Posted: 7:00 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013
By Jeff Gray
Sunday promises to be a pivotal point in the 2013 NFL season and is chock-full of intriguing storylines from around the league. Can the Giants and Redskins finally get into the win column? Can the Bears take a commanding lead in the NFC North with a win over the Lions? Will Rob Gronkowski finally make his 2013 debut?
We break down the major storylines for each of Sunday's 13 games.
It's been a tumultuous week for the defending Super Bowl champions following their domination of the Texans last Sunday. First, Jacoby Jones got a bottle smashed over his head by a stripper, and then Ray Lewis called out his former team for a lack of leadership. We'll see if Bills rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel can cause similar chaos against a Baltimore secondary that is allowing an average of 270 yards passing per game.
After weeks of rumored squabbling between coach Greg Schiano and Josh Freeman, the Bucs have finally benched the maligned quarterback. In his place we'll see rookie Mike Glennon, a third-round pick in April's draft. The Cardinals will certainly take advantage of his inexperience by bringing pressure, and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, who leads the team with three sacks, could be the key in doing so.
The good news for these two clubs is that someone has to leave this game with a win (unless they tie, which in this case would be somewhat fitting). The Steelers' offense has been atrocious to this point, particularly a running game that ranks second-to-last in the league, but they'll get a lift from the debut of rookie running back Le'Veon Bell. The Vikings still have the NFL's best runner in Adrian Peterson, but it's hard to expect much from a team that just lost to a Brian Hoyer-led Browns squad.
What's going on in New York? While the Jets have jumped out of the gates at 2-1, the Giants have stumbled to an 0-3 start that includes a 38-0 embarrassment last week in Carolina. Eli Manning was sacked six times in the first half of that game, and the swinging door that is the Giants' offensive line could be in for a long day against a Chiefs defensive front that leads the league with 15 sacks.
Apparently Ahmad Bradshaw took offense to all of the fanfare in Indianapolis over the Trent Richardson trade. The Colts' starting running back until Cleveland shipped over Richardson last week, Bradshaw responded to the demotion with 95 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in a win over the 49ers. Richardson, meanwhile, averaged just 2.7 yards on 13 attempts. Then there's the Jaguars, who, uh, will be on the field Sunday.
What once was thought of as a potential Super Bowl preview looks like more of a mismatch after the Texans were routed by the Ravens last week. Arian Foster has yet to break the 100-yard rushing mark and has found the end zone only once. If he can't get going Sunday, Matt Schaub and the passing attack could be in trouble against a Seattle defense which ranks tops in the league with only 147 passing yards allowed per game.
Can the Brian Hoyer magic keep going in Cleveland? The unheralded backup shocked the league with his three touchdowns against the Vikings last week, one of which put the Browns ahead for good with less than a minute remaining in the game. The Bengals are fresh off a thrilling comeback victory of their own, having put up 13 fourth-quarter points to charge back against the Packers last Sunday. Their defense is giving up 85 fewer passing yards per game than Minnesota and will provide a much tougher task for Hoyer.
Detroit has an opportunity to hand Chicago its first loss and pull even in the NFC North division at 3-1. It's hard to label a Week 4 game as having serious playoff implications, but with the Packers sitting at 1-2 and the Vikings looking irrelevant, this could be a game we look back on as division-clinching. That being said, nobody expects Green Bay to be anywhere close to out of this race, and both teams should be looking to distance themselves as much as possible while they can.
While Geno Smith has garnered a hefty amount of attention this season, third-year Titans quarterback Jake Locker is quietly off to a solid start in 2013. He has 572 yards with three touchdowns and has avoided the costly turnovers that have plagued Smith (six interceptions). That's not to rag Smith, who has certainly been an upgrade over Mark Sanchez. If halfback Bilal Powell can recreate the production we saw last week against the Bills (27 carries for 149 yards), the Jets could have something going on offense.
Terrelle Pryor has yet to fully participate in practice this week for Oakland after sustaining a concussion in Monday night's loss to Denver, and could very well be an observer come game time on Sunday. Matt Flynn is ready to go in his place, but his lack of mobility could be problematic behind a suspect offensive line. It could be an ideal opportunity for Robert Griffin III and the Redskins to steal their first win of the season on the road. If they don't, things are going to start getting desperate back in the nation's capital.
You may not want to leave the room for very long once this game kicks off, as it promises to be a track meet. The Broncos and Eagles are the league's No. 1 and No. 2 ranked offenses, respectively, and are averaging a combined 948 yards per game. After a historic start, Peyton Manning is on pace to break the league's touchdown and passing yardage records, and could get a big boost towards those goals against a porous Eagles pass defense.
Just when you thought the Chargers had gotten back on track with a win over the Eagles, they muster just 175 passing yards in a 20-17 loss to the Titans. The good news for Chargers fans is that the historically turnover-prone Philip Rivers has coughed the ball up only once through three games. On paper, the Cowboys's seven takeaways look impressive, but six of those came in Week 1 against the turnover-spewing Giants, and they've managed only one since.
A contender for the NFC championship, the Falcons find themselves in an unexpected 1-2 hole heading into a showdown with the undefeated Patriots. In fairness, those losses came on the road to the undefeated Saints and Dolphins, but they'll need to right the ship before they fall into a hole they can't climb out of. Rob Gronkowski is reportedly nearing a return for the Pats but will likely be a game-time decision Sunday night. Tom Brady has been solid with the piecemeal receiving corps he's been handed, but will surely be enthused to see his favorite target back on the field.