Week 2 of the NFL season gave fans plenty of unexpected moments that made me realize why so many people love the league.
The Bucs beating the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles. Patrick Maholmes throwing six touchdowns in a shootout win over the Steelers. How about the infamous tie between the Vikings and Packers? Or Jacksonville getting revenge on the Patriots?
Week 3 is bound to have similar moments that show off the great parity of the NFL. But before the games come around, there’s plenty of key headlines and injuries worth mentioning.
They could affect who you root for, who’s in your fantasy lineup, or who you plan to wager on. Either way, this is the update to get you prepped for the weekend.
So let me start with what might be the most head-turning news of the week . . .
What’s Going on With the Steelers?
First they coughed up a game against Cleveland of all teams and settled for a tie. Then they lose to the resurgent Chiefs in a shootout.
The Steelers defense was going to be a big question coming into the year. With Ryan Shazier no longer patrolling the second level, they were going to need a big improvement from the rest of their linebacking group.
But the secondary is as much to blame for this poor start. And the defensive line that demolished the Cleveland pass-blockers in the first game (seven sacks) barely showed up for this one (one sack).
This is supposed to be coach Mike Tomlin’s specialty. Instead, the defense—especially the secondary— could end up being an Achilles heel for this team.
But who am I kidding? While there are more problems on the defense, the real meltdown is on offense.
All-Pro WR Antonio Brown had some questionable tweets involving his future after Sunday’s game.
He skipped Tuesday practice for reasons that were clearly not worth missing practice over. He was clearly frustrated after the loss to Kansas City and showed as much on the sideline while arguing with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner.
No matter what the case is with Brown, it needs to be put to rest and fast. The Steelers have enough to worry about off the field.
This is on top of All-Pro Le’Veon Bell’s contract holdout and the tough comments the offensive line directed toward him when he didn’t return for the first game.
It almost seems as if the Steelers being 0-1-1 is the least of their problems.
Roethlisberger is trying to mend everything back together. But if Tomlin can’t right the ship on the road in Tampa Monday night, the Steelers are in serious trouble.
How About Those Bucs?
Speaking of Tampa Bay, they’ll be taking center-stage Monday night.
The Bucs hadn’t started 2-0 since 2010 but did so with an improbable handling of the Eagles. This was after they had already disposed of the Saints in New Orleans.
Most NFL analysts considered it a win if they won just one of their first three games. After all, the Saints, Eagles, and Steelers are arguably three of the top six or seven teams in the league. And what’s even more, was that starting QB Jameis Winston was suspended for those games.
It seemed like a death-blow, as if their season would end before it even began.
But now Winston’s replacement Ryan Fitzpatrick is suddenly the NFL’s leading passer and MVP candidate. Wide receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, and TE O.J. Howard are all showing every bit of the world-class potential they possess.
And there’s a unity there that hasn’t been in Tampa in a long time.
But just how good can this team be? Will defenses adjust quickly to Fitzpatrick? The running game hasn’t done much of anything, and they’re eventually going to need some balance. And what about a defense that’s allowed 773 passing yards through only two contests?
There are plenty of holes still to be filled on this team. They hope to get them covered before the “FitzMagic” runs out. If it does.
Hopefully, for them, history won’t repeat itself. The last time the Bucs started 2-0, they lost their next game 38-13 at home. And that loss came at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Josh Gordon is Officially a Patriot
After showing up to Patriots practice Wednesday, it became official that Josh Gordon is a member of the team.
This is after the Pats gave up a fifth-round pick for the former NFL receiving leader.
It’s a relatively cheap price to pay for a former All-Pro who somehow compiled over 1,600 yards in a season playing in Cleveland. And that was after he’d been suspended the first two games of the season.
Of course, since 2013, Gordon has 655 yards. Even worse, his substance abuse issues have plagued him throughout his career, even costing him the whole 2015 season.
The Patriots are the perfect destination though if things are to go right for Gordon. He’s going to get a trial run with an organization that has repeatedly turned careers around and straightened players out with Bill Belichick’s no-nonsense approach.
That could work to the benefit of the Patriots, who desperately need an explosive weapon in their offense. Once they get Julian Edelman back from suspension, they’d have him, TE Rob Gronkowski, and Gordon roaming the field.
All of a sudden, that pass corp. could look like a strength, not a weakness.
New England also gets Gordon at a discount, only having to pay him $697,058 for the rest of the year. He’d be much more likely to re-sign with them after too, considering they helped restore his career.
That is if everything turns out well.
Here are the biggest injuries I’m following this week, starting with those in the AFC East.
Devante Parker, WR, Miami Dolphins
WR DeVante Parker’s (broken finger) absence hasn’t been as big as most thought for the Dolphins. The receiving unit has done a fine job in the wake of his injury.
Kenny Stills has been the deep threat Miami expected again this year. Danny Amendola should only progress in the slot with this offense. And most importantly, Albert Smith and Jakeem Grant have really pitched in to fill the gap left by Parker.
He probably could have played last week and should suit up for this Sunday.
Trey Flowers, DE, New England Patriots
After missing most of last Sunday with a concussion, Trey Flowers is still being held out of practice.
He and safety Patrick Chung both suffered head injuries during week 2’s loss versus Jacksonville. Flowers had 1.5 sacks during the first game against Houston.
It would’ve been nice to have both players for the whole game, considering Jags QB Blake Bortles had one of the finer performances of his career.
Chung was undergoing concussion protocol on Wednesday and Flowers should be soon. Whether either will see the field this weekend is looking bleaker since they didn’t practice Wednesday.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills
With the way the Bills are playing, the last thing they need is for McCoy to be sidelined.
The running back hasn’t been very involved in the first two games, which only partially explains Buffalo’s early struggles. He injured his ribs against the Chargers Sunday.
He is one of a few questionable players for Sunday’s showdown against the Vikings. That list includes impactful players like defensive end Shaq Lawson and Corner Phillip Gaines.
McCoy said he would know by Friday whether he’d play or not versus Minnesota.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars got great news with Leonard Fournette returning to practice. But whether he’ll be ready for a full load Sunday is still up in the air.
The LSU product had nine carries against the Giants in week 1 before injuring his hamstring. He was held out all week but wasn’t labeled as “out” until gameday came around versus the Pats.
It will be big to get him back out on the field, especially with his backup T.J. Yeldon being hampered by ankle issues.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
This would be a huge loss for the Colts this week if Hilton (quad) is banged up.
The star wide receiver is off to a big start and put up 83 yards and seven receptions against the Redskins. QB Andrew Luck doesn’t have many targets he can trust in, and T.Y. Hilton is easily the receiver he relies on the most.
Several other Colts missed practice Wednesday, but Hilton is by far the biggest name. He’s currently listed as questionable, but Hilton downplayed the injury a bit on Thursday.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans
After not starting in Week 2 following an elbow injury, Mariota is still feeling some numbness in his throwing hand as of Wednesday.
His grip on the ball is the biggest factor right now. But despite nerve damage that he took from the hit, it’s hard to imagine it keeping him out for another game.
The Titans were somehow able to fight through the Texans behind the arm of Blaine Gabbert and a touchdown off a fake punt. But that can’t be the answer every week, especially this Sunday when they travel to Jacksonville.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston Texans
The star DE has lingering elbow issues and is one of several Texans who are questionable for Sunday’s game.
He’s been having progressively healthier seasons ever since he arrived in the pros, so this is a disappointing pain to have.
The injury bug has also bitten the better part of the Houston receiving corps, keeping DeAndre Hopkins, Keke Coutee, and Sammie Coates Jr. limited in practice.
Most of them should play, if not all of them. But the fact they’re all less than 100 percent for next Sunday is a big blow after a 0-2 start. This is also one of the more winnable games coming up, against the New York Giants at home.
Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City is on a roll because of their offense under coach Andy Reid. But Berry is their most important defender and him missing practice Wednesday is not a good sign.
He’s been out for almost a month-and-a-half. It’s clear with 65 points, six touchdown passes, and 876 yards thrown against them, they need help in the secondary.
If they get Berry back sooner rather than later, they’re more than equipped enough for a deep playoff run.
Joey Bosa, DE, Los Angeles Chargers
After suffering a foot injury in training camp, it’s official that Joey Bosa won’t be playing again this week.
He could miss even more time than that, which could stretch well into October. But for now, the Chargers are taking it on a week-by-week basis.
It’s a huge loss for LA, considering they have the crosstown rival Rams to play on Sunday and need as much pressure as possible put on Jared Goff.
Sean Lee, LB, Dallas Cowboys
Injuries have seemed to become commonplace for Lee. Unfortunately, that’s been the one guy Dallas can’t afford to lose on that side of the ball.
His hamstring problems kept him off the practice field on Wednesday. It shouldn’t be something that keeps him out any longer than this week, if any games at all.
But Dallas must be careful putting their tone-setter out there too early.
Jason Peters, OT, Philadelphia Eagles
The 15-year veteran will play Sunday despite a quad injury.
That’s huge news for the Eagles considering Carson Wentz is just now returning from injury. He hasn’t taken a hit in nine months, so it would be best to ease him into those. With Peters out there, it’s an incredible security blanket to have on an already outstanding line.
Now Philly is hoping they can get RBs Darren Sproles and Jay Ajayi back out on the practice field after their own injuries.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Out of any player in the league, Aaron Rodgers is the most valuable to his team. So when he said he thinks his knee could get worse as the season progressed, eyebrows were naturally raised.
Rodgers shouldn’t miss time in the interim but is still listed as questionable for now. His mobility has clearly taken a hit, but that probably won’t keep him off the field against the Redskins.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings clearly are one of the best-suited Super Bowl contenders. But preserving their run game is big, so Cook being injured again is definitely a concern.
This is a guy who was leading the league in rushing early in the year before tearing his ACL and losing the rest of his rookie campaign.
Luckily this is an injury (hamstring) that’s unrelated to the repaired knee. Still, the fact Cook didn’t practice Wednesday will keep Vikings’ fans on-edge.
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
The face of the Atlanta receiving group is coming off his healthiest season. But now he’s being hampered by a calf injury that kept him out on Wednesday.
With a pivotal matchup with Saints on-deck, this is the last game the Falcons need to lose him for, aside from a playoff matchup. Without that element in their passing game, it’ll be hard to keep up with the firepower of Drew Brees and his receiving weapons.
Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers
Speaking of passing games that need their No. 1 targets, how about the absence of Olsen.
Without his red zone threat and size mismatch, the Carolina passing game will suffer. Even with Christian McCaffrey being such a blessing, Olsen missing practice again with a foot injury could spell another week without the tight end.
He already missed last Sunday against Atlanta, which was a 31-24 loss despite McCaffrey’s best efforts.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
And last but certainly not least among these top-notch pass-catchers is Fitzgerald. He was held out of practice Wednesday, but it seems to just be precautionary.
The veteran receiver had a hamstring injury but looks to be cleared for Sunday.
Arizona needs him now more than ever. He’s basically the only major weapon in the passing game, and the only one QB Sam Bradford has gotten comfortable with.