In Week 3’s Featured Game, the SF 49ers and RB Frank Gore will travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings and All-World RB Adrian Peterson
As summer has moved out the door this week and autumn has returned, it is time for “Separation Sunday” around the NFL. Teams are either trying to legitimize their standing as a “contender”, stay with the pack in the NFL’s increasing middle (14 teams are 1-1), get back in the race, or just plain survive as the NFL inches closer to the first quarter pole of the 2009 NFL season.
The main theme that I will continue to pound at this time of year is that an NFL season is a marathon and should be taken increments. Being on top this early in the NFL season is a good thing, but teams can’t get caught up in thinking things are going to be biscuits and gravy throughout the entire season. The main thing right now is for teams to focus week-in and week-out on the team they are facing, because things can change very quickly in the topsy-turvy NFL. “We’re not satisfied with being 2-0,” said 49ers head coach Mike Singletary. “We want to be a team that really makes a difference. That’s what we want to be and that’s what we’re going for.”
One thing is for certain, “parity” is all over America’s game as a breakdown of the teams’ records after two weeks of NFL action shows. In the current NFL standings, there are 9 teams at (2-0) i.e. “The Haves” – Ravens, Jets, Giants, Falcons, Niners, Vikings, Colts, Saints and Broncos; 14 teams at (1-1) i.e. “Stuck in the Middle” – Texans, Packers, Eagles, Cowboys, Bengals, Bills, Patriots, Redskins, Steelers, Chargers, Raiders, Cardinals, Bears, and Seahawks; and 9 teams at (0-2) i.e. “The Have Nots” – Browns, Rams, Chiefs, Lions, Jaguars, Panthers, Titans, Dolphins and Rams. The biggest surprises of the currently nine(0-2) teams is that three 2008 divisional champs are at that mark — Tennessee Titans ( AFC South), Miami Dolphins ( AFC East) and the Carolina Panthers ( NFC South). These three teams had a combined record of 36-12 in 2008, but now they are tied with teams like the Detroit Lions (losers of 19-straight games). However no matter where a team currently sits in the standings, they all still have a legitimate chance at making the playoffs heading into crucial “Separation Sunday”… Did you hear that St. Louis Rams’ fans.
Don’t give the ship just yet. Since realignment in 2002, 48 of the 84 playoff teams (57.1 percent) began the year at either 1-1 or 0-2. Four of the past eight Super Bowl champions began their seasons with a 1-1 or 0-2 record. History shows that 0-2 teams advance to the playoffs more often than people might think. Since 1990, 22 teams have started 0-2 and still qualified for the postseason, including three teams in 2008 – Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers. The best case scenarios for teams currently 0-2 are that three Super Bowl winning teams have started their respective championship seasons with that same record (2007 New York Giants, 2001 New England Patriots, and 1993 Dallas Cowboys).
The main thing is to not get in the almost impossible hole of 0-3, which could very well be a death sentence to a season. History has shown that exactly “zero” teams went from 0-3 to the Super Bowl. And only three teams have made the playoffs after starting 0-3 since the NFL went to six playoff teams in each conference in 1990 — 1992 San Diego Chargers, 1998 Buffalo Bills, and 1998 Detroit Lions. Tennessee Titans QB Kerry Collins said of the urgency of not going 0-3, “It means you’ve got to turn up the level of urgency, because, no matter that it’s a 16-game season, you have to turn things around quickly.”
The 2009 “Own the Moment” season has been a great one so far and has been filled with a grab bag of some good and some not so good tidbits.
- Exciting finishes — There have been 15 games decided by six points or fewer through Week 2, the second-most such games through a season’s first two weeks in NFL history (record is 17 from 2000).
- Rookies making their mark at a surprisingly early rate – Following in the footsteps of several 2008 rookie stars (Matt Ryan, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson and others) many rookies this season have stepped into the spotlight. The outstanding freshman list includes Jets QB Mark Sanchez, Cardinals RB Chris “Beanie” Wells, Eagles FS Victor “Macho” Harris, Bears WR Johnny Knox, Bengals LB Rey Maualuga, Raiders WR Louis Murphy, Redskins LB/DE Brian Orakpo and others. Speaking of Sanchez…with a Jets’ win this week over the Titans, the former USC stud can become the first rookie quarterback to start and win his team’s first three games of a season.
- Coaches on the Hot Seat – With most of the coaches on our Hot Seat List starting with either a 1-1 or 0-2 record, the heat is on the Cowboys Wade Phillips, Bengals Marvin Lewis, Redskins Jim Zorn, Panthers John Fox, Jaguars Jack Del Rio and some other coaches that probably don’t even know it yet.
- Rookie O-linemen making a difference – Usually the transition from college ball to pro ball is very steep for offensive lineman. But tthrough Week 2, NFL rookie offensive linemen have totaled 19 starts – the second-most through the first two weeks of a season since 1970. On Kickoff Weekend, 10 rookie offensive linemen started – the most in a single season since 1970. Some of the rookie standouts include Jacksonville Jaguars bookend offensive tackles Eben Britton (RT) and Eugene Monroe (LT).
- A strong breeze is tearing through the NFL – Saints QB Drew Brees, now his fourth season with the team, has started all 50 regular-season games since 2006 and in that time leads the NFL with 14,579 passing yards, 97 touchdown passes and 25 300-yard games. Brees’ 14,579 passing yards since 2006 are the most ever by a player in his first 50 games with a new team (rookies and veterans). In Week 2, Brees tied St. Louis’ Charley Johnson (1965) for the most TD passes through the first two games of a season (9) and the Saints became the first team to score at least 45 points in each of the first two games of a season since the 1968 Oakland Raiders All I can say is lookout Buffalo as the Saints seem to have an offense that could challenge the 2007 New England Patriots (NFL record 582 points in one season).
- Bengals’ Odom looking for a record in his breakout season — Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom, who leads the league with seven sacks including a franchise-record five-sack output in Week 2 vs. Green Bay, needs 1.5 sacks to break former Jets DE Mark Gastineau’s NFL record of 8 sacks in the first three games of a season. Odom already seems to be in great shape to break the Bengals franchise record for sacks in a season (13) by Eddie Edwards from 1983.
As is the case with most weeks in the NFL, this week’s slate of games features some great rivalries. There are only four divisional games this week including the Steelers-Bengals, Browns-Ravens (annual Art Modell Bowl), and Raiders-Broncos. The rivalry game that I will have my eye on this weekend will be the Bengals and Steelers. The Bengals-Steelers rivalry has grown over the years with the Steelers usually coming away with the “W” – overall record versus Cincy of 47-30 including five straight wins. But there will be extra incentive for the Bengals and Steelers WR Hines Ward (needs 60 yards this week for 10,000 career receiving yards) better have his head on a swivel. The last time the two teams met, Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers was “legally” blindsided by Ward, leaving the then rookie with a broken jaw. Since then the NFL rules committee created a rule specifically for open field blocks away from the ball.
Other match-ups to watch are Falcons- Patriots (Young Captain America vs. Old Captain America), Cardinals-Colts on SNF (MVP match-up), Titans-Jets (revenge game from last year where the Titans lost their winning streak), and Dolphins-Chargers (Wildcat goes against one of the NFL’s worst rush defenses.
NFL Week 3 – Featured Game
SF 49ers (2-0) at Minnesota Vikings (2-0), 1:00 PM ET (FOX)
Broadcast Team: Sam Rosen and Tim Ryan
“Somebody’s ‘0’ has to go” this week as two of the NFL’s nine undefeated teams will square off in the Metrodome. I am sure when the NFL schedule came out way back in April that everyone didn’t think much of this game. Well a lot has changed since April as veteran QB Brett Favre has joined the Vikings and the Niners look like a potential breakout squad after two dominating NFC West wins in consecutive weeks (Cardinals and Seahawks).
The Vikings, led by formerly on the hot seat head coach Brad Childress, have fattened up on the NFL’s underbelly playing the Browns and Lions to open their season. But this week they are facing a young hungry Niners squad that wants to prove they are on the road back to respectability. Any story with the Niners has to begin and end with their tough energetic head Mike Singletary. The Niners have won 6 of their past 7 games under Singletary and players are buying into his “Preparation = Success” attitude. Iron Mike II is not at all content with his 2-0 start and he wants more for his team than being a good early season story.
Surprising the Niners decided to go with efficient quarterback Shaun Hill (37-57, 353 yards, 1TD, and 0 INTs) to start the season and the team has responded. The Hill, a former Vikings undrafted free agent back in 2002, has posted a respectable 9-3 (.750) record as a starter and has kept his team in the game by not turning the ball over. If Minnesota is to continue their success in home openers (won 17 of its past 22 home openers), veteran QB Brett Favre will need to do more than his first two starts – has not really thrown the ball over 20 yards yet. Favre (37-48, league-high 77.1%, 265 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs and a rating of 110.2 ) has had success in Purple, but Singletary’s defense led by SS Michael Lewis, DE Justin Smith, and LB Patrick Willis will be coming after the almost 40-year old passer. If Favre does have something to lean on against the Niners is his lifetime record against them (11-2 including the playoffs).
Of course everyone will talk about Favre vs. Singletary’s defense (+2 in turnovers), but the story will be the two team’s Pro Bowl running backs. Through the first two weeks, Peterson (272 yds) and Gore (237 yds) are the top two rushers in the NFC. Last week against the Seahawks, 49ers RB Frank Gore showed the NFL he was back after an injury ravaged 2008 season. Following the smash-mouth play calling of Niners offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, Gore rushed for 207 yards and had a career-high 246 scrimmage yards. The former University of Miami star has 4,070 rush yards since the start of the 2006 season, which is the most in the NFL. Gore is nursing an ankle injury (more of a tweak than a sprain) and the Williams Wall (DTs Pat and Kevin Williams) and LB Chad Greenway (2 INTs) will be waiting. But expect the former Pro Bowl to attack a Vikings defense that has allowed an average of 4.0 YPC (15th in the NFL).
Even as great as Gore has been for the Niners, he cannot touch Vikings RB Adrian Peterson… of course who can in the NFL. You know Peterson is hungry to wash away his rookie-year game against the Niners, where he only gained three yards on 14 carries. Peterson leads the league with 3,373 rushing yards since entering the NFL in 2007 and has won the NFC rushing crown in each of his first two seasons. For the Niners’ sake they better hope that Peterson is still nursing a back injury as the NFL saw his MVP type play in Week 1 vs. the Browns. Peterson rushed for 180 yards on 25 carries and 3 TDs and was spectacular a 64-yard touchdown rumble down the sideline – broke at least five tackle attempts and swatted away defenders like Super Man.
LV’s Pick: The conditions inside the Metrodome will be ideal for a track meet between Gore and Peterson. But I believe with both running backs fighting through injuries that each team’s quarterback will have to step forward. Hill has been efficient, even without first-round draft pick Michael Crabtree, and should look for targets WR Isaac Bruce, WR Jason Hill, WR Josh Morgan, and TE Vernon Davis. Conversely Favre has not been asked to do much and he has managed the Vikings offense well. But I have a feeling Singletary and his defensive coordinator Greg Manusky will make Favre throw the ball past his 20-yard or less comfort zone. Look for a late turnover by Favre to turn this game as the Niners even this series (currently 19-18-1 in favor of Minnesota) — Niners 27, Vikings 24
SUN, SEP 27
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati 1:00 PM (CBS)
Washington at Detroit 1:00 PM (FOX)
Kansas City at Philadelphia 1:00 PM (CBS)
Green Bay at St. Louis 1:00 PM (FOX)
San Francisco at Minnesota 1:00 PM (FOX)
Atlanta at New England 1:00 PM (FOX)
NY Giants at Tampa Bay 1:00 PM (FOX)
Cleveland at Baltimore 1:00 PM (CBS)
Jacksonville at Houston 1:00 PM (CBS)
Chicago at Seattle 4:05 PM (FOX)
New Orleans at Buffalo 4:05 PM (FOX)
Denver at Oakland 4:15 PM (CBS)
Tennessee at NY Jets 4:15 PM (CBS)
Miami at San Diego 4:15 PM (CBS)
Indianapolis at Arizona 8:20 PM (NBC)
MON, SEP 28
Carolina at Dallas 8:30 PM (ESPN)
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award -winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)