It takes one week to define expectations. It takes the following week to alter them completely.
As each team played its first game, the narrative on the upcoming season began to take form. Gone were preseason predictions and offseason speculation, replaced by on-field action and hard results. However, the results — despite the sanctity of statistics — were dependent upon circumstance and situation.
A win against the Seahawks looked good after Week 1, but now it may be commonplace. Losing to the 49ers was acceptable, until it wasn’t. The Saints’ loss to the Cardinals would be washed away with a home win against the lowly Buccaneers. If it happened.
With the ability to judge each team against two different opponents, the element of luck is replaced by talent and preparation. Of course, the schedule still plays a factor in the early part of the season, but a team’s fate is generally in its own hands, now.
1. New England Patriots (LW: 1)
For a number of reasons — extended success, division dominance, cheating scandals — the New England Patriots draw the ire and attention of opponents. Thankfully for New England, the franchise has thrived under the conditions of being the target at which most arrows are fired. With two emotional victories already in the past — and one in the division — New England continues to drown out the noise and perform when it matters.
2. Green Bay Packers (LW: 2)
The Green Bay Packers have figured out the regular season. Despite any postseason struggles that Green Bay may endure, the Packers are able to consistently perform on a weekly basis against any level of competition. Certainly, they will lose some games, but Green Bay has the quarterback and plan of attack to stay atop the NFC playoff picture for the next few months.
3. Denver Broncos (LW: 3)
There is something to be said about a team that pulls out an improbable victory from a hopeless situation. The Chiefs certainly aided the miracle, but Denver showed why it is a perennial AFC powerhouse with clutch plays at critical moments. The one negative to the Broncos’ 2-0 start is that they sustained long stretches of poor play in both games. They cannot thrive under those circumstances forever.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 4)
In what has become a broken record, the Cincinnati Bengals won a regular season football game and no one noticed. Now at 2-0 and with two conference wins to its name, Cincinnati is in a familiar position where a misstep in a division game will bring them right back down to the pack. Thankfully for the Bengals, they have shown no reason to believe a setback is coming.
5. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 7)
It is easy to dismiss Arizona’s first two wins as a function of playing the Saints and Bears — both winless on the young season — but the Cardinals have looked methodical in their execution. The Cardinals are playing as if they have unfinished business from last year, and they are quietly mopping up the teams they should beat.
6. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 5)
The Kansas City Chiefs have no one to blame but themselves. Constantly playing second-fiddle in a crowded division, the Chiefs were poised to make a statement against a Denver team that underwhelmed for much of the game. By virtue of critical turnovers and an epic collapse, the Chiefs let the opportunity pass, and find themselves chasing the Broncos, yet again.
7. Atlanta Falcons (LW:10)
It always made sense that for the Atlanta Falcons to be good. Led by a solid quarterback in Matt Ryan and deadly wide receiver Julio Jones, it was an aberration that the Falcons were horrible, last year. The new coaching staff — led by first-time head coach Dan Quinn — already has made an impact, and Atlanta suddenly looks like a team to watch in the NFC.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 15)
The Pittsburgh Steelers came within a few game-breaking plays of knocking off the Patriots to open the 2015 season, only to slip and not recover. Going to Pittsburgh for the team’s home opener provided a far different result, as the high-powered Steelers offense — led by the consistently great combination of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown — put on a clinic in their win against the 49ers. With the sting of an Opening Night loss behind them, the Steelers look like a team on the rise.
9. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 8)
As heralded as the Eagles’ offense was entering the 2015 season, that is how condemned the Dallas defense appeared prior to 2014. Neither have performed as expected — so far — and the Cowboys proved to be the team better equipped for Week 2’s meeting. Unfortunately for Dallas, the win came at a price, as quarterback Tony Romo suffered a broken collarbone and will miss a large portion of the season. Having two division wins in September is fantastic. Not having Tony Romo under center might be crippling.
10. New York Jets (LW: 19)
The New York Jets have long preached the philosophy that protecting the football and preventing the other team from scoring is a valid strategy for winning games in the National Football League. For the first time in years, however, the Jets actually assembled a team capable of employing such a tactic. Already with two wins of their own, the Jets bring more legitimacy to an already packed AFC East.
11. Seattle Seahawks (LW: 9)
The Seattle Seahawks are in trouble. Aside from the obvious mountain that is an 0-2 start to the season, the Seahawks appear to be missing the one component that made them great — hunger. Seattle was able to fend off the natural letdown that comes from a Super Bowl appearance by returning the big game one year after winning it, but the drive to compete at such a demanding level may have finally worn off. Over the past few dozen games, Seattle always seemed in control, even when trailing. This has not been the case in 2015, as the Seahawks have been the ones on their heels.
12. Miami Dolphins (LW: 6)
It is hard to look at the Miami Dolphins’ roster and not expect more — 2014 was a solid foundation and they appeared to have improved during the offseason. However, tracking the team’s performances over the past half dozen games yields a much darker outlook. Including Week 1’s victory against the Redskins, the Dolphins haven’t won a game by more than one touchdown since Week 11 of the 2014 season. They simply refuse to separate from the pack, but the reality might be that Miami is no better than an average team.
13. San Diego Chargers (LW: 12)
There are never surprises with the San Diego Chargers. Despite the inconsistency, they follow a script unlike any other franchise. After beating the Lions in Week 1 via an impressive comeback, they travel to Cincinnati for a loss. The Bengals are clearly a good team and, thus, a worthy opponent. Therein lies the problem with the Chargers — they are not consistent enough to beat the better teams on a regular basis
14. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 11)
It only took two games for the vultures to descend on Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, as he was able to survive the first potential onslaught with his team’s inspiring second-half comeback in Atlanta. Indeed, the Eagles lost, but they showed a glimpse of how good they could be. The loss to the Cowboys, however, was not as forgiving. Kelly left himself open for criticism with a handful of questionable offseason moves, and answers are being demanded. Winning cures all, but the Eagles haven’t cracked the code, yet.
15. Buffalo Bills (LW: 14)
If anything surprising were to come out of Buffalo this year, it has to be the offense. Head coach Rex Ryan, known to neglect the offensive side of the ball, has watched his team score a combined 59 points in two games. Of course, he also watched his defense get beat by Tom Brady and the Patriots, particularly when the Bills needed a critical stop in the waning minutes. If the Bills’ offense can continue to find success, the team may be every bit the force that Ryan proclaims. Otherwise, it may be one loud loss after another.
16. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 13)
While outstanding quarterback play is often a road to victory, the Indianapolis Colts are proving that some flaws cannot be ignored. Namely, Andrew Luck‘s otherworldly talent is being negated as the Colts’ passer is constantly under pressure. Indianapolis finds itself at 0-2 for the second consecutive season, but still has a legitimate reason to remain calm. As long as the Titans, Jaguars, or Texans don’t run away with the AFC South — a highly unlikely proposition — the Colts will be in the race, anyway.
17. St. Louis Rams (LW: 16)
The only other team in the same stratosphere of public love following their Week 1 victory against the Seahawks, the St. Louis Rams paraded into a trap in Washington, D.C. on Sunday. One week removed from completing an impressive home upset, the script was flipped, and St. Louis was the team blindsided. As long as the Rams’ Week 2 loss was nothing more than a complete ‘letdown game,’ they have the potential to rebound nicely.
18. Carolina Panthers (LW: 24)
There are any number of cliches that could be used for the early part of the Carolina Panthers’ season. The two that top the list are, “It’s better to be lucky than good,” and, “It’s not who you play, it’s when you play them.” Facing two of the league’s worst teams in the first two games is as responsible for a 2-0 Carolina start as the team itself. Until Carolina plays — let alone, beats — a real opponent, the Panthers are a product of their competition. They are, however, carrying two wins in their pocket.
19. Detroit Lions (LW: 17)
The Detroit Lions never change. Despite their talent, improved coaching, and recent experience with success, the Lions can’t help but disappoint. The responsibility of the loss in San Diego was as much Detroit’s — the team collapsed after leading 21-3 — as San Diego’s, but the Lions showed no marked signs of improvement. Now 0-2 and sharing a division with the Packers, the Lions are already digging themselves a deep hole.
20. Tennessee Titans (LW: 20)
What a difference a week makes. For an entire offseason, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was largely considered the ‘second-best’ option. One game, four touchdowns later, he was practically being inducted in the Hall of Fame. Returning back to the earth, Mariota and the Titans showed the signs of growing pains in a tough road loss against the Browns. Mariota’s future appears bright, and the Titans are moving in the right direction, but the Titans would be wise to use this gut-check as a learning experience.
21. Washington Redskins (LW: 26)
Imagine how different the Washington Redskins would look if they had not given up a game-breaking punt returned for a touchdown in Week 1 against the Dolphins. It is not outside the realm of reason that Washington could be 2-0. Granted, losing such a game against Miami is an indictment on the team, as good teams don’t let too many games slip away. No one is accusing the Redskins of being ‘good,’ but they certainly aren’t too bad, right now.
22. New Orleans Saints (LW: 18)
Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us for an entire season and then two games into the next year, shame on us. The New Orleans Saints are simply a flawed team that isn’t improving. The talent, coaching, and quarterback are there, but the wins are not. Now with the possibility of Drew Brees missing an extended period of time, the Saints are just another team at the bottom of the barrell.
23. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 21)
The schedule-makers did the Baltimore Ravens no favors by forcing them to travel from Denver to Oakland in back-to-back weeks. The Raiders appear to be an ‘easy win’ on most schedules, but the Ravens were the unlucky squad to enter a hostile environment at the wrong time. Baltimore’s two losses cannot be overlooked, as good teams should be able to emerge from Oakland with a win. As the Ravens return home to host their divisional rivals from Cincinnati, now would be the time to get into the win column.
24. New York Giants (LW: 22)
What is more telling: a team holds double digit leads in the fourth quarter of each of its first two games, or the team loses both? While the New York Giants have played well enough to be in a position where 2-0 was possible, they have also squandered away both games by their own undoing. Something has to give, and the fact that New York has found a path to success — albeit not one that could be followed through to completion — is enough to believe that an upswing is coming.
25. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 23)
It didn’t take long for the San Francisco 49ers to come crashing back down to earth. After an offseason of disarray, the 49ers opened their 2015 campaign with a nationally-televised win in an attempt to more forward with a fresh slate. Unfortunately for San Francisco, the intensity that helped fuel the team’s first victory could not be matched in Week 2, and it looked every bit like the overwhelmed squad that is to be expected.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 28)
Break up the Jacksonville Jaguars! With a home win against the Miami Dolphins, the 2015 Jaguars secured their first win earlier than any of their previous three iterations. At 1-1, the Jaguars have a non-losing record — besides starting each year 0-0 — for the first time since September 24, 2011. More impressively, the Jaguars never trailed in the game against Miami, and looked like the aggressor on numerous occasions. Traveling to New England, then Indianapolis, will provide a quick trial-by-fire in the early part of the season, but the Jaguars can live in the moment as 1-1 team until then.
27. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 29)
It was nearly impossible to find something positive to take away from the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 1 nationally-televised embarrassment, but the Vikings looked like a completely different team in their Week 2 home victory. In fairness, Minnesota had lofty expectations entering this year, and the team was able to overcome the sting from the first loss. They aren’t a particularly special team, but the Vikings aren’t the disastrous mess they showed the world.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 30)
Apparently, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston can play football. One week after getting lambasted by the Titans, fans, and analysts, Winston and the Buccaneers marched into New Orleans and topped the scuffling Saints. No matter how poorly the Saints played, the Buccaneers entered the game with the expectation that they would, at best, compete. The joke was on nearly everyone else, as Tampa Bay prevailed. Don’t go writing home just yet, though, as the solid performance by the Buccaneers likely had as much to do with division familiarity and a ‘nothing-to-lose’ mentality than anything else.
29. Oakland Raiders (LW: 31)
The rest of the league might look at the Oakland Raiders as pushovers, but a new season brings a renewed sense of hope. As the Ravens walked into the lion’s den of Oakland, the Raiders delivered a deadly stealth attack. Most importantly, Oakland showed a legitimate reason for excitement, displaying a glimpse of the future with quarterback Derek Carr and wide receiver Amari Cooper.
30. Cleveland Browns (LW: 32)
The Cleveland Browns will not be a good team for the entire season. They are, however, a squad capable of finding creative routes to victory. In Week 2, the road ran through a rookie quarterback in his first career road start. Cleveland was able to take advantage of the situation, this time, but other teams should do the same to the Browns in the coming weeks.
31. Chicago Bears (LW: 25)
If the end was near in Chicago, last season, it might be here, this time. Now with two home losses on the young season, the Bears have an improbable uphill battle ahead of them. The injury to quarterback Jay Cutler late in the team’s second game presents an interesting dilemma for new head coach John Fox, as the Bears may test the waters of life without Cutler.
32. Houston Texans (LW: 27)
Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett — it doesn’t matter. Success in the National Football League often hinges on the ability of a team’s quarterback. In the case of the Houston Texans, they are clearly lacking. Perhaps the eventual return of running back Arian Foster will give the team a jump start, but, until then, the Texans are another team’s punching bag.