Week Three in the NFL appears to be just a bit short on compelling matchups, but there are a few interesting divisional matchups, mostly on the AFC side, that make this a week to watch.
What am I talking about? Bad football is way better than no football.
Indianapolis vs. Jacksonville—As a Colts fanatic, I'm biased, but this matchup goes a long way toward determining who has a serious shot at capturing the AFC South. The Titans currently sit atop the division at a suspect 2-0, having squeaked one out against this shaky Jacksonville team and a Bengals team in complete shambles, but I anticipate them faltering as the year goes along. They have a solid defense, but a one dimensional offense not built to compete against a healthy Indianapolis squad, even with the corpse of Kerry Collins taking over for apparent head case Vince Young. Indianapolis takes this one in the battle of the horrible offensive lines. Peyton Manning proved last week once again that he is a singular game-changing force all his own, and David Garrard is suffering sophomore season struggles (+1 for alliteration). Dwight Freeney will be buying furniture for the Jaguars' offensive backfield by the time this one is over.
Nield's Pick: Indianapolis Colts
Buffalo vs. Oakland—The Buffalo/Toronto Bills finally appear to be the competent team we've been expecting, after only 12 years of post-Jim Kelly futility. They should have no problem keeping that going against the always terrible Al Davis Raiders this week. Darren McFadden is good, but don't expect the rookie to have two breakout weeks in a row, and it isn't like we're talking the Chiefs' D here. The once young and enthusiastic Lane Kiffin resumes his slide toward his eventual demise at the shriveled and pathetic hands of crazy Uncle Al this week with another loss.
Nield's Pick: Buffalo Bills
New York vs. Cincinnati—This should be a laugher by the second half. New York is built to succeed on both sides of the ball. Eli Manning has shown no signs of faltering after finding his quarterbacking identity last postseason, and the defense has made the Giants' faithful forget the terror they felt watching Osi Umenyiora writhing in pain on the turf during the preseason. Meanwhile, as previously mentioned, the Bengals are even more of a joke than usual in what may well be the final year of the Marvin Lewis administration.
Nield's Pick: New York Giants
Chicago vs. Tampa Bay—As a Purdue University alumnus, I'm pleased to see Kyle Orton off to a workmanlike if unspectacular start to his season. As a Colts fan, I would have liked for him to have struggled a bit more in week one, but that's ancient history. Meanwhile, the phrase "workmanlike if unspectacular" refers to the entire Tampa Bay squad. Jon Gruden's secret plan to popularize the 11 quarterback offense notwithstanding, Brian Griese has never shown an ability to sustain competence for a full season, and Chicago's defense will give him problems. While it shouldn't be a blowout, Chicago's competent offense (who saw that one coming?) coupled with newly restrengthened defense should prevail at home.
Nield's Pick: Chicago Bears
Tennessee vs. Houston—Houston is treading dangerously close to Arizona Cardinals status. That is, each year they're expected to improve, and each year, they find ways to underachieve. Last year, Matt Schaub was expected to provide Houston the offense that the cardboard cutout of David Carr they were sticking back in the pocket never could, and while they managed to creep their way to an 8-8 finish, they turned no heads. This week, coming off of the stress of a major hurricane which has decimated their hometown and severely damaged their stadium, they attempt to go on the road and get a division win against a stout Tennessee defense and a leather-helmeted Kerry Collins. There are too many factors working against them here, and Tennessee continues to stand, surprisingly, atop the AFC South.
Nield's Pick: Tennessee Titans
Washington vs. Arizona—Jason Campbell showed flashes of the competence head coach Jim Zorn and his staff expect and need from him last week, in coming from behind against the New Orleans Saints. The Saints, in part due to Jason David (thanks for taking him off our hands, guys), continue to be plagued by horrific pass defense, giving up more plays of 20 yards or more than most if not all of the league. Arizona's front seven, along with QB Kurt Warner, have played surprisingly well over these first two weeks, but I question whether they can sustain that over the long haul. Arizona needs to learn to win consistently, and on the road is not the place to do it. In a close one, one should almost always pick the home team, and that's what I expect here.
Nield's Pick: Washington Redskins
Minnesota vs. Carolina—Shocking, and yet totally unsurprising news came from Minnesota today, when they named 89-year-old Gus Frerotte as their starter for this week's home contest against the Panthers and the resurrected Jake Delhomme. Minnesota, as the Colts showed last week, has an outstanding front seven, but might as well have patients from the local retirement home starting in their secondary. As if that weren't bad enough, Delhomme gets his favorite weapon, WR Steve Smith back from his punchy suspension this week. The incredible Adrian Peterson notwithstanding, the marginal improvement that Grandpa Frerotte brings to the offense will be nowhere near enough to keep this once-trendy Super Bowl pick from sliding to a disappointing 0-3 in laughable fashion.
Nield's Pick: Carolina Panthers
Atlanta vs. Kansas City—By the end of the first quarter of week two, the Chiefs were on their fourth quarterback of the season, including a reserve wideout that had been activated off the practice squad (I'm not kidding). That's really all you need to know about the level of incompetence that continues to reign in Arrowhead. Kansas City gave up the third highest total rushing yards in franchise history to the dismal Raiders last week, and now they visit Atlanta and RB Michael Turner, who showed what he can do to awful run defenses against Detroit in week one. Atlanta's young quarterback could be the weak link in this one, but nowhere near as weak as the platoon of hilarity under center for the Chiefs.
Nield's Pick: Atlanta Falcons
New England vs. Miami—Miami showed flashes of competence in week one against the New York Bretts, and then promptly crapped the bed against Arizona in week two. New England continues to rally around QB Matt Cassel, and count on him to just not screw up. Make no mistake—Cassel will lose a game for the Patsies at some point, but they could toss a high school QB in against the Phins' defense and get a 60 percent completion rate with a TD or two. The Bill Parcells era continues to flounder for the fish.
Nield's Pick: New England 18-1s
Denver vs. New Orleans—The Saints take their banged up offense and their horrendous pass defense into the mile high city this week to take on Jay Cutler, *insert RB name here*, and the suddenly gifted Broncos. Mike Shanahan continues to excel at molding a running game out of thin air, but it appears he has finally found the answer to their weak link at quarterback. Cutler should have a field day with the Saints' D, to the tune of a couple of TDs or more.
Nield's Pick: Denver Broncos
San Francisco vs. Detroit—If there was ever a game to watch, well, this isn't it. The level of ineptitude in this game may just threaten the geological stability of the Bay Area. I'd up that earthquake insurance if I were you, Californians. In all seriousness, J.T. O'Sullivan will have some motivation in going against his former team, and if he digs deep and finds some of that competence he displayed against the Seahawks last week, the 49ers should find a way to win.
Nield's Pick: San Francisco 49ers
Seattle vs. St. Louis—Seattle is just bad. Mike Holmgren's farewell tour is rapidly turning into a "stop the bus, I want to get off" tour. They have essentially no wideouts, to the point where even a guy who drops the ball before crossing the goal line (I'm looking at you, DeSean Jackson) looks good to them. Fortunately for the seabirds' faithful, St. Louis needs a year's worth of improvement before they are even in sniffing distance of bad. Seattle wins this one in a walk—or a run, because that's about all they can do at this point.
Nield's Pick: Seattle Seahawks
Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh—What did we learn about Pittsburgh on Sunday night? It is hard to say, since they were playing in the remnants of Hurricane Ike, but Roflcopter appeared to be hampered ever so slightly by his bum shoulder. Philadelphia apparently is vulnerable to the deep ball, though, so if his treatment goes well this week, he should flourish once again. This one could easily turn into a shootout, and, given an offensive battle, always go to the great equalizer, the defense. Pittsburgh heads into Philly and sends the cheesesteak crowd into full-blown panic mode once again as their talented team slides to 1-2 on the year.
Nield's Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers
Baltimore vs. Cleveland—By virtue of the Hurricane Ike bye week, we don't really know what Baltimore has in Joe Flacco. We do know what Cleveland has in Derek Anderson, though—a struggling QB with a number one WR that has a case of the dropsies (Braylon Edwards). This should be a low scoring affair, but the Ravens have something that Cleveland hasn't seen since the 80s—competent defense.
Nield's Pick: Baltimore Ravens
Green Bay vs. Dallas—Green Bay has the ignominious distinction of being the only home underdog this week, and for good reason. The Dallas offense is on a tear. This looks like the perfect opportunity for Aaron Rodgers to suffer some of the growing pains that have been expected of him, while Terrell Owens could get not one, but several opportunities to pull a Randy Moss and moon the Lambeau crowd. I wouldn't expect that, though, since, while Owens may be a douchebag, he's a pretty innocuous douchebag on the field. Off the field, of course, all bets are off. There's a reason he's been called "Team Obliterator."
Nield's Pick: Dallas Cowboys
San Diego vs. New York—This is a tale of two angry teams. San Diego is mad at having their attempt to crawl into the win column destroyed by the mere whistle of incredible hulk Ed Hochuli, and the New York Bretts are upset at letting a divisional opportunity slip through their fingers against the Brady-less Patsies last week. While the Jets should learn their lesson and open up the playbook a little for their aging Hall of Fame QB this week, that won't be nearly enough against a Charger team seething after two last second defeats, which threaten to destroy another season full of promise. The Chargers charge back in a big way in week three.
Nield's Pick: San Diego Chargers
There you have it, folks. It should be a pretty straightforward week in the National Football League. Of course, as with all useless exercises in prognostication, several teams will no doubt prove me a liar come Sunday. But hey, that's why they play the game, right?
As for me, I'm just proud that I spelled Umenyiora right on the first try. Peter King, eat your heart out.