The Packers and Falcons have been, overall, the two best teams in the league over the course of two weeks. That’s really not surprising, considering how utterly dominant both were last week in easy victories. As the year goes on, this may or may not hold true, but I thought the numbers from the first two weeks might help tell us which 2-0 teams are for real, and which 0-2 teams should be just fine.
Green Bay is just about everybody’s darling, and it’s tough to argue with what they’ve done so far this year. The only chink in the armor so far has been their run defense, but that’s largely due to Michael Vick and Michael Vick alone, coming on in the 2nd half against them. So I won’t hold that too much against them (though next to last in the league never looks good). A lot of people picked Green Bay to be a legit Super Bowl contender, and there’s been nothing so far to indicate those prognostications were wrong.
The Falcons being number two might come as a surprise, except when you look at what that defense did to Tennessee, and they way the Steelers won on the road in Nashville, that Pittsburgh loss looks less and less disappointing. The Birds are 6th in offense, and 7th in both defense and special teams. The Falcons offensive ranking definitely benefits when its adjusted for opponent, and with only two opponents played so far, it will take a few weeks before this really rounds into shape. Early returns though are the Duntae Robinson signing to be worth it. The Falcons pass defense has been really good. The run defense is pretty far down the list, but that is basically due to two runs for touchdowns of 130 plus total yards.
What might be surprising is that Tampa is 3rd right now, benefiting from a strong early season defensive showing. They sure will get a great test this week with Pittsburgh. They’ve only beaten Cleveland and Carolina, and neither overly impressive. Still though, this speaks well for this teams chance to be competitive. What’s disconcerting is their offensive line. It’s been average at best, in pass protection, and absolutely horrible when it comes to the ground game. Over 1/4 of their running plays have been stopped at, or behind the line of scrimmage. The good news is they were the last place team in the South a year ago, and we know how that goes.
The AFC East, as expected, looks brutal. Miami, the Jets, and Patriots all come across in the top ten. I’m really looking forward to the Jets/Dolphins game this week. Miami could send a real statement by getting off to a 3-0 start, and if that’s the case, the Jets really can’t afford to be 1-2. Without Revis to put on Marshall, things could get interesting.
Houston has been catching everyone’s eye, and rightfully so. But they only come in at tenth, due to the fact that their defense has arguably been the worst in football so far this year. Manning and McNabb have both shredded them (interesting how far down the rankings Houston’s pass defense is, and how much Atlanta’s has risen). The Texans surely will remain and compete thanks to that offense that averages nearly a field goal per drive. But unless that defense gets shored up, can we really expect them to challenge for much more?
The Seahawks are playing good defense, and really good special teams. Golden Tate could also be used more offensively to provide a boost there. Do not at all rule them out of the post-season, especially since the 49ers seem dependent on beating themselves every way possible.
Pittsburgh and Tennessee are 1 and 2 defensively, and that’s not a surprise, at all. The Steelers run defense has been absolutely sick this year, whereas the Titans pass defense has been tops in the NFL. Unfortunately, only the Bills average fewer yards per drive than these two. No team in football has a worse successful drive rate than the Steelers, and nobody in the league scores fewer touchdowns per drive. The difference between those two teams is that the Steelers know good quarterback play is on the horizon. The Titans? Not so much. Pittsburgh might be scary, scary good this season.
Baltimore’s offense has got to get it together. They are next to last in points per drive, and 2nd to last in terms of how often they turn the ball over per drive. Their defense is good, but it’s not good enough to make up for that kind of horrible production, as we saw against Cincinnati. If their defense can’t wreak absolute havoc and force turnovers, they might be in trouble. Joe Flacco has seemingly taken several steps back. Perhaps it is just an apparition, and he’ll right the ship. He better, because they are going to have a difficult time beating teams who take care of the football if they don’t.
The Chiefs have been mid-pack on offense and defense. It’s special teams where they’ve shined, and it’s where they will have to continue to shine to probably seriously contend for a playoff spot. If Matt Cassell could pick his play up a bit, that would go a long way to making this team more legit. The running game is solid, but would be helped if there was something resembling a threat via the passing attack.
The Eagles are probably in more trouble than people are willing to say, even with Vick and his talents under center. The defense has been terrible, and it’s been bad against the run and pass. The offensive line is in shambles. A bad defense and bad offensive line means bad things. The offensive line appears to be faring better in run blocking, but that’s rather misleading. A ton of the Eagles rushing yards have come in the open field, and have been courtesy of runs of 10+ yards. The line hasn’t exactly done a good job of moving defensive lines off the ball. And with pass protection, well, no team has been worse.
Cowboy fans need not panic. They may be 0-2, but they still rank mid-pack, and they have clearly played poorly these first two games. This team still oozes with the potential to be very good. The Cowboys would be better served to run the ball more. They do it well, and if they did, they could increase the number of explosive plays in the running game (they do have Felix Jones back there), as they rank near the bottom of the league. Only the Saints have been less effective at making plays out in the open field (and I find it shocking that teams with Reggie Bush and Felix Jones rank at the bottom of this category). Defensively there could still be some concern with Dallas, it’s almost in the bottom fourth, and it’s largely due to ineffective pass defense. If their pass rush can’t get there, quarterbacks are having way too much fun against this secondary.
The Saints may be 2-0 right now, but they have not at all done it in the impressive manner with which they played last year. The offense has been good, but not spectacular, and just lost Reggie Bush (who I contend is still overrated, but that’s for another day). The defense though has had plenty of problems. Did you see San Francisco march all over them Monday night? This Falcons team is going to provide them a real test. The Saints seem to be getting knocked around a bit more, on both sides of the ball. Their run defense ranks 30th. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, In short yardage situations, the running game has been almost useless, converting on just 33% of their attempts. That’s bad.
Minnesota is 0-2 for a reason. Their offense stinks. Their defense stinks. And their special teams are just average. 16th in yards per drive, but only 29th in points per drive tells of a team who can’t put the ball in the endzone in the redzone. The good thing for the offense, is Sidney Rice, healthy, can definitely fix what ails them. The passing game has been downright terrible, and the offensive line isn’t completely to blame. On the other side of the ball, the pass defense has been pretty bad too. There’s still hope for this team, however, 0-2 Dallas looks in much better shape.
I don’t care what Donovan McNabb does, the Redskins defense better get better, and in a hurry. It’s bad all the way around. Granted, they did face the Texans offense, but they did so with a 17 point second half lead that they squandered. Yeah, the defense in D.C. is bad. Sure, the Skins are one 4th down stop away from being 2-0, but they are also some common sense by the Cowboys away from being 0-2. Don’t get your hopes up Redskins fans.
The Lions are indeed 0-2, but they’ve had a chance to win both their games, and rightfully won their opener against the Bears, but that’s neither here nor there. What’s a good sign for them is that they aren’t in the bottom fourth of either offense or defense. That’s improvement. The special teams are solid. This team isn’t going to the playoffs, but everyone who plays them better be ready to fight for 60 minutes. Give them one more off-season to address the offensive line (which is the worst run blocking line in the league thus far), and they may be okay.
Shocker, tell me if you heard this before. The Raiders are in the bottom 5 of the league, again. The offense is once against worthless, and the blame doesn’t go all on the offensive line. The running game has been solid, and the pass protection, while nothing to write home about, hasn’t been as bad as some. The change to Gradkowski definitely sparked some life into the offense. It will be interesting to see how they play the next couple of weeks. If only they had some wide receivers. And, well, maybe a run defense.
The Cardinals fall from grace is going to be a very, very rough one. Their quarterback situation is an absolute mess, and their special teams are horrible. Bad field position with a struggling quarterback is a bad, bad thing.
And surprise, surprise, the Bills are the worst team in football, and it’s a spot they will probably occupy all season long.