By David McDonnell
With the cobwebs truly brushed off in the opening fortnight, the NFL action moves onto Week 3, where there are a number of match-ups for divisional supremacy. The winners of these contests will indicate which teams will likely be playing football into January.
Last Sunday, the NFL was littered with several crazy fourth quarter comebacks, so fingers crossed there will be more nail-biting narratives this Sunday. There is also a potential last fixture between two of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the sport but let’s start with a fixture between two unbeaten sides in the AFC East thus far, where, as they say, ‘Somebody’s O has got to go!’
Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins overcame the Ravens in epic fashion last weekend and they tore a respected Baltimore defence to shreds. It was a red-letter day for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who made the rest of the NFL sit up and take notice, throwing for 469 yards and six touchdowns.
That his two turbo-charged receiving targets, the newly acquired Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, combined for 361 yards and four touchdowns of that total has given notice of the threat Miami possess over the top but more importantly when Tua is given time and space in the pocket.
It is great to see, in my opinion, the over-maligned QB show the league what he was capable of after the Alabama star had a rocky start to life as a professional. People forget that he came into his rookie season injured to a side that had been jockeying to draft Joe Burrow and then openly pursued Deshaun Watson until his legal troubles became public knowledge.
Tua’s arm strength has been questioned, but he always had the deep ball in his locker from his college days and what I have always liked in particular about his game is his timing and accuracy from the pocket. Although he might not be there yet, I believe he has the potential to become a top 10 QB in the NFL and mirror the journey of a such a player in Derek Carr.
With Buffalo coming to town down their starting safety in Micah Hyde and corner-back Dane Jackson, could we see more fireworks in the HardRock Stadium?
It is certainly plausible, but I think unlikely as the Buffalo Bills look like the premier team with the way they overcame the champion LA Rams and next the Tennessee Titans with relative comfort in the opening two weeks of the season.
Tua is unlikely to get as much time in the pocket facing a pass-rush, led by veteran Von Miller still performing at an elite level in his 12th season at the professional level. The Bills D-line is missing starter Ed Oliver, while his replacement Jordan Philips is also ruled out. The next man up is Tim Settle, who is currently listed as questionable. Settle, who arrived in the off-season from Washington, is a good player to have around and can rush the quarterback well from the inside for a man mountain.
As for the Bills offence, Josh Allen has started looking the leading candidate for MVP honours. Although he didn’t hit Tua’s numbers in Week 2, he dismantled the Titans for 317 yards and four TDs, three of whom went to his favourite target Stefon Diggs.
At the moment Buffalo are relying on this partnership, but with Gabriel Davies almost ready to return from an ankle injury, the Bills offence will get even more dangerous. Facing a Dolphins pass-rush that got no sacks and no QB hits on Lamar Jackson last time out, I expect Allen to continue to dominate and I can’t see anything other than a Buffalo win.
Green Bay Packers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Raymond James Stadium is the place to be on Sunday as it could likely be the last time we see two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, go toe-to-toe.
I won’t go too hard on the nostalgia here as there is the likelihood of both teams with realistic post-season ambitions running into each other again in the play-offs. The last time the sides met was in the 2021 NFC championship decider, which the Bucs won on route to their Superbowl triumph.
So far, Green Bay have been erratic, losing convincingly to the Vikings in Week 1, before looking back to themselves with a comfortable victory over the Bears. This win was largely built on the running and receiving talent of Aaron Jones, as Rodgers spread the ball among his tried and trusted lieutenants.
It will be very interesting to see how they match-up against a Bucs defence that has looked very impressive so far. Devin White is arguably the best linebacker in the game, while he has been ably assisted at all three defensive lines with Vita Vea, Levontae David and Antoine Winfield Jr all impressing.
Tom Brady has led his side to two wins but will be without Mike Evans on Sunday after wide receiver lost his cool against Marshoun Lattimore of the New Orleans Saints, which resulted in a tussle that saw both men ejected but only Evans receiving a one-match ban. The Bucs are also without wide-out the hamstrung Chris Godwin.
Brady has struck up a good connection so far with the newly-arrived veteran Julio Jones, while slot-receiver Scottie Miller should be in line to get more targets thrown his way. Green Bay should be able to put Brady and Co. under serious pressure as they have one of the best groups of defensive backs in the NFL with Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes manning the corners, and helped in the middle by Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage.
This game could swing either way but I’ll give the nod to the home team Bucs.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Commanders
The Eagles come to Washington looking to start the season 3-0 in an NFC East match-up that should give us insight into their play-off credentials.
They will come to the nation’s capital brimming with confidence after an impressive Monday Night Football victory against Minnesota. It was arguably the best performance of quarterback Jalen Hurts’ career. He looked unstoppable against the Vikes, rushing for two touchdowns while also finding receivers Devontae Smith seven times for 80 yards and AJ Brown for five receptions for 69 yards, with Quez Watkins providing an over-the-top threat and connecting on one deep pass for a touchdown.
What is most impressive about this Eagles team is their offensive line with four Superbowl champions, Lane Johnson, Jordan Mailata, Issac Seumalo and Jason Kelce, joined by the very impressive guard; Landon Dickerson, in his second year. With 2022 second-round pick Cam Jurgens providing depth while learning behind four-time First Team All-Pro centre Kelce, this is arguably the best O-Line in the NFL and they should be licking their lips coming into this contest.
I say this because last Sunday, the Commanders rush-defence was surprisingly poor against the Detroit Lions. Surprising because their D-Line has three former first-round picks in Jonathon Allen, Deron Payne, and Montez Sweat. They are still waiting on Chase Young to return to the fold. For the moment they look short in depth at DT, after second-round pick Phidarian Mattis was ruled out for the season with a knee injury during the first quarter of his first NFL game in Week 1.
What has been impressive for the Commanders has been their receiving core of Terry McLaurin, rookie Jahan Dotson and the returning Curtis Samuel. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner looks finally to have the tools to attack teams down field with this trio of speedsters, who all run the forty in 4.3. New QB Carson Wentz has the arm talent to push the ball down the field and has looked a good off-season addition, after taking all the flak for the Indianapolis Colts shortcomings at the end of last season.
I expect the Eagles to continue their winning streak away to their divisional rivals with their strong running game giving Jalen Hurts the opportunities to cause damage through play-action and QB option plays.
San Francisco 49ers @ Denver Broncos
The late Sunday Night action will come to a close when the Jimmy Garoppolo led 49ers visit in a jam-packed Mile High Stadium to take on Russell Wilson’s Denver Broncos.
It should be a terrific atmosphere and an intriguing contest with the best action likely to be when the Broncos offence face up against a terrific 49ers defence.
Last week, the Broncos struggled for long periods against the Houston Texans with Wilson’s only touchdown pass finding Eric Saubert in the third quarter. With a receiving core boasting Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, paired with the running talents of Jevontae Williams, people were expecting the Broncos to be explosive this season.
This hasn’t come to pass quite yet.
I find it is difficult to see the needed improvements clicking into place for the Broncos against a steely and athletic San Francisco defence, where Nick Bosa is looking back near his best after suffering a season-ending ACL injury in 2020.
It will be interesting to see if the Broncos push the boat and take a few more risks in this contest after playing very conservatively in the opening fortnight.
Fate has given Jimmy Garropolo his starting birth once again for San Francisco after Trey Lance broke his ankle last Sunday but with George Kittle back in tow to help Deebo Samuel, I expect to the 2-1 team at breakfast on Monday morning to be the 49ers.