It’s only Week 3 of the NFL season, but in the words of the late, great Yogi Berra: “It gets late early out here.”
Nine teams, including the Vikings, Chargers, Bengals, Patriots and Broncos, are still looking for their first wins. Others, like the Cowboys, Dolphins, Ravens and Falcons, are unbeaten and have a chance to further distinguish themselves with strong performances this weekend.
Here are five of the most intriguing storylines across the league as Sunday’s action kicks off. (Find the NFL Week 3 schedule here.)
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1. Vikings-Chargers desperation duel
Few winless teams face the same levels of mounting pressure as the Vikings and Chargers.
Both began the season hoping for deep playoff runs. Now they face long odds to even make the postseason. Fittingly, they face each other Sunday in Minnesota. It’s just a shame this couldn’t have been flexed to Sunday night, which instead features the Raiders (yawn) and Steelers.
Barring a tie, one of the Chargers or Vikings will be 0-3 come Sunday afternoon. That could spell doom, particularly if it’s the Chargers, whose next opponents are the Raiders, Cowboys and Chiefs (with a bye in Week 5). They very well could be 1-5 when they face the Bears in Week 8.
The Chargers and Vikings have far too much talent to be winless entering this weekend. But here they are. Turnovers have killed the Vikings, who have a league-high seven giveaways while losing their first two games by a combined nine points. Meanwhile, the Chargers blew a double-digit lead and lost to the Dolphins in Week 1, then blew a third-quarter lead and lost to the Titans. What’s worse, L.A. leads the NFL in yards allowed and has given up the third-most points despite being led by a defensive head coach in Brandon Staley. (Chargers at Vikings, 1 p.m. ET Sunday.)
2. Dysfunction in Chicago
After two straight offseasons devoted to aggressively upgrading the roster, the Bears expected to make forward strides in 2023. Instead, they’re winless and have looked awful in the process.
Chicago hit the reset button after a 6-11 finish in 2021, firing head coach Matt Nagy and replacing him with Matt Eberflus. But the Bears went 3-14 last season, and things are not improving with quarterback Justin Fields, their 2021 first-round pick.
Fields has completed just 60.6 percent of his passes, with two touchdowns and three interceptions, through two weeks. When asked Wednesday about areas he must improve on, Fields said he feels like he is playing robotically. Pressed for reasons behind the struggles, he cited coaching. He said this week, rather than allowing all of the information crammed into his brain by his coaches to hamper him, the “goal is to say ‘F it’ and go out and play football how I know to play football.”
Fields later tried to walk back his comments, saying he wasn’t blaming his coaches, and adding: “I can play better. Point blank.”
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Obviously, there was something to his comments. It’s clear things aren’t great between Fields and Eberflus and his assistants, which includes offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. But whether he tunes out his coaches or not, Fields needs to bring it Sunday because he’ll be trying to lead his team against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Kansas City’s defense has ranked among the stingiest in the league during this young season. But stopping Mahomes and the Chiefs offense could be the biggest challenge: Chicago defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned Wednesday afternoon, saying in a statement he needed to tend to health and family. Through two games, his unit had surrendered 383 yards (fourth-most in the NFL) and 32.5 points (second-most).
If Eberflus can’t reel things in quickly, could his days in Chicago be numbered as well? (Bears at Chiefs, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday.)
3. Joe Burrow’s health, Bengals’ hopes
It wasn’t a good sight at all: Burrow hobbling off the field in the waning minutes of Cincinnati’s 27-24 loss to AFC North rival Baltimore last Sunday. The quarterback said afterward he had aggravated the calf strain that sidelined him for much of training camp and all of the preseason.
Problem is, Burrow might not have the luxury of sitting out a couple of weeks if the Bengals — now 0-2 and two games behind division leader Baltimore — expect to make another run at a Super Bowl before having to overhaul their roster because of financial constraints. But is a hobbled Burrow effective enough to give them a shot? Will he even play Monday night, when the Bengals host the Rams in a rematch of Super Bowl LVI? L.A.’s defense isn’t what it once was, but Aaron Donald does still anchor a unit that features several promising young playmakers. Dropping to 0-3 could prove fatal for Burrow and the Bengals. (Rams at Bengals, 8:15 p.m. ET Monday.)
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Wilson got his first start of the season last week against the Cowboys, following Aaron Rodgers’ Week 1 Achilles injury, and it couldn’t have come against a more fierce opponent. Or could it have? Sunday, the young quarterback draws the task of trying to keep his team afloat against Bill Belichick, who generally feasts on both the Jets and young quarterbacks. The Patriots have won the last 14 meetings in the series.
The Jets certainly need Wilson to have a strong rebound performance after his three fourth-quarter interceptions against the Cowboys. Fortunately for Wilson, the Patriots lack overall team speed and impact playmakers on Dallas’ level. So maybe there’s a chance. Nathaniel Hackett must, though, do a better job of easing pressure on his young quarterback. The Jets OC has to lean more heavily on the run game and the play-action passing attack. Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook can’t combine for just eight carries. And the Jets’ offensive line must hold up better than what we’ve seen these first two weeks. Establishing a run game should help this unit as well.
Wilson still must help himself with smart decisions, however, because one more disastrous showing may give the Jets no choice but to find a veteran to steady things before the season slips further away. (Patriots at Jets, 1 p.m. ET Sunday.)
5. Cowboys’ dominant start
Jerry Jones and the fans of his Cowboys enter every season believing it’s their year, and while it’s far too early to know how things will play out for them, through two weeks Dallas has impressed on both sides of the ball.
Was Mike McCarthy right about Kellen Moore? Again, it’s early, but since the head coach reclaimed play-calling duties, Dallas has attacked with balance while leading the NFL with 35 points per game and has yet to commit a turnover. Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ defense — led by Micah Parsons, who somehow has taken his game to another level — has yielded just 386 yards and 10 points combined while adding seven takeaways. The depth of the Cowboys’ secondary will be tested moving forward, however. Dallas will certainly feel the season-ending loss of top cornerback Trevon Diggs to an ACL tear. Stephon Gilmore and DaRon Bland must step up.
The Cowboys find themselves on a historic start. They are only the fifth team in the Super Bowl era to score at least 70 points and allow 10 or fewer points through their first two games of a season. And with the hapless Cardinals on tap, Dallas could have another blowout victory on the way. (Cowboys at Cardinals, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday.)
(Photos of Justin Herbert and Kirk Cousins: Tim Nwachukwu and Wesley Hitt / Getty Images)
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