Three games into the NFL’s 17-week regular season slate, and still mystery abounds. Are the Cardinals the same team who looked every bit the part of Super Bowl contenders last year? Will Trevor Siemian continue playing at a high level? Does the surprising early success of Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott make Dallas and Philadelphia legitimate playoff contenders? These questions, and more, loom large heading into the first quarter-season checkpoint.
Some things are certain though. The Browns will have another high draft pick. The Vikings are the real deal. The Saint’s aren’t. Parity is in the league’s DNA and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. There were several upsets this week, and plenty of unexpected performances.
The Rams scored a touchdown: Several, actually. Jeff Fisher’s squad made up for lost time on Sunday. They must have gotten fed up with all those jokes about how long it’s been since they scored a touchdown, because they dropped 37 on the Bucs this week. It’s a good thing, too, because Tampa Bay got the good Jameis Winston this week. Scoring 32 just wasn’t enough to beat the red-hot offensive machine led by Case Keenum. Okay, okay, in all seriousness though, the Rams showed signs of life. They’ll need to do it more consistently if they intend to make the playoffs.
Philadelphia’s defense: Did the ghost of Buddy Ryan make his way on to the Eagles sideline on Sunday? Jim Schwartz’s defense kept one of the NFL’s best offenses out of the end zone for four quarters this week, an accomplishment unlikely to be duplicated in 2016. Pittsburgh has looked unstoppable this season (and most of last), combining for 62 points in their first two games. On Sunday, Philadelphia’s defense held Big Ben to 55% completion and 2 turnovers, and limited the rushing attack to 29 total yards. With Carson Wentz and the offense clicking to boot, this team could make some serious noise in what was supposed to be a rebuilding season.
The Jets laid an egg: After slicing up Buffalo’s offense last Thursday, Gang Green squandered a long week of preparation. No one’s saying Ryan Fitzpatrick is on his way to the Hall of Fame, but he’s been sharp since joining the team last year. Seeing him throw 6 interceptions must have rattled even the most optimistic of Jets fans. This is supposed to be a potent New York offense, but Kansas City made the Jets look like the paper airplanes in Arrowhead on Sunday.
The Panthers lost at home: Falling to the defending champs in Mile-High was less of a shock than what Carolina did this week against the Vikings. After Minnesota stuffed Green Bay last Sunday, nobody expected the Panthers to roll Mike Zimmer’s defense. Still, the defending NFC champs are expected to score more than a sloppy 10 points at home, no matter the opponent. It’s not time to panic, but there’s no denying this team is worse than last year’s squad. How they perform against three consecutive division games, followed by a date with Arizona in week 7, will reveal a lot about where this team is headed.
Buffalo hammered Arizona: At this point, Cardinals’ fans have to be asking serious questions about this team. Buffalo was desperate and played their best game of the season, but a Super Bowl contender should never look that bad, no matter the circumstances. Arizona looked unbeatable at home last year, but got trounced when they traveled to Carolina for the NFC championship game. Locking up home field advantage will prove tough after the 1-2 start, so this team needs to learn how to play better football on the road.
Trevor Siemian: The guy nobody had ever heard of before August just threw 4 touchdowns and more than 300 yards on the road in Cincinnati. The Bengals defense is always strong and leaving Paul Brown stadium with a win is no ordinary feat. It’s only one game, but the kid from Northwestern has looked good in his first three starts and appears to be improving. With such a talented supporting cast, there’s plenty of promise for the defending champs this year. If Siemian continues playing well, Denver could be better than they were last year.
Things that shouldn’t have surprised anyone
Bill Belichick winning with a third string QB: At this point the league should just require the Patriots to play with 10 men on the field. Not only did New England shut out the Texans for four quarters, but they also put up 27 against a really good Houston defense. At this point, a fifth Super Bowl might not even be necessary for Kill Bill to lock up the people’s choice for greatest coach ever. His prickly demeanor just adds the unbelievable-ness of his accomplishments.
The Cowboys O line is really good: Even without their all world left tackle, Dallas ran the ball at will and gave Dak Prescott ample time to throw the ball against Chicago. Prescott has been one of the biggest surprises of the entire league thus far, but his clean pocket has been crucial to his success. Offensive tackles are the sexier draft picks and get the more lucrative contracts, but interior line success can often be more important to a unit’s success. Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins are young, healthy, and (even scarier) improving.
Saints vs. Falcons was high scoring: Two bad defenses, two great offenses— this is the result everyone expected when the Saints traveled to New York last week, but it was inevitable with two dome teams on Monday Night football. Sean Payton is such an incredible offensive coach, but his defenses have been inept. Whether a lack of talent or quality coaching is more to blame doesn’t matter at this point. Atlanta looks balanced on offense for the first time in three years, but they won’t be able to count on winning shootouts every week, either.
David Johnson is a beast: He’s big, he’s fast, he’s nimble, and he’s a great receiver. This is old news, but the second year running back continues to shine (even when his team doesn’t). Johnson accounted for over 100 total yards on 22 touches, as well as the Cardinals’ only two touchdowns of the day. Arizona’s season rests squarely on Carson Palmer’s shoulders, but David Johnson can help him carry the load if Bruce Arians keeps feeding his workhorse back.