Each week, national NFL writer Mark Maske will provide his ranking of the league’s 32 teams. Pittsburgh got some quality production from an old, familiar source in moving to 2-0. Meanwhile, Dallas showed serious flaws in a punishing loss to the Broncos.
2. Atlanta Falcons (2-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 2
A huge lead didn’t (quite) evaporate this time. The win Sunday night over the Packers was impressive. Matt Ryan-to-Julio Jones still is mighty good. The defense generated turnovers. The Falcons seem to have left the Super Bowl behind and still look like the No. 1 team in the NFC. But Sunday’s game also was costly, with pass rusher extraordinaire Vic Beasley expected to miss about a month with a hamstring injury.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 3
The offense was very good against the Eagles for a second straight game. Rookie RB Kareem Hunt continued to stand out and QB Alex Smith provided another solid outing. The defense sacked Eagles QB Carson Wentz six times. But covering opposing tight ends will be an issue after safety Eric Berry’s season-ending injury, made plain by the Eagles’ Zach Ertz’s five catches for 97 yards. The Chiefs have probably been the most impressive of the three very impressive AFC West teams, with the Broncos and Raiders also 2-0.
4. New England Patriots (1-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 6
Tom Brady is back to being Tom Brady, rather than the impostor who found his way on the field during the opening loss to the Chiefs. Brady took out his frustrations on the Saints’ defense and the Patriots looked like their old, reliable selves. But the injuries are piling up, with TE Rob Gronkowski, RB Rex Burkhead and WRs Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett all hurt Sunday. Still, as long as Brady is on the field, the Patriots remain among the AFC’s top contenders. He and Coach Bill Belichick will find a way to make things work.
5. Oakland Raiders (2-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 7
RB Marshawn Lynch has a relatively modest 121 rushing yards on 30 carries in the first two games of his NFL return with the Raiders. Perhaps he is conserving energy for his sideline dance routine. This is, as expected, an excellent team, and the odd dynamic of whether the city will fully embrace its rejuvenated but soon-to-depart franchise will be interesting to watch all season.
6. Baltimore Ravens (2-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 11
This appears to be a defense-first team. The Ravens have allowed only 10 points in two games and get to face struggling-once-again QB Blake Bortles and the Jaguars this weekend before readying for a meeting with the Steelers. It’s up to QB Joe Flacco and the offense to realize their role by avoiding big mistakes and allowing the defense to win games.
7. Denver Broncos (2-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 12
The defense was very effective Sunday and made Dallas’s offense look extremely bad. If it wasn’t quite the caliber of the Super Bowl-winning unit’s from a couple years ago, it was pretty close. Trevor Siemian signaled that he just might be able to give the Broncos the play they need at QB. Yet until he does it on a consistent basis, it’s best not to get too carried away.
8. Detroit Lions (2-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 8
Their triumph Monday night at the Meadowlands allowed the Lions to join the Falcons and Panthers as the NFC’s only 2-0 teams. They also showed that they can win a game without QB Matthew Stafford necessarily leading the way after he threw for only 122 yards against the Giants. But the Lions played good defense, ran the ball effectively and got a brilliant TD on a punt return by rookie Jamal Agnew. They’re a more balanced team than they’ve been in the past.
9. Carolina Panthers (2-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 14
The Panthers are 2-0 and that’s a rarity in the NFC. But the offense has struggled and QB Cam Newton still is finding his way as he adjusts to his new offensive role. He simply cannot last playing as he did in his MVP season two years ago, when he ran the ball with abandon and put his body at such risk. The adjustment to being more of a pocket passer is difficult but necessary, and it will only get tougher with the loss of TE Greg Olsen to a broken foot.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 17
Is it time to believe in the Buccaneers? Perhaps. They continue to improve with QB Jameis Winston, and they looked very good Sunday in thrashing the Bears. Tampa Bay’s biggest problem might be playing in the same division as the NFC’s last two Super Bowl participants, the Panthers and Falcons, who are both off to 2-0 starts.
11. Seattle Seahawks (1-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 9
If members of the Seahawks’ defense aren’t upset with the team’s offense at this point, maybe they should be.
12. Green Bay Packers (1-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 4
QB Aaron Rodgers had far too little help as things progressed Sunday night in Atlanta. His injury-plagued offensive line left him to absorb too many jarring hits and the exits of WRs Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb didn’t help, either. The Packers will remain among the NFC’s best teams if and when they can put their projected starters on the field. But until then, it will be difficult for Rodgers and the offense to thrive.
13. Dallas Cowboys (1-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 5
RB Ezekiel Elliott was a nonfactor in Denver and QB Dak Prescott couldn’t get it done against the Broncos’ pass rush without a viable running game to help him out. Elliott and Prescott played perhaps their worst NFL games in tandem, and Elliott’s lack of hustle and effort to try to make a tackle after a Prescott interception was inexcusable. Coach Jason Garrett and owner Jerry Jones would be wise to address that in a meaningful way, more meaningful than Garrett merely speaking to Elliott about it.
14. Houston Texans (1-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 18
Rookie QB Deshaun Watson made the one play that mattered in Thursday night’s triumph over the Bengals with his dazzling 49-yard TD run just before halftime. That play demonstrated why Watson should have been the starter all along. He can make something out of nothing, and those situations will arise far too frequently with the current state of the offensive line. Tom Savage did not deserve to be benched after one half of one game. But Watson should have been playing already. And now that he is, the Texans are a bit better on offense.
15. Tennessee Titans (1-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 20
The Titans got the running game revved up, mostly with Derrick Henry, in their victory in Jacksonville to overcome a mediocre passing performance by QB Marcus Mariota. Nobody, it appears, is going to run away with this division, and the Titans’ chances to win the AFC South look as good as anyone’s.
16. Miami Dolphins (1-0) | Last Week’s Rank: 21
QB Jay Cutler was pretty good in his first game for the Dolphins after being lured out of retirement, throwing for 230 yards and a TD in the win in L.A. over the Chargers. Most importantly, he didn’t throw an interception. It’s so far, so good in his reunion with Coach Adam Gase, who continues to seem to know how to get the best out of Cutler.
17. Philadelphia Eagles (1-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 10
Why, exactly, did the Eagles sign RB LeGarrette Blount if his second game with the team was going to be a zero-carry outing? That’s what happened Sunday in Kansas City, when Coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich dialed up 46 passing attempts by QB Carson Wentz. That’s just misguided, pass-happy offensive play-calling. The Eagles did manage to get WRs Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith more involved in the offense. But they need to utilize Blount or get rid of him.
18. Washington Redskins (1-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
Things could have come unraveled very early in the season but QB Kirk Cousins led the big drive when it counted and the Redskins emerged with a tough victory over the Rams. All it means, really, is that a terrible start is averted. The injury issues of TE Jordan Reed remain a concern. The offense simply isn’t the same without him. And the Redskins face a tough game with the Raiders coming to town to play Sunday night at FedEx Field.
19. New York Giants (0-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 13
The Giants are 0-2 and the offense is a mess. The offensive line is doing QB Eli Manning no favors and his receivers are dropping too many passes. Odell Beckham Jr. played Monday night against the Lions but only a limited number of plays. Fellow WR Brandon Marshall has been a nonfactor. The Giants have gone eight straight games without reaching 20 points, including last season’s playoff defeat to the Packers. They probably will be playing for their season Sunday in Philadelphia.
20. Arizona Cardinals (1-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 27
Narrowly beating the Luck-less Colts technically counts as a win. But it’s not exactly much of a confidence-booster. With RB David Johnson sidelined, it appears the offense will be all about the passing of QB Carson Palmer.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 15
Blake Bortles, alas, is still Blake Bortles. And maybe the Jaguars aren’t for real, after all.
22. Los Angeles Rams (1-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 16
Second-year QB Jared Goff got a chance to deliver in crunchtime Sunday and didn’t come through. It’s part of the learning and developmental process. There still is reason for optimism under Sean McVay, the team’s first-year coach, and defensive guru Wade Phillips. But the Rams have not arrived quite yet.
23. Minnesota Vikings (1-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 19
The Vikings probably weren’t going to win in Pittsburgh with Sam Bradford at QB. They certainly weren’t going to win with Case Keenum at QB. But when Coach Mike Zimmer said that Bradford’s knee is “fine” regardless of whether he plays this week or in six weeks, that’s not exactly quieting the alarm bells. Few would consider Bradford’s knee to be fine if it takes him six weeks to be ready to play again.
24. Los Angeles Chargers (0-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 24
That’s two stomach-churning losses for the Chargers to open the season. It has a familiar feel to it, doesn’t it? Rookie kicker Younghoe Koo is a wonderful story but his two missed late FGs have already put his job on the line. Coach Anthony Lynn is sticking with him for now but that can’t last if Koo’s clutch misses continue. The Chargers aren’t a bad team. But 0-2 is 0-2. And their inability to fill even the tiny StubHub Center on Sunday means that the “Fight for L.A.” is not off to a promising beginning.
25. Buffalo Bills (1-1) | Last Week’s Rank: 26
So the stay in first place in the AFC East lasted only one week. But it was a glorious week, wasn’t it?
26. Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 23
Colin Kaepernick deserves to be in the NFL. And if that ends up happening in Cincinnati, great. But it is a bit odd to see Kaepernick’s name come up in association with the Bengals given that they have a backup QB of some promise, AJ McCarron, who could get a chance if Andy Dalton is benched. There was plenty of pressure on Dalton and Coach Marvin Lewis entering the season, and it’s only intensifying with the 0-2, no-TDs-in-two-games start.
27. New Orleans Saints (0-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 25
At this point, another 7-9 season actually might qualify as a major accomplishment. The defense has allowed opposing QBs Sam Bradford and Tom Brady to complete a combined 57 of 71 passes for 793 yards and six TDs with no interceptions in two games. Any controversy over RB Adrian Peterson’s role is a mostly meaningless accompaniment to the fact that this simply isn’t a very good team.
28. Indianapolis Colts (0-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 28
The move to Jacoby Brissett at QB proved to be an upgrade over Scott Tolzien and the Colts at least remained competitive against the Cardinals. But actually win a game? Don’t get carried away. Until Andrew Luck returns, Indianapolis is likely to remain very bad.
29. Chicago Bears (0-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 29
The calls for a switch to rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky are beginning. It serves to underscore just how disjointed the Bears’ offseason plan for dealing with their QB situation was, first handing out a big contract to Mike Glennon in free agency and then trading up to draft Trubisky second overall. Sure, it might be time to turn to Trubisky. But does that mean casting aside Glennon so quickly and, in effect, admitting that his contract was a major mistake? It’s not a good situation but it is one of the Bears’ own doing.
30. San Francisco 49ers (0-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 30
Anyone who thought things would look any different in the first season of Coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch’s new regime hadn’t taken a close look at the situation those two inherited. There are no quick fixes here. This is going to take time.
31. Cleveland Browns (0-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 31
Migraines can be completely debilitating so there should be nothing but sympathy for rookie QB DeShone Kizer’s exit from Sunday’s game and subsequent return. But there’s always something with the Browns, isn’t there? Kizer’s play took a step backward with his four-turnover performance against the Ravens. The Browns are now 1-17 since the start of last season.
32. New York Jets (0-2) | Last Week’s Rank: 32
Why does one get the feeling there will be plenty of dancing opportunities on the opposite sideline at Jets games this season?
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