There’s a meeting of undefeateds on this week’s schedule. In Buffalo, of all places.
That’s right, the Patriots, who almost always seem to start 2-0, face the spotless Bills, who rarely sniff such rarefied air. It’s one of eight games featuring division matchups, and perhaps the most enticing one.
“This is the greatest opportunity we’ll have,” Bills running back Fred Jackson said of ending a 15-game losing streak against New England that dates to 2003. “They’re a great team, but we feel like we’re a great team. … It will be a good test and a measuring stick for us.”
Everyone gets measured against the Patriots, who haven’t lost in the regular season since last Nov. 7, a span of 10 games. Their offense has been unstoppable thus far with Tom Brady throwing for 940 yards and seven TDs as New England put up 73 points _ second only to … Buffalo.
One group not quite sold on the Bills: the bookmakers, who have New England a 9-point favorite.
Well, after 15 straight wins over a team, that’s hardly accurate.
“You hear a lot about how they’ve had our number,” Bills linebacker Chris Kelsay. “That’s fine and dandy to the outsiders. But we have a lot of confidence with guys in this room, and we’re not going to lay down for anybody. We’re preparing to win this game.”
The other divisional games have Green Bay at Chicago and Detroit at Minnesota in the NFC North; the New York Giants at Philadelphia and Washington at Dallas (Monday night) in the NFC East; Atlanta at Tampa Bay in the NFC South; Kansas City at San Diego in the AFC West; and Arizona at Seattle in the NFC West.
Also Sunday, it’s Houston at New Orleans; Pittsburgh at Indianapolis; Baltimore at St. Louis; the New York Jets at Oakland; Jacksonville at Carolina; San Francisco at Cincinnati; Denver at Tennessee; and Miami at Cleveland.
Green Bay (2-0) at Chicago (1-1)
Green Bay keeps winning even as it loses key players, a formula that didn’t hurt in 2010. Now safety Nick Collins (neck) is gone for the year.
Detroit (2-0) at Minnesota (0-2)
No team has roared out of the gate like the Lions, whose 75-23 points differential tops the league. While most everyone is lauding the Lions’ offense, that 23 and a No. 7 ranking on defense might be more impressive.
Minnesota led San Diego and Tampa Bay late in both of its defeats. Despite calls in the Twin Cities to bench Donovan McNabb, the Vikings won’t be, uh, throwing Christian Ponder to the Lions, who are favored in Minnesota for the first time in three decades.
New York Giants (1-1) at Philadelphia (1-1)
If Michael Vick (concussion) can’t go, the Eagles will need similar heroics to what they got from DeSean Jackson the last time these archrivals met. Philly has plenty of playmakers for third-stringer Mike Kafka if he is behind center, while the Giants can’t seem to keep key players healthy and their depth has been tested everywhere.
New York’s latest woes, other than sparking a league memo to teams not to fake injuries to stop play, include a concussion for wideout Mario Manningham and the loss of fellow receiver Dominek Hixon (right knee) for the season.
Washington (2-0) at Dallas (1-1)
A victory for the Redskins will validate their quick start and make them a factor in the NFC East, where they were projected as tailenders. Washington seems to have cleared up its porous rushing defense of previous years, and coach Mike Shanahan has ramped up the Skins’ intensity.
Dallas has performed well in spots, and also has made some awful plays. QB Tony Romo has been at the center of most of the good _ and bad _ and he was plagued by a cracked rib and punctured lung while finishing off San Francisco in overtime last Sunday.
“If you know something’s wrong with an opponent, you’re going to try to target in on that,” Hall said. “We’re going to try to definitely get as many hats on that team as possible.”
Atlanta (1-1) at Tampa Bay (1-1)
Each team needs to shore up on defense, the Bucs against the run and the Falcons versus the pass. Which means Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman and Atlanta running back Michael Turner could have field days.
Freeman’s much-noted stat of leading a winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime eight times in 27 career games means no lead is safe. Tampa Bay trailed 17-0 at Minnesota a week ago.
“He’s smart, he takes coaching well,” coach Raheem Morris said. “He’s cool, he’s calm, he’s poised, and that’s when he plays his best.”
Kansas City (0-2) at San Diego (1-1)
No team has been more ragged or routed than Kansas City, which lost 41-7 to Buffalo and 48-3 at Detroit. Now the Chiefs, minus RB Jamaal Charles, their best offensive player who is out for the season with a torn left knee ligament, face the division favorite _ not that San Diego has been a world beater thus far.
Kansas City has turned over the ball nine times, on pace for 72 turnovers, which would easily be an NFL record.
“If you’re turning the ball over in this league, you’re going to end up paying for it,” said San Diego coach Norv Turner. “And they’re turning the ball over an awful lot and giving teams short fields.”
Arizona (1-1) at Seattle (0-2)
The Seahawks can give the Chiefs a run for NFL bottom-feeder with an offense that ranks last and has gained 451 yards in two games; Tom Brady has thrown for more than that in one outing. If they hope to defend their division crown, won with a 7-9 record last season, they must find a way to move the ball.
Arizona could provide the tonic. The Cardinals have allowed 959 yards. But they also have yielded only 43 points, fewest in the division.
Houston (2-0) at New Orleans (1-1)
Two teams that epitomize the NFL’s heavy emphasis on offense thus far, with Drew Brees and Matt Schaub tearing up defenses through the air, Ben Tate doing his best Arian Foster imitation on the ground for Houston, and the Saints already having completions to nine receivers. Then again, Houston’s Schaub has connected with 10.
The Texans never have started 3-0 and they also haven’t made the playoffs in their nine previous seasons. They can be inspired by New Orleans, which has gone from ‘Aints to a power since Brees arrived in 2006.
Pittsburgh (1-1) at Indianapolis (0-2)
A few weeks ago, NBC must have been salivating for this matchup. Then the indestructible Peyton Manning underwent a third neck surgery in 19 months. Now, the network must wish flex scheduling could be used in Week 3 so it could bump this one aside.
The Steelers went from abysmal in their opener to their usual stingy selves in shutting out Seattle last week. Pittsburgh’s concerns on the offensive line might not come into play here; Indy has only two sacks as its defense spends an inordinate amount of time on the field, something Manning prevented when he was around.
Baltimore (1-1) at St. Louis (0-2)
Banged-up Rams are making too many mistakes, and even in the weak NFC West falling to 0-3 could be too deep a hole. Avoiding it might be insurmountable if Steven Jackson is not recovered from his right leg problems.
The Ravens are angry about their second-week showing at Tennessee after romping past Pittsburgh in their opener.
“That is one thing that I have always liked about our team _ we always bounce back,” Ray Lewis said.
New York Jets (2-0) at Oakland (1-1)
Bouncing back will be crucial for the Raiders after their seesaw loss at Buffalo in which they blew a 21-3 lead. Oakland will try to power the ball on the ground, which often plays into the Jets‘ hands.
Should Jason Campbell be forced to throw often, he’ll do it against a defense that had four picks of Luke McCown in a 32-3 romp past Jacksonville. New York’s five interceptions lead the league.
Jacksonville (1-1) at Carolina (0-2)
Rookie QBs at the forefront here, with Cam Newton already establishing himself as a playmaker in Carolina. Now, fellow first-rounder Blaine Gabbert takes over for the Jaguars.
If Brady doesn’t beat him to it at Buffalo, Newton could become the first passer with more than 400 yards in three consecutive games. An auspicious debut at the least, even if the Panthers haven’t won.
Gabbert has Maurice Jones-Drew to carry the running load and a prominent tight end in Marcedes Lewis if he is recovered from a right calf injury. Gabbert also has the ball probably for the remainder of 2011 if he stays healthy.
“We think he has a chance to be a franchise-type quarterback,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s getting a chance now to be our starting quarterback and become that guy.”
San Francisco (1-1) at Cincinnati (1-1)
If you remember when this was a Super Bowl matchup, you’re no kid.
Neither the Niners nor the Bengals resembles a Super Bowl team now as each searches for its identity.
New coach Jim Harbaugh was criticized for keeping a 55-yard field goal on the board and not accepting a late-game penalty that would have given San Francisco a first down deep in Dallas territory last week. The Cowboys rallied to win in overtime.
Cincinnati also lost a close one, 24-22 at Denver.
Denver (1-1) at Tennessee (1-1)
Maybe the Titans aren’t such a mess after all. Written off as being in rebuilding mold, they handled the strong Ravens well a week ago. If RB Chris Johnson finally is in shape after his preseason holdout, perhaps Tennessee can make some noise in the AFC South.
Much of the noise in Denver has involved whether Kyle Orton should be the quarterback. Hitting the road after a victory should quiet that racket for a while.
Miami (0-2) at Cleveland (1-1)
After two home defeats, there’s already chatter that Miami’s Tony Sparano will be the first coach fired this season. Maybe folks should wait for some road games considering the Dolphins were 6-2 away from home in 2010. This is their first trip, and they need to shore up the worst defense in the league as Cleveland looks to batter the line with RB Peyton Hillis.
By Elaine Donnelly
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