Five things that could make NFL Week 3's underwhelming schedule surprisingly exciting

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The 2023 NFL schedule is replete with marquee matchups and exciting story lines. But Week 3 of the slate ... not so much.

No offense intended to the league's schedule-makers, but the final Sunday and Monday of September present an overall underwhelming offering of matchups. While nine 2-0 teams remain, only two of them – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles – are set to square off this week. Overall, the schedule looks heavy with lopsided matchups, and the San Francisco 49ers' 30-12 handling of the New York Giants could be a harbinger of more blowouts to come.

Still, never count out the NFL when it comes to generating unexpected entertainment. With that in mind, we asked USA TODAY Sports' NFL writers and columnists: What's one thing to watch that could actually make Week 3 exciting?

Their answers:

Chargers at Vikings

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson runs a route against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson runs a route against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Minneapolis.

Both teams reached the postseason last season and have playoff aspirations this year. But their chances of playing meaningful January football will take a significant hit if they drop to 0-3. All Los Angeles and Minnesota’s losses this young season have been one-score games. Although, lack of execution, ill-time mistakes and poor defense have plagued each squad. Minnesota has a league-worst seven giveaways, and the Chargers have the NFL’s last ranked defense through two weeks. The Vikings and Chargers have underachieved thus far, but whoever is victorious in Week 3 will have a better chance to right the ship. Sunday’s battle is as close to a must-win game as you can get in September. – Tyler Dragon

Does a matchup of 0-2 teams get more intriguing than Chargers-Vikings? Both clubs were playoff entries in 2022, yet Sunday’s meeting in Minneapolis may as well be a postseason appetizer given an 0-3 start is essentially a season killer. (Since 2002, one of 100 teams qualified for the Super Bowl tourney after dropping its first three games.) The Chargers have all the talent in the world, though could be without RB Austin Ekeler (ankle) for the second straight week. Minnesota, NFC North champs a year ago, also has plenty of premier players – namely the best receiver in the game in Justin Jefferson – and just added RB Cam Akers to the mix. Neither club is playing badly, each just a few lucky bounces from being 2-0. But the Bolts must be better late in games with the outcome in the balance, the offense tanking against both the Dolphins and Titans with victory in sight. The Vikings? Gotta clean up those turnovers after committing a league-worst seven so far. Good luck finding a more consequential game this weekend – and one that ought to be fun to watch. – Nate Davis

Rams vs. Bengals

The thing that is most holding my interest, unfortunately, will have to wait until the final game of the slate. Basically, I want to see if the Cincinnati Bengals can discover a way forward with the threat of an 0-3 start looming. The Bengals were a popular preseason Super Bowl pick and Joe Burrow was a popular preseason MVP pick (ahem) and their offense has underwhelmed. Obviously, the health of Burrow’s calf is overshadowing everything in Cincinnati, but the Bengals are not connecting — or even attempting — deep shots down the field, the O-line has been inconsistent and has forced Burrow to rely on a quick release and the run game has been one of the league’s worst (in large part because the team has faced earl deficits).

What makes this game even more interesting is that it’s a rematch of Super Bowl 56 and that the coaching staffs are quite familiar with each other; Bengals coach Zac Taylor was an assistant under Rams coach Sean McVay and both share similar offensive philosophies. L.A., in its own right, has been an interesting story as well, so this Monday night matchup has me intrigued. – Lorenzo Reyes

Broncos vs. Dolphins

It’s hard to believe that Sean Payton’s return to the NFL and start of his Broncos tenure could begin with three consecutive losses. But nothing about the way the Miami Dolphins have played this season – road victories against the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots, respectively – make them a popular candidate to be on upset watch this week. Payton said his team needs to improve defensively, and Tua Tagovailoa has thrown for the most yards through the first two weeks of 2023. The Broncos, meanwhile, have allowed 7.17 yards per passing play. While it may be Week 3, it feels like Denver’s season is on the line – and going to Miami in September isn’t the best-case scenario, even if receiver Jaylen Waddle does not suit up.

Eric Bieniemy

Can the Commanders hang one on the Buffalo Bills? If so, it will take some points creatively schemed up by the new offensive coordinator. This could be fun to watch.

Remember the narrative that suggested Bieniemy was crazy to leave the comforts of Andy Reid-Patrick Mahomes-Travis Kelce to take a dead-end job as coordinator for a team quarterbacked by somebody named Sam Howell? Well, Washington is 2-0 for the first time in 12 years, thanks to a huge comeback win at Denver that was stamped by some deft play-calling from the ultra-intense Bieniemy, out to prove he can thrive in running his own offense and that several teams were crazy for passing on him as a head coach.

Sure, it's only two games and Washington's O ranks just 19th in the league for yardage. But last Sunday, Washington scored the most points it has in a game (35) in nearly three years. And it's not like Denver's defense doesn't have teeth. Bieniemy used some timely screen passes to take advantage an aggressive rush, then after they rallied back from an 18-point deficit, he leaned on the rushing attack to control the flow. Along the way, Howell, who entered the NFL in 2022 as a fifth-round pick, threw some clutch dimes. They've come a long way in the weeks since some players complained that Bieniemy's old-school coaching style was too demanding. The details he harped on apparently matter. A stiff test come with Buffalo, again a sexy Super Bowl contender, visiting FedEx Field. Maybe Bieniemy and his balanced unit will be the difference in pulling off an upset. – Jarrett Bell

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Week 3: Five things that could make schedule surprisingly exciting