One week of greatness is interesting. Two marks a trend worth paying attention to. We highlighted four standout groups from Week 1 below that we believe are poised to build on their performances this Sunday:
Minnesota Vikings defense
There are different levels of defensive greatness. There are good defenses, like the 2015 Vikings defense, a unit that boasted emerging talent and could occasionally take over a game. Minnesota finished fifth in points allowed, 13th in yards and 14th in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) metric.
A defense that takes the next level up wins games with Shaun Hill at quarterback. It wins games even when this week's expected new starting quarterback, Sam Bradford, barely knows the playbook. It also can occasionally out-score opponents on its own, like it nearly did against the Titansin Week 1. I believe the Vikings' defense is ready to take that next step and lead the team to a win Sunday night over Green Bay.
Minnesota smashed the exotic right out of Tennessee. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has built a group with athletes at every level that are bigger, faster and tougher than their opponents. Second-year pro Danielle Hunter adds yet another dynamic pass rusher to perhaps the deepest defensive line in football. The team finally is getting quality snaps out of cornerback Trae Waynes, last year's first-round pick. Eric Kendricks gives the Vikings another versatile linebacker alongside Anthony Barr, especially in pass coverage. We might even be a few weeks away from "Harrison Smith is the best safety in football" being conventional wisdom rather than some bold statement.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense will present a strong test, but it's not a bad time to catch Green Bay. Rodgers and Jordy Nelson -- who missed 2015 with a torn ACL -- were still working on their timing last week. Most of the Packers' big plays against Jacksonville came late in the down, with Rodgers making magic after not finding receivers initially open. (This was the team's prime issue last year.) While Rodgers was sensational, it should be concerning for the Packers that he averaged 5.9 yards per attempt in a game where he received sterling pass protection.
Because of their team makeup, the Vikings have as good a chance as anyone to contain Rodgers inside and outside of the pocket. I would take this Minnesota squad on Sundays -- and in some make-believe pickup basketball tournament between NFL defenses. It's not like the Vikings are inexperienced at beating the Packers and besting expectations in big games. They won the NFC North last December over Green Bay in a contest where Bridgewater only threw for 99 yards.
This is Minnesota's chance to send a warning shot to the rest of the NFC that they remain in the mix -- and that their defense has risen to the level of Seattle, Denver and Carolina. In Zimmer's mind, the Vikings quarterback is just a supporting actor anyway.
Miami Dolphins defense
Russell Wilson's game-winning drive in Seattle shouldn't distract anyone from the promise Miami's rebuilt defense showed against the Seahawks last week. Ndamukong Suh was the best player on the field. Cameron Wake, coming off a torn Achilles at age 34, was effective as a situational pass rusher. In a game that included Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, Dolphins Pro Bowler Reshad Jones and sneaky free-agent pickup Isa Abdul-Quddus were easily the best safety combination in the field. They were one step ahead of Wilson and the Seahawks' offense all day.
Against New England on Sunday, the Dolphins face an uneven offensive line, similar to the one they saw in Seattle. For some mystical reason, perhaps no other NFL team outside Denver has given Bill Belichick more problems than Miami. The Dolphins have split with the Patriots three straight seasons, including a Week 17 Patriots disaster last season that cost New England home-field advantage in the playoffs. Belichick was quick to bring that game up this week, a rare admission by Belichick that the past even exists.
This week will be a tougher test for Garoppolo -- making his second start in the stead of suspended starter Tom Brady -- after facing vanilla coverage against a surprisingly cautious Cardinals defense in Week 1. He should see quicker pressure this time around, especially if Dolphins pass rusher Mario Williams is cleared to play after suffering a concussion last week.
Dolphins VP of Everything Mike Tannenbaum should have felt entitled to enjoy a measure of "I told you so" last week, despite the team's loss. His acquisitions make huge impacts. Linebacker Kiko Alonso (11 tackles), acquired in a much-derided trade with the Eagles, looked like the guy who was the runner-up in the Defensive Rookie of the Year race with the Bills in 2013, not the sluggish imitation he was in Philadelphia in 2015. Alonso playing at this level would transform the team's linebacker group. Abdul-Quddus, cornerback Byron Maxwell (also dealt from the Eagles), defensive end Andre Branch and Williams, all pickups this offseason, played big roles in holding Seattle to six points on its first 11 drives.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense
Everyone knows about the receiver duo of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Evans consistently created separation in the season opener against the Falcons and looks ready to emerge as a true No. 1. What should make the Cardinals' defense anxious about their showdown Sunday is the emergence of real depth to this Tampa attack.
As mentioned above, Arizona approached the Patriots matchup with surprising caution. The creative blitzes and pressure packages were rare, and we believe that came from a lack of confidence in the team's cornerback depth. The Cardinals don't want to put rookie Brandon Williams or Tyvon Branch on an island too often. The Bucs, even more than the Gronk-less Patriots, have the players to expose shaky one-on-one coverage.
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins put a tumultuous offseason behind him to make two big plays in Week 1, a circus touchdown catch and a drawn pass-interference call. Third-year pro Charles Sims is already one of the best pass-catching backs in football, and it looks like he's added more strength to his repertoire this year behind Doug Martin. Adam Humphries is showing signs of emerging as the No. 3 slot receiver the Bucs have been missing for years. Starting tight end Cameron Brate is a favorite of Winston's in the two-minute drill.
Winston is showing signs of maturity by taking what the defense gives him. Unlike Ryan Tannehill or Tyrod Taylor, for example, Winston processes his options quickly. His mind is as quick as his feet in the pocket. It feels strange to think that a secondary including Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu could be a weakness, but it could take time for Honey Badger to fully look like his old self after recovering from a torn ACL. We expect the Bucs to spread the Cardinals out and pick on Arizona's other defensive backs.
Koetter won't be afraid to get into a shootout with the Cardinals. After one road win to start the season, this risk-embracing Bucs squad is playing with house money.
Baltimore Ravens defense
No team entered the opener with more questions than Baltimore. Coach John Harbaugh still doesn't seem to know some of the answers on offense, with the team splitting reps at tight end and running back, and between five receivers. But Week 1 should make him feel so much better about the group's team defense.
The Browns offense could be better off with Josh McCown at quarterback than with injured Week 1 starter Robert Griffin III, but this is still a soft landing from the scheduling gods. Cleveland, which once boasted a strong offensive line, is vulnerable. After holding Buffalo to seven points and 160 yards, Baltimore's defense can control this game again up front and build confidence. Just two weeks after entering the season without an identity, the Ravens may start to view themselves as a defense-first squad. Same as it ever was.