The NFL never lacks for action, but since the start of the epic 2021 playoffs, the league seems to be on an all-time run. For the third straight week, the Sunday slate featured wild, down-to-the-wire finishes in the morning slate, and the action didn’t slow down from there, as Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars blew the Chargers out in Los Angeles while Aaron Rodgers and the Packers picked up a win in Tampa Bay during the afternoon slate.
The nightcap didn’t live up to the rest of the day, as Russell Wilson and the Broncos’ offense continued to get booed at home during an 11-10 win over the 49ers. It was the latest lackluster performance from an AFC West that has fallen flat after being hyped as the best division in NFL history. We’ll break down the issues out West later in this article, but the story of the weekend is the rising fortunes of two franchises in Florida.
Will Miami and Jacksonville Join Tampa Bay in NFL Playoffs?
Miami put the NFL on notice with their comeback win over the Ravens in Week Two, but while it was written off as a down day by the Colts, perhaps NFL observers should have paid closer attention to Jacksonville’s shutout of Indianapolis in Week Two.
Through two games of film study, there are two obvious takeaways about the Jaguars: (1) the pass rush duo of Travon Walker, who dominated Week 1, and Josh Allen, who dominated Week 2, is a top-5 edge rush tandem, and (2) new head coach Doug Pederson has put Trevor Lawrence in an environment where he has a chance to live up to his billing as a generational quarterback prospect.
Still, with matchups against the Chargers and Eagles looming, there was the possibility that the unproven Jaguars would get off to a 1-3 start before their progress showed up in their record, but that narrative got flipped on its head Sunday. Granted, Jacksonville faced a battered Justin Herbert who had not practiced all week, but a 38-10 victory on a cross-country road trip is a statement nevertheless.
On film, the Jaguars have gone from one of the NFL’s most frustrating watches to one of the most fun. Walker and Allen are overwhelming offensive tackles, the linebacker duo of Foyesade Oluokun and Devin Lloyd can flat-out run, and few corners move with the fluidity of second-year player Tyson Campbell. On offense, Coach Pederson has a scheme in place that actually makes sense for Lawrence. This shows up in the box score, where Lawrence has run all of eight times for 22 yards. Last season, the Jaguars regularly featured Lawrence as a run threat in the zone read game, which didn’t make a lot of sense given his lack of elusiveness as a runner at the NFL level. It was one of many things that showed Urban Meyer, the worst head coach in NFL history, had a fundamental misunderstanding of how Lawrence should play. There are countless other examples of this that show up in the context of the passing attack, but it’s hard to find another statistic that highlights last year’s issues more starkly than Lawrence’s rushing attempts.
With Lawrence showing off big-time arm talent from the pocket and the Walker-Allen tandem making life easier for everyone else on defense, the Jaguars appear to be the most talented team in the AFC South. That’s not to knock blue-chip players such as Indy’s Jonathan Taylor or Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, but the Jaguars have the best quarterback and standouts at foundational positions on defense, an enviable tandem.
As for Miami, Tua Tagovailoa and company didn’t put up the same fireworks on offense in their win over Buffalo, but Miami’s signal-caller once again guided the team to a go-ahead score in a wild finish. The Dolphins are now 3-0 and have shown they can win in a variety of ways, leaving them well-positioned for a playoff run under first-year coach Mike McDaniel. Florida’s third team, the Tampa Bay Bucs, is in the odd position of struggling while the other two in-state teams thrive, but with a return from receiver Mike Evans on the horizon and the utter collapse of the Jameis Winston-“led” New Orleans Saints, the Bucs have plenty of time to sort their situation out, which should mean three teams from the Sunshine State end up in the NFL playoffs.
The best bet to take advantage? Jacksonville to win the AFC South – the Jags are still second in odds to the Colts at +225 on DraftKings.
The Not-So Wild AFC West
The AFC West was pumped up as having the potential to be the best division in NFL history, but after they went 0-3 in head-to-head matchups with the underwhelming AFC South this weekend, it’s time to reassess that take.
Kansas City’s loss to the Colts may have been an example of looking ahead, as the Chiefs left opportunity after opportunity on the field. Kansas City still held a four-point lead late, but a Chris Jones taunting penalty after a sack extended an Indianapolis drive that eventually turned into the go-ahead score. The Chargers also have an excuse, as quarterback Justin Herbert was a game-day decision after missing practice with a rib injury. Neither loss is great, but at least the Chiefs and Chargers have played at a high level this season, though it will be a massive loss if Chargers left tackle Rashawn Slater and edge rusher Joey Bosa are out for an extended period with their respective injuries.
It’s harder to find similar excuses for the Raiders and Broncos. Las Vegas is now 0-3 after losing to the Titans, a record that is all the more frustrating given that the Raiders led Arizona 20-0 at home in Week 2. As for the Broncos, Russell Wilson and company scratched out wins against the Texans and 49ers the past two weeks, but they did it while getting booed regularly by the home crowd, which is not a great sign for a team with a $250 million quarterback and an offensive-minded head coach. Denver’s defense can carry its weight, as the pass-rush tandem of Bradley Chubb and Randy Gregory has shone through three weeks, but the offense continues to be a work-in-progress, to put it mildly, and it’s fair to wonder if head coach Nate Hackett is the man to get things back on track, or whether this version of Russell Wilson, who certainly can’t run the way he used to, will be enough to overcome the lemon that the Broncos bought at head coach.
Before the NFL season started, it appeared that the AFC Wild Card spots would be tightly contested, but barring significant improvement from the Denver offense or a run from Cleveland once Deshaun Watson returns, the AFC Playoff field may not be nearly as competitive as anticipated.
Relax is spelled R-O-M-E-O
After a brutal Week 1 performance against the Minnesota Vikings, the Green Bay offense was on its way to total redemption against Tampa Bay when running back Aaron Jones fumbled the ball on the one-yard line, wiping out what would have been three touchdowns on Green Bay’s first three drives against a Tampa defense that is arguably the best in the NFL.
The Packers stalled out after that fumble, but it was still an encouraging performance, in large part because of the performance of rookie Romeo Doubs. Doubs, a fourth-round pick out of Nevada who popped off the film in the preseason, had limited opportunities behind Green Bay’s veteran receivers in the first two games, but with Sammy Watkins on IR and fellow rookie Christian Watson unavailable, Doubs showed out, scoring a touchdown on the first drive and converting all of his team-leading eight targets for 73 yards. The yards-per-reception is not impressive, but that is more a function of a Tampa Bay defense that limited Green Bay’s big-play opportunities; Doubs has the quickness to get on top of defenders and should make more downfield plays as the NFL season progresses. With Allen Lazard providing a big-bodied presence on the other side, and the running back tandem of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon continuing to make plays, Green Bay’s offense is looking far better than it did in the season opener.
With left tackle David Bakhtiari returning to action in a rotation and right tackle Elgton Jenkins playing his second straight full game, and the Packers should be a Super Bowl contender when it’s all said and done – assuming the 49ers overcome last night’s woes on offense, the NFC Playoff field is trending toward featuring the “usual suspects”, with the Rams, Packers, 49ers, and Buccaneers all set to be back in the mix come January. Another standout performance from Jalen Hurts in a win over Washington seems to indicate the Eagles have leveled up from playoff contender to Super Bowl contender, and the Lions or Vikings may yet have their say, but three weeks in, the AFC appears set for more turnover than the NFC.
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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.