I’m absolutely in love with this NFL season so far. Through two weeks we’ve seen 10 games be decided by a field goal or less, with 18 teams sitting at a 1-1 record right now. It’s been the greatest display of parity the NFL has seen in years, and it honestly feels like the league is wide open right now.
Every week we all have a few things on the schedule we circle and prepare for, so here’s what I’m watching for in Week 3.
No. 1: Can Carolina keep getting the job done?
So much about success in the NFL isn’t about winning surprising statement games, and often ensuring you can get the job done when you’re expected to. The Carolina Panthers, widely viewed as one of the worst teams in the league prior to the start of the season, have thus far beaten the Jets (a game they were supposed to win) and followed by dominating the Saints (one they weren’t). Now on Thursday Night Football the Panthers face the Texans, another game they should win, and doing so on a short week would propel Carolina further into the discussion this season.
Sam Darnold has been playing solid football, but it’s the Carolina defense that is blowing people away. A unit playing far beyond its talent level, the team is excelling at rushing the passer, stopping the run, and shutting down balls in the air. As it stands the Panthers are leading the league in every defensive statistical area of importance, including total sacks, passer rating allowed, and fewest average rushing yards in the league.
That pressure is giving the offense freedom to get out to an early lead, then ride Christian McCaffery while opponents are forced to throw to get back in the game. It’ll be interesting to see if this defensive dominance can continue.
No. 2: Can Zach Wilson erase some of the fear?
Jets fans were right to grit their teeth and get nervous during Wilson’s four interception outing against the Patriots in Week 2. The team is chalking it up to the rookie “trying to do too much,” and things will not get easier against the Broncos in Week 3.
Denver is boasting the No. 5 ranking passing defense in the NFL, and dominated No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence against the Jaguars. This makes the game a solid barometer to see how Wilson is progressing.
I’m not expecting to see a 300 yard, blemish-free passing game from the rookie — but I do want to see him taking more of what the defense gives him, and force throws a lot less. If he can start taking those strides we’ll see real development.
No. 3: Can the Rams cement themselves as NFC contenders?
It was unquestionably a disappointing 2020 for the Los Angeles Rams, but thus far the decision to trade for Matthew Stafford is paying huge dividends for the team. Stafford’s deep passing is pairing well with the Rams violent defense and turning the team into a potential powerhouse.
That said, huge questions linger. Los Angeles has really lacked a statement game following wins over the Bears and Colts, which are no slouches, but in Week 3 the Buccaneers pose a serious threat.
This really could be an NFC Championship preview, and how the Rams cope with a top-tier opponent will go a long way to deciding this.
No. 4: Can Aaron Rodgers keep turning this around?
The difference between Rodgers in Week 1 and Week 2 was one of the most pronounced shifts in the league this season. Against the Saints he looked like he wanted to be anywhere other than an NFL field, and following a week of criticism, Rodgers completely flipped the script and dominated the Lions.
Week 3 marks a big test against the 2-0 49ers, who are on the comeback trail of their own. This really feels like an equal test for both teams, one proving they’re still as good as last year, the other trying to show they can be in the conversation as an elite team.
Rodgers is the difference maker in this equation, and his ability to shine will be under the microscope.