Sunday Wrap-up: AFC Turned Upside Down
Yesterday was an interesting day around the NFL. The AFC in particular had an interesting day. The four teams that were expected to win their divisions (New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, and the San Diego Chargers) all lost yesterday. The Patriots and Chargers, who barely escaped upsets last Monday night, weren’t so lucky in week 2 with the short week of rest. Both teams entered this season as division favorites and contenders for the Super Bowl, but through two games they have had to play catch up against “inferior” opponents. The Steelers also fell to 1-1 after losing to the Chicago Bears on a last minute field goal, one week after winning with a field goal in overtime. The vaunted Steelers defense was ineffective against the Bears, and couldn’t make the big stops when needed. The Titans fell to 0-2 after losing to their division rival Houston Texans 34-31. The Titans were up 21-7 early in the 2nd quarter, and got over 280 yards of total offense from running back Chris Johnson, but the Texans passing attack was too much for them to handle. Now a team that started this season with their eyes on the Super Bowl, now are just looking for a win.
What’s even more surprising than who lost was who actually won yesterday. After two weeks only three AFC teams will start off the season 2-0 (the Colts will be the fourth if they win tonight). This is a bit surprising considering the AFC is considered the stronger overall conference (the NFC has five teams that are 2-0). What’s even more surprising is who the three teams are with a spotless record in the AFC, the New York Jets, Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens. Now the Ravens aren’t too surprising, they were a playoff team last year, and while they had some losses on defense their offense looked pretty strong entering the year. The Jets and the Broncos on the other hand are a bit more shocking. Both teams experienced a lot of turnover in the offseason. Each team bringing in among others, a new head coach and starting quarterback. The Broncos early success should be taken with a bit of a grain of salt. They have faced the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns, two teams that aren’t exactly expected to be in the playoff hunt this season. The Broncos also would have lost to the Bengals if not for a fluke last second 87 yard touchdown. While its easy to question the staying power of the Broncos, they are the division leader, and two wins are more than most teams have right now. The Jets on the other hand seem a bit more for real, and what’s scary for the rest of the AFC East is they should only get better. The Jets decisively beat the Texans in Houston in week 1, a team that figured to be a playoff contender. New York followed that up knocking off the New England Patriots in week 2, and holding the Patriots high-powered offense to just 9 points. The Jets defense which hasn’t allowed a touchdown in two weeks, should get better with a fully healthy DE Shaun Ellis, and the return of LB Calvin Pace after his four week suspension. On offense the Jets dual running attack has moved the ball effectively in both weeks. Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has made major strides, and has put the Jets in a position to win both games. He hasn’t dominated the competition by any means, but he has shown plenty of poise and the ability to make plays when needed. If he continues to mature throughout the season, the Jets could make a deep run into the playoffs.
While nothing can really be determined after two weeks, the AFC balance for power is not shaping up how anyone expected. Some of the conference’s top contenders, are looking more and more like pretenders. While some of the teams that were overlooked going into the season, are looking like teams that need to be taken seriously for the remaining 14 weeks.