Sep 15, 2013; NFL, Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) hands off the ball to running back Jamaal Charles (25) during the second half of the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 17-16. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
It was a tough road for many teams to stay undefeated through two NFL weeks but several made the journey. Who among them, including the Kansas City Chiefs are contenders, and who are pretenders?
New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees can thank Rob Ryan
It’s not much of a surprise that the New Orleans Saints are back to winning with Sean Payton on the sideline but it is a surprise how they’re winning. Normally used to quarterback Drew Brees lighting up the scoreboard, instead it has been the surprisingly outstand play of the Saints defense led by Rob Ryan mixed in with some timely offense by Brees. This has navigated them through two very tough divisional games against Atlanta and TampaBay. The question on many minds has become is this defensive resurgence a mirage and is Brees losing his offensive touch or are both staying?
The Saints went 13-3 with Payton as head coach two years ago. Brees has proven he can bounce back when in a slump and Ryan is a competent enough defensive coordinator to see them through.
Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill can’t overshadow stout defense
Is there finally another contender in the pitiful AFC East division? After two weeks one would have to think so. The Miami Dolphins have proven themselves a steady, efficient team led by the improving Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. However, even he can’t cover up how well the Dolphins defense has played through two weeks. Collectively the unit has nine sacks and four interceptions in two games, both of them on the road. Tannehill enjoyed the fruits of having speed everywhere on offense from running back Lamar Miller and wide receiver Mike Wallace. They haven’t played a division game yet but it seems they are a team that can no longer be ignored.
Miami hasn’t done anything really convincing yet. They beat a pitiful Cleveland Browns team that has no offensive identity and an Indianapolis Colts squad that almost got beat by the Oakland Raiders in week one. Tannehill has improved but his ball security is still an issue and he’s only thrown two touchdown passes in two weeks.
New England Patriots – Tom Brady fortunate to face two rookies early
Fortune favors the bold. It also seems to favor the New England Patriots. After drawing the easiest schedule in the NFL last year, the team was lucky enough to face two rookie quarterbacks to open their season. This allowed quarterback Tom Brady to work through some issues on his offense, namely the loss of four starters at wide receiver and tight end. On the flip side, the Patriots defense has done their job despite some determined efforts from their first two opponents, displaying the typical Bill Belichick style of discipline and opportunistic play. There is every reason to think this team will continue winning for the foreseeable future.
Say what? That’s right. The Patriots are still led by Brady and Belichick but anybody who thinks Danny Amendola and Zach Sudfeld can replace Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez is kidding themselves. This team was lucky to sneak by the Bills and Jets in the first two games and will soon see a far better run of quarterbacks in Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton and Drew Brees.
Houston Texans – J.J. Watt and front seven covering up uncertain secondary
It’s not a big surprise that the Houston Texans are 2-0. They were among the favorite teams expected to compete for the Super Bowl when the off-season started. Brian Cushing is back leading from his inside linebacker position alongside J.J. Watt. Matt Schaub has the offense humming early with big contributions coming from rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and backup running back Ben Tate. There is no reason to doubt this team will falter in their quest for a third-straight AFC South title.
Another surprise. What is concerning about the Texans is how slim their first two victories have been against questionable opponents. They needed a comeback from down 28-7 to beat the San Diego Chargers and then were forced into overtime against Jake Locker and the Tennessee Titans. These are two teams that should’ve been beaten handily. The fact they weren’t, and how thin the Houston secondary looked at times is troubling.
Chicago Bears – Jay Cutler leading rallies against good teams for once
Phil Emery wanted to change the identity of the Chicago Bears into a team built around the quarterback. Early signs point to a rousing success. Jay Cutler is the story so far for his team, engineering two 4th quarter comebacks in his first two games. The Bears defense continues to force turnovers though they are still working through problems with their pass rush and head coach Marc Trestman has proven himself an able play caller on offense and particularly good at keeping Cutler protected. Through two weeks the quarterback has been sacked once. Conversely, he was sacked nine times is that same time spans a year ago.
It’s still early and the Bears have had good starts before but there are encouraging signs pointing to progress. The pass protection of course is one but the improved overall play of the offense including the receivers is help. Chicago is also winning against good teams like the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings despite turning the ball over too much. The defense is only giving up 18.5 points per game and forcing three turnovers of their own despite limited pass rush. If both problems can be corrected, this team is dangerous.
Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid capitalizing on swarming defense
To say they are a surprise isn’t quite true. Fans and experts expected the Kansas City Chiefs to be a better football team due to their off-season acquisitions of head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith. Together they have built an efficient offense built around steady running and high percentage passing. This takes advantage of their outstanding defense, which returns five Pro Bowlers from a year ago. Perhaps the biggest surprise on this unit is Dontari Poe. Once label a draft bust, the defensive tackle has exploded through two games for 3.5 sacks. This has opened the door for other pass rushers to thrive and in turn allow the secondary to lock down receivers. Reid understands the formula for winning can change from year to year, and his willingness to play off the defense is critical.
This was the hardest designation to make. It’s still early and things can change but at present the Chiefs haven’t gotten enough out of their offense. Beating up on the Jacksonville Jaguars doesn’t count for much and scoring a narrow 17-16 win over Dallas at home is encouraging but by no means a breakout. Until Kansas City beats a real NFL contender themselves, they can’t be called one too.