Five NFL Week 3 storylines to watch: Who wins Chargers-Vikings desperation game?

The Athletic has live coverage of NFL Week 3 Is characterized by Jets vs. Patriots.

It’s only the third week of the NFL season, but in the words of the late, great Yogi Berra: “It’s early to late here.”

Nine teams, including the Vikings, Chargers, Bengals, Patriots and Broncos, are still searching for their first wins. Others, like the Cowboys, Dolphins, Ravens and Falcons, are undefeated and have a chance to further distinguish themselves with strong performances this weekend.

Here are five of the most interesting storylines in the league heading into Sunday’s action. (Find the NFL Week 3 schedule here.)

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1. The Duel of Desperation between the Vikings and the Chargers

Few winless teams face the same levels of mounting pressure as the Vikings and Chargers.

Both started the season hoping to make deep playoff runs. Now they face long odds of even making it to the postseason. And it’s fitting that they face each other on Sunday in Minnesota. It’s a shame this can’t be flexed until Sunday night, which instead features the Raiders (yawn) and Steelers.

Barring a tie, one of the Chargers or Vikings will be 0-3 on Sunday afternoon. That could spell doom, especially if it’s the Chargers, whose next opponents are the Raiders, Cowboys and Chiefs (with a bye in Week 5). They could be 1-5 when they face the Bears in Week 8.

The Chargers and Vikings have too much talent to enter this weekend without a win. But here they are. Turnovers have killed the Vikings, who have had a league-leading seven giveaways while losing their first two games by a combined nine points. Meanwhile, the Chargers blew a double-digit lead and lost to the Dolphins in Week 1, then blew a lead in the third quarter and lost to the Titans. What’s worse is that Los Angeles leads the NFL in yards allowed and has given up the third-most points despite being led by a defensive coach in Brandon Staley. (Chargers at Vikings, 1 p.m. ET Sunday.)

2. Dysfunction in Chicago

After two straight seasons dedicated to aggressively upgrading the roster, the Bears expected to make strides forward in 2023. Instead, they went winless and looked poor in the process.

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Chicago hit the reset button after finishing 6-11 in 2021, firing coach Matt Nagy and replacing him with Matt Eberflus. But the Bears went 3-14 last season, and things aren’t looking up for quarterback Justin Fields, their 2021 first-round pick.

Fields has completed just 60.6 percent of his passes, with two touchdowns and three interceptions, through two weeks. When asked Wednesday about areas he had to improve, Fields said he felt like he was playing on autopilot. He cited training as reasons behind his suffering. Rather than letting all the information crammed into his brain by his coaches hold him back, he said this week, “The goal is to say ‘wow’ and go out and play football the way I know how.”

Fields later tried to walk back his comments, saying he didn’t blame his coaches and adding: “I can play better. Point blank.”

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There was clearly something in his comments. Things are clearly not great between Fields, Eberflus and his assistants, including offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. But whether he tunes out his coaches or not, Fields needs to bring it on Sunday because he will try to lead his team against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

Kansas City’s defense ranked among the toughest in the league during this young season. But stopping Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense may be the biggest challenge: Chicago defensive coordinator Allan Williams resigned Wednesday afternoon, saying in a statement that he needs to pay attention to health and family. Through two games, his unit has surrendered 383 yards (fourth-most in the NFL) and 32.5 points (second-most).

If Eberflus can’t turn things around quickly, could his days in Chicago be numbered as well? (Bears at Chiefs, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday.)

3. Joe Burrow’s health and Bengals hopes

It wasn’t a good sight at all: Burrow walking off the field in the final minutes of Cincinnati’s 27-24 loss to AFC North rival Baltimore last Sunday. The midfielder said afterward that it aggravated a calf strain that sidelined him for most of training camp and all of the preseason.

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The problem is that Burrow may not have the luxury of sitting out two weeks if the Bengals — now 0-2 and two games behind division-leader Baltimore — expect to make one more Super Bowl run before having to overhaul their roster due to finances. Restrictions. But is a disabled terrier effective enough to give them a chance? Will he play until Monday night, when the Bengals host the Rams in a rematch of Super Bowl LVI? Los Angeles’ defense isn’t what it used to be, but Aaron Donald still anchors a unit that includes several promising young playmakers. Dropping to 0-3 could be fatal for Burrow and the Bengals. (Rams at Bengals, 8:15 p.m. ET Monday.)

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Wilson made his first start of the season last week against the Cowboys, after Aaron Rodgers injured his Achilles tendon in Week 1, and it couldn’t have come against a tougher opponent. Or could it be? On Sunday, the young quarterback takes on the task of trying to keep his team afloat against Bill Belichick, who generally thrives on both the Jets and young quarterbacks. The Patriots have won the last 14 meetings in the series.

The Jets certainly need Wilson to have a strong bounce-back performance after his three interceptions in the fourth quarter against the Cowboys. Fortunately for Wilson, the Patriots lack the overall team speed and impact of Dallas-level playmakers. So maybe there is a chance. However, Nathaniel Hackett must do a better job of relieving the pressure on the young quarterback. The Jets OC will have to rely more on the running game and passing attack during play-action plays. Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook can’t combine for just eight carries. And the Jets’ offensive line should hold up better than we’ve seen in the first two weeks. Creating a running game should help this unit as well.

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However, Wilson still has to help himself make smart decisions, because another disastrous showing may give the Jets no choice but to find a veteran player to stabilize before the season is over. (Patriots vs. Jets, 1 p.m. ET Sunday.)

5. Dominant start for the Cowboys

Jerry Jones and Cowboys fans go into every season thinking this is their year, and while it’s too early to tell how things will pan out for them, through two weeks, Dallas has shined on both sides of the ball.

Was Mike McCarthy right about Kellen Moore? Again, it’s still early days, but since the head coach took back the play-calling duties, Dallas has attacked with poise while leading the NFL with 35 points per game and has yet to commit a turnover. Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ defense — led by Micah Parsons, who has somehow taken his game to another level — only yielded 386 yards and 10 combined scores while adding seven takeaways. However, the depth of the Cowboys’ secondary will be tested moving forward. Dallas will certainly feel the season-ending loss of top linebacker Trevon Diggs to a torn ACL. Stephon Gilmore and Darron Bland should step up.

The Cowboys find themselves at a historic start. They are only the fifth team in the Super Bowl era to score at least 70 points and allow 10 or fewer points through the first two games of the season. And with the unlucky Cardinals, Dallas could have another blowout victory on the way. (Cowboys at Cardinals, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday.)

(Photos by Justin Herbert and Kirk Cousins: Tim Nwachukwu and Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

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