After a drama-filled opening slate of games in Week One, there are some very intriguing storylines heading into the second weekend of the 2021 NFL season.
16 teams across the NFL will be heading into the second week of the season in the hope that they can build on their 1-0 starts to the season and take early command of a potential playoff berth.
The other 16 teams will be eager to avoid a dreaded 0-2 start. Of the 11 teams that started 0-2 in 2020, not one made the playoffs, despite the expansion of the playoff field to 14 teams.
Today, we’re taking a look at five storylines that should entertains us through the second weekend of the season, including an all-rookie quarterback matchup, six divisional contests and two powerhouses colliding on Sunday Night Football.
Zach v Mac in the AFC East
Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers vs. Drew Brees, Zach Wilson vs. Mac Jones… Okay, perhaps it is ridiculously early to list the final pairing alongside the premier quarterback battles of recent years. However, fans in New York and Massachusetts are hoping in 15 years’ time it makes sense.
The NFL yearns for QB rivalries. The prospect of two quarterbacks being drafted in the first round of the same draft, into the same division, and both starting from day one… this is everything the league would dare hope for.
Zach Wilson was drafted second overall by the New York Jets after franchise traded former first round pick, Sam Darnold, to the Carolina Panthers – who popped immediately, beating the Jets 19-14 in Week One.
Mac Jones, meanwhile, was drafted #15 overall – the fifth quarterback taken – and was handed the starting job over former NFL Most Valuable Player Cam Newton.
Despite their teams losing, both players showcased their skills on the season’s opening Sunday. Wilson dug his side out of a 16-0 hole by throwing two touchdowns to wide receiver Corey Davis against Carolina. Jones, meanwhile, threw for 281 yards and a touchdown as the New England Patriots fell by a single point to the division rival Miami Dolphins.
Week Two will be the first of, potentially, a decade’s worth of meetings between the two quarterbacks.
Can Derrick Henry get back on track in Seattle?
It was a tough afternoon for the reigning Offensive Player of the Year Derrick Henry as the Tennessee Titans suffered a heavy 38-13 defeat at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals. The 27-year-old carried the ball 17 times for just 58 yards (or just 3.4 yards per carry) in the season opener.
The performance is somewhat worrying for Tennessee fans, as it came against a Cardinals defense that ranked in the bottom half of the league against the run last season. The next test is another NFC West outfit as they square off against the Seattle Seahawks and a run defense that ranked fifth in the NFL yards allowed in 2020.
The last time Henry registered back-to-back sub-100-yard games was the final two games of the 2019 regular season. He will be looking to bounce-back in a big way in Week Two, not only for his own numbers, but for the Titans’ passing game, which relies heavily on the success of the running attack. Play-action is a key part of QB Ryan Tannehill’s arsenal. That aspect of the offense was severely limited in Week One. Consider: the Titans’ used play-action on league-high 59% of passing plays in 2021. In Week One, they did so on just 5% of plays.
For the good of the entire Tennessee offense, it will be vital that Derrick Henry start strong against a stout Seahawks run defense.
AFC heavyweights face-off on Sunday Night Football
Can a Week Two matchup be described as a ‘must-win game’? Perhaps not, but it is certainly going to be a humdinger of a matchup as the Baltimore Ravens (0-1) host the Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) for the fourth time in as many years.
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have enjoyed taking on Lamar Jackson’s Ravens, winning all three of the recent contests between the two sides.
Kansas City opened the season with a breath-taking comeback against the Cleveland Browns. Trailing 22-10 at the break, Mahomes led his team to 23 second half points to earn the win against a side that is expected to contend for the AFC title.
The Ravens, meanwhile, blew a golden opportunity to head into the game 1-0 on Monday Night. In overtime against the Las Vegas Raiders, Jackson fumbled the ball in the Ravens’ own territory, setting the stage for Derek Carr’s the game-winning touchdown pass.
However, this game is more than a battle of quarterbacks. We will also see one of the game’s best offensive minds in Andy Reid square-off against a former protégé, John Harbaugh. Before he became the Ravens’ head coach, Harbaugh spent a decade with Reid’s teams in Philadelphia, as special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach. The pair’s combined record as NFL head coaches is 350-209 – with Reid having a 62.9% winning record, Harbaugh not far behind, having won 62.0% of his games.
The game is also a showcase of differing offensive styles. Reid’s Chiefs prefer an air-it-out West Coast style offense, while Harbaugh prefers run-first scheme. Not coincidentally, each coach has opted for scheme that at utilising the strengths of his quarterback.
On defense, the Ravens have traditionally had the better, regularly appearing in the top five in the NFL. However, they will be without former Chiefs’ cornerback Marcus Peters who is on injured reserve after an injury in training.
The schedule-makers certainly lined up a great one for us on Sunday Night Football.
What to make of the NFC North?
When you think of the NFC North you think of success at Lambeau Field, strong defenses in Minnesota and Chicago, and, well, Detroit bringing up the rear. To kick off the 2021 season, all four NFC North sides suffered defeats, with only the Vikings avoiding genuine embarrassment.
Heading into Week One, expectations were high for Green Bay as they travelled to a New Orleans. The Pack had to love their chances, as the Saints no longer had the unenviable talent of Drew Brees. However, rather than an easy win, Aaron Rodgers & Co., suffered the most comprehensive defeat of the opening weekend, a 38-3 shellacking by the Jameis Winston-led Saints.
Detroit, meanwhile, made the final scoreline against the 49ers look more respectable that it otherwise should have. After trailing 41-17 well into the second half, the Lions tacked on a pair of consolation touchdowns to bring the final score to 41-33.
Good news for fans of these sides is that one of them is a certainty to win (barring a tie) in Week Two. The Packers travel to Detroit this week, to face off against the Lions on Monday Night Football at Ford Field.
The Minnesota Vikings are faced with a tough assignment, as they must travel to Arizona to take on a Cardinals outfit that manhandled the reigning AFC South champion Tennessee Titans. The Vikings are 0-1 after an overtime defeat at the hands of perennial #1 pick contenders the Cincinnati Bengals.
Chicago, meanwhile, need to bounce back from a 34-14 defeat at the hands of the LA Rams. On Sunday, the Bears host the aforementioned Bengals.
After Week Two, it is feasible that the four teams in the NFC North will have a combined record of 1-7.
Six divisional matchups in Week Two
The schedule makers have been kind to NFL fans in Week Two with no less than six divisional matchups. This includes matchups between all four teams in the AFC East, as well as all four from the NFC South.
The weekend’s first divisional duel is on Thursday Night Football, as the Washington Football Team hosts the New York Giants in the NFC East. Both sides suffered opening day defeats and will be eager to avoid a dreaded 0-2 record.
The early Sunday window features another three divisional matchups. In the AFC East, all eyes will be on South Florida, as the Miami Dolphins (1-0) host the division favorites, the Buffalo Bills (0-1). Meanwhile, the New York Jets (0-1) will be playing host to the New England Patriots (0-1).
In the NFC South, the Carolina Panthers (1-0) host the New Orleans Saints (1-0) in the early window, with the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) traveling to the Tampa, to take on tom Brady and the Buccaneers (1-0) in the later window. The Panthers and Saints will be eager to take victory to keep pace with the Super Bowl champion Bucs, who should handle their business against Atlanta.
The final divisional matchup comes from the NFC North as the Green Bay Packers (0-1) take on the Detroit Lions (0-1) on Monday night. As we mentioned, both sides were abysmal in defeat last weekend. Both (especially Green Bay) will be eager to get their seasons back on track.
The formbook often goes out of the window in divisional matchups. With six such matchups across the weekend, we’re surely in for some entertaining viewing.