A boring week that was NOT.
Twelve games finished with margins of less than 15 points, including 3 with less than 5, and a good half-dozen games were in doubt until Monday night’s final whistle, some of them outstanding.
Games of the Week: I genuinely can’t choose between these.
Detroit Lions 214, New York Giants 208: Speaking of Monday night showdowns, this one came down to the wire because the Monday night game WAS the franchise game. And for a possible NFC Championship game preview, this one didn’t disappoint. Todd Gurley and Tyler Lockett went off for the Lions, cancelling out rough games from the Lions stars, and Chris Jones went nuts with two forced fumbles, a pick, and three sacks. The Lions showed much better balance (12/20 in double digits) but lacked any standout performances (no player with 20 or more points). You can point to DeMarco Murray’s early exit as the difference in this one. But to me, this one was Darius Slay, who was everywhere on Monday night (20 points). A couple less tackles and passes defensed also means a few more points for Eli… and we’re looking at a different outcome.
Cleveland Browns 212, Baltimore Ravens 210: The Ravens are the best 1-2 team I’ve ever seen. After shelling the Bengals in week one only to lose the game to forfeit due to some random guy I’ve never heard of on the practice squad (check your squads, people!), the Ravens scored over 210 again only to lose by two points to another division rival. Instead of 3-0 in the division, the Ravens are 1-2 by 2 points and a PS blip. Oof. As before, a solid 108 point defensive performance keyed Baltimore, while the equally tough Browns were galvanized by a 34 point, 3 touchdown extravaganza from 2015’s overpriced stud of the year, Michael Crabtree. Remember back when we thought a double digit salary was outrageous for a FA pickup? O the halcyon days of innocence. Ironically, this one too came down to Monday night. The Ravens, trailing after Sunday, picked up a predictably strong 13.5 point game from Olivier Vernon. But TE Jerrell Adams has ONE single catch all year long. It was on Monday night. It went for 38 yards. It was worth 4.5 points. And Cleveland knocks off it’s rival.
Green Bay Packers 215, Cleveland Browns 212: The “Dear lord you threaded that needle so perfectly you should be a kicker!” award goes to Cleveland this week, who managed to win by 2 and lose by 3 in the same exact week. The runner up goes to the Raiders, who managed to win by 7 and lose by 3. In this one, Carlos Hyde, Davante Adams and Jason Witten all went over 20 to cue a surprisingly good offensive attack. The Pack, at 2-1, are a game back of Detroit and looking really strong to start off the season.
Atlanta Falcons: This could be the year the Falcons break through in the brutal NFC South. A 3-0 start and the highest week #2 point total has the Falcons strongly atop the division after a nice 207-204 win over New Orleans. The Falcs are getting strong contributions up and down their offense. Julio and Jay Ajayi are getting theirs, but guys like Chris Thompson (28 points) and Mohammed Sanu (14 points) are moving this team from strong to dangerous.
Cincinnati Bengals: The 3-0 squads in our league fall into three categories. Detroit and Buffalo (ho hum. Wake me when something surprising happens). Kansas City and Atlanta (good teams, but a little surprising – expect a loss soon). And Cincinnati. WTF? After a forfeit win in week #1, the Bengals followed up their good fortune with a 2-0 week, knocking off Chicago and Houston to move into first place in the AFC North by a full game and a half. That’s surprising. Cincy’s office has been mediocre at best (42 and 63 points in the first two weeks) but their defense has been stellar (110 and 114 points) despite only two total turnovers all year. They need some playmakers on offense to score points badly, but if Andy Dalton can ever get going and Andrew Luck can ever come back to save TY Hilton, this team could be a legitimate contender.
New York Jets: It feels a little odd to call out a 1-2 team as rising, but it’s worth noting that the New York football Jets have been downright competitive in the first two weeks. Their two losses have been to Buffalo by 14 and to the Oakland Raiders by 7. They also smoked the Broncos and are 7th in the AFC in points scored. Carson Wentz, Melvin Gordon, and Stefon Diggs, the young offensive triumvirate, look good, and the defense has been strong as expected. Signs of LIFE for the perennially beaten down green machine.
Honorable Mentions: Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks
Houston Texans: Real Deal Report curse? The Texans have losses to Jacksonville and Cincinnati and have only beaten the lowly 49ers to kick off the year, and have had only 3 two point games so far this year. Problems? Not really. 1-2 is not how the Texans wanted to start, and Jacksonville and Cincy were certainly not games they had fingered on their calendar as losses. But it’s not even close to the end of the world. They’ve scored a lot of points (209 and 187) – it’s just that their opponents have played out of their minds. Jacksonville followed up their 233 point week 1 effort with a 57 point drop in week 2, and Cincy’s week 2 score was 35 points higher than their week 1 score. That’s bad luck, not bad play. Rough week, not great, but Houston will be fine.
Carolina Panthers: What is going on? I feel like Admiral Akbar. This has to be a trap. The second I put this down, Carolina is going to run off 13 straight wins and make me feel like a complete fool. And 2-1 with a loss to Buffalo is not what one usually thinks of as falling. But Carolina has looked… mediocre. 168 points in week #2 following up an under 200 in week #1 as well. And if their loss was to Buffalo, their wins have been over SF and Minnesota – who have combined to go 0-6. With the Falcons playing out of their minds and both New Orleans and Tampa Bay looking strong, that’s not going to be good enough for Panthera. The problem has been on offense. Zach Ertz has been dynamite. Cam Newton and Mark Ingram have been disappointingly mediocre. And the rest of the offense has been an epic disaster. Take this Sunday, for instance. Ertz had 17. Newtown had 11. Ingram had 12. And Campanaro, Woods, Blount, and Olsen combined for 6.75 points. With Olsen out for a while, we’ll have to see where this goes.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Back to earth with a thud. After that 233 point clubbing of Houston in week #1, the Jags returned to earth on Sunday, dropping games to both the Seahawks and Titans. There’s no shame in a 176 point double loss to two playoff contenders, but it will do nothing to dispel perceptions that week 1 was a mirage. The QB situation continues to plague the Jags (hey, that rhymes!). They got a zero from their signal caller position on Sunday. A 20 point QB and Jacksonville is 3-0 and reading a very different column.
Dishonorable Mentions: New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins
Week 3 Games of the Week:
Arizona Cardinals vs. New York Giants: 2-1. Check. Super Bowl Contenders. Check. Chip on their shoulder. Check. Stiff challenges within their own divisions. Check. Arizona and New York enter week 3 in similar places. Good teams, fine outlooks, one tough loss, and no desire to drop another game. The Giants are hoping like crazy that DeMarco Murray can return, and are hoping even more that their acquisition of Philip Rivers pays dividends after watching Eli struggle.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Detroit Lions: Ka-boom! 3-0 meets 3-0 as the Lions continue their early-season gauntlet of death with a trip to Falcon-land. Atlanta, meanwhile, gets both Detroit and New Orleans in a tough week. If the Falcons can go 2-0, they will have initially announced themselves. 1-1 and they are still looking pretty good. 0-2 and they are suddenly looking up again. It’s a hard conference.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Detroit Lions: The other 3-0 vs. 3-0 matchup. I almost missed it, but Cincinnati is 3-0. It seems unlikely they’ll stay that way.
New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles: The NFC East is at stake in this clash. Both teams are cranky after narrow losses in week 2, but both teams have brutal double games this week and the team that can channel that frustration into a vicious bout of scoring vengeance will seize the driver’s seat for a division title.
Tennessee Titans vs. Seattle Seahawks: An intriguing under the radar game between two first place teams, this is one I’m going to be watching very closely. Bradford’s health is in question, and will have a big impact on this game. The reason I’m interested is that both teams have gone 2-1 despite rough starts to the year for key stars. When guys like Russell Wilson, Zeke Elliott, and the entire NYG offense (Perkins, OBJ and Shepherd are all here), these two teams could get even better.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Houston Texans: I had this one marked on the calendar as a possible AFC Title showdown preview. It’s lost a lot of it’s luster, as the two teams stagger in at 2-3-1. But I still believe that both of those teams are really good. The winner of this one gets some mojo back, while the loser is left searching for answers. The Steelers badly need for Big Ben and Le’Veon Bell to get back on track.
Good luck everyone, and play more close games. Be like Oakland (all three games by 7 points or less). And send Oakland heart medication. We like the guy and want him to stick around!