Broncos, Patriots and Steelers showing old guard still in charge of AFC: NFL Sunday takeaways

Stalwarts Denver, New England and Pittsburgh are three of the best teams in the league. Again.
Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller sacks and forces a fumble against Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today
Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller sacks and forces a fumble against Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today

If you’re an NFL fan who is tired of the same old teams dominating year-in, year-out, or are sick of the same few, fortunate fanbases getting to celebrate every January and February while everyone else gets fat and wishes they were born in a different state ... well, you might want to take this season off.

At least that’s the early indication in the AFC, where stalwarts Denver, New England and Pittsburgh are three of the best teams in the league. Again.

These three teams have represented the AFC in 10 of the past 13 Super Bowls. If you include former Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and his prior team Indianapolis, that number expands to 12 of 13, with only four different starting quarterbacks winning the AFC in those years.

That’s not a lot of variance for a league that prides itself on parity. By comparison, the NFC has sent 8 different teams and 11 different starting quarterbacks to the Super Bowl in the same time frame.

• More NFL: Rams start LA life anew | Week 2 in pictures

Manning is gone, but the familiar faces are still there with the Patriots (Bill Belichick and, in two more weeks, Tom Brady) and Steelers (Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger). Both teams beat division foes handily in Week 2 to improve to 2-0. Manning’s retirement was supposed to be the first domino to send the old guard tumbling, but the Pats and Steelers aren’t ready to concede their perches just yet.

Nor, it appears, are the Broncos, who even without their old quarterback are 2-0 thanks to a dominant defence. This was supposed to be a year of regression for the defending champions, and there’s still plenty of time for that to come true as they continue to trot out former seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian at quarterback. Siemian has been adequate if unspectacular, but the way Von Miller (already with 4 sacks) and the defence are playing, it doesn’t matter who is under centre.

The Texans, Bengals or Chiefs might still have a say in who represents the AFC in Super Bowl LI, but right now it’s tough to envision any new faces in the AFC title picture.

Purple power

What was the best thing Sam Bradford could do to win over Minnesota Vikings fans in his first start? How about helping to open a brand-new, billion-dollar stadium by beating the hated Green Bay Packers on national television?

Done. Welcome to the Vikings family, Sam.

Bradford, who was acquired from Philadelphia after incumbent starter Teddy Bridgewater’s season ended with a preseason practice injury, has plenty to prove, and not just to Vikings fans. A former Heisman Trophy winner and No 1 overall draft pick, Bradford has had a middling, injury-plagued career on bad teams in St Louis and Philly. Now with his third team and reunited with former college teammate Adrian Peterson, Bradford is finally on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. All the Vikings seemed to lack was a quarterback. Could Bradford change that?

So far, so good. Peterson was ineffective against Green Bay before leaving in the third quarter with a leg injury, so Bradford put the offence on his back while throwing for 286 yards, 2 touchdowns and, most importantly, zero interceptions.

The Vikings’ killer defence did the rest – as they did while scoring two touchdowns to beat Tennessee in Week 1 – by limiting Aaron Rodgers to an un-Rodgers-like performance (20-of-36, 216 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 70.7 QB Rating).

An NFL team can’t ask for much more than a dominant defence and good quarterback play, but it’s a combination few teams seem to get right. At 2-0, the Vikings look like they might have that elusive winning formula intact.

All about Benjamin

Cam Newton somehow won the MVP last season without his best receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, who was hurt in preseason and never took a snap in 2015. The third-year, former first-round pick is back healthy this year, and no one is more grateful than Newton.

Benjamin scored two touchdowns and racked up 108 yards receiving on seven catches against an over-matched San Francisco secondary on Sunday. Not all of those catches came on perfectly thrown balls, either, showing that the 6-foot-5, speedy Benjamin can use his athleticism to make up for anything less than perfect from Newton. That’s a level of security the MVP didn’t have last year.

The Panthers won’t match last year’s 15-1 regular season (one more loss already ensures that) but with a healthy Benjamin added to Newton’s already stout arsenal, few offences are scarier.

Play of the week

Deflections that go a million miles in the air like this almost always end in an interception. Luckily for the Atlanta Falcons, Justin Hardy plays for their team and not the other team, and turned this near-disaster by Matt Ryan into a clutch touchdown.

Atlanta upset Oakland by seven, so this turn of luck turned out to be the difference in the game.

Stat of the week

Drew Brees continues to pile up stats on a really bad team.

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Published: September 19, 2016 04:00 AM


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