By Ben Linsey
In a 16-game NFL season, every game matters. It’s part of what makes the NFL so entertaining as there are few weeks where a bad result means nothing.
In that sense, every team has something to gain and lose in Week 3, but for some, this week matters more than others. Here are a few teams who have a lot riding on their upcoming Week 3 game.
1. Houston Texans
The Texans are the least disappointing 0-2 team in the NFL right now after expected losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens. The Chiefs and Ravens are by far the two best teams in the PFF Power Ratings, which leaves Houston in a strange spot two weeks into the season.
Its offense hasn’t looked spectacular, but Houston’s defense is the bigger concern early in the year. Bradley Roby, Vernon Hargreaves and Lonnie Johnson Jr. all have PFF coverage grades below 60 through two weeks, and no one on the defense — including J.J. Watt — has generated a consistent pass rush. Watt’s six pressures heading into Week 3 lead the defense, but his 6.8 percent pass-rush win rate is not reminiscent of the dominant presence that he typically is.
Then again, the Texans are likely better on that side of the ball than their early results, given the fact that Kansas City and Baltimore have two of the most efficient offenses in the NFL.
That’s what makes Houston’s Week 3 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers so intriguing. Though the Steelers also profile as one of the best teams in the AFC, they provide the closest thing to an even playing field that the Texans have seen thus far. The clear area of concern for Houston has to be a Pittsburgh pass-rush that has generated pressure on over 50 percent of its pass-rushing snaps in 2020. The Texans need Deshaun Watson to navigate that heat in the pocket and make plays because the alternative is an 0-3 start to the season, which will be tough to return from no matter who their first three games were against.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles (0-2), like the Texans, were thought to be a playoff contender entering the season. Unlike Houston, the quarterback has been the major problem in Philadelphia.
There is no quarterback in the NFL with a lower passing grade than Carson Wentz (42.7), and he’s one of just two quarterbacks who has seen over 30 percent of his targeted passes get charted as uncatchable through two weeks. It would be one thing if it were just inaccuracy, but Wentz is also giving defenses ample turnover opportunities. His eight turnover-worthy plays are the most in the NFL. PFF’s Mike Renner looked a little bit deeper into what was wrong with Wentz and the Eagles this past week, and there’s a lot to unpack.
Even in a weak NFC East, the Eagles need to figure things out quickly to realize their hopes of getting back to the postseason. Luckily for them, a banged-up Cincinnati Bengals defense that just got rolled by the Cleveland Browns is a good opportunity to do so. Cleveland was in a similar spot after a disappointing 2019 season and opening performance against the Ravens. Philadelphia has a lot riding on being able to follow suit and get its offensive rhythm back.
3. New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees does not look like the Brees we all grew accustomed to watching. He has completed just 48 percent of passes thrown 5 or more yards downfield through the first two weeks of the season — 31st out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks — after leading the NFL in that category across the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons (68 percent). He hasn’t looked for many deep shots in recent years, but that hasn’t necessarily mattered because his accuracy in the short and intermediate range has been impeccable. If waning arm strength means that isn’t the case anymore, this Saints offense could be in trouble.
That makes this game against the Green Bay Packers a big one for the Saints. As a team that had its sights set on the Super Bowl, a 1-2 start to the season isn’t ideal; a 1-2 start in which the passing offense looks out of sync with a quarterback who doesn’t look willing or capable of hitting open throws he used to thrive on is even less ideal. Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill stepping in to replace Brees isn’t likely to come after this game, even if the results are disastrous, but it has to be on the table for a team whose roster is otherwise loaded. In that sense, a lot is riding on this game for Brees and the Saints.
4. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have been one of the pleasant surprises through two weeks of the 2020 season. They’re back to being a top-10 offense in terms of EPA per play, and head coach Sean McVay is doing a good job of putting Jared Goff in positions where he’s comfortable. On the season, Goff’s 86.1 passing grade ranks third in the NFL behind Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.
In a shocking turn of events, Goff’s success has centered on play-action (10 yards per attempt) and getting more clean pockets (11.9 yards per attempt). We’ve seen this offense succeed in 2017 and 2018 on similar principles that work off their wide zone game, and early results this season have been promising.
They’ll go up against a Bills defense that should be getting back linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano this week. Buffalo’s unit should pose the toughest test of the season for the Rams to this point. It will also be a good test for L.A.’s defense with the way that Brian Daboll and Josh Allen have come together to get Buffalo’s offense firing on all cylinders. It’s one of those games that should serve as a good measuring stick early in the season for just how good these teams are.
The Rams have some opportunities for wins on the horizon with games against the New York Giants and Washington Football Team in which they should be favored following this contest. It would certainly be nice to head into Week 6 in San Francisco with an unblemished record, especially given how difficult the NFC West looks this season.
5. Chicago Bears
The Bears would likely be the answer for most people if you were to ask which team doesn’t belong in a list of the teams to start this season 2-0. Their wins against the Detroit Lions and New York Giants count all the same in the standings, and they have an opportunity here against the 0-2 Atlanta Falcons to carry that over into a 3-0 start.
The glaring question mark with Chicago heading into the season was Mitchell Trubisky. We had three seasons of subpar grading profiles from the former No. 2 selection in the 2017 NFL draft and had little reason to expect a fourth-year breakout.
Trubisky turned in his best single-game grade since Week 12 of the 2018 season (80.2) this past week. Granted, the improvement he’s shown over the first two weeks of the 2020 season has come against a banged-up Lions secondary and a bad Giants defense, but it’s still an improvement.
Now, he faces a Falcons pass defense that struggled to slow down the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys. The Bears’ passing offense isn’t on that level, but this is still a spot where they could conceivably have success. Their schedule gets tougher coming up, but a 3-0 start and even average play from Trubisky puts them in the playoff conversation in the NFC. Coming into the season, that’s not somewhere many had them.
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