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Ranking NFL's seven 2-0 teams from lucky to legit

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 9/19/2018 Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz
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Seven NFL teams stand at 2-0, but no one should be issuing challenges to the 1972 Dolphins just yet.

Since 1990, 62.3% of teams without a loss after two weeks went on to the playoffs. That hardly means that a small-sample hot start indicates a lock for postseason, as just four of eight teams (Falcons, Panthers, Chiefs and Steelers) that were without a loss after two weeks last year made the cut. 

To further temper expectations, we took a look at all seven 2-0 teams this year and not only ranked them by their long-term viability, but also separated them into two categories based on what they've shown so far.

Not there yet

7. Denver Broncos: After staving off the struggling Seahawks before sneaking past the rival Raiders, Denver is lucky not to be 0-2. Give credit to Vance Joseph's crew, however, for its resolve. Rookies Royce Freeman and Philip Lindsay have helped revive the second-ranked rushing attack, but the much-improved offensive line might be the biggest difference of all.

Yet there's only so much confidence this team can engender given Case Keenum's uninspiring play. And while the pass rush remains formidable, teams might duplicate Oakland's spread-out, quick-passing attack while attempting to neutralize Von Miller. Given that Denver started 2-0 in each of the last two seasons before crumbling down the stretch, maybe it's best to keep the postseason expectations at bay for now. 

More: Which of NFL's 0-2 teams still could make playoffs this season?

More: NFL power rankings: Major changes at top as Eagles, Patriots falter

More: NFL QB Hot Sheet: Time to believe in Blake Bortles?

6. Miami Dolphins: Enjoy the view from atop the AFC East for now, as this positioning seems like a short-term setup. Perhaps quarterback Ryan Tannehill is most emblematic of the Dolphins' play as well as the team's staying power. While the seventh-year veteran has been admirably efficient (73.9% completion rate), the passing attack simply lacks the firepower to overcome rough patches or top-tier defenses.

With a forgiving schedule, Miami very well could cobble together enough wins to seize just its second wild-card berth in the last decade. But this is a team that is far more opportunistic than it is overwhelming. 

5. Cincinnati Bengals: After watching them seemingly reach a point of stagnation with losing seasons the last two years, Marvin Lewis must be elated by his group's progress. Promising production from running back Joe Mixon (now expected to be sidelined a few weeks with a knee injury) and a young defense dotted with play makers has made the Bengals one of the league's most intriguing teams. But much like in years past, a tendency toward running hot-and-cold could be their undoing.

It's not too outlandish to think that Cincinnati could take advantage of turbulent times in Pittsburgh and Baltimore to make a serious push in the AFC North. But the upcoming slate is brutal, as the next seven games all come against 2017 playoff teams (Panthers, Falcons, Steelers, Chiefs and Saints) or fellow 2-0 squads (Dolphins and Buccaneers). 

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The prevailing question in Tampa seemingly no longer centers on whether Jameis Winston will resume his starting role once his three-game suspension is over after Monday's game against Pittsburgh. Instead, what's unclear is what the season-long expectations should be for a 35-year-old journeyman leading the league in passing yards (819) and quarterback rating (151.5).

A regression is almost certainly in order for Ryan Fitzpatrick, though he could still keep the big-play offense rolling if he can continue to take advantage of downfield opportunities with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard. The real concerns are a dormant run game (averaging a league-worst 2.7 yards per carry) and 31st-ranked defense. And in the hyper-competitive NFC South, the Buccaneers likely won't have much margin for error.

Contenders

3. Kansas City Chiefs: They belong here with a caveat — covering for the last-ranked defense by scoring 35-plus points every game isn't tenable. Yes, Patrick Mahomes is setting opponents ablaze and taking advantage of what might be the league's best collection of skill-position players in wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, tight end Travis Kelce and running back Kareem Hunt. But Mahomes' daring style is sure to yield turnovers eventually, and the defense has yet to reach even speed-bump status in its ability to slow anyone.

Still, there's no denying Andy Reid is onto something special. The return of safety Eric Berry (Achilles) also should have a ripple effect that could elevate the pass defense to a tolerable level. Upcoming matchups with the Jaguars (Week 5) and Patriots (Week 6) should serve as good measuring sticks, but the Chiefs clearly have a spark.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars: If there were any questions about their legitimacy after last season's run to the AFC Championship Game, a commanding win Sunday over the Patriots should have eradicated them. With perhaps the most talented collection of defenders in the league, the Jags could be in position to improve upon a formula already that's already proven successful.

But while Blake Bortles delivered the best game of his career by throwing for 377 yards and four touchdowns against New England, his composure under pressure remains a significant vulnerability. That could become an even greater problem after left tackle Cam Robinson, also one of Jacksonville's best run blockers, was lost to a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament.

1. Los Angeles Rams: The stars are aligning more rapidly than Sean McVay could have hoped for. With defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters already clicking, the defense hasn't allowed a point for the last six quarters. Meanwhile, new receiver Brandin Cooks is already providing the deep threat (12 catches, 246 yards) that could help take Jared Goff to the next level.

The Rams had the look of an NFC front-runner on paper, but the early chemistry is encouraging. Yet to be seen is how this team handles adversity after two underwhelming opponents (Raiders, Cardinals). But with what looks like one of the league's easiest races in the NFC West, L.A. has a leg up prepping for a possible deep playoff run.

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Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz

Related slideshow: Best of NFL season (provided by photo services) 


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