As someone who sat in the stands and watched the see saw battle that was the Bengals-Packers game Sunday afternoon, I know I wasted plenty of type space on it already. The fact remains, though, that the game was a perfect example of how quickly things can change in the NFL. Cincinnati ran out to a 14-0 lead, Green Bay eventually controlled it 30-14, then the Bengals were resurrected and won 34-30.
That’s the NFL from week to week. It makes it fun to watch, but doing a column like this is basically just asking for ridicule. Chances are most of these teams will make me look bad at some point, and I’m sure they’re doing it just to spite me! Anyway, carry on to the rankings!
1. Denver Broncos (3-0, Last Week: 1): The Stat: 12. Gotta keep it simple here. Peyton Manning’s 12 touchdown passes in the season’s first three games is an NFL record. If we’re not careful, Manning’s going to tell Kobe Bryant he’s taking the nickname “Vino,” because Peyton really does seem to be getting better with age. The concern this week was about the Broncos losing LT Ryan Clady for the season. Some problem that is, at least for one week.
2. Seattle Seahawks (3-0, LW: 2): The Stat: 4. Russell Wilson threw four touchdown passes against the hapless Jaguars Sunday, only the 2nd time in his career he turned the feat. The other time was the Seahawks blowout win against San Francisco last December. The Seahawks will need that Wilson going forward. The next three games are against a trio of 2-1 teams, two of those outside the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field.
3. New Orleans Saints (3-0, LW: 5): The Stat: 12.7. With their single touchdown effort against Arizona, the New Orleans Defense is proving one season can make a massive difference. The Saints D was hisorically bad last year, but Rob Ryan is turning it around in his first year by the Bayou. The Saints gave up 28.4 points a year ago. We’ll see what they’re really made of in the next three weeks, though, when they play three straight undefeated teams: Miami, Chicago and New England.
4. Chicago Bears (3-0, LW: 7): The Stat: 45. In just three games, the Bears Defense has scored 45 points off of turnovers. That’s buoyed by a 24 point, 2 TD performance in Pittsburgh this week. The defense has 3 touchdowns in as many games, and the Jay Cutler led offense has finished the job the rest of the time.
5. New England Patriots (3-0, LW: 9): The Stat: 5.5. The Patriots are 3-0 for the first time since their 16-0 regular season in 2007. The big difference between that team and this one, there’s no Randy Moss to take the top off the defense. Tom Brady is dead last in the NFL with 5.5 yards per pass attempt. In 2007, Brady averaged 8.3 yds/attempt, 1st in the league.
6. Kansas City Chiefs (3-0, LW: 13): The Stat: 15. The Chiefs have 15 sacks in three games, leading the NFL so far. KC finished last year with only 27 sacks. Justin Houston is the bell cow with 6.5 sacks. The Chiefs should have a great opportunity to add to the gaudy total this week with the Giants on tap. Eli Manning has been taken down 11 times already.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (2-1, LW: 10): The Stat: 58. Terence Newman’s 58-yard fumble return with 3:47 remaining gave the Bengals a 34-30 lead they wouldn’t relinquish in the win over Green Bay. Also worth noting…Cincinnati is the first team EVER to lead by 14, trail by 16, then win the game. I wrote extensively on this game Monday.
8. Miami Dolphins (3-0, LW: 11): The Stat: 9. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is getting more and more comfortable in charge of this offense, and it’s showing by the number of players he’s finding on the field. Tannehill completed passes to 9 different receivers in the win against Atlanta. It’s not because he has all day to throw either. Tannehill has been sacked a league high 14 times, so he’s not just reading defenses. He’s doing it quickly.
9. Indianapolis Colts (2-1, LW: 15): The Stat: 13:43. The Colts traded for Trent Richardson last week to prove that they were a legitimate ground-and-pound team that can control the clock and grind out wins. Ahmad Bradshaw led the way with 95 rushing yards, but the point was made against one of the teams known to win games in that exact way. Indianapolis held the ball for 13:43 of the game’s final 18:02, scoring 14 points in that span and putting the game well out of reach.
10. San Francisco 49ers (1-2, LW: 3): The Stat: 56.4. After a great opener against the Packers, 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been downright pedestrian the last two weeks. He’s completing only 56.4% of his passes for the season, 27th in the league. Take out the Green Bay game, and that number drops to 47.3%. One reason for that is likely because his struggling run game is putting much more pressure on him. Non-Kaepernick rushers are picking up only 59 yds/game in 2013, down from 111.6 in his 11 starts a year ago.
11. Houston Texans (2-1, LW: 4): The Stat: 41:24. The Texans are 2-1 with a pair of overtime wins on the resume, but they haven’t been able to enjoy playing with the lead much in this young season. With an Arian Foster led run attack, Houston is used to scoring often and taking a long time to do it, making sure the other team doesn’t have time to catch up. Instead, the Texans have led for just 41:24 of 180 minutes this year, just 23% of the time.
12. Green Bay Packers (1-2, LW: 6): The Stat: 41. Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had gone 41 straight regular season games without a two interception game before Sunday in Cincinnati. The last one was Week 7 of 2010 in a win against Minnesota. Also, Rodgers’ Quarterback Rating of 64.5 was his lowest since the 2010 NFC Championship Game.
13. Atlanta Falcons (1-2, LW: 8): The Stat: 22:48. The Falcons dominated the first half time of possession Sunday, running 38 plays in 22:48 on just three drives. Those drives resulted in a touchdown and a pair of field goals, yet they still ended up losing. Sometimes when you have a high octane offense, it doesn’t pay to roll around in the muck with your slower paced opponent. The long drives are still a positive sign, though, considering Steven Jackson was out with a thigh bruise.
14. Baltimore Ravens (2-1, LW: 20): The Stat: 27.2. Returning the ball is an extremely difficult job in the league these days, and Ravens returner Tandon Doss is doing it much better than anyone else when it comes to punt returns. He brought one back 82 yards for a touchdown Sunday, and his 27.2 yard average is 10 better than the rest of the league. Sure the touchdown skews the number, but take that out and he’s still better than any other player without a touchdown return.
15. Tennessee Titans (2-1, LW: 14): The Stat: 0. Titans Quarterback Jake Locker is still finding his way, but one big positive can be said for the 3rd year signal caller. He hasn’t turned the ball over yet in 2013, a common theme among this season’s surprising teams. Locker isn’t asked to carry this team and his numbers show that, but by not turning the ball over, he’s doing his most important job. Tennessee wants to run the ball, eat the clock and shorten the game, and if they don’t have to worry about Locker being a liability to that goal he’s getting it done. It’s also worth noting that he threw 11 INTs in 11 games a year ago.
16. Dallas Cowboys (2-1, LW: 16): The Stat: 4.9. Last week I mentioned that DeMarco Murray wasn’t doing his part to help Tony Romo and the Cowboys’ Offense succeed. He averaged just 3.5 yds/carry the first two games. Consider Murray’s season off and running. After averaging 6.9 yards a tote against St. Louis, his season average is up to 4.9, and he doesn’t care too much for what I have to say.
17. Detroit Lions (2-1, LW: 18): The Stat: 2. One thing that should really scare opposing coaches right now. Lions Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been sacked an NFL-low 2 times in 3 games. Stafford was sacked 29 times a year ago, still a low number compared to many others, but one of the team’s concerns was that they had downgraded along the offensive line this year, and that hasn’t been the case.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (1-2, LW: 12): The Stat: 395. LeSean McCoy has 395 rushing yards in just three games, 98 better than anyone else in football. If the Eagles are going through growing pains right now, imagine how they’re going to feel if McCoy goes down at some point this season.
19. San Diego Chargers (1-2, LW: 17): The Stat: 116.2. That’s the QB Rating in three games for Philip Rivers. The last two years he’s heard all about how he’s washed up and would never be the same, but he’s had a turnaround under new Head Coach Mike McCoy. His 116.2 rating is 28 points higher than the past two seasons, and it’s 2nd in the NFL behind only Peyton Manning.
20. New York Jets (2-1, LW: 29): The Stat: 2. Tim Tebow 2.0? No, Geno Smith isn’t Tim Tebow, but one stat kind of reminds you of the former Jets back up. Smith 31st in QB Rating at only 65.0, but he has two 4th Quarter comeback wins in three games. Tebow in his Denver days: 28th with a 72.9 Rating, 2nd with 6 4th Quarter comeback wins. Just saying.
21. Buffalo Bills (1-2, LW: 19): The Stat: 26.8. That’s the difference in yards per game so far for running back CJ Spiller from 2012 to 2013. He averaged 77.8 yards last year in only seven starts, earning him the starting role over Fred Jackson in this year’s offense. It hasn’t worked out so far. Spiller’s averaging just 51 yds/game and the former starter Jackson has raised his total from 43.7 to 56.3. Weird how things work out.
22. St. Louis Rams (1-2, LW: 21): The Stat: 20:50. That’s how long it took for the Rams to get their initial first down in the game against Dallas Sunday. St. Louis picked things up from there, finishing the game with 17 first downs, but the damage was already done. By that time it was 17-0, and the rout was on in Dallas.
23. Oakland Raiders (1-2, LW: 24): The Stat: 50.7. The Raiders haven’t been known for many positive things the last few years, but everyone knows they’ve consistently had the best punter in Shane Lechler. Lechler’s gone now, but the Black Hole is still first in the NFL in punt average. Marquette King moved into the spot and is the only punter in the league averaging more than 50 yards per kick.
24. Carolina Panthers (1-2, LW: 28): The Stat: 3. The Panthers have called themselves a run first team for years, and they’ve definitely paid the money to show their running backs they feel that way. The problem is, the run game has been horrible the last couple seasons, until now. DeAngelo Williams has reached at least 85 yards on the ground in all three games so far. Carolina had an 85 yard rusher three times in the previous 17 contests. Williams is 3rd in the NFL with 97 yds/game.
25. Cleveland Browns (1-2, LW: 30): The Stat: 45. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King provided this gem, so all props to him on this. Browns kicker/punter Spencer Lanning became the first NFL player in 45 years to throw a pass, punt and place kick all in the same game. Lanning was 1-1, throwing a touchdown pass to Jordan Cameron on a fake field goal that was brilliantly designed. (Cameron ran toward the sideline like he was leaving the game, then just stayed near the boundary uncovered until after the snap.)
26. Minnesota Vikings (0-3, LW: 22): The Stat: 3.0. Adrian Peterson opened the season with a 78-yard touchdown run. Since that play, the NFL MVP has rushed 68 times for 203 yards, only 3.0 yds/carry. Peterson has a 5.0 average for his career, and last year’s amazing campaign carried an impossible 6.0 number for a back with 348 carries. The league is daring the Vikings to pass, and now is the time for Christian Ponder to prove he’s up to the task.
27. Washington Redskins (0-3, LW: 23): The Stat: 1464. The talk around the Redskins right now is that Robert Griffin III is the team’s downfall and that he either needs to put up or sit down. What most people aren’t talking about is that the Redskins Defense has given up an NFL record 1464 yards in the first three games. This defense is historically bad so far, and they won’t win no matter how well RG3 plays.
28. Arizona Cardinals (1-2, LW: ): The Stat: 16. The Cardinals knew what they were getting with Carson Palmer. It’s been a span of 16 games since Palmer had a game with a touchdown pass and no interceptions. That run continued this week with no touchdowns and a pair of picks against New Orleans. Palmer is the ultimate boom-or-bust quarterback, and Arizona better hope they starting getting more boom in the ultra-competitive NFC West.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3, LW: 27): The Stat: 0. A lot of the negative focus for the Steelers revolves around their shaky offensive line and awful running attack on offense, but how’s this for a shocker. Pittsburgh hasn’t scored a single point off a turnover this season. I’m not even talking return touchdowns. They haven’t caused a turnover and even got a field goal on the ensuing possession. It seems unfathomable.
30. New York Giants (0-3, LW: 26): The Stat: 1983. That year, the Giants turned the ball over 58 times. The highest they’ve been other than that…49 times in 1960 and 1964. The current version of the G-Men have 13 turnovers in three games. If they keep up that pace they’ll finish the seasons with a team record 69 giveaways.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3, LW: 31): The Stat: 45.7. Quarterback Josh Freeman is completing just 45.7% of his passes. He’s the only starting QB in the league with a completion percentage under 50%, and if he doesn’t improve that number quickly, this sentence could be written with “former” in front of “starting.”
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3, LW: 32): The Stat: 12.5. This is a double stat. The Jaguars have had 40 drives this year. 12.5% of those have ended in a score. 12.5% of them have ended in a turnover. When you’re turning the ball over the same amount of time you’re scoring, you tend to populate this part of the rankings. Mission accomplished.