Is two games a sufficient sample size to obtain relevant information about an NFL team’s prospects? Probably not.
Has that ever stopped anyone from making definitive statements about teams and the potential outcome of their seasons? You already know the answer to that.
But one thing no one – not even the loudest talker – can say for sure, is that they know who the front runners in NFC are.
Many in the AFC are already scrambling to crown the Buffalo Bills. An extremely compelling case can be made for the Chiefs, and perhaps even the Los Angeles Chargers, if they can save Justin Herbert from further injury.
The NFC, however? This is an extremely difficult conference to decipher at this early stage.
That’s not to say there aren’t great teams. On the contrary, there are six who seem to have an excellent shot at representing the NFC in the Super Bowl, as they all rank in the top 10 of Stats Perform’s power rankings.
Two of them will go head-to-head on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Green Bay Packers in what may be the final meeting of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, who met in the NFC Championship Game two seasons ago. The Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams will visit the San Francisco 49ers in a replay of last year’s title game in Week 4.
But who in this group has the best shot? Stats Perform used its advanced data to examine the case for each of the six cases.
Power Rank: 1
The Eagles have lived up to their offseason hype so far, with Jalen Hurts piloting an efficient offense for two weeks that is the most explosive in the NFL.
In fact, the Eagles are fourth on offense in yards per play, while prior to Thursday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, no team in the NFL had produced more plays of 10 yards or more than Philadelphia’s 39.
AJ Brown, their blockbuster draft day trade acquisition, quickly forged an excellent relationship with Hurts. The former Tennessee Titans wide receiver has burned 14 of his 21 targets, d ).
The threat Hurts pose in the running game has helped Philadelphia streak 189.5 yards per game on the ground, only behind the Browns. Although a small sample, the Eagles’ early success on the ground shows how difficult it is to stop them with the variety of their attacks.
There’s more reason for doubt on defense, with a three-interception try against the Minnesota Vikings that saw the Eagles concede just seven points after a 38-35 shootout with the Detroit Lions. However, on a very favorable schedule, defensive errors may not be properly tested by Week 12 against the Packers, allowing Philadelphia to move into first position to compete for the NFC’s top seed.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Power Rank: 4th
Tampa Bay’s average lead over two games is 13 points. The Bucs defeated the Dallas Cowboys 19-3 and eventually emerged 20-10 victors from a fistfight with the New Orleans Saints.
Still, it’s hard to call their start to the season overly impressive, at least by Brady’s high standards.
The Bucs have only scored two offensive touchdowns as they struggled with injuries at the wide receiver position and struggled on the much-changed offensive line interior.
Instead of Brady getting off to a hot start to the season, which he originally decided against, the Bucs’ defense paved the way.
There were 182 seconds left in their game with the Saints when they conceded a touchdown for the first time this season, with the Bucs conceding just 4.25 yards per game, the third-least in the NFL.
Rodgers and Green Bay will test their qualifications early and rigorously, but there are indications the Bucs will eventually have a recipe for a potential second championship run in three seasons.
Despite all the protection issues before him, Brady has delivered a well-thrown ball on 81.7 percent of his pass attempts and thrown just one eligible pass in 60 throws. Given the level of play on defense and the weapons the Bucs have yet to return, it stands to reason that they will soon be delivering much more complete performances that will greatly enhance their reputation as competitors.
Los Angeles Rams
Power Rank: 3
The Rams were beaten by Buffalo on the night they raised their Super Bowl banner before surviving a notable late scare against the lowly Atlanta Falcons. The Rams don’t look like a team ready to repeat themselves.
They’re still third in the power rankings, but there are plenty of red flags surrounding the Rams this embryonic season.
It is passport protection that is the most pressing problem. Matthew Stafford was under constant pressure in the first set and injuries up front have further damaged the Rams’ cause, handicapping Stafford to the point where he’s averaging nearly half a yard short of expected passing situations.
With 58 total points allowed, significant improvements are also needed on defense.
However, Aaron Donald already has a league-leading 17 pressure and Jalen Ramsey provided the crucial end zone interception against Atlanta and that often crucial star power makes the Rams a difficult team to count on, especially in a game against an Arizona Cardinals team, that they consistently dominated on the horizon in week 3.
San Francisco 49ers
Power Rank: 5
The biggest threat facing the Rams from within their own division comes from the team, which picked up an injury that would have dashed the hopes of most teams in the league.
San Francisco quarterback Trey Lance lost in just his second game of his first season as a starter in the 49ers’ 27-7 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
By keeping Jimmy Garoppolo on with a restructured contract, the 49ers gave themselves an insurance policy that can keep them firmly in the mix even without Lance.
Garoppolo propelled the 49ers to the brink of Super Bowl glory in the 2019 season and last season’s NFC Championship Game, and while the Niners’ ceiling may be lowered without Lance, the roster’s bottom has been of Super Bowl caliber from the former raised New England Patriots’ return to the lineup.
Despite suffering an upset at the hands of the Chicago Bears in Week 1, the 49ers have one of the most complete rosters in the league and their defense is off to a great start, allowing for the second fewest yards per game (4.08) in the NFL.
It was expected that the security position could be a weakness. Instead, it’s been an unexpected strength so far, as has an inexperienced and remodeled offensive line that has won 81.6 percent of its pass-blocking matches. It will be difficult to identify an obvious flaw in this team if pass protection continues to be excellent, with play in the trenches becoming even more critical given Garoppolo’s long injury history.
Power Rank: 8th
Hopes that Kevin O’Connell’s Vikings could become one of the most dynamic attacking teams in football were dashed by Monday’s 24-7 loss to the Eagles.
Despite another meltdown in Kirk Cousins’ prime time, the Vikings have the makeup of a team that could manage to go deep into the NFC playoffs if things go right.
They demonstrated just how dangerous O’Connell’s offense can be in their opening win over the Packers, with Justin Jefferson armed by the former Rams assistant’s complex attack.
Despite being held in check by Philadelphia, Jefferson’s 8.5 burn yards per goal is the fifth-highest among receivers with at least 10 goals in their first two games.
The offensive line remains an issue, but early signs are suggesting the Vikings’ defensive front will tip games in their favor after already registering six sacks from negative mileage.
Cousins delivers the ball accurately and has a good throwing rate of 86.5 percent, and while there are questions about his ability to play in the brightest spotlight, a 10-game schedule against 2021 non-playoff teams could deny the Vikings Victory brings edge to their division rivals in the battle for the NFL’s postseason pressure cooker.
Green Bay packers
Power Rank: 9th
The Packers ironed out the poor start in a Week 1 loss in Minnesota that left Aaron Rodgers visibly upset. However, normal service resumed in the routine Week 2 win over the Bears.
Green Bay’s problem is that the Packers have a list where multiple holes can be selected. The offensive line is struggling with David Bakhtiari’s prolonged absence at left tackle, while Packers’ hopes of repairing their perpetually porous running defense have yet to materialize. They gave up 5.56 yards per game on the ground, fourth most in the NFL.
Rodgers has yet to develop a relationship with a fledgling receiver corps as the Packers seek to move beyond the Davante Adams saga and potential trade with the Las Vegas Raiders. Although the lack of connection stems more from a lack of confidence in his inexperienced wideouts’ ability to catch the ball than worries about their success in creating a breakup.
Second-round pick Christian Watson has recorded an impressive 14.4 burn yards per target on the small sample size of seven targets. With Rodgers delivering a well-thrown ball on 89.3 percent of his attempts, it might not be too long before Watson becomes a more important part of the passing game, although the Packers are gaining diversity with running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon at the same time Feld efficiently maintain offense no matter how the wideouts develop.
Jones, arguably one of the most complete defensemen in the NFL, has put up big play on three of his eight goals this season, forcing the defense to respect both the run and the pass when he and Dillon get into two running back- Staff groups are set up.
The Packers’ secondary, despite being shredded by Jefferson in Week 1, sits in the top 12 in allowable open percentage, while the strength of their defensive line puts Green Bay in the top 12 in pass rush win percentage Has.
Both the front and back of the Green Bay defense have the talent to climb much higher up those lists, and if such advances are accompanied by Rodgers developing an understanding of his new weapons, the Packers will likely soon have a compelling case for it who want to be conference elite.