Since the NFL went to eight divisions in 2002, only two divisions have, collectively, dominated the league through two weeks like the AFC West has in 2017. Considering they've already scored a road win over the defending Super Bowl champs along with two other victories against division favorites, could this be the best division of the 32-team era?
Let’s start with the but: It’s early. Still, the numbers are undeniable. Through two weeks, the combined AFC West has been historically dominant.
Since the league went to 32 teams and eight divisions in 2002, only two divisions have posted a larger average margin of victory through two weeks (the NFC East in 2005 and 2008). No division has scored more touchdowns (30) or provided better QB play; the division’s combined 118.2 passer rating is 11 points better than any division has posted through the opening two weeks since the 32-team era began.
Stack up the Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers against the other seven divisions this year and the results are even more staggering. The AFC West is first in passing yards per attempt, rushing yards per carry, and total offensive yards. On defense, five AFC West edge defenders rank in Pro Football Focus’s top nine, contributing to the division’s league-leading 50 QB hits, while four of the site's top seven corners patrol the secondary.
The stats are even more impressive when you consider the competition they’ve come against. Teams in the AFC West have already beaten the odds-on favorites to win the AFC East (Patriots), AFC South (Titans), and NFC East (Cowboys), the former two on the road. They've scored on Dick LeBeau and Jim Schwartz and they've stymied Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott. The AFC West is 5-1 in inter-division play; if Younghoe Koo's 44-yard field-goal attempt had sailed a few feet to the left in the final moments of the Chargers' loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, they'd be 6-0.
Trevor Siemian appears ready to lead Denver. A healthy Justin Houston has pushed Kansas City’s defense into elite territory. Marshawn Lynch has brought physicality and attitude in Oakland. We might be on the verge of watching one of the great three-way rivalries in football history play out. Lucky us! (And unlucky Chargers!)
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NOW ON THE MMQB: Jenny Vrentas analyzes Ben McAdoo's criticism of Eli Manning ... Albert Breer says Ezekiel Elliott still doesn't get it ... Breer also introduces his 2018 NFL Draft Big Board, with an assist from a handful of team scouts ... and more in our archive.
LATER TODAY ON THE MMQB: Jonathan Jones on Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian's public battle with alcoholism ... Tim Rohan visits the Ravens cafeteria ... Andy Benoit breaks down the rising Steelers defense ... Michael Beller updates his fantasy rankings ... and more. Stay tuned.
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1. More news out of Dallas (as always):
—Jerry Jones defended Ezekiel Elliott by pointing out a general lack of effort from his team.
—Tim Cowlishaw wrote about the different ways Jason Garrett talks about Dak Prescott and Elliott.
—For a refresher (that is anything but refreshing), Brandon George recently wrote a lengthy story on Elliott's past behavior and how the team treats him, like the fact they haven't assigned a full-time shadow to him, as they once did for Dez Bryant.
2. ...and in the NFC East's other drama epicenter:
—Mike Jones fills in some holes of the Su'a Cravens saga.
—Talented tackle Trent Williams discussed his past marijuana use in a great Master Tesfatsion feature.
3. The New York Times reports on a study that showed, "Athletes who began playing tackle football before the age of 12 had more behavioral and cognitive problems later in life than those who started playing after they turned 12." The results fall in line with previous studies, but this one was based on behavioral changes of survey participants rather than physical comparisons of the brain.
4. Two notable personnel moves:
—The Saints traded former first-round linebacker Stephone Anthony to the Dolphins for a draft pick after Miami suspended LB Lawrence Timmons.
—Panthers tight end Greg Olsen was officially put on injured reserve, though Carolina is hopeful he can return this year.
5. Since Marshawn Lynch got hurt in 2015, the Seahawks have used 14 running backs (14!). Is Chris Carson the guy to end the search? If so, it's quite a happy ending for a player whose NFL dreams once took him to Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas.
6. Reportedly, former All-Pro cornerback Charles Tillman is training to be an FBI agent, but when asked, a spokesman for the Chicago branch said, "We don't speak about personnel matters." (I didn't know Bill Belichick was moonlighting at the bureau...)
7. Lost in the sadness of the Chargers' L.A. debut, Jay Cutler was pretty good.
8. A couple meta pieces: Kevin Clark goes through the possible explanations for "How Football Stopped Being Fun," while Spencer Hall blames a group of owners who are "fat, lazy, and locked into a business model they have no real reason or incentive to change, even with falling TV ratings."
9. Raiders corner David Amerson on returning to Washington, which cut him in 2015: “Any time you go somewhere that gave up on you, you want to go out there and kind of throw it in their face,” Amerson said. “I’m expecting us to go in there and really bring it to ’em. Hopefully we go out there and do that. But it’s not personal, not really.” No, not at all.
10. Tiki and Ronde Barber are going to call the game between their two former teams (the Giants and Bucs) Sunday as part of Fox's effort to drive fan interest.
Have a story you think we should include in tomorrow’s Press Coverage? Let me know here.
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In advance of their game in London Sunday, the Ravens tweeted a promotional photo featuring Queen Elizabeth II with the Ravens' bird logo painted across her face, red iris included. Honestly I'm still too shook to formulate a joke about it.