Two weeks into the 2009 NFL season there already are a handful of teams beginning to separate from the pack inside their division and conference -- and it's not the usual suspects in every case. I'll break down both conferences over the next two days, beginning with the AFC.
Let's start in the AFC East, where everybody's preseason favorites to represent the conference in Super Bowl XLIV, the New England Patriots, are one poor Leodis McKelvin decision away from joining the Miami Dolphins in the basement at 0-2. The New York Jets are the ones in control at the top after back-to-back gutsy performances by rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. Their impressive upset of the Pats at the Meadowlands was reminiscent of what Miami did a year ago up in New England en route to dethroning New England as AFC East champs. This week's home game against a very good Tennessee Titans team will go a long way in determining whether or not these Jets are true contenders or pretenders.
Over in the AFC North, the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, like New England, are very close to being 0-2 as they pulled out an overtime win over the Titans on the leg of kicker Jeff Reed and then lost a tough one at Soldier Field to the Chicago Bears because of two missed field goals by Reed. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens have shown that they have a dangerous offense to go along with their legendary defense as second-year QB Joe Flacco is a lot more comfortable out there. They have a one-game lead over Pittsburgh and saw 14-year veteran middle linebacker Ray Lewis seal the win over San Diego with the type of stop he made look routine in his younger days. With Cleveland coming to town Sunday, they could very well be 3-0 after three games.
Even though the Indianapolis Colts are in their familiar spot on top of the AFC East at 2-0, they could just as easily be 0-2 and at the bottom, having narrowly escaped in Week 1 with a 14-12 win over Jacksonville and then getting lots of help from the Dolphins on Monday night in a 27-23 win in which they held the ball for just 14:53. Of course they do have the reigning NFL MVP under center in Peyton Manning and he is trusting his young wideouts like Pierre Garcon to deliver so that he doesn't have to lock onto Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark every play. But the Titans will push hard to defend their division title and look more balanced, while the Houston Texans pulled out a big win last Sunday, so this division could come down to the wire.
And in the AFC West, it appears to be a two-team race yet again between the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers. Philip Rivers is willing and ready to put the Chargers on his back with LaDainian Tomlinson's health breaking down, but San Diego struggled to beat the Oakland Raiders in Week 1 and fell short at home against Baltimore, while the Broncos are excelling under first-year head coach Josh McDaniels. Another shaky outing or two by the Chargers and the Broncos could run away with this division.
Tomorrow we will look at the four divisions in the NFC and see who's hot and who's not.
Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.