Five things I’ll be looking at in the third week of the 2017 NFL season:
1. Belichick vs. a rookie quarterback
The New England Patriots figure to have an easy one against Houston, but one thing to watch will be how rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson fares against Bill Belichick, who is 16-5 against rookie passers and 8-0 at Foxboro.
The five rookie quarterbacks to beat the Patriots were Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson and three surprising players – Geno Smith, Mark Sanchez and Colt McCoy. The odds are against Watson adding his name to that list.
But can Watson at least be competitive against the Patriots?
2. Panthers finally get a difficult test
The Carolina Panthers defense gave up just one field goal in each of their first two games against the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills while starting off 2-0.
But they face a tougher challenge in meeting the New Orleans Saints, who still have Drew Brees at quarterback despite their 0-2 start. The Panthers also need to get their offense rolling. They beat the Bills 9-3 last week, but nine points isn’t likely to be enough to beat the Panthers.
One thing going for the Panthers is that the Saints, starting off 0-2 for the fourth consecutive year, are 1-11 in September the past four years.
3. Elliott in the on-field hotseat, too
The Dallas Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott will be attempting to bounce back against the Arizona Cardinals after getting drilled by the Denver Broncos 42-17 last week.
Elliott’s poor showing – eight yards in nine carries and loafing after an interception — even overshadowed the continuing legal battle over the league’s attempt to suspend him.
To his credit, Elliott conceded he must at least attempt to chase an opposing player who makes an interception after failing to do that last week. “I can’t do that,’’ he said. “I can’t put that type of stuff on film.’’
Elliott knows he will play at least two more games before the courts address the league’s attempt to suspend him.
4. Atlanta-Detroit the only marquee matchup
In the only matchup featuring 2-0 teams (not a great weekend for matchups), Atlanta is a three-point pick at Detroit. The winner will remain unbeaten at 3-0.
The Falcons have bounced back from the Super Bowl meltdown, but face the daunting task of trying to become the first Super Bowl loser to win it all the next year since 1972. The Lions, of course, have never been to a Super Bowl.
5. Trump runs his mouth about the NFL again
Donald Trump inserted himself into the NFL season when he said Friday night that the NFL has suffered a “massive” ratings decline this year. The ratings are down, but not by a massive number and were actually up for the Los Angeles Rams’ 41-39 victory over the 49ers on Thursday night. It will be interesting to see how the ratings fare the rest of the weekend. And Trump also said an NFL owner should fire a player for a national anthem protests. Many players went to Twitter expressing outrage at the comments and now the question is whether more players will protest this weekend. Both commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head De Smith issued statements objecting to the president’s comments.