The first two weeks of the season have demonstrated just how much parity exists in the NFL today, as both weeks have produced 11 or more one-score finishes. Several teams with modest expectations heading into the season have shown vast improvement, with the Philadelphia Eagles (1-1), Miami Dolphins (2-0), and Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) looking like teams that could challenge for playoff positions after finishing in the bottom four of the league a season ago. The Chiefs’ turnaround has been particularly impressive—according to ESPN, they became just the seventh team in a non-strike year since 1970 to start a season 2-0 after winning two or fewer games the year before.
A pair of the surprise teams, the Chiefs and the Eagles, will be in action on Thursday night when Andy Reid makes his first return trip to Philadelphia since his 14-year tenure as head coach came to an end at the conclusion of last season. Check below to see some of the other exciting matchups on tap for Week 3.
49ers (1-1) vs Colts (1-1) | Candlestick Park, Sept. 22
After allowing opposing teams to score 28 points or more just two times last season, the 49ers have let up that total twice already in two games in 2013. The usually stout San Francisco defense has been under fire in the early season against some of the league’s top offenses, and they will be tested again in Week 3 when Andrew Luck and the Colts visit Candlestick Park. Seeing as both of Indianapolis’ games have come down to the last possession, fans could be in store for another nail-biter on Sunday.
Steelers (0-2) vs Bears (2-0) | Heinz Field, Sept. 22
The combination of Jay Cutler and Marc Trestman has been a success thus far, as the two have teamed up for a pair of come-from behind, fourth-quarter victories, something the Bears rarely accomplished under the previous regime. Although the 2-0 Bears will be visiting the reeling Steelers, they must play a complete game to remain perfect, as they haven’t won in Pittsburgh since 1989, and will be playing a team that has its back against the wall.
Packers (1-1) vs Bengals (1-1) | Paul Brown Stadium, Sept. 22
Both teams bounced back with impressive victories in Week 2, as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers shredded Washington’s secondary, and the Bengals grinded out a victory over division rival Pittsburgh. While the Packers looked explosive in their win last week, they will be going up against a dominant defense much like the one they faced in Week 1, when they were overwhelmed by San Francisco’s front.
Bucs (0-2) vs Patriots (2-0) | Gillette Stadium, Sept. 22
These two teams will meet up in Foxborough after having very different fates in close games in the early season. The Buccaneers have twice held leads with under 10 seconds remaining, only to lose both contests by game-winning field goals as time expired. The Patriots, on the other hand, have thrived in late-game situations, racing out to a 2-0 record by winning both games by three points or less. If the game comes down to the wire, the teams’ track records in clutch situations could ultimately be the deciding factor.
Redskins (0-2) vs Lions (1-1) | FedEx Field, Sept. 22
The sporadic Lions of last season seemed to have switched personalities with the well-oiled machine that was the 2012-13 Redskins, as Detroit has been surprisingly balanced on both sides of the ball while Washington’s scoring spurts have been offset by woefully long dry spells. If the Redskins—who have scored 40 of their 47 points in the second half—can get the offense on track early in the game, they could be in line to grab their first win of the season.
Cowboys (1-1) vs Rams (1-1) | AT&T Stadium, Sept. 22
Both of these squads fared well in big opening-season wins at their home venues in Week 1 before finding life on the road in the NFL a bit more difficult. Despite coming in losing efforts, both quarterbacks actually played better on the road, with the Rams’ Sam Bradford throwing for 352 yards and three touchdowns and Tony Romo of the Cowboys amassing 298 yards with a score. Bradford will need a similarly inspired performance to earn a win on the road at AT&T Stadium.
Giants (0-2) vs Panthers (0-2) | Bank of America Stadium, Sept. 22
Something has to give in this matchup of teams that have gotten off to less-than-ideal starts to the season. Both franchises have been its own worst enemy thus far, as the Giants have turned the ball over a league-high 10 times while the Panthers have squandered two potential victories with late-game mishaps. With both teams in search of its first win of the year, this game could serve as a launching pad for a continued run of success.
Broncos (2-0) vs Raiders (1-1) | Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Sept. 23
While the Broncos’ dominance in the first two weeks was largely on par with expectations, the solid play of the Raiders thus far qualifies as one of the biggest surprises of the young season. Although Oakland was able to get into the win column behind another quality start by quarterback Terrelle Pryor, it has a much tougher test ahead in Week 3 as the team will attempt to slow down Peyton Manning, who has been unstoppable up to this point, racking up 769 yards and nine touchdowns.