Three games set themselves apart from the rest on Sunday as the second week of the NFL comes into full swing. Although the Packers-Falcons Sunday Night Football game is slated to be the best game of the weekend, I will ignore it today in favor of underrated games that will show the true colors of several teams sitting on the edge between being a playoff caliber or a mediocre as the season moves forward.
Minnesota Vikings @ Pittsburgh Steelers (1 p.m. EST FOX)
Two teams that showed up with big wins in week 1 were the Vikings and the Steelers. The two differed in that despite being underdogs against the Saints, the Vikings managed to put together an impressive performance to start the season while the Steelers who finished first in the AFC North last season with an 11-5 record barely managed to pull out a victory against the annual dumpster-fire that is the Cleveland Browns.
The Vikings victory came on the laurels of quarterback Sam Bradford, who had one of the best games of his career, completing 27 of 32 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns (95.2 QBR). Bradford’s yardage mostly came from 16 completions to wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefan Diggs, who combined for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18 targets. Both the receivers and Bradford will be tested against a Steelers defense that allowed only 180 passing yards last week in addition to picking off DeShon Kizer late in the third quarter.
Running back Le’Veon Bell has been the cog that keeps the offense churning since being drafted by the Steelers in 2013. Although Bell started strong in previous seasons (despite being suspended the first four games in 2015 for a DUI and first three in 2016 for substance abuse), he only managed to rush for 32 yards on 10 attempts against the Browns. Minnesota only allowed 60 yards on the ground week 1, meaning the 25 year old running back will have to prove he still has what it takes to be the main workhorse for this Steeler’s team.
Patriots @ Saints (1 p.m. EST CBS)
After a dominant comeback to seal their fifth Super Bowl victory, the Patriots were being hailed to repeat a 16-0 season with most of their team returning and eventual first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady actually starting the first four games of the season this year. Following a humiliating defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs in Gillette Stadium, the Patriots game against the Saints will prove if the team has what it takes to turn their season around and return to the limelight.
Over his career Alex Smith has never been hailed as an elite quarterback capable of air raiding defenses, yet the Patriots allowed him to throw for 352 yards and four touchdowns in the season opener. This could mean devastation when they go to take on the Saints in New Orleans, with quarterback Drew Brees averaging over 325 yards per game last season and throwing for over 5,000 yards in five of his last nine seasons. If coach Bill Belichick can not get his defense in shape despite missing key linebacker Dont’a Hightower then it may be a sign of worse things to come.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Saints are desperate for a chance to show they are still capable of consistently driving down the field and putting points on the board. The offense only converted 36% of its third downs, and while Brees did have a touchdown it came in the last two minutes of the game. The rushing game has been worrisome as well; the team only managed to gain 60 yards on 21 rushing attempts against Minnesota, highlighted by the fact Adrian Peterson only ran for 18 yards on 6 carries in his first game against his former team. The running back trio of Peterson, Alvin Kamara, and Mark Ingram have to be able to pick up their production against a Patriots defense that allowed 185 yards and two touchdowns on the ground or the Saints offense may be unable to put up points as it has in the past.
Eagles @ Chiefs (1 p.m. EST FOX)
Coming off their first win against the Redskins in five games, the Philadelphia Eagles are looking like they could be a dark horse going into week 2. While Carson Wentz impressed critics, the game came down to the defense showing up when it mattered to run back a forced fumble for a game-sealing touchdown. The Chiefs look larger than life after hammering the Patriots, but it remains to be seen if the victory was a one game outlier or signs the team is the real deal.
The biggest positive about quarterback Carson Wentz in his first game of the season was his pocket presence, dodging defenders and delivering passes to eight different receivers throughout the game. Although he threw for 307 yards and 2 touchdowns, he was picked off for an interception and only completed 26 of 39 passes. Most of his completions came close to the line of scrimmage, with 153 of his 307 yards coming from tight ends and running backs; Zach Ertz led the team in receiving yards with 93 yards on 8 receptions. This could pose a challenge for the sophomore quarterback as he takes on a Chief’s defense that only allowed 33 receiving yards from star tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The largest question surrounding the Chief’s offense is how effective breakout backup Kareem Hunt will be in his second game as the main workhorse for the team. Out of the 185 yards rushing yards the Chiefs accumulated against the Patriots, Hunt accounted for 148. The rookie, who carried the ball 17 times week one, will have a tough task as he takes on the sole responsibility of breaking an Eagles run defense that only allowed 64 yards on 17 carries from the Redskins. Alex Smith and Hunt will need to be extra careful to stop turnovers; Philadelphia had an interception as well as the forced fumble turned touchdown that guaranteed their first victory of the season. This game could show key insight into whether or not the Eagles defense is the real deal and if the Chief’s offense has enough poise and power to continue producing like they did against the Patriots.