Which 2-0 NFL Teams Are Contenders, Pretenders?
by Trevor Whenham - 09/20/2006
After two weeks in the NFL season there are 11 teams that still have a perfect record. Some of them are very expected, like Indianapolis, San Diego and Seattle. Some are a little better than many expected, like Baltimore, Chicago and Jacksonville. Some of the perfect teams are just totally unexpected - few saw New Orleans or Minnesota coming, for example.
As long as a team remains undefeated -- especially as the season progresses -- bettors will throw more and more action at them and the lines will adjust accordingly. The trick, then, is to figure out which of the 11 teams are legitimate, and which ones are likely to fall from their lofty heights so you can profit from their demise. Here's a look:
The Best of the Bunch
Indianapolis - I don't like the Colts, but they look as good as they ever have. The running game hasn't missed a beat without Edgerrin James, and Peyton Manning is as solid as always. They will win an awful lot of games this year. They are looking a lot like the best team in the league.
Chicago - We knew how good their defense was, but did anyone really expect Rex Grossman to look so good this early? Coach Lovie Smith is very good, and he has put his mark on this team. The offense will lose some of their magic as the season progresses, but they could be a lot worse and still win a bunch of games. Best of the NFC right now.
San Diego - Philip Rivers will be fine, and Billy Volek will be good for confidence if he struggles or gets hurt. The offense is absolutely loaded and the defense has been lights out. Have you seen Shawne Merriman? The guy was good last year, but this year he is playing at a whole new level. This team hasn't played anyone good yet, but they have looked as good as anyone has so far.
The Next Best
Cincinnati - So much for the worries about Carson Palmer's knee. The offense has picked up where it left off last season, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh isn't even back from injury yet. The defense has been decent and will get better - they shut down the Chiefs pretty convincingly. Losing David Pollack for the year hurts. They'll lose a few games, but the division is theirs to lose.
Atlanta - The option is too gimmicky for the NFL, but so is Michael Vick in a lot of ways, so it makes sense that the offense fits in Atlanta. The running game is ridiculously strong so far. The shock, however, is how good the defense has been. They have made two supposedly good teams look terrible. I'm concerned that the fragile Vick is taking too much punishment from running so much, but the division is setting up as the Falcons' to win.
Questions to Answer
Baltimore - The defense looks as good as they have ever looked. The problem, however, is that Steve McNair and the offense don't seem to be completely in sync yet. They are scoring points, and the running game is solid and multi-dimensional, but McNair hasn't been really sharp. If he gets his game together then the Ravens could be as good as anyone in the league. Even now, McNair at 50 percent is twice as good as anything they have had since the Super Bowl win.
Seattle - The defending NFC champs are good. We know that. What's wrong with their offense, though? Matt Hasselbeck has looked pretty average, and Shaun Alexander is far from the All World back we are used to. They have managed to win ugly a couple of times, but I need to see a complete offensive showing before I really believe.
Jacksonville - If you watched the Monday Night game you know how good their defense is. Teams will struggle to score against them all season. They question is whether they can consistently score themselves. I like Byron Leftwich and I want to believe in him, but he needs to be better if this team wants to be as good as they look like they could be. Matt Jones gets better every game, and his progress will certainly help the offense.
New England - The Pats are winning but it hasn't been pretty. They barely squeaked by Buffalo, thanks largely to a strange play and a bad decision by the Bills. They jumped way out in front of the Jets and then quit. The Pats deserve the benefit of the doubt, but they need to prove that they can win with confidence before I get too excited.
Enjoy it While it Lasts
New Orleans - An undefeated Saints team heading into the first game in more than a year in New Orleans is the best story in the league so far. It's all a bit of an illusion, though - they have won tight games against two pretty bad teams in Cleveland and Green Bay. If there is justice in this world outside of football they would find a way to beat the Falcons in the Superdome this week, but that's a tall order. There are some winnable games on the schedule, but a lot more look like losses. It will only get better in coming years, however - Drew Brees is there for a while and Reggie Bush is as good as advertised.
Minnesota - The Vikings have benefited from playing two struggling teams in the Redskins and Panthers. They play with no discipline, amassing the penalties at a ridiculous rate. They will win more than they probably should because of a schedule with several soft spots, but they have a ways to go before they are a really good team. The Bears should bring them down to earth this week.