If you’re one of the nine undefeated teams in the NFL, you’re no doubt feeling pretty good about your situation. After all, nine of the 15 teams to start 2-0 over the past two seasons went on to reach the playoffs. Conversely, if you’re one of the nine teams looking for your first win, you might be feeling fairly low, considering that 13 of the 15 teams to start 0-2 over that span spent the postseason at home.
But those in the former group shouldn’t forget about the six 2-0 teams that missed the playoffs (theBears, Dolphins and Texans in 2013 and the Bills, Eagles and Texans in 2014), while those in the latter group should remember the two 0-2 squads that reached the playoffs (the Panthers in 2013 and theColts last season). That is to say, no record guarantees anything this early.
Below, you’ll see three 2-0 teams I have serious questions about and three 0-2 squads that have a good shot to turn their seasons around.
THREE UNDEFEATED TEAMS I’M WORRIED ABOUT
New York Jets
The Jets have a very good defense and a turnover differential of plus-eight — that’s why they’re winning. But I see two trouble spots looming: the quarterback position and the running game. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a good backup quarterback who is smart enough to play well on occasion, but I think there’s a reason he’s on his sixth team. I don’t know if he can sustain success over a full season. Lead back Chris Ivory, meanwhile, is a guy who tries hard but isn’t very special.
Coach Todd Bowles is very good, and the Jets‘ defense will present a lot of problems for opponents. But I don’t think New York will be scoring a lot. This team is similar to the Texans, except the Jets don’t have anyone like Arian Foster on their roster and they play in a much tougher division. New York also finishes up with three potentially difficult games (at Dallas, vs. New England and at Buffalo). For the Jets to have a chance, the defense will really have to carry the load.
I wouldn’t say the Cowboys definitely will miss the playoffs, but they’re in trouble, with Tony Romo on injured reserve/designated to return and Dez Bryant potentially out until December. Dallas’ defense has looked very good now that Sean Lee is healthy, playing well enough without pass rushers Randy Gregory (ankle) and Greg Hardy(suspension) on the field. Can the cornerbacks hold up? This week’s contest against Atlanta should tell us something. The ground game has struggled — the Cowboys had the ball for 40 minutes in Sunday’s win over the Eagles but only picked up 109 rushing yards. And the aerial attack theoreticlly will be much easier to stop, given that the Cowboys are down a No. 1 receiver. In short, backup quarterback Brandon Weeden — who has a 5-16 record as a starter — is in for a heckuva challenge.
That said, I was impressed with Weeden during training camp. I had a long conversation with him, and he seemed to have really matured and gained confidence. He’s a bright guy, and I can see him holding off newly acquired backup Matt Cassel and establishing himslef as the stopgap. If Weeden can limit his turnovers and avoid putting Dallas in bad field position, he has a chance to keep the ship from sinking in Romo’s absence. Of course, the question then will be if Dallas can win enough games after Romo and Bryant return. The Cowboys‘ 2-0 start — which gives them a nice cushion in the NFC East, since both wins came against divisional oppoents — helps a lot, but the December schedule includes some tough-looking matchups (at Packers, vs. Jets, at Bills).
This is a good team in a good position. But theBengals have one major question mark: quarterbackAndy Dalton. He’s steady and, for the most part, competent, but he’s not special — he’s not a game-changer. I don’t see him coming in and making a game-winning play by himself à la Ben Roethlisberger or Tony Romo. Yes, Cincy has made the playoffs in each of Dalton’s four seasons thus far. But don’t forget the dreadful showing he had against the Browns on national TV last season (10-of-33 for 86 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions, two sacks and a passer rating of 2.0 in Week 10). TheBengals‘ next five games — at Ravens, vs. Chiefs,vs. Seahawks, at Bills, at Steelers — most likely will tell the story of their season, and they can’t afford to have Dalton turn in a stinker in a big spot.
Among the other undefeated teams, the Falcons,Panthers and Broncos have their share of flaws, but they’re potentially in a better place than the Bengals going forward because they have more trustworthy quarterbacks (Matt Ryan in Atlanta, Cam Newton in Carolina and Peyton Manning in Denver). TheFalcons and Panthers play in a much worse division (the NFC South) than the AFC North, while thePanthers and Broncos have outstanding defenses. Again, the Bengals are a good team with a more-than-decent chance to make the playoffs — but the uncertainty regarding Dalton keeps them from being an iron-clad lock.
THREE WINLESS TEAMS WITH HOPE
I see the Texans beating out theIndianapolis Colts for the AFC South title for a few reasons. First, no team has ever made the playoffs after getting off to an 0-2 start for a second straight season, as the Colts just did. Second, Houston is as good or better than Indy at every position other than quarterback. Signal caller is, of course, not a strength for theTexans, with Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer not providing anything more than mediocre play, but Bill O’Brien is one of the better coaches in this league, and I think he’ll find a way to overcome that weakness.
The bottom line is, this team has talent everywhere else, not least in the form of defensive monster J.J. Watt, while the Colts have serious roster holes to deal with. Plus, running back Arian Foster should be back at some point to pick up the running attack. I like Houston’s schedule, and I see the Texans taking this division with nine wins.
The Seahawks‘ two losses came on the road, which is where most of their losses have come over the past three seasons — 10 of their 12 losses from 2012 to 2014, to be exact. Things should get a bit easier in the immediate future, starting with a home date with the reeling Chicago Bears in Week 3. And, of course, the Seahawks will have Kam Chancellor back in the fold, now that the Pro Bowl safety’s holdouthas ended. Whatever unrest the Chancellor situation sparked will be smoothed out by his return and by coach Pete Carroll, who knows how to relate to his players.
The offensive-line play has to improve, and the team has to figure out a way to get trade acquisitionJimmy Graham more involved in the passing attack, but it’s far too early to worry about this squad. After all, Seattle lost two of its first three road games last season — and ended up making a second straight trip to the Super Bowl.
It’s tough to win with a new starting quarterback, running back and No. 1 receiver. As if that challenge weren’t enough, it looks like defenses have been adjusting to Chip Kelly’s offense, shooting the gaps to stop the run. But the Eagles still have the talent at the skill positions — running backs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews, receiversJordan Matthews and Nelson Agholorand tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek — to win. I’m tempering the high expectations I had for Sam Bradfordentering the season, as I thought he’d be showing better accuracy and mobility than we’ve seen thus far, but in fairness to him, he seems to be running for his life half the time. I still think Bradford can be a successful quarterback.
It’s hard to make adjustments after the season has already started, but Kelly is a smart guy who’s won every place he’s been. The NFC East is pretty open, and I think Kelly can get the Eagles back in the mix.