Two weeks are finished in the NFL and fans of a few teams (Colts, Chiefs, Seahawks and Vikings) are already in panic mode. Other teams (Bills, Redskins, Lions and Texans) feel great about their hot starts, but can't let themselves fade a la the 2009 Broncos and 2010 Giants.
With a nice offering of exciting games in Week Two (Atlanta and Philly in the Return of the Vick capped an excellent Sunday) the NFL is once again poised to provide some great stories and excellent action throughout the season.
The emergence of the tough and effective Detroit Lions is fun to watch. The struggles of the Peyton Manning-less Colts is painful to watch.
How will Week Three play out? This slideshow will give a prediction for the outcome and key storylines for all 16 games.
Houston has looked strong in a blowout win over the punchless Colts in Week One and then a workmanlike victory over the futile Dolphins in Week 2.
This week they face a stiffer test.
Their ground game certainly seems up to the test, with second year back Ben Tate coming on strong and a healthy Arian Foster in the backfield.
Foster never really got untracked in his first game back after a knee injury, but Tate's strong running made up for Foster's lower production.
New Orleans lost a shoot-out to the Packers to open the season and then stymied the Bears in Week Two. Their defense is suspect; especially against a well-oiled offense like the Texans'.
I predict that the Texans will win a close one on the road. Their winning ways will continue until the half-way through the season, at which point they'll lapse into mediocrity and just barely miss the playoffs again this year.
But for this week, at least, the denizens of Houston can retain their optimism.
Prediction: Houston-31, New Orleans-24
The Giants are banged up and seem directionless. The Eagles may be without Michael Vick, who left the game against the Atlanta Falcons last week with a concussion.
But my money in this game would be on the team with the best weapons, and Philadelphia clearly wins in that department, even if Vick can't play.
Mike Kafka performed well in Vick's stead, completing 7 of 9 passes and almost leading the team to a last-minute comeback win.
We may be seeing the metamorphosis* of just another back-up into a quality NFL-caliber QB.
The Giants may be able to eke out a victory against the St. Louis Rams tonight, but the Eagles will give them a tougher challenge in all phases of the game.
Prediction: Philly-30, NY Giants-20
*My apologies for the nerdy literary pun. It's not all that often that an NFL QB comes along with the last name of an influential mid-20th century German writer.
Rookie QB Cam Newton has looked very good in the two Panther losses this year.
He has thrown with accuracy and moves well to avoid pressure.
Carolina's inexperienced defense wasn't able to make key stops against the Cardinals and the Packers late in the game.
This week the Panthers are taking on a team helmed by the underwhelming Luke McCown.
They eked out a victory in Week One against the in-transition Titans, but were absolutely throttled (32-3) by the Jets last week. Rookie QB Blaine Gabbert is waiting in the wings for the Jags.
If McCown can't show that he can move the offense and avoid interceptions, Gabbert could see playing time sooner rather than later.
Through it all, the recently jettisoned David Garrard is most likely watching with amusement. Garrard was certainly no star at QB and often shrunk in tight situations, but he was never as deplorable as McCown has been so far this season.
The perpetually under-the-radar Jaguars have the look of a young team that has regressed. Their defense can still stop teams, but I like what I've seen from the up-and-coming Panthers.
Look for Newton and his team to get their first victory of the season this week.
Prediction: Carolina-24, Jacksonville-10
The Buffalo Bills are respectable. Color me shocked. (What color would shocked be, anyway? Maybe ochre?)
Buffalo blew the doors off the Kansas City Chiefs in a 41-7 rout to open their season. Then they toughed out a close game against the feisty Oakland Raiders last week.
At 2-0, Bills fans have reason to be optimistic. They've had seasons start well in the past, however, only to see their team lapse into futility.
I like the group of undrafted and lower draft pick guys who have come together to perform well for the Bills, but I don't like them well enough to beat the Patriots.
With Peyton Manning sidelined indefinitely, Tom Brady is the unquestioned stud in the NFL's QB pantheon. He has been absolutely masterful this season in their two wins this year.
The Pats' defense is only adequate, but they do enough to let Brady and his array of weapons pull away from their opponents.
Buffalo can hang around for a little while, but I don't think that their linebackers are up to stopping Danny Woodhead and Wes Welker in the middle of the field.
Prediction: New England-35, Buffalo-19
The Cleveland Browns have quietly put together a couple of nice playmakers on offense.
Joshua Cribbs is always a homerun threat and Peyton Hillis is a bruising running back who can make hay even with guys draped over him.
Colt McCoy is developing into a nice QB who uses the pocket well and slides around to find open receivers.
The Browns don't have a great defense, but they were good enough in Week Two to stifle a lackluster Colts offense on key third downs. They lost in Week One to a surprisingly effective Cincinnati Bengals team.
Miami finds itself at 0-2. Although they've racked up good yardage between the 20 yard lines, they haven't been able to punch it in when they've reached the red zone. In addition, Henne's completion percentage has been lower than the Mariana Trench.
On defense, I don't like the way that other teams have exerted their will both on the ground as well as through the air against the Dolphins.
Their secondary did much better in coverage against the Texans last week than they did against Tom Brady and the Pats in Week One. But they let Ben Tate run wild for 103 yards.
I don't think Miami can pull it together enough to beat the Browns this week in what will probably be a low-scoring affair.
Prediction: Browns-17, Miami-15
This game has the feel of a pick 'em. Neither team has carved out an identity yet and both find themselves at 1-1 heading into Week Three.
Both teams won their openers and then lost close games in Week Two.
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh has the 49ers at a nice level of respectability, but their inconsistency at QB (the Alex Smith experiment enters what feels like its tenth year) has kept the offense from truly taking off.
The young Bengals are bound to go through some growing pains this year.
The fact that they couldn't beat an injury-stricken and not-very-impressive Denver Broncos last week shows that they are likely to remain cellar dwellers in the tough AFC North.
Since this is a pick 'em, I'm going to have to go with the home team. I think the Bengals can move the ball by riding Cedric Benson's ageless legs and getting key completions from nicely-developing rookie QB Andy Dalton. It'll be close, but the Bengals will pull it out.
Prediction: Bengals-28, 49ers-24
Come on down to Tennessee, folks...it's another showdown between two 1-1 teams!
The Broncos will be playing their first road game of the season against the Titans this Sunday, and are hoping that they don't have to put Tim Tebow in as a wide receiver again like they did against the Bengals last week.
With their top two receivers (Eddie Royal and Brandon Lloyd) out with injuries, second year man Eric Decker stepped up with a big touchdown reception.
Tim Tebow went in at WR and ran around for awhile without ever getting open. There's no doubt that Tebow faithful thought that he was the best one out there nonetheless.
Through it all, Kyle Orton soldiers on in bland competency.
Denver did enough on defense to keep Cincinnati from staging a comeback win. Rookie linebacker Von Miller looks like the real deal, and they have a solid secondary.
The Titans looked sluggish offensively in Week One, but they performed better against the Ravens last week. Chris Johnson has been disappointingly quiet. Tennessee is still stout defensively, and I like the attitude that new coach Mike Munchak has brought to this squad.
The Titans have the better offense, with explosive Kenny Britt at wide receiver and the soon-to-awaken Johnson at running back. A shaky Broncos defensive tackle rotation will help Johnson get uncorked this week.
Prediction: Titans-28, Broncos-21
Ndamukong Suh (pictured above) has good reason to be jovial. His Lions are 2-0 and look like they are ready to push toward the playoffs this year.
The Vikings have dominated the Lions for much of the past decade, but the Lions are poised to turn the tables this year.
Their defense is filled with high draft picks who have actually panned out (Louis Delmas and Suh chief among them) and their offense has some excellent pieces to work with.
The eternal caveat for the Lions is the over-used line, "if Matt Stafford stays healthy." So far he has and so far the Lions have carved up the opposition.
Despite all this, I predict an upset in this one. McNabb does have some good weapons to throw to. Percy Harvin is no slouch at wide receiver and Visanthe Shiancoe is a better-than-average tight end.
This is the week that the Lions come back to earth in a close contest that will go to overtime.
I still think that they'll compete for a playoff spot this year, but they are bound to have a few stumbling blocks along the way (especially when they're on the road).
Prediction: Vikings-30, Lions-27 in OT
The St. Louis Rams barely missed the playoffs last year. Many pundits predicted good things from the young team this year. So far they have failed to impress.
Sam Bradford is a good quarterback, but it's tough to do much when you're throwing to no-name receivers who can't consistently get separation from cornerbacks.
Steven Jackson is a workhorse beast at running back, but the Rams inability to punch it in when they're in the red zone has been troubling.
The Ravens followed up a great showing in Week One against the Steelers with a thoroughly unimpressive outing against the Titans last week.
It seemed that they used up all their moxie against their arch-nemesis to open their season and then came out flat the next week as a result.
Ray Rice is a true stud at running back and I believe in Joe Flacco at QB. Although they are getting a bit long in the tooth, their defense is still top-shelf.
The Ravens have a good opponent in the Rams to get back on track this week. They'll take care of business on the road and leave the Rams winless for the year.
Prediction: Ravens-20, Rams-14
The Jets donned their throwback unis and handily dispatched the inept Jaguars last week.
In Week Two Cowboys QB Tony Romo gift-wrapped a win for them by deciding that Jets cornerback Darelle Revis was his primary target.
The 2-0 Jets are headed to Oakland in what will not be a "gimme" game.
A few years ago, Oakland would have been easy pickings for the Jets, but the Raiders are no longer the push-overs that they once were.
The Jets offense is clicking nicely these days, fueled by solid decision-making by Mark Sanchez and the good hands of Santonio Holmes and tight end Dustin Keller.
Both of these teams have good defenses, but the edge has to go to the ultra-aggressive and effective Jets D.
I love what Darren McFadden has done at running back for the Raiders. He is powerful and cuts decisively through holes. The Raiders are getting better, but they still aren't in the Jets' league.
Prediction: Jets-33, Raiders-21
Losing running back Jamaal Charles last week was the injury on top of the insult that this season has become for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Of all the 0-2 teams, the Chiefs have looked the worst.
They've only scored 10 points in two games! The Indianapolis Colts have looked bad, but at least they've been able to move the ball on offense with some degree of success.
The San Diego Chargers continue to play their Jekyl and Hyde game.
They can look good one week (against the Vikings in their season opener) and then ho-hum the next week (against the Patriots this past Sunday).
The Chargers are notorious for slow starts, but I can't see the depleted and thoroughly unimpressive Chiefs taking one from them when they're playing at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
QB Philip Rivers, game-changing wide receiver Vincent Jackson and the steady Antonio Gates at tight end will bust the Chiefs chops through the air and win handily.
Prediction: Chargers-38, Chiefs-10
Ahh the NFC West...where else can we find such a putrid game?
These two teams are going to be wretched in 2011, but we still have to see how they do against each other twice this year. Pathetic.
The Cardinals have a pulse after beating the Panthers in Week One and playing the Redskins to the wire in a 22-21 loss last week.
The Seahawks, on the other hand, look totally lost in Coach Pete Carroll's second year. Tavaris Jackson is not the answer at QB, and Charlie Whitehurst may not be much better.
They were shut out and looked absolutely hopeless against the Steelers last week. Their ground game was even worse than the passing game.
The entire team had only 31 yards rushing!
Kevin Kolb has played decently at QB for the Cardinals this season. Beanie Wells has looked strong at running back as well.
The Cardinals have the look of a team that could win seven or eight games and skate into the playoffs like Seattle did last year.
At the least, they are a superior team to the Seahawks at this point in the season.
Prediction: Cardinals-27, Seahawks-13
After a dud of an opener against the Chicago Bears in Week One, Atlanta shook it off and played well against the Philadelphia Eagles last week.
QB Matt Ryan has a good supporting cast on offense for the Falcons, with the tough-running Michael Turner, speedy Roddy White and always-reliable Tony Gonzalez.
Their defense has been underrated, and gets good pressure on opposing teams' quarterbacks.
The Bucs have a fast and opportunistic defense and a self-described young and hungry offense.
They played well enough to eke by the uninspired Vikings last week, but they looked outclassed in losing to the Lions in Week One.
Both of these teams have one win and one loss on the year. I think the Falcons have more talent than Tampa Bay, but they are on the road and I think the Bucs will rise to the occasion for a division game.
Prediction: Bucs-31, Atlanta-28
I can't figure out the Bears this year. They shellacked a good Falcons team in Week One and then rolled over against the Saints this past week.
The Bears have some nice pieces on offense.
Matt Forte is a great threat out of the backfield and they have enough speed at receiver to spread the ball around when they need to.
Due to a sometimes-suspect offensive line and the style of offensive that coordinator Mike Martz runs, QB Jay Cutler is often harried and under pressure.
In addition, Cutler sometimes looks like a Pro Bowler and other times he looks like a guy that Josh McDaniels was wise to jettison when he was with the Denver Broncos.
He's just not consistent under center.
The Packers haven't relented coming off of their Super Bowl victory in February. They are putting up points like pioneer ladies put up preserves for the winter.
The Packers and the Patriots seem to have the most well-oiled offenses at this early stage in the season. I don't see them fading now.
The Packers are headed for a 3-0 start to their season. The Bears won't have an answer for the Packers explosive passing game and will drop to 1-3.
Prediction: Packers-33, Bears-17
The Colts find themselves wallowing with the dregs of the NFL.
It is an uncommon place for them. Keeping alive their streak of nine consecutive playoff appearances isn't even a pipe dream anymore...it's a full-on cigar nightmare.
They were punished and humiliated in a spanking administered by a solid Houston Texans team in Week One.
Then they were out-played and out-toughed by the merely passable Cleveland Browns last week.
Now they have to face a team that just pitched a shut out against the Seahawks and is still angry about being thrashed by the Ravens in Week One.
It looks bad for the Colts this week.
The Steelers match up well against the Colts. They will be stout against the run and won't give running backs Joseph Addai and Delone Carter any room.
Not-Peyton Manning Colts QB Kerry Collins can throw the ball well when he gets time, but he'll have precious little of that commodity against the Steelers. The inexperienced Colts offensive line will be ravaged by the Steelers fast linebackers and strong linemen.
QB Ben Roethlisberger has a new favorite target in the stretch-the-field Mike Wallace. He'll go to him early and often and put pressure on the Colts to come from behind to beat them. They won't.
Prediction: Steelers-34, Colts-17
This NFC East showdown will be a bellwether for both teams.
The Redskins are out of the gate with a surprising 2-0 record.
While admittedly the 'Skins have not played powerhouse teams (the Cardinals and the NY Giants are only mediocre) they did win these "easier ones", which is more than could be said in years past.
The Cowboys bounced back from a tough loss to the Jets in Week One by doing just enough to beat the 49ers in overtime last week.
Tony Romo has continued his boom and bust career by making dumb mistakes in a tight game against the Jets, but then gutted out (literally) a comeback victory against the 49ers with a cracked rib.
Romo's injury outlook for this game will be key. Jon Kitna is a decent back-up, but Romo can do much more outside the pocket (and with better velocity) than he can.
I think the Redskins will continue their surprising year by sticking it to the Cowboys this week. Rex Grossman is playing like this is his last chance at a starting job (which it is).
Tim Hightower has shown that he can play well as a feature back, and I really like Fred Davis at tight end for Washington.
Dallas' question marks with Romo's injury and their uninspiring defense swing me toward picking the visiting team in this one.
Prediction: Redskins-24, Cowboys-21