Sep 15, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) reacts after an incomplete pass against the Denver Broncos during the game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns have entered the race early for the first overall pick but several teams still hold out hope they can avoid looking at the “silver lining” of collecting a top pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Which week three games could drastically alter the complexion of the big board next May?
New York Giants at Carolina Panthers: Eli Manning all alone
The records say it all. Both the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers enter this game 0-2. Every loss moving forward decreases the odds of making the playoffs and each team, for one reason or another can’t afford to walk out of week three with a third one. The Giants have no presence on the ground with David Wilson once again drawing the ire of head coach Tom Coughlin with his fumbling issues. This has forced Eli Manning to throw more often, resulting in seven interceptions. The Panthers meanwhile have a badly banged up secondary on defense and an offense that lacked explosiveness, especially in the passing game. Having dropped back-to-back nail biters against Seattle and Buffalo, there is no reason to think their schedule will get any easier. Cam Newton must find a way to rally his team or the Panthers could be looking at a long off-season that stars with the firing of head coach Ron Rivera.
Chicago Bears at Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Tomlin out of answers
Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season since he took over as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers six years ago. However, last year was his worst to date, going 8-8 and missing the playoffs. At 0-2 for the first time since 2002, the Steelers are a shadow of their former selves. Their offense is riddled with issues starting with zero presence on the ground. They rank 31st in the NFL running the ball. Ben Roethlisberger has felt the repeated stings of bad pass protection thanks to an offensive line that hasn’t played together long and just lost Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey for the season. Tomlin is doing everything he can to turn the team around but there just aren’t many avenues to go. With the 2-0 Chicago Bears coming in with a renewed offense and ever dangerous defense the Steelers are desperate for a victory. The hope is the home crowd and a stout effort from their always solid defense will be enough. It better be if they want to avoid jumping into the top end of the 2014 NFL draft.
Cleveland Browns at Minnesota Vikings: Christian Ponder can’t blow it
Trading Trent Richardson and starting Brian Hoyer all but signaled the Cleveland Browns were intent on sacrificing 2013 in favoring using 2014 as their big draft year to get their offense figured out and begin the real climb towards the playoffs. So when looking at this week three game, the team with everything to lose is the Minnesota Vikings. Not only are they 0-2, but they are 0-2 in their division after painful losses in Detroit and Chicago. Losing their first home game of the season to a Browns team without it’s top quarterback or running back would go down as an absolute disaster. Christian Ponder is already under enough heat after his turnover-filled start to the season. Adrian Peterson can only carry the offense so far before he must start stepping up. Not only would losing to the Browns likely tank any hopes of reaching the playoffs, but it could put Ponder on the fast track to losing his job.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New England Patriots: Greg Schiano alert
There has been no bigger soap opera through the first two weeks than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Besides losing their first two games by a combined three points, both in the final seconds on late field goals, the team seems to be unraveling from the top down. Quarterback Josh Freeman is already facing the prospect of losing the starting job to rookie Mike Glennon while head coach Greg Schiano suddenly faces questions about his overall authority in the locker room. Through all that only one thing is clear. A loss to the New England Patriots may become the spark that gets somebody fired, and in the NFL the result may be a surprise.