After last week’s hubris I won’t be making any claims about schedules so let’s get looking at week two, which had losses for both TWF teams but some cracking contests so let’s see how things are shaping up in the early season.
What I Saw
I’ll start with the Bengals loss against the Bears that finished 20-17 despite a fourth quarter comeback from the Bengals, which had to contend with a hat trick of interceptions for Joe Burrow including a pick-six and another INT that setup one of the Bears’ two fourth quarter field goals. The really frustrating thing is that the Bengals defence looked pretty solid, despite giving up a touchdown to Andy Dalton in the first quarter they held the Bears to field goals the rest of the way. If the Bengals’ defence might be taking some kind of shape (and it really should given the dollars they have invested in it), the familiar story of offensive line problems seems to still be there, as well as a lot of empty formations that doesn’t exactly do a lot to stop Burrow taking hits, although the running game didn’t help give them much balance either.
As for the Bears, you can certainly see the potential of rookie quarterback Justin Fields and at this point you wonder whether Dalton will get the starting job back once he’s recovered from the bone bruise in his knee. The Bears’ defence sneaks into the top ten by DVOA and looked solid against the Bengals, even if the o-line troubles probably helped but I think we’re going to need a couple more weeks to truly get a feel for where the Bears are and there narrative is going to be about the quaterbacks for a while yet.
The other of the early Sunday games I watched was the 49ers taking on the Eagles in Philadelphia. The 49ers stayed out east having visited the Lions in week one and ran out 17-11 winners, but it was an odd contest for them. On defence they mostly controlled the Eagles offence, given up a lot of running yardage but not a lot passing (the Eagles did in fact out gain the 49ers in yards) and only conceded the one touchdown late in the game. However, it was more the 49ers offence that was really puzzling as their commitment to the run was there as always but was not efficient although they did eventually get one hundred yards. However, the passing game struggled early, with Jimmy Garoppolo missing throws early although he settled down over the course of the game, but whilst his completion percentage was good by the end of the game, his twenty-two completions only yielded one hundred and eighty-nine yards. It’s early in a long season and the 49ers are once again dealing with some injuries but whilst I expect them to be competitive, I’m just not sure how good they can be even if they are unbeaten so far.
The Eagles looked to be what I thought they were coming into the game, strong line play on both sides of the ball will keep them in games and I’m looking forward to seeing how they do in prime time against the Cowboys this coming Monday. The questions are again around the offence and like so many teams the Eagles are trying to work out what they have a quarterback. Certainly, second year quarterback Jalen Hurts is a threat on the ground, and all the usual run options plays were present, but he managed the odd combination of a completion percentage in the low fifties, but his twelve competitions yielded one more yards than the Garoppolo’s and the Eagles were a couple of near misses from having some very big plays. The Eagles have plenty of room to develop, and a 1-1 start is a solid beginning, but we’ll know a little bit more about them after week three.
The final game I saw was the Sunday night game that I’m sure enthralled many as the Baltimore Ravens hosted the Kansas City Chiefs and the home fans saw Lamar Jackson convert a fourth down to seal his first win against the Chiefs 36-35. It was a great game to watch as it features two quarterbacks capable of making you question how they did what you just saw, even if it is in different ways. Jackson is not a top level passer, but makes up for it with his legs, racking up another hundred yards on the ground and a pair of touchdowns to make up for the two interceptions he threw. The Ravens defence were focussed on Tyreek Hill, limiting the Chief’s number one receiver to three receptions for fourteen yards, but Patrick Mahomes was more than happy to distribute the ball to his other receivers with eight different players catching passes and Travis Kelce finishing the game with one hundred yards and a touchdown. To be fair, the Ravens had their own one-hundred-yard receiver in Marquise Brown but their shortfall in passing yardage was more than made up by the two hundred and fifty-one total rushing yards. There are still concerns about the Raven’s offence on obvious passing downs, but their offence is built differently and did enough to beat the Chiefs.
There might in fact be cracks showing in this iteration of the Chiefs, they are still terrifying on offence, but the defence is currently ranked thirty-first by DVOA and as good as their offence is, they need to get some stops or turnovers to make them less reliant on Mahomes and the offence. It’s still early in the season so I’m not pushing the panic button yet, but it’s definitely something worth keeping an eye on because to sustainably win, and challenge for the Super Bowl you need a defence that is good enough and through two games that hasn’t looked to be the case for the Chiefs.
For the Raven this win is particularly impressive given the injuries that they are already dealing with, but they are another team where it might be worth keeping an eye on their defensive ranking, but at least they have the history of competence on that side of the ball. The big question is whether they can be good enough on offence in high leverage moments as the days where you could win with stellar defence and competent offence have been replaced by the inverse, but it would be great to see a team win big with a different formula.
What I Heard
It’s been an interesting week for NFL media, a lot of the early coverage is either hot takes, or knowing over-reaction, which makes sense as it generates content whilst we work out how good the various teams are. The NFL is such a fluid league that even with a relatively sure quantity like the Chiefs, there are questions about them and already we have one or two teams slated to be bad play better than expected, even if actual wins are as low as expected. It’s such a short season with so much variance that we should be very careful to read too much into two games.
What I Think
I mentioned this whilst recording the podcast last night, but both West Divisions are looking impressive this year.
In the AFC the Raiders and Broncos are unbeaten, and the Chargers and Chiefs are lurking below them at 1-1 and whilst I’m sure this picture will become clearer in the coming weeks, it’s certainly somewhere between a good to promising start for all four teams and I’m intrigued at how the Broncos and Raiders build on their early success.
Meanwhile, in the NFC West there are three unbeaten teams in the Rams, 49ers, Cardinals with the Seahawks sitting right behind them on 1-1. This has been a tough division for several years, and while I have my concerns about the 49ers right now, the early returns on the addition of Matthew Stafford to the Rams has been impressive, whilst Kyler Murray looks more like himself with the Cardinals this season and their defence is currently ranked sixth by DVOA and I am looking forward to seeing Chandler Jones who had five sacks in the Cardinals’ opening game. When you talk about the Seahawks, you’re expecting tough defence and an offence focussed on running the ball, which was the formula that they tried to revert to during the second half of last season. However, once again their offence ranks higher by DVOA than their defence and whilst I expect them to compete for the playoffs as they always do, I am intrigued to see the new offence and how it evolves over the season.
What I Know
The Bengals have an interesting game coming up against the Steelers, which as much as fans of the Bengals sports-hate the Steelers, it can’t be a true rivalry until the Bengals win a lot more games. There are enough injuries floating round the Steelers for there to be flutters of hope in my fan heart, but I know that it’s unlikely the Bengals will win. Still, strange things can happen so we shall just have to see.
What I Hope
Right now, my hope is that one of the Dolphins or the Bengals will put an offensive line together that enable their young quarterbacks to maximise their potential but I’m not sure we’ll see that any time soon.