Friday Football Footnotes: Determining ‘Truth or Fiction’ in the NFL during the Steelers ‘mini-bye’ weekend

If you are like me, you had concerns regarding every aspect of the Steelers’ offense. You wondered if the run defense was really fixed. You questioned the depth of the defense beyond its three stars. And you wondered if coaching warts would be exposed in close games after losing a future Hall of Fame quarterback to retirement.

So, again, if you are like me, the Steelers being 1-2 to start the year isn’t that much of a surprise to you. In fact, they are an injury to an opposing long snapper away from being 0-3.

Even with my low expectations for the team, that would’ve felt surprisingly bad.

But the Steelers go into their “mini-bye” 1-2 with a home game against the New York Jets Looming on the schedule and a shot at being .500 at the quarter mark of the season. Just don’t look at what’s on the schedule after that.

Uh, oh. You just looked, didn’t you?

Yup. Buffalo, Tampa, Miami and Philadelphia. All four teams are 2-0 to start the season. Yeesh. Fans who are calling for the removal of Mitch Trubisky at quarterback have to keep that in mind. If the Steelers turn to Kenny Pickett that Gauntlet is sitting there to close out the first half of the season.

Do you want to expose your Rookie QB to that schedule, behind that Offensive line, with that lack of support from the run game and the defense?

The fans may be calling for Trubisky again before they know it. Or might the dawn come up on the day where the chants of “Maaaa-son, Maaaa-son” echo off the golden seats at Acrisure Stadium?

Nah. Let’s not get carried away.

For “Friday Football Footnotes” this week, I figured, with a long Steeler-less weekend upon us after Thursday’s 29-17 loss in Cleveland, we can look at the teams that have started 2-0 and determine if those hot starts are truly as representative of what those teams are as the Steelers’ 1-2 start appears to be for them.

And, to maintain some balance, we’ll ask the same question of the 0-2 teams in a negative direction as well.

Let’s play a little “Truth or Fiction” for the teams who have fired out of the Gates slowly or crawled out to a bad start. Are those teams truly as good or bad as they look? Or are we getting an early misread on who they are?

The 2-0 teams

Buffalo Bills: Truth

The Bills were my pick to win the Super Bowl, and barring an injury to quarterback Josh Allen, they appear completely poised to make such a run. Buffalo looks even better than the most optimistic hard-boozing, table-diving, self-immolating Bills fans had a right to expect. Their point differential through two games is +55, and somehow it feels like they are even better than that.

Miami Dolphins: Truth

Before the season I thought Miami was the second-best team in the AFC East behind Buffalo. That appears to be the case so far. I felt like they would be the eighth-best team in the conference and be the last team out of the playoffs.

However, to start the season, they are playing like a Squad that could project to be the top wild card. Tua Tagovailoa isn’t going to throw for six touchdown passes every week, as he did last Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. But that souped-up offense in Miami at least seems to have been worthy of some of the offseason hype.

Kansas City Chiefs: Truth

Despite offseason reports of their demise as kings of the AFC West, I still thought the Chiefs were the best team in that division, even if they aren’t quite as dynamic as they have been in years past. Nothing about their two wins over the Los Angeles Chargers or Arizona Cardinals has done anything to dissuade my opinion.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Fiction

Not that they aren’t the best team in the NFC South. They are.

Not that they aren’t worthy of being 2-0. That doesn’t surprise me.

It’s how they got there. The Bucs beat the mediocre New Orleans Saints 20-10 and Dallas Cowboys 19-3 with QB Dak Prescott getting injured along the way. Tampa can’t rely on its defense that much and still hope to be a Super Bowl contender. The offense needs to get better, and the defense can’t keep up with a single-digit points-per-game-allowed average.

Tom Brady and the offense can and will get better. The defense can remain top notch, and the Bucs will win a heckuva lot more than they’ll lose over the next 15 games. It just won’t look exactly like what we saw with those first two “grind it out on the road” results.

Philadelphia Eagles: Truth-ish

I thought the Eagles were going to be an improved team this year. I gave them a good chance of winning the NFC East, but I picked Dallas. However, with Prescott hurt, and, by scoring 62 points (second best in the NFC), the Eagles look like the class of the division.

I’m not quite as convinced as many down the Turnpike that these first two weeks are a warning sign that the Eagles may find themselves in the NFC Championship Game … or beyond. But I believe their fans have every right to think about a division title and maybe the two or three seed in the NFC playoffs.

New York Giants: Fiction

Let’s not get carried away. They beat two 0-2 teams in the fast-sliding Tennessee Titans and the piddly Carolina Panthers by a total of four points.

Great start. Still a sub-mediocre team.

I think they’ll be scrounging for contention to be the last wild card at best by season’s end. That’d be quite the improvement on 4-13 a year ago. So maybe this is the start to those baby steps in the Big Apple.

The 0-2 teams

Carolina Panthers: Truth

ALRIGHT. Let’s rattle through some of these quickly. The NFC South largely stinks aside from Tampa. The Panthers are bad. We all knew they’d be bad. They are going to stay bad. My only surprise is that they kept their first two games as close as they did.

Atlanta Falcons: Truth (see above)

Tennessee: Truth

I mentioned their slide in 2022. It’s happening faster than I expected. My guess is only one team makes the Playoffs out of the AFC South, and I don’t think it’ll be the Titans after being the No. 1 seed in the AFC a season ago

Cincinnati Bengals: Fiction

Now, to be clear, their allegedly rebuilt Offensive line is bad. Like, 0-17 bad.

But I don’t think the Bengals’ Super Bowl trip last year was a total fluke. I think they bounce back and beat the Jets this week to get to 1-2. And then you can say that they were a long snapper injury away from being 2-1.

Cincy may not be a Super Bowl team again this year. And I may have been wrong about predicting that they’ll win the AFC North again. But I bet they get into — and stay in — wild-card contention, at least.

Las Vegas Raiders: Fiction

They lost two close games. Somebody has to finish last in the loaded AFC West. Maybe it will be them. I still think it will be the Denver Broncos, but I bet all four clubs in that division stay in the playoff hunt through Christmas.

Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts: Even though they are 0-1-1 Let’s throw these two clubs in the mix.

Truth and Truth. They were bad enough to tie each other. So let’s start there.

The Texans may not be as obvious of a choice as the worst team in football as I thought. But they are still bad. And the Colts have gone from closing out 2021 with a hideous choke job in Jacksonville, to tying Houston in Week 1 of 2022, to losing to Jacksonville again in Week 2 by the final score of 27-0. That’s got to be the worst three-week/nine-month stretch in NFL history.

But, hey, by rule, someone has to win the AFC South. Maybe it’ll still be them.

Are the Steelers allowed to move divisions? Would it matter? Let’s rethink that after the Jets game.

Or after Pickett eventually takes over at quarterback. Whenever that might be.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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