It's never too early for a showdown or two in the hyper world that is the National Football League.
Today there are two battles of unbeaten teams with first place at stake. One, of course, is the Bills-Jets AFC East showdown at Giants Stadium.
The other is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Detroit Lions clash in Pontiac, Mich. They are tied with the Minnesota Vikings atop the NFC Central standings, each at 2-0.
You can hardly call Bucs vs. Lions a shootout. On one hand you have Tampa Bay (16 points allowed), the stingiest team in the NFC. On the other hand, the Lions have not managed an offensive touchdown in two games. Detroit, in fact, has visited the red zone (inside the 20) only six times in 23 possessions. The Lions have only five Jason Hanson field goals to show for those forays.
What the Lions are saying about their offense sounds an awful lot like what you hear in Orchard Park these days.
"We're close," offensive coordinator Sylvester Croom said. "There were several plays where we were just a block away from having a really, really big play."
After two games the Lions have managed a modest 160 yards rushing on an average of 2.9 per attempt despite a supposed upgrade at the running back position with the addition of James Stewart. In their upset of Washington last week, the Lions had first-and-goal from the Redskins' 2-yard line after a Robert Porcher interception but failed to push it in.
Detroit may need better than that against a Tampa Bay team that believes it is Super Bowl material.
Here's how Week Three shapes up (Arizona, Indianapolis and Tennessee have byes):
Buccaneers (2-0) at Lions (2-0)
TV: Ch. 29, 1 p.m.
The line: Bucs favored by 3.
The scoop: The Bucs appear to be more balanced on offense with Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn sharing the running burden and Shaun King getting the ball to wideouts Keyshawn Johnson and Jacquez Green almost equally. Still, it would be no surprise to see the Lions steal the defensive thunder in this one. The Lions' defense has picked off five passes and allowed only one touchdown, allowing just two possessions inside its own 20. Tampa Bay is tied with Cleveland for the league lead in sacks (11) and has five takeaways. Hanson (7 of 7 on field goals) has 21 of Detroit's 29 points. The others came on a 95-yard punt return by Desmond Howard and a two-point conversion run by James Stewart in the New Orleans game.
Fast fact: Lions have won six of last seven against Tampa Bay.
Outlook: Tampa Bay has a tad more offense, 13-6.
Vikings (2-0) at Pats (0-2)
TV: Ch. 29, 4 p.m.
The line: Patriots by 2.
The scoop: First Daunte Culpepper ran the Bears to distraction. Last week he threw for 355 yards and his first NFL TD pass in a 13-7 win over Miami. In two games, the Vikings have played just well enough to win. The Patriots have played just poorly enough to lose.
Fast fact: Six receptions by Cris Carter willpush him past Art Monk (940) and Andre Reed (941) into second behind Jerry Rice on the all-time list.
Outlook: Pats still hung over from Monday Night, 27-13.
Ravens (2-0) at Dolphins (1-1)
TV: ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Ravens by 2.
The scoop: The Ravens are shooting for the first 3-0 start in their brief history. Baltimore has given up only 76 yards total on the ground while abandoning remains a Miami tradition. In a tight defensive struggle with the Vikings last week, the Fish rushed only 16 times for 49. Lamar Smith, Miami's latest hope, gained only 27 yards in 11 carries. Dan Marino, where are you?Baltimore QB Tony Banks, who leads the league with six TD passes, goes against a Miami secondary featuring CBs Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.
Fast fact: Dolphins lead the NFL with 10 takeaways.
Outlook: The Miami heat is an equalizer but the Ravens' "D" should dominate this one, 17-7.
Broncos (1-1) at Raiders (2-0)
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.
The line: Raiders by 3.
The scoop: This should say a lot about which team is for real in the AFC West. Is it the resurgent Broncos? Is it the Raiders, who came from back from 21-0 down to humble the Colts in Indy last week as they limited Peyton Manning to 8 of 18 for 129 yards in the second half? Raider QB Rich Gannon has thrown for only one touchdown so far, but ran for three in the win over Indianapolis. Denver expects RB Terrell Davis back. Rookie Mike Anderson filled in with a 131-yard day against Atlanta last week. Joe Nedney takes over the Denver kicking duties for the injured Jason Elam (back).
Fast fact: Denver has no turnovers so far.
Outlook: Typical Denver-Oakland slugfest. Broncos frustrate the Black and Silver again, 19-17.
Falcons (1-1) at Panthers (1-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Panthers by 6.
The scoop: Two old quarterback retreads -- Chris Chandler of the Falcons and Steve Beuerlein of the Panthers -- go at it in what figures to be a high-scoring duel. Atlanta has given up 70 points in two games. Each side owns a victory over San Francisco and the lowly Niners had little trouble putting up points against either.
Fast fact: Atlanta's Chandler (53 passes) is the only NFC quarterback without an interception.
Outlook: Panthers, 35-31.
Bengals (0-1) at Jaguars (1-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Jaguars by 12 1/2 .
The scoop: The Jags, who ran for only 46 yards against the Ravens last week, will notice the difference today against the Bengals, who were pushed around by the Browns. Jax's Jimmy Smith (21 catches) and Keenan McCardell (16) rank first and fourth, respectively, in the NFL, and QB Mark Brunell leads the AFC with 687 passing yards. The Bengals weren't totally inept on offense last week. Corey Dillon averaged 5.8 yards per carry, Akili Smith passed for 250 yards, and rookie Peter Warrick had three catches for 80 yards.
Fast fact: Jacksonville has won 29 of its last 33 home games.
Outlook: Home crowd and defense gives Jags advantage, 27-17.
Giants (2-0) at Bears (0-2)
Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.
The line: Bears by 2.
The scoop: The Giants sat all over the Eagles, who had dominated Dallas the week before. Duce Staley had 201 yards at Dallas; the Giants limited him to 11. On the other side of the ball, Kerry Collins finally looks like a mature, poised, polished NFL quarterback. He's completed 70.4 percent with just one interception. WRs Ike Hilliard and Amani Toomer have 11 receptions each, and the 1-2 RB punch of Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne has been impressive. Bears try to regroup after a 41-0 wipeout at Tampa Bay.
Fast fact: Red Grange and George Halas played for Chicago and Century Milstead of Yale fame and Hinkey Haines were on the New York side when these old-line teams first met in 1925.
Outlook: Bears QB Cade McNown will endure some punishment in a 20-7 Giants win.
Saints (1-1) at Seahawks (0-2)
Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.
The line: Seahawks by 5 1/2 .
The scoop: Second West Coast game in a row for Saints. Coach Jim Haslett's defensive unit leads NFL, allowing just 187.5 yards per game.
Fast fact: Jeff Blake tied a Saints record set by Archie Manning in 1978 when he completed 33 passes last week at San Diego. Seattle showed signs of life in the OT loss to the Rams. QB Jon Kitna completed 20 of 31 after a dismal showing at Miami.
Outlook: Road-weary Saints run out of gas in second half, 24-13.
Eagles (1-1) at Packers (0-2)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Packers by 4.
The scoop: Eagles came crashing back to reality against the Giants while the Packers are 0-2 for the first time since the early '90s. Good news on the Green Bay side is that RB Dorsey Levens (knee) probably won't start and may not play.
Fast fact: These teams met for the 1960 NFL championship at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, only title game Vince Lombardi lost.
Outlook: Pack and Brett Favre settle down to business, 31-20.
Steelers (0-1) at Browns (1-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Steelers by 2.
The scoop: The bye week may not have helped the woeful Steeler offense (30 yards rushing in the opener). The Browns are tied for the NFL lead with Tampa Bay with 11 sacks and have allowed only two.
Fast fact: Browns are still looking for their first regular season win in new stardium.
Outlook: Browns won at Pittsburgh last year. No reason why they can't win first ever in new stadium. Cleveland, 17-14.
Chargers (0-2) at Chiefs (0-2)
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.
The line: Chiefs by 4.
The scoop: Chiefs faced two of the AFC's best, Indianapolis and Tennessee, to start the season. Now things get easier against the offensively-challenged Chargers, who are next to last (Detroit is last) in total offense and will start Moses Moreno at quarterback. Kansas City coach Gunther Cunningham is under fire for starting Tony Richardson as the running back spot.
Fast fact: Donnie Edwards made the 10th career interception of his career at Tennessee, joining Willie Lanier (27), Bobby Bell (26), Jim Lynch (17) and Sherrill Headrick (14) in the ranks of Chiefs LBs with 10 or more career INTs.
Outlook: Chiefs defense dominates, 21-3.
49ers (0-2) at Rams (2-0)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Rams by 16 1/2 .
The scoop: The Niners used to own the Rams, but San Francisco's defense is the worst in the league and the West Coast offense has gone South. Hard to believe but some Niner fans are clamoring for Rick Mirer to start at quarterback instead of Jeff Garcia. Mirer completed 10 of 20 for 126 yards and one TD in mop-up duty against Carolina last week.
Fast fact: St. Louis has scored 30 points or more in eight straight regular season games, an NFL record.
Outlook: Rams should roll, but odds of covering a 16-point spread are very long.
Cowboys (0-2) at Washington (1-1)
TV: Ch. 7, 9 p.m. Monday.
The line: Redskins by 10.
The scoop: The pressure on coach Norv Turner and his Redskins team builds after an unimpressive home opener against Carolina and a loss at Detroit. On top of that the Skins lost WR Michael Westbrook and had to sign Andre Reed off the street. Life isn't any rosier at the Ranch after a home stomping by Philadelphia and a blown lead at Arizona. Randall Cunningham starts in plce of Troy Aikman (concussion) once again. Washington is suffering from inconsistent quarterbacking from Brad Johnson (1-4 TD-INT ratio).
Fast fact: Dallas (33-25) has made more appearances (58) on Monday Night Football than any other team. San Francisco, with 34, has the most MNF victories.
Outlook: Cowboys' best effort of the year produces 24-21 upset.