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<p>(Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)</p>
(Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

NFL Division Outlook following week 2

AFC North - Ryan Vacacela

With week 2 coming to a close the AFC North is still the biggest mystery in the entire NFL. What is wrong with the Bengals? Are the Browns and Ravens super bowl contenders? Are the Steelers a bottom 10 team? Let’s not overreact.

Cincinnati Bengals: 12-5 

The Cincinnati Bengals have been the most talked about team coming into the season, Bengals fans were hopeful that Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase could reach the heights of MVP and OPOY, so what happened these past 2 weeks? It’s simple, the Browns played them off the field in week 1. Making the Bengals bench their newly highest paid player in NFL history Joe Burrow with strong defense and of course better preparation with the weather. Week 2 the Bengals played well, but were outdone by Baltimore on both sides of the ball. This all being said, the Bengals started 0-2 last season, and made the AFC Championship game. Don't overthink this, they are still the best team in the division. With an extremely high powered offense with the same stars in Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Joe Mixon there should be improvement in the coming weeks. 

Baltimore Ravens: 12-5 

The Baltimore Ravens lead the AFC North heading into week 3, after a strong dominant performance over a weak Texans team. There were still questions if Baltimore could do it versus a contender, that’s exactly what the Ravens did in week 2. The Ravens made sure to shut down Ja’marr Chase which was successful as he was held to five catches for 31 yards. Completely silencing the Bengals offense in the first half was enough to hold off a comeback from Cincinnati towards the end. Baltimore showed resilience and strong defense even being down star players. Giving the status of a top contender, expect a deep playoff run from the Ravens.

Cleveland Browns: 10-7 

The Cleveland Browns were absolutely destructive in week 1 versus Cincinnati with an aggressive pass rush and a composed secondary made the Browns look elite. Going into week 2, the Browns will look to dominate the Steelers and keep up with the Ravens as the two undefeated teams in the AFC North. Stability is key for Cleveland, if they can continue with a top five defense and an average offense, they will be looking at a high wild card seed or a sneaky division title.

Pittsburgh Steelers: 9-8 

The Steelers were a team with high expectations from the fans coming into the season. After a strong preseason, the Steelers faced the 49ers, what was supposed to be the game of the week turned into a slaughter for San Francisco. 30-7 with dominant offense and defense showed the Steelers might just be a year away from being a contender. Hopefully for Pittsburgh, they can turn it around and be a fringe playoff team.

AFC South - Keenan Vaughan

Jacksonville Jaguars: 11-6 (4-2)

Strengths: Trevor Lawerence and the passing attack looks the part after a sudden emergence the previous year. The quarterback has already thrown for over 450 yards, and with a receiver room of Ridley, Kirk, Engram, and Jones, Duvall is still very much a deadly offense through the air. On the other side of the ball, the defense’s push rush ability has been a pleasant surprise. Veteran Josh Allen and second-year defensive end Trayvon Walker both lead the team in sacks and have been a major reason the team has given up a max of 21 points.

Weaknesses: The offense on the ground is slowly turning into a question mark for Jacksonville through two appearances. Despite a strong Week 1 showing, Travis Etienne made little impact against Kansas City this Sunday, and the team seems unsure how to fit rookie Tank Bigsby and support piece Jamal Agnew into the equation. Overall offensive consistency is also worth mentioning due to the team struggling to minimize their own mistakes as well as capitalize off opposing turnovers. The best example comes in Week 2 where they only managed to score 9 total points against the Chiefs despite forcing 3 turnovers on defense.

Tennessee Titans: 7-10 (3-3)

Strengths: Titans head coach Mike Vrabel’s bread and butter has always come in the form of team defense. After watching Tennessee's first two games, it can be safely assumed that their rock-solid unit is one of the main reasons they’re currently sitting at 1-1. Jefferey Simmons and company have already compiled seven total sacks while only allowing a high of 69 rushing yards in a single game. To add on, the two most notable faces on the offense in Derrick Henry and Deandre Hopkins have been crucial so far in providing some punch to an inconsistent offense.

Weaknesses: The sluggish nature of the offense stops and starts with one name: Ryan Tannehill. Tennessee could easily be 2-0 if not for an abysmal performance by their quarterback against New Orleans in Week 1 where he threw three costly interceptions. While you could argue that his receivers beside Hopkins aren’t exactly inspiring, it leaves their attack extremely one-sided. The defense having to drag the team to the finish line when he’s not performing, or Henry is shut down is not something that is sustainable.

Indianapolis Colts: 6-11 (3-3)

Strengths: Indianapolis’ selection of Anthony Richardson with the fourth pick of this year’s draft had plenty of upside and risk. So far, the Colts have had a healthy dose of his spectacular potential. The rookie quarterback’s three rushing touchdowns and dazzling play in the red zone help make up for how unproven his arm is. To help in that category is Michael Pittman Jr. whose strong play through two appearances is heartening after a disappointing 2022 campaign. In addition, the defensive line should also get plenty of credit through constant pressure and eight team sacks (six of which came in Week 2 alone).

Weaknesses: The Colts running game has been crippled by star back Jonathan Taylor’s placement on the PUP list. They’ve only mustered a high of eighty eight rushing yards in a single game, and even that came against  Houston’s porous defense. Many will be rightfully holding their breath to see how serious Richardson’s concussion in Week 2 is with how lackluster their ground game is without him. Indianapolis’ secondary should also be an area of serious concern. An otherworldly offensive performance will have to be on deck nearly every game with over six hundred passing yards and four touchdowns given up so far.

Houston Texans: 4-13 (2-4)

Strengths: These past two weeks have shown Houston the reality that this team is still very much a work in progress. However, C.J. Stroud’s performances in the face of ridiculous adversity has given fans hope in an already brutal year. The rookie has already thrown for over 600 total yards through the air along with 2 touchdowns against Indianapolis on Sunday. Having promising younglings in Tank Dell and Nico Collins by his side will also help in determining if the Texans were able to at least secure their franchise quarterback.

Weaknesses: The Texans’ two most glaring issues come on both sides of the ball. DeMeco Ryans’ defense has already proven to be completely unable to stop the run through surrendering 3 rushing touchdowns in each of their first 2 games. Patience seems the best course of action as it will take time for the first-time head coach’s scheme and new faces on that side of the ball to gel together. On the other hand, Houston’s offensive line woes should instead be met with endless frustration. All the hefty extensions and shrewd trades before the season has resulted in allowing their rookie signal caller to be sacked 11 times. This wound will only widen since 4 of the team’s starting offensive linemen are dealing with injury. 

AFC East - Jordan Pullett

Coming into the season, the AFC East looked promising, and it could’ve been one of the best divisions in football. Any of the four teams could have taken the division crown, and that wouldn’t have necessarily been shocking. However, after Aaron Rodgers tore his achilles, and the New England Patriots 0-2 start, both the Jets and Pats season-long expectations were changed.

Miami Dolphins: 13-4 

The Miami Dolphins look like one of, if not the best team in the NFL to start the season. There has been no answer to the Miami offense. Whether it’s because of the speed of Hill, Waddle and Mostert, or the consistency of Tagovailoa, the Dolphins have scored at an extremely high rate this season. With an offense this explosive, and the return of Jalen Ramsey later in the season, the Dolphins should be able to take this division, and potentially win a few playoff games as well.

Buffalo Bills: 12-5 

The long-term success of the Buffalo Bills heavily relies on the consistency of Josh Allen. In week one, Josh Allen looked horrible, with 4 total turnovers. However, he bounced back with an incredible week with 284 total yards and three touchdowns. When Allen looks like he did in week one, the Bills don’t look like a team that can even sniff the playoffs, but when he looks like he did in week two, the Bills look great. If Josh Allen can smoothen the difference between his best and worst weeks, the Bills could win the Super Bowl. However, given that Josh Allen leads the league in total turnovers, this may not be realistic.

New England Patriots: 7-10

Starting the NFL season with two home losses, the New England Patriots season can be looked at in two ways. The obvious way is to see the two losses and count them out from any type of wild card contentions. However, when looking at their first two opponents, what did people expect? Starting the NFL season with the Eagles and Dolphins is probably the most difficult start when it comes to matchups. The Patriots season relies heavily on their week three game against the Jets. Starting off 0-3 would be almost impossible to come back from, as they play the Cowboys, Bills and Dolphins all before week eight. Bill Belichick has never gone down without a fight, so he may draw a defensive gameplan to make Zach Wilson make enough plays to defeat them. If the Patriots want any chance at salvaging this season, they need to win in week three.

New York Jets: 6-11

The New York Jets were one of the most hyped teams in the NFL this offseason, with the new addition of Aaron Rodgers in the offseason. All of the hype left the team when Aaron Rodgers tore his achilles on his snap for the Jets. Although Rodgers has stated that he may return for the playoffs this year, that is extremely unlikely not only due to the severity of a torn achilles, but also because the Jets will not be making the playoffs. Zach Wilson has been benched by Mike White and Joe Flacco in his career, and he has shown very little in his starts. This season sadly ended just as soon as it started for the Jets, as their fans are disappointed once again.

AFC West - Jordan Pullett

After two weeks, the AFC North is one of two divisions with only two total wins. Outside of the Las Vegas Raiders, who are currently tied for first in the AFC West, this division has been relatively disappointing.

Kansas City Chiefs: 12-5 

The reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs, began the season losing to the Detroit Lions in the opening game of the season, 21-20. This loss can mainly be attributed to the absence of Travis Kelce, and the unreliability of the Chiefs offensive weapons. With the return of both Travis Kelce and Chris Jones in week two, the Chiefs look to be back on track to take the division, despite their relatively disappointing start to the season.

Los Angeles Chargers: 8-9 

After losing a 27 point lead in their Wild Card matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Los Angeles Chargers looked to begin the 2023 season on a different note than they ended the last one on. However, the team has started 0-2 for the first time since 2017. While the Justin Herbert led offense has looked great so far, the defense has not. Although the defense is filled with stars from the defensive line to the secondary, they have not played well as a unit so far this season. If the Chargers want to return to the playoffs this year, they will certainly need to bounce back against both the Minnesota Vikings and the Las Vegas Raiders in weeks three and four.

Las Vegas Raiders: 6-11 

The Las Vegas Raiders started their season defeating the Broncos 17-16, and giving the reigning AFC East champion Buffalo Bills a decent fight in the first quarter of week two. Given the expectations set on this team before the season, the Raiders have done about what they have been expected to do. The Raiders will likely begin to fall down in the standings, especially if Davante Adams misses games while in the concussion protocol.

Denver Broncos: 5-12 

Russell Wilson may have the most intriguing start to the season out of any quarterback in the NFL, given his highs and lows. He has the ability to look great for a half, like he did in the first half against the Washington Commanders. However, at his worst, the Denver Broncos cannot move the ball on offense, like in the second half of week one. Given that Wilson hasn’t looked super consistent with his tenure with the Broncos, this team will likely not bounce back from their 0-2 start to begin any sort of playoff push.

NFC North - Ryan Vacacela 

Green Bay Packers: 10-7

The Green Bay Packers had a blowout victory vs the Chicago Bears in week 1, but unfortunately had a huge let down loss in week 2 in a heartbreaker versus the Atlanta Falcons 25-24. The Packers have a strong defense from the defensive line to the defensive backs, and a growing offense. Division titles are common for Green Bay, and there would be no surprise if they are the NFC North winners by the end of the season.

Detroit Lions: 9-8 

After a huge upset in week 1 versus the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s fair to say week 2 was a let down for Detroit Lions fans. facing a Seattle Seahawks team who were embarrassed by the Rams week 1, Detroit were the favorites going in but lost in overtime. the team looked strong but defense is clearly still the issue as this Lions team chases the playoffs for the first time in the post-Stafford era.

Minnesota Vikings: 6-11 

The Vikings are a team that has a superpower and a weakness. The passing offense is one of the best in the league, but the passing defense is one of the worst the league has ever seen, finishing 26th in defensive passing DVOA and losing their top two cornerbacks in Patrick Peterson and Cam Dantzler Jr.. Baker Mayfield and the Bucs lit them up in week 1 and Devonta Smith torched their corners in week 2,  this is going to be a long season for this defense and unfortunately will be the downfall of the Vikings season as they will miss the playoffs.

Chicago Bears: 4-13 

The outlier in this division, the only team with no hope in this division. The defense looks hopeless and the offense is a mess. Fortunately, a young team with a franchise quarterback is never a bad thing, but for this season there is nothing this team can do to even sniff a shot at the playoffs. The Bears are a year away from being a year away so expect a good future, just not quite yet.  

NFC South - Ethan Holtzinger

New Orleans Saints: 10-7 

Following their trade for Derek Carr, the New Orleans Saints are favored to win the division, with the Atlanta Falcons slightly behind. This season, Carr is coming into a 7-10 team with dangerous weapons on the offense like Chris Olave, Michael Thomas, and Alvin Kamara, once he returns in week four after a three-game suspension. This type of offensive talent should be able to help him lead the Saints to the division title. As for his defense, he received a huge upgrade this year, compared to the 28th ranked defense that he played with last season.

Atlanta Falcons: 9-8 

With young offensive talent such as Kyle Pitts, Drake London, and rookie first round pick Bijan Robinson, the Atlanta Falcons have a bright future. Last year, the Falcons finished 7-10 and scraped their way into the playoffs, despite being the second worst passing offense in the league. The addition of David Onyemata only improved their run defense, and all these factors combined give Atlanta a good chance to finish positive by the end of the season and fight for a spot in the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 8-9 

A team that also has plenty of talent on each side of the ball, the main difference between the 2023 Buccaneers and the Super Bowl 56-winning team lies at the quarterback position. Baker Mayfield has established himself as an extremely inconsistent player, which is the complete opposite of the Bucs’ previous QB Tom Brady. Whether he performs as the Los Angeles Rams Mayfield, or the Carolina Panthers Mayfield will determine where the Buccaneers place in their division.

Carolina Panthers: 5-12 

Rookie quarterbacks never have a perfect first season, and Bryce Young looks like he will be no different, judging from the poor protection that he received from his offensive line during the preseason. If this continues into the regular season, coupled with arguably the worst receiving corps in the league, it’s going to be a rough year as far as passing goes in Carolina. The Panthers’ main priority this season should be to protect their future franchise quarterback, and to build around him in the years to come.

NFC East - Ethan Holtzinger

Philadelphia Eagles: 12-5 

After losing five defensive starters, as well as their offensive and defensive coordinators, it is unlikely that the Philadelphia Eagles will be able to repeat the extraordinary season that they had last year. They also have one of the hardest schedules in the league this year. Despite this, they are still considered favorites to win their division, with stars on both sides of the ball, as well as promising new additions from the 2023 NFL draft.

Dallas Cowboys: 11-6 

The Cowboys are another team that have plenty of potential, largely due to Micah Parsons and the unrelenting ensemble that makes up the Dallas defense, which currently appears to be the best in the league. Ultimately, their division placement and season success will heavily depend on their quarterback play. If Dak Prescott can stray away from his previous turnover tendencies, Dallas will definitely be a major contender for the division title, right behind Philadelphia.

Washington Commanders: 7-10 

Although the Washington Commanders have a notable receiver room and a ferocious defensive unit, their team overall will not be able to contend with Philly and Dallas unless second-year quarterback Sam Howell delivers a consistent week-to-week performance. Despite Washington’s competitive division, they still have a shot to sneak into the playoffs.

New York Giants: 6-11

Following a surprisingly impressive season in 2022, and the additions of tight end Darren Waller, linebacker Bobby Okereke, as well as added depth at the receiver position, the New York Giants seem like they should have a fighting chance to win the NFC East this year. However, a competitive division, tough schedule, and numerous young and inexperienced players on each side of the ball suggest otherwise. As if sharing a division with Dallas and Philly wasn’t enough, the Giants are also tied for the fourth hardest schedule with Dallas this season. A combination of these factors will likely result in a disappointing year for the Giants.

NFC West - Sam Goodman

San Francisco 49ers (12-5)

With little roster turnover from 2022 to 2023, the San Francisco 49ers look once more to be the favorite in the NFC West. Retaining a top-three defense in the league, and finding proper footing with former Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy, at the helm, the 49ers are a threat to take home the NFC Conference Championship as well. Rolling past the Los Angeles Rams this week 30-23, the 49ers have already taken a quick control over the division as the lone undefeated team in the NFC West.

Seattle Seahawks (9-8)

Meanwhile, Seattle managed to rebound after their tough divisional matchup, beating the Detroit Lions on the road. Overcoming the odds with a flashy overtime performance, the Seahawks improved to 1-1 with a 37-31 win. Seemingly returning to their 2022 form, the Seahawks could remain a threat within the west this year, but cannot allow themselves to be hindered by poor line play and injuries to do so. Adding star receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the draft, and banking on a strong defensive secondary, the Seahawks may very well find themelves in the NFC Wildcard once more.

Los Angeles Rams (6-11)

The Los Angeles Rams did manage to defeat the Seattle Seahawks to open the year, but the McVay led squad finds itself 1-1 after their first divisional matchup of the season. Despite struggling defensively, especially in the secondary, players like Puka Nacua give hope that the magic in LA might not be over on the offensive side of the ball. With a long season ahead, the Rams still have a lot to prove. Looking like the window has officially closed, the unreliability of Mathew Stafford, the age of Aaron Donals, and health concerns of Cooper Kupp will all contribuite to a tough season for Los Angeles.

Arizona Cardinals (2-15)

Lastly, the Arizona Cardinals tried to give faith to their long suffering fans, jumping out to a 20-0 lead at the half. After a complete collapse, falling to the New York Giants 31-28, Arizona showed a continuation of their known rebuild. With an unstable quarterback position, leading the team with backups, the Cardinals have very little upside in 2023. A battered down offensive line, miserable defensive unit, and talent dead roster will put Arizona in a race to the first pick in the NFL Draft. Sure, this team showed glimpses of promise, but it is still a bottom-feeder in the league and in the west.

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