The Brandt Report

Playoff chances of 2-1 teams: Titans look good, Rams in trouble

Teams that are 2-1 through Week 3 of the 2017 season might be feeling pretty good. After all, they have a winning record, and only two teams -- the 3-0 Chiefs and the 3-0 Falcons -- can claim to be in better shape. However, history shows that only about half of them can expect to make the playoffs.

Going back to 1990, 54.1 percent of teams that start 2-1 have gone to the postseason. So I thought I'd examine the 16 teams that have started 2-1 thus far and identify the eight teams with the best chance to reach the playoffs. Below are my top eight, ranked according to my confidence that they'll be in the postseason, along with the eight who are in danger of missing the cut.

1) New England Patriots

New England's schedule from Week 10 to Week 15 -- at Broncos, at Raiders, vs. Dolphins, at Bills, at Dolphins, at Steelers -- is daunting, with five of those six contests coming on the road (and one of those road contests being in Mexico City). And we can't ignore the fact that the defense is ranked 32nd through three weeks. But, quite simply, the Patriots have the best quarterback (Tom Brady) and the best coach (Bill Belichick), and there's no reason to think they won't win the AFC East for the 16th time in 18 years.

2) Green Bay Packers

Running back is a concern -- converted receiver Ty Montgomery (3.0 yards per carry) just does not look like the long-term answer there. I'm also worried about the health of the offensive tackles. But perhaps one of the Packers' rookie backs, like fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams, will emerge, while time, in theory, could allow the line to round into shape. Otherwise, the tight ends and receivers are very good, and Aaron Rodgers is, of course, outstanding. Ultimately, I think Rodgers and Co. will rule the NFC North.

3) Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers haven't exactly sprinted out of the gate, ranking 22nd in overall offense and 15th in passing. But I think that's largely due to the struggles of their 29th-ranked ground game. It's worth noting that guys who miss time in the preseason -- like running back Le'Veon Bell, who stayed away from the team until September after failing to land a contract extension this offseason -- often take awhile to get going. I expect Bell, whose yards-per-carry mark (3.5) is down almost a full yard from his career average (4.4), to pick it up as we move closer to mid-season, and that's when this offense should really start to click. Between that and an improved defense, Pittsburgh should claim the AFC North.

4) Dallas Cowboys

This all hinges on a full season of availability from Ezekiel Elliott, whose six-game suspension is still being examined by the court system, but I give the Cowboys a narrow edge over the Eagles and Redskins in what's shaping up to be a three-team race for the NFC East. Dallas hasn't exactly been firing on all cylinders thus far, but I see this team getting better. The defense will get a boost from the return of David Irving from his four-game suspension and Anthony Hitchensfrom a tibial plateau fracture. The Cowboys do close with three of their final four games on the road, but the schedule is not wholly unkind: They get to face the Packers, Chiefsand Seahawks in Dallas.

5) Oakland Raiders

The Raiders didn't look very good in Sunday night's loss in Washington. But I didn't see anything to worry about in the long term. Don't forget how hard it can be for West Coast teams to travel east. With the 3-0 Chiefs currently looking like favorites to take the AFC West, I like the Raiders as a wild-card squad. The offense and defense should both improve from last season, especially with Marshawn Lynch helping Oakland control the clock.

6) Tennessee Titans

One year after losing out on the playoffs because of a tiebreaker based on their AFC South record, the Titans have already notched a big divisional road win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is playing well, heading up the NFL's fifth-ranked offense, and the team was sensational in last week's win over the Seahawks. The defense -- which notched 40 sacks and 12 picks in 2016 -- should be better. Ending the season with two games at home should help. Thus, I like Tennessee to win the division for the first time since 2008.

7) Denver Broncos

Losing to the Bills isn't good, but I think Sunday's upset -- which I picked as my upset of the week -- can be written off as a letdown coming off Denver's big home win over Dallas. Quarterback Trevor Siemian will be better in his second year as the Broncos' starter. He might not win too many games by himself, but he's a sneaky good passer with smarts and accuracy, while the offensive line around him is so much better than it was last year. The offense has shown improvement, ranking 11th through Week 3 after finishing in 27th in 2016, while the fourth-ranked defense is as strong as ever, especially against the pass. The AFC West is imposing, but I could see three teams making the playoffs out of there this season.

8) Philadelphia Eagles

Quarterback Carson Wentz should take a step forward, thanks to the additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and the progression of Nelson Agholor. He'll also be helped by the continued presence of offensive tackle Lane Johnson -- it's worth noting that eight of Philadelphia's nine losses in 2016 came during Johnson's 10-game suspension. The offense will improve, and I have faith in the defense led by excellent coordinator Jim Schwartz. Playing three straight on the road in December -- including a Week 13 matchup with Seattle -- will be a challenge, but the Eagles do finish with two in a row at home. I think they could win the NFC East, but if they fall short, I like them for a wild-card spot.


9) Minnesota Vikings: If I knew for certain that quarterback Sam Bradfordwas going to get back on the field soon and stay there for the duration of the season, I'd think about giving the Vikings the edge over the Eagles for the No. 8 spot. Even so, backup Case Keenum showed something in the Week 3 win over the Buccaneers. Minnesota is a viable threat to win the NFC North, but if I have to cut this field down to eight, doubt about Bradford's health puts the Vikings on the wrong side of the ledger, if only just barely.

10) Washington Redskins: Losing in Washington to the Eaglesin Week 1 could potentially hurt if the Redskins end up in a close battle for the division, although there's a chance for redemption in Philadelphia in Week 7. It's hard to separate the three-team pack atop the NFC East. But at this point, I'd put Washington -- which is adjusting to the loss of 1,000-yard receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, as well as offensive coordinator Sean McVay -- behind Dallas and Philadelphia.

11) Detroit Lions: The Lions could win the NFC North or finish in fourth place. Quarterback Matthew Stafford must have a monster year for Detroit to reach the postseason.

12) Los Angeles Rams: Quarterback Jared Goff and the offense have looked much better under new coach Sean McVay, and the Ramscould win the NFC West -- a big test is coming up this week against Dallas. But I still have faith in Seattle's ability to shake off its seemingly annual slow start and claim the division, leaving the Rams on the outside looking in.

13) Carolina Panthers: The top-ranked defense has been stellar. But roughly six months removed from offseason shoulder surgery, quarterback Cam Newton looks like he's about 50 to 60 percent of what he's been in the past. The offense -- which ranks 28th despite the additions of highly anticipated rookies Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel -- is going to really miss veteran tight end Greg Olsen while he's out with a foot injury.

14) Buffalo Bills: The Bills are playing very good defense under new coach Sean McDermott, but quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the receivers are average, and that will hold Buffalo back.

15) Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags have a good, plus defense, but I'm not confident quarterback Blake Bortles will play well enough to give them a shot at the playoffs.

16) Baltimore Ravens: The offense is currently ranked 32nd, the injuries are piling up and quarterback Joe Flacco looks like he might have lost his fastball.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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