By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Just as the Patriots emerged as the force they intend to be in the AFC, the same can be said for some of their most serious competition around the conference.
The road to the AFC Championship Game (and beyond) is still in the ridiculously early stages, but it didn’t get any easier after Sunday’s action as the Steelers, Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos, and Ravens all moved to 2-0 on the season. The Patriots made their presence felt on offense as they drubbed the Saints 36-20 in New Orleans, while other AFC contenders stepped up big-time on at least one side of the ball.
At 1-1, the Pats would rather not associate with other 1-1 teams in any way whatsoever (Jaguars, Bills), but it’s still far too early to think too deeply about the AFC standings just yet. But as we bounce around the AFC to see how the other notable teams did, some are already emerging as the ones that that could be standing in the Patriots’ way come December and January.
The Steelers quietly rolled over the Vikings against their backup QB. Sam Bradford had to sit out for the Vikings, who started Case Keenum under center. It went about exactly as you’d expect, as the Vikes mustered only 237 total yards against a Steelers defense that didn’t have to do too much to dominate in their 26-9 win.
Besides Martavis Bryant (three catches for 91 yards and a touchdown), the Steelers’ offensive playmakers were relatively underwhelming. Le’Veon Bell (27 rushes for 87 yards) acknowledged his slow start, but believes he’s “due for an explosion play.”
The Raiders absolutely demolished the Jets in their home opener. Oakland (2-0) should be no lower than No. 2 on anyone’s proverbial “power rankings” this week, as they have looked quite impressive in their first two games. The Jets, meanwhile, still stink. The Raiders scored six offensive touchdowns on Sunday, including three specifically from Derek Carr to Michael Crabtree.
The QB threw for only 237 yards but he didn’t have to pass all that much, as the Raiders also dominated on the ground with 27 rushes for 180 yards and three scores. Marshawn Lynch scored his first touchdown as a Raider, and also gave the crowd a hell of a show on the sideline in the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs avoided a letdown with another nice win. Andy Reid’s crew will have a much tougher time on defense with All-World safety Eric Berry out for the season, as evidenced by the 406 total yards they gave up to the Eagles in Kansas City’s home opener. Second-year QB Carson Wentz (25-for-46 passing) wasn’t particularly efficient or accurate, but threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns.
Still, the game wasn’t quite as close as the 27-20 final indicated. Alex Smith was strong again when called upon (21-for-28 with 251 yards and a touchdown), while Kareem Hunt overcame a slow start to make more big plays with 16 touches for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Looks like these guys won’t be going away quietly.
Trevor Siemian looked like a Pro Bowler in the Broncos’ win over the Cowboys. The Broncos turned in a strong all-around effort in their second straight home game to begin the season, with QB Trevor Siemian providing the team with the most surprisingly positive outcome of the day in their 42-17 win. Siemian was 22-for-32 passing with 231 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception that came with the team already up 35-10 late in the third quarter.
What’s already known about this Broncos team is that the defense remains elite, as former Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib capped a strong day with a 103-yard pick-six near the end of the game. Talib could have just taken a knee after the interception and sent everyone home a bit earlier, but the Broncos left with the convincing win either way.
Is the Ravens defense really this good? It could be that they’re simply facing some horrendous quarterbacks. One week after shutting out Andy Dalton and the Bengals, the Ravens defense straight-up humiliated the Browns in their 24-10 win to go to 2-0. Browns QBs DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan combined to go 20-for-42 for 300 yards, one touchdown, and four interceptions.
The Ravens have now forced 10 defensive turnovers to start the season, while allowing the same amount of total points. It remains to be seen how this Ravens D performs against better offenses (they get the Steelers and Raiders in weeks 4-5), but they couldn’t be off to a better start.
The Titans rebounded to destroy the Jaguars. After dropping Week 1 to the Raiders, Tennessee got Jags Week™ at just the right time. Marcus Mariota wasn’t spectacular, as he went 15-for-27 passing for 215 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but the Titans’ dominance came mainly on the ground in their 37-16 win.
Second-year back Derrick Henry had a career day with 92 rushing yards and the Titans ran 36 times for 179 yards as a team. They will need Mariota to make more plays against tougher opponents in the future, but they showed on Sunday that they’re capable of dominating against the conference’s weaker squads.
The Dolphins held on to beat the Chargers after a laughably ugly ending. This game, a 19-17 win for the Dolphins, ended with an astoundingly sloppy sequence of football from both the players and coaches. With a chance for a game-winning kick in the closing seconds, the timeout-less Chargers found themselves having to rush the field goal unit out onto the field, and it looked like they wouldn’t make it in time.
Except that for some ungodly reason, Dolphins head coach Adam Gase called a timeout, which saved the Chargers from what might have been the most comically poor closeout of a game you’ll see all season. Yet, that still didn’t stop Chargers kicker Younghoe Koo from missing a potential game-winner for the second straight week – oh, and it came inside a 27,000-seat stadium that the team couldn’t fill.
Jacoby Brissett got the start for the Colts, but not the win. This 16-13 snoozer featured two total touchdowns compared to five field goals between the two teams, as Brissett mostly struggled to move the ball in his first start at quarterback for the Colts. He blew his chance to score in overtime with an interception thrown to the Cardinals’ Tyrann Mathieu. Cardinals kicker Phil Dawson secured the win with his OT field goal to complete what, unsurprisingly, turned out to be the least entertaining game of the day.
UP NEXT: The Patriots get the Texans at home, and while Houston is struggling to move the ball on offense, their defense is one of the only groups in the league that could give Tom Brady trouble.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @Dolloff985 and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.