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Contender or Pretender? Looking at the NFL's 2-0 Teams

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 15: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys warms-up before the game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on September 15, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

With nearly two weeks of the NFL football in the books in 2019, the 1972 Miami Dolphins only have to wait out nine teams before commending their infamous champagne toast. But not all 2-0 teams are created equal. How do we separate 2-0 from...well, 2-0?

"It's only Week 2!" cries the casual football fan. "You are what your record says you are." quipped the famous football coach known as "The Big Tuna."

Call us crazy, but we're more likely to go with Parcells over the public. Breaking down the contending status of every undefeated squad heading into Week 3.

Baltimore Ravens (Contenders)

With all the preseason hoopla surrounding their counterparts in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, it's easy to forget that the Ravens are the defending AFC North champions. Sure, that was followed by one of the most eye-gougingly bad postseason performances in recent memory, but Lamar Jackson has put that brutal afternoon behind him. Through two weeks, the man many felt was more suitable for receiver is tied for the league lead in touchdowns. We saw glimpses of the old rushing Jackson on Sunday, when he picked up 120 yards on the ground in a win over the pesky Cardinals.

The Ravens are sitting pretty in the North right now. The Bengals are in the midst of a garish rebuild, the Browns are a pressure-cooker fueled by ego who badly lost their first game to the Titans, and the Steelers lost their franchise quarterback for the season. We're about to learn a lot about the Ravens as they draw closer to their Week 8 bye. The slate begins with a visit to Kansas City this week before three divisional games precedes an October 20 trip to Seattle.

If the Ravens get three-quarters of the Jackson they've been getting, there should be no issues. The North is theirs for the taking.

Buffalo Bills (Pretenders)

The only NFL team that actually plays in the state of New York has built early success against a pair of downtrodden New York teams. With wins over the Giants and Jets, the Bills became just the fifth team in NFL history to pull off the back-to-back Meadowlands sweep. They'll return home on Sunday to face a reeling, winless Bengals team.

Frankly, it's a win that the Bills are 2-0 in the first place. They're a young squad headlined by one of the most unique developing quarterbacks in the league in Josh Allen, so any signs of further progress should be considered a big success. But simply put, while Buffalo could well be 3-0 by the time the big, bad Patriots visit in Week 4, it feels like too much to ask them to keep this up.

It's perhaps best to curb this discussion until the Bills hit their bye in Week 6; a final game against the Titans before their week off, after all, is winnable. But with so many established contenders in the AFC and the New England AFC East monopoly showing no signs of slowing down, just a winning record seems to be the Bills' best-case scenario. 

Dallas Cowboys (Contenders)

For all the noise Jerry Jones and the Dallas faithful make about the league offices having it out for them, the scheduling department threw them a nice bone to start the years. The Cowboys beat up on a pair of reeling divisional opponents to start, and now receive a visit from the lowly Miami Dolphins this weekend (they open as 20.5-point favorites).

What's encouraging for the Cowboys is that they're handling business, beating bad teams handily to earn wins. For example, last season's quartet of matchups against the Giants and Redskins (3-1) featured a small Dallas point differential of +13. In the two so far this year, the Cowboys have outscored Washington and New York by four touchdowns. It also marks the first time they've posted consecutive 30-point showings since 2017.

If Kellen Moore keeps unlocking the secrets to this talented offense, the new coordinator will be a head coach this time next year. As long as the Cowboys continue to handle business when they face off against Philadelphia, the only question could be whether they get a first-round bye.

 

Green Bay Packers (Pretenders)

Sanity should be restored in Packer-land, no? Green Bay is in the NFC North driver seat after a pair of divisional wins. But the 2-0 record masks some dangerous deficiencies.

For example, the fact an Aaron Rodgers-led offense was only capable of putting up 10 points on opening night in Chicago is downright bizarre, no matter how good that defense is. Green Bay took care of business early against the Vikings, but the 21-16 win (along with some questionable Kirk Cousins decision-making) masked the fact that the Packers failed to score in the second half. Rodgers and new head coach have already had to deal with allegations of feuding as well.

Until the Packers truly break out on offense, it's hard to truly put them in contender status. Of course, if and when Rodgers gets that postseason berth, anything can happen. But until that bracket is set, the Packers have plenty to work, especially in what could be a crowded NFC North picture.

Kansas City Chiefs (Contenders)

There's really not much more you can say about the exciting Patrick Mahomes era. If anything, Andy Reid and Co. have proved their offensive dominance is no fluke. Sloppy play emerged upon the release of Kareem Hunt last season, but the Chiefs have since recovered to their usual steam-rolling selves.

With the Chargers losing and eternally injured, the West is Kansas City's to lose. Barring injury, it's hard to envision them without a first-round bye.

Los Angeles Rams (Contenders)

There's really no question as to whether the Rams are contenders. The Super Bowl no-show from the offense might've raised some concerns, but it looks like the squad is back on track after a Drew Brees injury helped lead to a relatively easy win over New Orleans on Sunday.

The early slate has afforded some of the Rams' injured stars a chance at redemption. Todd Gurley might not be at 100 percent just yet, but has worked well in a tandem with Malcolm Brown. In the air, Cooper Kupp showed no signs of rush in a Beast Mode-like run to glory that put the dagger in the Saints in a 27-9 win. The victory might be somewhat tarnished with the lack of Brees, but it was inspiring to see the Rams take down a fellow contender so handily.

The real question will be navigating a surprisingly tough NFC West. Los Angeles avoids divisional play in September, but October opens with tilts against fellow currently unbeaten squads in Seattle and San Francisco. 

New England Patriots (Contenders)

Oh, come on...do I have to?

You mean to tell me that (gasp!) the Patriots are good again? In other news, water's wet, the sky is blue, and that Marvel movie you like made a lot of money at the box office. Business as usual. Let's move on.

San Franciso 49ers (Pretenders)

Like the Bills, it's enough of a win for the 49ers to be undefeated. Jimmy Garoppolo has regained the form shown in his December 2017 cameo, which has to bode very well for the longevity of head coach Kyle Shanahan.

The wins San Francisco has obtained aren't exactly eye-opening (Tampa Bay and Cincinnati), but the fact they both came via eastern road trips has to be inspiring to a young squad. In fact, there's a chance that the Niners could enter a crucial October 13 showdown with the Rams at 4-0, as the home slate opens in the next two weeks with matchups against the Steelers and Browns following a bye week.

It'll be that Los Angeles game that truly shows where the 49ers stand. It's hard not to appreciate what this team has done so far, but there's work to be done and names to be made if they're going to be among football's elite.

Seattle Seahawks (Contenders)

Both our list and our NFC West trio is capped by the NFL's version of a zombie. It feels like the Seahawks' demise has been foretold for the past five seasons, but they've bucked the trend each time so far. Granted, the wins haven't come easy, as their point differential stands at a mere +3. But how many times does Russell Wilson have to prove us wrong?

Even with the Legion of Boom having gone the way of the SuperSonics, Seattle has built their success with a familiar core. Now, with the reeling Saints and rebuilding Cardinals on the dockets, the Seahawks could be a likewise 4-0 going into-- you guessed it-- a meeting with the Rams, this one scheduled for Thursday Night Football.

The past few years have proven it would be foolhardy to count the Seahawks out until math is no longer in their favor. Ask again when they reach the one-yard line, but we'll hold that conversation off.