Chris Johnson and the Cardinals are riding high in the NFC. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The top five teams all won in Week 3, but the Cardinals and Broncos swapped places in light of Arizona’s dominant performance vs. the 49ers. Everyone expected the Patriots to roll over the Jaguars, and they delivered. We’re only three weeks into the season but the hype machine is rolling through Boston, with many fans anticipating another undefeated regular season. Bill Belichick and the Patriots head into the early bye with almost no injuries, and in Week 5 they will head to Dallas to face a Cowboys team that has lost its starting quarterback and best wide receiver. The Patriots hype won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
The Steelers drop seven spots with the loss of Ben Roethlisberger. Mike Tomlin better hope Michael Vick has been reading the playbook, as he’ll be expected to get the ball to Antonio Brown for the next four to six weeks. Brandon Marshall is pretty much solely responsible for the Jets dropping nine spots after his ill-advised lateral attempt gift-wrapped a turnover for Chip Kelly’s floundering Eagles. Another AFC East team dropped six spots as the Dolphins continue to wait for Ryan Tannehill to progress into a franchise QB. (More on him later.)
The only team I really wanted to move up this week was the Falcons. Coach Dan Quinn made substantial adjustments at halftime, and after allowing 28 points to the Cowboys in the first half, Atlanta allowed none in the second. Bills QB Tyrod Taylor continues to impress with his mobility in the pocket. He just looks comfortable back there, and Rex Ryan‘s defense bounced back after getting throttled by Brady and the Pats in Week 2 to beat the Dolphins. The Colts (begrudgingly) get moved up three spots after a narrow victory over the Titans.
1. (1 last week) Patriots (3-0) — A thrashing of the Jaguars keeps the Patriots on top. After the bye, they play the injury-plagued Cowboys followed by the Colts, Jets, Dolphins, Redskins, Giants and Bills at home before their first real test in Denver against the Broncos. It’s not too early to think about Tom Brady being in the MVP conversation, which is great for the employees at 345 Park Ave.
2. (2) Packers (3-0) — Aaron Rodgers obliterated a (usually) good Chiefs defense. I think last year’s meltdown in the NFC championship game will galvanize the Pack for the entire 2015 season. Cheeseheads should be booking hotels in San Francisco as soon as possible.
3. (4) Cardinals (3-0) — Chris Johnson‘s resurgence with Arizona is a bit of a surprise. His 2,000-yard seasons likely are behind him, but he looks better than he ever did with the Jets. Larry Fitzgerald is staving off Father Time for another season. He’s got 333 receiving yards and five touchdowns in three games.
4. (3) Broncos (3-0) — Broncos fans don’t need to worry about Peyton Manning‘s noodle arm until the weather gets cold. This defense is otherworldly right now. In Denver’s win over the Lions, Aqib Talib shut down Calvin Johnson AND blocked a field goal. Bradley Roby’s interception is even more impressive when you realize he wasn’t even covering the intended receiver but instead read Matthew Stafford the whole way and left his responsibility to make the play.
5. (5) Bengals (3-0) — What am I supposed to do? I can’t NOT put them in the top five just because we all know they’re going to lose in the first round of the playoffs. A.J. Green continued his dominance of the Ravens with 227 yards receiving and two clutch TDs.
6. (9) Falcons (3-0) — After allowing 28 points in the first half Sunday, the Atlanta defense put the clamps on Grandpa Weeden and the Cowboys. The emergence of Devonta Freeman (in the absence of Tevin Coleman) gives Matt Ryan and the offense another weapon. Julio Jones continues to amaze with another two touchdowns, the second of which was impressive not for his abilities but for Kyle Shanahan‘s creative play-calling at the goal line.
7. (8) Panthers (3-0) — Cam Newton threw the ball well all over the field Sunday against the Saints and finished with a great stat line. He also rushed for an easy score that fooled the Saints defense completely. It’s a little troubling that this game was so close, and that Luke McCown was able to complete 31-of-38 passes.
8. (10) Seahawks (1-2) — When is a 23-0 victory not impressive? When it’s against Jimmy Clausen and the winless Bears, at home, in a must-win game for Seattle. After getting fooled by the Rams last year on a punt return trick play, Pete Carroll trotted out the same exact play against the hapless Bears. Stupid. Save that play for a game when you need it.
9. (12) Bills (2-1) — Tyrod Taylor continues to move around the pocket with ease and make good decisions. A flawlessly executed safety blitz with two minutes left in the first half Sunday against the Dolphins led to a Ryan Tannehill pick-six and pretty much iced the game. With Rex Ryan in charge, the “typical Bills” stuff goes out the window. This team is fun to watch.
10. (7) Chiefs (1-2) — Andy Reid has been at the helm of an NFL franchise for 16 years and STILL can’t use his timeouts correctly. The latest example came right before the end of the first half on Monday night. With the Chiefs down 24-7 and 56 seconds left, and with two timeouts, Reid (who insists on calling his own plays) ran the ball twice for 13 yards and THEN called a timeout with 18 seconds left. The Chiefs had a chance to get within one score before the half and basically chose not to. If you’re not going to throw to Jeremy Maclin in that situation, why did you bother acquiring him?
11. (15) Vikings (2-1) — In the preseason I predicted Father Time would catch up with Adrian Peterson. I’m not ready to admit that I was wrong, but he’s looking like a top-five RB again. His 43-yard TD run up the right side was vintage AP.
12. (13) Cowboys (1-2) — After putting up 28 points in the first half Sunday against the Falcons, the Cowboys were shut out in the second. That’s more on the coaching staff than it is the players. Clearly Jason Garrett made the wrong adjustments (or possibly none at all) at halftime while Dan Quinn was in the opposite locker room figuring out how to stop the run. Brandon Weeden wasn’t great, but he’s hardly the reason for the loss.
13. (6) Steelers (2-1) — With Ben Roethlisberger out four to six weeks, it’s likely he won’t return until after the bye in Week 10, just in time to play the Seahawks in Seattle. Michael Vick has remained on NFL rosters purely through his athletic ability. That ability (and Antonio Brown‘s) will help win a few games during the next five weeks, but not many.
14. (14) Chargers (1-2) — The offensive line allowed 12 QB hits in a Week 3 loss to the Vikings. A missed assignment on one particular sack caused Philip Rivers to rip into his right guard and come off looking a little petulant in the process. Late in the third quarter he was rocked so hard that he had to leave the game. A stupid holding call on special teams turned a Vikings FG into a Vikings TD. Keenan Allen was the lone bright spot, with 133 yards and two touchdowns.
15. (18) Colts (1-2) — Indianapolis narrowly escaped with a win against the Titans. Andrew Luck continues to throw bad interceptions and find creative ways to turn over the ball. Pundits finally are starting to pump the brakes on the effusive praise of Luck.
16. (16) Rams (1-2) — After a big win in Week 1 over the Seahawks, the Rams scored just 16 points total in losses to the Redskins and Steelers. Todd Gurley was active but rushed only six times for nine yards Sunday. You’ve got to think he’ll see twice the carries in the next game and will be the featured back by Week 5.
17. (17) Ravens (0-3) — The Ravens re 0-3 for the first time ever. For the life of him, John Harbaugh can’t seem to figure out Bengals WR A.J. Green. The loss of Terrell Suggs is proving to be a back-breaker for this Baltimore squad. More bad karma for teams that crossed the Patriots.
18. (22) Eagles (1-2) — I’m not really impressed by a seven-point victory over a mistake-prone Jets team. DeMarco Murray was inactive, and his backup, Ryan Matthews, looked like Gale Sayers by comparison. Darren Sproles returned a punt for a touchdown, but all in all, the Jets lost this game more than the Eagles won it. Sam Bradford continues to be underwhelming, as he threw for just 118 yards.
19. (25) Lions (0-3) — As good as Calvin Johnson is, I sometimes wonder why he isn’t better. He’s got prototypical size and speed, and possibly the best hands in the NFL. Broncos CB Aqib Talib held him (relatively) in check all night. Detroit defensive backs, on the other hand, lost seemingly every jump ball opportunity presented to them.
20. (11) Jets (2-1) — Oh, how the mediocre have fallen! It took Brandon Marshall only three weeks for the Jetsiest Jets play of his career, and probably the season. An inexplicable lateral into the facemask of an Eagles defender probably was the deciding factor in this one-score game. Ryan Fitzpatrick should never throw the ball 58 times in a game.
21. (21) 49ers (1-2) — Colin Kaepernick threw four interceptions, including two pick-sixes, in a Week 3 pummeling at the hands of the Cardinals. Kaepernick completed only nine passes for 67 yards. The Arizona defense is really good, but those are embarrassing offensive numbers.
22. (24) Raiders (2-1) — Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray comprise a talented crop of young players on offense that Raider Nation can feel good about. The Raiders play the lowly Bears next, which could push them to 3-1 heading into a divisional matchup with Denver.
23. (23) Browns (1-2) — Johnny Manziel inexplicably was put back on the bench when Josh McCown was cleared to return from his concussion. McCown wasn’t too bad Sunday, but the Dawg Pound chanted for Manziel. I’m not sure why Mike Pettine doesn’t have similar sentiments. The lone bright spot on the roster has been Travis Benjamin, who scored another TD but muffed a punt with four minutes left in the game.
24. (26) Giants (1-2) — They finally held on to a fourth-quarter lead, but it was against Kirk Cousins and the Redskins, so who really cares? Odell Beckham Jr. did his thing and scored a TD on a nice catch. Jason Pierre-Paul did HIS thing and was nowhere to be found as he and his hand recover from a July Fourth fireworks accident.
25. (19) Dolphins (1-2) — Ryan Tannehill sucks. The aforementioned safety blitz-turned-pick-six by the Bills at the end of the first half could have been a complete pass to Lamar Miller if Tannehill wasn’t fumbling with the ball in his hands trying to find the laces. His pick on fourth-and-4 on the next drive was about 15 feet off the intended target.
26. (28) Titans (1-2) — Marcus Mariota led the Titans down the field at the end of the game and put them in a position to send the game to overtime. I understand he’s a young QB, and you don’t want to put too much pressure on him this early, but the decision to run a FB dive to the weak side with the game on the line is dumb. And gutless. Mariota isn’t Michael Vick circa 2004, but he’s fast enough to run a bootleg there and smart enough to make a decision. That two-point conversion attempt was the worst play call of Week 3.
27. (20) Redskins (1-2) — These Thursday night games usually are ugly, and this was no different. Kirk Cousins looked brutal throwing two more interceptions, giving him 23 for his career against only 21 TDs. Alfred Morris was a non-factor. To make matters worse, CB DeAngelo Hall will miss the next three to four weeks with a sprained right toe. The curse of Dan Snyder lives on.
28. (29) Texans (1-2) — One interception and zero sacks against a rookie QB and the Buccaneers is not the defensive performance I was expecting. Alfred Blue continues to play well in place of the injured Arian Foster.
29. (27) Buccaneers (1-2) — I actually thought Jameis Winston didn’t look all that bad. He continues to stand tall in the pocket and trust his receivers to makes plays, which they have been doing. Tamps Bay was 1-for-12 on third down. Ouch.
30. (31) Saints (0-3) — “I bet if they just had the chance, some of those backups would really shine.” Luke McCown (in his Verizon commercial) got his wish, and he kinda-sorta did. He completed 16 of his first 17 passes but couldn’t get the ball in the end zone. He finished with 310 yards but was victimized by a spectacular interception in the final minutes to end a comeback bid.The Saints defense had no answers for Cam Newton and Greg Olsen.
31. (30) Jaguars (1-2) — You could say the defense has some work to do, after allowing scores on the first nine Patriots possessions of the game. The Jags got a big stop late in the fourth when Jimmy Garoppolo kneeled twice to end the game.
32. (32) Bears (0-3) — Jimmy Clausen is still in the NFL? The Bears were shut out Sunday against the Seahawks, accumulating just 146 total yards and seven first downs. One day later Chicago traded away Jared Allen and Jon Bostic. The fire sale has begun.
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