NFL schedule week 2
week

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers, 8:30p.m. EST

Dec 6, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) runs out of the pocket against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay defeated Atlanta 23-19. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 6, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) runs out of the pocket against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay defeated Atlanta 23-19. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A good ol’ NFC South matchup. A year ago, this would have been one of the Monday Night games you skipped, but 2016 holds a different story. The Panthers are trying to get back to the Super Bowl as you know, but the Buccaneers are going to make their case for a playoff appearance. This matchup will tell us just how close or how far away they are from returning to the postseason.

Keys to the Game

Tampa Bay.

Keep Jameis Winston alive. The second-year gunslinger is their key to success as he continues to improve. If the Bucs are unable to protect him, Carolina will be able to stack the box and stuff Doug Martin and this game might be over before halftime. Winston to Evans and Jackson will be crucial.

Carolina

Pressure, pressure, pressure. The Bucs are not an offensive juggernaut, but they have the tools to make big plays. Winston is capable enough to get the ball to his towering targets on the outside and Carolina no longer employs the best corner in the NFL. Keeping Winston under fire is going to make this matchup much easier for them to survive.

NFL schedule week 2
week

New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, 8:30p.m. EST

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Let’s find out just what kind of team the New York Giants are this year. A strong showing in this early October trip to Green Bay is a preview for a potential NFC playoff matchup. As inconsistent as the Green Bay offense was down the stretch in 2015, they will be a force to contend with again in 2016 with Jordy Nelson back and Eddie Lacy laying off the cheeseburgers (maybe).

Keys to the Game

New York

The Giants are going to have to get to Aaron Rodgers. He throws well on the run, so simply moving him out of the pocket won’t get it done. They are going to need Olivier Vernon to earn that fortune they just paid him and take Rodgers to the turf. This is why they went and got him. Offensively, they should have success in the passing game with Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard considering the Packers lost corner Casey Hayward in the offseason.

Green Bay

Getting the run game going will be key for Green Bay in order to keep the Giants’ pass rushers at bay. The last thing they want is Vernon and company teeing off on Aaron Rodgers. Running the ball will also help keep the ball out of Eli’s hands, which is crucial because the Packers will struggle to slow him down. They’re going to feel the loss of Casey Hayward in this game and need to limit New York’s opportunities to hurt them through the air.

NFL schedule week 2
week

Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys, 4:25p.m. EST

CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 27:  Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals talks with his team in between plays during the game against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium on November 27, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Tyler Barrick /Getty Images)

CINCINNATI, OH – NOVEMBER 27: Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals talks with his team in between plays during the game against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium on November 27, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Tyler Barrick /Getty Images)

The Cowboys again? Yup. This time the Bengals are coming to town as the Red Rifle returns to his homeland. He’s actually from Katy, 4 hours south of Dallas, but went to TCU which is less than an hour West. So it is a homecoming of sorts for him. The other reason to watch this game? Both teams are very talented and though we’re a ways away, this is a potential Super Bowl matchup. Like I said, we’ve got a long way to go, but both teams are expected to win their divisions.

Keys to the Game

Cincinnati

The Bengal offense should have a field day against Dallas, the real focus will come on defense. Limiting Dez Bryant’s touches will be their main concern as he is by far the Cowboys’ biggest weapon. The Dallas O-Line is stout, so expect Cincy to get creative in order to bring pressure  and get to Romo.

Dallas

Taking away A.J. Green would be nice, but Cincinnati has enough weapons outside of him to beat the Cowboys’ weak defense. They will want to play keep-away and control the ball. Dallas should use their bullying offensive line to establish the run game and let Ezekiel Elliott and company chew up the clock while hitting Dez whenever Cincinnati dares to use single coverage. Establishing the run game will go a long way towards freeing up Dez in the secondary.

NFL schedule week 2
week

Houston Texans at Minnesota Vikings, 1p.m. EST

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First, the Texans are just happy this game is in October and not December. Second, this is a great matchup to see where the Texans stand. It’s tough to tell in that mess they call the AFC South, so these out of division games provide a good litmus test.

Keys to the Game

Houston

The Vikings formidable defense should be Houston’s main concern – outside of Adrian Peterson. They are going to need to find success on offense and control the ball in order to keep it out of AP’s hands. If they can get out to an early lead with a TD strike or two to Nuk Hopkins or rookie Will Fuller and force Minnesota to throw the ball, this game will look a lot better for Houston.

Minnesota

Pound the rock. Running the ball will limit J.J. Watt’s ability to impact the game (he’s still good against the run, but more effective rushing the QB). The last thing Minnesota needs is Watt crushing Bridgewater over and over. When they do pass, short, quick routes to Stefon Diggs will be a great way to get the ball out of Teddy’s hands quickly.

Sunday, Late Afternoon