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NFC assessment after two weeks

Assessment: the NFC West is still really good

Washington Football Team v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

There are five 2-0 teams in the NFC and three of them are in the NFC West: The Rams, Cardinals and Seahawks. The other two are in the North, the Packers and Bears. It would be surprising if all five of these teams could hold their advantages over the next 14 games and make the playoffs. It is possible thanks to the extra wild card berth now, but surprising.

Maybe a little less surprising though given the six teams in the NFC who’ve started 0-2 and the rash of injuries that’s hit the 1-1 49ers.

Over their next seven games, the Rams will play three teams who have started 2-0: the Bills next week, the Bears in Week 7 on Monday Night Football and the Seahawks in Week 10. To win the NFC West, Los Angeles might need to find a way to reach 12 or more wins. A wild card, maybe 10. It depends of course on how their competition does also.

Here’s a brief assessment on that competition through two games:

Arizona Cardinals (2-0)

Last week: Cardinals 30, Football Team 15

So far, the plan is working. The only thing not quite as explosive as expected is Kyler Murray’s passing but they haven’t need it yet. The Cardinals are fifth in rushing yards, third in rushing attempts and second in points allowed. Murray has carried the ball 21 times for 158 yards and three touchdowns, gaining 98 yards on nine scrambles.

Kenyan Drake has 146 yards on 36 carries. Hopkins has caught 22 of 25 attempts for 219 yards and one touchdown but so far Arizona doesn’t have a second threat in the passing game. Larry Fitzgerald has 84 yards on 11 catches and the training camp hype around second year receiver Andy Isabella has turned into 67 yards on two catches, his only two targets of the season.

The Rams have Jalen Ramsey to combat the Hopkins effect so if that works as planned, where would Murray turn next?

Defensively they already have seven sacks by seven different players and that doesn’t include rookie Isaiah Simmons, who is struggling in these early moments of his NFL career.

Skeptics will argue that they only beat Washington and a banged up Niners team that could have gotten the win if Jimmy Garoppolo had a better target to throw to than Trent Taylor on the final drive that reached Arizona’s red zone. The schedule may not get any tougher in the next month though: Lions, at Panthers, at Jets and at Cowboys on Monday Night Football until they host the Seahawks on October 25.

Seattle Seahawks (2-0)

Last week: Seahawks 35, Patriots 30

It would be hard to ignore the noise about Russell Wilson’s first two games, which penetrated past the walls of Seattle on Sunday night with a close primetime win against Cam Newton and Wilson’s five touchdowns he found through the slight gaps in Bill Belichick’s New England defense.

Over the last eight quarters of football: 82.5-percent completions, 610 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception returned for a touchdown off a deflection through a Seattle receiver’s hands.

Well past the days of Marshawn Lynch plowing open opportunities for the offense, Pete Carroll may test the waters of seeing how successful the Seahawks could be if they had an MVP quarterback. The three other QBs to throw at least nine touchdowns over Weeks 1-2 were Drew Brees in 2009 (Super Bowl, Bert Bell award), Peyton Manning in 2013 (Super Bowl appearance, MVP) and Patrick Mahomes in 2018 (MVP).

But this may only be possible because of Seattle’s fortunate opportunity to draft DK Metcalf at the end of the second round in 2019, as Metcalf has caught eight passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns. He’s prone to drops also but is the literal and figurative biggest weapon Wilson has ever had to work with. Tyler Lockett is the sure-handed one, catching 15 of 16 targets for 159 yards.

However, even a perfect quarterback would not make a perfect team.

The Seahawks have yet to uncover a third weapon on offense and that includes Chris Carson, who has run for 93 yards on 23 carries. No Seattle running back or tight end has looked especially dangerous through two games.

Of greater interest to opposing teams will be what they can accomplish offensively against the Seahawks. Seattle has three sacks and two of them have come from safety Jamal Adams. They have allowed 847 passing yards, most in the NFL, including career-best days for Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry and Russell Gage, plus 130 yards to Calvin Ridley and 157 yards to Julio Jones.

Cam Newton threw for 397 yards and he wasn’t even supposed to use his arm this season, it’s in his contract probably.

Helping Wilson win MVP may only be a distraction from the fact that the Seahawks won’t be able to stop or sack anybody without Herculean efforts by Adams and Bobby Wagner. In fact, even the perception that Seattle’s got a terrible defense will be additional ammo for his MVP argument. It may also be what keeps him from winning if the Seahawks start losing games.

Next week they’ll have their first common opponent with the Rams: they host the Cowboys and Dak Prescott might follow up his 450-yard passing day against Atlanta with at least that much against Seattle.

San Francisco 49ers (1-1)

Last week: 49ers 31, Jets 13

I know they were playing the Jets, but it may be too early to write off the 49ers considering that they are still coming off of an 18-point win this week and face the Giants, Eagles and Dolphins over the next three before hosting the Rams.

San Francisco already had Weston Richburg on PUP, Richard Sherman and Deebo Samuel on short term injured reserve, and George Kittle, Dee Ford inactive last Sunday. The 49ers didn’t even bring their A-squad to New York and then they lost Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa, Raheem Mostert, Solomon Thomas, Tevin Coleman and Dre Greenlaw during the game.

And the best the Jets could do was 13 points and allowing runs of 80 and 55 yards.

As of Tuesday, it appears that Garoppolo’s high ankle sprain is not severe enough to rule him out for Week 3 against the Giants. Bosa and Thomas tore their ACLs and won’t return this season. The 49ers signed Ezekiel Ansah as the first response to their defensive line concerns. Mostert could miss anywhere from 2-12 weeks depending on the severity of his MCL sprain, per Niners Nation. That’s a wide range but he’ll miss at least the next game according to Kyle Shanahan.

Coleman will miss at least multiple weeks and Greenlaw, it is unknown, he’s said to have a thigh contusion. Ford has a mysterious back or neck injury and he’s an unknown. Kittle may or may not return this week against the Giants. Sherman has to miss at least two more games with his calf injury. Samuel is working his way back from a foot injury suffered in training camp.

The Niners did complete 22 of 27 attempts against New York and Mostert/Jerick McKinnon combined for 11 carries and 169 yards. First round pick Brandon Aiyuk made his debut, catching two passes for 21 yards.

New York Giants (0-2)

Last week: Bears 17, Giants 13

A quick look at the next NFC opponent on the Rams schedule, which is the winless Giants in Week 4.

New York has scored 29 points, fewest in the NFL, with two touchdowns by quarterback Daniel Jones and one rushed in by Dion Lewis. The Giants have run the ball 38 times for only 104 yards all season (dead last) and they lost Saquon Barkley to a torn ACL this week. For now their options are Lewis and Wayne Gallman.

Darius Slayton, I think one of the more underrated young receivers today, has caught nine of 15 targets for 135 yards and two touchdowns despite the conditions around him.

Things are better defensively for the Giants: fourth in yards allowed, 11th in points, seventh in net yards per pass attempt and 18th in yards per carry allowed. They have faced Ben Roethlisberger and Mitchell Trubisky to start the season, giving up 26 and 17 points, respectively.

They remain a viable contender in two respects: one, to pick first in the 2021 draft and two, to win the NFC East.

Chicago Bears (2-0)

Last week: Bears 17, Giants 13

Matt Nagy’s got Chicago to the record he wanted after two games, but while Trubisky may be helping his fantasy owners, the numbers aren’t much improved outside of touchdowns. He’s completing under 60-percent and averaging 6.8 yards per attempt with two interceptions and a fumble.

Allen Robinson is reportedly unhappy in spite of their record and rumors say he wants to be traded. Without him, the top receiving threat becomes Anthony Miller or Jimmy Graham or fifth round rookie Darnell Mooney, so I can’t envision that happening.

The Bears have been fine defensively, but the first real test comes this week against the Falcons.

Green Bay Packers (2-0)

Last week: Packers 42, Lions 21

I briefly covered the Packers offense on Monday. It’s very good, like the Rams.

Where they’ve struggled is on run defense (30th in yards per carry allowed but on only 43 attempts) and the pass defense isn’t much better yet. They are 23rd in third down rate on defense and have had red zone “struggles”: 24th on offense, 28th on defense.

Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard are all threats to top 1,000 yards this season. Aaron Jones leads the NFL in rushing. Green Bay has only allowed one sack and they’ve sacked the opponent six times. Other marks in their favor.

It seems like the Packers are in the early conversation for number one seed. They won’t face the Rams in the regular season but they do have an important match up this week that could determine key playoff order: at Saints on SNF.