By Jason Fryer
So were two weeks into the NFL season and so far we have learned both positives and negatives about each team. Below are five facts that we have learned two weeks into the season.
The Dolphins had a tough start to the season as their first two games were on the road in Cleveland and Indianapolis. Miami had a number of new faces on their roster and had to learn if their team was for real with back-to-back road games. The Dolphins passed their first test with consecutive road victories to start the season. After the next three weeks (home vs. Atlanta/Baltimore & road vs. New Orleans), Miami will only have 5 road games, and three (two vs. New England) matchups against teams that made the 2012 playoffs.
The Dolphins play in a horrible division (Buffalo is off to a nice start but still haven't played a road game, I'm not sold on the 1-1 Jets, and the Patriots have a ton of offensive problems) and after two weeks is in the best shape of the four teams in the division. When you add all this up, the team from south Florida is on track to record double-digit victories and be one of the twelve teams playing in January.
Let's start with the team located in central Florida, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers have lost both games with less than two seconds remaining and yet still have a ton of other problems. Tampa's defense has been terrific so far (allowing three touchdowns while recording four takeaways) but could be better if they used DarrelleRevis in man-to-man coverage (why he was nicknamed "Revis Island") instead of playing in zone coverage. Their offense on the other hand...has looked awful. Tampa Bay's two best offensive players (Doug Marin and Vincent Jackson) have been terrific in the early going, however the problems between quarterback Josh Freeman and head coach Greg Schiano have reached on the field and until the problems get solves between the coach and quarterback, this teams going nowhere.
As for the sunshine state's northernmost football team, the Jacksonville Jaguars are no doubt the worst team in the NFL and with the loss have the inside track to Teddy Bridgewater. With an injured MJD and below average offensive options, I believe the Jaguars will finish with two wins and will be on the clock for the number one overall pick. The Jaguars have one true asset on their team (Maurice Jones Drew) and with this team going nowhere, Jacksonville should look to trade the 28 year old running back (if he is able to return from his injury) for more assets to build around for the future.
For the second straight season, the Seattle Seahawks obliterated the San Francisco 49ers in Seattle and showed why they have the ultimate home field advantage. The Seahawks only have two 2012 playoff teams that will travel to the greater pacific northwest (Minnesota and New Orleans) and after watching what Seattle did to San Francisco, there's no chance the Seahawks will lose a game at CenturyLink Field and will continue there home winning streak which goes back to last season (went 8-0 in 2012). If the Seahawks can find a way to win in San Francisco or go 5-3 on the road, Seattle will have the best record in the NFC, finish with home-field advantage throughout the 2013 playoffs, and represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
There might be an east coast biases, but the facts are the facts... the NFC East is the worst division in the NFC this season. Each of the four teams lost on Sunday and week one saw the four teams play each other and outside of Philadelphia (who gave up over 539 yards to an average San Diego offense), the other teams looked average at best. In New York, the Giants defense, running game, and special teams have been awful and because of this, Eli Manning has been forced to throw on almost every down to keep up with the opposing offenses. The Giants have one of (if not the best group of wide receivers in the NFL) and can only do so much. Dallas had a dreadful first game against the Giants (but won thanks to six New York turnovers) and once again looked confused on offense (under first year coordinator Bill Callahan) as Dallas had back-to-back drives that resulted in fumbles lost and were never able to find their offense.
Philadelphia has one of the most exciting offenses and you can't leave your seat because if you get up to get food or go to the bathroom you might miss a scoring drive. After a thrilling week one victory in Washington, the Eagles returned home to face a Chargers team that played late Monday night and had to travel across the country. It seems that this would be the perfect matchup for the Eagles...not so much. The Chargers defense as expected had problems stopping the fast paced Philadelphia offense, but no problems with their defense as San Diego came away with a 33-30 victory. And now, the worst team in the NFC East (and possibly the NFC), the Washington Redskins. The Redskins were the story of the NFC last season as rookie Robert Griffin III looked like superman week after week leading them to victory.
However, that was last season and a several variables have changed this season. For one, RGIII is coming off a torn ACL and it will take time for him to trust his knee forcing Griffin to be a pocket passer until he feels closer to 100%. With the Redskins winning the NFC East, they get the reward of playing all the division winners from last season (San Francisco and Atlanta) along with the NFC North (second best division in the NFC) and the AFC West (features tough teams in Denver, Kansas City, and San Diego). There is no question, this has become the worst division in the NFC and with Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, New Orleans, Seattle, and San Francisco all battling for two wild card spots, the NFC East will feature one representative (and nine wins might be enough) for the 2013 playoffs.
We knew the AFC was bad...but not this bad. The Broncos are clearly the class of the division (and quite possibly the NFL) but the other 2012-playoff teams in the AFC clearly taken a step back. If the Chargers and Titans didn't suffer late game collapse the Houston Texans would be 0-2 against two good but not great teams. The same can be said for the Patriots but worse as they opened with two rookie quarterbacks in E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith. The New England offense (running backs, wideouts, and tight ends) features rookies that aren't ready for the bright lights or players that have an injury track record. The Ravens lost a several key players from the 2012 Super Bowl champions and far away from that team.
Indianapolis added one of the best young running backs in football (Trent Richardson) but with a new offensive coordinator and offense, the team doesn't look even close to the previous seasons pass first offense that was so successful in 2012. Four of the six teams 2012 playoffs teams are weaker in 2013, and the Bengals, Broncos, Chiefs, and Dolphins are three teams that have taken the next step and will playing football in January of 2014. Baring an additional significant injury to the Broncos (who already lost All-Pro tackle Ryan Clady), I would be stunned if anyone outside of Denver made the Super Bowl as the AFC representative.
One additional observation...
There are numerous divisions that feature two upper level teams but the remainder of the division is weak...except the NFC West. The NFC West has the NFC's two best teams (sorry Atlanta, Chicago, Green Bay, and New Orleans but its true) along with one of the leagues most underrated teams (St. Louis who won in Atlanta last week) and Arizona. The Rams feature one of the best offensive (anchored by newly signed Jake Long) and defensive lines (Robert Quinn, Chris Long, and Michael Brockers) along with a number of other quality playmakers (Janoris Jenkins, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, and James Laurinaitis). The Rams will once again have two first round draft picks (from the Robert Griffin III trade) and be even better in 2014.
In the desert, Arizona (who has a pass first offense that includes a rejuvenated Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts, and Carson Palmer) has an underrated offense and a defense that features a number of upper level players in their franchise (Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Patrick Peterson, and in two weeks Daryl Washington). The Cardinals and Rams might finish with an under .500 record, but that won't show the true value of both teams.
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