In light of my weekly top 25 college football series coming out, I thought that it would be a phenomenal idea to share with you something similar for the NFL. Introducing my NFL top 20, the power poll that focuses strictly on the NFL playoffs.
Success in the NFL is all about creating a model of consistency. Week in and week out, football is the most difficult sport to play consistently.
4 teams who didn’t make the cut to watch next week
- Philadelphia Eagles (W @ Atlanta; 32-6)
- Cincinnati Bengals (W Minnesota; 27-24 OT)
- Tennessee Titans (L 7. Arizona; 38-13)
- Washington Football Team (L 16. LA Chargers; 20-16)
The Philadelphia Eagles surprised many analysts in the industry with a dominant performance over the Atlanta Falcons. If you have been turned into NFL Sapient for this offseason, this performance will not have surprised you. Jalen Hurts has received so much unwarranted criticism over the offseason, turning all of that noise into a fine fantasy performance (326 total yards, 3 touchdowns). He did an excellent job distributing the ball and the defense played outstandingly in the incredible team performance. However, next week the team takes on their first true test in the (12) San Francisco 49ers.
The Cincinnati Bengals looked solid in their win over Minnesota, featuring the return of quarterback Joe Burrow. Paired with his collegiate teammate Ja’Marr Chase, the Bengal’s offense stepped into stride and came up big to set up the clutch kick by rookie kicker Evan McPherson.
The Tennessee Titans struggled in their debut with Julio Jones and could not find offensive success in their loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The defense couldn’t find a way to contain Kyler Murray and surrendered too much to the Cardinals on both sides of the football. If they continue to surrender 6 sacks a game, they won’t find offense this season.
Vogel’s NFL Top 20: 20-16
20. Indianapolis Colts (L 11. Seattle; 28-16)
19. Chicago Bears (L 2. LA Rams; 34-14)
18. New England Patriots (L 17. Miami; 17-16)
17. Miami Dolphins (W @ 18. New England; 17-16)
16. Los Angeles Chargers (W @ Washington; 20-16)
The Miami Dolphins got the win over the New England Patriots, but I think it was clear and obvious watching the game that the Patriots were the superior team. So because of the direct result, the Dolphins hold a narrow edge over the Patriots but don’t expect that to hold. The Dolphins head home this week to host the Buffalo Bills (ranked 10th), while the Patriots head down the road from Boston to play the New York Jets.
The Chicago Bears were certainly manhandled by the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday Night Football, but there were positive, bright spots on this team. Running back David Montgomery, now in his third season in the NFL, ran for 108 yards and a score while averaging 6.8 yards per touch. He looked effective and extremely explosive. The defense was stout up front, holding the Rams to 72 rushing yards and just 3.2 yards per carry. The secondary had no answer for the fleury of attacks, however, from Matthew Stafford.
15. Carolina Panthers (W NY Jets; 19-14)
14. Green Bay Packers (L 6. New Orleans; 38-3)
13. San Francisco 49ers (W @ Detroit; 41-33)
12. Baltimore Ravens (L 10. Las Vegas; 33-27 OT)
11. Seattle Seahawks (W @ 20. Indianapolis; 28-16)
It was hard placing the Green Bay Packers following their non-contest against the Saints (it might as well have been). The offense was off rhythm all game, and the defense couldn’t answer to short fields and Jameis Winston. Regardless, this team is still stacked and they have lots of talent. We look to see a bounceback game next week against the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football.
The San Francisco 49ers would have been higher, only they surrendered a 28-point lead in the second half to the Detroit Lions this week, raising some very serious concerns with their ability to finish games. An erant throw from Jared Goff on fourth down rescued them.
As for the Seattle Seahawks, the Russell Wilson-led offense scored 28 on the road against the Indianapolis Colts, spoiling Carson Wentz’s debut in the blue and white. Wilson himself threw for 254 yards and four touchdowns, and the weapons that he has this year are endless. DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett highlight the group, but don’t sleep on Dee Eskridge out of the slot who had a fine opening performance.
The Baltimore Ravens are in some trouble. Their offense seems to be more of a spread system this year, no doubt a result of the injuries to the running back position. Jackson looks better as a drop back passer, but it’s still not completely his forte. The defense has concerns too, after giving up 491 total yards to the Las Vegas Raiders this week.
10. Las Vegas Raiders (1-0)
Last week: W (12) Baltimore (33-27 OT)
Las Vegas has ball players on both sides of the football – that’s what they have rolling for them this year. Maxx Crosby looks the part of an emerging superstar edge rusher, collecting 2 sacks, 5 hits on Lamar Jackson, and averaged an astonishing 3.19 yards of distance from the QB per play, per Next Gen Stats.
On offense, all the weapons that head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have been amassing are coming together. Zay Jones had a phenomenal showing, Hunter Renfrow is flashing much improved skills after the catch, and Darren Waller is a beast within himself. I personally loved the usage of new running back addition Kenyan Drake, who was more of a pass catching weapon than a running back.
The Raiders are a formidable team this year – make no mistake of that. You just have to wonder how well the defense as a whole will hold up this season.
Vogel’s NFL Top 20: 9. Buffalo Bills (0-1)
Last week: L (8) Pittsburgh (23-16)
The Buffalo Bills entered week one as 6.5 point favorites over the Pittsburgh Steelers at home and instead were upset by the same margin. Oddsmakers have to be kicking themselves after that one.
Quarterback Josh Allen struggled to play through the Steelers’ ferocious pass rush, taking three sacks and eight quarterback hits. The Bills abandoned the run attack early, despite a promising performance from Devin Singletary who averaged 6.5 yards per carry.
Defensively, they appear to be as stout as last season. The part that they will have to figure out is the defensive line rotation. The Bills have some strong, young talents across the board who flashed the ability to make impacts despite mistakes.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)
Last week: W @ (9) Buffalo (23-16)
It wasn’t an easy win, but the Pittsburgh Steelers defense and special teams gave the team a path to victory and the offense was able to cash it in over the Buffalo Bills, a very formidable group.
Interesting Next Gen Stat nugget: The league average pass rusher distance from the quarterback when he releases the football is 4.52 yards. In this game, three Steelers’ pass rushers were below that league average; Melvin Ingram (3.83 yards), Cameron Heyward (3.95 yards), and TJ Watt (4.25 yards). Watt finished with two sacks, a forced fumble, and five hits on the quarterback. As usual, this Steelers pass rush is formidable.
The Steelers, however, won’t be able to lean on their pass rush all season long. Ben Roethlisberger struggled tremendously in this game, at times looking like retirement is a phenomenal idea for the health and longevity of his life and his team this season. Still, he found a way to get it done with this great receiving corps, and the team pulled out the victory on his 188 yards passing and single touchdown strike.
7. Arizona Cardinals (1-0)
Last week: W @ Tennessee (38-13)
Big. Play. Ability.
That should be the takeaway from the Cardinals’ dominant performance on the road in the early time slot over the Tennessee Titans. Kyler Murray looked unstoppable, throwing to his big perimeter targets in DeAndre Hopkins and AJ Green, and the addition of Rondale Moore proved to be the perfect remedy to a sometimes dormant offense last year. Moore averaged 17.0 yards per catch, 16.1 of those yards were after the catch. Truly, a huge playmaker.
The defense looks solid too – stopping the Tennessee Titans run attack led by Derrick Henry and holding them to 86 total rushing yards is a feat. Then, Chandler Jones had a career day – collecting five sacks in the first three-quarters of play. JJ Watt appears to be a solid addition and the linebackers they’ve drafted early over the last couple of years played big. Isaiah Simmons led the team with nine tackles and deflected two passes.
6. New Orleans Saints (1-0)
Last week: W (14) Green Bay (38-3)
The New Orleans Saints have successfully transitioned the face of the franchise to former number one overall selection Jameis Winston, and the Drew Brees era is officially over. The new face? Winston threw for 143 yards and 5 touchdown strikes, including a beautiful 55-yard touchdown bomb that traveled 59 yards through the air to Deonte Harris for the score.
The defense had every answer for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense, intercepting the all-pro quarterback twice while collecting two sacks, seven hits on the quarterback, and breaking up four passes. Rookie cornerback Paulson Adebo got in on the action, breaking a ball up and intercepting another.
The Saints were formidable, but the offense played most of the field on a short field. The Packers turned it over three times and twice the offense was set up with the short field. I want to see the Saints drive up and down the field on the Panthers and prove that the performance this week was no fluke.
Vogel’s NFL Top 20 5. Dallas Cowboys (0-1)
Last week: L @ (3) Tampa Bay (31-29)
Dak Prescott had a phenomenal start to the season, throwing for 403 yards and 3 scores in his first action since the gruesome injury against the New York Giants in week 5 last season. His receiver corps, highlighted by Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, had to shake off some rust in the game as well – Lamb dropping a couple of passes that we were accustomed to seeing him make last season.
The defense looked improved too – which makes the Cowboys a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl this season. While Tom Brady was able to carve the defense late in the game, they were faster and in place more than last year. This is certainly promising and Cowboys fans have good reason to get excited about the upcoming year.
The Cowboys could have won this game with a better special teams performance. Kicker Greg Zuerlein missed an extra point and a 31-yard field goal try. They hope to see more confidence and consistency from their kicker throughout the season.
4. Cleveland Browns (0-1)
Last week: L @ (1) Kansas City (29-34)
If you truly believe that performance from quarterback Baker Mayfield was anything less than stellar, I don’t know what to tell you. Mayfield was sensational in week one action, picking up where he left off last season. Remember, this team was missing star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr, too, and starting safety Ronnie Harrison Jr was controversially ejected in the first quarter.
The defense played well, for the most part. They shut down the Chiefs running attack and kept the pressure coming on Mahomes. Some plays, you just can’t defend. Mahomes has the ability to create those plays.
There were still some bright spots for the Browns who showed that they can run the football and throw well off of play-action yet again this season, and Mayfield looked even more on target. The Browns have added a formidable weapon in Anthony Schwartz, the rookie from Auburn.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0)
Last week: W (5) Dallas (31-29)
Tampa Bay struggled early against the Dallas Cowboys, but managed to take advantage of mistakes and capitalize with the win. Perhaps complacency was a bit of a problem across the majority of the team for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Tom Brady still has it, even at 45 years old. Father Time hasn’t found a way to catch him yet. Brady’s most impactful target in this game, in my opinion, was Antonio Brown who played with a massive chip on his shoulder. Chris Godwin struggled with drops throughout the game, perhaps just a case of some early season rust.
The defense was formidable most of the game, but I think there are valid concerns with the secondary. They have arguably one of the best front seven groups in the league, but even the front seven couldn’t help the performance of the secondary who gave up 403 yards to Dak Prescott. Overall, it’s a good showing from both sides as they went up against one of the top offenses in the league this year.
2. Los Angeles Rams (1-0)
Last week: W (19) Chicago (34-14)
I spoke all offseason about how the addition of Matthew Stafford was the perfect match to bring success to the Los Angeles Rams. His big arm, experience, and overall ability are a significant upgrade over Jared Goff, who is simply too hesitant to throw the ball downfield effectively. Stafford showed out on his second throw as a Ram, hitting Van Jefferson 54.9 yards down the field on a dime. Stafford would end the game with 321 yards and 3 touchdown strikes. Stafford played with tremendous new energy that was refreshing to see.
The dismantling of the Chicago Bears on the season opener of Sunday Night Football was as decisive as any victory that I can remember in recent memory. The Rams dominated on both sides of the football, harassing Bears quarterback Andy Dalton all night. They collected 3 sacks, 3 additional hits on Dalton, and deflected 7 passes, intercepting another in the end zone.
Vogel’s NFL Top 20: 1. Kansas City Chiefs (1-0)
Last week: W (4) Cleveland (34-29)
Here’s the big takeaway from the Chief’s win over the Cleveland Browns: Patrick Mahomes is a god. He’s the rocket man. The catalyst. I’m running out of immensely popular songs to liken him to. Whatever he is, he is unbeatably the biggest impact player in the NFL.
And look, Chibs, I’m not talking about the arm angles that Mahomes throws with. I’m talking about the rocket 70 yard throws to his fastest receiver without throwing an interception, changing the dynamics of the entire game in a few seconds. I’m not going to lie, I would have shit my pants if I was the Browns defensive coordinator on that play.
The Chiefs didn’t play a completely clean game against the Browns, but it didn’t matter. Mahomes erases mistakes. He had very little run support, but still has the arm strength to throw it over the defense. The Browns’ offense was unstoppable through the first two quarters, but it was all for naught as Mahomes capitalized on the Browns’ mistakes.
Biggest week two matchups
- (1) Kansas City Chiefs @ (12) Baltimore Ravens (Sunday night, 8:20 ET NBC) – A monster game to knock out early in the season. This will arguably be the biggest game of the year. Expect an absolute fireworks show. The Ravens are threatened with a 0-2 start to the season, so it will be balls to the wall.
- (6) Dallas Cowboys @ (16) Los Angeles Chargers (Sunday, 4:25 ET CBS) – Dak Prescott looked stellar, even if his release was a little bit off, in action against Tampa Bay last week. So did Justin Herbert. This should be a good test to see which defense will come out on top.
- (10) Las Vegas Raiders @ (8) Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, 1:00 ET CBS) – The Steelers have an incredible defense but an aging quarterback stifling the offense.
- (6) New Orleans Saints @ (15) Carolina Panthers (Sunday, 1:00 ET FOX) – The Saints defense absolutely anilated the Green Bay offense last week. Now, the offense gets a true test against a very tight nit defense in Carolina. Also, how well can Sam Darnold lead the offense? Do the Saints have a plan for Christian McCaffrey?
- (9) Buffalo Bills @ (17) Miami Dolphins (Sunday, 1:00 ET FOX) – The Bills are looking to rebound after surrendering a lead to Pittsburgh in a tough loss. Miami, though, didn’t look particularly strong. This is a good bounce back opportunity for both teams.