“Any given Sunday” describes the first quarter of the NFL season. We’ve seen some teams perform above their expectations and some haven’t quite lived up to the hype. Can struggling teams change their trajectory and others continue upward? Here are the two teams that haven’t performed to expectations and the two that have caught the attention of NFL fans.
Two Underperformers and Two Attention-Grabbing Teams
What’s Going On With These Two?
It’s hard to count out Cincy as long as Joe Burrow is under center, but the season is slowly slipping away. After an ugly loss last Sunday, they’re sitting at 1-3 with little-to-no room for error. They’ve dropped two division games and their next five games after their trip to Arizona are brutal. They have road matchups against San Francisco and Baltimore then home games against Buffalo, Seattle, and a sneaky good Houston team.
Don’t wave the white flags, they’re capable of turning it around but it starts by getting Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Mixon more involved. So far, the two playmakers haven’t asserted their dominance. Last season, they were tied for a team-high nine touchdowns; they’ve combined for one touchdown this year. The lack of offensive explosion has hurt them but it starts with the quarterback’s bodyguards.
Each of the last two seasons they’ve been a bottom-three team in pass protection, finishing 30th in pass block win-rate. This year they’re 31st and 28th in the run aspect. The offense is too talented to be second to last in points scored (49). Sunday is a must-win, especially for any hope of getting their head back above water.
Post Peyton Manning has been a tough sledding for the Broncos. Since Manning’s retirement in 2015, they haven’t won the division or reached the postseason. The hiring of Sean Payton was thought to turn the tables after last season’s disappointment but they haven’t found their identity. Despite the comeback win last Sunday, they haven’t performed close to a Payton-coached team. In Week 2, they lost after leading 21-3 and in Week 3, they allowed 70 points. It’s easy to point the finger at Russell Wilson, but offensively, the Broncos are playing well. They rank 10th in pass offense and 11th in points per game.
The disconnect is on the defensive side of the ball. Coming into this week, they are last in yards per game, points per game, points allowed, and rushing yards allowed per game. Despite a few bad outings, the secondary is talented and can help turn it around but the defensive line has to be much better moving forward. They’ve struggled in both the run and pass game, ranking 32nd in the pass rush win rate and 28th in the run stop win rate.
Vance Joseph is one of the best defensive minds in the league and it’s only a matter of time before they get it figured out. Despite the record the Broncos have done a lot of good this year and there’s a lot of time to flip the script.
Where Did They Come From?
Who said Ohio State quarterbacks can’t get it done? C.J. Stroud has been nothing but impressive through his first four NFL games. He’s the fifth-leading passer and their offense has shown much improvement. The previous two seasons, they struggled to score points, but Stroud has changed the dynamic. Weeks 15 and 16 of 2021 were the last time the Texans scored 30 + points in consecutive games. They’ve already done it twice through the first four games. Expectations weren’t high coming into the season as they were projected for six wins. They’re sitting at 2-2 and they have a legitimate shot to win their division.
Stroud’s surrounding cast deserves just as much respect as their quarterback. Nico Collins‘ 195 yards after the catch leads the league, Tank Dell has shown he’s capable of exploding at any moment and it’s only a matter of time before John Metchie III shows his big play ability. The sky is the limit for this young core, and they could make some noise as the season progresses.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Filling in the shoes of Tom Brady is a tall task, but Baker Mayfield has been balling so far. He’s not putting up huge numbers but he’s getting the job done. The preseason rankings had them finishing last in the division. After an impressive win on Sunday, the Bucs are 3-1 and in first place in the NFC South. Luckily they enter a bye week, giving guys like Mike Evans to get healthy.
The defense is a solid unit that doesn’t get the same credit as others. They’re a bend-but-don’t-break-type of defense and are only allowing 17 PPG. This unit is tied for second in takeaways (10), has 12 sacks on the season, and is doing well to keep teams out of the end zone.
In a winnable division, it’s not a long shot if the Bucs find a way to be crowned NFC South Champs but they have to find some balance on the ground as the season goes on. With only one rushing touchdown and averaging three yards per attempt, they have to find ways to keep defenses on their toes. Mayfield and the defense have found ways to win games but they need their backs to impact the game as well.
Main Image: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports