It can get late early in the NFL.
Even with an expanded schedule – and expended playoffs in recent years – no one wants to start 0-2, while everyone wants to be 2-0. Of course, in a league of parity, most of the NFL falls into the middle through two weeks. Seven teams are sitting pretty (or as pretty as can be for late September), while seven are already chasing in the standings. That can tend to snowball.
The 0-2 crowd contains many familiar faces – the Jets, Jaguars, Giants, Lions, Falcons – and a few who harbored more realistic playoff chances entering the season on paper (Vikings and Colts). And the ranks of the unbeaten all reside within three divisions, with the West flexing its early muscles in particular: Vegas, Denver, San Francisco, L.A. Rams and Arizona are all 2-0, along with Tampa and Carolina. No shortage of teams with some Lombardi hopes in that collection.
So, which of the winless teams still have life? And which of these 2-0 will end up missing the playoffs? Glad you asked.
Sizing up the seven 0-2 teams
The Colts have enough going for them, I believe, along the offensive line and with their front seven to overcome consecutive losses. I wasn't in love with the offense, overall, even with Carson Wentz, however, and now the oft-injured quarterback is dealing with dueling ankle sprains. No Bueno. Jacob Eason is going to need a scaled back game plan and a this team could end up rivaling the Ravens in rushing attempts the next few weeks with Wentz likely on the shelf.
Is that the end of the world? No. It is a very solid – if unspectacular – defense, though their vanilla Tampa zone looks aren't exactly revolutionizing the NFL. Kwity Paye needs to become a pass rushing thing ASAP and they need to generate more pressure and clean up some problems on the back end. Bottom line is this is a well-operated franchise with a strong coaching staff … but the lack of a QB they can count on remains troubling and can undermine any season at any time.
Color me concerned. Yeah, it's only Week 3 but their visit to Tennessee looks like an AFC South tiebreaker kinda game to me, and falling to 0-3, with trips looming to Miami (where the heat and humidity is a major factor this time of year), and then at Baltimore on a Monday night (did you see and hear that Ravens crowd against Kansas City Sunday night?) look like big potential problems spots as well. Sure, their division is poor overall, but the Titans got off the mat at Seattle last weekend to secure a huge win that could springboard them. This is fairly close to a must-win game for the Colts in my estimation.
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As for the Vikings, man, they just find ways to lose and you have to wonder about their mentality from week to week. Should have beat the Bengals in Week 1 but ended up chasing that game, and then handing it right back late. Got in a shootout against the Cardinals last Sunday and this time lost on a game-ending field goal gone awry (a Vikings specialty). It's worth pointing out that both losses came on the road, which brings us to a Week 3 home opener against the Seahawks.
The health of the defense is already a concern. Dalvin Cook is being asked to carry the offense, and he too got dinged up last week. One gets the sense this is a frustrated and wound up fanbase, and I'd suggest a strong start against Seattle. This won't be easy, Russell Wilson should be able to cook against this defensive line, and no one is throwing a better deep ball right now. Only six teams have yielded more 10-yard-or-more plays than Minnesota and only Tennessee has allowed more plays of 50 yards or more. Better get that fixed, quick.
The Vikings play three straight at home, though hosting Cleveland in Week 4 is hardly ideal, the Detroit comes to town before going to Carolina, hosting Dallas and going to Baltimore. Tricky little stretch and one that must be navigated with aplomb to stay close to Green Bay, the class of the NFC North. This Packers team isn't going to be nearly as good as the last two, but you already have to start wondering about anyone else in the division making it a fight.
Definitely concerned about the Vikings, too, with Mike Zimmer coaching for his job after years of ownership mulling major changes.
... and the others
As for the rest of the winless group, it's largely as expected; bad teams with many new coaching staffs with suspect rosters that will take their lumps. None of them will be factors.
Sizing up the seven 2-0 teams
Among the undefeated, the Raiders have to qualify as the biggest surprise, particularly when you factor in the difficulty of their schedule and travel to open the season. As I wrote on Sunday, I am buying them as a factor in the AFC. They can be a wild-card team. Their games against the Broncos and Chargers within that division will be critical, but that have already banked potentially vital head-to-head tiebreaker wins against Baltimore and Pittsburgh and play two of the next three at home – against Miami, at the Chargers and hosting the Bears. Don't sleep on this group – the offense is legit and the defense is improving.
The NFC West is probably the best division in football and through two weeks the only loss is the Seahawks' heartbreaker to the Titans in overtime, a game in which they should have won. Tom Brady is going to be a tough out every week as he chases perfection – individually and collectively – and the Panthers defense has a chance to be truly special; that coupled with the return of Christian McCaffrey makes them worth keeping an eye on. The NFC is a little more watered down, and they already have a win over a Saints team I believe can compete for a wild card.