Roundtable verdict: Scouts Inc. isn't ready to bail on Bolts
The best and most underrated matchups of Week 3? A winless team that's still kicking? Others that are dead in the water? Find out more as Scouts Inc.'s roundtable panel sounds off.
It's only Week 3, but it's already crunch time for some supposed contenders and a group of pretenders just trying to save face (if not their seasons). After watching all the film, Scouts Inc.'s pro scouts debate the hot topics heading into Week 3.
Which is the most intriguing game of the week?Jeremy Green: For me, it's Jacksonville at Indianapolis. Big-time rivalry game. The Jaguars have championship aspirations and enough talent to contend, but they've been derailed by offensive line injuries. The Giants made it to the title game after an 0-2 start last season, but no NFL team has ever lost its first three games and gone on to play in the Super Bowl. Which direction is Jacksonville headed? The Jaguars rank No. 28 in the league rushing the football and the Colts are No. 28 in run defense, so something has to give. Expect it to be the latter. I can't remember the last time Indy consistently stopped the run without SS Bob Sanders, who won't be in the lineup (ankle).
Gary Horton: Jets-Chargers on "Monday Night Football." Though both teams are coming off disappointing losses, this matchup features a lot of star power and two clubs desperate for a win -- especially San Diego. We know the Chargers can move the ball on offense and score points in bunches. If forced to keep up, will the Jets finally take the handcuffs off QB Brett Favre and open up the passing game against an underachieving defense? MNF always seems to bring out the best in great players, so this should be a good one.
Doug Kretz: I like Carolina at Minnesota. The Panthers are off to a hot start, playing great defense and running the ball with newfound confidence. The Vikings have one of the league's toughest run defenses. Minnesota will start veteran backup QB Gus Frerotte in an attempt to cut down on turnovers and mistakes, but will the move give the Vikes the spark they need? If so, the team should secure its first win.
Ken Moll: It has to be Dallas at Green Bay, two powerhouse NFC clubs battling for supremacy. Both are loaded with talent and coming off impressive early-season victories. Both quarterbacks are capable of big plays and both teams have excellent defenses that can go get the ball. This isn't just the best and most intriguing matchup of Week 3 -- it's the best so far this season.
Tag Ribary: Pittsburgh at Philadelphia should be a good one: two very good Pennsylvania teams that have the early-season look of playoff contenders. It'll be interesting to see how the Eagles respond after Monday night's loss at Dallas. The game was a track meet that probably took something out of the players, and they'll have a short week of preparation for the matchup with a physical Steelers club. Plus, both teams have offensive firepower and play good defense.
Matt Williamson: Pittsburgh at Philadelphia. Dallas at Green Bay is an obvious contender here, but in the recent ESPN.com power rankings I had Philadelphia at No. 2 and Pittsburgh at No. 3. I respected both clubs before the season started, but both are exceeding my expectations. This game features two extremely aggressive defenses led by top-notch coordinators, elite quarterbacks and plenty of game-changing weapons. I expect a battle down to the wire.
Which is the most underrated game of Week 3?Green: I can't believe I'm writing this, but I think it's Arizona at Washington. The Cardinals are 2-0 for the first time since 1991, and the Redskins are coming off a great come-from-behind win against New Orleans. Now we'll find out just how good Washington's offense and QB Jason Campbell are. An underrated Arizona defense and coordinator Clancy Pendergast will test Campbell's arm and mind. The Cardinals traditionally have been a dismal road team, so this matchup should tell us whether their strong start is a product of facing lightweights or if it's really their time to contend in the NFC.
Horton: New Orleans at Denver. Both offenses are fun to watch and capable of big plays. They can spread the field with multiple sets, move players around to dictate matchups and fall back on the creative offensive minds of their respective head coaches. Neither defense is great, so the chances for a high-scoring game are good. The Saints and Broncos expect to play in the postseason, so the game should be a good barometer for both teams.
Kretz: Saints-Broncos could be an all-out aerial assault, with the teams combining for all kinds of yards and points. Both rank among the league leaders in passing offense and yards per attempt. And with both pass defenses struggling, it should at least be fun to watch. The game also involves two young quarterbacks who rate among the NFL's elite passers.
Moll: I can think of a few, but a matchup between the wounded Jaguars and the division-rival Colts has huge implications in the AFC South and the conference. Jacksonville has given Indianapolis all it can handle in recent years, and needs to come up big again this week. The Jaguars will want to force their ground game on the Colts to control the tempo and go after a defense that will be missing its best run defender in Sanders. The Jags have their backs against the wall at 0-2 while the Colts are fortunate to be 1-1, but the winner will have a leg up in the division.
Ribary: I say Carolina at Minnesota. The Vikings have seen enough of QB Tarvaris Jackson for now, and Frerotte will take over the offense. Will the move have the effect the team hopes? Minnesota already appears to be at a crossroads, with a pair of road games against dangerous opponents on the schedule in Weeks 4 and 5. WR Steve Smith's return will give the Panthers a boost at a time when they already have plenty of momentum.
Williamson: Carolina-Minnesota. Smith's return will make a potent offense lethal, and QB Jake Delhomme should have a big day in the dome. Last week rookie RB Jonathan Stewart showed why the Panthers were so high on him on draft day, but I'm curious to see how this physical rushing attack will fare against DTs Pat Williams and Kevin Williams and a stout Vikings run defense. On the other side, the move to Frerotte had to happen -- and could be the key to Minnesota's season. We all know what RB Adrian Peterson can do (and he has looked as incredible as he did a year ago), but now the Vikes at least should be able to exploit single coverage and convert wide-open pass plays.
Which 0-2 team has the best chance to turn things around and make the playoffs?Green: I'm going with San Diego. Even with OLB Shawne Merriman out for the season, the Chargers still have one of the league's most talented rosters. And there's a precedent here: In 2007, San Diego started 1-3 before turning things around and charging into the AFC Championship Game. It's reminiscent of this season's start for another reason: The defense has lost its aggressiveness. Game film of the Chargers' first two games shows far too many four-man rushes for a 3-4 defense. With Merriman out, OLB Shaun Phillips is drawing more double-teams, so coordinator Ted Cottrell needs to send some combination of two linebackers, or even a linebacker and a slot corner, more frequently. Those things worked for Cottrell and the defense down the stretch last season, and this group will be fine if it just gets back to playing that way again.
Kidd: The Chargers started last season 1-3 before getting their season turned around and landing in the conference title game. This team is talented, knows how to win and plays in a weak division. But the Chargers need to get healthy at key positions and Cottrell must find ways to create pressure and maximize his unit's excellent personnel.
Kretz: San Diego. The Chargers entered the season as one of the league's prohibitive favorites to reach the playoffs and advance beyond the first round. They simply have too many weapons, especially on offense, to continue this trend. Considering they've lost to two of the hottest teams in the league (Denver and Carolina) and they rebounded from a similar start last year, I expect them to turn things around in short order.
Moll: The Chargers, one of the most talented clubs in the league, have a good chance to turn things around against the Jets this week. San Diego lost two games early that it clearly could have won, and now it will face an average New York team that will have to travel to the West Coast. Expectations remain high, and this should be the week the Chargers taste victory and start their climb toward the postseason.
Ribary: San Diego should be able to get things back on track. The Chargers' two losses were close games against teams that have proved to be a lot better than most expected. If the Chargers can get LT and the offensive line healthy, they should be fine. The defense doesn't look as good as last year, but the offense should score enough points to make up for it.
Williamson: San Diego, by a big margin. The Chargers certainly haven't played well, and it has been amazing how conservative they've been on defense. But this is a team that lost two heartbreakers -- one of which was referee-aided -- to surprisingly good teams. The Chargers still have a stacked roster, face a less-than-daunting schedule and have little competition from the rest of their division. They'll rebound.
Which 0-2 team is in the most trouble?Green: Plenty of current winless teams are every bit as bad as they were supposed to be, but I'm looking at an 0-2 team that had lofty expectations headed into the season: Cleveland. The Browns, who were supposed to contend for the AFC North, opened with two home games, lost both and still are facing the brunt of the league's third-toughest schedule (eight of 14 remaining games on the road). QB Derek Anderson hasn't been sharp, and WR Braylon Edwards can't hold on to the ball. Maybe of greatest concern are an offensive line that hasn't played up to its 2007 standards and the pricey defensive additions, which have been average at best. The Browns are overrated and (again) will miss the playoffs.
Kidd: Cleveland. Unfortunately for Browns fans, this team has a very tough remaining schedule and, truthfully, still is a couple of years away. The offense is out of rhythm with Anderson, and the offensive line has underachieved. On defense, the Browns fail to create consistent pressure off the edge and don't match up well on the back end. The season is on the line Sunday at Baltimore.
Kretz: In my mind, it comes down to St. Louis and Detroit. And if one of them appears closer than the other to packing it in for the season and going through the motions, it's the Lions. The players don't act like they believe in the new system, which places a greater emphasis on the ground game. Plus, the defense isn't playing with any discipline or intensity.
Moll: I see several teams that fit this category: Kansas City, Miami, Detroit and Cincinnati, for example. But St. Louis, which lacks a great quarterback and gets marginal line play on both sides of the ball, may have the toughest road ahead. Ranked last in the league in total offense and defense, the Rams simply can't get anything going. The coaching staff is under obvious pressure to turn things around, and unless Jackson heats up, their prospects look dim. One possible saving grace: a weak division. But I still don't see them climbing higher than third in the NFC West.
Ribary: St. Louis. Not only is the team not playing well, but a quick glance at the rest of the schedule doesn't offer a lot of hope for a turnaround in the near future. The Rams have the NFL's worst offense and defense through two games, two conference losses and a fragile quarterback who already has taken a beating. As if all that weren't enough, the team's owner put the coaching staff on notice that things need to improve quickly.
Williamson: Kansas City. The Chiefs allowed 300 rushing yards and a whopping 6.4 yards per carry to an Oakland offense that may have the league's worst passing attack. I mean, come on. That's just disgraceful. As bad as that performance was, the Chiefs' offense is worse off. QB Brodie Croyle continues to prove he's unreliable, so the team will have to go back to the drawing board to find its quarterback of the future. The offense still needs at least one more skill weapon and probably two more starter-caliber offensive linemen. The Chiefs should end up with their choice of any player in the 2009 draft. Good for them.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
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