It’s already Week Two. Soon, we’ll be saying, “I can’t believe it’s Week Eight.”
Then, we’ll be saying, “I can’t believe I ate the whole tub of ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.'”
For now, we’ll enjoy the games each week. To aid in your enjoyment, here are 10 story lines to follow as the 16 games in Week Two unfold.
1. Texans could be this year’s “pick your poison” opponent.
Every year or so, a team emerges with a strong passing game and a strong
running game. The combination forces a defense to, as the cliche’
goes, pick its poison.
Now that the Texans have discovered a running game, thanks to the
emergence of Arian Foster and the presence behind him of Steve Slaton
and Derrick Ward, the Texans could be on their way to becoming the most
dynamically balanced offense in the league.
Unless, of course, quarterback Matt Schaub gets hurt and Matt Leinart takes over.
Until then, the Texans could be laying the foundation for a first-ever
playoff berth. The journey continues with a game against coach Gary
Kubiak’s mentor, Mike Shanahan, and Kubiak’s protege, Kyle Shanahan, who
jumped from Houston to D.C. after the 2009 season.
The question on Sunday will be whether Redskins defensive coordinator
Jim Haslett, armed with inside info from the Shanahans, can find a way
to stop both aspects of the Houston offense. If Haslett can’t, that
Washington winning streak will end at one.
2. Titans try to reverse Terrible Towel curse.
As legend has it, the Titans derailed their strong 2008 season — and
doomed themselves in 2009 — when former Tennessee running back LenDale
White and linebacker Keith Bulluck stomped on a Terrible Towel during a late-season,
home-field-clinching win in Nashville over the Steelers.
Though we’re not much for the concept of curses, the reality is that,
after the 31-14 win over the Steelers on December 21, the Titans lost
the following week to the Colts. Then, after a bye, they lost at home
to the Ravens in the divisional round.
The Steelers responded by winning their sixth Super Bowl title.
Then, to start the 2009 season, the Titans lost to the Steelers in Week One and ultimately dropped six in a row, culminating with a 59-0 humiliation in New England.
After that pasting at the hands of the Patriots, Nashville radio host
Thom Abraham tried to reverse the curse, by sending a Terrible Towel
signed by White and Bulluck to the Allegheny Valley
School, which receives a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the
late Myron Cope’s creation.
The Titans finished the year 8-2.
But the real test comes on Sunday, when the Steelers come back to town since the curse attached.
White and Bulluck are gone, which arguably should further persuade Cope
to ix-nay the heavenly “hmm-haws” that he may be sprinkling over the
Then again, the Titans shouldn’t count on that happening against Cope’s Steelers.
3. Peyton in an unfamiliar place.
Colt quarterback Peyton Manning entered the league in 1998. He lost the
first four games of his career before beating the Chargers in Week
Since then, Manning hasn’t started 0-2. Only twice before has his team started 0-1, in 2004 and in 2008.
After taking a whupping in Houston on Sunday to fall to 0-1 for only the
fourth time in 13 NFL seasons, Peyton welcomes his kid brother to town
for the first time.
With the Colts losing four of their last six games that count (even
though they didn’t try to win two of those games), another loss wouldn’t
surprise us. But if Peyton can’t will himself and his team to victory
in order to avoid the indignity of an 0-2 start and a first-ever loss to
little Eli, then there’s something seriously wrong in Indianapolis.
Then again, Peyton can always exact revenge over a pack of Oreo cookies.
4. Vick controls his destiny.
In 1998, Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson broke a leg during a Week Two
game against the Rams. The injury threw a bucket of ice water on what
looked to be a promising season for Minnesota. But backup Randall
Cunningham helped the team pull out a win against the Rams (the entire game apparently is on YouTube in 10-minute chunks), and he then
began to author one of the most overlooked performances in NFL history.
Coach Dennis Green dealt with the situation by explaining that Johnson
would get his job back when he returns to “100 percent.” Given
Cunningham’s play, Johnson never did.
Fast forward to 2010 and the team for which Cunningham initially became a
star. Mike Vick got a chance to show what he can do after starter
Kevin Kolb exited with a concussion, and even though the Eagles didn’t
win, Vick looked pretty, pretty good.
This week, Vick has a chance to give coach Andy Reid a reason to break
out the “100 percent rule,” riding the hot hand until the hot hand is no
longer hot — at which time Kolb will suddenly be “100 percent” again.
Said Cunningham this week regarding Vick, per PhillySportsDaily.com,
“The door has been opened, and that is all Vick needs — for a door to
The key will be for Vick to play extremely well and for the Eagles to win.
If one or both doesn’t happen, Kolb likely will be back to “100 percent”
by Week Three.
5. Pioli, Mangini renew acquaintances.
In the early 1990s, Chiefs G.M. Scott Pioli and Browns coach Eric
Mangini worked together in Cleveland as low-level “Ph.D”s — poor,
hungry, and driven. They became friends and at one point roommates.
When the Browns moved to Baltimore, this Italian version of Batman and
Robin went out for an evening, meeting up with the sister of Indians
G.M. Mark Shapiro, a good friend of Pioli’s.
Pioli warned Mangini not
to hit on Shapiro’s sister. And so Mangini married her instead.
They later worked together in New England, thriving under Bill Belichick
and winning three Super Bowl rings. The relationship was tested when
Mangini jumped to the Jets after the 2005 season. The relationship was
destroyed, by all appearances, when Mangini helped blow the whistle on
Spygate, a practice from which Mangini’s career arguably benefited.
Today, they’re both with different teams. But the animosity surely
remains. Like most feuds between a pair of hard-headed Sons of Italy,
it will continue until one of them is dead or both of them forget what
they were mad about in the first place.
The problem is that no one will soon forget about Spygate, and for that
reason there will be an extra layer of intensity when the Chiefs and
Browns get together in the city where Pioli and Mangini first
6. Sanchez by the numbers.
Last year, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez generated a woeful passer
rating of 63.0, thanks to 12 touchdown passes against 20 interceptions
and a per-attempt average of 6.7 yards. When Sanchez dramatically
improved in the postseason, some thought that Sanchez would carry it
over to 2010.
So far, he hasn’t. Sanchez posted a dreadful rating of 56.4 on Monday
night, thanks to 10 completions on 21 attempts for 74 yards, an average
of 3.5 yards per attempt.
The numbers aren’t surprising, since he routinely locked onto the short
option. But if the Jets offense ever hopes to open it up, Sanchez will
need to air it out. If he doesn’t, there’s no way the Jets ever will
come close to honoring the checks written with a flourish by Rex.
7. Ravens can start taking care of their backyard business.
In 2008, the Steelers won the AFC North by, among other things, sweeping
the Ravens. (The Steelers beat Baltimore for a third time in the AFC title
In 2009, the Bengals won the AFC North by, among other things, sweeping the Ravens.
In 2010, the Ravens realize that the best way to get to the Super Bowl
is to win the dvision, and the best way to win the division is to sweep
the Steelers and the Ravens.
It all starts on Sunday, when the Ravens go to Cincinnati, with a chance
to build an early two-game lead over the Bengals. Given what the
Ravens did to the Patriots in Foxborough in January and what the
Patriots did to the Bengals there on Sunday, there’s a chance this one
could get ugly.
8. Return to Revis Island.
Earlier this week, Jets coach Rex Ryan boasted that cornerback Darrelle
Revis will cover Patriots receiver Randy Moss without safety help. If
Revis can pull that off with a tight hamstring and an overall
conditioning level that kept him from blanketing Baltimore’s Anquan
Boldin on Monday night, it’ll be impressive.
Especially since last year, when Revis was healthy and hadn’t held out, Revis didn’t handle Moss by himself.
Revis, as a scout who reviewed the tape at our request from last year’s
Week Two game between the two teams told us, received plenty of help.
So he’ll need even more of it this year. And with Moss chasing a new
contract and undoubtedly seething at Revis’ suggestion that Moss is a
“slouch,” look for Revis to be stranded on his own island.
9. An early must-win for Minnesota.
With the Packers poised to move to 2-0, thanks to an early-season
schedule that could have them entering an October 24 matchup with the
Vikings at 6-0, the Vikings desperately need to keep pace.
That task begins on Sunday, when the Dolphins come to town.
The cautious pessimism from the preseason morphed into panic when the
Vikings managed only nine points at New Orleans. A loss at home to
Miami would drop the Vikings to 0-2, with a game against the Lions and a
bye the only respites before a four-week nightmare stretch featuring
games against the Jets, Cowboys, Packers, and Patriots.
So, yes, this season will be much more challenging in Minnesota. And
they could lose control of things quickly if they can’t get to 1-1.
10. Niners need to get their house in order.
Several years ago, after Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary
returned to the NFL following a lengthy absence from the game, folks quickly got the
impression that he’d soon be a head coach. But when he finally was
elevated to the position after the Niners fired Mike Nolan during the
2008 season, whispers emerged that Singletary wasn’t ready for the job.
Though he dishes out memorable quotes and he still can — and will —
use those eyes to communicate a message harsher than the rantings of a hemorrhoided drill instructor, the near-implosion of the 49ers after only
one game makes us wonder whether Singletary has the ability or the
experience to guide a ship through a storm. For the first time in
years, the 49ers enter the season with high expectations. And they’ve
been forced to face the possibility that they’re simply not good enough
to fulfill them.
Singletary needs to get his team to forget about Week One, to learn
whatever can be learned from it, and to focus on Week Two, a challenging
Monday night encounter with the defending Super Bowl champions.
Five days after that 25-point spanking San Fran took in Seattle, there’s
no evidence that the 49ers have managed to find a way to put that
surprising and embarrassing loss in the rear-view mirror, where it