NEW YORK (Sept. 12, 2006) -- Big division games? It's never too soon for that in the NFL! And Week 2, indeed, has them!
In the NFC East, you have the whole division going at it, with the New York Giants at Philadelphia and Washington at Dallas Sunday night. In the NFC South, there's Tampa Bay-Atlanta. In the AFC East, New England comes down to visit the Jets. Also, there's Lions-Bears, Browns-Bengals and Chiefs-Broncos among others.
"One of the goals every team has is to take care of business in your division," says Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren, whose club faces the NFC West Arizona Cardinals this week.
So after a Kickoff Weekend that saw surprises (11 road teams won, the most on an opening weekend in 23 years [12 in 1983])…debuts (Heisman Trophy-winner Reggie Bush accounted for 141 total yards for New Orleans in rushing, receiving and returning)…and comebacks (Jets quarterback Chad Pennington posted a 123.2 passer rating vs. Tennessee in his return from shoulder surgery), the NFL comes right back in Week 2 with who-knows-what's in store?
And leave it to a player -- the Jets' Pennington, who missed most of a whole season last year -- to capture the exuberance a player feels in the return of an NFL season. "It's an honor to play this game," says Pennington. "That's the way I look at it."
Key Week 2 games include:
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (0-1) at ATLANTA FALCONS (1-0)
Storyline: The right time for Falcons' revenge?
Coming off Kickoff Weekend, it would certainly seem so. But this is "Bucs-Falcons," so "last week" doesn't mean much. In Week 1, Atlanta, sparked by a leaner Michael Vick at quarterback, rang up 385 total yards against Carolina's No. 3 NFL defense of last year. The Bucs, meanwhile, were shut out at home for the first time in 10 years.
But ... look at the recent history between these two. It is basically one-sided towards Tampa Bay. Since the creation of the NFC South in realignment in 2002, the Bucs have won six of the eight meetings between the clubs, including both last season by three points apiece.
In November, Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks forced a Vick fumble that led to a winning field goal. In December, a Matt Bryant kick won it for the Bucs in overtime. "There are big plays all over the field when we play each other," says Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber.
Key stat: Sixteen of Tampa Bay's 20 sacks of Vick have come in the last four games between the teams.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (1-0) at NEW YORK JETS (1-0)
Storyline: Meet your mentor! And what better type of mentor can you have than one who has won three of the past five Super Bowls? That is Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, under whom new Jets coach Eric Mangini was an assistant/defensive coordinator for with the Browns, Jets and Patriots for 10 seasons through last year. Tack on a second Mangini NFL mentor -- Bill Parcells -- and "that's like getting your M.B.A. from Harvard, only the football version," says Mangini.
A young 'un!: With his team's Week 1 win, the New York Jets' Eric Mangini (35 years, 234 days) became the third youngest "rookie" NFL head coach to win his first game. Cincinnati's Dave Shula (33) and Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher (35 years, 121 days) both won their debuts on Sept. 6, 1992.
All that coziness aside, Mangini and his Jets -- coming off a satisfying 23-16 win over Tennessee -- have to reverse a six-game losing streak to the Patriots. They aren't the only AFC Easters to suffer at the hands of New England. The Pats have won 16 of their past 18 division games, including last week against Buffalo.
Jets have to watch/key on: Pats running attack of first-round draft choice Laurence Maroney (86 yards) and vet Corey Dillon (73), who combined for 159 rushing yards vs. Buffalo. "He runs one way, I run another and we keep fresh legs in the game," says Maroney.
NEW YORK GIANTS (0-1) at PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (1-0)
Storyline: Tiki or Donté?
Off past and this past week's performances, these two could have a lot to do with the outcome of this NFC Easter.
Giants running back Tiki Barber, No. 2 in the league in rushing last year, has topped 100 ground yards in his past five games against Philly. He has averaged 5.4 yards per carry against the Eagles. And he already has a 100-yarder to his credit in '06 (against Indianapolis, 110).
In Week 1, the Eagles believe they found the deep threat they were looking for in wide receiver Donte Stallworth, acquired from New Orleans right before the season. The five-year vet had six catches against Houston for a career-high-tying 141 yards (vs. the Giants, 9/19/05) and a TD. A 37-yard Stallworth reception set up another score.
"They brought me here to do a job," says Stallworth. "I know I can get better every day, every week and make sure I'm really working with (quarterback) Donovan McNabb to make sure we're in sync."
Matchup to watch: Giants RT Kareem McKenzie against speedy DE Jevon Kearse, who has led Philly in sacks the past two years and already has one in '06.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (0-1) at DALLAS COWBOYS (0-1) (Sunday, NBC, 8:15 p.m. ET)
Storyline: Same place, same week. And what a game it was!
A year ago on Week 2's Monday night in Dallas, "one of the greatest moments in sports for me" took place, according to Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs.
There were the Cowboys on top 13-0 with 5:58 left in the game. And there was fleet Santana Moss with 39- and 70-yard TD catches from Mark Brunell in the final 3:46 for a shocking 14-13 Washington victory. "You've got to learn to close the show," said Dallas head coach Bill Parcells. "We didn't do that."
It was the first Washington triumph in Dallas in 10 years (1995) and Gibbs' first win in his last nine meetings with Parcells. Three months later, he tacked on another in a 35-7 Redskins victory for their first series sweep in 10 years.
Fast forward a year and each team has added new offensive tools -- wide receivers Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd for Washington and Terrell Owens for Dallas. They didn't translate to wins in Week 1, but here comes Week 2!
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (1-0) at JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (1-0) (Monday, ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Storyline: Like old times!
These two were AFC Central mates from 1995-01 and split every season series except in '99 (Jaguars). A real good rivalry developed that was solidified even more last year when Jacksonville cornerback Rashean Mathis returned an interception 41 yards for an overtime TD in a 23-17 win.
Jacksonville finished with a better record (12-4) last season than Pittsburgh (11-5), but, of course, the Steelers went on to their Super Bowl XL triumph.
If Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (appendectomy) is not ready to go, the Steelers are in good hands with Charlie Batch (3-0 as a Steelers starter). Pittsburgh has allowed only one 100-yard rusher since 2004, so if they shut down those lanes, the Jaguars can spread the ball to their three receivers as they did in their Kickoff win over Dallas. WRs Matt Jones, Ernest Wilford and Reggie Williams combined for 14 catches for 176 yards.
Monday night note: Steelers head coach Bill Cowher (18-7, .720) has third-best Monday Night Football record in history (minimum 15 games) after Tom Flores (15-4, .789) and George Seifert (18-6, .750).