Only three weeks into the new NFL season, its 100th, and already trends are beginning to emerge and a number of teams are focussed either on a run towards the playoffs or seeking to salvage their season. Who’s up, who’s down?
Vikings Cook-ing on gas
In 2018 the Vikings limped to a 8-7-1, missing out on the playoffs for the second time in two years. I would include myself in the camp of non-believers in Kirk Cousins and his ability to deliver in the big-game environment for Minnesota. However, the early season form of Dalvin Cook (375 yards 4TDs) is very encouraging. The Vikings are leaning heavily on the success of the run game to power their offense and control the clock. In doing so they are going to open up greater opportunities for Kirk Cousins to utilise his receivers (Diggs, Thielen, Irv Smith Jr). The defense looks as strong as previous years and Minnesota look in good shape to improve their 2018 showing. A huge test awaits next week away at divisional rivals the Chicago Bears. The winner of that matchup will be right up there in the mix in the NFC North which is……..
The division on the up
Take a bow the NFC North – all four sides have shown promising early season form. Green Bay, with Mr Grumpy Aaron Rodgers at the helm, are unbeaten with fast starts by the offense the last 2 weeks. The defense has been retooled with the offseason acquisitions (Adrian Amos from the Bears, the Smiths at LB Preston and Za’Darius, and Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage Jr from the draft). Two tough games home to the Eagles and at the Cowboys are next up for the Packers.
Hot on their heels are the Detroit Lions, who are unbeaten. I’ll say it again, the Lions are unbeaten! Love what Matt Patricia is building in Detroit. They are standing up and playing tough and it is getting rewards. Their victory last week at the Eagles almost made my performance of the week. Again, the next few weeks are tough – Kansas City next followed by tough divisional games against Green Bay and Minnesota. Make it through that and they could challenge for the NFC North.
As mentioned earlier, the Vikings will be competitive and the Chicago Bears will fight all the way to defend their divisional title. You could see both wildcard teams coming from the NFC North this year. That, in part, is because….
Some division titles already look like a procession
The Dallas Cowboys are 2 games clear of the NFC field and the performances of their rivals as well as their own early season dominance suggests this one will be wrapped up well before Christmas. In the AFC West it is a similar scenario for Kansas City with none of their rivals impressing. The Patriots are level with the Bills in the AFC South at 3-0 but they will surely pull away in time with the Dolphins and Jets in freefall. Ditto in the NFC West where eventually the Rams will pull away from the 49ers and Seahawks. I would even suggest that, although the Baltimore are one game clear of Cleveland, the Ravens are a class apart in the AFC North.
That only leaves the South in both conferences as wide open. In the NFC the Saints still look favourites but must do without Brees for a month. The Panthers actually look better without Cam and if Atlanta could win on the road they could challenge. Tampa shot themselves in the foot last week but, one missed field goal aside, they could have been joint leaders at this point.
So, my early season predictions for divisional winners and wildcards are:
AFC: Patriots, Chiefs, Ravens, Texans (WC: Colts, Bills)
NFC: Cowboys, Rams, Packers, Saints (WC: Vikings, Lions)
Performance of the week
Sorry, I’m biased, easy one – step forward Daniel Jones aka Danny Dimes. When i hit the hay on Sunday night the Giants were 28-10 down. I could not believe my eyes next morning. The whole franchise is invigorated. I know the defense still stinks the place out at times, Saquon is out for what is probably at least 6 weeks and it is only one game but the sun is shining again out in New Jersey. Bring on the Redskins (and hopefully Dwayne Haskins so we can witness the first tussle between these two which I think will become one of the great matchups of the next decade).
Look ahead to week 4 match ups – my 4 to watch
My week 3 predictions were 2 out of 4 with one spot on (Rams beating Browns by 7) and almost a second as Chiefs beat Ravens by 5 (I said 6). I’m .500 the last 2 weeks so lets try to improve.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Green Bay Packers – the Eagles were mauled by the Lions last week and the Packers have started fast but petered out two games in a row. I’m backing Philadelphia to rebound in order to keep Dallas in sight. Eagles by 4.
Cleveland Browns @ Baltimore Ravens – are the Browns up for a divisional fight? These are the two real contenders for the NFC North. Lamar Jackson looks legit and gave Pat Mahomes a run for his money last week. Ravens by 7.
Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears – both are 2-1 and this could get ugly. I expect both defenses to be on top but the Vikings have the greater weaponry at their disposal. Minnesota by 6.
Dallas Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints – the Cowboys look imperious whereas the Saints showed it is not just about Drew Brees last week with a huge win up in Seattle. I’m going for Dallas to put down a marker of NFC dominance this week, Cowboys by 9.
Same time next week!