Beginning the NFL season 2-0 doesn’t necessarily guarantee a team a playoff spot, but it certainly can’t hurt. All six teams that went undefeated through the first two weeks of last year’s campaign ended up making the postseason.
Which of this year’s 2-0 teams are genuine contenders, and which are pretenders?
Ranking the NFL’s Undefeated Teams
9) Washington Commanders
The Washington Commanders are extremely lucky to be 2-0. After sneaking past the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1, Washington had to rally from an 18-point deficit to defeat the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
Sam Howell has been a perfectly league-average quarterback, ranking 20th in the league in QBR, just behind Lamar Jackson. That’s probably as good as the Commanders could have hoped for from the 2022 fifth-round pick.
But Washington’s next two opponents are the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles, so it won’t surprise anyone if Ron Rivera’s squad is 2-2 entering Week 5.
8) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A Baker Mayfield renaissance? The Buccaneers’ Mayfield/Kyle Trask preseason competition felt like one of the NFL’s most dour quarterback battles in recent memory, but Mayfield has played above expectations through two games. He’s fifth in adjusted net yards per attempt and seventh in EPA per dropback.
Baker Mayfield finished 14/17 for 223 yards and a TD under pressure, tied for the most passing yards under pressure in a game over the last four seasons (since 2020).
The Bears pressured Mayfield 17 times without recording a sack, tied for the 6th-most pressures without a sack… pic.twitter.com/iN10FDrSak
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 17, 2023
Mayfield’s performance — combined with an improving rushing attack, excellent weapons in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and a veteran-laden defense that’s posted the NFL’s second-highest turnover rate — has been enough to help the Bucs take down the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears.
The Eagles and New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay’s next two opponents, will present a much stiffer defensive test for Mayfield and Co.
7) Atlanta Falcons
Arthur Smith is unsurprisingly sticking to his guns thus far in 2023. The Atlanta Falcons have posted the league’s lowest pass rate over expectation through two weeks, preferring to hand the ball to Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier continuously. Desmond Ridder has only attempted 50 passes, tied with Jimmy Garoppolo for least among full-time, healthy starting QBs.
But Atlanta’s defense — helmed by first-year coordinator Ryan Nielsen — has arguably been more impressive than its offense. The Falcons rank 13th in EPA per play on defense and have allowed just 4.2 yards per play, third-best in the NFL.
6) New Orleans Saints
Speaking of talented defensive units, the Saints finally allowed their first touchdown of the season when Adam Thielen scored for the Carolina Panthers with 1:16 remaining in regulation on Monday night. The jury is still out on whether Dennis Allen can be New Orleans’ long-term head coach, but he’s an outstanding defensive play-caller.
While some observers expected the Saints to win the NFC South easily, they’re currently tied with the Falcons and Buccaneers atop the division. Upcoming games against the Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars — two elite offensive teams — will give us a better sense of where New Orleans stands league-wide.
5) Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens were expected to beat the Houston Texans in Week 1, but their win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2 was much more impressive. Lamar Jackson might be an MVP candidate, while rookie wideout Zay Flowers looks like he’s played in the NFL for a decade.
LAMAR LAUNCHES IT DEEEEEP TO ZAY FLOWERS
— NFL (@NFL) September 17, 2023
The only question Baltimore might face is injuries. Health questions are a seemingly annual occurrence for the Ravens, who have already lost RB J.K. Dobbins for the season and S Marcus Williams for the foreseeable future. More injuries at critical positions could undo Baltimore, but they’ve looked as good as advertised through two weeks.
4) Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins have already proven they’re capable of winning with different formulas. In Week 1, Miami outlasted the Los Angeles Chargers in a shootout as Tua Tagovailoa passed for 466 yards. On Sunday, Raheem Mostert totaled 121 yards on the ground, while the Dolphins’ defense held the New England Patriots to 17 points and 288 total yards.
Miami might have the most explosive offense in the NFL, and if Vic Fangio’s defense can play consistently, the Dolphins can beat any team in the league. If Jalen Ramsey can return to action before the playoffs begin, Miami should be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
3) Philadelphia Eagles
Jalen Hurts hasn’t necessarily looked like the quarterback who finished second in MVP voting a year ago, but the Eagles have enough talent to win even when Hurts isn’t playing his best.
D'Andre Swift > Taylor Swiftpic.twitter.com/WIOK3Yko9m
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) September 15, 2023
In Week 2, D’Andre Swift took over as Philadelphia’s lead back and carved up the Minnesota Vikings to the tune of 175 yards. As soon as the Eagles realized their passing attack wasn’t working, they took to the ground, refusing to relent until they found the end zone.
2) San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are the only team in the NFL with an offense and defense that both rank top-five in EPA per play. Brock Purdy has been effective as a distributor to San Francisco’s talented set of weapons, although the 49ers’ offensive line could eventually become a problem. Purdy has been pressured on 40% of his dropbacks, the highest rate in the NFL.
But San Francisco’s defense hasn’t taken a step back, even with ex-coordinator DeMeco Ryans now serving as the Houston Texans’ head coach. Steve Wilks has maintained the same principles Ryans employed, and it’s worked.
The 49ers have given up just 30 points through two weeks and should continue their defensive dominance against the New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals over the next two weeks.
1) Dallas Cowboys
No team’s performance has been as commanding through two weeks as the Cowboys’. It starts on defense, where Dallas is first in EPA per play, yards allowed, and turnover rate. Nearly a third of the Cowboys’ opponents’ drives have ended with a turnover, while just 8.7% have ended with a score.
MORE: NFL QB Rankings 2023
Dallas is lapping the rest of the league in point differential — they’re at +60, doubling the second-place 49ers. Dak Prescott is tied with Purdy for the NFL lead in QBR, while Tony Pollard looks miles better than Ezekiel Elliott did last season.
Week 5’s Cowboys-49ers tilt is already shaping up as one of the most critical games of the 2023 campaign.