With an eighth of the NFL season in the books, some teams have looked ready to compete for a championship. Others have looked shaky to put it lightly. It’s a small sample size, relatively speaking, but some trends have started to emerge. Entering Week 3, here are power rankings of the best and brightest teams early on in 2018.
1) The Los Angeles Rams 2018 Record: 2-0
The LA Rams have begun their 2018 season red hot. They look to secure a coveted first-round bye this year, as opposed to playing in the wild card weekend where they lost to the Atlanta Falcons a season ago. Through two games, the Rams lead the league in points against, allowing an impressive 6.5 PA to the Raiders and Cardinals. Equally impressive, the Rams have only allowed two drives to reach the red zone, allowing just one red-zone score, both NFL bests. With perhaps the most valuable defensive player in football, in Aaron Donald, and arguably the best active RB, in Todd Gurley, it is shaping up that the NFC may run through LA in 2018.
2) The Jacksonville Jaguars 2018 Record: 2-0
The Jags just took care of business at home, without the help of talented RB Leonard Fournette, to down the reigning AFC Champion Patriots and move to 2-0. Through two games, the Jags have allowed the third-fewest 1st downs on defense (33). Additionally, Jacksonville has allowed just one red zone score out of four attempts (25%), which ranks 3rd in the NFL. Most importantly, albeit against a non-exceptional Pats defensive unit, Blake Bortles looked locked into midseason form this past Sunday. Bortles was great in Week 2, lighting up the Pats for 376 yards and four touchdown passes. In two games, Bortles has also rushed 10 times for 77 yards (7.7 YPC), which ranks 2nd among QB’s to the speedy Tyrod Taylor.
3) The Minnesota Vikings 2018 Record: 1-0-1
The Vikings have an incredibly talented roster from top to bottom. Two games in, new addition Kirk Cousins has made use of his offensive weapons throwing for 669 yards and six TDs. The WR duo of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, along with electric RB Dalvin Cook, are as scary as it gets to defend at their respective positions. The Vikings defense has also been the stingiest inside the red zone, allowing just two scores on nine defensive attempts (22%), which is 2nd in the NFL percent wise. On top of that, the Vikings have yet to allow a rushing TD, one of seven teams capable of saying that.
4) The Philadelphia Eagles 2018 Record: 1-1
The most talented team of last year has again been impressive to start 2018, and they played without MVP candidate Carson Wentz for the first 2 games. He is expected to be back this week, giving their team a huge boost at the position. The Eagles, 2 games in, have the 1st ranked rushing defense (58.5) and YPC allowed (2.9). As much as the Eagles have fallen victim to some big plays early on, they have stiffened in the red zone allowing 3 scores on 7 attempts (42.9%), which is tied for 8th best in the league.
5) The Kansas City Chiefs 2018 Record: 2-0
Andy Reid‘s Chiefs are fresh off a shootout win against the dysfunctional Pittsburgh Steelers. Veteran QB Alex Smith headed to Washington, paving the way for the younger Patrick Mahomes to step in. And that he has. In the small two-game sample size, he leads the NFL in TDs (10) and ranks 2nd in the NFL in YPA (10.6). Speedfreak Tyreek Hill is off to a blazing start to the year, with 259 yards and three TDs through the air. He also took a punt return 91 yards to the house. They’re going to need that offense to keep rolling, though, to counteract the fact that they are dead last in passing yards against and defensive red zone percentage.
6) The New England Patriots 2018 Record: 1-1
The defending 2018 AFC Champions have begun 2018 with more questions than answers. Two very important constants remain as fact: they have the best QB and the best coach. Following a gut-check loss to the Jags on the road, the Patriots, who are without WR Julian Edelman for the first four games (SSPD), responded by trading for talented, yet troubled, WR Josh Gordon. Gordon, if healthy and active (two big ifs), may be the best WR Tom Brady has had since Randy Moss. Incorporating Gordon in, alongside Rob Gronkowski, they should have no problem putting up points. MLB Dont’a Hightower, a defensive captain, is back from injury this year. So far, they have four takeaways, ranking 11th in drives ending in a turnover (15.4%). The four turnovers in two games is promising as they only had 18 all of 2017. They still have issues getting off the field on 3rd down, however, ranked 4th worst so far this year (48%). Additionally, they have given up 271 yards on the ground through two games.
7) The Cincinnati Bengals 2018 Record: 2-0
The Bengals are off to a very good start, especially offensively. Through 2 games, they have the NFL’s 2nd leading rusher, in 2nd year RB Joe Mixon. Veteran QB Andy Dalton has already thrown 6 TDs, 4 to the explosive WR AJ Green. The issue with the Bengals seems to lie on the defensive side. They rank 3rd in rushing defense and 2nd in YPA, however, they are giving up 332 YPG through the air. They are also the least efficient team in getting off the field on 3rd down, allowing 54.5% of conversions on 3rd down. Additionally, they have given up the 3rd most first downs (52) in 2 games. Helping to ease those woes, however, the Bengals have 5 takeaways already and are 4th best in percent of drives ending in a turnover (20.8%).
8) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2018 Record: 2-0
The Bucs are on an offensive pace that seems impossible to maintain. Ryan Fitzpatrick is leading the NFL in passing yards (819) and ranks 2nd in TDs (8). ‘Fitzmagic’, as many are calling him, isn’t casting spells, but rather using his elite cast of offensive weapons. The veteran speedster DeSean Jackson, who is leading the league in receiving yards (275), has been excellent opposite the tall, more physical WR Mike Evans. Add in two more young, talented players in WR Chris Godwin and TE O.J. Howard, this Bucs offense is for real. The Bucs, however, have been exposed defensively. They rank 2nd last in passing yards allowed and are giving up 30.5 PPG (27th). Teams have also gone for it 6 times on 4th down against the Bucs, four of which were converted, both league worsts. As a small sample it isn’t the worst stat, but does seem to indicate teams are not too scared to test this Bucs defense early on.
9) The Green Bay Packers 2018 Record: 1-0-1
The Packers were close to being 0-2. If Aaron Rodgers‘ knee had been more severely damaged, that would probably be the case. But as long as Rodgers is on the field, the Pack have a chance. He has some familiar weapons, including Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. But the Packers are ranked 25th in the league in rushing yards, and haven’t got the ground game going. They get RB Aaron Jones back from a two-game suspension this week. That could help the run game, he averaged 5.5 YPA last year in limited work, and he may be the most talented RB on their roster. Defensively, it has been tough sledding for Green Bay. They rank 7th worst in passing yards allowed and have only 1 takeaway. They have also given up the 2nd most 3rd down conversions (14) with the 6th worst conversion percentage on that down (45.2%).
10) The Miami Dolphins 2018 Record: 2-0
I am certainly sure there aren’t more than a handful of people who predicted the Dolphins would be undefeated two weeks in to the season. But that’s where they find themselves, and they have looked impressive so far. A powerful RB committee of Kenyan Drake and newly acquired veteran Frank Gore have gotten off to a hot start, as the Fins are 6th in rushing yards after two games. Ryan Tannehill has been a quality QB option early on, and should be helped when WR DeVante Parker returns from injury. The Fins defense has been great early on. They rank 5th best in opposing completion percentage (57%) and already have five interceptions, which has got them ranked 3rd in the NFL in percent of drives ending in a turnover (24%). They have only allowed four drives to enter the red zone and only allowed one score. That 25% red zone rating is currently tied for 3rd in the NFL with their in-state competitors, the Jacksonville Jaguars.