2021-22 NHL Eastern Conference Playoff Picks

The offseason flew fast. The Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions are back and that means predicting which four teams in each can make the playoffs. The eastern conference has won the Stanley Cup the last two years. The effects included teams like the New York Islanders and Rangers to add better roster depth. The Florida Panthers added defense and drafted better. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes are close to taking the next step. The Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals, two teams known for consistency, may be fading or are close to a re-build if neither return to the conference finals. It’s time to break down which of the four in each division can make the push back to the playoffs for 2021-22.


Florida Panthers

As was written early summer, the Florida Panthers are a solid candidate to reach the Stanley Cup finals in 2021-22. They re-signed key restricted free agents such as Sam Bennett and have a goalie in Spencer Knight to lead them in a deep postseason run. The benefit for the Panthers is they’re back in a division where four teams are still in a re-build process and they can play the rest of the league. Rivalry with the Lightning aside, Florida will be an exciting team to watch because they’re peaking at the right time. Don’t be surprised if they win the Atlantic title.

Boston Bruins

At first look, the Bruins aren’t a team that could be this high in predictions. Yet their offseason moves were the right ones in every category. They started by re-signing Taylor Hall, a former MVP who anchored a better second line the latter half of the regular season, then signed former captain Nick Foligno for depth.

Boston had a weakness at center depth. They added some starting with former Golden Knight Tomas Nosek, retaining Curtis Lazar and Charlie Coyle, and brought in Erik Haula. Boston made major goaltending changes not re-signing Tuukka Rask, Dan Vladar or Jaroslav Halak. The only goaltender on the roster they wanted to keep was Jeremy Swayman, who could anchor the net in five years. The Bruins signed Buffalo goaltender Linus Ullmark to be their undisputed starter. Ullmark was solid but couldn’t stay healthy on a terrible Sabres team. A 180 degree change in culture, trust and team chemistry is what he needs in order to lead the Bruins back to the playoffs.

Linus Ullmark was the reason Buffalo won as many games they did. Now he has the chance to impact a playoff contending team in Boston.

Boston could win the Atlantic with these roster changes. General manager Don Sweeney saw the last two seasons as regression after winning the conference in 2019. The bold strategy of replacing veteran presence on defense, goaltenders and adding scoring depth should pay off in a full season and (hopefully) no COVID-19 shutdowns.

Tampa Bay Lightning

This pick is self-explanatory. The Lightning will find a way to be top three of their division but step up and show why they’re back-to-back champions in the playoffs. Unless the roster suffers serious injuries, Tampa should be the favorite to go back to the finals until a team in their conference is fed up and dethrones them. That’s more likely than missing a playoff berth.

Toronto Maple Leafs

They’d be higher but two factors place them in this spot; the three teams above have more seasoned veterans, better coaching and deeper rosters. If/when they play the Leafs, don’t be surprised if the trio wind up with a winning record versus Toronto.

The second reason is more important. We don’t know what to expect from this team after a mouth-dropping 3-1 series collapse against the Montreal Canadiens. Sheldon Keefe could be on the hot-seat. Team confidence was challenged when third line star Ilya Mikheyev admitted a few weeks ago he tried to find a trade out of Toronto. Not a good look weeks before the regular season starts.

Jack Campbell will be the starter in net for Toronto this season. While winning it was a challenge, it’ll be harder to fend off Petr Mrazek if his play dips.

John Tavares’ return helps team chemistry the later 2021-22 goes. The additions of Ondrej Case and Petr Mrazek are good for depth and veteran leadership. Jack Campbell becomes the undisputed starter in net after Frederik Anderson was traded. Auston Matthews will score at least 30 goals this season, but all questions start with advancing past the first round of the playoffs…especially if they play the Boston Bruins.


Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina re-vamped their roster, something that should alarm a lot of teams. They moved on from all three of their starting goaltenders for Frederik Anderson and Antti Raanta, two established veterans. They traded for Ethan Bear, signed Tony DeAngelo and Derek Stepan, and won the restricted free agency bid for Montreal’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Despite some departures, the Hurricanes are in win now mode.

Coach Rod Brind’Amour has led Carolina to multiple playoff berths and a division title. A lot of the Metropolitan lacks the charisma and depth to win not just the division but a seven game series. They’re tougher from last year’s central division matchups against Florida, Nashville and Tampa Bay to play better and close out games against weaker opponents.

New York Rangers

If there was any team to challenge for the conference championship, it’s the one in Madison Square Garden. The firing of David Quinn for Gerard Gallant turned heads. Then the Rangers traded for Ryan Reaves, Sammy Blais, Barclay Goodrow and signed Jarred Tinordi.

Ryan Reaves is well known for his fighting and intimidating opponents. Most expect he’ll fight Capitals pest Tom Wilson opening night. That game could say a lot about how the Rangers play this season.

The Rangers have three stars in Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Kaapo Kakko, all on the first line. New York needed better coaching and depth to create scoring opportunities and physical play. They traded and signed the right players the same way Tampa Bay did after their abrupt first round exit in 2019.

Don’t be surprised if the Rangers are one of the best teams in the NHL this year. Coach Gallant’s rapid success with the Golden Knights in 2017 could be replicated with a roster that needed finishing touches.

New York Islanders

While the Rangers have been the talk of New York and the hockey world, Long Island fans are excited to see their team in a brand new building. Barry Trotz’s unit (minus Jordan Eberle) is re-signed and ready to work together more this season. Lou Amoriello signed Zach Parise, a player who impressed during their tenure in New Jersey.

One of the best American players of his time, Zach Parise goes to New York after a buyout in Minnesota. The fresh start serves both sides well.

The Islanders are consistent on defense but added chemistry with Kyle Palmieri should produce better scoring chances. Richard Panik and Parise were right moves for added veteran leadership. Ilya Sorokin could get more playing time against division rivals.

Philadelphia Flyers

The absences of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the first six weeks and a fading Capitals team is enough to question who else in the division sneaks into the playoffs and steals a series. New Jersey is in re-build mode and Columbus is in decline. Philadelphia could be that fourth team.

The Flyers defense last year was putrid. Former players Brian Boucher and Keith Jones went off multiple times during their five plus goal losses to the New York Rangers and Islanders. General manager Chuck Fletcher saw enough to sign and trade for multiple players on defense. There’s nowhere to go but up.

Martin Jones is an interesting backup choice in goal behind Carter Hart, who needs to improve and show development his third year. For Hart to improve, the defense should tighten up. Signing Keith Yandle and Rasmus Ristolainen are good starts. Yandle plays hard despite his age and Ristolainen needed a new scene outside of Buffalo. The acquisition of Ryan Ellis gives the Flyers a prime, number one defenseman alongside Ivan Provorov. The offense also benefits and should show on the power-play. Philadelphia added Cam Atkinson and Derick Brassard for forward and center depth.

Once touted as the next Jonathan Quick, San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones went from two wins short of winning the Stanley Cup to goalie punchline around the league. His lack of development in Northern California contributed to his decline. Now a backup in Philadelphia, Jones needs to prove he’s worth a roster spot and a reliable option behind starter Carter Hart.

They’re underdogs to sneak into the playoffs but Alain Vigneault and his staff believe this season shouldn’t repeat last year. It helps they play more than seven teams and not worry about New York every other night.

Last year’s Canadian and eastern division predictions records: 5-3


NFL Week Three Winners and Losers

Week three action in the NFL was memorable in every way. Records were broken, there were comebacks, and eye popping stats not seen since the late 2000s. There were many winners and losers from Sunday, but some stood out more than others.

Winners: Carolina Panthers

It’s fitting to start with Carolina. The Panthers lost some key players in their victory Thursday night against the Texans but they should feel relief going into October. They’re the only undefeated team in the NFC South after three weeks.

Tampa Bay couldn’t keep up with the Matthew Stafford led offense in Los Angeles and it showed middle third quarter. The Rams won by ten and didn’t feel challenged most of the second half. New Orleans did get an easy win in New England, but even if both the Saints and Panthers tie at 3-1, Carolina has the tie-breaker and proved they can outlast Sean Payton’s team.

Undefeated in any division feels great after September. October will be a harder test for a team nobody expected to be above .500. A week and a half off came at the right time.

Joe Burrow and Zac Taylor

The Bengals played a worse game in week two than the scoreboard indicated. At one point, quarterback Joe Burrow threw three straight interceptions. Zac Taylor’s offense collapsed after a Roquan Smith interception was returned for a touchdown. The performance may be a reason why many analysts picked Pittsburgh to win handily against Cincinnati in week three.

Coach Zac Taylor could be on the hot seat most of this season, and he needed an early division win. He called more run plays than pass plays. The result was nearly perfect. Runningback Joe Mixon averaged five yards per run on 18 carries. Burrow threw three touchdowns and four incompletions. The offensive line was in complete control against an anemic Pittsburgh passrush. It was a rare game they didn’t give up a sack.

Thanks to a dominant performance, Cincinnati’s first division win of the year gives them the tiebreaker over an impressive Baltimore Ravens team. They also play the winless Jacksonville Jaguars Thursday night. Definitely a September to remember for the coach-quarterback duo.

Los Angeles Chargers

Justin Herbert is 1-1 against Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid in not even a season and a half of play. That’s impressive for someone who hasn’t gone to the playoffs. This wasn’t an end of the season game where Kansas City had nothing to play for. The Chargers got an early lead and found a way to win at the end, something we’re not used to seeing from the losing franchise.

Yes Los Angeles came close multiple times to losing in the fourth quarter, but Herbert and the offense wouldn’t concede. The Chargers closed out the game with a 16-7 scoring edge after the Chiefs came back to grab a lead in the third. It helps rookie coach Brandon Staley didn’t replicate the same mistakes as his predecessor. Staley’s time management and helping his quarterback by using timeouts correctly contributed to a six point win.

Some credit goes to receiver Mike Williams for a 100 yard game and two touchdowns (both scored in the final quarter). Without Williams, Herbert might have finished with a mediocre game and Los Angeles in last place. Williams could surpass his 2019 season highs if the offense continues high production.

Jacoby Brissett

Moral victories are slim in the NFL, but they stand out when multiple teams are involved. The Indianapolis Colts didn’t think quarterback Jacoby Brissett was worth developing or keeping. Hilariously, the Colts are 0-3 and don’t know who their quarterback is if Carson Wentz’s ankles give out. The Miami Dolphins wanted a quality backup behind starter Tua Tagovailoa in case he falters. It’s a wise investment.

Tagovailoa’s out for multiple games with fractured ribs, and last week Miami was just bad against a Buffalo Bills squad that’s playing like the best team in the AFC. Las Vegas was 2-0 and barely won late in overtime. Brissett’s a major reason why the game went longer.

Throwing over 200 yards but no touchdowns, Brissett managed the four quarters Miami stayed in through a solid running game and a defensive touchdown. Yet he completed the throws, ran for a touchdown at the end of regulation, and completed a two point conversion when it mattered most.

A lot of analysts and fans put too much stock into stats and not game-winning situations. Jacoby Brissett won’t lead the league or get the Dolphins to top five in passing, but he has a chance the next few weeks to get Miami back to .500. The next opponent is Indianapolis. Brissett could take a few positive steps with this offense October third.

Losers: Anyone/thing affiliated with the Detroit Lions

Half-time Sunday featured the honoring of former Lions wide-receiver Calvin Johnson’s Hall of Fame induction with a ceremonial ring. The fans in Detroit’s Ford Field rang boos down at Sheila Ford Hamp and the Ford family. They’ve been fed up with their running of the franchise for decades. Detroit has been worse since Johnson’s retirement and they weren’t winning playoff games in his prime.

Coach Dan Campbell’s doing his best and is a coach the Lions haven’t had in a long time (if ever). The team plays hard and every game was close at some point. The Baltimore Ravens were expected to win easily on the road and almost lost.

Detroit got calls that went their way on what many thought was a game winning drive. Then Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson and the offense faced a fourth and 19 at the Baltimore 16 with 26 seconds left. The Detroit secondary imploded on coverage and gave up a 36 yard catch to Sammy Watkins.

We all know what happened next.

For those who aren’t hardcore football fans or you’re just starting to learn about the sport, this isn’t the first time a kicker has set an NFL record for longest field goal made against the Lions. The record that was tied for decades at 63 yards originated from Tom Dempsey’s game winning kick against Detroit in 1970. The final score of that game was also 19-17. It has to stop somewhere…right?

Chicago Bears offensive line

The Bears offense Sunday had one of the worst games in the 21st century NFL. You have to go back to 2009 when the Kerry Collins led Tennessee Titans put up minus seven yards passing overall to find an offense that couldn’t do anything right. While quarterback play is a big reason the offense was non-existent, it started with an offensive line giving up more sacks than quarterback Justin Fields completed passes.

39 year old left tackle Jason Peters is at the end of his career and was tasked to face former number one pick Myles Garrett. Peters had little help at best and it showed. Right tackle Germain Ifedi, one of the worst busts on an offensive line this century, was bull-rushed constantly and gave up a sack to former Seattle Seahawk teammate Jadaveon Clowney. They couldn’t pass protect nor cover more than three seconds, yet they played the whole game. Guards Cody Whitehair and James Daniels were useless and second year center Sam Mustipher was overwhelmed.

Chicago somehow scored six points and didn’t lose a fumble. One has to think they can put up more than one overall passing yard against Detroit next week.

Seattle Seahawks

Two straight weeks Seattle had a double-digit lead against an opponent and both times they lost because of no second half adjustments. Russell Wilson was undefeated against Kirk Cousins and the Seahawks defense caught a break not having to face a top five runningback in Dalvin Cook. You wouldn’t know by the score.

The offense again looked great in the first half. The Shane Waldron playbook put 17 points on the board (missed field goal would be 20). DK Metcalf had a 100 yard game, Chris Carson ran for a long score and the offensive line gave quarterback Russell Wilson plenty of time.

The defense let Kirk Cousins do any and everything he wanted to in the Vikings’ first win of the season. The secondary played horrendous. Anyone who’s read Winners and Losers since last year knows Tre Flowers guards receivers such as sophomore phenom Justin Jefferson further apart like they’re the Indianapolis Greyhound bus station urinals. He then had the nerve to say, “we gotta watch more film. Sadly, y’all want me to be Richard Sherman.” His sorry ass of an NFL player shouldn’t be on the roster, but it’s been enabled and now it’s taking a toll.

D.J. Reed is an outdated Marcus Trufant at CB1. He’s small and gets beat regularly by bigger receivers and teeters on the edge of pass interference. He’s yet to cover DeAndre Hopkins and Brandon Aiyuk, two of the biggest pass catchers in the NFC West. The “replacement for K.J. Wright” gave up a touchdown to backup tight-end Tyler Conklin for Minnesota’s first score.

The Seahawk defense has successfully defended five passes this season. The only one Sunday was Carlos Dunlap’s tip at the line of scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has been gifted with All-Pros and Pro Bowlers, yet they play surprised when opposing quarterbacks throw screen passes to backup runningbacks. This team deserves to be at the bottom of the NFC West and should stay there if they can’t stop a mediocre quarterback tandem in Santa Clara next Sunday.

New York Jets

Adam Gase damaged Gang Green in a lot of ways. It’s too early to judge anything second overall pick Zach Wilson and head coach Robert Saleh do. The team’s that bad.

Vic Fangio’s Denver Broncos could’ve won 3-0 with a practice squad quarterback. The Jets’ offensive line is almost as bad as Chicago’s without Pro Bowler Mekhi Becton. The receiving core is damaged by lack of coaching from the previous staff. Nobody knows who the first string runningback is.

Saleh and Wilson will notch a couple of wins but this season could be uglier than last season, and that’s saying something.

2021-22 NHL Western Conference Playoff Picks

The offseason flew fast. The Central and Pacific divisions are back and that means analysts choose which eight teams have the best shot at making the playoffs. Despite growth and better play by teams in both divisions, none went to the Stanley Cup Finals last season. Some have great rosters such as the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche. They just didn’t perform well in later playoff rounds than expected. Minnesota, Vancouver and Winnipeg are in the right direction. The Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars are locks to at least make the playoffs. Other teams in this conference need to step up and play better under pressure. It’s time to break down which four in each division can make the push to the playoffs for 2021-22.

Pacific Division

#1 Vegas Golden Knights

Unlike the central, this division is easier to pick which four teams can make the playoffs. Vegas traded their original star Marc-Andre Fleury to Chicago clearing salary cap space. 1B goaltender Robin Lehner will be the regular starter.

The Golden Knights retained most of last year’s core players. While they’ll face more quality opponents, almost none will be in their division, ensuring another title and top three seed.

#2 Vancouver Canucks

Looking back, it made sense why Vancouver landed last in the Scotia North. Like Dallas, the team played tired and out of rhythm after a deep playoff run not even six months before the 2021 season began. The final blow was almost everyone contracting COVID-19 during a crucial stretch to sneak into the playoffs.

Team U.S.A. and Arizona star Conor Garland was traded to Vancouver, showing the Coyotes are ready for a re-build and the Canucks are ready to win now.

General manager Jim Benning addressed the roster issues this offseason. Backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak is an upgrade over a mediocre year of Braden Holtby. The signings of Phillip de Giuseppe, Luke Schenn and Travis Hamonic help the defense and fourth line scoring, something not addressed since 2019. Benning hit it big when he traded for rookie of the year Jason Dickinson and traded older players with bad contracts to Arizona for stars Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland.

Coach Travis Green proved he’s the best hire the Canucks made since Alain Vigneault over a decade ago. Vancouver’s re-vamped roster management shows they’re a favorite to land second place in the Pacific.

#3 Edmonton Oilers

In a division where four teams are in a build/re-build process, the Oilers should fare well with two league MVPs on their roster. General manager Ken Holland re-signed goalie Mike Smith and added veteran defensemen Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci to help.

Holland wanted more center and forward depth trading for Warren Foegele and signed Zach Hyman from Toronto. The team may have learned from previous playoff failures where both league MVPs were shut down and no one stepped up.

One of the other number one overall picks for the Oilers, it was important Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was re-signed this offseason. He’s the third best offensive player behind McDavid and Draisaitl.

Unless Edmonton’s star players are injured most of the season, there’s no reason why coach Dave Tippett’s team can’t make the playoffs. The power-play is top three and the penalty kill should improve. Their playoff series will reveal if they’ve made real improvements.

#4 Seattle Kraken

Despite the hard-headed and terrible expansion drafting by inaugural general manager Ron Francis, Seattle has a good chance of reaching the playoffs. None of the California teams can contend and the Calgary Flames are in disarray after a forgetful season. The Kraken even drafted Calgary’s long-time captain Mark Giordano, creating a void in leadership.

General manager Ron Francis made it known he wants to build the right way in Seattle. One of his first moves was hiring Dave Hakstol to be the team’s first head coach. Hakstol has a chance to show he’s improved since his time in Philadelphia.

The Kraken assembled one of the best defensive fronts a team could want. They landed Vezina finalist Philipp Grubauer from the Colorado Avalanche and wanted 1B goalie Chris Driedger. Outside of Giordano, Jamie Oleksiak, Adam Larsson, Vince Dunn, Jeremy Lauzon, Carson Soucy and Haydn Fleury are the defensemen. Star-studded offenses led by Alexandar Barkov and Connor McDavid will have fits trying to gain scoring chances or goals tallied against this unit.

The defense should be enough for Seattle to sneak into the playoffs. The offense might hold them to lower seeding. The first line includes Jordan Eberle, Yanni Gourde and Jaden Schwartz. Not bad but it’s not a true first line especially facing deep roster teams such as Tampa Bay or Colorado. It’s up to coach Dave Hakstol to bring the best out of Joonas Donskoi, Calle Jarnkrok, Mason Appleton, Alex Wennberg and Morgan Geekie.


#1 Colorado Avalanche

In one of the deepest divisions in the NHL, the Colorado Avalanche are heavy favorites. Despite offseason losses of Grubauer and Donskoi, the Avs were able to retain most of their depth and add some players. Darcy Kuemper arrives in a trade from Arizona to be the 1A starter. If Kuemper can’t stay healthy, the return of Pavel Francouz is a boost. Francouz didn’t play much of last season but he can take strides to become better than his predecessor Grubauer.

Former Coyotes starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper can relax having a team score at least three goals a night and a top three defense in the league protect him.

Colorado should excel in the regular season. After the first round of the playoffs is where interest will rise regarding their further development past the second round.

#2 Dallas Stars

Unlike last winter where they only had a few months off and Tyler Seguin didn’t play most of the season, this year is filled with promise and hope for a deep playoff run. While rookie of the year Jason Dickinson and Jamie Oleksiak are on other teams, the Stars have most of the cup contending team back and added some players to stay ahead of timing and injuries.

The signings of Braden Holtby, Ryan Suter and Luke Glendening weren’t splashy but they help in a full season. Holtby’s a cup winning goalie who can fill in for Anton Khudobin should he tire. Ben Bishop is likely to play some point this season but Dallas can’t rely on the duo yet. Suter’s the veteran presence needed to ensure the younger defensemen (Miro Heiskanen for example) take the next steps to become elite. Glendening is a solid fourth line center who can lead the Stars to goals or scoring chances in front of the net, giving the team a spark if the top two lines can’t produce.

The Stars locked up star defenseman Miro Heiskanen to an eight year $67.6 million contract. His production should increase regardless of a playoff berth.

The Stars should be ecstatic to the start of this season. The Coyotes and Blues are in decline and Minnesota, Chicago and Nashville are question marks. Dallas has to use this opportunity with everyone back fully healthy to make another deep playoff run. Lucky for them there’s no Florida teams nor Carolina in this division.

#3 Winnipeg Jets

The Mark Scheifele suspension in the playoffs deflated what could’ve been a fun series against the Montreal Canadiens. The Jets proved last season despite the talent in the Scotia North they’re a quality team even at their lowest. Merged back into the central, Winnipeg can assert their claim for another playoff series if they show consistency on defense and depth scoring on offense.

While Laurent Brassoit left in free agency, the Jets signed Brendon Dillon and retained their top defensemen. They made fewer moves than the Dallas Stars but as long as Paul Maurice is coaching, Winnipeg should find a way to make the playoffs and cause headaches in the first round.

#4 Chicago Blackhawks

I’m personally unsure if Minnesota will replicate last season’s success. No one thought they’d be fun/good to watch. Cam Talbot and team star Kirill Kaprizov should have highlight years, but questions remain on the third and fourth lines continuing production. Chicago meanwhile was a competitive team most of last year despite playing in the hardest re-aligned division. Kevin Lankinen is as good if not better than Alex Nedeljkovic among last year’s rookie goaltenders. The additions of Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury are too big to ignore this team as a playoff contender.

Main talk in the Windy City was on Marc-Andre Fleury and Seth Jones acquired via trade. However Tyler Johnson is a back-to-back cup winner who will be relied on the more quality opponents Chicago plays.

General manager Stan Bowman didn’t stop there. They traded for Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson and snuck in space for Jujhar Khaira and Seth’s brother Caleb in the Duncan Keith trade to Edmonton. They re-signed Adam Gaudette in free agency, a forward needed on the third line.

Their defense gets a boost with the Jones brothers, Calvin de Haan and Connor Murphy back healthy. A goalie tandem of Fleury and Lankinen will give even quality teams like the Colorado Avalanche fits. Finally, the return of captain Jonathan Toews gives Chicago the leadership and discipline missed the second half of last season.

2021 West and Central division picks record: 6-2

NFL Week 2 Winners and Losers

The second week of NFL play was as fun, energetic and stunning as the first. While it’s still September, there’s been consistency from coaching to special teams mistakes. Time to see who/what stood out better after Sunday’s games.

Winners: Rams trading for Matthew Stafford

When general manager Les Snead traded quarterback Jared Goff and first round picks to Detroit for Matthew Stafford, the plan was to not just win a super bowl, but to find a quarterback who could carry an offense to win pivotal games leading up to. A 27-24 win in Indianapolis showed that gamble’s paying off two weeks into the season.

Stafford threw two touchdowns to receiver Cooper Kupp and more importantly guided Los Angeles’ offense in a tight second half. The Rams offense drained time off the clock so Colts quarterback Jacob Eason would not to see the field. Indianapolis had less than a minute to go 80 yards after Matt Gay’s 38 yard field goal.

The Rams play more quality opponents this season but starting 2-0 against two teams considered playoff caliber makes them a favorite to go deep in the playoffs.

Vic Fangio

Coach Fangio’s a legend whenever defense is brought up. It’s shameful sports pundits think he could be fired this season. Sunday puts those rumors to rest for at least a month.

The Jacksonville Jaguars will be horrendous this season and may not win more than two games. Down 7-0 early, Denver scored 23 unanswered. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw two touchdowns and the defense intercepted first round pick Trevor Lawrence twice.

It’s tempting to dismiss the win against an easy opponent. They bullied the New York Giants to begin the season, winning their first two games. Denver closes out September against a flailing New York Jets team. Unlike the Kansas City Chiefs, the Broncos could be undefeated by October.

Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback and the roster close to full health makes a difference. The harder teams show up next month and will be Denver’s first big test before December fifth versus Kansas City.

Fans of rookie quarterback Justin Fields

Nobody outside the Bears’ coaching staff or front office wants Andy Dalton to be the starting quarterback in Chicago. Those people were ecstatic Fields got the nod after Dalton left mid-game over an ACL injury.

Justin Fields’ entrance energized the team and the Bears scored 13 points in his performance. While he threw an interception and was a reason Cincinnati came three points of sending the game to overtime, the rookie executed and played his best when he had to. His best drive was the last one where he found ways to run out the clock and force the Bengals to use their time outs, cementing the Bears’ first win of the season.

For anyone who wants to see good quarterback play in Chicago, those people might see the former Buckeye play at least half the season. A mobile quarterback gives coach Matt Nagy’s offense the best chance to win against playoff caliber teams.

Tom Brady and Mike Edwards

There’s something about the Atlanta Falcons that makes Tom Brady play some of his best football. The NFC South’s version of the Buffalo Bills had no answer for the five touchdowns Brady threw in the first game Tampa Bay played in a week and a half. His 129.2 rating is more eye opening when you see he threw under 300 yards.

He’s adding to the record book throwing for 154 touchdowns in his forties, a record that will take decades to surpass. Despite the great performance, it took a team effort to secure the win.

The defense didn’t have a good game after holding multiple double digit leads the first half. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan got better but the defense stepped up to get a comfortable lead back. Defensive back Mike Edwards shut the door with not one but two interceptions returned for touchdowns, burying any hopes Atlanta had of a comeback.

The big names on Tampa Bay will get the headlines but players like Edwards help solidify the team, stepping up when needed. It’ll be a long time before we hear of a player having multiple touchdowns via interception in the same quarter.

Lamar Jackson

The Baltimore Ravens quarterback and former league MVP was 0-3 against Kansas City, the only team he’s faced multiple times and couldn’t beat. Sunday night looked like 0-4 until he stepped up the second half.

Jackson’s abilities include running the ball and making defenders miss. The porous Kansas City defense can’t stop the run and for sure can’t cover wide receivers ten or more yards without holding. He used that to his advantage running for two touchdowns in the second half and throwing the touchdown of the year to Marquise Brown.

Jackson’s best moment was a fourth down conversion to seal the win with under 40 seconds remaining. That tie breaker could loom large by Thanksgiving.

Losers: Anyone betting on the New Orleans Saints to be contenders

The thrashing of Aaron Rodgers on a neutral field is a reason most fans and analysts were high on New Orleans. This again proves that whatever we think after one week of play, it doesn’t hold up by the second.

Carolina played a perfect game against a Saints team that couldn’t muster 100 yards passing until the fourth quarter. Yes, there are coaches out due to COVID-19. Most of this roster is still familiar with Sean Payton, his coaching, and have played before.

All the bets on who makes the Super Bowl means nothing early in the season. Let’s have this discussion when the playoffs arrive since there will be a season of play to judge who can do what, not one or two games in September.

Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota started red-hot. Kirk Cousins threw three touchdowns to three different receivers. They led 20-7 early. That didn’t last long.

The Vikings scored 13 points the rest of the game and missed a game winning field goal. Minneapolis’ radio play-by-play announcer was devastated the kick went right after he called it good on-air. They’re 0-2 to start the season.

Coach Mike Zimmer isn’t the problem but one has to wonder how long he’ll stay after two crushing losses to start the season. Seattle, Cleveland and Carolina are their next three of four opponents before the bye week. That’s not promising.

Pittsburgh Steelers defense

The main topic is Derek Carr’s improvement and franchise record in passing yards two straight games. This conversation is different if Steelers star T.J. Watt doesn’t injure his groin in the first half. Pittsburgh gave up three field goals that half. There were no adjustments for the second.

Melvin Ingram III was the only other defender to sack Carr. The defense is among the league’s best and couldn’t beat a new look offensive line. It’s not like Las Vegas was hard to game-plan for either. Raider runningback Josh Jacobs is out for a few weeks and Peyton Barber doesn’t have the same skill level. It was one dimensional and the Steelers had no answers. The 61 yard touchdown Carr threw to receiver Henry Ruggs III was shocking and Daniel Carlson’s field goal with 20 seconds left deflated any good energies.

Every loss Pittsburgh’s taken to the Raiders since 2006 has cost them a spot in the playoffs. Denver and Seattle have better offenses and could play a Steelers team at their most vulnerable. Mike Tomlin needs some solutions by October.

Tre Flowers

I am once again wondering why one of the worst cornerbacks to play in the NFL has a starting job or is on an active roster. Flowers, who plays like he can’t see out of both eyes, was tasked with trying to tackle Tennessee Titans runningback Derrick Henry.

Not only was there no tackle, he had no idea Henry would run inside and not out. Tre Flowers cannot read a field if his life depended on it. His best attribute is tackling and even that’s suspect. One would expect with a 30-16 lead, the secondary could stop a runningback. We learned Flowers can do neither.

Atlanta Falcons

The Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets look awful to start the season and are taking a lot of jokes. We can cut them some slack because of new quarterbacks and coaches. Atlanta is not a laughing matter.

Arthur Smith was brought in to bring better out of a team led by veteran quarterback Matt Ryan. His contributions include the worst loss to start the season in the entire NFL and a Tom Brady and Mike Edwards highlight reel. This team is so bad they cut their punter Cameron Nizialek after Sunday’s loss.

If the Falcons can’t beat the Washington Football Team or either the New York Giants or Jets, this could be one of the ugliest seasons in franchise history, and that’s saying something.