Since the NFL’s realignment in 2002, the NFC East was considered the best division in football for a few years. Then it was the the AFC North. Then the NFC West. But for the second year in a row, it looks like the AFC West is overwhelming the best division in the NFL.
The Chiefs appear the best of the bunch just two weeks in. The Raiders are the most exciting with the most potential in January. But it was the Broncos who made the biggest statement in Week 2, with a 42-17 thumping of the Cowboys at home.
The Broncos are a different beast at home. Denver is one of the hardest places to play, and that defense makes it tougher. The pass defense has been one of the league’s best in all areas (coverage, pass rush) but it was the run defense that stepped up mightily, holding Ezekiel Elliot (nine carries, eight yards) to a shockingly bad game.
Still, the Chiefs possess the greatest threat to the Patriots. Even after losing Eric Berry, Kansas City has the talent and speed on offense (Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill) to shred the Patriots defense again, and defensive pieces (Justin Houston, Marcus Peters, Chris Jones) to duplicate another good game against Brady in January.
But who’s convinced the Patriots will be the team to beat by then anyways? Their defense is still suspect and Tom Brady’s pass catchers are dropping like flies.
The Chiefs and Broncos have some of the NFL’s best home field advantage, and first-round bye at least by either team would be huge.
But it’s the Raiders, a team with little home field advantage that is moving to Las Vegas in 2020, that holds the highest potential to reach Super Bowl LII. On paper, the Chiefs have all the right pieces (good defense, running game) but it’s the quarterback position that yields results in January more often than not in today’s NFL. I’ll take Derek Carr over Alex Smith. But we have a long way to go before any of these teams are in position to prove my narrative wrong or right.
Rodgers, Packers continue to struggle in Atlanta
It seems the Packers may again be wasting another year of Aaron Rodgers prime. It seems silly to say this so early into the season. In two of the past three seasons Rodgers was criticized twice for early season struggles, only to lead the Packers to the NFC Championship Game both times off storylines such as “R-E-L-A-X” and “I think we can run the table.”
But what happened in those two NFC title games are all too familiar to Rodgers and Packer fans over the past seven years.
Since winning Super Bowl XLV with some of Brett Favre’s leftover weapons (Greg Jennings, Donald Driver) and veteran defensive playmakers (Charles Woodson, Nick Collins) the Packers have slowly lost a ton of talent, and have done poorly replacing said talent.
As some of the Packers stalwarts age (Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews) Rodgers has been forced to rely on the Aaron Ripkowski’s and Jeff Janis’s of the world, in addition to a suspect defense.
The Packers have struggled with fast and talented upstart NFC teams such as San Francisco, Seattle, Carolina and Arizona in order. The same seems to be happening with Atlanta. The Packers have lost to the Falcons in Atlanta three times in the last year, including blowouts in the last two meetings, which includes last night’s 34-23 loss.
It’s early, but Green Bay’s defensive performance against Seattle in Week 1 seems to be more about the Seahawks offensive line rather than an improving Packers defense.
It’s too early in the season to predict Green Bay’s postseason demise, but if the Packers are going to be seeded lower than the Falcons and Seahawks of the NFC, things may just go the same as recent seasons for Rodgers and company come January.
Brady strikes back
One of the more ridiculous topics leading up to the Patriots-Saints game was the potential demise of Brady this season. Even on an off night without Julian Edelman and a sluggish Rob Gronkowski, Brady put up 27 points against the Chiefs in Week 1, and should have put up more if not for a 4th-and-1 stop in the redzone.
It was the defense that should have taken most of the flack. The unit didn’t play particularly well in the 36-20 road win over the Saints, but all they needed to do was slightly improve, which they did, when Brady puts up a performance like he did.
Brady was as nimble in the pocket and accurate downfield as he’s ever been. That was with three wide receivers, with just one of those being healthy.
Looking ahead, the Patriots will need a few of Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Rex Burkhead and Danny Amendola to be healthy enough for an important stretch that includes two pretty good teams (Carolina, Tampa Bay) in their next three games.
Gronkowski, Amendola and Dorsett (believe it or not) in order are the most important of the aforementioned group of gimpy Brady passing targets. Dorsett seems to be moving along just nicely in the maturation process of new Patriots receivers. An extra few days between Week 1 and 2 helped in acclimating to the Patriots offense, as Brady looked to Dorsett a few times, including this unbelievable downfield pass in between two defenders later in the game.
Brady is passing downfield better than ever thus far in 2017, which was a trend that began with his impressive stats throwing deep last season. That’s good news for a team that will be relying on Brady and the offense more than they’d probably like this season because of the struggling defense.