NFL Week 2 is in the books, and if the early returns mean anything, the NFC West is shaping up to be a block of a division. San Francisco continued its strong start with a win over Detroit, as the 49ers controlled the action in the trenches on both sides of the ball. That’s two straight wins over fellow NFC playoff teams from last year where Frisco has simply outhit their opponent.
But San Francisco playing good physical football is no surprise. Arizona is also 2-0, having overwhelmed the New England offensive line in Foxboro. Calais Campbell had two sacks in leading a defensive front that kept after Tom Brady most of the day. Arizona has good defensive talent up front and playmaking corner Patrick Peterson had an interception. How many games the Cardinals can win with Kevin Kolb is a significant question—he was unspectacular, if mistake-free on Sunday—but there’s no question that Ken Wisenhunt’s team has found a defensive identity and is going to run with it.
Then we come to Seattle, whose narrow Week 1 loss in Arizona looks considerably better after this week’s results. Then consider the Seahawks completely dismantled Dallas in a 27-7 home win. Seattle ran the ball with Marshawn Lynch and stopped Dallas from doing the same with Demarco Murray, while Russell Wilson showed he can manage a win in that kind of situation. Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco all have the looks of teams that will be pushing for the playoffs to the end, and now even St. Louis doesn’t look like an easy out. The Rams got a 300-yard passing game from Sam Bradford and rallied from 15 points down to beat Washington. St. Louis’ one loss, to Detroit in Week 1 on the road, came on a touchdown in the closing seconds. I’m not saying the Rams look like a playoff team, but I am saying that Jeff Fischer appears to have this franchise again giving a professional effort each time out.
And a few more thoughts on a division-by-division basis….
NFC EAST: Can we now officially stop overreacting to each game Dallas plays? After their opening night win in New York, it was clear they had figured everything out and were a Super Bowl contender. After Week 2 in Seattle it’s clear they are schizophrenic. The Cowboys, and by extension Tony Romo, are what they are. They’re capable of looking extremely good and also tossing a major clunker. Losing to Seattle on the road per se is no shame, but being humiliated the way they were is. And it was again apparent that Romo is not going to play elite-level football unless Murray is running the ball effectively. Which basically means Romo is not an elite-level quarterback and we should stop expecting him to become one.
NFC NORTH: Green Bay stepped up and showed they could hit in Thursday night’s 23-10 win over the Chicago Bears. Mike McCarthy committed to the run early and often and Cedric Benson produced 81 yards on 20 carries. And Clay Matthews, with 3.5 sacks, has the look of a player who’s going to have the kind of defensive run this season that Aaron Rodgers had at quarterback last year. I’ve got Matthews penciled in as the early frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year.
NFC SOUTH: I’m going to guess a lot of you have read your share about the problems of New Orleans in their loss to Carolina, so I won’t rehash that here when I agree with the conventional media wisdom. What I do want to look at is the Tampa Bay defensive line. Eli Manning threw for 510 yards against this defense, and the Bucs did not register a single sack—in fact, rarely even pressured Eli. Given that the front four has to be the cornerstone of this defense, that’s a huge problem. Give credit to Tampa Bay for playing last year’s champs tough on the road in a game New York was desperate for, but if the defensive front gives Greg Schiano anything, we’re talking about a Tampa win.
AFC EAST: I’m not sure what to make of the New England loss right now. The offensive line, which looked good in Tennessee, couldn’t protect Brady on Sunday, but Stevan Ridley still had a respectable 71 yards on 18 carries. With everyone in this division at 1-1, the Patriots have time to figure themselves out.
AFC NORTH: Cincinnati’s got big problems in the secondary. I could overlook the torching they took at the hands of Joe Flacco and Baltimore in the Monday night opener. But letting Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden carve you up to the tune of 26/37 for 332 yards and no interceptions? Cincinnati escaped with the 34-27 win, but Marvin Lewis has got to be supremely concerned with his pass coverage.
AFC SOUTH: What’s happened to the Tennessee running game? It was non-existent in Week 1 against New England and then on Sunday in San Diego. Neither defense reminds anyone of San Francisco, especially when it comes to playing physical in the trenches and the Titans’ offensive line with Chris Johnson behind it should have been able to produce. Instead, it’s as though the rush offense disappeared into thin air. And at 0-2, the Titans look ready to do the same.
AFC WEST: A division that looked like a balanced four-team race might already be down to Denver & San Diego. There’s just a huge amount of work to do in both Oakland and Kansas City. The Raiders have got to get Darren McFadden involved in the offense more, and while I expected their pass defense to be poor, I wasn’t expecting them to be carved by Ryan Tannehill in Miami. As for the Chiefs, I thought they were set to be an above-average team this year, but after getting blown out in Buffalo, it might be time to run screaming from that pick.