Matthews can no longer be ignored; 10 things to watch for (cont.)
Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit
Last year the Lions were 29th in the league in sacks. This year, after two weeks, they're tied for first, with 10. One reason is Suh, the leading candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year who has two sacks himself. But he's drawn so much double-teaming because of his disruptive presence that others on the line have been free to attack the quarterback. If the Lions are to have a chance this week against Minnesota, Suh has to cave in the right side of the Viking offensive line and allow other rushers to get to Brett Favre. His performance in the first two weeks seems to show he's up for it. "He's the most polished rookie I've ever seen,'' linemate Kyle Vanden Bosch told me.
Backup San Diego back Mike Tolbert gets thrust into the lineup at Seattle due to Ryan Mathews' high ankle sprain, and it's one of the great matchups of the weekend. The Seahawks have been terrific against the run so far (2.0 yards per opponents' rush), while Tolbert has rushed for a gaudy 6.0 yards per attempt (18 carries, 108 yards, two TDs). Tolbert's predicted rushing line at Seattle:
Rashad Butler, OT, Houston (No. 78)
With the league's suspension of stalwart left tackle Duane Brown for violating the substance-abuse policy, Houston turns to Butler, who will be making his first career start (in his fifth year), opposite DeMarcus Ware. "I'm excited about the opportunity,'' Butler said. You have to wonder if it's a nervous excited or a confident excited. A couple of years ago, Ware had 20 sacks and 20 quarterback hits in a season, and he's got to be licking his chops at playing a third tackle in a game the Cowboys have to have. Butler's not as quick-footed as Brown, but is a good run-blocker. Coach Gary Kubiak is sure to give Butler help with a tight end or fullback Vonta Leach on passing plays.
1. The Lions to make it much closer than Vegas thinks. I am no gambler, nor am I a threat to ever make money in Sin City. But making Minnesota a double-digit favorite over St. Olaf right now seems a stretch, and doing it against the Lions -- with a very dangerous defensive front -- seems like a matador holding the red cape in front of the bull. I don't get it, particularly with Vikings receivers Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian at less than 100 percent. And I don't care if the Lions' quarterback is Shaun Hill or Benny Hill, Favre is going to get knocked around Sunday.
2. Bryan Bulaga taking the Packers' left-tackle job for good ... and trying to keep Julius Peppers out of Aaron Rodgers' grill. Bulaga lasted 'til the 23rd overall pick in April, but Green Bay GM Ted Thompson is thrilled he has him now. With left tackle Chad Clifton in clear decline, look for Bulaga to either start Monday night or get plenty of work.
3. The Larry Fitzgerald-Nnamdi Asomugha duel. Two teams fighting to stay in contention early, and the most interesting thing about the game is this scintillating matchup between two of the 20 best players in football. The shame of the current scheduling format is that a great player like Fitzgerald sees Asomugha and Darrelle Revis once every four years during the regular season. That's why this one might be worth DVRing -- and, if you're the CBS crew doing the game, putting an iso camera on the duel as much as possible.
4. The QB shuffle. It's Week 3, and Charlie Batch, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jimmy Clausen, Seneca Wallace, Bruce "Why Doesn't Anyone Compare Me To Jim Plunkett?'' Gradkowski, Michael Vick and Shaun Hill are in the starting lineups. And Max Hall is warming up in the Arizona bullpen.
5. The Vick story. On Sundays, I sit in the NBC viewing room at 30 Rock with the Football Night in America crew and watch as much of as many games as we can. There are five late-afternoon games Sunday. Sorry, other four; you're getting short shrift. Philadelphia-Jacksonville will get most of my attention.
6. The Cowboys story. They've been their maddeningly mercurial and inconsistent selves, and there's no safety net at Houston, where the Texans look like what the Cowboys were supposed to look like all season. For the record, for those of you hoping Wade Phillips walks the plank after another loss: If the Cowboys won't jettison an ice-cold kid kicker, what makes you think Jerry Jones will fire his head coach after 12 quarters?
7. The graying of Brett Favre. Favre has to make do with less than he had last year now that the Vikes failed to land Vincent Jackson and with Berrian and Harvin medical questions for the foreseeable future. My advice: Favre should get to know Greg Camarillo very, very well. That's his safety net.
8. Vincent Jackson getting used to watching the games on TV. I guess it shouldn't be too much of a shock that Jackson's still a Charger. You just don't cross A.J. Smith, even if Smith's decision to not trade Jackson probably cost the Chargers significant draft-pick value. But the emotions are so raw now that I'd be surprised if Smith makes a lesser deal at the Oct. 19 trading deadline.
9. Rex Ryan's decision on Braylon Edwards. Ryan's not much of a political animal. All he knows is he's got a big game against Miami Sunday night, the Jets have lost three in a row to the Dolphins, and the Miami offense is just about the only one that can put points up on the Jets D. And now, already without Santonio Holmes for the third straight game, Ryan has to figure out how to score enought points to win the game while also trying to mollify the MADD people (and lots of regular citizens, too) who want Braylon to sit for four quarters after his Tuesday DUI arrest. My guess is Ryan sits Edwards for the first quarter and takes the heat for it. He's got big shoulders.
10. The crowd in Tampa. The Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay game didn't sell out, resulting in a blackout locally. I know the economy's in the dumper, and I know the Tampa area has been very hard hit. But if fans are not going to come out to see a totally unexpected 2-0 Bucs squad play a Steelers team that travels better than any other team in the NFL, just when are they coming to see the Bucs play?