A two-game sample is twice as large as a one-game sample (math!), and besides, history tells us it absolutely can matter where you stand after the first two weeks. Since 1990, when the current playoff format began, NFL teams that have started 2-0 have made the playoffs 61.3% of the time. Teams starting 0-2 make it just 12.6% of the time.
So, yeah, let’s go ahead and overreact to Week 2, shall we?
The Giants need to start Daniel Jones now
New York fell to 0-2 with a 28-14 home loss to Buffalo. Lame-duck veteran quarterback Eli Manning was 26-for-45 for 250 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. That isn’t terrible when you consider the state of the Giants’ wide receiving corps (Sterling Shepard hurt, Golden Tate suspended, Odell Beckham Jr. traded to Cleveland because the coaches didn’t like him), but it’s not very exciting, and it certainly wasn’t enough to win.
The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. The only argument you can make against this team bringing in its rookie first-round pick is that the Giants, with their ultra-permissive defense and shredded receiving corps, aren’t a great situation to throw a rookie into at this point. But the 2018 Bills weren’t a great situation to throw Josh Allen into, and look what he just did to the Giants on Sunday.
One of the Giants’ biggest problems the past couple of years has been the front office’s inability to accurately assess the state of its roster. This is clearly a rebuilding team, and it should be rebuilding around the quarterback it deemed good enough to select No. 6 overall. No reason to delay the inevitable. The team has one of the most exciting young players in the game in Saquon Barkley, and the smart thing to do with a star running back is to maximize these brilliant early years before he wears down and/or it’s time to pay him.
If Jones is going to be Barkley’s quarterback, there’s no reason to waste any more of his rookie contract (or Barkley’s) just because of some misguided perception that Manning makes them more competitive. They sure don’t look very competitive, and what makes it all worse is that they aren’t very interesting. Jones would be something that might excite the fans and let them imagine better days to come.
The Patriots are going 16-0
New England rolled into Miami and did what everybody expected it to do — crushed a junior varsity Dolphins team 43-0, outgaining Miami 381 yards to 184 behind Tom Brady, Sony Michel and yeah, Antonio Brown, who caught a touchdown pass and was Brady’s most targeted receiver in his debut. The Pats have outscored their two opponents 76-3 so far, and their defense appears to have picked up right where it left off in the Super Bowl.
The verdict: OVERREACTION. Just because it’s really hard to go 16-0. The Patriots have done it, sure, but that was 12 years ago, so even they know it’s easier said than done.
The schedule doesn’t look too challenging until November, but in the second half of the season they’ll play road games in Baltimore and Philadelphia, and home games against the Chiefs and Cowboys. Every team slips up at some point, and the Pats will be no exception.
Add in the high level of risk with which they’ve packed their roster — Brown, Josh Gordon, a rookie quarterback backing up a 42-year-old starter — and it’s not hard to imagine a rough patch or two. New England looks like a solid bet to win the division for the 11th year in a row, but 16-0? Too soon to be thinking like that.
The Packers will win the NFC North
It hasn’t been easy, but Green Bay improved to 2-0 with a 21-16 victory over Minnesota on Sunday. And they’re not just 2-0 — they’re 2-0 in their division, with victories over the Bears and Vikings. Four of the Packers’ next five games are at home, so you can imagine the hot start continuing. And for the second week in a row, the improvements they made on defense in free agency were a huge part of the win.
The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. The Packers have won two games without their offense really clicking. Oh, it clicked in the first quarter Sunday, when they built a 21-0 lead on their first three possessions. But then it stalled, and the defense had to hang on. Those three drives and one in the opener in Chicago have really been the only times they’ve looked good on offense, and still they’ve managed to win both games.
The offense is only going to get better as Aaron Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur jell, the offensive line gets more comfortable with the run-blocking schemes and everything runs more smoothly. “We’ve still got more to do,” running back Jamaal Williams said after Sunday’s game. “We’re proud of how we started today, not proud of how we finished, but it’s getting better and it will continue to get better.” In the meantime, Green Bay continues to build confidence in its rebuilt defense, and that will continue to pay off down the road.
The Steelers will miss the playoffs
Pittsburgh is winless after season-opening losses to New England and Seattle. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger left Sunday’s game because of an elbow injury. Running back James Conner left the game because of a knee injury. Neither returned, and the Steel City braces for news on both injuries early this week. Meanwhile, the defending division champion Ravens, who were supposed to be having a growing-pains year, are 2-0 and looking fantastic.
The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. If Roethlisberger and Conner have to miss time, this roster starts to look awfully thin awfully quickly. Pittsburgh is already trying to figure out who the No. 2 receiver is behind JuJu Smith-Schuster — not to mention whether Smith-Schuster is really a No. 1.
No offense to Mason Rudolph, who came in and did fine in relief of Roethlisberger on Sunday. But downgrading from Roethlisberger to Rudolph — for however long they must — is no way to help answer some of the key questions the Steelers still have to answer on offense.
The Saints are in huge trouble if Drew Brees has to miss time
Brees is the other veteran star quarterback who couldn’t finish his game Sunday, leaving in the first half of the loss to the Rams because of a thumb injury. Without him, the Saints couldn’t get anything going offensively, and the Rams ran away from them in the second half.
The verdict: OVERREACTION. Wait, Graziano. How can you say the Steelers are in trouble but the Saints aren’t? One team lost its future Hall of Fame quarterback and so did the other. What’s the difference? Well, I’ll give you a couple of differences.
First, there doesn’t appear, based on early returns, to be a Ravens equivalent in the Saints’ division. Carolina is off to a miserable start, and Atlanta looked terrible in its opener. Second, Teddy Bridgewater has been in the Saints’ program for a couple of seasons now. And while the same can be said of Rudolph in Pittsburgh, I have a little more faith in Sean Payton and the Saints’ coaching staff to develop and maximize a backup quarterback than I do in Pittsburgh’s.
New Orleans’ roster is deeper, it’s better set up to lean on the run game, and I think Bridgewater will show more than he showed in relief Sunday. So that’s why.