As mentioned in the last NFL round up, a week is a long time on the road to the Superbowl. Each game represents 6.25% of the regular season; that might not seem a lot but compared to rugby (4.5%) and football (2.6%) it certainly represents a more significant chunk of the ‘margin of error’ that may be needed to get into the post season. Whilst there is a long way to go, it is possibly appropriate to look at those teams that have had the good, and the not so good, starts to the season and focus on the 2-0 and 0-2 brigade before we head into week 3.
Heading into week 3 there are eight 2-0 teams, with five of them in the AFC. Two of those can be found in the AFC East where the Patriots are just ahead of the surprise package of the Miami Dolphins. Traditional domination of the division with a promising, but lucky, upstart? Far from it. The Patriots points difference of +5 shows how close things have been, only managing to beat the Bills by 2 in week 1, and the Jets by 3 in week 2. More than that, the relationship between their star QB Brady and the rest of the team appears to be slipping; this is a team that was the epitome of ruthless professionalism for so long, and yet the personnel changes in the team over the close season appear to have upset the balance. Then again, it is the mark of a good team that can win whilst playing ‘ugly’, and a 2-0 divisional record puts them in a very good place. They will be looking to secure a win against a poor (borderline imploding) Tampa in week 3, but this division could turn out to be far closer that anyone thought if the Jets can sort themselves out (unlikely given the QB trouble) and Bills maintain their impressive level of performance. Miami’s win over Cleveland is difficult to assess – the Browns look pretty poor – but the win at Indianapolis was another matter. This was a tight game that the Dolphins nearly let slip, but Tannehill had an excellent game with 23/34 for 319 yards and 1 TD. The next two weeks will be very difficult for the Dolphins (who are 2-0 for the first time in what seems like donkey’s years); Atlanta at home will be difficult and a trip to New Orleans certainly won’t be a picnic (although seeing that game as a meeting of 3-0 teams would be surreal). It is a bit too early to peg Miami as play off material, but they and their fans should take heart from an impressive early start.
Houston are secure at the top of the AFC South with a 2-0 record, but is this the sign of a dominant team? I don’t think so. A record 21 point fightback that was nearly too late against the unfancied Chargers in week 1 saw them squeak a win, and they required another 4th Quarter comeback to beat the Titans. This is not a team that is storming to the top in the way it appeared to do last season, although the same ‘win ugly’ epithet applied to the Patriots may apply here as well. Will they win the AFC South? Almost certainly, even if they don’t improve tremendously they should have enough to hold off their rivals, but this is not what Houston want. If they are to win the Big One, they’ll need to play better than this.
The AFC West is home to the other two 2-0 teams – the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos. Kansas’ record may flatter them slightly with one win against the hapless (and utterly abysmal) Jacksonville Jaguars, but the defeat of Dallas in week 2 underlined their credentials. But this is a team that has now matched their entire win total from 2012. Is this a team that can set the NFL alight? Possibly not. Going from a 2-14 to the play-offs is certainly possible, but more time is needed to see if the Dallas win was due to an exceptional Chiefs team or a weak Dallas team. Denver, on the other hand, look as though they are justifying their pre-season status as one of the favourites for the Superbowl. A comprehensive beating of the reigning champions in week 1 was followed by a similarly dominating victory against the Giants in week 2. Manning (P) couldn’t match the 7 TDs of week 1 (but then again, who could expect him to), but his two TDs helped the Broncos rack up 41 points whilst the defence forced his younger brother to throw 4 interceptions. Both offensively and defensively the Broncos have impressed against good opposition, and if they – and particularly Peyton – can remain healthy they should go all the way.
The first NFC team with a 2-0 record is the Chicago Bears. Two narrow wins have secured this position, and I was able to watch the second of these against the Vikings on Sunday. Did they look like a 2-0 team? No. Even playing against the traditionally poor Vikings secondary they fluffed their lines, and Cutler was lucky to be given an escape route to take the win back (although, to be fair, he did at least run that drive well). They should be a 2-0 team at this stage, but by more than 4 points. They face a tricky trip to Pittsburgh next, and then at the Lions, by which time we’ll see if I am being unfair.
New Orleans have secured a 2-0 record beating both Atlanta and Tampa Bay, and whilst they haven’t blown out either team they have done enough to justify their position atop the pile in the NFC South. Arizona might just put an end to this run next week though. Seattle rounds off the NFC 2-0 teams, and whilst their win at Carolina might not have been impressive the victory over San Francisco certainly was. The 49ers have been heavily tipped for a return to the Superbowl this year, and the Seahawks restricted them to one FG in what is turning into one of the most ’emotional’ rivalries in the NFL. That victory, though, puts the Seahawks at the top of my NFC teams.
These teams will start to worry. 0-2 teams have made the post season, so it isn’t all over, but for some it looks a much steeper hill to climb. Again there are eight 2-0 teams, mirroring the other side with five in the NFC and three in the AFC. Two of the AFC 0-2 teams are in the AFC North, namely the Browns and the surprising Steelers. The Browns loss to Miami may not have been completely expected, but few would have expected them to beat the Ravens – and that was before the Ravens were beaten in week one. But the Steelers are the real surprise having gone down to the Titans and the Bengals. The problem is that these weren’t really close defeats for the Steelers, and there isn’t a clear sign of when they might get over this bump in the road. True, they are suffering from injuries, but there is no depth in a team that is giving up a lot of penalties and turnovers. Chicago and Minnesota won’t be easy for the next two games, but two wins are needed to get this team back on track.
The final AFC 0-2 team is Jacksonville, losing to Kansas City and Oakland. Two games, two defeats, 11 points in total and no TDs. This is a truly dreadful team. Seattle in week 3 won’t help (although Sporting Gods everywhere have been known to use matchups like these to remind people that there are no ‘sure things’), but even looking down the ‘to play’ list it is difficult to find a potential win. This could be a 0-16 year for the Jaguars (only 2 worse than last year) – something Detroit would like to see I think.
The NFC North sees two surprising names on the 0-2 list: New York Giants and Washington Redskins. New York have had two tough games at Dallas and at home to Denver, so I don’t see a real worry here other than Eli’s ability to throw interceptions (that needs sorting sooner rather than later!). They should beat Carolina in week 3 to get off the mark. Washington don’t look anything like the team from last season, and questions have to be asked as to whether their charismatic QB has lost a step or two coming back from injury – even if it is only temporary. The Eagles should have been beaten at home, and although GB were always going to be tricky (especially after they had suffered an opening week defeat) they were utterly taken apart in the first half. Second half comebacks are something of familiar territory for the Redskins, but that only works if the lead the other team has isn’t too large! Detroit in week 3 is a game that the Redskins would expect to win all day long; a defeat here and their season could completely unravel.
Carolina in the NFC South have faced a very difficult Seattle whilst giving a good account of themselves before going down to the surprising Bills in a close game. 0-2 isn’t where a team that was looking to improve on last season’s 7-9 would want to be, and they will want to beat the Giants before their bye week, but it could be tough going. In fact, looking at the records thus far the Carolina – New York Giants game could be the match of the week! Tampa are also sitting on 0-2 in the NFC South, and rumours of an unhappy camp won’t help them. Two defeats aren’t a great start, even if they were very close at the Jets and at home to New Orleans, but when combined with apparent discord in the camp (or at least with the Coach) then a team stands on the precipice of a complete collapse. Travelling to New England is not an ideal way to foster unity, and with Arizona in week 4 it is quite possible that Tampa will be 0-4 before their bye week.
The last 0-2 team is the Minnesota Vikings. Yes, the greatest American Football team in existence has been consigned to the bottom of the NFC North (are my allegiances showing?). The defeat at Detroit was bad enough, but the loss to Chicago was painful after being in a winning position. Elements of the team played well throughout, but I am afraid that Ponder is not a franchise QB and without a franchise QB I can’t see the Vikings making a push for the Superbowl. Play offs will be tricky enough, but frankly the play offs are a waste of time unless you are going to win the title. Home to Cleveland will hopefully see a first win, before a home match against Pittsburgh that is a home match in London. Dear God don’t let that be an International Series match between two teams without a win…
So it would appear that some 2-0 teams aren’t a dominating as the record would suggest, nor are some 0-2 teams as bad as that would indicate (Denver and Jacksonville notwithstanding). The real surprises are in Pittsburgh, and, to an extent, in Tampa which might be worth following for the sheer soap opera aspect! I just wonder how this will all look after each team has 8 games under their belt?