No one sees it coming, yet every year it does. It comes at us like a Zack Greinke curveball.
There are teams few expect to start 2-0: the Broncos, Jets, Saints and 49ers. And there are teams few expect to start 0-2: the Titans, Dolphins and Panthers.
It's one of the beauties of the season. Curveballs come early, and they keep coming, all the way until there is no more football. What people expect rarely is.
So before this gets too existential, it's time to move on to this week's 10 Spot -- Week 3's most intriguing storylines.
1. The rundown: Rundowns usually are associated with baseball. But it also might be the best way to explain Sunday's meeting of Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson and San Francisco running back Frank Gore. It's a rundown. Or a showdown. With both backs being so difficult to bring down. Before they score touchdowns. Which back is healthier? Peterson is nursing a sore back, Gore a sprained ankle. Each practiced on a limited basis this week, but each has been dominant this season.
Peterson leads the NFL in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and highlights. There was one play in Week 2 at Detroit in which Peterson shoved aside a Lions linebacker as if he were a lightweight. Remarkable, really. Gore ran for 206 yards in Week 2's first 30-plus minutes and was on pace to shatter Peterson's single-game rushing record of 296 yards. One difference in this game is that Peterson has one of the game's best young players, Patrick Willis, chasing him. Minnesota doesn't have a linebacker that good. Still, now the two backs get to watch -- and try to outdo -- each other.
2. Arms race: Between Indianapolis' Peyton Manning and Arizona's Kurt Warner; the two quarterbacks have combined to win five NFL MVP awards. Manning was co-winner in 2003, then won it in 2004 and again last year. Warner won it in 1999 and 2001. Manning is the NFL's second-ranked quarterback of all time with a 94.9 rating; Warner is third at 93.8. Both quarterbacks were at the top of their game in Week 2, with Manning throwing for 303 yards in a come-from-behind Monday night win and Warner setting an NFL single-game record with a 92.3 completion percentage. It's a QB matchup akin to the running back one of Peterson and Gore.
3. Weekend in New England: When Matt Ryan attended Boston College, he used to spend his Sundays watching Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Now he'll get to do it again -- this time from the opposite sideline. To date -- and there's no way he could have thought this possible when he played at Boston College -- Ryan has been better than Brady. Ryan has thrown for 449 yards, five touchdowns and one interception -- a 108.5 rating. Brady has thrown for 594 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions -- a 76.8 rating.
"Ryan's very accurate, makes good decisions, knows where to go with the ball and can put it on the money [with] his accuracy," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "[He] has a lot of down throws, too. It's not like he's throwing a lot of screen passes and checkdowns. He can get it down the field. He puts it right on the money, very accurate, good technique player, good throwing mechanics, good ball-handling, good ball location and placement, accuracy. He knows when to fire it, knows when to put a touch on it. He's really impressive."
This is a game with big ramifications. If New England were to lose at home and fall to 1-2, with its only victory being the come-from-behind one against the Bills, the skeptics would surface. Some already have. This is New England's chance to quiet them, against a quarterback who used to root for the Patriots.
4. What's in a name? The Cowboys hope not a lot. Because in Week 2, they failed to shut down Giants wide receiver Steve Smith, who caught 10 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown. Now, the Cowboys' leaky defense gets another Steve Smith, a more dangerous one -- the Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith. The last time these two teams met, on a Saturday night in December 2007, Smith caught nine passes for 137 yards and a touchdown.
5. A new "O" in Cincinnati: Amazing but true: Since individual sacks became a statistic in 1982, no player has had more sacks through two games than the seven Cincinnati defensive end Antwan Odom has. Odom rang up two in Week 1 against a tough Denver offensive line and five more in Week 2 against a shaky Green Bay O-line, allowing him to pass the opening two-game record Detroit defensive end William Gay set in 1983 with 6.5. Now Odom goes against a Pittsburgh offensive line that Tennessee harassed in Week 1 and Chicago abused in Week 2. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is used to being under pressure. Plenty of it Sunday will come from Odom. And if that weren't enough defensive intrigue for the Bengals, consider this: Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers gets another chance at Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, the player who broke his jaw last season.
6. Mr. Rodgers' neighborhood: Just as New England's offensive line has struggled in the AFC, Green Bay's has done the same in the NFC. In the opener against Chicago, right tackle Allen Barbre got abused. In the second game, against Cincinnati, after left tackle Chad Clifton left with a high ankle sprain that likely will prevent him from playing Sunday at St. Louis, the Packers shifted left guard Daryn Colledge to left tackle -- and he struggled with the aforementioned Odom. But Colledge's move there meant there have been moves at three -- three! -- spots along the Packers' offensive line. Colledge went to left tackle; Jason Spitz went from center to left guard; and Scott Wells moved into the starting center spot. That's a lot of moving parts for anyone, let alone a team that already had questions. Now the Packers have questions at right tackle, center, left guard and left tackle -- and each affects quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has suffered far too much punishment two games into this season. Green Bay must find a way to shore up its offensive line against a St. Louis Rams team playing its home opener in a dome, where the Packers have struggled before.
7. The new Vick experience: Exactly how the Eagles will use Michael Vick on Sunday when he plays his first regular-season game since 2006 is uncertain. What is certain, even if Donovan McNabb doesn't play, is that Vick will not start at quarterback. But he is expected to play. More than likely, Philadelphia will have a package of 10 to 12 plays for Vick. Some might feature him at running back, some at wide receiver and some even at quarterback, where Vick could wind up throwing a couple of passes. But more than anything, Vick's presence will give Eagles opponents something extra to worry about and prepare for.
8. Redskins' run: Washington eked out a thoroughly unimpressive victory in Week 2 against the Rams. Now, if the Redskins are going to make a run at the NFC East and the playoffs, the push must start Sunday in Detroit, in a game any team would look forward to but also dread. Detroit, which has lost 19 in a row, represents the chance for a victory, but it also represents the chance to be a part of history. But if Washington can take care of its business against Detroit, it would be 2-1 with three of its next four games at home, against Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Philadelphia, before the bye week. Sunday starts Washington's time to make its run -- or to make unwelcome history.
9. Nice guys in last: Houston should consider itself fortunate to take a 1-1 record into Sunday's game against Jacksonville. The Texans are last in the league in rushing offense -- which will change before the season is through -- and last in the league in rushing defense -- which might not change much before the season is through. No team can be last in those categories and expect to finish anywhere but last in its division. It's a credit to the Texans that they were able to emerge from Tennessee with a win, gashed as they were. Now, they get Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who has seen the Jets run for 190 yards against the Texans and the Titans run for another 240 yards against Houston. The Texans' run defense must be better -- and running back Steve Slaton must be better -- or this season will not be a success for the Texans.
10. The early-season champs: For what it's worth, the Ravens win the Vince Lombardi Two-Game Trophy. No team has been better through the first two weeks of the 2009 season than Baltimore. But the way the Ravens are winning is not what Baltimore is used to seeing. These Ravens are winning with offense, with quarterback Joe Flacco flinging the football, and with Baltimore's defense surrendering points. This is not the dominating defense Ravens fans are used to seeing. It's giving up way too many yards and points. But Sunday's game against Cleveland is a chance for Baltimore's defense to get healthy. The Browns' offense has gone eight games -- the equivalent of half a season -- without scoring a meaningful offensive touchdown. After this weekend, Baltimore could be handed the Vince Lombardi Three-Game Trophy.
The Schef's Specialties
Game of the Week: Titans at Jets. Last year, the Jets upset the Titans in Tennessee. Now, to save their season, the Titans will try to return the favor in New York.
Player of the Week: Bills running back Fred Jackson. To beat the Saints, Buffalo must keep the New Orleans offense off the field. For that to happen, Jackson must come up big.
Upset of the Week: Bengals over Steelers. Cincinnati has a chance to prove its upset in Green Bay might not have been such an upset.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.