It is early and there are many games to be played, but the AFC West looks like a division that could easily offer up three playoffs teams once things are all said and done. Through two weeks of action, the Chiefs, Raiders and Broncos all look like very dangerous teams who have erased the biggest weaknesses that plagued each of them last year.
Chiefs surprisingly explosive
The biggest concern with the Chiefs was the ceiling of the offense. Alex Smith didn't turn the ball over in the past, but he didn't take the top off either. He has changed his approach, become more aggressive and is pushing the ball down the field with a lot of success.
Last year, Smith finished with 15 completions of 20 yards or more down the field, according to Pro Football Focus. This year? He already has five such completions and currently leads the league in deep passing yards with 257. In Week 1 he threw a pair of deep touchdown passes, and while he didn't find the end zone this week in a 27-20 win over the Eagles, he was once again good about pushing the ball down the field.
The Chiefs were not as aggressive as they were against New England, but that's fine. In golf, they tell you to let the club do the work --- Smith did just that with his weapons on Sunday. Dump it short to tight end Travis Kelce and let the tight end do his thing from an athletic standpoint.
I was personally a big fan of Spencer Ware as a low-cost, efficient and underrated running back in Andy Reid's scheme. But no one in their right mind is going to try and act like Kareem Hunt is anything other than a massive upgrade. He is an explosive play waiting to happen, and after being bottled up much of the day by the Eagles rush defense and with Phillly having taken the lead and threatening to upend the Chiefs in Arrowhead, he finally ripped a long run off at the most convenient of times.
Mix in Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs, who many thought might lack playmaking ability when they let Jeremy Maclin go in the offseason and lost Ware to injury, are one of the most dangerous teams in the league when it comes to big, backbreaking home runs. They are fun to watch, which is not something anyone living in 2016 would believe.
Raiders cruising early
For the Raiders, regression seemed to be baked into their upcoming 2017 season. A 12-win campaign was incredible, but they were loose cannons at the blackjack table and due to lose a close game or two. Instead, the Raiders have looked more powerful than last year through two games. handling a good Titans team in Week 1 and snuffing out a terrible Jets team in Week 2.
There's no reason to put excessive stock in stomping the Jets; the Raiders were 14-point favorites and they almost covered that in both halves. Jalen Richard, Cordarelle Patterson and Marshawn Lynch each .
Beast Mode was excited.
The Raiders also managed to sack Josh McCown four times, and while the Jets "hung" 20 points on them (including 10 in the first half) there are promising parts for this defense that looked like it might be an issue in 2017.
The running game is more balanced, the defense is dangerous and the Raiders are giving Derek Carr tons of time to operate. He is taking advantage and dealing right now, including three touchdown passes to Michael Crabtree in a monster of a fantasy day for the wide receiver. Oakland has two tough road games (at Washington for SNF and at Denver in Week 4) but then can settle in for three consecutive home games. They're not wearing out Lynch, who has looked sharp. Double digit wins looks pretty likely.
Broncos surprisingly lethal on offense
Everyone believed the Broncos were going to struggle on offense. And it might be too early to assume the Trevor Siemian-led attack will be a high-end unit, especially with first-year tackle Garett Bolles being carted off while crying in what we would assume is an injury that will cause him to miss significant time.
Siemian was also dealing against the Cowboys Sunday, but the entire Broncos offense is leaps and bounds better than what everyone expected -- they have a legit running game with C.J. Anderson and weapons in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
This offense does not have to be great, just average. The defense is how the Broncos win, and it was how they won on Sunday. The Broncos bottled up Ezekiel Elliott (nine carries, eight yards) and flustered Dak Prescott, who went 30 for 50 in a game that was not as close as the score indicated.
The defense even messed with the Cowboys' mojo and caused Jason Garrett to put the blame on Dak Prescott for the L.
Jason Garrett put the blame squarely on Dak Prescott's inability to make plays in the passing game— Clarence Hill Jr (@clarencehilljr) September 18, 2017
Dak didn't disagree by the way, saying that "when you play the way I played tonight you're not going to win many games in this league." But to the Broncos, they developed a gameplan for stuffing one of the most dangerous and consistent offenses in the NFL. This defense is not going to skip a beat without Wade Phillips and T.J. Ward. If the offense is good, the Broncos are going to be a real pain for their opponents.
Now, the problem with the NFL playoffs is there are only two wild card spots. That makes things difficult for the AFC West to land three teams in the playoffs. But it actually makes it more difficult for the rest of the AFC. Two weeks in, it is very difficult to imagine an team from the other divisions (Jacksonville? Baltimore? Miami? Cleveland?) stealing a spot from one of those teams, barring the AFC West just beating up on itself.
Three teams look like a pretty decent bet from the toughest division in football. Just don't bet on the fourth team ...
Meet the new Bolts (same as the old Bolts)
San Diego. Los Angeles. New York. London. Tokyo. Burma. Put the Chargers wherever you want and they are going to find magical ways to gag away football games. For the second straight week, the Bolts fell victim to questionable clock management down the stretch and, for the second straight week, it may have cost them the game.
You can chalk up Week 1's weird miscommunication () to #footballafterdark if you want, but it's hard not to peg Week 2's flub on having a first-time, brand-new head coach who does not appear to be on the same page as his All-Pro quarterback.
After a Dolphins field goal gave Miami a 19-17 lead, the Chargers took over on their own 20-yard line with 1:05 left on the clock. This is a situation where, with a veteran quarterback in Philip Rivers and a plethora of weapons, it should not be difficult to set up a good look at a field goal. The Chargers had wisely used their first timeout of the half to stop the clock before Miami's field goal attempt. They used their second to stop the clock after a 13-yard pass to Keenan Allen opened the drive.
You could certainly question why Anthony Lynn squeezed the timeout immediately there -- Rivers certainly appeared to. After signaling for the team to huddle up and move quickly he looked to the sideline in a confused fashion when he realized a timeout was called.
You only have two timeouts left, the Dolphins would be scrambling to get set up and you have a de facto coach in Rivers under center. I don't know, maybe let him try and move the ball before burning a timeout. Whatever, you can argue it either way. What you can't argue is the questionable use of the final timeout.
Rivers would hit Hunter Henry for 17 yards on the next play and the tight end got out of bounds with ease, to put the Chargers at the 50-yard line with 50 seconds left. That's an eternity. Rivers then hit Melvin Gordon for 10 yards and a first down to the 40-yard line; the Chargers didn't spike the ball, instead lining up and running a play that turned into an incomplete pass. The Dolphins bailed out the decision with a five-yard penalty that gave the Chargers a first down on the 35-yard line.
As NFL on CBS announcer Trent Green noted, the Dolphins gambled on man-to-man coverage on the next play and Keenan Allen got open underneath on a slant for an easy nine-yard completion. There were 19 seconds left on the clock ... so Lynn used his last timeout. Rivers almost lost his mind -- you could see him saying something along the lines of "NOOOO" or "WHYYYYYYY?" in the direction of the sideline.
And it's hard to blame him. With 19 seconds left and everyone sprinting to the line of scrimmage, the Chargers had more than enough time get lined up, spike the ball and still run a play. If the next play resulted in the clock running, it was very likely because the Chargers picked up positive yardage. As soon as the play ends, you squeeze the timeout and you give your kicker a shorter field goal. Also, you don't leave 19 seconds on the clock for Miami.
Then the Chargers did the most curious thing of all: they called for Rivers to dive into the middle of the field. Again, they did this with zero timeouts and 19 seconds left on the clock. With 13 seconds, everyone was sort of sauntering around, the clock melting down and not worrying about whether or not they should get lined up to spike the ball and set up a field goal.
The Chargers were probably going to get a play off and clock the ball before they ran out of time. I think. They didn't get a chance, though, because Adam Gase, somewhat curiously, called a timeout.
There are arguments both for and against what Gase did. I do not love the move because the Chargers looked discombobulated. It felt like they were going to not get a play off and potentially let the clock expire. Or run the field goal team out and do something super Chargers-y by trying to kick a field goal with one second left and let the ball go flying the other direction.
The argument for the move is it gives you time after the Chargers try the field goal to run the ball back or set up some kind of play. I get that, but it just felt like an odd move, bailing out a Chargers team that did not know what it was doing. Doesn't matter, because the Chargers missed the field goal and lost the game.
After the game, all I could think about was the fact that the Chargers, a team consistently fraught with issues late in games over the past several years, went out and hired a first-year head coach in Lynn with minimal experience either as a coordinator or as a head coach (he was interim after Rex Ryan in Buffalo last year, after being promoted from running backs coach to OC when Greg Roman was fired after just two weeks).
I'm not suggesting they needed to hire some retread coach, but this team should/could be 2-0 at this stage of the season, or at least 1-1, and a big reason why they're not is that they have botched end of game situations.
At least they have homefield advantage now.
Rivers on energy of crowd "The loudest roar came at the end after the missed field goal, you got to see how many Dolphins fans there were."— Marty Caswell (@MartyCaswell) September 18, 2017
And no one is.
Brady owns your mind
The thing about the Patriots that people fail to focus on is their preparation. They are on top of the tiniest of details, so prepared with their homework that when a tough question pops up on the test, they are never confused. They have solutions to problems most people don't foresee. Compare how they handled the end of the half situation against the Saints -- no timeouts, clock running, in field goal range and they sprint the field unit off and blast a kick through the uprights before the break -- to how the Chargers melted down with less than a minute on the clock.
This is because of Bill Belichick, and it is because of Tom Brady. There were two perfect examples from Sunday's win over the Saints that showed exactly why Brady is so far ahead of everyone else.
The first will get the full Patriots conspiracy treatment, because people think the NFL gives the Pats preferential treatment, even though Deflategate was a thing. On a first-quarter touchdown pass to Chris Hogan -- -- the Pats got flagged for an illegal pick play.
As the officials huddled up, Brady came over to the zebras and started making a point. This almost never works in sports, ever. You try to tell a ref how to do his job and he is going to tell you to go away. But Brady was letting the officials know the pick in question happened within one yard of the line of scrimmage, therefore making it legal. The refs agreed! And the touchdown stood.
Maybe the Pats could have challenged that, or maybe the NFL would have jumped in, but Brady didn't bother letting them get to that point. He would do the same later as well.
Brady threw a pick with the Patriots up 30-13 that the Saints returned to the Pats two-yard line, setting up New Orleans to get right back into the game. One little problem: Tawmy saw your 12th man, pal.
Brady was not suggesting the Saints should go for two one time. He was letting everyone know the Saints had 12 men on the field. He was not wrong.
Manti Te'o was trying to get off the field (see the bottom of the shot above) but didn't get out in time. As a result, the wild throw down the field from Brady -- which was kind of a surprise -- did not count and the Patriots actually got five yards out of the free play.
Just know that wherever you are standing, Tom Brady is 12 steps ahead.
There will be people who call me a shill and a company man for pointing out that Tony Romo has been excellent in his work as a color analyst for the NFL on CBS. Those people will not be wrong -- I am indeed a shill! -- but not because of the Romo thing. Romo has been objectively outstanding through two weeks of being the color man alongside Jim Nantz.
I no longer follow an NFL team. I just watch Tony Romo’s game each week— Gregg Rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) September 17, 2017
Not sure I've ever heard a better NFL analyst than Tony Romo. Completely dialed in. Picks apart everything before the snap.— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) September 17, 2017
I was skeptical of Tony Romo in the booth, now I want him to do every game.— Robert Flores (@RoFlo) September 17, 2017
A clip of highlights with Romo basically predicting what offenses would do over the course of Raiders-Titans made the rounds on social media last week, and on Sunday Romo followed it up with any number of additional salient points and mystical predictions.
The one that stood out more than anything was the touchdown pass to Brandon Coleman from Drew Brees. The Saints lined up near the goal line and right before the snap, Romo said, "Heads up for the inside fade to No. 16."
Brees immediately throws an inside fade to Coleman, who is No. 16. Yes, Romo predicted it exactly.
But it wasn't just him nailing the play that came out of the situation. Romo also explained it in clear and concise terms to the viewer, noting exactly why he was looking for that sort of play.
"Whenever I see a tight end on the outside in a cut split and you've got a big receiver inside the five, you're going to see some sort of a fade route by that receiver," Romo explained.
This is a dreamscape for football viewers, a smart former player who predicts plays -- without guessing whatsoever -- and explains why you see what you are seeing during a football game. Romo comes across as affable in the booth, sounds relaxed, clearly has a deep knowledge of the game and is already one of the elite color commentators in the game. I would write that regardless of what site this story was posted on; he is a delight to listen to right now.
Credit Nantz too for helping to seamlessly integrate Romo into the booth and for working well with the former Cowboys quarterback. This transition should have been rough, because it almost always is. And these guys sound like they have been working together for half a decade already. The "front office" of Leslie Moonves/Sean McManus/David Berson won the offseason.
Putting the "fun" in football
When the NFL decided to relax the celebration rules for players scoring touchdowns, it felt like a no-brainer move. And it's paying immediate dividends. 2016 was a year rife with vitriol just about everywhere in America. 2017 has not been much better, but at least the touchdown celebrations are more fun? Making it legal to use the ball as a prop and to get teammates involved started to really show itself in Week 2.
The Steelers ... rolled the dice on Martavis Bryant. And after his first touchdown since 2015, he and the wideouts went and threw some rocks. They were penalized, but for delay of game. The Steelers brought it back after JuJu Smith-Schuster's first career score.
Devonta Freeman busted out a deep jump shot. . This is just fun.
Kelce flat out mocked the Eagles after his score.
Also fun: Kareem Hunt took a nap after he scored. Maybe because he's a fantasy SLEEPER?
Football is a sport. Sport is entertainment. Entertainment should be entertaining, and it should be fun. These celebrations are an absolute delight. Don't do anything silly NFL. Embrace it.