’s Sept. 5 season opener. The 2012 season is still very young, but Sunday almost feels like a must-win for the Giants — starting 0-2 with back-to-back home losses would put New York in a major hole.
New York’s foe this week? A resurgent Tampa Bay squad that shut down Cam Newton and Carolina in Week 1 for new coach Greg Schiano’s first victory.
• What does RGIII have planned for an encore?
Rookie QBs went 1-4 in Week 1. But, man, that one win.
Robert Griffin III burst onto the scene with 362 total yards and two touchdown passes as the Redskins stunned the Saints in New Orleans, 40-32. RGIII gets the 0-1 Rams this week, and if he can put on another show, the hype heading into Washington’s Week 3 home opener will be off the charts.
• Week 1 surprises try to do it again
The Cowboys threw a wrench into the Giants’ celebratory Week 1 plans last week, riding a healthy DeMarco Murray and a stellar defensive effort to victory. Tony Romo turned in a pretty impressive outing as well, throwing for three TDs and 307 yards to move Dallas to 1-0.
America’s Team faces another tricky road test Sunday in Seattle, the site of Romo’s greatest gaffe: that fumbled field goal snap in the playoffs.
Over in the AFC the Jets opened some eyes with a 48-28 drubbing of the Bills. After struggling all preseason to score points, New York found its groove in Week 1 with Mark Sanchez at the helm … and Tim Tebow relegated to a tiny bit role. Another win this week and we’ll have to start counting the Jets among the AFC’s legitimate threats.
But getting to 2-0 won’t be easy. Awaiting New York this week is a trip to Pittsburgh to take on a Steelers team coming off a loss to Peyton Manning’s Broncos. Pittsburgh may be without both LB James Harrison and S Troy Polamalu, so the Jets could find some space on offense again.
• Will Ryan Mathews suit up for San Diego?
The Chargers closed the Week 1 slate with a Monday night win in Oakland. They did so without injured running back Ryan Mathews, but it was apparent — thanks to Ronnie Brown’s struggles — that San Diego will need Mathews back to sustain that success.
So, good news, potentially: Mathews will try to go give it a go on Sunday against the Titans. Tennessee has its own injury issue, at QB with Jake Locker banged up.
• Oh, that handshake …
You’ve already seen the clip about 100 times and probably will see it 1,000 more before Sunday night. Jim Harbaugh slapping Jim Schwartz on the back following San Francisco’s win in Detroit last year, then Schwartz going nuts and chasing Harbaugh down the field in a now-classic moment.
Pushed to the back burner this week while everyone focuses on the Harbaugh-Schwartz rematch is that the 49ers and Lions are contenders in the NFC. That’s especially true of Harbaugh’s team, which made it to the conference title game last season and opened 2012 with a demonstrative victory at Green Bay.
How might Schwartz handle another Harbaugh celebration? There’s a good chance we’ll find out Sunday night.
• An old-fashioned shootout in Atlanta?
Peyton Manning looked like his old self in Week 1, leading the Broncos to a hard-fought win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Denver may face an even bigger challenge this Monday, matched up against Atlanta’s high-flying offense.
The Falcons hit the ground running in Week 1, hanging a 40-spot on the Chiefs with Matt Ryan throwing for 299 yards and three touchdowns in his new up-tempo offense. If Ryan and the Falcons can repeat that performance against Denver, Atlanta might assume the throne as the NFC South’s unquestioned favorite.
But Atlanta also has to show it can slow the Manning-led passing attack, and do so without Brent Grimes. The Falcons’ franchise-tagged cornerback suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1, severely crippling Atlanta’s defensive backfield.