The schedule-makers have treated NFL fans to a two-game billing on Monday night in Week 2, and why not?!
Monday's prime time slate kicks off with the Buffalo Bills in their home opener against a Tennessee Titans team that has given Sean McDermott's squad fits recently, and seventy-five minutes later the Philadelphia Eagles will square off against the Minnesota Vikings in a matchup of unbeatens.
Here's what to watch for in Titans-Bills and Vikings-Eagles on Monday night:
- Red-hot Bills offense faces its next test. Buffalo is buzzing after an impressive season-opening win over the defending champion Rams, but the Titans have been a recent hang-up for a Bills team that has dropped the past two meetings. Josh Allen certainly remembers the last one, which ended on his failed 4th-and-1 sneak near the goal line. The one before that was 26-point drubbing, and Allen owns a 7:5 touchdown to interception ratio in four games against the pesky Titans. The star quarterback wasn’t without mistakes in last week’s explosive display, and the Bills may need to rely on a steady ground attack against a Tennessee defense that allowed a league-high 238 rushing yards in Week 1. That doesn’t mean Allen won’t be a part of it (leads Bills with 56 rushing yards), but Devin Singletary and Zack Moss are poised to find themselves in a big spot as the Titans tend to manufacture rock fights. Imposing their offensive will is also an option. An excited Buffalo crowd will take however the team sees crossing the Titans off their to-do list, but experiencing a competitive dogfight will do good for the early Super Bowl favorites.
- Who will step up for the Titans offense? A drowsy, predictable offense that scored just seven second-half points greatly contributed to Tennessee's upset loss to the Giants. Derrick Henry’s 82 scrimmage yards (all rushing) led the entire team, and the lack of a vertical threat to compliment their best player was a major factor. That won’t compete against Buffalo’s well-rounded defense. Ryan Tannehill, who was mistake-free but risk-averse last week, has yet to decipher which wide receivers he can rely on in the post A.J. Brown era. Robert Woods’ first game as a Titan barely made the box score (one reception, 13 yards) and Tannehill’s two touchdown throws on the day were to running back Dontrell Hilliard, who has been ruled out versus Buffalo. Although WRs Kyle Philips (six receptions, 66 yards) and Treylon Burks (three receptions, 55 yards) played well in their debuts, it surely wasn’t in the game plan to have both rookies lead all Titans pass catchers. A better showing from its running game can quickly better Tennessee’s passing attack, but who the Titans’ go-to receiver is going forward is a question at the moment.
- Can the Bills finally sack Tannehill? The Bills collected seven sacks without having to blitz once against the Rams, but a familiarized Titans offensive line has given Buffalo’s pass rush fits. Tennessee hasn’t allowed a sack of Tannehill in the past two wins against Buffalo, and it’s not for a lack of trying. The Bills blitzed on 44.8% of drop backs in their last meeting, which was the third-highest rate by the unit in 2021 and one of three games where Buffalo didn’t notch a sack last season, per NFL Research. Von Miller, who led the team with two sacks in Week 1, is on a current tear dating back to last season with a sack in five straight games (longest active sack streak in NFL) and has seemingly livened up the Bills’ pass rush off the edge. The interior wreckers of the Bills defensive line will be without Ed Oliver (ankle; inactive) and Tim Settle (calf; inactive) against the Titans, however, and the absences could be a factor in thwarting a Titans team that relishes off the run.
- Caleb Farley re-enters the fray. With top cover man Kristian Fulton (hamstring) ruled out, the Titans will quickly learn what their young secondary is made of against a Stefon Diggs-led receiving corps. Farley, a 2021 first-round pick of the Titans, will be heavily relied upon despite playing just 28% of snaps in the season opener. Strangely enough, Farley was in this exact situation last year with a Fulton injury prompting his first start as a rookie ahead of a Monday night tilt versus the Bills. It came to an unfortunate end as Farley suffered a torn ACL in the game, which continued what has been an injury-laden playing career for the Virginia Tech product. Farley, along with second-round rookie CB Roger McCreary and Ugo Amadi, will be challenged against the Bills, but a strong Titans pass rush and an elite pair of safeties on the back end can set them up for success.
- Justin Jefferson goes to Philadelphia. It’s hard to imagine Eagles fans enjoying all those Jefferson highlights the past year. There were too many to avoid them completely, but there’s no missing his next outing. Jefferson for the first time faces an Eagles team that regrettably passed on him in the 2020 NFL Draft for Jalen Reagor, who was traded to the Vikings this offseason for a late-round pick. Minnesota scooped Jefferson up with the very next pick two years ago, and he has since led the NFL with 3,200 receiving yards. The third-year Vikings wideout is coming off a career-high 184 receiving yards (nine receptions, two touchdowns) against a respected Packers secondary. Attempting to momentarily halt his progress will be a talented trio of cornerbacks featuring Darius Slay, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and James Bradberry. Doing so will provide great fuel for a raucous Philadelphia crowd on prime time, but another stellar performance from Jefferson could render "The Linc" into a frenzy, especially if it helps provide a Vikings win. Should Reagor be the catalyst that supports that effort, then forget it. Although the Eagles ended up getting their No. 1 wideout in A.J. Brown, the Jefferson storyline lingers for Philadelphia.
- Jalen Hurts squares off against upgraded Vikings defense. The Eagles quarterback accounted for 333 yards (243 passing, 90 rushing) for an offense that moved the ball well and scored 31 points in Week 1, but a frightening Vikings pass rush lies ahead. Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith picked up one sack each in their debut together, and the duo led an effort that held an Aaron Rodgers-led offense to seven points and 195 passing yards. Hurts presents a much different challenge with his legs, of course, and that threat makes for perhaps the most consequential matchup of the game. Hurts has feasted on defenses like the Vikings that employ a light box up front (six or fewer defenders), averaging 7.2 yards per rush since 2021 and gaining 60 yards on seven attempts in such looks in last week's win versus Detroit, per Next Gen Stats. The Vikings may have better resistance against the run-happy Eagles compared to the rebuilding Lions, and the passing-down situations should offer exciting plays with ramifications either way.
- Jordan Davis may be the answer to Eagles’ defensive woes. There’s a glaring weakness the Vikings offense can exploit with Week 1 in the books, and it should have running back Dalvin Cook rubbing his hands in anticipation. The Eagles allowed 181 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to Detroit last week, and it was a major problem that spurred the Lions’ second-half comeback. Davis was absent for most of those rushing bursts, and the numbers behind it all is eye-opening. According to Next Gen Stats, the Eagles allowed 10.0 yards per carry when Davis wasn’t on the field, which is in great contrast to the 2.9 YPC they allowed while the rookie stuffed running lanes. Davis played just 32% of defensive snaps in his NFL debut and figures to get more playing time against a Vikings offense that relies heavily on Cook, who gained 90 yards off 20 carries last week. The Eagles were a top-10 defense against the run in 2021, but the good news is they may already have the answer.
- Monday nights with Kirk Cousins. A night game featuring Cousins can’t be had without mentioning his prime-time troubles, but the Vikings quarterback is riding a win streak going into this one. Cousins is coming off an efficient outing against the Packers, completing 23 of 32 pass attempts for 277 yards, two touchdowns, and a 118.9 passer rating that ranked fourth in the NFL after Week 1. The 34-year-old appears to have a handle on Kevin O’Connell’s offense, but playing well in a hostile Philly environment will provide more definitive answers. Of course, Cousins owns the worst record (2-9) on MNF in NFL history (minimum of 10 starts) and holds a 10-17 overall record in prime-time games, and it’s a black cloud that hangs over the head of a QB that is as consistent as they come. Cousins has thrown at least one TD pass in 31 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL and the ninth-longest since 1950. A road win over the Eagles will not only propel the Vikings into playoff contention talk early on, but it’d be the first time Cousins ever earned three straight Ws in prime time.