Atlanta, Denver, Houston, Minnesota and Philadelphia are in deep trouble.
Since 2007, only 10 of 100 teams that started 0-2 went on to make the playoffs, and none of these five appear to be in great shape to defy those odds.
We’ll start with the Broncos, who are in the worst shape of all of them after quarterback Drew Lock suffered a shoulder injury in Sunday’s loss to Pittsburgh that will keep him out for up to six weeks. The injury news got worse Monday: Top wide receiver Courtland Sutton has been lost for the year with an ACL injury. With star pass rusher Von Miller already out for the season, Denver could find itself out of the playoff mix by the time Lock returns.
While the Broncos might have been a bit of a long shot to get to the postseason with a young, rebuilt offense, the drop-off for 2019 playoff teams Philadelphia and Minnesota has been stunning. Last year, Carson Wentz carried the Eagles to the postseason despite a shortage of help at wide receiver, but through two games he is completing just 58.8 percent of his passes and averaging six yards per attempt. He has thrown four interceptions, including one in the red zone in Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
The Vikings knew this would be a tough year on defense after they lost several players because of salary cap issues, but no one would have predicted it to be this bad. Through two weeks, they rank 31st in scoring defense, allowing 35.5 points per game. The offense is struggling, too: Quarterback Kirk Cousins completed just 11 of 26 passes for 113 yards and three interceptions in Sunday’s loss to Indianapolis.
“This team has kind of been built on controlling the time of possession, playing great in the red zone and on third downs, and we haven’t been doing that very well,” Coach Mike Zimmer said. “We’re going to have to get back to work and try to figure out what’s wrong, because the identity of this team has not been what it has been for the last six years.”
The identity of the Falcons is the vertical passing ability and leadership of Matt Ryan. While that has been solid through two games, the defense hasn’t held up its end of the bargain. A week after allowing Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to complete 88 percent of his passes, the Falcons blew a 29-10 lead to Dallas and lost, 40-39. Their young cornerbacks haven’t been able to hold up, and the Falcons rank last in the NFL with 39 points per game allowed.
The Texans’ 0-2 start can be explained somewhat by the fact that they had to open with games against the AFC’s two best teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens. But on the other hand, Houston should be able to compete with both. The Texans lead the league in average salary per player, according to OverTheCap.com, and they aren’t getting their money’s worth. Deshaun Watson is doing his part, but the defense has been so bad that Watson hasn’t stood a chance to win shootouts. It doesn’t get much easier for Houston this week with a road trip to play the 2-0 Pittsburgh Steelers.
This was one of the worst weeks for injuries that I can remember.
Saquon Barkley is out for the year with a torn ACL, and Christian McCaffrey will miss a month or more with a high ankle sprain. That was just the tip of the iceberg for one of the worst days for NFL injuries that I’ve seen.
The San Francisco 49ers might have been affected most. Defensive end Nick Bosa blew out an ACL. Defensive end Solomon Thomas did the same. Halfback Raheem Mostert suffered a medial collateral ligament injury. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could miss time with a high ankle sprain. The 49ers complained that the MetLife Stadium turf was a problem, and they have to go back there Sunday to play the Giants.
I keep track of missed starts on a weekly basis, and next week could produce the highest number of missed starts that we’ve seen during Week 3 in several seasons.
The Cam Newton signing looks like one of the best in years.
New England Coach Bill Belichick signed him to a one-year, $1.75 million contract after Newton had gone unsigned for weeks following his release by the Panthers. At the time, players couldn’t fly to cities for workouts and physicals, and there were concerns about Newton’s health.
There are no concerns anymore. On Sunday night in a 35-30 loss to Seattle, Newton looked like a $30-plus million quarterback. He completed 30 of 44 passes for 397 yards and nearly completed the comeback win, only getting stopped at the 1-yard line by Seattle’s defense as time expired. But in the process he won over plenty of doubters.
This is a different Cam Newton in New England. With Carolina, he was a dynamic dual-threat quarterback who captured a league MVP award during a 15-1 season in which the Panthers went to the Super Bowl, but his completion percentage hovered around 60 percent. Now, in addition to flashing his tremendous running ability, Newton appears to be more accurate as a passer. Through two games, he’s completing 71.4 percent of his throws and averaging 8.8 yards per attempt.
It has been a different Josh Allen in Buffalo.
Many wondered whether Allen could take the Bills’ offense to the next level this year, and so far he has done that. In two games, he has completed 57 of 81 passes for 729 yards and six touchdowns, averaging nine yards per attempt.
The only problem? Allen has done it against the Jets and Dolphins, who appear to be two of the worst teams in the league. His next four games should provide a much more challenging test: at home vs. the Rams, trips to Las Vegas and Tennessee, then a home game against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs.
Still, the early returns are good for Allen’s work with Buffalo’s receiving trio of Stefon Diggs, John Brown and Cole Beasley.
“You can tell he’s developing,” Brown said. “He’s learning from his mistakes last year. Josh continues to play a hell of a game and make smart decisions. I think it definitely moves him up another level.”
The NFC West is the best division in football.
Not only that, but it has a chance to become one of the best ever. The Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Rams are 2-0, and the defending NFC champion 49ers are 1-1. Since the eight-division format came into play in 2002, the NFC West is only the second division to start 7-1.
Some early projections say all four NFC West teams could make the postseason in the new 14-team playoff format. FiveThirtyEight projects the Seahawks to finish 11-5, the Rams 10-6 and the Cardinals and 49ers 9-7.
Around the NFL
You have to think Adam Gase is on the hot seat in New York. Despite all of the injuries for the 49ers, the Jets weren’t competitive in a 31-13 loss. In his coaching career, Gase has had 20 double-digit losses in 67 games.
Detroit Coach Matt Patricia is also at risk of losing his job. The Lions blew a 14-0 lead in their 42-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers. That’s the fourth consecutive double-digit lead the Lions have blown dating from last year.
That was an impressive start for Justin Herbert. The Chargers rookie filled in for Tyrod Taylor, who had a chest issue that caused him to go to the hospital. Herbert found out just before the start of the game that he was playing, and he stayed competitive with Patrick Mahomes in an eventual 23-20 overtime win by the Chiefs. Coach Anthony Lynn said Taylor will start when he’s healthy, but Herbert looks like the real deal.
The kickers bounced back. After having a woeful 71.6 field goal percentage in the first week, kickers did much better in Week 2: They made 53 of 57 attempts (93.0 percent).
Wilson may get his first MVP award after all these years. He’s completing 82.4 percent of his passes. He has nine touchdowns. He’s averaging 9.7 yards per attempt. His quarterback rating is 140. And the Seahawks are 2-0.