NFL Week 2 Recap and Power Rankings: Big Changes to the NFC?

Week 2 of the NFL season gave everyone a cruel reminder: injuries are still a big part of football.  Despite continued efforts to make the game safer, Sunday saw many big names go down with serious injuries likely to keep them for an extended period of time.  And while some teams have been luckier than others, no franchise is immune.  Among those hit the hardest are the Browns and Patriots, who will likely both start the third quarterback on their depth chart this week, the Vikings, down starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and reigning rushing leader Adrian Peterson, and the Chargers, who’ve seen two of their most dynamic offensive weapons go down with ACL tears in Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead.

The NFC has provided us with no shortage of surprises in the early going, with both the Packers and Seahawks losing last week to join the Panthers and Cardinals as “elite” teams with early setbacks.  While both Carolina and Arizona bounced back in a strong way following their opening week losses, neither Green Bay nor Seattle has looked strong in a game this season, with the Seahawks’ loss to the Rams particularly disappointing.  Instead, the talk of the NFC has focused on pleasant surprises, such as the 2-0 Giants and Eagles looking to make a push following large offseason changes, strong rookie quarterback play by the Eagles’ Carson Wentz and Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, and the Vikings, who refuse to be deterred by injuries.  Although I’d expect the big names to stay competitive, with no clear team to beat in the conference, there should be several exciting storylines in the weeks and months to come.

The AFC, alternatively, looks largely unchanged from years past, with the Broncos, Patriots, and Steelers all racing to impressive 2-0 starts.  Additionally, despite teams like the Jaguars, Dolphins, and Bills looking to turn their franchises around, all have struggled as in years past, remaining winless.  The Texans’ defense looks dominant as ever through two contests, and if their revamped offense can gel together, Houston might be the underdog pick to make a Super Bowl run.

Then, of course, there are the teams we still have no clue about.  The Chargers surrendered a 21-point lead against the Chiefs, but backed it up with a huge 24-point margin of victory in week 2 in a commanding win over the Jaguars.  The Raiders looked impressive in their road triumph against the Saints, but the defense once again let down the team in a home loss to the Falcons, who rebounded from a loss against the Bucs to look like the best passing attack in football.  Speaking of the Bucs, they were demolished by an angry Cardinals team who forced five turnovers against last year’s Rookie of the Year, Jameis Winston.  Only time will tell the contenders from the pretenders among these teams with early Jekyll and Hyde performances.  Here’s what we learned in more detail from each week 2 matchup.

Jets 37, Bills 31: Thursday night’s game feels like it took place months ago.  While making it look competitive on the scoreboard and even leading for most of the third quarter, the Bills were outmatched against the Jets, with 21 of their points coming from two pass plays of over 70 yards and a fumble return touchdown.  Outside of these big plays, the offense struggled to get much going, and the team fired their offensive coordinator after the game.  Ryan Fitzpatrick put on a great display to defeat former coach Rex Ryan, and Quincy Enunwa established himself as a reliable playmaker, creating a deadly receiver trio with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.

Panthers 46, 49ers 27: The Panthers had a strong bounce-back game from their road opener, a loss in a Super Bowl rematch with the Broncos.  Cam Newton showed last season’s MVP form in throwing for over 350 yards and four scores.  The defense also improved, learning from C.J. Anderson’s successes and stopping Carlos Hyde.  However, the Panthers committed four turnovers, which must be improved.  The 49ers weren’t terrible, but the game proved the week 1 shutout of the Rams wasn’t to be taken seriously.

Ravens 25, Browns 20: Apologies to Browns fans, I didn’t know things could possibly get this bad this quickly.  After losing Robert Griffin III in week 1, the Browns looked to have found their man in Josh McCown who led the team to a quick 20-0 lead in the first quarter, thanks in large part to an 85-yard touchdown run from Isaiah Crowell.  However, the Browns’ 20-point home lead proved not to be enough, as the Browns couldn’t manage any more points the rest of the game, including just one rushing first down.  To make matters worse, McCown’s was injured, meaning third-stringer Cody Kessler gets the start next week against the Dolphins, making him the stat of the week: fifth consecutive different starting quarterback for the Browns going back to 2015 week 15.  The Ravens looked great for the game’s final three quarters, but wins over the Bills and Browns don’t mean much.

Titans 16, Lions 15: “Hey, this might finally be the Lions year!”  It’s true, the Lions looked solid in their week 1 victory over the Colts.  However, one must remember that the Lions are the Lions, fully capable of being promising one week an utterly disappointing the next.  The game against the Titans falls into the latter category.  Three Detroit touchdowns were called back due to penalties, ultimately losing what an easily winnable game.  But credit to Marcus Mariota and the Titans, who rallied from a 15-3 fourth quarter deficit to get their season headed in the right direction.

Texans 19, Chiefs 12: Brock Osweiler’s touchdown pass to Deandre Hopkins following a J.J. Watt fumble recovery proved decisive, as each team kicked four field goals following the game’s opening score.  The Chiefs struggled to duplicate their 30-0 playoff victory against the Texans from January, instead falling victim to potentially the best defense in football, who recovered three Chiefs fumbles.  Both Hopkins and rookie Will Fuller went over 100 yards for Houston, who as I mentioned earlier, have the potential to be great if the offense works out a few kinks.  In a huge week 3 affair, the Texans deadly D takes on first-time starter Jacoby Brissett for the Patriots.

Patriots 31, Dolphins 24: (For the Patriots)- Good news: Jimmy Garoppolo is an amazing quarterback.  Bad news: he was injured.  Good news: the Patriots built up a huge lead before Garopplo left the game.  Bad news: the Dolphins scored 21 unanswered and had a pass to the end zone to tie the game as time expired.  Good news: They’re 2-0.  Bad news: They play the Texans D with Jacoby Brissett at the helm.  Good news: the game is at home.  Bad news: They’re still playing the Texans D with Jacoby Brissett at the helm.  (For the Dolphins)- Good news: you played the Seahawks and Patriots and only lost by 9 total points.  Bad news: that’s still 0-2.  Good news: The offense finally started clicking late in the Pats game.  Bad news: to have any realistic chance of challenging the Patriots, this was an important game.  Good news: You play the Browns next week.

Giants 16, Saints 13: The Giants defense has come to play in their first two games, proving the $200 million spent in free agency was worth it.  The offense, while putting up strong numbers, struggled to sustain drives, scoring only nine points against the Saints.  The good news is that Sterling Shepard looks to be a phenomenal route runner, and Victor Cruz is still a skilled receiver.  The offense will improve and has the potential to become scary.  A week 3 win against the Redskins will solidify the Giants as division favorites.  Alternatively, the Saints have lost two close games and will need a big bounce back performance from Drew Brees against the Falcons or face a dreaded 0-3 record.

Steelers 24, Bengals 16: It’s always a great game whenever the Steelers play the Bengals, and this meeting was no different.  While the Bengals had their final drive cut short by a controversial fumble ruling, the Bengals main problem in this game was an unbalanced attack.  They struggled to get anything going on the ground, picking up just one first down on 18 team carries and passing the ball on three-quarters of snaps.  Neither quarterback was particularly accurate, but credit to the Steelers for being able to punch the ball in the end zone, the deciding factor in a game where each team scored four times.

Cowboys 27, Redskins 23: Dak Prescott continued playing turnover-free, looking efficient and controlled in an important divisional game.  The other big rookie, Ezekiel Elliott, found more success than against the Giants but fumbled the ball twice.  While only one was lost, that needs to get under control.  The Redskins let this one slip away at home, and questions are already being asked of Kirk Cousins just two games into the year.  It was good to see Josh Doctson in his first NFL action, and the Skins should look to get him more involved following a single reception for 57 yards.  The Redskins are facing a must-win on the road against the Giants to avoid falling out of the division race.

Cardinals 40, Buccaneers 7: The Cardinals should have beaten the Patriots in week 1, and they knew it.  The Cardinals came out angry and hungry for a huge performance to silence the doubters.  Mission accomplished.  Jameis Winston’s big play mentality backfired in a major way, resulting in five turnovers.  On offense, Carson Palmer made quick work of the Bucs’ D, racking up three touchdown passes in a 24-point second quarter.  All NFC West teams currently stand at 1-1, but the Cardinals showed they should be the favorites going forward.  For the Bucs, keep watch of running back Doug Martin’s injury.  He’s a big part of an offense that can play much better than they did in this game.

Rams 9, Seahawks 3: Really?  Like, really?  Just what is it about the Rams that the Seahawks haven’t figured out?  Now victorious in four of their last five matchups with Seattle, the Rams won their first home game in L.A. since 1994 through a defensive battle that ranks as the most boring game of the year, somehow passing the Rams’ first game of the season, a 28-0 loss to the 49ers.  The Seahawks offense has now scored just 13 points in two games and look like a different team entirely without Marshawn Lynch.  It’ll take a while to understand how the Rams won this game, but I’m still not giving them much credit until they score their first touchdown of the year.  But hey, with nine points in two games, they’ll take 1-1.

Broncos 34, Colts 20: Just how good is this Broncos defense?  They held Andrew Luck to under 200 yards and just a 52.5% completion percentage while getting five sacks and scoring two defense touchdowns- both a pick six and a scoop n’ score.  Von Miller was the man, with three of the sacks and the forced fumble leading which was returned for six.  We haven’t seen a defensive MVP in a while…  Trevor Siemian is still a work in progress but plays composed and, like Peyton Manning a year ago, isn’t taking them out of games, and letting the defense go to work.  They remain #1 in my power rankings, but will be on upset alert against the Bengals in week 3.  As for the Colts, it’s another disappointing 0-2 start.

Falcons 35, Raiders 28: Imagine how good the Raiders would be if they could stop someone every once in a while.  Oakland has now surrendered 69 points in two games, and regardless of how great the AC/DC connection might be, you aren’t going to win games that way.  This time around, the Raiders had an incredible Amari Cooper touchdown taken back for Cooper voluntarily going out of bounds and catching the ball without reestablishing himself.  On the flip side, Matt Ryan might be the best quarterback in football through two games.  On a streak of five consecutive 4,000 yard passing seasons, Ryan has 730 yards in just two games.  The success of the Falcons, however, is dependent on the defense, just like the Raiders.

Chargers 38, Jaguars 14: Man did the Jags look bad.  Credit to the Chargers for easily taking care of business and taking a 35-point lead entering the fourth quarter.  The problem for the Chargers will be duplicating this kind of performance without Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead.  They played a near-perfect game of football on both sides and proved they should be taken seriously.  But the Jags…it was ugly, to say the least.  And 50 passes to just 11 rushes?  Let’s try to even things about a bit.  Bortles still managed to throw for over 300 yards, but much of it came in garbage time, and he once again struggled with turnovers, committing three in the game.

Vikings 17, Packers 14 (GAME OF THE WEEK): What a way to open up a new stadium.  Things were looking bad for the Vikings, with the Bridgewater injury forcing the team to trade a first-round pick to acquire Sam Bradford from the Eagles.  It might be just one game, but Bradford might have actually been worth it.  The injury-ridden veteran played marvelously, hooking up with breakout performer Stefon Diggs nine times for 182 yards and a touchdown despite facing a persistent pass rush.  It took a team effort from the Vikings defense as well, who forced three fumbles from Aaron Rodgers in what was one of the worst games of the two-time MVP’s career.  In the end, an interception sealed the deal for the now 2-0 Vikings who will continue to fight adversity with injuries to Adrian Peterson.

Eagles 29, Bears 14: You could put the Eagles in the same category as the Ravens, seeing as they’re both 2-0 with wins coming over the bottom three teams in my power rankings (both had the pleasure of playing the Browns).  However, the Eagles have been far more dominant, winning each game by at least two touchdowns.  While Carson Wentz continued his strong start to the season, the Eagles’ vicious pass rush and the pressure put on Jay Cutler really set the tone for a dominant win made only less impressive looking by an Eddie Royal punt return touchdown.  But can the Eagles do the same their AFC Pennsylvania counterparts, the Steelers?  That’s the real question.

Here’s how my power rankings look through two weeks of action.  As usual, my picks for week 3 are coming tomorrow.  Not many gimmes next week (although really there are no gimmes in this league).  One tough slate ahead.

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