So I had initially planned on doing NFL Power Rankings (ranking the teams in order from best to worst) starting after week two of the season. My plans changed because history was made; for the first time in NFL history a record NINETEEN teams are 1-1 after the second week of the season. Because there are so many 1-1 teams I didn't feel like it would be reasonable to rank them all. So what I'm going to do is take a look at the 2-0 teams as well as the 0-2 teams and give my thoughts and analysis on each. Next week I will start the Power Rankings outright.
The 2-0 Teams:
The Houston Texans: To the surprise of very few, the Texans continued where they left off last season and might even be a better team altogether. Granted, they beat up on two very bad teams (the Dolphins and Jaguars) but good teams should get decisive victories over lesser competition and the scores in those games weren't even really indicative of how dominant the Texans were on both sides of the ball. They're playing smothering defense, forcing turnovers and getting to the quarterback. They have one of the strongest running games in the league with Arian Foster and Ben Tate, plus Matt Schaub is back, healthy and opens up their passing game. Week 3 against the Broncos should be an interesting game, but I have a feeling the Texans Defense will be able to figure out Peyton Manning.
The San Fransisco 49ers: Many people (myself included) thought that the 49ers would take a step back this year. Last season everything just fit so perfectly into place, and often when that happens (especially with a new head coach) there is some regression. It's been quite the contrary. The 49ers have beaten the Packers and the Lions, two playoff teams from last year, in back to back games. All the talk about the 49ers defense being the best in football is not an exaggeration. They mob the ball, hit hard, create constant pressure and dominate against the run. The offense has improved as well, with Alex Smith finally getting comfortable after having an offensive-minded coach and the same playbook for two years in a row. I think the 49ers are going to make a strong push for the Super Bowl this year.
The Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons have started strong, dominating Kansas City in the season opener to the tune of 40-24, with most of Kansas City's points coming in garbage time after Atlanta had a firm lead. Last Monday night they had an impressive win over the Denver Broncos, forcing Peyton Manning to throw 3 interceptions in the process. The defense is playing much better under new coordinator Mike Nolan, disguising coverages and being opportunistic. They still have a problem of letting teams get back into the game late (which has been an issue for them for years) and they'll need to watch that going forward. The Roddy White/Julio Jones combo is looking fantastic and Jones is gradually becoming a dominant NFL receiver. Matt Ryan looks as sharp as ever and Tony Gonzales is even still getting it done at age 60 or however old he is. Michael Turner is going to miss some time due to injury, but he has slowed down a lot with age and carries and Jacquizz Rodgers is a dangerous, explosive weapon out of the backfield. Next week's matchup against the Chargers should be another good game.
The San Diego Chargers: Norv Turner's Charger teams historically do not start off the season well, but they've bucked that trend this year. Granted, they've played two of the worst teams in the league in Tennessee and Oakland, but as I said with the Texans; good teams should dominate inferior competition. Phillip Rivers looks very crisp and fully recovered from the rib-injury that he denied affected him last year. I'll be interested to see how they fare against some legitimate competition in Atlanta next week, but for this team, starting off 2-0 is very good.
The Arizona Cardinals: A surprise, and somewhat sloppy 2-0 start for the Cardinals this season. John Skelton started the first game at QB but was knocked out with an injury forcing Kevin Kolb into the lineup. I think that Kolb was humbled by being benched as he has performed efficiently the last two weeks. They beat division-rival Seattle in week one despite bad officiating that allowed Seattle four time-outs in the second half. To the shock of pretty much everyone, they beat the Patriots in New England in week two. There was quite a bit of luck involved in that win; Stephen Gostkowski missed a 42 yard, game-winning field goal in the last seconds, which is a rarity for him. But to the Cardinals credit their defense played amazingly well against New England, flustering Tom Brady and shutting them down for most of the game. There is a lot of talent on this D, and especially with last year's first round pick Patrick Peterson starting to hit his stride, the defense can keep the Cardinals competitive this season while the offense just needs to play efficient, mistake-free football.
The Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles are quite possibly the ugliest 2-0 team ever. I mean, I'll give credit where credit is due because they managed to eek out wins in both games but this is a sloppy team that is going to start struggling at any time. In week one they could barely get by the Cleveland Browns until the very end of the game, beating them by one point. Exact same scenario in week two against the Ravens with a 1 point victory. Michael Vick is just not playing well. He still can't read blitzes at all, his speed and quickness has deteriorated quite a bit, he throws too many picks and Andy Reid somehow still insists on having him throw the ball 40+ times a game. He's also taking WAY too many nasty hits, and given his history he will most likely miss some games due to injury this season. The Eagles defense, although loaded with talent, is equally sloppy. It might have helped if they had hired an actual defensive coach rather than a converted O-line coach but what do I know? The defense gets way too many penalties, gives up third downs too often and has a lot of issues in coverage. I don't know what happened to Nmadi Asomugha but his days as a lockdown corner that you can't throw near seem to be over. The ugly win-streak for the Eagles likely won't last long and I have a hard time seeing this team making the playoffs.
The 0-2 Teams:
The Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs just have way too much talent on both sides of the ball to be getting beaten as badly as they have. Granted, they have a mediocre quarterback, but they have a solid O-line, a dynamic running back, talented receivers and what should be a dominating defense. I'm not sure what's going on in KC. They looked strong to close out the season last year but have not been able to make any progress. The defense has 3 1st round picks on the line, an excellent pass-rushing combo in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, a great safety in Eric Berry and a shutdown corner in Brandon Flowers. How are they giving up so many points? I'm not sure, but they had better make some adjustments fast because they could fall behind very quickly.
The Tennessee Titans: I thought the Titans would actually fair pretty well this season with Jake Locker adding a spark to the offense and the defense being as solid as usually but much like the Chiefs the Titans have come out of the gates falling on their faces. Perhaps the biggest mystery of all is Chris Johnson. The guy rushed for over 2,000 yards just two seasons ago and at least passed the 1,000 yard mark in a down season last year. His two-game total so far this season? 21 yards rushing and 8 yards receiving. I don't know if he just stopped caring after he got his big contract or never got back into football shape but it almost looks like the guy is finished. Jake Locker might need some more time to develop as well but the Titans have really shown me nothing to think they could be competitive this season.
The Oakland Raiders: Nobody is surprised that the Oakland Raiders aren't playing well. This team basically lost all of it's best defensive players in one way or another this offseason. Their best pass-rusher Kamerion Wimbley signed with the Titans. Their best Cornerback Stanford Routt signed with the Chiefs. They have no depth at any position on D. On top of that, the aging, regressing Carson Palmer is their starting QB and they are trying to run more of a west-coast system, which is completely counterproductive to all of the speedy wideouts they've accumlated over the years. It's gonna be another long season for Raiders fans and they'll likely end the Carson Palmer experiment after this season.
The Cleveland Browns: Another team that nobody is really surprised to be underperforming. They've actually been in both games they lost but don't have the overall talent to put up wins. I will say this; Trent Richardson starting at 100% health made all the difference in the world in week two as he gained a ton of yards, scored some TD's and took some pressure off of rookie QB Brandon Weedon. That's about all they have going for them right now as Weeden will continue to struggle and they're hampered by injuries on defense. On top of all that, the team is now under new ownership so it's a distinct possibility that the entire front office, Mike Holmgren included, could be cleaned out this offseason, forcing Browns fans to endure a rebuilding season for the umpteenth time.
The Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Blaine Gabbert was heavily scrutinized in the offseason and with good reason, and to his credit he has improved a little bit but not enough to where I think he should be a starting NFL quarterback. He has improved as a passer but is still badly flustered by any kind of pressure and afraid to take chances. Here's a stat for you: In the third quarter of last week's game Gabbert had 13 pass attempts, for 13 yards. That's something that should never happen. Maurice Jones-Drew did finally show up once the season started but he can't carry a team and the defense still has no pass rush. This is still looking like a 2-4 win team.
The New Orleans Saints: There was nothing but drama for the Saints this offseason between "bountygate" and Drew Brees's contract. Many reasonably predicted they would struggle with their head coach being suspended for the season but it hasn't been Sean Payton's absence that's hurting them; it's their defense. The Saints D has looked almost completely inept in their first two games. In week one they let a rookie starting his first game (Robert Griffin III) throw all over them and give up 30 points. Last week against the Panthers they had no answer for the running game and got plowed over for four quarters. This isn't due to the lack of Jonathan Vilma either; he's slowed down quite a bit over the last couple years. The Saints have the talent to make the turn around and one of the best QB's in the league but they had better do it quickly because they are in a tough division.
That's it for me this week. I encourage any and all feedback. I'll see you next week for the first official NFL Power Rankings of the Season.