The Magnificent Seven
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 19, 2010
The NFL is breaking down quite nicely, though not predictably, after the first two weeks of the season. Naturally, only half the teams (16) emerged from Week 1 with a victory. That goes without saying. But if New Orleans beats San Francisco tonight (which they should), half again (eight teams) will have negotiated the first two weeks of the season without a loss.
But until then, there's just a few, the proud, the NFL's Magnificent Seven 2-0 teams of today.
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Oops, sorry, that was the wrong Magnificent Seven. Here are the seven we're talking about. Play the song while reading: adds some atmosphere. At least one expected 2-0 team is among the seven (Green Bay), another tried-and-true NFL power is on the list, even without its top player (Pittsburgh), and then there's a whole bunch of the unexpected: Chicago, Kansas City, Miami and Tampa all had losing records last year.
We'll be back soon to talk about the Insignificant Seven: the seven 0-2 teams after Week 2, including the shocking o-fers from Minnesota and Dallas.
Miami (29 PF – 20 PA)
Is it possible the Dolphins have the best defense in football? Surrendering 10 on the road against Buffalo was nice. But walking into Minnesota this week, and embarrassing what's supposed to be one of the most talented offenses in football, while forcing BrettFavre into four turnovers, should give every Fins fan a wide-eyed hope for the 14 games ahead – eight of them at home.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Miami is tied for No. 2 in scoring defense (10.0 PPG), pending the outcome of the New Orleans-San Francisco game (Saints surrendered nine points in Week 1).
Surprise factor (scale of 1-10): 8. Beating Buffalo is like wiping dust of your coat. But a big win at Minnesota is like rubbing the other guy's nose in the mud while making him say, "Thank you sir, may I have another."
Prospects of shooting their way out of this dusty Mexican town: An AFC East title, which would be Miami's second in three years, is now a reasonable expectation.
Pittsburgh (34 PF – 20 PA)
The football world wondered how Pittsburgh would weather a full quarter of the season without their franchise quarterback. So far, they've weathered the storm like a salty old sea captain. The offense has limited mistakes, the defense has been back in 2008 championship form, and the Steelers are back in control of the division they own as a birth right, the only 2-0 club in the quartet. Oh, and they've won with both their back-up QBs seeing significant time: Dennis Dixon played all of Week 1 and Charlie Batch took over for the injured Dixon Sunday against the Titans.
Key Cold, Hard Football Fact: Pittsburgh is 2-0, despite scoring just one offensive touchdown (in overtime against Atlanta). Troy Polamalu has two picks and, as we noted before the game, gives the Steelers a champion-caliber defense. In their 19-11 win over Tennessee Sunday, they chased Vince Young to the bench and held the mighty Chris Johnson to one of his worst days as a pro (16 carries, 34 yards, 0 TD, long of 11).
Surprise factor: 6. The mighty Pittsburgh dynasty will always get its wins no matter who's at quarterback. So 2-0 is very encouraging, but not necessarily surprising.
Prospects of shooting their way out of this dusty Mexican town: We wouldn't blame Steelers fans if they started peeking at the prices of airline tickets to Dallas.
Houston (64 PF – 51 PA)
We said this would be the year that the Texans would knock off the Colts as division champs. So far, so good. Houston impressed with a 34-24 win over Indy in Week 1, then pulled out a gutsy, high-scoring Colts-esque win Sunday at Washington.
Coach Gary Kubiak dodged a bullet when he forfeited a chance to attempt a 51-yard field goal in overtime and ordered Matt Turk to punt, instead. Naturally, the pooch went into the end zone, netting 14 yards (19 yards after a delay of game penalty) for the overly cautious coach. Washington marched into field goal range on the next drive, but Graham Gano missed the figgie – from 51 yards. So the seemingly gutless gamble paid off.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Matt Schaub passed for a franchise-record 497 yards against the Redskins, the 12th highest passing output in NFL history. Defense is still a HUGE problem: the Texans have allowed both opposing passers to top 400 yards this year (Manning, 433; McNabb, 426). That may be a first for a team not called the Lions. We're investigating now.
Surprise factor: 5. We expected Houston to get past Indy, so that's encouraging. A gut-check win on the road one week later is a huge boost of confidence, but not necessarily a shocker.
Prospects of shooting their way out of this dusty Mexican town: The Texans are playing with fire. They MUST shore up the defense to reasonably expect to beat the Colts again or win the division.
(pictured: Kansas City running back Thomas Jones gets a pat on the back from defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel after the team's 16-14 Week 2 win at Cleveland.)
Kansas City (37 PF – 28 PA)
Easily the surprise story of the NFL through two weeks. Beating the Browns is no great shakes. The Cleveland organization is an embarrassment to the NFL. But when you've been as bad as Kansas City has been in recent years (10-38 from 2007-09), any win on the road is a big move in the right direction. When that win comes on the heels of a huge Week 1 home victory against the division masters, a team that manhandled you twice last year (San Diego) it's time for Richie to throw a few extra slabs of ribs in the smoker this week.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Normally, you don't win in the NFL without sharp play at quarterback. But the Chiefs are defying that tried and true NFL wisdom. Matt Cassel is 26 of 50 for 244 yards, 4.9 YPA, 1 TD, 2 INT and a 55.7 passer rating through two games. So credit the wins to opportunistic defense and big plays all around. The Chiefs have scored one touchdown four different ways in two games: rushing, passing, on special teams and on defense.
Surprise factor: 10, with a bullet.
Prospects of shooting their way out of this dusty Mexican town: Not a playoff team. But is 9-7 unreasonable? That'd be a big step forward for a team that's been lost since its foolish decision to hire Herm Edwards as coach in 2006. The organization is just now starting to climb out of the hole that Herm dug for them.
Chicago (46 PF –34 PA)
Jay Cutler had what was easily his best game in a Bears uniform on Sunday. Chicago, nine-point dogs, won in Dallas as Cutler completed 21 of 29 for 277 yards, 9.6 YPA, 3 TD, 0 INT and a 136.7 passer rating. It was a huge win in the wake of the hugely inefficient near-debacle at home against Detroit in Week 1.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: It's only two games into the season, but Cutler is on pace for career highs in completion percentage (68.8), yards (5,192), yards per attempt (10.1), TD-INT ratio (5 to 1) and passer rating (121.2).
Surprise factor: 9. A lucky win over the Lions at home was a little disturbing. But a big win in Dallas? That will get the juices flowing across ChicagoLand.
Prospects of shooting their way out of this dusty Mexican town: We learn a lot next Monday when Green Bay comes to Soldier Field. Butkus-Nitschke! Sayers-Taylor!! Halas-Lombardi!!! O.K., it's not that cool. But Packers-Bears under the stars is a major-league statement game for both teams, right here in Week 3.
Green Bay (61 PF – 27 PA)
Statistically speaking, the Packers are the best team in football after two weeks, with two impressive wins (at Philly, blowout vs. Buffalo) and a league-best +34 scoring differential. We expected the Packers to be the best team in the NFC this year, and so far they're delivering.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Green Bay boasted the No. 1 Defensive Hogs in the NFL last year; they had a rough Week 1 against Philly, but the D-Hogs should emerge as a top unit this year, paced by NFL sack leader Clay Matthews (six takedowns in two games).
Surprise factor: 1. No surprise here. Our expectations are high for Green Bay this year.
Prospects of shooting their way out of this dusty Mexican town: Super Bowl or bust, baby.
Tampa Bay (37 PF – 21 PA)
The Bucs are battling the Chiefs as the surprise story of the first two Weeks of 2010. Both teams have relied on wins over the Browns. But Kansas City did it on the road, while boasting big Quality Win tune over what should be a good San Diego team. Tampa, for its part, has topped two disappointing, quarterback-less teams.
But give credit to the Bucs: they have impressed on defense. This week they humiliated Carolina quarterback Matt Moore, who was benched for rookie Jimmy Clausen. The short-lived Moore Era looks like it's whimpered to an end after completing 6 of 16 for 125 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT.
Cold, Hard Football Fact: Tampa is 2-0 for the first time since 2005, when they raced 4-0 out of the gate, finished 11-5 and reached the playoffs as a wildcard team. The Bucs are doing it much like the champion Bucs did in 2002, with a shutdown pass defense. Tampa defenders already boast four picks, with a spectacular 55.57 Defensive Passer Rating. Offensively, second-year QB Josh Freeman has impressed: 4 TD, 1 INT, 95.0 rating.
Surprise factor: 7. The opponents were not impressive. But as we've seen across the league this year and every year, few teams negotiate even a couple weeks without a blemish.
Prospects of shooting their way out of this dusty Mexican town: The division is the Saints' to lose. But a wildcard spot for Tampa is definitely in the mix right now.
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