NFL teams must fight a battle of attrition every NFL season, but the flood of major injuries that we saw on Sunday felt wholly unprecedented―and should bring wide-reaching ramifications for the rest of the season. That’s particularly true for a team like the 49ers, who had several key players exit the team’s potentially pyrrhic victory over the Jets. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will miss some time with a reported high ankle sprain; running back Raheem Mostert sprained his MCL and could be out a few weeks; and star pass rusher Nick Bosa is likely done for the season after tearing his ACL. Those losses―even the short-term ones―could compound with the other injuries the defending NFC champs have already endured to make another run at the Super Bowl a long shot.
The 49ers may have been hit hardest, but they weren’t alone: Colts safety Malik Hooker (Achilles) and receiver Parris Campbell (knee) went down in the team’s 28-11 win against the Vikings; the Broncos lost quarterback Drew Lock (shoulder) and star receiver Courtland Sutton (knee) in their 26-21 loss to the Steelers; receiver Davante Adams (hamstring) was knocked out of the Packers’ 42-21 win against the Lions; and Saquon Barkley (ACL) was forced out of the Giants’ 17-13 loss to the Bears. Put together, a brutal week of injuries leaves teams scrambling to fill key roles.
Still, the season rolls along. Taking into account all that injury upheaval―plus a smorgasbord of other happenings around the league―here are my updated NFL Power Rankings following an eventful Week 2.
The Top Shelf
1. Baltimore Ravens (2-0)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (2-0)
3. Seattle Seahawks (2-0)
4. Green Bay Packers (2-0)
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0)
6. Buffalo Bills (2-0)
Has Russell Wilson Reached His Final Form?
If the abysmal rash of injuries during the daytime games had you feeling sick, the incredible Seattle-New England barnburner on Sunday Night Football was a welcome respite. The Seahawks’ narrow 35-30 win was an adrenaline-boosting affair that came down to a last-second, goal-line stop―fittingly the third consecutive time that a matchup between these two teams has ended in an edge-of-your-seat goal-line stand. And putting aside the controversy over New England’s decision to call a run with Cam Newton on the game’s fateful final play (I thought it was the right call, by the way, Seattle just executed better than their opponent), the teams’ two quarterbacks put on a dazzling display of passing from start to finish.
I’ll get to more on Newton in a bit, but let’s start with Wilson, who continues to look like the early front-runner for MVP. The Seahawks eased up off the gas ever so slightly in this game after utilizing an uncharacteristically hyperaggressive pass-first tack in Week 1, but did stick to the “Let Russ Cook” ethos in the win. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer dialed up a smart game plan to attack the Patriots’ top-tier secondary, calling multiple deep shots to both Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf early in the game. Metcalf got the better of his matchup with reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, finishing with four catches for 92 yards and a score on the night―nearly all of which came while being shadowed by the best corner in the game.
Wilson picked apart the Patriots’ secondary almost at will. When New England played zone, Wilson quickly found open spots in coverage. And when they leaned on their typically tight man-to-man coverage, Wilson made them pay, alternating between precision passes downfield and scrambles right up the middle of the field to keep the Patriots honest. The veteran quarterback completed 11 for 14 passes for 195 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions against man coverage in the game, averaging an obscene 13.9 yards per attempt on those throws. He became just the second quarterback to throw five touchdown passes in a game against Bill Belichick’s Patriots. And with four of those touchdowns going to Wilson’s receivers (one to Metcalf, one to Tyler Lockett, one to David Moore, and another to rookie Freddie Swain), Seattle matched, in one game, the total number of scores New England gave up to opposing receivers in all of 2019.
It’s still a bit too early to say the early-season schematic shift we’ve seen from this team represents a real metamorphosis into a pass-first, Chiefs-like style, but there’s plenty of evidence to indicate that evolution is underway. After ignoring years of begging from the team’s fan base to unleash this version of Wilson, Seattle’s coaching staff finally seems to have acquiesced. And crucially, it’s working: Wilson’s new-look offense has scored more points through two weeks (73) than any other Seahawks team since 1985, which has been crucial for a less-than-balanced club whose subpar defense has surrendered 55 points and a league-worst 970 yards in two games. If Wilson can keep playing like this, though, Seattle’s defense just needs to be somewhere around the middle of the pack for this team to emerge as a Super Bowl favorite in the NFC.
The Packers’ Offense Is Firing on All Cylinders
If you had asked me before the season which teams would produce the most exciting, high-octane offenses in the NFL this year, I’m not sure the Packers would’ve made my top 10. But two weeks in, Aaron Rodgers and Co. have emerged at the top of the list. Green Bay became just the eighth team in the Super Bowl era to post 40-plus points in its first two games with a 42-21 blowout win over the Lions on Sunday—and now boasts the no. 1 offense in the NFL per DVOA, well out in front of expected juggernauts like the Ravens and Chiefs.
The Packers have racked up 1,010 yards of offense and 85 points in their first two games, mixing an efficient passing offense with an explosive ground game. Rodgers has been relentless through the air, completing 50-of-74 passes for 604 yards with six touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 119.4 thus far. He’s heavily targeted Davante Adams (who left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury) while getting developing pass catchers like Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, and Robert Tonyan more involved.
And on the ground, superstar running back Aaron Jones has picked up where he left off last year, taking back up his mantle as an impossibly efficient playmaker. Jones torched Detroit’s defense for 236 yards from scrimmage (a career-high 168 yards on the ground with another 68 through the air) on Sunday and found the end zone three times, including a 75-yard run to start the second half.
The fourth-year pro is apparently on a mission to prove he’s regression-proof. History told us that, after scoring 19 total touchdowns on 285 touches in 2019 (a 6.7 percent rate), Jones was in store for a massive drop-off in 2020. A million variables go into a player’s touchdown total―his touch distribution, his team’s quality, randomness, luck, and injuries all play a part, as does the fact that touchdowns are relatively rare, fluky occurrences in the NFL. Even great players see regression.
But through two games, Jones has shown few signs that any letup is coming. He’s already scored four touchdowns on 42 touches, an early-season rate of 9.5 percent. Jones’s otherworldly nose for the end zone may regress as the season goes on, but his performance thus far proves that last season’s statistical outburst was anything but a fluke. The 5-foot-9, 208-pound back has quickly cemented himself as one of the league’s elite ball carriers, a do-it-all playmaker who brings an Alvin Kamara–esque impact to the Green Bay offense.
Josh Allen Has Thrown His Hat Into the MVP Race
He was even accurate on said throw. *Rimshot.*
We just might be seeing the start of a massive third-year jump for the former top-10 pick. Allen followed up his first career 300-yard passing game in Week 1 with his first career 400-yard game in Week 2, a superb outing in which he completed 24 of 35 passes for 417 yards, four touchdowns, and no picks while connecting with eight different receivers. Allen joined pretty goddamn exclusive company in the 31-28 win, becoming one of four quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 700-plus yards and six touchdowns with no picks in the first two weeks of the season―the others in that club are Peyton Manning (in 2013), Tom Brady (2015), and Patrick Mahomes (2019).
If Allen can continue to build on his obvious improvements in both decision-making and downfield accuracy, he would give the Bills’ near-limitless potential in 2020. Through two weeks, Allen has helmed an offense that ranks third third in passing DVOA while chipping in a wild, untamed, and highly entertaining 75 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Paired with the team’s disciplined, always reliable defense, Buffalo has the early look of a team that’s transformed from a playoff also-ran into a Super Bowl contender.
The clearest, and most crucial, change to Allen’s game is the pinpoint accuracy with which he’s delivering the ball on passes of 20-plus yards. After posting some of the worst deep-ball accuracy rates in the NFL in his first two seasons, Allen seems to have flipped the script. He’s completed 7 of 9 downfield passes for 211 yards, one touchdown, and zero picks, per Pro Football Focus, including this arcing beauty to Stefon Diggs from late in the fourth quarter of the 31-28 win against the Dolphins.
Where's the Josh Allen hive at? This is an absolute seed. pic.twitter.com/Te9dyDjy6U— Johnny Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) September 21, 2020
That play set up the proverbial final nail in the coffin for Miami, a 46-yard touchdown bomb to John Brown on third-and-9 from the Dolphins’ 46-yard line.
Allen made that throw right in the face of pressure―another area where he’s excelled―and put the offense on his back in one of the biggest moments of the game. The third-year pro must prove his previous issues with accuracy and decision-making are behind him if he hopes to truly contend for the MVP award this year, but it’s clear we’re watching a greatly improved and far more complete player.
7. Los Angeles Rams (2-0)
8. Tennessee Titans (2-0)
9. New Orleans Saints (1-1)
10. New England Patriots (1-1)
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1)
12. Arizona Cardinals (2-0)
13. Dallas Cowboys (1-1)
Are the Old Rams Back?
It’s still early, but this Rams offense looks a whole lot closer to the group that went to Super Bowl LIII than the one that struggled to do much of anything last year. Quarterback Jared Goff looked sharp for the second consecutive week in a 37-19 win over the Eagles, completing an efficient 20 of 27 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns, each to tight end Tyler Higbee. He wasn’t overly flashy, but he was effective, distributing the ball to the team’s playmakers and making sound decisions. Through two weeks, he’s one of just two quarterbacks―Rodgers is the other―who hasn’t thrown a turnover-worthy pass.
Goff’s performance, of course, was boosted by head coach Sean McVay, who seems to have refound his play-calling mojo. McVay dialed up a variety of moving pockets and bootleg rollouts to keep the Philly defensive front guessing, adding in requisite presnap motion and backfield eye candy to baffle the Eagles’ second-level defenders. The savvy play-caller’s signature flair for play sequencing and play design helped hold the Eagles’ pass rush at bay and made things easy for Goff, who completed his first 13 passes, was under pressure on just nine of 45 dropbacks, per PFF, and connected with five different receivers for 20-plus-yard gains. Add in the team’s resurgent, foundational run game, which totaled 191 yards and two touchdowns in the win, and this Rams offense looks ready to go punch-for-punch with just about any team.
Quietly, the defense has been balling out, too. Led by superstar playmakers Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, the Rams pass defense ranks ninth in defensive DVOA after two weeks. I’m feeling better and better about my preseason prediction that the Rams would head back to the postseason this year.
Of Course the NFL Let The Patriots Sign Cam Newton
I get that teams were worried about Newton’s throwing shoulder and surgically repaired foot, and that uncertainty surrounding his health limited the demand for Newton in a strange free-agency period. But it never made sense that the Patriots were the only team to show real interest in the former MVP, or that they were able to sign him for relative pennies so late in the offseason. It all felt like some sort of weird inevitability, the league’s own special way of maintaining a long-standing tradition of letting Bill Belichick outsmart everyone else. Of course Newton ended up in New England on a near-veteran-minimum deal. Of course he did.
Well, we’re two games into the Newton Era in New England, and the results are pretty much what I expected: He looks awesome. Newton followed up a strong Week 1 debut in which the Patriots unveiled a run-heavy, option-based attack and showed the world on Sunday Night Football that he can still throw the rock around, too.
Newton carved up the Seahawks defense to the tune of 397 yards, one touchdown, and one pick in the 35-30 loss to Seattle, completing 30 of 44 passes while distributing the ball to seven different pass catchers. It was Newton’s most prolific passing game since 2011―more specifically, since his second game as a pro―and there was a stretch of 132 games that spanned a good chunk of nine seasons in between. Of course the Patriots almost immediately unlocked a long-dormant part of Newton’s game. What else were you expecting?
It wasn’t a flukey 397-yard passing game, either. The former Panther enjoyed superb protection up front and aggressively pushed the ball downfield, threading the needle over and over again.
When the Seahawks gave the Patriots the ball back with 1:42 remaining and leading 35-30, Newton wasted little time in marching his team right down to the 1-yard line, completing passes of 13 yards, 17 yards, 18 yards, and 12 yards to set up the pivotal final play at the Seattle goal line. And while the Seahawks somehow managed to stop Newton and sneak away with a win, it’s clear the veteran quarterback is playing his best football in years. Because of course he is.
The Cowboys Got a Narrative-Changing Win
The start to the Cowboys’ improbable 40-39 win against the Falcons felt a lot like a microcosm for the team’s 2019 season. The über-talented but far-too-often underwhelming group was able to move the ball effectively against an overmatched Falcons defense, but was undone but multiple unforced or sloppy errors. Three first-quarter fumbles resulted in a quick 20-0 deficit, an early-game implosion that had me wondering whether this Dallas team actually just plain sucks.
The Cowboys, to their credit, refused to throw in the towel. Led by quarterback Dak Prescott (who absolutely balled out, completing 34 of 47 passes for 450 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 18 yards and three scores), Dallas slowly clawed its way back into the game, cutting the lead to 39-37 with 1:49 to go. And sure, the Cowboys got lucky that the Falcons botched the ensuing onside kick, giving Prescott the chance to march the team down into field goal range, but a win is a win in the NFL, and this was a big one for the ’Boys. I’ll just let you imagine the types of narratives we’d have seen coming out of Dallas on Monday morning if Sunday’s comeback hadn’t happened.
With the win, the Cowboys staved off overwrought conversations about their underachieving, their choice in a head coach, their decision not to extend Prescott, and all the other requisite drama. And they put themselves right back into the mix in the NFC.
The Muddled Middle
14. San Francisco 49ers (1-1)
15. Chicago Bears (2-0)
16. Las Vegas Raiders (2-0)
17. Indianapolis Colts (1-1)
18. Los Angeles Chargers (1-1)
19. Houston Texans (0-2)
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1)
21. Atlanta Falcons (0-2)
22. Minnesota Vikings (0-2)
23. Cleveland Browns (1-1)
Justin Herbert Should Be the Chargers’ Starter
Even Herbert was surprised when the Chargers turned to the rookie quarterback to start in their divisional matchup with the Chiefs. The rookie first-rounder expected to play a backup role to Tyrod Taylor in the game, and that was the team’s plan right up until a few minutes before kickoff. But after experiencing chest pains in warmups, Taylor went straight to the hospital for tests (he was discharged after being cleared), leaving Herbert with the tall task of leading the offense without the benefit of handling the first-team reps all week … or, well, any experience at all in leading the team’s offense.
Despite those less than ideal circumstances, Herbert impressed in his NFL debut. The former Oregon star completed 22 of 33 passes for 311 yards, one touchdown, and one pick while adding 18 yards and a score on the ground. He wasn’t perfect in his first live NFL action―few rookie quarterbacks are―but he rarely looked fazed in the face of pressure while helping push the defending champion Chiefs into overtime. Los Angeles came up short in the end, but there was plenty to be happy about from a long-term point of view.
On Monday, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn maintained that if Taylor is healthy, he remains the team’s starter―even going as far to say Herbert is the backup “for a reason.” But the boost the rookie provided for the team’s previously listless offense was obvious. Herbert was decisive, aggressive, and crucially, hyperaware that his job is to get the football to the team’s best players. He targeted Keenan Allen 10 times on the day, connecting on seven passes for 96 yards, including this frozen rope into tight coverage.
Herbert also got Austin Ekeler more involved in the passing game, which was a key element missing in Week 1. Ekeler rushed 16 times for 93 yards and added 55 yards on four catches―exactly the type of stat line the team needs to see from its dynamic lead back. We’ll find out soon whether Lynn will stay true to his word (and whether Taylor will be ready to play next week), but it feels like Herbert’s time is coming sooner than later.
And the Rest
24. Denver Broncos (0-2)
25. Philadelphia Eagles (0-2)
26. Detroit Lions (0-2)
27. Miami Dolphins (0-2)
28. Washington Football Team (1-1)
29. New York Giants (0-2)
30. Cincinnati Bengals (0-2)
31. Carolina Panthers (0-2)
32. New York Jets (0-2)
The Eagles: Woof
The Eagles have had to deal with multiple injuries to their offensive line and receiving corps, but it’s hard to paint this team’s start as anything but an abject disaster. Through two weeks, Carson Wentz has struggled badly (he’s completed just 59 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and an NFL-worst four picks and a 64.4 passer rating) and the team ranks dead last in DVOA. To say that morale seems low would be an understatement.
"You know, it's a good question."— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) September 21, 2020
- Doug Pederson, after taking a deep breath, when asked just now why Carson Wentz has seemingly regressed.
Philadelphia still has time to right the ship, and should get a more advantageous matchup this week at home against the Bengals. But unless Wentz can show clear improvement this Sunday, the Eagles feel doomed to a long, disappointing year.