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Not all of this year's 2-0 teams should start making plans for the NFL playoffs.
Winning out in the first two weeks of the season is typically a promising sign for the postseason, with 63.8% of 2-0 teams since 1990 – when the league expanded the field to 12 teams before bumping it to 14 in 2020 – having made the cut. And in 2022, all six of the teams that got off to a perfect start through Week 2 made it into the playoffs.
That won't be the case with this season's crop, however. Seven of the nine teams that are still unbeaten are from the NFC, but none come from the NFC North – which means at least one outfit in this group will find itself at home in mid-January.
With that in mind, we attempted to sort through all of the 2-0 teams to determine which are contenders, which are still in wait-and-see mode and which are fool's gold. Here are our rankings based on the teams' legitimacy as Super Bowl contenders:
1. San Francisco 49ers
Hard to find much fault with arguably the NFL's most talented overall roster, which has led the 49ers to consecutive NFC championship game appearances. San Francisco has proven it can either steamroll opponents, as it did in its resounding Week 1 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers, or outlast them even when not everything is working correctly, which was the case in the Week 2 win over the Los Angeles Rams.
The 49ers, however, are not without their vulnerabilities. Brock Purdy missed several deep shots against the Rams, and similar lapses could prove costly later in the season. Meanwhile, Nick Bosa's slow start to the season after his extended holdout has reinforced that pressure is the determining factor for the quality of the defense's play. But Purdy and the 49ers simply have a greater margin for error than almost every other team thanks to the wealth of game breakers on both sides of the ball, with Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and others able to shoulder the load when things aren't fully clicking. And if Purdy does find his footing on those downfield throws, the 49ers might be the most imposing team to match up with come playoff time.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
The aerial attack isn't exactly flying, with its 162.5 yards per game ranking 29th in the league. Maybe that's not a big deal when the run game can average 5.4 yards per carry, as it did in last Thursday's victory over the Minnesota Vikings. But Nick Sirianni and Co. know that the offense can't stay grounded for too much longer.
Still, this is the problem that typically arises for all teams after a breakout: lots of confounding defensive looks and attempts to bottle up big plays. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs solved the riddle, and it seems like a good bet that Philadelphia will find some kind of answer in the coming months, too. So long as Jalen Hurts stays patient and willing to take what he is given, the defending NFC champions should be in solid shape.
3. Dallas Cowboys
No one can match the Cowboys' level of dominance, as their +60 point differential is twice as much as the next closest team (the 49ers). But what long-term signifiers can be extracted from two romps against overmatched foes in the New York Giants and Aaron Rodgers-less New York Jets?
For one, the Micah Parsons-led defense is every bit as imposing as it seems. Dan Quinn's units have long been known for their penchant for racking up takeaways (seven so far) and sacks (10), but the level of talent and depth makes this year's group particularly difficult to crack. But while Dak Prescott has yet to throw an interception and looked in sync with his receivers in two efficient outings, Dallas' three stalled trips to the red zone on Sunday look foreboding. Will a methodical approach be enough to keep pace with the likes of the 49ers and Eagles? The answer might be forthcoming, as Week 5 marks San Francisco playing host to the team it eliminated the past two postseasons.
4. Miami Dolphins
Sunday night's win over the New England Patriots wasn't the scintillating performance that has become the standard for Mike McDaniel's group, but it reflected a key moment for the Dolphins. This is now an adaptable group that can find multiple ways to win, even if it means pivoting from their typical operating procedure.
With the Patriots taking away the big-play looks and daring Tua Tagovailoa to chip away at Bill Belichick's defense, the Dolphins quarterback utilized a patient and discerning approach to do just that. Mastering that tack should serve Miami well down the stretch, as other teams will likely try to replicate the effort to bottle up Tyreek Hill. And even though the defense got after Mac Jones and made major strides in stopping the run after a Week 1 gashing by the Los Angeles Chargers, it still feels like the best is yet to come from a group that will get back budding standout pass rusher Jaelan Phillips in the short term and star cornerback Jalen Ramsey in the long term.
Wait and see
5. Baltimore Ravens
It sure would be easier to get a handle on this team if it could stay healthy. Due for better luck on the injury front after last year's campaign was derailed by an assortment of ailments, Baltimore still went into its Week 2 matchup against the rival Cincinnati Bengals down six starters – and won.
Lamar Jackson won't be hitting that 6,000-yard mark he joked about, but the quarterback is looking revitalized in Todd Monken's much-hyped offense. A favorable early-season schedule should allow the attack to smooth out its other early issues and provide opportunities for the Ravens to build a lead in the division. With more showings like Sunday's, Baltimore could have a strong case to move up to the next tier. Until then, this team is one notch below.
6. New Orleans Saints
On the whole, the on-field results have not been tremendously heartening, as New Orleans has the lowest point differential (+4) of any undefeated team despite facing subpar opponents in the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers. But there are positive signs, as well as reasons to believe things should improve in key areas.
Derek Carr's adjustment to his new team hasn't been the Big Easy, with some rough patches along the way for the former Las Vegas Raiders quarterback. But some early hiccups were to be expected, and Alvin Kamara's return from a three-game suspension should invigorate both the passing attack and the off-kilter run game. If Carr does settle in soon, he should be able to ignite some big plays thanks to his impressive receiving corps of Chris Olave, Michael Thomas and Rashid Shaheed. Meanwhile, the defense hasn't ceded 20 or more points to an opponent in 10 consecutive games. In all, there's no reason at the moment to bump this team from its perch as the presumptive NFC South front-runner, though any ambitions beyond a division title might seem questionable.
7. Atlanta Falcons
Credit Arthur Smith for concocting an offense that flies in the face of prevailing NFL wisdom and making it work. Atlanta is running the ball on a league-high 56.35% of its plays, with rookie phenom Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier keeping things rolling for an attack that managed to come back from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers. And on defense, a collection of veterans added this offseason has elevated the unit, which ranks third in yards allowed (252.5 per game) after taking advantage two teams breaking in new starting quarterbacks.
But Atlanta has its own significant problem behind center. Despite starting four games last year, Desmond Ridder has appeared out of sorts at times. The young signal-caller was lucky not to finish with three interceptions against Green Bay, which failed to haul in two easy would-be turnovers. There's reason to believe in his potential for growth thanks to some of his savvy plays on Sunday, particularly as a runner. But until this group puts together a more tenable passing attack, the Falcons can't be considered a contender for anything more than the NFC South crown.
8. Washington Commanders
Washington ushered in a new era under owner Josh Harris by reaching the franchise's first 2-0 start since 2011. That Rex Grossman-led team, however, went on to lose seven of its next eight games and finish 5-11, so Commanders fans should be on guard against any unchecked optimism.
Given the underwhelming level of competition, this seems much more like an aberration than an indicator of sustainable success. But the Commanders' best formula for making noise and possibly sneaking into a watered-down NFC playoff field remains the same: lean on the talented defensive line to create havoc while hoping that Sam Howell provides some big-play sparks. So far, that approach looks viable, with the 35 points Washington scored Sunday in its wild win against the Denver Broncos marking the most the team has scored since November 2020. But upcoming tilts against the Buffalo Bills and Eagles could further highlight Washington's protection problems as well as the overall limitations of this roster.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After two weeks, it's apparent that Baker Mayfield and the Buccaneers are a fitting pair. The quarterback and his new team each were largely written off even before they paired up, and Mayfield's appointment as starter drew chortles from those who saw him as an unworthy successor to Tom Brady. But the former No. 1 pick has done exactly what's asked of him: distribute the ball to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and keep the offense on schedule.
Still, this outfit feels bound for a regression to the mean, especially with defenses more formidable than those of the Vikings and Chicago Bears ahead. Mayfield's moxie can only carry this offense so far, and a first-place schedule puts them at a disadvantage relative to their NFC South competition. Keep them in the mix for the division for now, but Todd Bowles' crew still has to prove it has staying power.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL 2-0 teams ranked by legitimacy: Are Cowboys, Dolphins for real?