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The NFL's weird return to fun, and the reasons (and players) behind it

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Saturday: Mahomes picked the Steelers apart (0:41)

Jeff Saturday reacts to Patrick Mahomes' six-touchdown performance against the Steelers and finding the right player in each situation. (0:41)

The first two Sundays of the NFL season have been wildly entertaining. After an oft-frustrating 2017 season saw breakout stars Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz suffer torn ACLs and future Hall of Famers Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt miss most of the campaign with injuries of their own, 2018 has delivered all kinds of drama through two weeks.

The numbers also reflect an entertaining product. In 2017, the league was criticized for a decline in scoring, supposedly reflecting a dearth of young quarterback talent. It's difficult to reconcile that with the creativity and pass-happy attacks you see in the college game on Saturdays, and indeed, that hasn't been the case this season. Teams are averaging 5.6 yards per play and 23.6 points per game, up considerably from the 5.2 yards per play and 20.2 points per contest they were averaging a year ago. In 2013, the highest-scoring season in league history, offenses averaged 5.4 yards per play and 22.3 points per game through two weeks. The offenses are fine.

While some are frustrated with two ties in two weeks, we've also seen close, competitive games. Sixteen of the 31 games played so far have been decided by seven points or fewer, which is slightly better than the average of 14.7 we've seen since the league went to its current structure in 2002. In 2017, there were only 10 such games, which was the leaguewide low over that time period.

Nobody would argue that the league is perfect, but we're seeing an entertaining NFL. Let's run through some of the players and reasons why Week 2 was enjoyable, starting with the league's most stunning individual star right now ...

Jump to a player/team: Mahomes | Rams' D | Fitzpatrick | Davis | Bortles | Browns | Barkley | Green | Sarkisian | Rodgers


Patrick Mahomes and the NFL's best offense

I wrote quite a bit about Mahomes' debut last week, and after a six-touchdown day against the Steelers, he has to be the league MVP through two weeks. The historical markers are stratospheric. Mahomes is the first player to throw for six touchdown passes in one of his first five games as a pro. He's the first quarterback in league history to throw 10 touchdown passes across his first three games, and that's even considering Mahomes didn't throw a TD pass in his career debut last season in Week 17.

The Chiefs tipped a little more of their hand in terms of concepts on Sunday, but honestly, Week 1 was more exotic than what we saw from Andy Reid & Co. in Week 2, at least before the All-22 comes out. The Steelers just don't have the horses to keep up with the league's best arsenal of weapons. Travis Kelce had a massive game, a sad sign that the Steelers don't yet have a replacement for Ryan Shazier to cover top tight ends like Kelce and Rob Gronkowski. He absolutely torched inside linebackers Jon Bostic and Vince Williams and was a mismatch going deeper against Sean Davis. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is doing a great job with formation diversity and has weapons who can play against stereotypes. The Chiefs are comfortable coming out with multiple tight ends, keeping everyone in tight, and then using the threat of the jet sweep to open up passing lanes downfield. They're also totally capable of spreading teams out and then using Mahomes' mobility to escape the pocket or running with Kareem Hunt against a reduced box out of shotgun.

They had their most explosive success spreading the Steelers thin. Reid stretched the field horizontally to isolate Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins on fades and back-shoulder fades against Artie Burns, who presumably had less help than Cameron Sutton, who started on the other side for the injured Joe Haden. Burns couldn't match up one-on-one, but to be honest, few cornerbacks in the league are going to be able to keep up with that sort of speed while also trying to maintain run integrity on the edge. There's also intense pressure to tackle these guys in the open field, which is going to be a monumental task given the team speed up and down this receiving corps. Watkins had his first 100-yard game and could have added a 39-yard touchdown, but Mahomes had his only bad miss of the day before throwing a touchdown pass to Kelce three plays later. The Steelers had the right playcall on a third-and-goal pressure and got Mahomes to make a simple swing pass to Hunt, but the star running back simply ran over rookie Terrell Edmunds en route to the end zone.

If you're a defensive coordinator looking to stop Mahomes and this Chiefs offense, my advice would be to lobby the NFL to make some sort of schedule change to push your matchup to 2023 or so. At the very least, try to get a November or December time slot so you'll at least get to see everything they're doing on tape. We still haven't really seen the Chiefs get their running game going for big chunks of yardage with Hunt or Mahomes. When that shows up, you may just want to resign and wait for your team to hire Bieniemy to take over as coach.

In reality, there are ways teams will attack the Chiefs, although it's going to be tough. The right defense is going to be able to drop seven in coverage and get pressure with its front four, given that pressure has greatly reduced Mahomes' effectiveness through two games. When teams don't bother the second-year quarterback, he has posted a league-best passer rating of 151.9 while completing 78.9 percent of his passes, averaging 11 yards per attempt, and throwing nine touchdown passes. When teams do get pressure, Mahomes' passer rating falls to 101.6 percent, mostly because he completes only 47.1 percent of his throws. Mahomes looks incredibly smooth in the pocket, a testament to the work he has done in practice, but when teams bother him, we see a bit of the mercurial Mahomes from Texas Tech reappear.

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Saturday says Fitzpatrick can steal Winston's job

Jeff Saturday explains that Ryan Fitzpatrick is not afraid of the big stage and can keep the starting job if he keeps it up.

Teams also need to try to get to third down, where they can feel confident they'll see a pass and rush the quarterback. The problem is getting there. Mahomes is averaging 11.3 yards per dropback on first down and 10.5 yards per dropback on second down, so most times he goes to throw the football, the result is a first down. On third down, while Mahomes has posted a passer rating of 120.8, he's only 5-of-8 for 52 yards while averaging 5.9 yards per dropback and posting a QBR of 40.3.

Teams will eventually start creating takeaways. He can reveal which side of the field he's going to with his eyes immediately after the snap, and while there might be two or three terrifying options on that side of the field at one time, great safeties are going to be able to read opportunities and make plays. He hasn't yet thrown an interception, although Chris Conley fumbled a completion away for Kansas City's first turnover.

Make no mistake, though: This isn't a two-week fluke. Barring an offensive line collapse or serious injuries to the offensive talent, Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense are for real. He's not going to average five touchdowns per game, of course, but Mahomes is at the controls of the NFL's best offense. It's a joy to watch.

The Rams' defensive dominance

In the first half of their Monday Night Football game against the new-look Rams defense, Jon Gruden's Raiders seemed to touch on a strategy that might work against a unit built around interior disruptors and ball-hawk cornerbacks. Oakland went with bigger packages, ran the football, and threw to tight end Jared Cook, who racked up 113 yards receiving en route to a 180-yard day. The Raiders got away from their game plan in the second half, leading the Rams to start a dominant run that didn't let up during Sunday's blowout win over the Cardinals.

Over the past six quarters, the Rams have been absolutely unbelievable on defense. They've allowed zero points, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Over 16 possessions, the Rams have allowed the Raiders and Cardinals to rack up just 11 first downs. Those two offenses have generated more than one first down just twice, in both cases on the final drive of each offense's respective game. Those 16 possessions have generated just 244 yards, for an average of just over 15 net yards per drive.

To put things in context, the Cardinals didn't make it over midfield and take an offensive snap on Los Angeles's side of the field until the final play of the game on Sunday. No team has gone an entire game with just one snap on the offensive side of the field since the Giants failed to make it past the 50 even once against the Saints on Christmas Eve in 2006. Arizona's offense might be truly awful -- the Cardinals have started the year going 4-for-20 on third down and have scored the fewest points (six) over their first two games of any team in the past decade -- but Sam Bradford & Co. never once even seemed threatening against Los Angeles.

The scary thing for opponents is that the Rams aren't even winning the way we might have imagined on defense before the season. They have just two sacks on 69 dropbacks through two games. Neither of them have come from Aaron Donald, who doesn't have a single quarterback knockdown or a tackle for loss through two games. Los Angeles has four interceptions over two games, but it hasn't yet forced a fumble. What happens when Donald starts getting to the quarterback?

The schedule gets tougher for the Rams over the next two weeks, with home games against the high-powered offenses of the Chargers and Vikings, although both Philip Rivers and Kirk Cousins can be baited into interceptions. They have road games against the Seahawks and Broncos afterward, offenses whose lines will struggle to hold up against L.A. While the Rams added big names this offseason, they incurred significant risk by taking the league's sixth-ranked defense by DVOA from a year ago and rebuilding it on the fly. So far, it has been fun to see Wade Phillips' unit suffocate opposing offenses.

Ryan Fitzpatrick airing it out (and keeping his job?)

I was much more skeptical of Fitzpatrick keeping things up after a glorious performance against the Saints in the opener, and, well, "FitzMagic" basically produced a carbon copy of that game against the Eagles in Week 2. It seemed like DeSean Jackson was probably going to be out for this game during most of the week, but after clearing the concussion protocol, he made his way back into the lineup and scored on a 75-yard touchdown pass on the opening play from scrimmage. Just as was the case against the Saints, a successful veteran defense blew its coverage on the long score, with Malcolm Jenkins taking responsibility for "an inexcusable mistake" in vacating the post.

Later in the first half, the Eagles made another one. Nigel Bradham failed on a diving attempt to break up a pass to O.J. Howard, and after Ronald Darby whiffed on an almost nonexistent tackle attempt, Howard ran upfield for another 75-yard touchdown. As Bo Wulf noted, the Eagles allowed more 70-plus yard plays during the first half of this game than they did during the entire 2017 season.

The Eagles blew another coverage on a touchdown pass to Chris Godwin. The fourth was on a slant to Mike Evans, for which there might not be a legal coverage. Fitzpatrick did technically throw an interception, although it was really a drop by Howard which Darby caught on the fly. He was more than a couple of big plays, though; Fitzpatrick is completing 78.5 percent of his throws despite throwing his average pass nearly 10.7 yards in the air. He -- not Mahomes -- has the best passer rating and Total QBR in football. Fitzpatrick is just the third quarterback in league history to post 400-plus yards and four or more touchdown passes in consecutive games, joining Dan Marino and Billy Volek in that unique club.

Credit should also go to the infrastructure around Fitzpatrick. Dirk Koetter has turned over playcalling duties to Todd Monken, who was an excellent offensive mind for more than a decade around major college programs before turning around Southern Mississippi and leaving the Golden Eagles to join the Bucs' staff. Monken is taking shots at the right times, and even if the Bucs aren't going to rack up multiple long touchdowns per week, he's making the most of his guys' talents and creating good one-on-one mismatches.

Tampa's offensive line is also much improved, and it's showing. Fitzpatrick is throwing relatively deep passes, but he has been pressured on only 17.4 percent of his dropbacks this season, the second-lowest rate in the league. While Mahomes has been pretty good under pressure, Fitzpatrick has absolutely collapsed when teams have gotten to him. The Harvard graduate is posting an unreal passer rating of 150.2 when he's not bothered through two weeks, but his passer rating has fallen all the way to 64.2 when pressured.

What's even more remarkable is that Fitzpatrick has really done this without the benefit of any sort of running game. Peyton Barber could muster only 22 yards in 16 carries on Sunday and is averaging a mere 2.6 yards per carry so far, with two first downs on 35 carries. As the huge plays regress toward the mean, the Bucs can keep their offense going by finding a more efficient rushing attack.

The fascinating question now, of course, is what the Buccaneers do after their Week 3 matchup at home with the winless Steelers. Jameis Winston will be eligible to return from his suspension, but how on earth can you possibly take Fitzpatrick out of the lineup when he's playing well? I don't doubt that the Buccaneers will end up returning to Winston at some point during the season, but is there a rush to replace Fitzpatrick? If they bring in Winston now and he struggles, can they resist the calls from the Bucs fan base -- and the locker room -- to go back to Fitzpatrick? Would they be wrong? The 35-year-old Fitzpatrick isn't Tampa's quarterback of the future, but given Winston's repulsive behavior off of the field, should he be in that conversation anyway?

These are two huge wins in the bank for the Buccaneers, who seemed likely to start the year 0-3 given their schedule. Instead, after entering the season with a 6.8 percent chance of making the postseason, the Bucs are all the way up to 53.9 percent. Even if Fitzpatrick turns back into a well-educated pumpkin, he might have done enough to inspire Tampa into its first playoff run since 2007.

Vontae Davis' short stint in Buffalo

There's no joy in a player's career ending, although Davis might have created a new definition for retiring on your own terms after what happened on Sunday. The former Colts star was inactive in Week 1 after signing a one-year, $5 million deal with the Bills this offseason. Pushed into the lineup in Week 2 against the Chargers, he struggled on 29 snaps during the first half before doing the unthinkable. Davis apparently made the decision to retire from football, leaving the stadium at halftime before posting a curiously lengthy farewell on Twitter hours later.

You can't fault Davis for moving on if the 30-year-old felt like he couldn't physically keep up with younger players, and given that the Bills had been outscored 75-9 through six quarters, there wasn't much entertainment value in sticking around. I have so many questions about this. Did he leave his playbook and gear, or did he just walk out in full pads to his car past some confused stadium employees? Did Davis grab some Powerades for the road? Did the Bills do a roll call at halftime and realize Vontae wasn't around? Did he unfriend everyone on the Bills roster on social media as he was walking to his car? Nothing has ever simultaneously seemed more spontaneous and more calculated than retiring at halftime of a football game in which you're playing. This even brought Philip Rivers some joy.

The Bills are a mess, even beyond the Davis retirement. Coach Sean McDermott stripped defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier of playcalling duties at halftime, which seems harsh given that Frazier's defense had been forced to face five possessions starting on their own side of the field over the first six quarters of the season. The defense did almost entirely shut down the Chargers after halftime, with Rivers & Co. netting a mere 61 yards across six drives, but the Chargers were already up 28-6 at halftime, with the Los Angeles quarterback starting 15-of-16 for 178 yards with three touchdowns.

Josh Allen looked far more like an NFL quarterback than Nathan Peterman and had a long completion (on an underthrown pass, ironically) to Zay Jones, but the Bills' first-round pick took five sacks and was knocked down eight times in his first career start. His next two games come on the road against the Vikings and Packers. The Bills are posted as 16.5-point underdogs in Minnesota. No season should be over after two weeks, but it already feels like Buffalo is playing out the string in advance of the 2019 offseason.

Blake Bortles outplays Tom Brady

The Jaguars got their revenge. After spending the entire offseason ruing their missed opportunity to beat the Patriots and advance to Super Bowl LII, the Jaguars beat up the defending AFC champions for 60 minutes in Jacksonville on Sunday and claimed what ended up being a pretty comprehensive victory. And they did it in a game in which Bortles quite comfortably outplayed Tom Brady.

Bortles has had excellent games before, of course, but they've mostly been against middling competition. Even in the playoff win against the Steelers, his performance was more about picking up key first downs and big plays as opposed to being the focal point of the offense. He threw for only 214 yards in that game, and while he posted a 293-yard performance against the Patriots the following week, the Jaguars didn't have enough confidence in Bortles to put the game on him in the fourth quarter.

That changed on Sunday. As Warren Sharp noted on Twitter during the offseason, the Jaguars got remarkably conservative and predictable during the fourth quarter of that loss to the Patriots, which let the Patriots back into the game. I mentioned on SportsCenter this past week that the Jaguars ranked seventh in the league in yards per attempt since the beginning of 2017 when they let Bortles throw on first down, and if they wanted to keep the Patriots' defense on the field, their best tactic was to throw the ball.

In a way, the absence of Leonard Fournette as a crutch might have forced the Jaguars to throw the ball more frequently. No matter why they did it, though, Jacksonville was a step ahead of the Patriots all day on first down. New England played a lot of man coverage across the board and dared Bortles to make passes to a bunch of no-name receivers, but the wildly underrated Keelan Cole became a household name by making one of the catches of the season, while Dede Westbrook turned a drag route upfield into a 61-yard touchdown pass to give the Jags critical breathing room in the fourth quarter.

In all, Bortles was 13-of-19 on first downs for 204 yards with three touchdowns, 10 first downs, and a passer rating of 143.4. The former first-round pick had previously never thrown for more than 175 yards on first down in a Jaguars victory before. The likes of Cole, Westbrook and Corey Grant -- two of whom are undrafted free agents -- played key roles in moving the chains.

And while Bortles had a deserved history of producing numbers that were more impressive than his actual level of play, the UCF product was as good -- if not better -- than his numbers suggested on Sunday. His one interception was a pass into admittedly snug coverage that still hit Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the hands. Despite losing left tackle Cam Robinson early in the game, Bortles had the pocket awareness to avoid being sacked.

Bortles also converted three third-and-mediums with his feet as a scrambler, coming up a yard short of a fourth before the Jags decided to hard count into a false start in the third quarter in New England's side of the field. It was the only misstep for Jacksonville's decision-making and playcalling on Sunday. (The Jags might have decided to go for it later in the play clock, but their pre-snap movements suggested their lineup was likely posturing.)

Bortles lost Robinson and didn't have Fournette, but he was also aided by a pair of Patriots injuries. Trey Flowers and Patrick Chung both left the game with concussions, and neither was replaced particularly well. The Patriots didn't manufacture a pass rush without Flowers, while the Jaguars picked on Duron Harmon in Chung's absence.

The natural follow-up for the Jaguars after their most significant regular-season win since last year's Steelers victory will be to avoid the emotional letdown after beating the Patriots. I'm not sure that emotional letdown is a real thing. Over the past five years, leaving Week 17 aside, teams that have beaten the Patriots during the regular season have gone 9-6 the following week. The Jaguars get to face the Titans next week in a matchup in which they could be throwing one of the league's best defensive lines up against a beat-up Titans offensive front and former Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Afterward, they get the Jets at home. There's a reasonable chance the Jaguars get out to a 4-0 start before they travel to face the Chiefs in a fascinating Week 5 matchup. It would be hard for Jalen Ramsey to find a flaw in Mahomes' game these days. Then again, it also would be hard to find a flaw in what Bortles did on Sunday.

The Browns are thisclose to being 2-0

The Browns were strictly sadness for the vast majority of their 0-16 campaign last season. They started just two fourth-quarter drives with a win expectancy of 51 percent or more all season. The results aren't yet there, but the Browns have packed more memorable moments into the fourth quarters of their first two games in 2018 than they did the entirety of 2017. In fact, the Browns are a competent kicking game away from standing as one of the league's biggest surprises at 2-0.

Kicker Zane Gonzalez could soon be Cleveland's ex-kicker, the harsh reality of a brutal two-game span. One of the few holdovers from the Sashi Brown regime spared by new general manager John Dorsey, the Arizona State product was below-average on field goals and extra points as a rookie, but the Browns only brought in Ross Martin to compete with Gonzalez this summer.

In the season opener, Gonzalez had his game-winning field goal attempt from 43 yards out blocked by the Steelers in overtime. He hit three extra points amid nasty weather in Cleveland. In the friendly confines of the Superdome against the Saints on Sunday, though, Gonzalez had no luck. He hit two 39-yard field goals but missed two field goals and two extra points wide, including what would have been an extra point to take the lead with 1:24 left and a 52-yard field goal to force overtime with eight seconds to go.

By win probability added, the Browns kicker actually didn't put on the worst performance of the day. That particular ignominy belonged to Vikings kicker Daniel Carlson, who missed three field goals -- including two game-winners in overtime -- during the 29-29 Packers-Vikings tie. With Dorsey having nothing invested in Gonzalez and Dan Bailey still looming as a free agent, though, it would be a shock to see the Browns resist the urge to upgrade on an easy scapegoat in Gonzalez.

To be fair, Gonzalez is taking more blame for this than he deserves. Regardless of whether he made that extra point at 18-18 or missed it, the Saints marched right down the field on the Browns for 50 yards in two plays to get in field goal range. If anything, they should have scored a touchdown, only for Drew Brees to miss a pair of would-be touchdown throws on second and third down.

What is exciting and fun about the Browns is how they're competing. Tyrod Taylor struggled enough over the first two weeks to inspire reasonable calls for Baker Mayfield, but the former Bills quarterback responded with a gorgeous 47-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway on fourth-and-5 to push the Browns into what seemed like would be a stunning lead. After the Saints kicked the field goal, Taylor followed up by driving 41 yards on two plays to set up a game-tying field goal from 52 yards out.

We're also seeing an impressive young defensive line forming from Brown's final draft with the team in 2017. Myles Garrett has already announced himself as a burgeoning star and had two sacks with two forced fumbles in the opener, but one of the breakout defensive linemen of 2018 through two weeks is third-rounder Larry Ogunjobi, who did consistent damage against one of the league's best interior offensive lines Sunday. After picking up a sack in the opener, Ogunjobi followed up with two sacks for 21 yards, with a third negated by an illegal contact penalty. He also threw in a third-and-1 stuff of Mike Gillislee to force a punt. It's a lot easier to find a kicker than it is to find an interior disruptor. The Browns might be ruing their kicking game, but this was the sort of performance that actually bodes well for their future.

Saquon Barkley is great (but the Giants' offense is not)

Through two weeks, Barkley has somehow simultaneously managed to satisfy believers who think the Penn State back's talent should allow him to transcend modern opinions about running backs and skeptics who think the Giants don't have the infrastructure to allow Barkley to succeed. His 68-yard touchdown run in the opener was a thing of magic, the sort of run the Giants couldn't have imagined coming from any back wearing a blue uniform since Tiki Barber. Barkley also has made the first tackler miss as much as any other back in football; there was one catch on Sunday against the Cowboys where the second overall pick managed to turn what should have been a significant loss into a 9-yard gain by breaking a tackle and falling on top of and over his eventual tackler.

The Giants offense has also simultaneously managed to reduce Barkley into Theo Riddick, and while Riddick is a useful player, he's not someone worth a top-two pick. Barkley has that one 68-yard run, but otherwise, his 28 carries have produced just 66 yards and six first downs. When the Giants faced a fourth-and-inches situation early in the game, they chose to punt in lieu of handing the ball to the player their general manager said "... was blessed by God" in April. On two later fourth-and-1 tries, Pat Shurmur curiously chose to utilize Eli Manning on a pair of sneaks for his first rushing conversions since 2010. I suspect even Eli would say that if his foot speed had been blessed by a deity, it would qualify as a cruel one. Even if you want to give Barkley credit for distracting linemen from the Manning sneak, it's remarkable that the Giants didn't give him the ball on fourth-and-short earlier in the game.

In the passing attack, meanwhile, Barkley has essentially served as a dump-off for Manning when the pass rush inevitably gets to the 37-year-old passer. Barkley has 16 catches through two weeks, including a team-high 14 during Sunday's 20-13 loss to the Cowboys. Those 14 receptions went for just 80 yards, which is more efficient than a run, but less efficient than just about every single sort of pass. Those 14 targets produced just two first downs, and those 80 yards are the fewest for any 14-reception game in league history.

This isn't Barkley's fault. It's quite clear that the Giants are operating with one hand tied behind their backs because of their offensive line, and unsurprisingly, tackle Ereck Flowers looms as the biggest problem. He was a mess against Calais Campbell and the Jaguars in Week 1, getting beaten for a sack on the very first play and taking two penalties before allowing a pressure that created Myles Jack's pick-six.

To be fair, Flowers had a better game against Cowboys star DeMarcus Lawrence on Sunday. Flowers stayed off the stat sheet, and Lawrence's sack wasn't directly against Flowers. On the other hand, though, the Giants gave Flowers help off and on throughout the night, which opened up opportunities elsewhere on the line. The Giants struggled mightily against twists and stunts, failing to diagnose Dallas' games and leaving Manning open to free rushes and big hits. Dallas sacked Manning six times, marking the first time since 2014 the longtime Giants starter has been sacked six or more times.

Things aren't going to get better soon. Starting center Jon Halapio was carted off in an air cast, while neither of the 2017 starters at the pivot remain on the roster. Weston Richburg signed a big-money deal with the 49ers, and capable fill-in Brett Jones was dispatched to the Vikings for a 2019 seventh-round pick. Flowers gets J.J. Watt next week and Cameron Jordan the week after. Barkley is going to have to make his own holes for the foreseeable future.

A.J. Green's hot start

As the Bengals have gotten out to a surprise 2-0 start with consecutive 34-23 victories over the Colts and Ravens, Green has had a strangely entertaining start to the year. If you play fantasy football, you know what sort of impact the star wideout has had. He won some matchups before Thursday night was over by racking up three touchdowns in the first half alone, a feat that hadn't been accomplished since Dwayne Allen did it for the Colts in December 2016. Green has a league-leading four scores through two games after racking up eight a year ago. He has 161 receiving yards to go with a 36-yard pass interference call. Green also fumbled twice in the Colts game, matching his total from 2017.

Quietly, the Bengals are suddenly favorites to make it to the postseason, having upped their playoff odds per the ESPN Football Power Index from 19.7 percent before the season to 57.1 percent now. Their offense is full of weapons even after losing Joe Mixon to arthroscopic knee surgery, and while they'll need to find a power back to rotate alongside Gio Bernard, the North Carolina product should be playing behind a much-improved offensive line. While the Giants are stuck starting Flowers at right tackle, the Bengals have enjoyed the luxury of benching first-round bust Cedric Ogbuehi, in part because their starter at right tackle is Bobby Hart, whom the Giants released for disciplinary reasons in December.

Steve Sarkisian's bounce-back game

One week after the Falcons stunk up the joint in the red zone and exasperated Falcons fans took to social media to call for Sarkisian's ouster, Atlanta won its game against Carolina by doing work inside the 20. The Falcons made four trips inside the 20 and scored touchdowns each time during Sunday's 31-24 victory over Carolina. Atlanta only accomplished that once during two seasons under Kyle Shanahan as its offensive coordinator. Shanahan's 49ers, it might be noted, have scored 36 points on nine red zone trips so far this season. The Falcons and Sarkisian have scored ... 35 points on their nine red zone trips through two weeks.

Quarterbacks have stayed healthy

There has certainly been controversy surrounding the league's overzealous enforcement of roughing the passer penalties, but one of the early results has been a healthy set of quarterbacks. While several quarterbacks have either taken big hits (like Cam Newton on Sunday) or missed snaps due to injury (like Aaron Rodgers), the only quarterback to miss a start with a new injury through two weeks is Marcus Mariota in Tennessee, who sat out on Sunday after struggling to grip the football during warm-ups.

The Titans lined up Blaine Gabbert behind a pair of backup offensive tackles and still won against Houston, a testament to some truly inspired weird football. Tennessee's opening touchdown came on a 66-yard touchdown pass from safety Kevin Byard to gunner Dane Cruikshank on a fake punt in which the Texans inexplicably left Cruikshank uncovered and wide-open on the line of scrimmage. Their second touchdown came with a heavy dosage of Derrick Henry as a Wildcat quarterback, including a completed pass from the Heisman Trophy winner, who hadn't thrown a pass since going 2-for-9 during his time at Yulee High School in Florida. The Titans would eventually win with two field goals, the second of which came at the end of a drive in which Gabbert deliberately threw two forward passes on the same play to save five yards and a down.

There's clearly some sort of balance to be found on the roughing the passer calls, with questionable decisions levied against Carlos Dunlap in Week 1 and Clay Matthews on Sunday, among others. The league also deserves credit for getting aggressive in ejecting players such as Shawn Williams and Damontae Kazee for brutal hits on sliding quarterbacks. After a year in which too many star quarterbacks went down injured, though, the league rightfully is taking efforts to keep as many of its franchise passers on the field.

Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers

While Rodgers clearly isn't 100 percent as he makes his way through games in a massive knee brace, we're seeing just how incredible the future Hall of Famer is at using pure arm strength and a modicum of scrambling to try to simulate the full Rodgers experience. Rodgers on Sunday showed off both what he's capable of doing and where he needs help to keep the Packers up to their usual standards on offense.

After Rodgers ripped apart the Bears in the second half with quick throws and big plays with yards after catch last Sunday night, Mike Zimmer and the Vikings responded by focusing on limiting what the Packers could do after the catch. Green Bay averaged 4.3 YAC on Sunday, down significantly from the Randall Cobb-aided 8.4 YAC from Monday night. With Rodgers throwing 41 of his 42 passes from the pistol or shotgun, the Packers were able to get Rodgers a quick survey of the field before popping his hips to fit the ball into a tight window.

Once the field began to compress and the threat of YAC wasn't quite as concerning, though, the Vikings stiffened up. Rodgers was 3-of-6 for just 19 yards in the red zone, although a 19-yard touchdown pass he threw to Jimmy Graham was called back for a holding penalty on Lane Taylor. The Packers ran the ball two times inside the 20 for just minus-1 yard, which simply has to change. Green Bay can take pressure off its star quarterback by running effectively inside the red zone, and it might need to look toward the returning Aaron Jones to make an impact on the ground here.

As a result of the red zone struggles, Mason Crosby attempted six field goals, making five. His only miss came after Zimmer iced him, pushing the game into overtime. There, on the edge of field goal range after a Carlson miss with a second-and-1, Rodgers fell on his fumble for a loss of one. On the next play, he was sacked on a five-man pressure that pushed the Packers out of field goal range. Rodgers never touched the ball again in the 29-29 tie.