Neither of them has looked like a Super Bowl team so far.
The Steelers and Patriots are 2-1, which is a positive because they can figure out their issues without having to dig out of a hole. The New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers would love to be in that spot. However, there are glaring issues.
Let’s start with the Patriots, because they have the worst defense in football so far. Sure, it’s early. Still, the Patriots have allowed 461 yards per game and 7.1 yards per play, the most in the NFL in each category. Maybe it was excusable against the Chiefs and Saints, who have good offenses, but not against Houston. The Texans had shown absolutely nothing on offense the first two weeks. They looked like the 2013 Broncos in Week 3 against the Patriots, and that was with Deshaun Watson making his second career start.
Tom Brady carried the Patriots to a nearly miraculous win at home, and Brady is always capable of that. It’s just tough to rely on him throwing five touchdowns to win at home against mediocre teams like the Texans. The Patriots were fortunate to escape with a win, but now they have played two poor games at home. That’s concerning. You have to bet on Bill Belichick to figure out the defensive issues. It’s not like there’s no talent on that side of the ball. But right now it’s a total mess. While you assume it’ll get better, it might not. The Patriots aren’t winning a Super Bowl if it doesn’t.
The Steelers’ biggest problem might be harder to solve. They’re not very good on the road. Ben Roethlisberger’s extreme road and home splits going back to the 2015 season are troubling. He has been an All-Pro candidate at home and barely above replacement level on the road. It’s not just Roethlisberger. His struggles on the road are reflective of the team as a whole. In Week 1, the Steelers needed a big play by Antonio Brown to finish a three-point win against the Browns, who have looked terrible in the two games since. In Week 3, they lost at a Bears team that was expected to win a handful of games at best this season. If you want to be great, you can’t do it by being this bad away from home. It’s also tough to get a good seed when you’re in danger of losing to any team away from home. This week, at a Baltimore team that just got steamrolled by the Jaguars, is an interesting test for the Steelers.
What’s funny is that despite all of those issues, the Patriots are still the runaway favorites to win the Super Bowl and the Steelers aren’t far behind according to OddsShark. New England’s odds 3.75-to-1 and no other team is less than 7.5-to-1. The Steelers trail only the Patriots, Packers and Falcons as the fourth favorite (10-to-1). We all can see the talent in the Patriots and Steelers. The Chiefs have played by far the best of any of the 32 teams through three weeks, but they don’t have better Super Bowl odds than New England or Pittsburgh. That’s because everyone still understands the ceiling the Patriots and Steelers have.
But to reach those heights, the Steelers and Patriots are going to have to fix some things. They might end up looking like the teams we expected them to be before the season, but they’re certainly not there yet.
Here are the power rankings after Week 2 of the NFL season:
32. Cleveland Browns (0-3, LW: 29)
I don’t love putting the Browns at No. 32. I want to be optimistic and see progress. But after a decent showing Week 1, they’ve looked hopeless against the Ravens (who looked awful on Sunday) and the Colts, who aren’t very good either.
31. San Francisco 49ers (0-3, LW: 30)
Their last two games they battled in close games at the Seahawks and against the Rams. They haven’t broken through with a win yet but they’re playing hard for Kyle Shanahan.
30. New York Jets (1-2, Last week: 32)
Well maybe they’re not the worst team in football after all. This was a good performance, with quarterback Josh McCown playing well and the defense absolutely dominating the Dolphins. Now they have a somewhat intriguing game against Jacksonville, which will have some post-London fatigue.
29. Indianapolis Colts (1-2, LW: 31)
Give the coaching staff credit for getting quarterback Jacoby Brissett up to speed quickly and putting him in position to succeed. I’m still surprised the Patriots traded Brissett so quickly, with Jimmy Garoppolo set to be a free agent next offseason. Brissett has a nice skill set.
28. Cincinnati Bengals (0-3, LW: 27)
Better effort. The offense looked much better with a new coordinator. Smart to finally let Joe Mixon be the lead back, which should have been the case from the moment he was drafted. But for all of that, it was still just a loss, and 0-3 teams don’t have a very good history of turning in successful seasons.
27. Chicago Bears (1-2, LW: 28)
Just think, the Bears are really, really close to being 2-1 with wins over the Falcons and Steelers. They’ll be an interesting late-season team when the schedule gets much easier.
26. New York Giants (0-3, LW: 23)
The scoring outburst in the fourth quarter provides some hope for the offense. It doesn’t really matter now that they’re 0-3, but maybe they’ll be more competitive from here on out.
25. Los Angeles Chargers (0-3, LW: 18)
Joey Bosa gets the headlines, but Melvin Ingram might be the better player. Ingram has 5.5 sacks this season. Bosa is fantastic too, which means the Chargers have two of the best pass rushers in the NFL … and they’re still winless.
24. New Orleans Saints (1-2, LW: 26)
The defense looked entirely different than it did in the first two games, pressuring Cam Newton and forcing big turnovers. Now the question becomes, is that sustainable or was that a bigger reflection on Carolina’s offensive issues?
23. Miami Dolphins (1-1, LW: 17)
Someone was going to lose to the Jets this season. But the Dolphins were losing 20-0 to the Jets before scoring a useless touchdown on the final play. I get that the travel issues – from dealing with Hurricane Irma and spending a full week in California, then playing in New York right before a trip to London – is tough, but that was a truly terrible performance.
22. Baltimore Ravens (2-1, LW: 16)
I don’t think that debacle in London was a one-off performance by the Ravens offense. It was extreme, but this Baltimore team doesn’t have much on that side of the ball especially without guard Marshal Yanda, by far the Ravens’ best player on offense. They’ll win games because they’re coached well and have a good defense, but that offense is simply not good.
21. Buffalo Bills (2-1, LW: 25)
That was a good win against a quality opponent, and the Bills’ 2-1 start is a positive. But can we talk about LeSean McCoy? He has 30 rushing yards on 26 attempts over his last two games. He’s a special talent and he has gone against two tough defenses the past two weeks so I don’t think he has lost it quite yet, but it is a bit concerning.
20. Houston Texans (1-2, LW: 21)
If Deshaun Watson is going to play like that the rest of the season, the AFC South is going to be very interesting (and if he doesn’t play like that, then we have some clear answers about the Patriots defense, don’t we?).
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1, LW: 14)
I try to not overreact to one game, or even two or three games. We go crazy over tiny samples in the NFL. But it’s hard to not be shocked by how bad the Buccaneers looked on Sunday. Every team can have bad days, but they looked horrendous in that loss to the Vikings. We’ll have to see if that was a sign they were overhyped, or just one rough day. I’d guess it was just a random bad day, but …
18. Arizona Cardinals (1-2, LW: 22)
At least Carson Palmer has looked like a capable quarterback the past two weeks. The Cardinals desperately need to get healthy, especially along the offensive line, but they’ll be competitive as long as Palmer throws the ball like he has the past couple weeks.
17. Carolina Panthers (2-1, LW: 10)
The Panthers did nothing on offense against a Saints defense that was allowing a 141.4 passer rating before Sunday. That’s alarming. Cam Newton still hasn’t looked right, after his offseason shoulder surgery. Greg Olsen is a huge loss. At least the Panthers finally got Christian McCaffrey involved more, but the offense as a whole is lost right now.
16. Los Angeles Rams (2-1, LW: 20)
Given the way the Seahawks have played, it might not be crazy to think the Rams could win the NFC West. The offense is much better and there’s a lot of talent on defense. Coaching matters.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1, LW: 24)
If you somehow slept through Week 2, you’ve seen the Jaguars play 120 minutes of football and look like a dominant, incredible team. They outscored the Texans and Ravens 73-14 in those games. But still, the way they fell apart when Blake Bortles struggled in Week 2 is also on their record. It’s an impossible team to get a read on right now.
14. Washington Redskins (2-1, LW: 19)
I get that Chris Thompson isn’t an ideal size for a lead back. He’s 5-foot-8, 191 pounds. However, I remember when Jamaal Charles (5-11, 199 pounds) was considered too small and Todd Haley kept giving Thomas Jones more touches because he didn’t think Charles could hold up. Charles did just fine when he got the majority of the carries. I’m not sure what it hurts to see if Thompson could handle, say, 15 carries in a game.
13. Detroit Lions (2-1, LW: 15)
The Lions have been on the bad end of some tough losses, but not even having the chance to run another play, because the officials incorrectly ruled a touchdown on the field and it was overturned, that has to be the worst one. There’s really no doubt that had Golden Tate been ruled down at the 1-yard line, Detroit would have gotten another snap off. Instead, the 10-second runoff after the replay review ended the game. The rule was enforced correctly – and no, there’s no league-wide conspiracy against the Lions – but it was unfair how it ended.
12. Seattle Seahawks (1-2, LW: 9)
Finally, Russell Wilson and the offense showed some signs of life. Most of that happened after Seattle dug itself a big hole, but it was noteworthy. Wilson finished with 373 yards and four touchdowns. Whatever ailed the offense, I believe it’s probably in the past. Once the switch goes on for Wilson, it usually stays on for a while.
11. Minnesota Vikings (2-1, LW: 13)
Who knows where the Sam Bradford story goes, but it’s pretty clear the Vikings are a good team. Between Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph and Dalvin Cook, Minnesota has some explosive playmakers for whoever is at quarterback.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (2-1, LW: 11)
Darren Sproles blew his ACL and broke his arm on the same play. If this is the end for Sproles’ career, he’ll go down as one of the most exciting players to ever take an NFL field.
9. Tennessee Titans (2-1, LW: 12)
The Titans have been fantastic after halftime. They have scored 55 points in the second halves of their last two games. That’s a sign of a team that is physically prepared and a coaching staff that is good at making adjustments.
8. Dallas Cowboys (2-1, LW: 8)
The Cowboys defense might be much improved. Dallas needs to get healthy in the secondary. But the pass rush, led by DeMarcus Lawrence, is legit. That’s a great place to start.
7. Denver Broncos (2-0, LW: 9)
Trevor Siemian has a reputation as a game manager. That’s fine; he has done pretty well in that role. That’s why it was so odd to see him forcing things and making mistakes against the Buffalo Bills. That style doesn’t suit him. Also, the penalty against Von Miller is still the worst I’ve seen called in all my time watching the NFL.
6. Oakland Raiders (2-1, LW: 5)
Some nights you just don’t have it. You fly from the West Coast all the way to the East Coast, play a fired-up team in a prime time and just get swamped from the first snap on. I don’t think the Raiders’ loss at Washington indicates they’re a bad team. The Raiders will be fine.
5. New England Patriots (2-1, LW: 4)
Considering how the Patriots are giving up yards and points like it’s their job, even to bad offenses like Houston, it seems they sure could use a player like Chandler Jones.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1, LW: 1)
The thing about ranking all these teams each week is it has to involve more than just results of one game or even three. Wondering why I’d still have the Steelers high even though they’ve looked mediocre for three games (and some expressed this to me last week, and that was before their loss) isn’t thinking it through well enough. We know who the Steelers are and what kind of talent they have. Nobody sane would ignore that and drop them a dozen spots for one overtime loss.
3. Green Bay Packers (2-1, LW: 6)
The Packers are facing a short week and it’s possible they could be without tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari, receiver Randall Cobb, defensive lineman Mike Daniels and pass rusher Nick Perry. Most of the time you’d expect the Packers to roll over the Bears at home, but all of their injuries make it a much tougher task.
2. Atlanta Falcons (3-0, LW: 2)
This is the funny part of the NFL: The story on the Falcons is different this week if Golden Tate got a few more inches on the last play Sunday. It’s really different if Tate gets that yard and the Bears hadn’t dropped three potential touchdowns in the final seconds in Week 1 against Atlanta. But the Falcons are 3-0, so all these close games just are apparently building character.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (3-0, LW: 3)
At this point there’s nothing to nitpick. They have two good road wins. They’ve played three capable teams and won two of the three by double digits. The defense looks good and the Kareem Hunt-led offense has serious big-play capability. I’m not sure this is the best team in football, but they have played the best so far. They deserve the top spot.
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