Minnesota at Green Bay
(4 p.m., WTTG-5, WBFF-45)
As always, a big game, as the all-time records indicate. Minnesota holds a 38-36 advantage to go with 10 ties, but it includes last season's sweep by the Vikings, which helped dethrone the Packers from a three-year lock on the division title. In those games, rookie Randy Moss had 343 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Could that be why the Packers spent their first three draft picks on cornerbacks in April?
This season, defenses have keyed on a soft spot never exploited during the Vikings' record-setting offensive barrage last season: a vulnerability to the blitz. Minnesota allowed six sacks last week to Oakland, twice as many as it yielded in any game last season. In the Vikings' last visit to Green Bay, they exploded for six plays of 30 yards or more, but have only two such plays this season. Perhaps former offensive coordinator Brian Billick's departure to become the Ravens' coach is having an impact, as well. Pro Bowl T Korey Stringer, hampered by a knee injury, will need to be at full strength against the Packers, who feature LeRoy Butler, the NFL's best pass-rushing safety.
The Packers have offensive problems of their own. Green Bay is second in the league in total offense at 423 yards per game, but has only five touchdowns. The culprit is seven turnovers, second-most in the NFL. And today, Minnesota's defense will be buttressed by two players who joined the team this week -- DE Chris Doleman and LB Corey Miller. Brett Favre is 49-6 at Lambeau Field for a winning percentage of .891, the highest of any NFL starter at home since 1967, the first year such information was collected.
GAME OF THE WEEK YOU WON'T SEE
Denver at Tampa Bay
Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan stresses that Brian Griese is still the Broncos' starter despite their winless record, saying that the problems lie in other areas. The numbers support him: Griese's quarterback rating is a solid 92.6, but the defense is surrendering 149.5 yards rushing per game -- 29th in the league -- and the rush offense, featuring league MVP Terrell Davis, is averaging barely 100 yards. Davis has 140 yards on 40 carries so far, good enough for third in the AFC, but far below his production in the past two seasons. He is the key to the Broncos' hopes in this game, since Tampa Bay is 1-11 under Coach Tony Dungy when an opposing running back gains 100 yards. A loss means an 0-3 start, and likely the end of Denver's hopes of defending its two straight Super Bowl titles.
Even though the Buccaneers have played the offensively hapless Eagles and Giants, they are allowing only 128.5 yards per game, by far the best in the NFL. The pass rush has produced 11 sacks, four by Warren Sapp, and overall the defense has allowed no touchdowns and two field goals, one after a six-yard drive. That defense has largely covered for the offense, particularly QB Trent Dilfer. The offense averages 237 yards per game, 29th in the NFL, and a fumble return and an interception return for touchdowns were the difference in the season-opening, 17-13 loss to the Giants. When the offense is working, Dilfer largely hands the ball off to RBs Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott. In Tampa Bay's 19-5 win over Philadelphia, Dilfer attempted only 14 passes, four in the second half.
GAMES WITHIN THE GAMES
A look at this week's best subplots
Indianapolis RB Edgerrin James
Could become first-ever rookie to debut three straight 100-yard games.
San Diego defense
Hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher with in 20 games.
Haven't won on the road since Dec. 14, 1996 (16 games).
The Eagles play at Buffalo today.
Arizona's defensive ends
Simeon Rice and Andre Wadsworth have combined for three sacks and 16 tackles.
San Francisco's offensive line
Allowed five sacks, 16 QB knockdowns vs. New Orleans.
Bill Walsh's dream Bill Walsh's reality
That the 49ers drafted the QB he called "the next Joe Montana" in the 1997 draft instead of Jim Druckenmiller.
Druckenmiller was waived before this season; 49ers face Jake Plummer, Walsh's "the next Joe Montana."
Losing RB Jamal Anderson, who rushed for a franchise-record 1,846 yards on an NFL-record 410 carries last season, is a devastating blow to the Falcons. Facing the Rams in their first game since Anderson tore his anterior cruciate ligament must seem like salt in Atlanta's wounds. Last year, Anderson ran for 188 and 172 yards against St. Louis, and in four career games against the Rams he has 594 yards rushing, seven touchdowns and an average of 6.5 yards per carry.
A Legend Is Born?
If Tim Couch fulfills his promise, his first touchdown pass will become the stuff of legend. Trailing Tennessee 19-3 in the third quarter of last week's game, Couch entered the Browns' huddle and, as he told reporters, said, "If you give me protection on this one, it's going to be a score." Seconds later, Couch threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Johnson, his first scoring pass in the NFL and the Browns' first since returning to Cleveland.
The Detroit Lions are 2-0, and while it's still too early to say if it's a mirage, it's certainly more than most observers expected. The retirement of Barry Sanders, who rushed for 1,491 yards, and a knee injury to Herman Moore, who caught 82 passes for 983 yards in '98, seem to have galvanized the Lions. In addition to the losses of Sanders and Moore, the Lions are playing with a patchwork offensive line, made worse when LG Tony Semple dislocated his left elbow in last week's 23-15 upset win over Green Bay. QB Charlie Batch has been sacked nine times and has been pressured into three interceptions after finishing his rookie season by throwing 136 consecutive passes without one. But Batch has thrown for five touchdowns and rushed for another, and has provided heart and leadership, two qualities sorely lacking in Detroit last season.