The Check-down Check-up (2021): Week Two

Another week of NFL football in the books, another edition of the Check-down Check-up to grade teams with. As a reminder, anything under four is a check down, anything above seven is a check up, and anything between those fours and sevens is a “check back next week.” So, who’s coming up? Who’s on their way down? Which team am I locking in with total confidence this week? Let’s find out.

AFC North

Cleveland Browns

The Browns came this close to tearing the head off of the AFC’s top dogs in week one, and if not for a botched punt by Jamie Gillan, they probably had that game won. But alas, the Chiefs survived the storm from the shores of Lake Erie to clutch out a win and send the Browns to 0-1 on the year. That shouldn’t shake Cleveland’s confidence though, as they looked like world-beaters for 58 of 60 minutes. The Browns head home this week to take on the Texans, and while I hate to spoil my lock already, I’m taking them to systematically pick Houston apart in the home opener.

Verdict: 10/10, Check Up (LOCK)

Baltimore Ravens

Much like the Browns, the Ravens should have had this game won. Justin Tucker in a late-game situation is automatic, but the Ravens left too much time on the clock for Las Vegas to go to work. Really, they should have seen it coming; coming back from the dead for a field goal at the buzzer is something Baltimore has been doing for years under John Harbaugh. What happened in overtime, however, I cannot explain. Starting 0-1 is not where the Ravens want to be with Kansas City on the horizon, and I think they start off 0-2 this week. But that being said, they’re too good to stay dead for long.

Verdict: 7/10, Check Up

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh, your defense looks as legit as ever. We all expected some regression from Bills quarterback Josh Allen, but you forced Allen into some old habits that he hasn’t showcased since he was a rookie. The offense didn’t look all that great, and Najee Harris playing every offensive snap isn’t exactly a recipe for success, but things were good enough in the second half to keep Buffalo at bay. If your defense performed that well against an MVP candidate, I fear what it could do to Derek Carr and the Raiders.

Verdict: 7.25/10, Check Back Next Week

Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Burrow is a stud. The Bengals beat up on a bad Vikings team this week, even if Minnesota did come back to push it to overtime. That ability to beat up on lesser teams is a skill that bad teams need to have when coming up from the depths of the NFL. The offensive line still needs work, and the defensive consistency leaves much to be desired, but the fact remains that the Cincinnati Bengals are 1-0. I think their matchup with Chicago this week is a sneaky-good game of week two, but I won’t pick them to come away with a win here over the Bears.

Verdict: 5/10, Check Back Next Week

AFC East

New England Patriots

Mac Jones looked like he belonged on Sunday, which is a great sign, especially against a defense like Miami’s. Jones completed nearly 75% of his passes, and even in a loss, the Patriots looked competitive in week one. There is reason for optimism in Foxborough as the permanent absence of Tom Brady lingers. With the Jets on the horizon this week, I like Mac Jones to have a coming-out party sort of game against a relatively spongy New York defense.

Verdict: 6.25/10, Check Back Next Week

Miami Dolphins

I was a big fan of the Dolphins last year, and I still like them this year. I’m not sure I subscribe to the theory that Tua is a bust just yet, and he showed during week one that he works best as a distributor of the football. Brian Flores is a fantastic coach who will put his quarterback in the best position to succeed, and the defensive unit still holds up this season. But with an angry Bills team in their sights, I cannot in good conscience take the Dolphins to start 2-0.

Verdict: 7.25/10, Check Up

Buffalo Bills

The Bills looked just a little bit lost during their week one contest with Pittsburgh. More specifically, Josh Allen looked lost, and the offense as a whole couldn’t seem to get on the same page long enough to sustain drives like they did last year. It was reasonable to expect regression from Allen, but this level of backpedaling makes me just a bit nervous. Miami’s defense is nothing to sneeze at, but hopefully for the Bills Mafia, Allen can keep it together long enough to gut out a win.

Verdict: 7/10, Check Up

New York Jets

Listen. I know it was Zach Wilson’s first NFL game, but he just…did not look very good out there. At a 54% clip, Wilson barely completed half of his passes, and now that Mekhi Becton is injured, the rookie’s going to be without his blindside blocker for over a month. The Patriots know how to rattle rookies, so I’m not sure week two will fair any better for Wilson, who in all honesty, was one of my favorite quarterbacks in the draft this year. I hope he does well, I just don’t think he will. At least not this week.

Verdict: 2/10, Check Down

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have this trend where they always look unprepared for the first week of the season. So, no surprise here, they got dominated by Seattle and Russell Wilson was free to do whatever he wanted throughout the game. Indy’s defense shouldn’t be bad by any means, but Wilson and the Seahawks carved it up during this game. Through one game, the Carson Wentz experiment has not looked great, but I’ll give it a chance. It’s one game after all, but I’m not sure it’s going to get any easier for the former Eagle as the Colts face the Rams this week.

Verdict: 4/10, Check Down

Houston Texans

Alright, this Texans team came prepared for week one. Either that, or the Jaguars are No. 1 overall pick bad again. Either way, Houston better be sleeping with a shovel this weekend. They’ll travel to Cleveland this for a Browns home opener full of rabid fans, and life’s too short to be dancing with the devil known as the Dawg Pound.

Verdict: 3.75/10, Check Down

Jacksonville Jaguars

Alright, wow, this team is not good. Sure, I predicted they’d take a step forward, but it must be opposite day or something. Get out of my face.

Verdict: 0/10, Check Down

Tennessee Titans

What is going on in the AFC South? The Colts looked unprepared, the Texans blew the doors off of Jacksonville and Trevor Lawrence, and the Titans looked like they’d never seen a football before when they went up against the Cardinals. This offense looked dreadful, and there was zero pressure on Kyler Murray. Not to mention, you let Chandler Jones start the year with a five-sack game? Give me a break, Tennessee. You guys were supposed to be contenders! Get your act together in Seattle this week or we’re gonna have a real problem here.  

Verdict: 3.5/10, Check Down

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City is in the business of coming back from the dead by scoring 75-yard touchdowns whenever they feel like it. And the reason that no one else is doing this is because no one else can. It really is that simple, folks.

Verdict: 10/10, Check Up

Denver Broncos

I get that I’m supposed to be impressed by Denver’s big win against the Giants, but I’m not. It’s the Giants. But that being said, the Broncos have a huge opportunity in front of them here. If they can keep it rolling like they did in week one, they could, and very well should, start 3-0 which is a downright massive win for Vic Fangio. Sure, they’ll run into a much better Ravens team and probably have their hopes crushed by week four, but it’ll be a fun story for a while.

Verdict: 5/10, Check Back Next Week

Los Angeles Chargers

A lot of weird, Chargers-y stuff happened this week, but I admire LA’s resolve in this one. Despite everything, they walked into Washington, grabbed a big win to start 1-0, and now they should have a chance to strut that explosive offense out against the Cowboys in week two. Brandon Staley has this team very well coached, and the offensive line looked especially good in my opinion. Keep Justin Herbert upright and ride that arm to a playoff berth. I like your strategy, Los Angeles.

Verdict: 8.5/10, Check Up

Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders won in a most improbable fashion in week one, and while I don’t think it’s even close to sustainable, it sure is fun. If, however, they walk into Pittsburgh and pull out another win? Why, I’ll be very impressed with this squad, Jon Gruden. That being said, I’m not a believer in them this week against the Steelers. Something weird always happens when the Raiders and Steelers play, so maybe it could happen again. That’s about all the hope I’ve got for Vegas.

Verdict: 6.75/10, Check Back Next Week

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