The NFL acronym stands for National Football League, but there’s a reason many people term it “Not For Long,” as things can change quickly from week to week, month to month and season to season. As we look ahead to Week 3 action, there are some expected playoff contenders in the AFC that have yet to get a victory, and history has shown us that a winless start through three weeks is essentially a death blow to playoff chances. With that in mind, consider Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Tennessee and Las Vegas on notice this week.
Last week, I warned about the danger of overreacting to Week 1 performances. Then, in the NFC, some teams that looked great in their openers, like the Vikings, fell on their faces, while other expected contenders, such as the Cowboys, Packers, Rams and 49ers, rebounded from dreadful opening acts to score key wins.
Let’s take a look at how it all impacted my strength ratings as we head into a big Week 3 slate of games.
Power Ratings: Buffalo has separated itself as No. 1
Since its shaky Week 1 first-half performance against the Rams, the Bills have put together three dominant halves of football and at this point, look to be the team to beat. We already knew how good the offense would be behind MVP candidate QB Josh Allen, but so far in 2022, the defense looks just as good. Kansas City stays in the No. 2 position following a 27-24 win over the Chargers that could have easily gone the other way if not for a key interception return touchdown that amounted to a 14-point swing. Tampa Bay holds down the No. 3 spot and hosts No. 4 Green Bay in this weekend’s biggest game. Houston finds itself at the bottom of the list, with a power rating 16 points worse than the top-running Bills.
Biggest upward movers after Week 2
1. Philadelphia Eagles (+ 3 points)
The Eagles have knocked off NFC North teams in back-to-back weeks and QB Jalen Hurts is off to a fantastic start. He has injected himself into the MVP conversation. The defense made Minnesota look bad on Monday night. Up next is a first divisional game at Washington, a place the Eagles haven’t played very well of late.
2. San Francisco 49ers (+ 2.5 points)
Despite the long-term injury to QB Trey Lance, the 49ers get a big boost in the Power Ratings after their easy 27-7 win over Seattle. Re-signing Jimmy Garoppolo proved to be a huge move as the former starter took over right where he left off in January and had a nice game in relief of Lance. He is now the man in San Francisco. It says something when those setting the odds don’t move a team down after a starting quarterback injury.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (+ 2.5 points)
The Jaguars are a couple of mistakes in their season-opening loss to Washington away from being 2-0. After their 24-0 shutout win over the Colts on Sunday, it can be said with confidence that this team is at the least competitive again. They are actually leading the brutal AFC South. Sunday’s game at the Chargers will be a true barometer as to how far they have come.
4. New York Jets (+ 2 points)
The Jets got a gutty late win at Cleveland, scoring 31 points, including a touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to rookie Garrett Wilson with 22 seconds left. In all of the 2021 season, the Jets topped the 30-point mark just once. It’s an encouraging sign as they prepare to host the winless defending AFC champion Bengals on Sunday.
Biggest downward movers
1. Indianapolis Colts (-2 points)
Now granted, the Colts have been known to struggle at Jacksonville, as they’ve lost seven straight ATS, but to get shut out and lose by 24 points is inexcusable. This team has put together ugly back-to-back performances to start the season and looks nothing like the divisional favorite they were expected to be.
2. Seattle Seahawks (-1.5 points)
After the huge emotional win over former Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and Denver in Week 1, Seattle came back down to earth at San Francisco on Sunday. Since halftime of the Broncos game, coach Pete Carroll’s team has looked inept on offense, almost as if only a single half of film for its opponents was enough to stimy the game plan.
3. Tennessee Titans (-1.5 points)
You have to credit fans of certain organizations for the “feel” they have for their team. The mood describing the Titans before the 2022 season could only be described as pessimistic. Well, the team has lived up to the billing, starting 0-2 including a drubbing at Buffalo on Monday night. While not a “must win” in the putrid AFC South yet, Tennessee’s home game vs. Las Vegas on Sunday is extremely important for both winless teams.
4. Denver Broncos (-1.5 points)
Denver got a win Sunday over Houston, but it was in ugly fashion, and there are already huge question marks surrounding this expected playoff hopeful. The acquisition of QB Russell Wilson hasn’t exactly clicked yet as he has looked uncomfortable, to say the least. It might take just one strong outing for this team to break out, but it’s difficult to expect it when the Broncos have scored only 32 points in the first two games.
5. Minnesota Vikings (-1.5 points)
After winning what could be dubbed their “Super Bowl” in Week 1 over rival Green Bay, Minnesota looked unmotivated to compete against the Eagles on the road on Monday night. It felt like the “same old Vikings” after what was a very encouraging start, and the Eagles' defense was able to quickly take any magic out of new coach Kevin O’Connell’s offensive attack.
Effective Strength Ratings
Buffalo maintains its top spot in the Effective Strength indicator, in fact, separating itself a bunch after two impressive wins to start the season. The Bills’ ESR of 11.2 is 3.5 points better than anyone else in the NFL at this point. Second on the list is Tampa Bay at 7.7, while Kansas City remains third at 6.6. On the move upward after big Week 2 wins are Green Bay and Philadelphia. At the bottom of this list, you’ll find Atlanta at -8.7. To put that in perspective, on a neutral field, using the ESR as a barometer, the Bills would be expected to be 19.9-point favorites over the Falcons. Houston is next to the bottom at -7.7, while the Jets get a bump up to 30th after their win at Cleveland. The current Effective Strength Ratings are based mostly on adjustments to last season’s finishing numbers at this point and will be fully updated to 2022 season figures after next week’s games.
The Bettors Ratings are a reflection of what the betting markets think about the teams in pro football in 2022. My calculations for the opening of any season in this measurement are based on last year’s finishing position, any adjustments made to overall strength since the end of last season, plus any unusual futures markets differing from my projections. Buffalo is currently the highest-rated team in my Bettors Ratings, with a 0.9-point edge over the Chiefs (-9.4 to -8.5) and a 3.1-point edge over Tampa Bay (-9.4 to -6.3). In the case of the BRs, the more negative the better, as a minus number indicates a team would be a favorite over an average NFL team in a neutral game. The Seahawks are the lowest-rated team at + 5.6, 0.2 points worse than the Texans at + 5.4. To use these ratings appropriately, the Bills would currently be set up as a 15-point favorite over the Seahawks on a neutral field. Keep an eye on Cleveland and Indianapolis, two teams the betting markets currently find definitively better than my Power Ratings.
The Recent Ratings also show Buffalo in the lead, not surprising considering the Bills have won their first two games by 27.5 PPG. I have decided to use only the first two games of this season as the basis for these recent ratings this week to provide readers with a better snapshot of what we’ve witnessed in the first two games. From that, you’ll see that Tampa Bay, at No. 2, doesn’t seem to be getting credit for its two impressive season-opening wins. The Bucs have allowed just 13 points as they get ready to host QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in a huge Week 3 contest. Philadelphia and Miami have also been quite strong in their first two victories and occupy the Nos. 3 and 4 spots. On the opposite end, note that two AFC South teams, the Texans and Colts have gotten off to the worst starts, statistically speaking. It will be interesting to see where these numbers go after another full week of action. Are the Eagles and Dolphins for real? Are the Bengals and Colts as bad as they’ve looked?
Schedule Strength Ratings
The Schedule Strength Ratings, reflecting the difficulty of each team’s 2022 schedule, shows Dallas as the team that has faced the most difficult two-game slate to open the season. The Cowboys’ average opponent power rating of 28 would be the equivalent of playing the Chargers in back-to-back weeks on a neutral field. The Chargers have played the second-toughest schedule so far, followed by Arizona and Tennessee. Denver and San Francisco have tied for playing the easiest pair of opponents to date, each sharing an SOS of 18. Interestingly, those two teams square off on Sunday night, and neither would appear to be ready for prime time based on the strength of opponents they have played so far.