After eight weeks there are just two teams who remain unbeaten in the league. The first is not a surprise as last year’s defending champions New England Patriots picked up another win, this time over the Cleveland Browns.
The second team I don’t believe anyone outside the Bay Area thought would be as good as their record shows. The San Francisco 49ers have started the season with seven straight wins – they’ve already had their bye week – and none more emphatic than Sundays 51-13 destruction of Carolina Panthers.
But what is really at the centre of these two teams’ current streaks? As always, everything that the Patriots do means the media look at the prowess of the ageing Tom Brady. Brady has started the season with some useful stats – he has 13 touchdown passes, a completion rate of 64.7 per cent and seems on track to fall just shy of last year’s production, still not bad for 42-year-old.
On the other side of the country, his once back-up Jimmy Garoppolo is also putting up some decent numbers. Jimmy G, as the Niners fans have taken to calling their quarterback, has put up a slightly better completion rate than Brady with a 69.8 percentage, but a less favourable nine touchdowns.
But even with their relatively stable starts, Brady and Garopollo aren’t the reason these teams are winning. We know the mantra in American Football is defence wins championships, and I would assume from here both these teams will at least win their divisions.
The 49ers defence has been nothing short of miserly so far, allowing an average of just 224 yards per game. Right behind them is the Patriots defence with 234 yards per game. Not content with restricting teams yardage, both teams are performing highly in the other critical defensive statistics, too.
The New England defence is on track to get 50 turnovers this season. The most in a season in the last ten years was the 2012 Patriots with 41. They have 19 interceptions and six fumbles recovered and a plus-17 turnover ratio compared to their opponents.
The Niners’ defence is second in the number of turnovers with 16, which is split into ten interceptions and six fumbles recovered. But even in second place, they are nine turnovers behind the Patriots.
The Patriots defence also leads the league with 31 sacks, meaning their players are pushing back other offences on a regular basis.
The difference when it comes to the play-off will be Brady’s ability to win games when he needs to – a skill that, until now, Jimmy G hasn’t shown or been required to display.
In London, the LA Rams continued to heap pressure on to the Cincinnati Bengals with a 24-10 win in front of the smallest crowd an NFL team has had at Wembley. The Bengals head coach Zak Taylor was last year a Rams coach and would have been tormented by Copper Kupp’s 220-yard receiving game.
The Chargers upset the Chicago Bears in a tight 17-16 game to drop the Bears to a disappointing 3-4 record on the season. Another disappointed fanbase will be Buffalo supporters, whose Bills lost 31-13 to Philadelphia Eagles. The Bills had looked like sticking with the Patriots this season but another loss could see them slip away from a possible playoff berth.
Drew Brees returned for the New Orleans Saints and guided them to comfortable 31-9 win over Arizona to pick up a win over rookie quarterback Kyler Murray.
While Murray had a disappointing week two, other rookie passers had stronger games. Gardener Minshew led the Jacksonville Jaguars to a 29-15 win over the New York Jets, throwing the ball for 279 yards with three touchdowns. Daniel Jones managed 322 yards and four touchdowns but was unable to stop the Giants from falling 26-31 to Detroit Lions.
Seattle Seahawks managed to overcome the Atlanta Falcons 27-20 despite only scoring three points in the second half. The Falcons showed spirit, scoring 20 second-half points to make the game interesting in the last few minutes. The Broncos and the Colts also fought a close battle as Indianapolis overcame the Broncos with a last-minute field goal.