After Week 2, Buffalo Bills lead the list of most surprising 2-0 teams
With Week 2 almost entirely in the books, here's a look at some of the most surprising teams to start 2-0 this season:
Not to minimize in any way that the Bills are off to an excellent start, but they have faced two quarterbacks, Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill, who seemed intent on giving up opportunities (and footballs) to the opponent. Buffalo beat the Bears 23-20 in the opener in part because Cutler threw two mind-boggling interceptions, and in their 29-10 home-opening win over the Dolphins, Tannehill was missing people left and right in an unbalanced offense that saw him throw 49 passes, and that offense fell apart when Knowshon Moreno left with a dislocated elbow that will have the star running back missing 4-8 weeks.
Still, credit the Bills for doing what needed to be done, especially on defense. Cornerback Corey Graham has been playing at a lights-out level this season, and he frequently jumped routes that Tannehill's receivers were trying to complete. Linebacker Preston Brown, the man in Buffalo's plan to replace the injured Kiko Alonso, led all Bills defenders with 13 tackles. And on offense, quarterback EJ Manuel (more of a liability than not in his rookie season of 2013) was efficient enough, completing 16-of-26 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown. Rookie receiver Sammy Watkins caught eight of those passes for 117 yards, and C.J. Spiller was in the spotlight in the running game and on special teams, where he returned a kick 102 yards for a touchdown.
The Bills are alone atop the AFC East, and it doesn't appear to be a fluke. They're a good team, solidly built, and while the playoffs may be too much to ask for in 2014, they're certainly rolling in the right direction.
Of course, the Texans are the poster children for the "2-0 doesn't always mean something" campaign -- they started the 2013 season off with two straight wins before dropping 14 straight. But under new coach Bill O'Brien, things do feel a bit different -- the Texans absolutely rolled over the Raiders in Week 2, 30-14, and there was more going on than J.J. Watt's first offensive touchdown. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick did exactly what his talent level demands that he do -- manage the game without screwing anything up. He completed 14-of-19 passes for 139 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Fitzpatrick's other scoring pass was a pretty throw to second-year receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who made a brilliant play with 8:29 left in the third quarter. Kareem Jackson and Brooks Reed came up with interceptions of Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr (who would be pretty special if he had anyone around him), and the Raiders got absolutely nothing going on the ground -- Carr was the team's leading rusher.
Perhaps most importantly, Houston's rushing attack was effective for the second straight week, as Arian Foster racked up 138 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. Foster had 103 yards on 27 carries against the Redskins in the season-opener, and while O'Brien should keep an eye on Foster's workload over time, it's pretty clear that this is a different Texans team than the one that went flat after that 2-0 start last season.
Maybe the Panthers going 2-0 isn't quite as surprising as it is for the Bills and Texans -- after all, this was a 12-4, division-winning team last season. But the combination of losing Cam Newton's three top receivers in free agency, not having Newton for the season-opener due to a rib injury, and basically having to deactivate defensive end Greg Hardy in the face of massive public outcry ... well, you could understand if the Panthers had a faceplant or two in the early part of their 2014 campaign. But the Panthers did well with Derek Anderson at quarterback in the season-opener against Tampa Bay, and when Newton came back for the Week 2 game against the Lions, it was all systems go. Newton completed 22-of-34 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown, and Greg Olsen, Jason Avant and Kelvin Benjamin have each stepped up as Newton's targets this time around.
On defense, the absence of Hardy was hardly felt because Mario Addison registered 2.5 sacks as Hardy's primary replacement, and even Calvin Johnson was relatively limited, with just six catches for 83 yards. Newton was sacked five times, which leads to more questions about Carolina's suspect offensive line, but when you're sitting atop the NFC South as the Panthers are, it's OK to take a few minutes before thinking about that.