Welcome to NCB’s weekly NFL Roundtable where a bunch of our best and brightest writers will discuss the aftermath of each week in the season, and figure what’s in store in the future. Join us as we share our thoughts on the latest news, the key match-ups, and any other strange story that will develop.
Two weeks in and as usual, you can’t predict the NFL. The widely mocked trade of Sam Bradford to Minnesota now has the Vikings laughing (for now), the Patriots are on their third-string quarterback and it might not change a thing, the Eagles may have found their long term man at the helm, and more. Just when you think you have everything figured out, the league throws you a curveball. Fair or not, that’s probably why we keep coming back for more.
Now, the playoff race will start to settle. Who are the contenders and pretenders? Did We hype the Jaguars and Raiders too much?
The answers to these questions and more in the Week 3 roundtable:
1. Since 2007, teams starting the season 2-0 are 58.6 percent likely to make the playoffs. Which of the 2-0 teams is most likely to miss the postseason? Which 0-2 team will make the playoffs?
Robert Zeglinski: While I can appreciate what the Eagles and Carson Wentz have done so far in their undefeated start, they’ll eventually fall back to Earth. The NFC East isn’t the strongest division, but the Giants have more experience at quarterback and a better revamped defense than Philadelphia. Wentz wasn’t stellar against Chicago, a better defense than Cleveland’s, but he was adequate. That won’t be enough against higher-caliber teams. Wentz is due for a rough patch and struggles like any rookie quarterback, which will set the Eagles back.
Honestly, I don’t see any of the winless teams making the playoffs. In fact, let me rattle off why for each team quickly. The Saints have too many defensive issues. The Bears are in a hard rebuild. Kirk Cousins and the Redskins are too streaky. The Colts are all Andrew Luck, nothing else-more on them later-in contrast with the much more complete division rival Texans. Ditto for the Jaguars, except Blake Bortles is worse than Luck. The Dolphins and Bills are in the same division as the best team in the AFC in the Patriots and don’t have enough depth for a wild card run. And well, the Browns are stuck in their own eternal depressing rebuild. No one’s making an ’07 Giants run from 0-2 here.
Brian Hall: The Giants have won their first two games of the season by a combined four points. This was against the Cowboys, who are breaking in a backfield of rookies, and the Saints who, despite having one of the league’s worst defenses, held the G-Men to a measly 16 points. Odell Beckham has so far been very underwhelming, and the Giants don’t really have a strong run game to rely on. If they want to make it to the playoffs, they’ll need to figure out how to be more effective offensively.
The only team currently 0-2 that I’m comfortable projecting in the playoffs this season are the Colts. The AFC South looks underwhelming again (thanks, Jaguars) and if Indy can figure out how to get the offense going, there’s no reason to think they can’t stick with the Texans down the stretch.
Dan Soden: Being the homer that I am, I’m going to say that the 2-0 Eagles eventually fall back to reality and out of any playoff talk. The Giants will absolutely crush their spirt and run away with the NFC East.
On the flip side, the only 0-2 team that I can see making a comeback would be the Saints in a wild-card spot. They are going to need a little more pep in their step, but Drew Brees should be able to hoist them over his shoulder and finish out this year with a solid showing.
Cody Broder: 2-0: The Eagles. I have been impressed with Carson Wentz’s first couple weeks in the league, but after wins against Cleveland and Chicago, this Philadelphia team is in for bumpier roads ahead. Here are the teams they still have to face outside of their division: Steelers, Lions, Vikings, Falcons, Seahawks, Packers, Bengals, Ravens. Good luck.
0-2: For me it’s between the Saints and Colts. I’ll take Indianapolis because of their division and remaining schedule. They still have a chance to win the division, as they have all six games against AFC South opponents left. The Colts’ biggest threat to the division crown, the Texans (currently 2-0), have a solid defense and a cast of playmakers on offense, but their wins on the season have come at home against the Bears and the Chiefs. While the Kansas City win is respectable, it’s tough to say whether or not Brock Osweiler will be efficient enough to win high-scoring games, as he has a three to three touchdown to interception ratio through two contests.
2. How do the Vikings move on without Adrian Peterson? Is this offense with Sam Bradford actually better off?
Robert Zeglinski: Since Peterson’s injury will reportedly have him out until December or even longer, the Vikings are theoretically in a precarious position. On one hand, Sam Bradford’s game against the Packers on ‘Sunday Night Football’ is just a fluke and Minnesota’s offense is due to collapse, and on the other, diversity for their new offense will allow them to thrive. I’m firmly going with the latter sentiment.
While the Vikings offensive line is hardly anything to write home about, there are plenty of weapons around Bradford to succeed instead of wasting 25-plus carries with a running back who has lost a step. Teams will stack the box often early as the Vikings adjust to life without Peterson, but as they get comfortable, guys like NFL-leading receiver Stefon Diggs will thrive. Add in tight end Kyle Rudolph, rookie Laquon Treadwell, and the combination of Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata in the backfield, and I think Minnesota is actually much better now. Modern offenses have five or six options and the ability to change the pace with personnel. Just look at New England, Pittsburgh, etc.
I’m not saying the Vikings offense will be as successful as those juggernauts but the pieces are certainly in place.
Brian Hall: Bradford impressed in his debut, but to assume he’d be better off without a still top-tier running back behind him is foolish. Sure, the Vikings couldn’t run effectively against the Packers, but if Bradford can keep being effective with his arm, teams won’t be able to load the box like they clearly were the first two weeks. The Vikings need a balanced offense for Bradford to thrive, and Peterson is the best RB on their depth chart to provide it. They’ll miss him in his absence.
Dan Soden: His slow start isn’t going to leave much of a void now that he’s on the sideline, but he was their bread and butter so it’ll be interesting to see how they adjust now that they’ve lost their two biggest stars. As far as Bradford, I’ll say he is a slight improvement over the ageless Shaun Hill, but this offense was created to be operated by Teddy Bridgewater and it’s just not going to have the same flair without him.
Cody Broder: Peterson hadn’t been effective this far in the season anyway, and as we saw on Sunday night, Sam Bradford can still rip it. The Bradford-Diggs connection was lethal against Green Bay, and that could become a recurring trend as the season progresses. No one denies Bradford’s talent. It’s just always been a matter of whether or not he could stay healthy. From what we saw last week, it’s hard to picture Bradford lasting an entire season, but it will be a fun offense to watch while it lasts.
3. Preseason hype followed the Raiders and Jaguars around. So far, the Raiders have the worst defense in history (through two weeks) while the Jaguars are 0-2. What’s wrong with this picture?
Robert Zeglinski: I’m not jumping off of the Oakland bandwagon just yet. With all due respect to Philip Rivers, the Raiders have the best quarterback in their division in the AFC West in Derek Carr. More often than not, the team with the best signal-caller comes out on top. The leagues’s number one and number three offense in yardage and scoring respectively is not the issue. Defensively, they just need to find another consistent pass-rushing threat. Khalil Mack has been every bit the defensive terror everyone’s come to expect but they have no one else that offenses have to game plan for. Overall, it’s a defense full of people not used to playing with one another, but the individual talent hasn’t shown out either. Guys like free agent signing Bruce Irvin need to start living up to the bill.
On the other side, I never bought into the Jaguars. I think Blake Bortles is an adequate starter but as ESPN’s Bill Barnwell outlined in the offseason, the trend points to him not exactly being on the path to stardom. A guy that led the NFL in interceptions last year also led the league in expected picks, meaning would-be interceptions dropped by opposing defenses. He’s streaky, he struggles to put the ball in the right places, and he relies a lot more on his athleticism than mechanics, rather than using it to complement his technique. All of that is a recipe for eventual failure or average play from a quarterback. While he certainly still has time to grow, the Jaguars won’t buy into him forever. An 81.2 quarterback rating to start the season against two expected mediocre defenses in Green Bay and San Diego doesn’t do anything to inspire faith. You can’t throw up jump balls to Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns forever. And now it’s an uphill battle against a quality Texans team with an excellent defense.
People bought into the Jaguars hype because of this guy, but I don’t see it.
Brian Hall: Things are far less concerning for the Raiders than the Jags. Oakland’s numbers are slightly skewed from playing two teams that have traditionally relied on prolific offenses to thrive. As the season goes on, the new defensive pieces will get more comfortable, and get to play teams that don’t have players like Drew Brees or Julio Jones. Then, things should settle down a bit.
The Jaguars, on the other hand, are in trouble. It’s bad enough that an offense that was supposed to be on another level this season could only muster 14 points against the Chargers, but what’s more concerning is allowing 38 points to a team that already lost arguably its best offensive weapon for the year. The Chargers were abysmal without Keenan Allen a year ago, and yet they managed to manhandle the Jags all afternoon. Jacksonville has a lot to figure out on both sides of the ball, and I’m not sure they’ll be able to do so quick enough.
Dan Soden: Hype creates unrealistic expectations. I myself was the conductor for the Jags “Hype-Train” and was a passenger on the “Raiders-Express”, but it looks like I’ve only helped lead them to their early demise. Both teams have good coaching, a solid roster, and franchise quarterbacks. I’m not sure what they could do to improve other than tweaking game plans. I’ll be rooting for my hype to come through all season.
Cody Broder: The offense has been there for both teams, but you said it in the question: The defense is lacking for both. Both teams have young standouts, including Khalil Mack and Jalen Ramsey, but the defenses fail to play as a unit. Quarterbacks in turn, can pump out some serious yardage and take advantage of porous secondaries.
4. What stood out to you most from Week 2? What will we be discussing (headline) from Week 3?
Robert Zeglinski: I thought Minnesota would be a fine playoff team this season, but the Packers would reclaim their mantle atop the NFC North. After last Sunday’s thriller, I can admit when I’m wrong.
If not for egregious pass interference penalties, the Vikings defense humbled one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers. They did it so easily, that I think it’s time we start talking about this unit in the same vain that we do with Denver’s elite standard. There’s no weakness and there’s depth and talent at all three levels from Harrison Smith to Anthony Barr. Add in a possible electric offense with Sam Bradford, Stefon Diggs, and company, and the Vikings served notice to the NFC that they’ve arrived.
Next week, we’ll be talking about how the Colts have tremendously failed to build anything around Andrew Luck and how maybe Luck isn’t the generational quarterback we thought he was. In Luck’s fifth season in Indianapolis, the Colts have actually regressed. They have one of the league’s worst offensive lines, an atrocious defense, and rely on Luck purely to drag them around. With Luck feeling the brunt of the pressure-quite literally-he’s shown signs of breaking down, and he hasn’t played that well either. I’m starting to think he just isn’t as good as we thought, but I’ll hold off on saying more until we have a larger sample size.
After the Chargers dismantle the Colts on Sunday to drop them to 0-3, the conversation will only heat up more around general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano, as it should.
Brian Hall: The Vikings-Packers game was surreal to watch. Minnesota excelling by the arm of Sam Bradford (as a Rams fan, that was very hard to type) and with a defense that looked very sharp, while missing Adrian Peterson for the ground game, surprised immensely. Meanwhile, the Packers defense looked out of sorts, unable to do anything against Stefon Diggs, and Aaron Rodgers looked very ineffective, even dare I say, bad, most of the game. The balance of power in the NFC North is shifting, although it’s still close across all four teams.
Week three will give us a good look at a couple of teams projected to make the playoffs in the preseason. The Vikings get the Panthers,without Peterson, and we’ll get to see if Bradford is for real against a substantially better defense than what he played last Sunday night. Also, the Seahawks, whose offense has been atrocious through two weeks, play a 49ers team that’s looked much better than expected with Blaine Gabbert at the helm. Seattle is fresh off of a division loss to the Rams and can’t afford to not kick things into gear for much longer.
Dan Soden: In my eyes, week two belongs to the 23-year-old Giants rookie sensation, Sterling Shepard. The guy has missed one reception in two weeks with 12 targets coming his way. The “Shepard” is ready to lead his sheep to the promise land (I apologize). I haven’t been this excited for a rookie receiver since, well, Odell Beckham Jr. Also, I guess Carson Wentz is off to a pretty solid start too, but it’s the Eagles.
Cody Broder: Sam Bradford’s play was stellar, and he made the Vikings look like geniuses in their early season deal with Philly. For the first time in years, the Vikings offense was electric (other than Adrian Peterson busting off big runs). The aerial show was a treat to watch.
Week 3 headline: “Giants weigh on Washington” – The Redskins have been anything but pretty to watch up to this point in the season, and it won’t change on the road against a sneaky-good Giants team that might just win the Super Bowl this year. New York’s offense has explosive options and the defense is much-improved.
5. Does monorail salesman Cam Newton have the NFL’s best sense of style?
Robert Zeglinski: In a sport full of guys sticking to cliches, overgrown masculinity, and sacrificing all individuality for the good of the “team”, Cam Newton sticks out brightly like a sore thumb. He’s the league’s most refreshing personality and should be the worthy face of the sport for a long time. I mean, if you can’t appreciate Newton unabashedly wearing whatever he wants while showing off charisma and a sense of humor, then you don’t understand fun. I look forward to football being plastered with Newton for the next decade and I hope we see more guys like him. I’d let him sell my town a shady monorail project anytime.
Brian Hall: I can’t think of a single player that has the style like Cam Newton in the NFL. He’s like the Russell Westbrook of the NFL, which can be good or bad depending on the outfit. Regardless, it adds even more character to one of the NFL’s already most charismatic players. As long as the Panthers keep winning and playing well, Cam’s style and the humor that typically comes with it is just a lot of fun.
Dan Soden: When it comes to style in the NFL, Cam Newton is light years above everyone else. The NFL is pretty far behind the NBA in the fashion department and it shows week after week, but Newton is a bright spot in a rather dull setting.
Sure plenty of guys just get by, but Cam sets the trend for NFL players. It would be heartening to see others follow it.
Cody Broder: Sure. Why not?
Photos: (zimbio.com, Getty, USA Today, Yahoo, thevikingage.com, brobible.com)