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The NFC is off to a record-setting start to the NFL season with seven teams at 2-0

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New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) runs in for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The AFC came into the season with the lion’s share of the top quarterbacks and Super Bowl contenders, led by passers such as Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow.

Two weeks into the 2023 NFL season, it’s the NFC that’s off to a record-setting start to the season.

Led by three undefeated teams in both the NFC East and NFC South, the NFC has seven teams off to a 2-0 start, the first time that has ever happened in a single conference.

With the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers fresh off two convincing wins, along with last season’s Super Bowl runner-up Philadelphia, the NFC currently has three of the four biggest favorites to win this season’s Super Bowl.

The other undefeated teams in the NFC are Washington in the East and New Orleans, Atlanta and Tampa Bay in the South, which was slated to be perhaps the worst division in the league.

The AFC has only two undefeated teams — Miami and Baltimore — tied for the fewest of any conference after two weeks since the start of the eight-division era in 2002.

The Cowboys are the fifth team in the Super Bowl era to score at least 70 points and allow 10 or fewer in the first two games of the season, joining the 2019 Patriots, 1970 Lions, 1967 Raiders and 1966 Oilers.

Dallas’ plus-60 point differential is 30 points better than the second-place 49ers — the biggest gap between the No. 1 and 2 teams after two weeks since 1989, when the Browns were plus-65 and the Bears plus-34.

COMEBACK KIDS

Sunday was a day for historic comebacks in the NFL.

The New York Giants came back from 21 points down to beat Arizona 31-28 for their biggest comeback win since 1949, while Washington overcame an 18-point deficit to win 35-33 at Denver.

This was the 12th time that two teams overcame deficits that big to win in the same week. It last happened in Week 2 last season.

The turnaround for the Giants was truly impressive. New York lost the opener 40-0 to Dallas and trailed 20-0 at the half in Arizona. It was the first time since 1934 that New York failed to score in the first six quarters. The Giants recovered that season to win the NFL title.

The 60 points allowed by the Giants before their first score were the second most since 1950, according to Sportradar, trailing only the 86 for the 1978 Colts and 99 for the 1961 Raiders.

Two other teams came back from at least 11 points down, with Atlanta rallying past Green Bay and Tennessee doing the same against the Chargers. That’s one shy of the record for one week.

The Chargers and Broncos were both on the wrong side of the comebacks and have started 0-2 despite leading both games in the fourth quarter. They are the first teams to do that since 2015, when Seattle and the Giants did it.

One team that was predictably unable to mount a comeback was Carolina. The Panthers lost 20-17 to New Orleans on Monday night for their 52nd straight loss in a game they trailed in the fourth quarter. Their last fourth-quarter comeback came Oct. 21, 2018, against Philadelphia.

RARE ROOKIES

A couple of rookie playmakers are shouldering an unusually large load for their offenses.

No. 8 pick Bijan Robinson is living up to high expectations early in his career following his 124-yard rushing performance in Sunday’s win over Green Bay.

Robinson is tied for fourth in the NFL with 255 yards from scrimmage through two games. He has gained 36.8% of Atlanta’s yards from scrimmage — the second-highest mark for a rookie through two games in the last 14 seasons, behind only Kareem Hunt’s 38.8% in 2017.

Rams receiver Puka Nacua has been more of a surprise, going from fifth-round pick to a record-setting start to his career. Nakua’s 25 catches are the most for a player in his first two NFL games, shattering the mark of 19 Earl Cooper set in 1980.

Nakua has gained 270 yards — nearly one-third of the Rams’ total. He has 43.1% of the Rams’ catches so far this season, the highest for any player through two games since Vincent Jackson had 50% of Tampa Bay’s catches in the first two games of the 2013 season.

IRON MAN

Christian McCaffrey is truly the iron man of running backs.

McCaffrey played every offensive snap for the San Francisco 49ers last week — the 15th time he has done that in his career. In an era when teams rotate backs, McCaffrey is an exception.

Sportradar has snap data back to 2006 and the running back with the second-most games playing every snap is Matt Forte with eight. Only four other backs have done it even three times: Le’Veon Bell (6), Frank Gore (4), Steven Jackson (3) and Ronnie Brown (3).

Since McCaffrey entered the league in 2017, all other running backs have played every snap only 10 times.

It’s not as if the heavy workload limits McCaffrey’s production. He had a 51-yard run Sunday and finished with 116 yards rushing. His 268 yards rushing are the most through two games of a season since DeMarco Murray had 285 for Dallas in 2014.

JUMPING JEFFERSON

Justin Jefferson is off to a record-setting pace to his career with the Minnesota Vikings.

Jefferson had 153 yards receiving last week to give him 5,134 in 52 career games — tying Hall of Famer Lance Alworth as the quickest player to eclipse 5,000 yards. Jefferson also joined former Vikings star Randy Moss as the only players to do it before turning 25.

Jefferson is the ninth Vikings player to reach that mark. The only franchises with more are Green Bay (13), Denver (10), Arizona (10) and Kansas City (10). Minnesota’s NFC North rivals, the Chicago Bears, have only one player with 5,000 yards receiving (Johnny Morris) despite having nearly a four-decade head start on Minnesota.

Jefferson has 20 catches for 309 yards in two games — joining Jimmy Smith (2000), Isaac Bruce (1998) and Andre Rison (1994) as the only players to average at least 10 catches and 150 yards through two games.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

Josh Dubow, The Associated Press

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