If we can, with the utmost certainty, say anything regarding the National Football League, it’s that we can always rely on our preseason predictions to ring true. Andrew Luck is within striking distance of overtaking Aaron Rodgers as the best quarterback in the league after two huge performances against stingy AFC East defenses. Chip Kelly continues to frustrate defenses with his revamped and explosive offense after blowing out the Falcons and Cowboys. The Ravens, the ultimate model of front office excellence and on-the-field consistency, is once again off to a great start to the season. And the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks are back to their ways of winning, shutting down the passing game and always making the right play call.
Oh, that’s right, none of those things are true. Forgive me; I’m sure I’m not the first writer to confuse the Colts, Eagles, Ravens and Seahawks with the likes of the Jets and Falcons.
Last year, the Colts, Eagles, Ravens and Seahawks combined to win 43 games, twice as many as they lost. This year, all four squads kicked off the season with Super Bowl aspirations and now sit at a combined 0-8. The season lasts just 16 games; every single snap has playoff related consequences. Climbing out of a two game hole is infinitely easier said than done; the last team to win the Super Bowl after starting 2-0 was God’s chosen 2007 Giants. Each of these teams remain talented enough to make a deep postseason run, but their performances over the first two weeks warrant concern. A third consecutive loss would certainly beg the question, if it hasn’t been begged already: should these teams be panicking?
What distinguishes the Ravens from the other teams on this list is the fact that they’d be 2-0 rather than 0-2 if it weren’t for two costly mistakes by Joe Flacco. Against Denver, it was Flacco’s pick-6 to Aqib Talib that would become the game winning score. Against Oakland, Flacco missed a wide-open Steve Smith on a post route to the corner of the end zone that would’ve sealed the deal for Baltimore. Joe Flacco and his dubious eliteness have been making more headlines lately, but true Flacco disciples know that come playoff time, there’s no discussion to be had – he’s elite. Of course, he’ll need to rebound sooner versus later to prove just that.
There’s plenty to be nervous about on the other side of the line as well. The heart of the defense, vaunted edge-rusher and scary human being Terrell Suggs will miss the rest of the year with another Achilles tear. They needed the pass rush to make up for a porous secondary, one that’s recovering from the beating they received last week from, of all teams, the Oakland Raiders. In a division with Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and A.J. Green, their secondary will at least need to do enough to keep the offense in games late.
Ultimately, with a few exceptions, Baltimore will always have the best quarterback/offensive line combination on the field. That fact makes the Ravens impossible to ignore in the playoff race, especially after a mere two-week sample size. The defense is reeling and injured, but there’s no reason to doubt Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees’ ability to get the most out of his unit, no matter who’s on the field.
Panic Meter: 4/10
Player A: 542 yards passing, 5 TD, 3 INT, 47.4 Quarterback Rating
Player B: 493 yards passing, 3 TD, 5 INT, 28.5 Quarterback Rating
Player A is 2014 Andrew Luck, who got off to a slow start as the Colts opened the year with back to back losses.
Player B is 2015 Andrew Luck, who’s off to a slow start as the Colts have once again opened the year with back to back losses.
It could be sky-high expectations that are to blame for Luck’s early struggles. It could be a lack of continuity on the Colts’ offensive line. Most likely, however, it’s because he’s had to open the year against defensive guru Rex Ryan’s Bills and Darrelle Revis’s revamped Jets. This weekend, he’ll have the chance to regroup against the Titans, who let Johnny Manziel do this TWICE last Sunday.
Indy will have to find a way to manufacture a running game to take pressure off of Luck, and they’ll have to do it with the hallowed remains of former pro-bowler Frank Gore. But this isn’t anything Luck’s not used to; after the 0-2 start last year, Luck and the Colts rattled off five straight wins and eventually appeared in the AFC Championship Game.
If Indy played in, say, the NFC West, the panic over their start would be a bit more justified. But the Colts play in the lowly AFC South, barely distinguishable from the SEC. Their defense isn’t great – it might not even be good – but the Colts simply have too much talent and too good of a head coach to somehow miss the playoffs.
Panic Meter: 2/10
Assuming it’s not the wrath of God that’s responsible for the Eagles horrendous start, it’s fairly easy to figure out what is. Like, really, really easy.
An offense that ranked 5th in offense last year and 2nd the year before currently sits at 25th. In 2013, the Eagles ran for more yards than any other team in the league by a comfortable margin, and didn’t regress too much last season. So what’s the problem?
It could be that mad scientist, and occasional head football coach, Chip Kelly, got rid of damn near every player that contributed to those prolific offenses and replaced them with an unproven quarterback, an injury-prone running back and undrafted no-names along the offensive line. Kelly decided to fix what wasn’t broken, and thus far he’s payed dearly.
The defense remains solid for the most part, and new addition Kiko Alonso has actually played very well (despite leaving the Dallas game with a partially torn ACL). There is, however, one glaring, 63 million dollar weakness on the right side.
It doesn’t matter if Byron Maxwell is an elite, shutdown cornerback; the Eagles paid him like one, so he needs to play like one. Covering Julio Jones is no easy task, but Maxwell also gave up the game-clinching touchdown against Dallas when he blew his coverage on Terrance Williams.
The offense that Chip Kelly so meticulously designed, the offense that had every other coach in the league scared shitless in the preseason, has only played two games together. Continuity is everything on offense, as the Packers have demonstrated over the last half-decade. They’ve only played bad football with each other, and nothing we’ve seen so far indicates they’ll get any better.
Panic Meter: 8/10
The Seahawks are currently demonstrating an old truth in the NFL: it doesn’t matter how good your skill position players are if you can’t block up front. Seattle had a good line last year, before they traded a Pro Bowl caliber center for an inconsistent skill position player. The difference has been extremely noticeable; the Hawks ranked first in rushing yards and yards per carry last season at 5.3. They’ve dropped to 12th in yardage, which doesn’t sound so bad, but they’re averaging a whole yard less per carry than what they did a year ago, and losing Max Unger is why.
The aforementioned skill position player is Jimmy Graham, one of the better tight ends in recent memory, especially in terms of athleticism. It wasn’t all that long ago that Graham and Rob Gronkowski were neck and neck in the race to be the league’s best tight end. Gronk won by a landslide, and Graham didn’t even finish. He’s been targeted just 10 times in two games and has totaled a whopping 62 yards. It’s always hard adjusting to a new team and a new style, but getting Graham with the program should be Pete Carroll and Darrel Bevel’s top priority.
The defense is fine; the 34 points they allowed to St. Louis is rather misleading – the Rams hit on two field goals and scored on a Tavon Austin punt return. And giving up only 27 to Green Bay in Lambeau is honestly something to be proud of against one of the greatest home quarterbacks of all-time. Kam Chancellor is ending his holdout and could be on the field as early as this weekend so there’s nowhere to go but up for the Legion of Boom and the rest of the Seahawks defense.
Seattle can only rely on its defense for so long, especially in an improved NFC West. If Bevell can’t work around the issues on the offensive line, or figure out how to use Jimmy Graham effectively, a third straight trip to the Super Bowl is more or less out of the question.
Panic Meter: 6