Written By: Joe Carlino
We’re two weeks into yet another great NFL season, and there continues to be great action on the field, competitive play from each club, more ties than we’re used to (first time since 1971 two ties occurred in the first two weeks), and some unforeseen circumstances going on right now. Heck, there’s been some surprising league leaders I bet nobody even gave a reasonable chance on, especially after some players decided to hold out (here’s (justifiably) looking at you, Le’Veon Bell).
Yet, there’s a question everyone seems to constantly ask: “Who is for real and who’s about to implode?”
Allow me to give you nine organizations (or players) that, through these first two weeks, I’m taking a hard look at:
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Early verdict: Keep this fire going. Everyone was ready to count out the Bucs when franchise quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for the first three games of the season. Personally, I kept saying of their first three games, New Orleans on paper was the game to steal (and I was right). Now, did I expect them to continue the offensive firepower I saw in Week One? Honestly, I did not.
This team is clicking on all cylinders, and it starts with Ryan “Fitzmagic” Fitzpatrick. He’s got this team rolling better than I’ve seen in a long time, and the fans are finally being treated to a team that, although early, might just contend for a playoff spot in an already stacked NFC. They just beat two of the final four teams in last year’s playoffs. If they can beat Pittsburgh on Monday, there might be a new question coming out of Tampa: “Jameis who?”
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
Early verdict: They need stability. I can’t recall a time where Pittsburgh didn’t have something going on inside their walls which, to us outsiders, would seem like a locker room distraction. This season, they can’t seem to avoid them. From Le’Veon Bell holding out (and the subsequent callout by the offensive line) to Antonio Brown seemingly becoming the NFL’s Kevin Durant, the Steelers are near the brink at this point.
Look at their first two games: they tied (tied!) a Cleveland team that, while some people are high on, they should’ve lost to. Turning the ball over six times, even in inclement weather, is a recipe for disaster. Then last week, they gave up six touchdowns to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Kansas City is good, but Pittsburgh has always been one step ahead of them. My advice: find some defensive players who can bring stability to your organization. If not, soon, Pittsburgh might become the cellar team of the AFC North.
3. Los Angeles Rams
Early verdict: They’re good. Scary good. I’m going to go on record to state I might have been very wrong with the Rams. I was predicting this team wasn’t going to get 10 wins, no players would get double-digit sack numbers, and they would miss the playoffs. Right now, they’re making me eat a whole lot of crow with those predictions. I went with history when I made those predictions, because I felt like they needed a year to click before dominating next year. Looks like I’m a year too late, because they trounced Oakland on the road and shutout Arizona at home. Sean McVay was a tremendous hire, and it’s showing. Wonder how this team would do against Atlanta in a playoff game at the Coliseum.
4. Matt Breida
Early verdict: I KNEW IT. Yes, I’m aware it’s only two weeks into this season. But answer this question: after two weeks, who leads the league in rushing yards? Gurley? Zeke? Saquon? No, it’s the undrafted second-year player in the Bay Area, and he’s for real. I might be biased here because I used to watch this guy play at our high school, but even then, I knew he had potential. And right now, San Francisco is being treated to a great show by this guy. Not to mention, he’s playing under Kyle Shanahan, who with Atlanta had an above average quarterback (Matt Ryan) and a running back committee (power back in Tevin Coleman and speed back in Devonta Freeman). Right now, he’s got the speed back. If they can find a power back, watch out NFL.
5. Oakland Raiders
Early verdict: They need help fast. I was questionable about the Jon Gruden hire, even though I believed he was an OK head coach. I didn’t expect him to cut Janikowski, didn’t expect him to cut King, and certainly didn’t expect him to trade Khalil Mack to Chicago. And now he can’t figure out why they don’t have a pass rush. Well, put bluntly, YOU TRADED AWAY YOUR PASS RUSH. I still like Derek Carr and think he can be an average quarterback when he hangs it up. But right now, I think the Raider Nation is just waiting for 2020, because maybe then they’ll have a team to contend in the AFC with.
6. Atlanta Falcons
Early verdict: Will the real Falcons stand up? I just can’t seem to wrap my heads around this squad, and they’re one of my favorites in the NFC. One week you can hardly score on Philadelphia; the next you’re perfect from the red zone against Carolina. Sure, the play calling has been questionable by Steve Sarkisian, but fans really seem to ignore what the players say: “It all comes down to execution”. A play could be scripted perfectly, but if one player messes up by even a centimeter, the play is ruined. Atlanta got a much-needed win over Carolina, and Matt Ryan and Co. looked dominant. An upcoming game at home against the hated Saints might truly answer some questions about this team’s campaign.
7. New York Giants
Early verdict: They stink up front. That game against Dallas on Sunday night was atrocious, and it starts with the men up front. How do you give up six sacks on Eli Manning, especially one where the left guard didn’t even pick up the blitzing safety? Not only that, but their center was just lost to the season with a broken leg and ankle. They brought Nate Solder over from New England to bring stability to the line, but I can’t see it even coming to fruition. Giants fans, this is a rough year.
8. Blake Bortles
Early verdict: What the heck just happened? Only a few years ago, people were ready to call Blake Bortles a huge bust in this league. He couldn’t complete passes, threw ugly interceptions, and was the signal caller for an organization that, at the time, was a laughingstock. Then they got a defense, brought back Tom Coughlin, and everything changed. Bortles somehow looks like the quarterback who pulled off a miracle upset of Baylor back in 2013. He’s becoming a real challenge in this league, and he just beat Tom Brady at home while looking like the better of the two (though Tom beat him when it counted). Jaguars fans, you’ve had some struggles in the franchise’s history. Right now, I might be penciling your squad in for a bye in this year’s playoffs.
9. Buffalo Bills
Early verdict: They just stink. I don’t even know how to accurately describe this Bills team. They got absolutely throttled by Joe Flacco and the Ravens in Week One, and in your home opener against the Chargers, cornerback Vontae Davis retires at halftime. HALFTIME! I wasn’t the biggest Josh Allen fan, but even I wouldn’t have put him behind that offensive line; they’re nearly as bad as the Giants, and they have the same color scheme. To top it off, they barely have any receivers who can consistently catch the ball, and they don’t have a pass rush. Bills Mafia is in for a rough season, and I think the #1 pick is almost a formality at this point.