After all of that, seven teams have emerged with 2-0 records. Two aren’t surprising: The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers look like the front-runners in the NFC, and the Los Angeles Rams have validated their reputation as one of the most talented teams in the league.
But none of the other five made the playoffs last season. Let’s rank them based on their chances of making the postseason:
Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray is off to an MVP-caliber start and is carrying the Cardinals. He is completing 73.5 percent of his passes, is averaging more than 10 yards per attempt and has a quarterback rating of 121.5 after leading Arizona to wins over the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings.
What’s most impressive is that Murray has been spreading the ball around. DeAndre Hopkins has 10 catches for 137 yards and three touchdowns, but Arizona’s secondary targets have been getting involved, too. Rookie Rondale Moore has caught 11 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown, Christian Kirk has eight catches for 135 yards and two scores, and veteran acquisition A.J. Green has five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Murray also remains a threat on the ground, with 51 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
The biggest obstacle for the Cardinals: They are one of three unbeaten teams in the NFC West, and the 1-1 Seattle Seahawks are still a contender to claim the division title, even after Sunday’s overtime loss to the Titans.
Las Vegas Raiders: After three losing seasons, Jon Gruden has appeared to have turned this team around. The Raiders opened with wins over AFC North teams — the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers — and the key has been quarterback Derek Carr. He is averaging more than 400 passing yards while completing 66.7 percent of his passes. Tight end Darren Waller is a star, and wide receiver Henry Ruggs III is a dangerous deep threat. On defense, pass rusher Maxx Crosby has been a difference-maker.
Carr suffered an ankle injury in Sunday’s win, and his status for the next game against the Miami Dolphins is uncertain. But Gruden said he expects Carr will play.
The Raiders are tied with the Denver Broncos atop the AFC West, but a pair of talented 1-1 teams — the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers — are just a game back.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers have taken advantage of a favorable opening schedule to earn a 2-0 record, but injuries remain a concern.
They lost their best cornerback, Jason Verrett, for the season with a torn ACL, and their second-best cornerback, Emmanuel Moseley, missed the first two games with a knee injury. They also have been hit hard at running back, with starter Raheem Mostert suffering a season-ending knee injury in the opener and rookies Elijah Mitchell and Trey Sermon getting hurt in Sunday’s win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Jimmy Garoppolo is completing 70.9 percent of his passes, validating Coach Kyle Shanahan’s decision to keep him as the starting quarterback over rookie Trey Lance. But the schedule is about to get difficult, with games against the Green Bay Packers, Seahawks and Cardinals on tap for the next three weeks. We’re about to find out just how good San Francisco is.
Denver Broncos: In the NFL, scheduling is everything, and the Broncos opened with the easiest schedule in the league. They already have earned wins over the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars, with the New York Jets on deck for Week 3.
But their opening two wins came on the road, and there’s plenty to like about this team. First-round pick Patrick Surtain II has looked great filling in at cornerback for the injured Ronald Darby, and edge rusher Von Miller has three sacks. On offense, the two-headed rushing attack of Melvin Gordon III and rookie Javonte Williams has been effective, and wide receiver Courtland Sutton broke out for 159 yards on nine catches in Week 2.
This team has talent, but quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will have to play well as the schedule gets more difficult.
Carolina Panthers: The Week 1 win over the Jets might not have been impressive to many, but the Panthers’ 26-7 victory over a New Orleans Saints team that blew out the Packers the week before turned some heads.
Quarterback Sam Darnold, liberated from the Jets, is playing well. He has completed 68.5 percent of his passes and has three touchdowns against just one interception. He has benefited from having running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver DJ Moore at his disposal.
But the key has been the Panthers’ blitz-happy defense, which has 10 sacks. On Sunday, it limited Jameis Winston to 80 net passing yards. Running back Alvin Kamara had just five yards on eight carries.
With Houston next on the schedule Thursday night and rookie quarterback Davis Mills slated to start for the Texans, Carolina has a great chance to get to 3-0.