Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints renew rivalry and other key storylines in Week 3

Jay Asser 22/09/2018
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One of the most heated rivalries in the NFL resumes on Sunday with an explosive NFC South showdown.

The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons have Super Bowl aspirations, but both are working through early-season issues that have the potential to derail their campaigns.

For the Saints, a defence that was much improved last year has so far regressed in a major way and been the main culprit for the team nearly being 0-2.

New Orleans’ secondary has been repeatedly roasted, surrendering a league-worst 133.0 passer rating to Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyrod Taylor through the first two weeks. The unit as a whole is allowing the fourth-most passing yards (325.5), most passing yards per attempt (11.4) and second-most points (33.0), which makes them especially vulnerable heading into a match-up with a talented Falcons attack.

Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Co are poised to take advantage, particularly after they solved their red zone woes last week, when they unsurprisingly converted all four of their chances inside their opponent’s 20-yard line after going away from the end-zone fade.

Atlanta will have to score plenty though to take the pressure off their banged-up defence, which is without key playmakers Deion Jones and Keanu Neal.

In their place will be linebacker Duke Riley and safety Damontae Kazee, respectively, but as much speed as the pair possess to match the rest of Dan Quinn’s unit, they’ll have an even tougher time against Drew Brees than they did against Cam Newton last week.

Brees should attack the back-ups relentlessly and manipulate them with his eye movement to open up passing lanes for Michael Thomas and underneath routes for Alvin Kamara.

There should be no shortage of points in the contest, and with the unbeaten Tampa Bay Buccaneers looking like a legitimate threat in the division, the loser of the clash will be in a serious hole at 1-2.

Here’s a look at other talking points in Week 3.

EAGLES WHOLE AGAIN

Wentz

After a long wait to get back on the field, Carson Wentz will make his much-anticipated return on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

The Philadelphia Eagles have managed just fine without the face of their franchise over the last year, but with the Nick Foles magic appearing to have worn off, they could certainly use their starting quarterback again.

Through two weeks, the Eagles rank in the bottom 10 of the league in many offensive statistical categories, including passer rating (79.7), yards (322.0) and points (19.5).

Considering Wentz hasn’t played a competitive game since he tore his ACL on December 11, 2017, it may take him some time to shake off the rust and look like himself again. When he was healthy last season, the 25-year-old was arguably the front runner for MVP and dominant on third downs, against pressure and in the red zone. Even disregarding his injury layoff though, his effectiveness in those areas should see a bit of regression.

Wentz also won’t be stepping into an ideal situation as many of Philadelphia’s wide receivers are hurt. Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins are on the injured reserve, while Alshon Jeffery continues to be sidelined with a shoulder injury. Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz should be heavily involved, but Wentz won’t have many reliable pass-catchers to work with outside of them.

TEACHER VERSUS PUPIL

Matt Patricia will become the latest Bill Belichick disciple to meet his former team after leaving the nest.

While Patricia, who served as the Patriots defensive coordinator from 2012-2017, couldn’t be more familiar with what New England do, the way his Detroit Lions have started the season suggests Belichick will improve on his 11-4 record against former assistants.

at Levi's Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Santa Clara, California.

The Patriots offence could choose to attack in a number of ways, but as bad as the Lions have been against the pass – allowing the third-highest passer rating in the league at 117.7 – they’ve been even worse against the run, giving up a league-worst 179.5 yards per game and 5.6 yards per rush.

After making his debut last week, New England rookie running back Sony Michel should have plenty of opportunity to carve up Detroit.

It will also be interesting to see how much Josh Gordon is used after being traded from Cleveland at the beginning of the week. The wide receiver has the potential to be a major weapon for Tom Brady, but at the start he should be limited to a small package of routes to keep what is an otherwise complex offence simple for him.

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Los Angeles Rams jump to number one in NFL power rankings heading into Week 3

Jay Asser 20/09/2018
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With Week 2 of the season in the books, we’re starting to get a clearer look at the league.

After holding the top spot last week, the New England Patriots were knocked off their perch by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game.

The Los Angeles Rams, meanwhile, continued to take care of their business with another dominant win. In every facet, the Rams are looking like world-beaters and every bit worth the ‘super team’ tag they were bestowed after a busy offseason.

Elsewhere, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are rising fast thanks to a red hot start by Ryan Fitzpatrick and the offence.

Check out our power rankings heading into Week 3 below.

1. Los Angeles Rams
Record: 2-0 | Last week: 3

Their wins have come against fairly easy opponents, but it’s hard to ignore just how dominant they’ve been on both sides of the ball.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Record: 2-0 | Last week: 6

They made a statement with their win over New England as Blake Bortles’ performance was hugely encouraging for their Super Bowl hopes.

3. Minnesota Vikings
Record: 1-0-1 | Last week: 4

Kirk Cousins showed in Week 2 why he was worth his monster contract as he brought the Vikings back to keep them unbeaten.

4. Kansas City Chiefs
Record: 2-0 | Last week: 7

Their offence has been dazzling as Patrick Mahomes has yet to display his inexperience, looking like an early MVP candidate.

5. Green Bay Packers
Record: 1-0-1 | Last week: 5

They should have won the NFC North clash, but it’s a good sign that they were in the position they were despite Aaron Rodgers not being 100 per cent.

6. New England Patriots
Record: 1-1 | Last week: 1

It’s clear they have some things to figure out, especially on defence where they were absolutely shredded by Jacksonville.

7. Philadelphia Eagles
Record: 1-1 | Last week: 2

Carson Wentz’s return will undoubtedly help, but it won’t fix the defensive issues they had against Tampa Bay.

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Record: 2-0 | Last week: 18

While Ryan Fitzpatrick will cool off at some point, the offence could be for real considering the talent they have.

Fitzpatrick

9. Atlanta Falcons
Record: 1-1 | Last week: 9

They were perfect in the red zone in Week 2 after disastrous results in the opener, so they’re certainly capable of turning around their woes there.

10. Cincinnati Bengals
Record: 2-0 | Last week: 23

Their offence is clicking and when Andy Dalton is playing like this, they’re a definite playoff contender.

11. Denver Broncos
Record: 2-0 | Last week: 16

Case Keenum hasn’t been stellar, but the defence has given the other side of the ball margin for error.

12. New Orleans Saints
Record: 1-1 | Last week: 10

They could just as easily be 0-2, but at least the defence was better in their second game than they were in the Week 1 debacle.

13. Los Angeles Chargers
Record: 1-1 | Last week: 13

While Buffalo isn’t the best opponent to gauge where a team is, the Chargers still looked impressive.

14. Carolina Panthers
Record: 1-1 | Last week: 11

After shutting down a lacklustre Dallas offence in Week 1, their defence wasn’t nearly as effective against Atlanta.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers
Record: 0-1-1 | Last week: 8

Kansas City are going to make many defences look bad this season, but the Steelers were especially a mess.

16. Miami Dolphins
Record: 2-0 | Last week: 16

The early season schedule is kind and gives the current AFC East leaders a chance to jump out to a strong start.

17. Baltimore Ravens
Record: 1-1 | Last week: 12

The absence of suspended cornerback Jimmy Smith was very evident in the secondary in their Week 2 loss.

18. San Francisco 49ers
Record: 1-1 | Last week: 17

They’ll get a serious test this week against Kansas City’s high-flying attack which should tell us more about where they are.

at Levi's Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Santa Clara, California.

19. Chicago Bears
Record: 1-1 | Last week: 19

At some point, Mitchell Trubisky will have to do more heavy lifting if the Bears want to take the next step.

20. Dallas Cowboys
Record: 1-1 | Last week: 26

Dak Prescott and the offence needed that performance against the Giants, but they still have plenty to prove.

21. Washington
Record: 1-1 | Last week: 15

Was their surprising double-digit loss to Indianapolis an aberration or a sign of things to com

22. Houston Texans
Record: 0-2 | Last week: 14

Deshaun Watson doesn’t look comfortable at all behind an offensive line that is getting run over repeatedly.

23. Tennessee Titans
Record: 1-1 | Last week: 25

They had a nice bounce-back effort in Week 2 despite being without their starting quarterback.

24. Indianapolis Colts
Record: 1-1 | Last week: 30

They actually looked like a team instead of a one-man show reliant on the arm of Andrew Luck.

Luck

25. Seattle Seahawks
Record: 0-2 | Last week: 20

The defence is doing all that it can, but there’s just not enough surrounding Russell Wilson on the other side of the ball.

26. New York Jets
Record: 1-1 | Last week: 21

It will be interesting to see how they and Sam Darnold respond to a loss on a short week.

27. Cleveland Browns
Record: 0-1-1 | Last week: 29

They’re this close to being 2-0 and a breakthrough should be on the way, but they have to finish games.

28. New York Giants
Record: 0-2 | Last week: 22

Their offensive weapons are mostly going to waste and something has to change if they don’t want a repeat of last year.

29. Oakland Raiders
Record: 0-2 | Last week: 28

It’s funny, they could really use a dynamic pass rusher, kind of like the one they just let go.

30. Detroit Lions
Record: 0-2 | Last week: 27

With the way their defence, has looked, it’s almost inevitable that they’ll be 0-3 after facing Tom Brady.

31. Arizona Cardinals
Record: 0-2 | Last week: 31

Sam Bradford has been even worse than expected as their offence has lacked any semblance of pop.

32. Buffalo Bills
Record: 0-2 | Last week: 32

Josh Allen was an improvement on Nathan Peterman, but that was a very low bar to clear.

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Cleveland Browns on the verge of elusive victory as they meet New York Jets

Jay Asser 20/09/2018
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Their record may say otherwise, but these aren’t the same Cleveland Browns of the past few seasons.

Though they’re still searching for a win to break a lengthy losing streak which now sits at 19 games, the Browns could just as well be unbeaten entering Thursday’s meeting with the New York Jets.

Improvement on both sides of the ball has been evident through two weeks, while it’s been special teams that’s unexpectedly been their downfall. In their opener, the game-winning attempt by kicker Zane Gonzalez was blocked in overtime, forcing Cleveland to settle for a tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Miscues by Gonzalez were even more costly in Week 2, when he missed two field goals and two extra points in a three-point loss to the New Orleans Saints, resulting in the Browns waiving him the next day.

Considering the way they’ve played and the talent on their roster, the elusive victory Cleveland are searching for is a matter of when, not if.

Of course this week, the Browns are dealing with an added distraction after the team traded the talented but troubled Josh Gordon to the New England Patriots to cut ties with one of their best skill players.

While the loss of Gordon means one less weapon for quarterback Tyrod Taylor to work with, the team is already used to practicing and playing without the wide receiver as he was absent for much of training camp and sidelined this past weekend against New Orleans.

Despite the loss, Cleveland’s air game took a step forward as Taylor looked more comfortable and completed 22-of-30 passes for 246 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Rookie wideout Antonio Callaway shined in his first start in place of Gordon, hauling three catches for 81 yards and a score, which came on a 47-yard deep ball near the end of the fourth quarter to tie the game.

The Browns defence, meanwhile, more than held their own against two explosive attacks. Against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees, Cleveland allowed a combined passer rating of 86.4, which ranks 12th in the league. They’ve also racked up the fifth-most sacks with seven as Myles Garrett and the rest of the pass rush has looked formidable.

With the Jets coming to town on Thursday, the Browns may finally be ready to break through.

FEELING THE HEAT

After a nearly flawless debut, Sam Darnold is learning just how difficult it is to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.

In his second start, Darnold was far less efficient as he completed 25-of-41 passes and tossed two interceptions for a mediocre passer rating of 74.6 in the loss to the Miami Dolphins.

Now, he’ll have a short week to prepare for Cleveland’s defence under coordinator Gregg Williams, which will look to put as much pressure as possible on the rookie quarterback with a variety of blitzes.

Darnold has displayed impressive footwork and athleticism in throwing on the run, but he’s also struggled to dissect zone coverages, which could hurt him if the Browns can get pass rushers in his face.

It’ll be the next test for the third overall draft pick in the early stages of his budding career.

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