At just 2 weeks old, the NFL season has a long way to go before crowning its champion, but that wont stop us from trying to predict who has the best chance to still be playing football come January. In this new weekly feature, we rank all 32 teams. This week, we look at the rankings coming into Week 3.
1. Denver Broncos (2-0)—Yes, the Broncos allowed both the Colts and Chiefs to come back into games, and yes, if not for last minute heroics by their stars they could easily be 0-2 at the moment. But they are not. At 2-0 your chances of making the playoffs soar to 68%, and with Peyton Manning at the helm, you have to feel that they are much higher even than that. While far from perfect, the Broncos nonetheless feel like the team most likely to reach the Super Bowl at this early stage.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (2-0)—The common consensus is that the Seattle Seahawks own the NFLs best defense, but the Bengals would beg to differ. In Week 2 the Bengals thoroughly demolished Matt Ryan and the Falcons, the top rated offense in Week 1. Ryan was picked off three times by the Bengals, whose own offense looked potent too. Giovani Bernard looked every bit the featured back many hoped he would become, and even without talismanic receiver AJ Green for most of the game Andy Dalton was still able to move the ball through the air with Mohamed Sanu looking to be a very dependable number 2 WR. Green should be back soon, so look for this team to do very big things this season.
3. Seattle Seahawks (1-1)—A loss to the San Diego Chargers hurt the Seattle Seahawks, if nothing else, proving that they are not unbeatable. While it is not enough to see them tumble the same way a loss like this would for some other teams—after all, the team bounced back from their loss to Arizona last season and rode that to an NFL Championship—it nonetheless gave other teams a blueprint for beating the defending champions. Richard Sherman was exposed by the Chargers, and aging tight end Antonio Gates absolutely torched the team, racking up 96 yards and 3 TDs. As far as we know, this was a one-game blip, but a loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday could really see the team tumble down the board.
4. Carolina Panthers (2-0)—The Panthers defense has come back in 2014 proving beyond all doubt that their performance in 2013 was no fluke. The team seem not to have missed a beat, and continue the fine form which saw the team finish the season with an 11-1 record after a 1-3 start. With Cam Newton back in the lineup, the team looked improved even over the one which competently handled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1. Ron Rivera seems to have a formula which is working, and look for it to continue over the remainder of the season.
5. Arizona Cardinals (2-0)—Many have the Cardinals ranked much lower than this, but it’s hard to discount that at 2-0, the team is one game up on the rest of the NFC West, sitting atop the toughest division in football. The team suffered some significant losses, especially on defense this season, but proved against both the Giants in Week 2, and a San Diego in Week 1 that defensive losses will not stop their team. Defensive talisman Tyrann Mathieu was active—albeit in a very limited capacity—against New York, and took his first tentative steps back towards reclaiming his rightful place as starter, and rookie Deone Bucannon continues to push for a starting position too. Once both of these men find their feet, this already dangerous defense looks set to explode. Some have claimed that the Cardinals have still yet to beat any significant opponents, but it’s easy to forget that their Week 1 opponents just beat the Seattle Seahawks, and their Week 2 win came with a backup QB under center. Yes, the team have a tough run of games coming up, starting with division rivals San Francisco, but this team is proving that they are a real threat, and cannot be written off as also-rans the NFC West.
6. San Diego Chargers (1-1)—The Chargers beat the Seahawks in Week 2, after leading against the 2-0 Cardinals for much of Week 1. Through two weeks, Antonio Gates is looking to be back at his best—at current pace, he would top 1,400 yards and 24 TDs by seasons end. QB Philip Rivers has looked good thus far, and the Chargers defense has done its fair share too, keeping the team in games against both of its opponents thus far. Indeed, their win against the Seahawks could have been even more convincing had a questionable long Seahawks touchdown been overturned—as replays clearly showed it should have been. In an AFC West with both the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders the Chargers have a very real chance of winning a lot of games this season.
7. Houston Texans (2-0)—Some will be quick to point out that their wins have come against the Oakland Raiders and a Washington Redskins team without RGIII. Others will remind us that the team went 2-0 in 2013, before losing their next 14 games to finish bottom of the NFL. But regardless of these facts, the Texans have looked very solid through 2 games. The team look nothing like the one which was so thoroughly demolished by so many last season. Arian Foster is running like a man with a mission, and Ryan Fitzpatrick looks more than competent enough to lead the team. The defense, lead by JJ Watt, looks as fierce as everyone knows it can be, and will be more than a match for all but the best teams across the league.
8. New England Patriots (1-1)—In Week 1, the Patriots were embarrassed. In Week 2, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick reminded everyone why you should never count them out. Brady was only average in the teams win against the Vikings, but that was all he needed to be. The game was called perfectly by Belichick and his team, who did more than enough to secure a solid victory. Their defense had a plethora of turnovers against a Vikings team rocked by controversy this week. The team will likely continue to struggle offensively until Brady “clicks” with his offensive weapons, but the defense proved that they can be as good as many expected them to be, and the team will need them to be.
9. San Francisco 49ers (1-1)—Throughout preseason, there were plenty of questions about the 49ers. After a dominant Week 1 performance, many were ready to declare those questions well and truly answered. But a late meltdown against the Chicago Bears has brought many of those concerns back to the forefront. About the biggest of those is QB Colin Kaepernick, who was responsible for three picks, a fumble, and a costly “inappropriate language” penalty after reportedly being overheard using the N-Word by an official. Although the game was close, several fans have called it the worst game of coach Jim Harbaugh’s career, after struggling to adjust to what was obviously becoming a strictly enforced game. Penalties and discipline cost the team big. That said, with weapons like Frank Gore, a defense which remains one of the better units in the NFL, and a head coach like Harbaugh, its too early to write off the team yet.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (2-0)—The Eagles went 2-0 in a second late comeback against the Colts. The team quickly proved that the loss of DeSean Jackson will not slow them down, and have one of the top scoring offenses through two weeks. At 2-0, some will undoubtedly question whether they should be higher in this list, but others will point out serious concerns about this teams chances against better teams. In Week 1, the team trailed 17-0 at the half to a lowly Jacksonville Jaguars team, while in Week 2 they managed only two field-goals in the first half. Fortunately, both of their opponents failed to close the door, and let them back into the game, but you have to wonder how the team will fare against teams like San Francisco, Carolina and Seattle, who are able to firmly shut the door once they have a lead, or teams like Arizona, Houston and Green Bay, who have proven more than adept at piling on points in the second half themselves. Definitely a playoff caliber team, but not one without concerns.
11. Atlanta Falcons (2-1)—The Falcons were the top scoring offense in Week 1, and though they came undone against a stout Bengals defense in Week 2. To kick off Week 3 on Thursday Night, the team looked much more like their Week 1 selves, posting 56 points while holding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scoreless until the final quarter. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White should be one of the top scoring passing offenses by the end of the season, and with Steven Jackson at RB, there should be no shortage of points, and therefore wins for this team. That said, since their Week 3 win came against a hapless Tampa Team, we want to temper our excitement about this team. The Buccaneers still managed to create three fumbles recovered, and a pick-6. Yes, most of this came in garbage time, and one of the fumbles was promptly given straight back to the Falcons, but against a better offense, it could have proved costly.
12. Buffalo Bills (2-0)—The Bills are our bottom ranked 2-0 team, but undefeated is still undefeated. They sit atop a relatively tough AFC East, division which includes the Patriots, Dolphins, and a much improved Jets teams, and already own an important divisional win. Although both wins came against teams who have struggled with consistency, recently, both wins were solid. EJ Manuel seems much improved from his inconsistent rookie campaign, and, while still clearly not the finished article, looks good enough to lead the team to a winning record if he can keep things up. A tough schedule before their bye in week 9 could lead to a big slide for the team, but right now at least, everything seems to be coming together for the team.
13. Green Bay Packers (1-1)—The Packers left it dangerously close to the dreaded 0-2 start against the New York Jets in Week 2. At one point, the Packers trailed by 18 points, and, but for a questionable time-out called by Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, which negated a Jets touchdown, probably should have lost the game, in spite of a solid comeback rally lead by Aaron Rodgers. However, the touchdown did not count, and in the end, the Packers did just enough to edge the Jets. Many had considered the packers Super Bowl contenders, but after a tough start to the season, the Packers will struggle to even make the playoffs. Rodgers proved that, when given time, he can still move the ball as well as anyone, but as in recent years, his offensive line struggled to give him that time, and their defense looked average, at best, against decidedly lacklustre opponents.
14. Chicago Bears (1-1)—Through two weeks, the Bears have been the picture of inconsistency. Week 1 saw the team lose late to the Buffalo Bills, while week two saw them come from behind to beat a 49ers team with a lot to prove in their home opener. Both games were close, at least on paper, and in both games the Bears showed a spark of what many hoped they could become. Yet in both games, they were thoroughly outplayed in several phases of the game, and in neither game did the team show the resilience and discipline necessary to consistently win at this level. Expect much of the same throughout the remainder of the season.
15. New York Jets (1-1)—Although their record is 1-1, the Jets can consider themselves unlucky not to be 2-0. They held a lead against the Packers, in Green Bay, for much of Week 2, and if not for the timeout called by Marty Mornhinweg which overturned a touchdown, could, and perhaps should, gone on to win the game. In the end, the Jets, as has so often been the case under Rex Ryan, struggled to maintain their form throughout all four quarters, and made silly mistakes which ultimately cost them, but there is a lot that the Jets can feel positive about. If nothing else, they are unquestionably the best team in New York thus far.
16. Detroit Lions (1-1). Calvin Johnson, Matt Stafford and the Lions put on an offensive masterclass against the Giants in Week 1, but the wheels seemed to come off in week two against the more competent defense of the Carolina Panthers. Some will undoubtedly question letting a team with this many weapons fall this far on the basis of a single loss. But the simple fact of the matter is that this Lions team is built to outgun their opponents. That they struggled so badly to do so against the Panthers, is a worrying sign for Detroit. If they are going to win games, it is going to be by hassling opposing QBs, and dumping a lot of points on their defense. Until they can prove that they can do this week in and week out, they will continue to languish towards the bottom of these rankings.
17. Baltimore Ravens (1-1)—The Ravens defense proved themselves in Week 2 with a commanding win 26-6 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and this showed a real resolve in the light of the controversy surrounding Ray Rice. However, with so many offensive question marks over the team, they will need to do more to prove that they have truly shaken off the ghosts of their past. Most of their points against the Steelers came off turnovers, and against any team which can limit these, the Ravens appear likely to struggle.
18. New Orleans Saints (0-2)—Without a doubt, the Saints are better than their record. They are better than this ranking. They are one of the better teams in the NFL. But it is impossible to escape the fact that at 0-2, the chances of making the playoffs are just 11% in the modern era, and just one team in the past 5 years has done so. Both Saints losses have been tough for the team to swallow, losing by a combined 5 points. Even tougher is the fact that the team rank second overall in the NFL on both points and total yards. Some will argue that the Saints have been unlucky to lose such close games, but others will be quick to point out that however many points their offense has scored, the Saints defense have given up more. Unlucky perhaps, but this is a team with real, deep seeded defensive frailties which are just ripe to be exploited, and which will continue to be be exploited by any offense worth their salt. They will get wins—it is impossible for a team to score as often as the Saints do and continue to lose indefinitely—but unless then can stop opposing offenses, those wins may not come often enough for a the team to rebound from this shocking start.
19. Indianapolis Colts. Much like the Saints, the Colts are a much better team than their 0-2 record indicates. Like the Saints, the Colts losses have been very narrow, with both games coming to within one score (a 7 point margin in Week 1, and 3 point margin in Week 2). In some ways it is easy to rank the Colts ahead of the Saints—their Week 1 loss came against the top ranked team overall, the Denver Broncos—and their road back to success is easier, with games against the Jaguars and Titans in coming weeks. However compared to the Saints, the Colts have looked less impressive in both of their losses. Their Week 1 comeback always felt like too little, too late, with the bulk of their points coming after the game already felt out of reach, while their Week 2 loss demonstrated the teams inability to hold onto a solid lead. Like the Saints, the Colts can win games, and will certainly get some down the stretch, but already, it is looking like a .500 season is about the best the team can hope for.
20. Cleveland Browns (1-1)—The Browns are a team undoubtedly on the rise. Their win against the Saints—the first home opener they have won in a decade—was hard fought and well deserved. Unfortunately for the Browns, they are clawing their way up from a 4-12 record in 2013, which somewhat limits how far they can jump up the rankings in any one go. If Jonny Manziel and the Browns can remain at, or above .500 into the latter part of the season, and if he gets Josh Gordon back in Week 11, the Browns could develop into late season contenders, and see a big jump up this board, but for now, we remain somewhat cautious.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1)—The Steelers were truly horrific in their Week 2 loss to the Ravens. After a relatively strong start to the season, beating a young and improving Browns team in Week 1, the Steelers crashed and burned in Week 2. In many ways, the final score did not show just how bad the team actually were. Offensively, they lacked the coordination timing necessary to run the big-play offense that has lead Big Ben and the Steelers to three NFL Championship games, and two Super Bowl victories in recent memory. On defense, they showed their age, and struggled to stop almost anything that the Ravens decided to do, but perhaps most concerning for the team is that their coaching also seemed sub-par. They simply seemed unprepared to face a team they face twice a year, every year. They struggled to understand basic concepts of an offense they have been running since Mike Tomlin arrived in 2007, and were undisciplined, giving up numerous needless penalties. All of this is beginning to feel like a team without a direction, a once great team now in freefall. We shall see what the future holds for Pittsburgh, but for now, things do not look good.
22. Miami Dolphins (1-1)—The Dolphins have struggled in recent seasons to recapture their identity. Many hoped 2014 would mark a turnaround for the team, with a rebuilt offensive line, some big-name offensive talent, and improving defense. And at least in Week 1, it appeared to have worked. Knowshon Moreno was the leading rusher in the NFL, playing a huge part in the win. The O-Line more or less kept Ryan Tannehill upright, and the Dolphins defense kept Brady and the Patriots in check. But in Week 2, the wheels really came off. The Bills had their way with the Dolphins defense, and while the offense tried, the loss of their starting two tailbacks has really hurt the Dolphins chances going forward. A solid run game helped Tannehill no end, but without Moreno (out 4-6 weeks with a dislocated shoulder) and Lamar Miller (limited 2-3 weeks with an Ankle injury) the Dolphins will really struggle to find form over the next tough part of the season. Without a running game, it is hard to favour them even against the lowly Chiefs or Raiders, and if they fall to 1-3 coming out of their bye week, the remainder of the season will be a long, hard run.
23. Minnesota Vikings (1-1)—The Vikings were brought back down to earth with a bang against the New England Patriots, after a convincing Week 1 win against the Rams. The Vikings struggled offensively without running back Adrian Peterson, and will likely continue to do so for the remainder of the season if—as many expect—Peterson faces a lengthy ban or continuing deactivation, following the child abuse charges brought against him by the state of Texas. With Peterson on field, the Vikings are a different team, dynamic and multi-dimensional, but without the former NFL rushing leader, the Vikings offense is stale and predictable, and that was exploited to great effect by the Patriots. When and if Peterson returns to the lineup, this will be a very different team, and will undoubtedly jump up these rankings, but until then, this is a team which will continue to struggle.
24. Dallas Cowboys (1-1)—The Cowboys were terrible in Week 1, but did just enough in Week 2 to topple the their opponent. But when that opponent is the equally poor Tennessee Titans, that’s not saying too much. Like so many in this part of the Rankings, the Cowboys have potential to be better than this ranking suggests, and showed that at times against Tennessee. DeMarco Murray was solid in both games—rushing for over 100 yards in both—their defense looked vastly improved picking off two picks against the Titans too. But they have not been consistent in it. Tony Romo has simply not looked like the $100-Million man that they need him to be, and until he is, they are going to struggle to win games down the stretch. Even the otherwise impressive Murray struggled early, giving up a fumble. What’s more Murray isn’t an every down back, at least, not if they want him to remain healthy all season. He cannot be expected to see 30 touches per game, and remain healthy, given his history. And Riding him they way they have through two games is asking for trouble.
25. Tennessee Titans (1-1)—The Titans are a team we wish we could rank higher, but we simply cant. It’s not that they are bad—they have a ton of potential, a new head coach with a track record of turning struggling teams around—it’s just that, at least early, that has not translated into strong play. The Titans may be higher up this list if not for the fact that they play in a relatively tough AFC South division, but until Whisenhunt and the Titans can prove that they can put potential into practice, it’s hard to rank them any higher than this.
26. Washington Redskins (1-1)—Another team we wish we could rank much higher, but again, another one with simply too many question marks to do so. Coming into the season, most were hopeful that Robert Griffin III would finally live up to the potential everyone saw when the Redskins mortgaged their future on him. Unfortunately, RGIII’s season was ended before it even had the chance to get started, when he dislocated his ankle early in Week 2. Kirk Cousins was spectacular in relief, even without star offseason signing DeSean Jackson who went out with a shoulder injury just a few plays after Griffin was lost. However, the win came against a Jacksonville Jaguars team who are amongst the very worst in the league, and few expect him to repeat those numbers most weeks. Jackson is day-to-day—but as the Cardinals found out, shoulder injuries can be a tricky beast to diagnose and virtually impossible to play through—while RGII is likely out for the season. Put simply, the Redskins are a team in need of a few really lucky bounces—including Cousins developing into the dependable starter RGIII never was—to stand a chance. While we wouldn’t rule it out, there are simply too many questions to rank them any higher at this point in the season.
27. St. Louis Rams (1-1)—The Rams, and their third string quarterback, second year Austin Davis managed to sneak past the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2, and did so without looking like a team forced to start their first string QB. At 1-1, they find themselves level with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West, no small task, but with a quarterback committee of Davis and journeyman backup Shaun Hill, and with injuries to starters like Tavon Austin few seriously consider that the Rams will end the season with more than a few scrappy wins against the league’s bottom-feeders. And that is a shame. The Rams are a team with plenty of upside, but who unfortunately play in an unforgiving division, and have struggled with major injuries.
28. Kansas City Chiefs (0-2)—There is a Chinese phrase “death by a thousand cuts”. It refers to a form of torture where, slowly, one piece at a time, the body is cut, dismembered, incapacitated, and eventually killed. No one cut is enough to kill the victim, no one killing blow can be identified, but the result is the same. For the Kansas City Chiefs, they have to feel like they are victims of the NFL equivalent. In just a few short weeks, the Chiefs have gone from one of the more promising young team, with a huge upside, to a team crippled and incapacitated by injury. The team already have multiple starters our for the season including Derrick Johnson, Jeff Allen and Mike DeVito, and many more who appear likely to continue to miss time, or be limited during the game due to lingering injuries. Perhaps the most serious of these could be Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles, both of whom left the game in Week 2. While Charles’ injury is considered mild, even minor ankle injuries are notorious for limiting RB’s ability to change speed and direction, and the severity of Berry’s injury remains unknown. In spite of this, the Chiefs still remained in touching distance of the Broncos through most of Week 2, testament to their tenacity, but unfortunately the team are at breaking point. They simply cannot afford to sustain any more losses, yet over the course of a long NFL season, losses are inevitable. And at 0-2, with virtually no hope of a playoff spot, this will remain a team with lots of potential, but no results to show for it, for at least one more season.
29. New York Giants (0-2)—To say the Giants are a team in free fall would be an understatement. The New York Giants are a team on the verge of implosion. Their loss against the Cardinals marked the straight fifth game, dating back to the end of last season, where the team gave up four or more turnovers. When a team commits 4 or more turnovers, their winning percentage is around 1-in-5, or .200. A .200 record (while impossible to actually achieve in an 18 game season) is worse than all but 2 of the teams in 2013. Unless Eli Manning and the Giants can overcome their penchant for giving up the ball, they will be destined to languish at the bottom of the NFL rankings for the remainder of the season. The only reason that they aren’t lower even than this is that we know the Giants do have a recent winning pedigree, and that Eli Manning is a two time Super Bowl Champion and MVP, and, at least in theory, can turn things around. Whether he will remains to be seen, and feels very unlikely at the moment, but never say never.
30. Tampa Bay Bucanneers (0-3)—As we’ve already mentioned, once you start 0-2, your chances of making the playoffs plummet. At 0-3, your chances virtually disappear. Only 3 teams in NFL history have rebounded from an 0-3 start to make the playoffs, and the Buccaneers would need to do so from a division with the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers, teams with a combined 4-1 start, and a Saints team who are much better than they are playing. Prior to the season, we really liked a lot of what Lovie Smith was doing, and in many ways, we still do, but clearly this is a team with much more deep-seeded issues than one man can turn around in a single season. Already, a .500 season looks a long way off, and we worry that Smith will not be given the time he needs to rebuild this franchise.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2)—It seems hard to imagine that, to start this season, the Jacksonville Jaguars took a 17-0 lead into the locker room at the end of the first half of their first game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Since then, they have been outscored 75-10, including 4 full quarters of football with no scores at all. Worse still for the Jags, 41 of those 75 points came against a team lead by a backup quarterback. The Jaguars are in a real bad way, and with a scary run of games, including games against the Colts, Chargers and Steelers, and a tough “home” game in London against the Cowboys it’s hard to imagine this team getting more than one or two wins over the season. Tough especially to hear for English fans, as this is the team the NFL is trying to push as “our” team, and the team likely to relocate to London permanently, fans will need to see drastic improvement if they are to get behind them.
32. Oakland Raiders (0-2)—There is no two ways to put it. The 2014 Oakland Raiders may just be the worst team in recent NFL history. In spite of having more cap room than anyone else coming into the season, the team remains without any real stars, any real identity, and any real hope. A winless season not only looks possible for this team, but likely. After their Week 2 loss to the Texans, Charles Woodson summed it up thus “We suck”. Unfortunately for Raiders fans, it’s hard to disagree. Looking at their schedule, the only games they can even hope to stand a chance in are against the Chiefs and Rams, but both games come too late in the season to matter for the Raiders, while could well be make-or-break games for their opponents, so few would favour Oakland even then. Perhaps the Raiders have already committed to tanking the season, and giving their new head coach and general manager—whomever they will be in 2015—a bevy of early picks and a ton of cap space to start fresh with, but regardless, this team really is just that bad.