Week 2 of the 2013 NFL regular season is officially in the books, and only eight teams remain undefeated. With favorites yet to separate themselves from the pack and perceived title contenders suffering early slip-ups, that has many wondering what to make of what we've seen thus far.
Plain and simple, the first two weeks have provided nothing short of pandemonium. Here's how every team is looking after two games.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: No. 32
Week 2: 9-19 loss at Oakland Raiders
Week 3: at Seattle Seahawks
The Jacksonville Jaguars are just plain bad. Maurice Jones-Drew isn't himself, Chad Henne outperformed the franchise quarterback, Justin Blackmon is suspended and, through two weeks, Jacksonville has more penalties, 15, than points, 11.
There has to be a silver lining somewhere, but I can't seem to find it just yet.
Jacksonville has played well enough defensively to remain in games, but an absence of offensive production is destroying its chances. Jones-Drew has 72 rushing yards through two games, and Geno Hayes has more tackles, 14, than the Jaguars have points, 11.
I can keep going with these comparisons, but they'll only depress Jaguars fans searching for hope.
As promising a player as Blaine Gabbert may have been coming out of college, he simply hasn't lived up to the hype. As a result, the Jaguars are stuck in a complete stall at the bottom of the standings, unable to bring their roster together with strong quarterback play.
The only question at this point is who Jacksonville prefers between Jadeveon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater.
31. Cleveland Browns
Last Week: No. 31
Week 2: 6-14 loss at Baltimore Ravens
Week 3: at Minnesota Vikings
The Cleveland Browns have made personnel improvements and possess a defense that can compete with the best in the AFC North. Joe Haden can shut any wide receiver down, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo can get after the quarterback and Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson offer promise offensively.
Even still, Cleveland lost 14-6 to the Baltimore Ravens and has now scored 16 points through two games.
Richardson has run for 105 yards on 31 carries after two weeks, with Weeden throwing just one touchdown to three interceptions. Worst of all, kicker Billy Cundiff has accounted for 62.5 percent of the team's total points.
Personnel improvement or not, Cleveland is still in a rut—if we can even call it that anymore.
Weeden did improve his completion percentage by 14.5 points and Mingo registered his first career sack during Week 2, so not all hope was lost. Unfortunately, a loss counts all the same, and Cleveland is a familiar 0-2.
The Browns may have upside, but every fan in Cleveland will echo this sentiment: It's time to stop talking about the future and create a better present.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: No. 26
Week 2: 14-16 loss at New Orleans Saints
Week 3: at New England Patriots
After two weeks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have committed four turnovers and 23 penalties. In that time, the Bucs have amassed just five more rushing yards, 225, than penalty yards, 220.
Do I even need to tell you that there's a discipline issue in Tampa Bay?
For the second consecutive game, the Bucs were seconds away from a victory and let immaturity result in a loss. After a late hit led to an 18-17 Week 1 loss, Tampa Bay faced 10 penalties and a last-second field goal to lose 16-14 to the New Orleans Saints.
Penalties are a coach's worst nightmare, and right now, I can't imagine Greg Schiano is getting any sleep.
The Buccaneers have a league-high 23 penalties. Their 118 penalty yards in Week 2 were more than 22 teams have in TWO games this season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 17, 2013
Something needs to change in Tampa Bay.
As it presently stands, the only team that matches the Bucs at 23 penalties is the San Francisco 49ers. The difference is, the 49ers have suffered 14 yards less than the Bucs and are also a 1-1 team that is favored to emerge from the NFC and reach the Super Bowl.
Tampa Bay is just a team searching for answers, and sooner or later, Josh Freeman may start hearing Teddy Bridgewater's footsteps.
29. Carolina Panthers
Last Week: No. 25
Week 2: 23-24 loss at Buffalo Bills
Week 3: vs. New York Giants
The Carolina Panthers are better than the No. 29 team in the NFL, but there's something that makes it difficult for them to win during the first half of the regular season. Since Cam Newton was drafted, the Panthers are 4-18 during the first 11 weeks and 9-3 in the final five.
If Carolina doesn't improve soon, it'll be yet another year in which the Panthers miss the playoffs.
Week 2 provided yet another heart-breaking loss for Carolina, as they fell 24-23 at the Buffalo Bills on a last-second touchdown pass. This comes one week after losing 12-7 to the Seattle Seahawks, leaving the Panthers at 0-2 after two winnable games.
It's on Newton to turn things around against a fellow 0-2 team in Week 3, the New York Giants.
It's been interesting to see how the Panthers' offense has come along, as they've refrained from using Newton as a runner and gone back to a traditional style. Thus far, Newton has run the ball nine times for 53 yards, while DeAngelo Williams has consecutive games with at least 85 yards rushing.
The defense is playing well, but penalties and conservative play-calling has limited Carolina through two games.
28. Oakland Raiders
Last Week: No. 29
Week 2: 19-9 win vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 3: at Denver Broncos
The Oakland Raiders were quite impressive during Week 1, losing 21-17 on the road against the Indianapolis Colts. Terrelle Pryor emerged as a rising star, the defense got after the opposing quarterback and the Raiders were uncharacteristically poised.
One week later, Oakland moved to 1-1 with a 19-9 home win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Darren McFadden reminded the NFL that he's elite when healthy, running for 129 yards on 19 carries, also catching four passes for 28 yards. Pryor was 15-of-24 for 126 yards through the air and ran the ball nine times for 50 yards.
Ball security was an issue, but Oakland is flashing the type of upside that should have everyone intrigued.
Cornerback Tracy Porter and defensive end Justin Hunter each recorded sacks for the second straight game, and Oakland landed five total and seven quarterback hits. Also limiting Jacksonville to 34 yards rushing, the Raiders either made a statement or exploited Jacksonville's poor roster.
Either way, Oakland will be a lot of fun to watch in 2013.
27. New York Jets
Last Week: No. 22
Week 2: 10-13 loss at New England Patriots
Week 3: vs. Buffalo Bills
One week removed from a dramatic victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New York Jets' defense again put forth a gem. Unfortunately, the offense wasn't able to capitalize on one of the least efficient games you'll ever see Tom Brady play.
A 13-10 loss isn't season-ending, but it's certainly a missed opportunity.
On a night in which Brady was 19-of-39, Jets quarterback Geno Smith went 15-of-35 for 214 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory combined for 100 yards rushing, and Stephen Hill had another high-quality game, but New York failed to score points.
It's far too soon to be calling for Smith's job, especially after a Week 1 win, but New York has some work to do.
Defensively, the Jets held New England to 13 points, but even on a night in which New England's wide receivers were dreadful, New York failed to force a turnover. Fortunately, the Jets allowed just 54 yards on the ground and 232 yards overall.
Need we say the phrase that Jets fans have become all too accustomed with? If so, then here it is: The play wasn't strong enough at quarterback for New York to win.
26. Buffalo Bills
Last Week: No. 27
Week 2: 24-23 win vs. Carolina Panthers
Week 3: at New York Jets
If anyone managed to improve upon their Week 1 weaknesses, it was the Buffalo Bills. After losing to the New England Patriots on a last-second field goal, the Bills responded by using a touchdown pass from EJ Manuel to Steve Johnson with two seconds remaining for a 24-23 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Through two games, Manuel isn't looking like the reach he was believed to be.
Manuel was 27-of-39 for 296 yards, one touchdown and one interception during Buffalo's victory. That brings Manuel's completion percentage to 68.2 for the season, which is due in part to his chemistry with Johnson, who caught eight passes for 111 yards and a score.
It certainly doesn't hurt that Buffalo is averaging 142.5 rushing yards per game—a result of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson having a capable quarterback.
Perhaps the most significant development from Buffalo's Week 2 win was the return to glory by Mario Williams. The former No. 1 overall draft choice had 4.5 sacks against the Panthers, which broke a four-game streak without recording one dating back to 2012.
If Williams can lead this defense and Manuel can continue to make plays in the fourth quarter, Buffalo will be a dark horse to watch in the AFC.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: No. 24
Week 2: 10-20 loss at Cincinnati Bengals
Week 3: vs. Chicago Bears
The Pittsburgh Steelers have an elite quarterback, one of the NFL's best head coaches and a defense that can shut down even the most potent offenses. There is power on both lines and aggression on defense, and most importantly, Ben Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl champion.
Unfortunately, the Steelers have nothing close to a running game and are paying the price for it.
Through two games, the Steelers have scored 19 points and rushed for 75 yards total. Worst of all, the Steelers' best hope for an improvement on the ground is the return of injured rookie Le'Veon Bell, who has never seen a down of regular-season action.
Name value is all fine and well, but if we're talking about what Pittsburgh is putting on the field, it's offensively horrendous.
The defense is still an elite unit, albeit without the ability to force turnovers. The secondary is displaying greater range than in previous seasons, and the front seven is breaking into the backfield to disrupt both the run and the pass.
Unfortunately, until the Steelers can sustain drives, Pittsburgh's effort defensively will go to waste.
24. Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: No. 28
Week 2: 25-21 win vs. Detroit Lions
Week 3: at New Orleans Saints
If you weren't sold on how much better Carson Palmer makes this football team before, you should be now. The Cardinals are 1-1, but most importantly, they're a competitive football team with competent quarterback play for the first time since Kurt Warner retired.
As long as it can remain healthy, Arizona will be a postseason contender.
Palmer threw for 248 yards, one touchdown and an interception during Arizona's 25-21 win over the Lions in Week 2. Rashard Mendenhall displayed signs of life on the ground, picking up 66 yards and a score on 15 carries, and Arizona overcame a hamstring injury to Larry Fitzgerald.
According to Mike Florio of NBC Sports, Fitzgerald didn't sustain any more damage to his hamstring, but instead triggered the same pain that was troubling him before.
Defensively, the Cardinals have held consecutive opponents to less than 30 points. With Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu leading the secondary, Arizona has managed to overcome a lackluster output from its pass rush.
It hasn't been perfect, but Arizona is a team worth monitoring in the NFC.
23. San Diego Chargers
Last Week: No. 30
Week 2: 33-30 win at Philadelphia Eagles
Week 3: at Tennessee Titans
For the second consecutive week, the San Diego Chargers put on a very impressive performance against a postseason-caliber team. After dropping a heart-breaker against the Houston Texans during Week 1, the Chargers proved to have learned their lesson.
Philip Rivers was brilliant again, and the Chargers upset the Philadelphia Eagles 33-30.
Rivers was 36-of-47 for 419 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, bringing his totals to seven touchdowns and one interception through two games. Both Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd topped 100 yards, while Eddie Royal caught three touchdowns.
Royal now has five receiving touchdowns through two games, and Ryan Mathews has finally found his legs—as long as the receivers perform up to even the lowest of standards, this team will contend.
The main concern for San Diego is on defense, as it has allowed more passing yards than any other team in the league. Paired with three team sacks through two games, there is plenty of room for improvement.
As long as Rivers is under center, however, any team would be a postseason contender—it's all about how well the supporting cast performs.
22. New York Giants
Last Week: No. 19
Week 2: 23-41 vs. Denver Broncos
Week 3: at Carolina Panthers
The New York Giants are a team that will only go as far as quarterback Eli Manning takes them. The same can be said for a multitude of contenders, but Manning's importance is unlike anything we've seen in the NFL.
That's mainly due to the fact that just as Eli gives, he can take away.
Through two games, Manning is averaging 406 passing yards per game and has thrown for five touchdowns. Unfortunately, Manning also has seven interceptions through two games and has become the pure definition of boom-or-bust.
The Giants haven't been able to boom just yet.
New York has 10 turnovers after two games and remains one of the most undisciplined units in all of football. Poor throws only account for half of the issues, as New York is struggling on defense and can't buy a quality rush.
A road game against the Carolina Panthers won't be easy, but it's an opportunity to avoid an 0-3 hole.
21. Washington Redskins
Last Week: 20
Week 2: 20-38 loss at Green Bay Packers
Week 3: vs. Detroit Lions
The Washington Redskins started the season with an ugly loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, falling behind early and only mounting a comeback once it was too late. Week 2 was hardly any different, as Washington lost to the Green Bay Packers, 38-20.
The offense needs to start quicker, and there's no way around that, but the defense hasn't done Washington any favors, either. This team has just been plain bad.
Robert Griffin III's statistics are pretty, but he's been inaccurate on routine throws and has struggled to get Washington's offense going. Alfred Morris began to find a rhythm during Week 2, but even he has struggled with ball security.
Plain and simple, the Redskins' numbers don't reflect their quality of play.
Defensively, Washington is allowing a league-worst average of 201.0 rushing yards per game and an atrocious 310.5 yards through the air. Having a consistent offense would help, but the issues are rooted deeper than RG3.
Any fan placing the blame on Griffin III is simply unwilling to see the big picture—Washington overachieved in 2012.
20. Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: No. 21
Week 2: 30-31 loss at Chicago Bears
Week 3: vs. Cleveland Browns
The Minnesota Vikings have come close to winning games in two consecutive weeks, eventually falling short of a fourth quarter comeback. In Week 2, the devastation hit new heights as Minnesota lost 31-30 to the Chicago Bears.
Minnesota is far from eliminated from postseason contention, but the future is cloudy.
Peterson has run for 193 yards through two games, scoring three total touchdowns and catching five passes. Christian Ponder has been strong, but he's yet to break through as a reliable quarterback on the road to the postseason.
In an NFC North division dominated by elite quarterback play, going 16-of-30 for 227 yards, one touchdown and an interception simply isn't enough.
The defense has made improvements, but until Minnesota can get after the quarterback, it will continue to struggle. Quarterbacks having all the time in the world to throw opens the door for just one thing: the exploitation of the Vikings' inconsistent and inexperienced secondary.
There are more problems than quarterback play, but it's on Ponder to open up the field for Peterson to run and the Vikings to keep their defense on the sidelines.
19. Tennessee Titans
Last Week: No. 23
Week 2: 24-30 loss at Houston Texans
Week 3: vs. San Diego Chargers
The Tennessee Titans have opened the season with two very impressive performances against teams with the reputation of a postseason contender. After winning 16-9 over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1, the Titans took the Houston Texans to overtime.
To think, they've done all of this with the least productive passing game in the league.
Jake Locker has failed to top 150 yards through the air in consecutive games, completing 56.0 percent of his passes in that time. He still hasn't thrown an interception, but at some point, Locker will need to stop being conservative and take control of the game.
Going up against the San Diego Chargers' dreadful pass defense in Week 3, the opportunity is now for him to do so.
Defensively, the Titans have been strong, managing three interceptions and seven sacks through two games. Alterraun Verner has two picks, including one that went for a touchdown, and the Titans have effectively built up a reputation as an AFC South team worth watching.
It's now on Locker to lead them to the promised land.
18. St. Louis Rams
Last Week: No. 18
Week 2: 24-31 loss at Atlanta Falcons
Week 3: at Dallas Cowboys
The St. Louis Rams have been a difficult team to read after two weeks of NFL action. Sam Bradford is coming into his own, but the Rams' running game is average, at best, and St. Louis' defensive backs have failed to show up.
It may have been a 31-24 loss, but St. Louis dug itself a hole against Atlanta and simply didn't have enough time to get out.
A close win over the Arizona Cardinals is encouraging, but it's also a victory against a fellow borderline postseason team. Matched up against a true contender, the Rams fell behind 24-3 and didn't get back into the game until it was too late.
The upside is there, but the Rams still have a long way to go before they're a true postseason contender.
Defensively, the Rams have shut down the opposition's run game, but have been dismantled by Carson Palmer and Matt Ryan in consecutive weeks. With a matchup against Tony Romo looming, the Rams could be in store for another long day.
Playing in the NFC West, every game counts for a young Rams team searching for success.
17. Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: No. 15
Week 2: 30-33 vs. San Diego Chargers
Week 3: vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The Philadelphia Eagles have answered any questions about whether or not Chip Kelly's offense would translate to the NFL. The up-tempo style of play has fit Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and company perfectly, and no defense has been able to find an answer.
If only Philadelphia's defense could keep the pace.
Philly lost 33-30 to the Chargers, but that didn't stop Vick from going 23-of-36 for 428 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, also running in a two-yard score. DeSean Jackson caught nine passes for 193 yards and a touchdown, and McCoy topped 150 yards of total offense for the second-straight week.
Most impressively, the Eagles didn't commit a single turnover.
Defensively, the Eagles managed just one sack and allowed Philip Rivers to torch them for 419 yards and three touchdowns. The Eagles also allowed 126 yards on the ground and continue to struggle to make consistent stops.
Committing nine penalties for 77 yards was just a punch in the stomach after losing on a field goal with seven seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
16. Detroit Lions
Last Week: No. 13
Week 2: 21-25 loss at Arizona Cardinals
Week 3: at Washington Redskins
The Detroit Lions returned to their old ways, following up an impressive Week 1 win with a 25-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2. It was a close game until the end, but Detroit failed to close out and began looking more like the 2012 Lions than the 2011 squad.
A road game against the Washington Redskins in Week 3 will be the measuring stick for this Lions team.
Matthew Stafford has been magnificent, building upon a standout Week 1 performance by going 24-of-36 for 278 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Cardinals. Calvin Johnson caught six passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and Detroit overcame Reggie Bush's injury.
Per Michael Rothstein of ESPN, Bush's knee injury is not considered "serious."
Regardless of what happens with Bush, the Lions need to find some answers on the defensive end. After a stellar first half against Arizona, the Lions allowed the Cardinals to march up and down the field and picked up just one sack.
Detroit should be getting after the quarterback with ease, but instead, it's wondering when Ndamukong Suh's channeled aggression will show up.
15. Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: No. 9
Week 2: 20-24 loss vs. Miami Dolphins
Week 3: at San Francisco 49ers
The Indianapolis Colts escaped the Oakland Raiders during Week 1 and dropped a close one to the Miami Dolphins in Week 2. It wasn't the type of growing experience that the Colts were hoping for, but it was a slap back to reality.
Luck won't be able to save the Colts every time the fourth quarter comes around, so it's now on the Colts to better pace themselves.
Against Miami, Luck was 25-of-43 for 321 yards, one touchdown and an interception, while Ahmad Bradshaw ran it for 65 yards and a score on 15 carries. That's going to be the key for the Colts, as Bradshaw can open up the offense in a way that no one since Joseph Addai has been able to.
Watching T.Y. Hilton go off for 124 yards receiving and Coby Fleener haul in his first touchdown of the year was encouraging enough to keep me interested in Indianapolis.
Defensively, there are questions to answer, but the Colts have played relatively well through two games. Robert Mathis has three sacks already, including two against the Dolphins, helping Indianapolis record five sacks against Miami.
There is room for improvement, but the future is very, very bright.
14. Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: No. 10
Week 2: 16-17 loss at Kansas City Chiefs
Week 3: vs. St. Louis Rams
The Cowboys shouldn't move down five spots for a one-point road loss against a postseason-caliber team. Unfortunately, the Cowboys faltered at the same time that some of the other teams on this list actually won games.
When it's this early in the season, it's senseless to allow reputations to cloud your judgement when we're talking about the postseason contenders, and not just the favorites.
Tony Romo has played well for the Cowboys, completing 72.5 percent of his passes and throwing just one interception. Against Kansas City, however, running back DeMarco Murray ran the ball 12 times for just 25 yards.
If Dallas is to win the NFC East in 2013, it's going to need a more consistent running game.
Defensively, the Cowboys did manage four sacks against Kansas City, which wasn't easy with Alex Smith under center. Perhaps most encouragingly, DeMarcus Ware added two sacks after going without one during Week 1.
Dallas is currently the favorite in that NFC East, if you can believe that.
13. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: No. 14
Week 2: 20-10 win vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 3: vs. Green Bay Packers
The Cincinnati Bengals blew an 11-point third quarter lead during their 24-21 loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. One week later, the Bengals overcame a slow first half to use a balanced effort and pick up a 20-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football.
Under the bright lights, the Bengals impressed.
Rookie running back Giovani Bernard had 65 yards and two touchdowns on nine total touches, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis played a key role in moving the chains late in the game. Andy Dalton, meanwhile, threw for 280 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
Even as Ike Taylor slowed A.J. Green down, Cincinnati got the job done.
Defensively, it was yet another impressive performance against the run, and the Bengals put excellent pressure on Roethlisberger. Geno Atkins only had one tackle, but it was his first sack of the season, and that should encourage Cincinnati.
A 1-1 record isn't spectacular, but Cincinnati responded to adversity and has proven that the necessary mental toughness to contend is present.
12. Miami Dolphins
Last Week: No. 17
Week 2: 24-20 win at Indianapolis Colts
Week 3: vs. Atlanta Falcons
After Week 1, I wasn't much of a believer in the short-term upside that the Miami Dolphins possess. Both the defense and the quarterback play is strong, but neither had proven capable of leading the team to a postseason berth.
Color me convinced.
During Week 2, the Dolphins went on the road and defeated the Indianapolis Colts 24-20. That's not a marquee victory over a Super Bowl contender, but it was a matchup between borderline postseason teams, and Miami won away from home.
Most impressively, it was a balanced performance.
Fullback Charles Clay has caught five passes in consecutive games, this time going for 109 yards and also rushing for a touchdown. Lamar Miller added 69 yards and a score on the ground, while Mike Wallace broke out with 118 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions and Brian Hartline continued to be Mr. Reliable.
With Tannehill topping 300 yards and the defense recording three sacks, Miami overcame three fumbles by the field general to pick up a very big win.
11. Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: No. 12
Week 2: 14-6 win vs. Cleveland Browns
Week 3: vs. Houston Texans
The Baltimore Ravens have been nothing short of disappointing during the first two weeks of the 2013 NFL regular season. While the defense may have responded to an ugly outing in Week 1 with a very strong showing in Week 2, the offense didn't follow suit.
It's becoming harder and harder to justify a high ranking for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Baltimore limited Cleveland to 65 yards on the ground during the 14-6 win and tallied an equally as impressive five sacks. The Ravens failed to force a turnover, but still held Cleveland to 4-of-15 on third down conversions and 0-for-2 on fourth downs.
If only the offense had remembered to show up.
The Ravens managed just 14 points on the heels of a performance in which the entire NFL questioned whether or not they'd be a legitimate contender in 2013. Ray Rice was shut down, and even as Bernard Pierce and Marlon Brown shined, Baltimore was offensively unconvincing.
A Week 3 meeting with the Houston Texans doesn't paint a pretty picture for the Ravens.
10. Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: No. 16
Week 2: 17-16 win vs. Dallas Cowboys
Week 3: at Philadelphia Eagles
Prior to the 2013 NFL regular season, I was one of the many who jumped the gun and labeled the Kansas City Chiefs as a postseason team in 2013. Two weeks in, there are means greater than paper rosters to make an evaluation.
So far, so good.
The Chiefs moved to 2-0 after picking up a 17-16 victory over the Dallas Cowboys during Week 2. Alex Smith threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns, running for 57 more, and both Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles caught touchdown passes.
Throw in two more sacks from Dontari Poe, bringing his total to 3.5 through two games, and you have yourself a very promising football team.
The Chiefs have some competition in the AFC West with the rising Chargers and Raiders, but finishing No. 2 is beyond likely. The Broncos are the heavy favorites, but there is always the potential for an upset finish.
If not, expect the Chiefs to be in the thick of the wild-card race.
9. Chicago Bears
Last Week: No. 11
Week 2: 31-30 win vs. Minnesota Vikings
Week 3: at Pittsburgh Steelers
Say what you will about the Chicago Bears, but they've battled two teams that reached the postseason in 2012-13 and emerged 2-0. Both wins came down to the wire, and each displayed how far this Bears team has come from a mental perspective.
Chicago's latest win, a 31-30 victory against the Vikings, was critical.
When it comes to winning a division, one of the factors that helps to determine tiebreaks is the record a team possesses against divisional foes. Now owning a win over Minnesota, Chicago is in sole possession of the division lead and has displayed no signs of slowing down.
Jay Cutler has discovered his clutch gene, the Bears' defense is still elite and head coach Marc Trestman is drawing up the necessary plays to facilitate the offense. We really need to reiterate that clutch gene thing.
Since the start of last season, Jay Cutler has a Total QBR of 87.3 in the 4th quarter, the highest in the NFL.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 17, 2013
This Bears team is as real as it's been in a long, long time.
Through two games, Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman have combined for three interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a defensive touchdown. This shouldn't shock too many people, as the duo managed 12 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and four defensive touchdowns in 2012.
All in all, Chicago is playing to its strengths and masking its weaknesses with a magnificent two-way effort. Don't let recent history fool you—this is a Super Bowl contender.
8. Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: No. 8
Week 2: 31-24 win vs. St. Louis Rams
Week 3: at Miami Dolphins
The Atlanta Falcons lost a close game to the New Orleans Saints during the opening week of the season, and not too many people panicked. Atlanta showed why when it jumped out to a 24-3 lead over the St. Louis Rams entering halftime.
Even as St. Louis mounted a comeback, the Falcons did enough to hold off the late push and win 31-24.
It wasn't pretty, but any fan of sports knows how hard it is to play with a big lead, mainly due to the tendency for players to become comfortable. That appeared to be the case in the second half for Atlanta, as the play-calling was less aggressive and the defense appeared unready for the same looks it got in the first half.
Fortunately, there's only 60 minutes in a game, and St. Louis put up a marvelous effort that fell just one touchdown short.
With Steven Jackson and Roddy White both hobbled by injuries, Julio Jones stepped up to catch 11 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown. Matt Ryan was 33-of-43 for 374 yards, two scores and no interceptions, and Osi Umenyiora returned an interception for a touchdown.
It wasn't the perfect ending, but Atlanta showed why it's a Super Bowl contender with this win.
7. New England Patriots
Last Week: No. 3
Week 2: 13-10 win vs. New York Jets
Week 3: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The New England Patriots were plain ugly during Week 1, and it didn't get any more attractive during Week 2. For the second consecutive week, the Patriots survived a close game against a division rival, defeating the New York Jets 13-10.
Just don't think that's why they're so low.
I'm a firm believer in the phrase "a win is a win", and the fact that New England has struggled and still emerged victorious is encouraging enough for me. What's discouraging, however, is the fact that the Patriots' receiving corps is depleted by injuries, free agency and tragedy, and it's not getting any better.
Rob Gronkowski can't return soon enough, but what about Danny Amendola and running back Shane Vereen? New England has personnel issues that severely damage its ranking and Super Bowl odds.
Tom Brady is still on this generation's Mt. Rushmore, and Bill Belichick is the first face carved in on the coaches version. With multiple rookies attempting to be Brady's go-to receivers and Stevan Ridley struggling to run the football, however, there just hasn't been enough firepower.
Barring a miracle development or a high-profile signing via free agency, don't expect that to change.
6. New Orleans Saints
Last Week: No. 7
Week 2: 16-14 win at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 3: vs. Arizona Cardinals
The New Orleans Saints have won two consecutive games while using their defense to shut opponents down. If I said that phrase in 2012, you'd likely laugh in my face and stop reading right here, but in 2013, it's true.
New Orleans is allowing an average of 15.5 points per game and has forced four turnovers through two outings.
The Saints defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16-14, with one of the opposition's two touchdowns coming on a pick-six. Malcolm Jenkins picked up an interception, 24-year-old defensive end Cameron Jordan recorded a sack and for the second consecutive week, Rob Ryan looked brilliant.
To think, New Orleans is 2-0 and its offense hasn't even been a factor yet.
Drew Brees was 26-of-46 for 322 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, and the Saints ran for a decent 75 yards as a team. Jimmy Graham was a monster with 10 receptions for 179 yards and a score, but points were difficult to come by for the second-straight week.
Once New Orleans' offense wakes up, expect its ranking to increase—drastically.
5. Green Bay Packers
Last Week: No. 6
Week 2: 38-20 win vs. Washington Redskins
Week 3: at Cincinnati Bengals
The Green Bay Packers have been a Super Bowl contender since the day Aaron Rodgers learned how to overcome the horrendous play from his offensive line. Even as the pocket collapsed on virtually every snap against the Washington Redskins, he did it again.
In turn, Green Bay responded to a close loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1 by defeating another division champion 38-20.
Rodgers was absolutely masterful, methodically picking Washington apart for 480 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions on 34-of-42 passing. Rookie Eddie Lacy went down with an injury, but James Starks stepped up to run for 132 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
Defensively, it was the secondary that shined, allowing just one player to top three receptions or 45 yards. While Washington's overall statistics may be impressive, Green Bay shut it down during the first half, and the Redskins only got going once the game had been decided.
If only one bounce-back performance can be considered impressive, this is the one.
4. San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: No. 2
Week 2: 3-29 at Seattle Seahawks
Week 3: vs. Indianapolis Colts
The San Francisco 49ers entered the season as the No. 1 NFC team on virtually every set of power rankings across the globe. With a dominant defense, a budding superstar at quarterback and depth at every position, the Niners were primed to repeat as NFC champions.
That's still a possibility, but there's a lot of work to do after San Francisco lost 29-3 against the Seattle Seahawks.
During the course of its past two games against Seattle, San Fran has been outscored 71-16. Clearly, that hasn't been the case against any other opponent, and this may just be an instance of the 49ers being unable to win in Seattle.
It'll take a win against Jim Harbaugh's playing team, the Indianapolis Colts, to put an end to the criticisms.
The silver lining is that the Niners did hold Russell Wilson to 8-of-19 passing, and rookie Eric Reid had an interception. In the loudest stadium ever, Colin Kaepernick outdid his counterpart, however, by going 13-of-28 with no touchdowns, three interceptions and a fumble.
Anyone who believes that this game exposed the 49ers is mistaken, but that doesn't mean there isn't reason for serious concern.
3. Houston Texans
Last Week: No. 4
Week 2: 30-24 win vs. Tennessee Titans
Week 3: at Baltimore Ravens
The Houston Texans are becoming a mix between the comeback kids and the masters of the fourth quarter. After scoring 24 consecutive points to defeat the San Diego Chargers 31-28 in Week 1, Houston needed overtime to top the Tennessee Titans 30-24.
These are the type of wins that players remember during tough situations in postseason games.
Arian Foster ran it in from one yard out with 1:53 remaining in the fourth quarter and then rushed for the two-point conversion to tie it at 24-24. Houston's defense also recorded a safety during the fourth quarter, marking the second consecutive week that it put points on the board.
In the end, however, this was all about two players: embattled quarterback Matt Schaub and rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Schaub was brilliant once again, throwing for 298 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, leading each of Houston's scoring drives. Hopkins caught seven passes for 117 yards and the game-winning touchdown in overtime, effectively establishing his status as Andre Johnson's first career reliable No. 2.
It hasn't been spectacular, but the Texans are only getting healthier, and with Schaub finally playing like a star, this team will be an AFC favorite come the playoffs.
2. Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: No. 5
Week 2: 29-3 vs. San Francisco 49ers
Week 3: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Every team in the NFC has realistic or distant dreams of reaching the Super Bowl. Only one NFC team has separated itself from the pack, however, as the Seattle Seahawks have put on multiple impressive performances thus far.
As for all of those teams that want to reach the playoffs, it's time to start praying that Seattle doesn't earn home-field advantage.
The Seahawks dismantled the 49ers 29-3 during Week 2—dating back to the 2012 season, Seattle has outscored San Francisco 71-16. In fact, the Seahawks haven't lost a home game since Dec. 24, 2011.
It's safe to say this team is legitimate.
Marshawn Lynch rebounded from a soft Week 1 by running for 107 yards and a touchdown against one of the most dominant linebacker corps we've ever seen. Lynch also caught a touchdown pass, and Seattle decimated the reigning NFC champions with Russell Wilson completing just 42.1 percent of his passes.
Imagine how good Seattle will be on days that Wilson actually plays like himself.
1. Denver Broncos
Last Week: No. 1
Week 2: 41-23 win at New York Giants
Week 3: vs. Oakland Raiders
The Denver Broncos have played the past two Super Bowl champions during the opening two weeks of the regular season. In that time, Denver has outscored the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants by a combined score of 90-50.
If you're not impressed, try the fact that the Broncos have done all of this without both Champ Bailey and Von Miller.
Peyton Manning has thrown for 769 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions, completing 67.1 percent of his pass attempts in two games. After Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker starred in Week 1, it was Eric Decker who led the charge with nine catches for 87 yards in Week 2.
Most significantly, tight end Julius Thomas continues to be a red-zone threat and running back Knowshon Moreno is finally living up to his potential.
It started in 2012 for Moreno, as he averaged 85.0 rushing yards per game during the final six weeks of the regular season. Against the Giants, Moreno ran for 93 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, laid a massive block that led to a first down and recovered what could've been a costly fumble.
Denver isn't just looking elite, but they're the team to beat.