Two weeks into the NFL season, certain issues are emerging at various NFL outposts. Early cause for concern? Well, that depends on the particular situation.
Below, I've rounded up nine high-profile subplots that have come to the fore in the 2017 campaign's initial fortnight. Some of these problems are more perception than reality, so I've ranked them from most distressing to least distressing. A good old-fashioned panic scale, Schein Nine style!
1) New York Giants' offense
The Giants' offense has been grotesque and embarrassing. At 0-2, New York ranks near the bottom of the league in a bevy of offensive categories, including points per game (6.5, 30th) and yards per game (251.5, 28th). Going back to last season, Big Blue has now scored fewer than 20 points in eight straight games. It's the kind of toxic punch that results from a mixture of bad play, bad coaching and a bad design.
We knew the Giants' offensive line was horrible last year, when New York ranked 29th in rushing. But the team still won 11 games -- thanks in large part to a stellar defense -- and general manager Jerry Reese didn't address Big Blue's big problem in free agency or the draft. Now, the chickens are home and roosting.
Eli Manning's been sacked eight times in two games. And given some of the hits he's taking, you best believe his ironman run of 213 consecutive starts (the longest active streak in the NFL) hangs in the balance. Yes, Eli has been bad himself. He hasn't posted a passer rating above 90 since last December and does indeed seem to be regressing at age 36. But this O-line's not even giving him a chance. On the ground, the Giants have racked up a grand total of 97 yards over two games. Yep, that's dead last in the league. Shoot, 21 individual running backs have more yards than New York as a team.
When Tampa Bay's second-round kicker Roberto Aguayo blew up in the Buccaneers' face, GM Jason Licht promptly cut him. When trade acquisition Kony Ealy couldn't hack it with the Patriots in the preseason, Bill Belichick said goodbye. Those moves didn't pan out. Ego didn't stand in the way. Everyone makes personnel mistakes; good evaluators own up to them and go forward.
This is why I didn't pick the Giants to return to the playoffs. The flawed offense -- and particularly the O-line -- is going to derail the season.
2) Seattle Seahawks' offensive line
Seattle's offensive rankings are horrendous -- SEE: 26th in total offense, 28th in scoring, 28th in red-zone offense and 22nd on third down -- and honestly, the play on the field is even worse.
The Seahawks couldn't function offensively against Green Bay and San Francisco, scoring a total of 21 points (with one touchdown) in the season's first two weeks. With all due respect to the Packers and 49ers, neither of those teams will be confused with the '85 Bears. Forced to consistently run for his life, Russell Wilson has a passer rating that sits at a lowly 76.3.
Now, the defense is good enough to win the NFC West by itself. But you can't advance in the playoffs -- and take advantage of the gobs of talent and strong coaching -- if the offensive line is broken beyond repair.
3) Los Angeles Chargers' kicking woes
I thought the Chargers had a chance to be a surprise team in 2017. After these gaffes, L.A. is 0-2 -- and the other three teams in the loaded AFC West are 2-0. The Bolts have been snakebit in close games for quite some time now. They really needed to buck this trend and start hot. Now, it's a huge problem. The "here we go again ..." feeling has already seeped in -- and it's only mid-September!
4) Cam Newton's erratic play in Carolina
The Panthers are 2-0 and the league doesn't make you give back ugly wins. That's a good thing. But Cam Newton clearly isn't healthy or confident. The two passes from the first two weeks that truly stick out are the errant throw to Ed Dickson (where Cam overthrew the wide-open tight end on what would have been an easy 21-yard touchdown against the 49ers) and the overthrow of Christian McCaffrey near the goal line vs. the Bills (the rookie could've walked into the end zone untouched and put the game on ice).
While the defense looks great (albeit against weak offenses), if Cam doesn't quickly clean up his play, it's impossible to buy the Panthers as contenders.
5) Jason Garrett calling out stars in Dallas
Forget about Ezekiel Elliott's effort level following interceptions. The real issue was Zeke having the worst rushing game of his pro career and Garrett not feeding him the rock.
Everything is bigger (and more magnified) in Texas. Dallas getting pasted 42-17 by the Broncos was bad enough. Elliott's nine-carry, 8-yard outing was the first bit of on-field adversity the second-year man has faced at the NFL level. Why Garrett opted to magnify it with his comments about tackling after picks is beyond me. And this wasn't the only young star Garrett went after:
It would've been easy (and wise) to give full credit to Denver and move on to Week 3. Now, there's more stuff with the Cowboys. Odd.
6) Sam Bradford's knee injury in Minnesota
Whenever Sam Bradford is hurt, alarm bells sound. And Vikings coach Mike Zimmer didn't calm any nerves with his comments after Sunday's 26-9 loss in Pittsburgh: "Sam is fine. He might play one game from now, he might play six weeks from now. Either way, he's fine."
Fortunately, Zimmer clarified his comments on Monday.
"I was being facetious," Zimmer said, via the Pioneer Press. "I honestly don't know how long he'll be out. I thought he had a chance to play Sunday until we worked him out (before the game). Sometimes after the game, I'm upset. I know our fans deserve better than that, but they didn't have any wine for me in the locker room to chill out a little bit."
Gotta love Zim.
Look, Minnesota cannot function without Bradford, but let's withhold serious concern until we know it's a serious injury. Doesn't seem that way right now. NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported Monday that it's believed to be a bone bruise, while NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport says Minnesota thinks this is a one-week injury.
7) New England Patriots' pass rush
It's not there yet. New England doesn't have a bona fide pass rusher who strikes fear into opposing offenses. And the defense didn't have its soul in Week 2 with Dont'a Hightower still nursing a knee injury.
But with Bill Belichick running this defense, I'm not worried. Shoot, he already might have found something in fourth-round pick Deatrich Wise. The rookie defensive end has logged a sack in each of his first two NFL games, and he's recorded seven QB pressures in just 34 pass-rush snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Super Bowl LI sensation Trey Flowers continues to flash, as well.
8) Green Bay Packers' injuries
I picked the Falcons to beat the Packers by a touchdown on Sunday night. But when Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Mike Daniels all got hurt, Atlanta pounced and easily ran away with the game. It seems like Green Bay dodged any season-enders (or even prolonged injuries) to these key players. Nelson's reportedly "50-50" for Sunday's game against Cincy. He's a star -- and Aaron Rodgers' favorite receiver -- so his quad strain merits close attention. (We've seen how this offense struggles without him.)
9) Le'Veon Bell's slow start in Pittsburgh
Don't panic, Pittsburgh. Don't panic, fantasy owners. Le'Veon Bell is special. His 3.2-yards-per-carry figure over the first two weeks of the season is NOT a serious cause for concern.
After being franchise-tagged, the running back skipped the preseason and didn't return to the team until the beginning of this month. He's still settling in. Bell will be Bell sooner than later. Don't spend a second worrying about it.