The Carolina Panthers are the real deal. The Matt Rhule hire along with his staff including OC Joe Brady seemed like a hit last year. They were a really competitive team, going 9-7 ATS, that was just missing that next gear to put it all together. They acquired Sam Darnold as a high-upside move at QB and made some great draft picks including Terrance Marshall at WR and Jaycee Horn at CB. So far everything has clicked for them on both sides of the ball. The defense is creating a ton of havoc and they are keeping the lid on opposing offenses. Offensively, Darnold is thriving in the new system with CMC and all of the weapons there. The Panthers are currently 1st in DVOA in the league and looks like they are a real threat to stay hot.
Kyler Murray is an MVP frontrunner. Kyler has always been great. In his past 3 years of football, he has won a Heisman, Rookie of the Year, and a Pro Bowl spot. However, this year he seems to have hit a different gear. He is 2nd in the league in passing yards and passing TDs and has led his team to a 2-0 record. He seems to always make the big play when the Cardinals need it and he seems to just be on a different level so far. It’s crazy that just a couple of years ago people were honestly debating whether he should play professional baseball instead of football.
The Washington Football Team is not the elite defense it was in 2020. Last year the WFT drafted Chase Young to add to an already stacked defense and everything clicked for them immediately. They were 3rd in the NFL in defensive DVOA at the end of last season and their defense was able to keep them in enough games to win the division and make the playoffs. However this year something is off. Justin Herbert lit them up Week One and last week Daniel Jones looked like a Pro Bowl QB against them. They currently rank 25th in yards allowed and 18th in defensive DVOA and have a tough challenge going to Josh Allen and the Bills this week.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense will be just fine, but still have major issues on defense. There was some panic about whether Aaron Rodgers was shot or just didn’t care anymore after him and the Packers looked horrible Week One against the Saints. However, as I predicted, he put on an absolute monster display on MNF against the Lions in Week Two. ARodg and the offense should still be an elite unit this year. However, their defense does have major issues. They allowed Jared Goff and the Lions to move the ball somewhat effortlessly on them and Jameis Winston did the same to them Week One (then Jameis looked bad last week). They are currently 28th in defensive DVOA and need to change something if they want to win a Super Bowl.
The Chiefs have a serious covering problem. The Chiefs are now 2-11 ATS in their L13 games dating back to last season. Despite this stretch, the Chiefs are the 3rd most profitable team in football since 2013 (Andy Reid era) and if you took away that stretch they’d be the most profitable. There are multiple explanations for this bizarre run- for one, the Chiefs now have an automatic point or two built into every line because the public wants to back them. Second of all, their defense has been soft. Whether it’s players, coaches, or both- when the team has had a big lead the defense gets lax and allows teams to come back. Finally, they seem to take their foot off the gas offensively as well. You see them go on these runs and make these plays that make offense look effortless but then they’ll just disappear for long stretches in games as they did late against Baltimore. Maybe the public and bookmakers are just setting the bar too high for KC, but the coaching staff also has some adjustments they need to make to stop playing close games.
Rookie QBs are off to a tough start so far. Rookie QBs typically take a while to adjust to the NFL but this year seems particularly harsh. For example, last year Justin Herbert put up massive numbers and went to OT with the Chiefs in his first career start. This year, the three teams that started a rookie from Week One (Lawrence, Jones, Wilson) are a combined 1-5 ATS and that’s the worst they could possibly be as Wilson and Jones played each other so one team had to cover. Lawrence and Wilson are combined for the NFL lead with 5 INTs each through two games. Jones, who you would have to say has looked the best of the bunch (although he is also in the best situation) has just 1 TD pass through 2 games. When tossed into action last week, Justin Fields didn’t look particularly good and threw a bad pick. Obviously, there is no writing any of these guys off this early but there does seem to be a big learning curve ahead for these young QBs.
The Houston Texans will be significantly worse with Tyrod Taylor out. The Texans were shockingly impressive (even though they were playing the Jags) Week One and were tied with the Browns at halftime of Week Two. I think the biggest reason for this is Tyrod Taylor, he was the perfect fit for what the Texans needed to compete- a consistent QB that can make smart plays and not turn the ball over. Taylor was 10/11 with 125 yards, 1 TD, and 0 INTs when he went out against the Browns, and then when he got hurt Mills went 8/18 for 102 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. Mills was meant to be a long-term project who was projected as the third-stringer when the Texans drafted him and now he is being expected to start. I think he has a really tough time adjusting to NFL speed.
The Raiders defensive additions are paying off big time.
Still early, but no team has gotten a better ROI on free agents so far than the Raiders
2 of their 3 highest graded defenders were signed for relatively modest deals this off-season:
Casey Hayward (88.3 grade)
Yannick Ngakoue (88.9)
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) September 21, 2021
Casey Hayward is the 3rd highest graded CB in the NFL so far (PFF) and Ngakoue has made a huge difference on their DL. The Raiders have looked great, winning 2 games outright as dogs through two weeks and it’s largely due to the improvements on the defensive side of the football. If they can continue to play well on that side of the ball, this could be a playoff team.
The Steelers offense has the same issues as last season. Big Ben is old. They have a shotty offensive line. They have no run game. Same old, same old for these Steelers. Big Ben is currently the 32nd ranked QB in the NFL according to PFF. They are also dead last in the league in rushing yards through 2 games. If things don’t change for them they are going to really struggle to win football games this year.
The Eagles’ defense is one of the most improved units in the league. The Eagles defense is 4th in the NFL in both yards allowed and points allowed so far. They are currently 8th in defensive DVOA compared to a unit that was 15th last year. They added Big Play Slay and Javon Hargrave last season then added Steven Nelson this past offseason, among other moves, and this unit is finally starting to click. If they can continue to perform then they will keep the Eagles in almost any game and allow Jalen Hurts to develop as a QB without the pressure of putting up a ton of points.