With two games under their belts, teams across the league are starting to figure out which direction their seasons are going. There are seven undefeated teams left in the league but they’re not alike.
Which raises the question – who are contenders and who are pretenders?
Biggest Contender – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
To nobody’s surprise – the reigning Super Bowl Champions are at the top of this list. A great win over the Dallas Cowboys on opening night followed by a 23 point victory over the Atlanta Falcons has proven they’ve not missed a step since beating Kansas City in February. There may be another undefeated team in their division, but the Panthers shouldn’t threaten Bruce Arians’ side too much as the season progresses.
Brady and Gronkowski are looking like one of the league’s best offensive duos as they’ve already connected for four touchdowns this year. The rest of the receiving core has also been pulling its weight and linking up well with the 44-year-old quarterback. Despite issues with the ground game in week one – Forunette and the rest of the running back room did enough in week two to help the Bucs win comfortably.
As for the defence – they may have given up a lot of points to a Falcons team which doesn’t feature Julio Jones – but their two defensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter shows how they’re one of the top units in the NFL. It’s going to be tough to stop this Tampa Bay team.
2. Los Angeles Rams
The Matthew Stafford era in LA is fully underway as they improve to 2-0 on the year – closely beating the Indianapolis Colts 27-24. The newly-acquired quarterback sealed the game late whilst an injured Carson Wentz could only stand on the sideline and watch. The Rams certainly benefited from the departure of the ex-Eagles quarterback – but don’t let that take away from how well Los Angeles played – they deserve to be undefeated.
Cooper Kupp was the best receiver in Sunday’s slate of games as he totalled 163 yards on nine catches and found the endzone twice. When a receiver is performing like that, you only need the rest of the skill position players to do well enough to get the job done, and that’s exactly what they did.
There were some questionable moments on the other sides of the ball though. The defence allowed the game to stay close whilst Carson Wentz was playing and their punt unit gave away a touchdown that allowed the Colts to take a late lead. But despite the hiccups, the resilience of this Rams team was enough to overcome their setbacks
3. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals didn’t make it easy for themselves but they still improved to 2-0 on the year after some Kyler Murray heroics. The young quarterback made some jaw dropping plays but still had to rely on a missed field goal by the Vikings to ensure victory.
The defensive unit we saw in week one was not the same one that showed up on Sunday. They allowed Kirk Cousins to throw for over 240 yards and three touchdowns whilst failing to take the ball away from Minnesota’s offence. To make matters worse – they only managed to pick up one sack on the night – which makes a drastic difference to how the front seven performed the week before.
This team is a lot of fun to watch and they have the potential to go far this year, but they’ve got some screws to tighten if they want to keep this unbeaten form going
4. Las Vegas Raiders
Week one wasn’t a fluke for Jon Gruden’s Raiders. Coming off a huge win against Baltimore to then go into Pittsburgh and beat Big Ben’s Steelers is a dream start to the year for Las Vegas.
Henry Ruggs was easily the best receiver in Pittsburgh that day as he averaged 22.6 yards per reception and scored a touchdown. Outside of Ruggs, Carr spread the ball around well. He connected with eight different receivers on the day – four of which had five catches.
The defence didn’t play as well as they did against the Ravens but still managed to keep the Steelers at bay. The Raiders are one of the only two undefeated teams left in the AFC going into week three and have the chance to keep that alive against the Miami Dolphins. With Tua’s injury, they have a good chance of improving to 3-0 and taking control of the AFC West early in the season.
5. San Francisco 49ers
Despite winning both of their games, San Francisco has been underwhelming so far this season. They’ll need to turn things up a notch if they want to compete in a stacked NFC West. A lack of consistency on offence made the Eagles game a lot closer than it should’ve been. Garoppolo’s 9ers punted on their first four possessions but managed to pick it up as the game went on. The touchdown and field goal on consecutive drives in the second half helped them pull away, but a stronger opponent will be able to take advantage of San Francisco’s lapses.
Defensively they did well to suppress Jalen Hurts – only allowing his offence to put up points on two of their eight drives. The worry with this 49ers side is that a defence can only hold off their opponent for so long. They’ll need to match their defensive success with offensive firepower if they want to continue undefeated and be a contender this season.
6. Carolina Panthers
This Carolina Panthers team may be 2-0, but it’s difficult to analyse just how good they are at the moment. They won a close game against Sam Darnold’s former team in week one and Jameis Winston’s poor performance helped them with a convincing victory in week two. The Saints’ quarterback finished the game averaging five yards per pass with a 50% completion percentage and two interceptions.
That’s not to say the team didn’t play well in their victory over New Orleans though. Christian McCaffery totalled 151 yards on the ground and through the air and Sam Darnold did a good job of managing this Panthers’ offence.
The real talking point of the game though was how the Saints offence stalled against this Carolina defence. The same Saints offence who put up 38 points on the Packers last week. The Panthers only allowed one touchdown all game – which came at the start of the fourth quarter. As if that wasn’t impressive enough they even answered back – forcing a punt and two turnovers on the Saints’ next three possessions whilst scoring ten points on consecutive drives on offence. There’s a few question marks surrounding how good this team can be or how long their win streak will last, but the Panthers can’t complain with a 2-0 start.
Biggest Pretender – Denver Broncos
Sorry Broncos fans – you’re not fooling anyone. They may have been the better team in both of their first two games, but that’s not particularly hard to achieve when you’re playing the Giants and Jaguars. Having said that, their offence has been steady so far this season. They’ve only turned the ball over once and have scored five touchdowns. It’s clear that Teddy Bridgewater is an upgrade over Drew Lock at the quarterback position – but just how far can he take this team?
The weakness of their opponents has given the Broncos a false sense of security and it may be their undoing later down the line. Their form is likely to stick around for one more game as they come up against another weak opponent in the Jets in week three. However, that’s where the magic will end. In weeks four to nine Denver is going up against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Cleveland, Washington, and Dallas which screams 0-6. The Broncos should enjoy this successful start whilst it lasts – because it might get ugly really quickly.