April showers bring May flowers, and the dog days of August bring the Sundays of September. With the beginning of fall at Amherst, classes resume, the temperature begins to drop, but, most importantly, NFL football is back. Three weeks into the season, there is already an abundance of headlines. Many of the usual suspects continue to exert their dominance, but there are also some new sheriffs in town. Much of these teams’ early success can be attributed to some old faces in new places.
Teams that Have Impressed
As New Englanders for nine months of the year, it only seems natural that we start with the Patriots. The Pats, who are one of 6 remaining unbeaten NFL teams, have picked up where they left off after a trip to the AFC Championship last season. Although Tom Brady’s receiving corps took significant offseason hits (no more Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd or Danny Woodhead), he’s still winning football games (and is happily married to Gisele Bündchen). The Pats didn’t look particularly impressive in their narrow victories over the Bills and the Jets (two-point and three-point victories, respectively), but they looked more Patriot-esque in their 23-3 rout over the Buccaneers in Week 3.
Despite the Patriots’ hot start, the Miami Dolphins have proved that winning the AFC East will be no cakewalk for the Pats this season. Shocking just about everyone, the Dolphins, under second-year head coach Joe Philbin, are 3-0 for the first time since the days of Jay Fielder and Ricky Williams in 2002.
Newly acquired superstar wide receiver Mike Wallace has helped sophomore quarterback Ryan Tannehill get off to a solid start. Running back Reggie Bush may be gone, but the Dolphins are looking like contenders after consecutive victories over playoff teams the Colts (24-20) and the Falcons (27-23).
The Dolphins have surprised us, but no team’s success has been more unexpected than that of the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs. In just three weeks, the Chiefs have won more games than they did all of last year. After posting a dismal 2-14 record in 2012, the Chiefs have experienced a revival with Andy Reid as their head coach and Alex Smith at quarterback. The Chiefs have been playing smart, conservative, mistake free football, and they haven’t turned the ball over once this season while forcing nine turnovers of their own. With a light schedule ahead, the Chiefs look to be playoff bound for the first time in four years.
Rounding out the unbeaten are the Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints. Following a devastating loss at the end of the 2012 season to the eventual 2013 Super Bowl champion Ravens in the divisional round, the Broncos have started off 3-0.
The receiving corps of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, arguably the NFL’s best, was strengthened by the addition of wide receiver Wes Welker from the Patriots and the emergence of tight end Julius Thomas. The third year tight end has become Peyton Manning’s favorite red zone target, just as Dallas Clark was for Manning in Indianapolis, while Welker is a safety valve for the Broncos’ offense.
The Bears, under new offensive-minded head coach Marc Trestman from the Canadian Football League, have done a good job protecting quarterback Jay Cutler, propelling them to two come from behind victories against the Bengals and Vikings and a blow out victory against the Steelers.
Just like the Bears, the 3-0 Saints posted two close come-from-behind victories against the Falcons and the Buccaneers before stomping the Cardinals. With the return of Sean Payton from suspension and an improved defense that is allowing less than 13 points a game, the Saints look primed for a comeback season. They will be tested in each of the next three weeks, however, with matchups against the undefeated Dolphins, Bears and Patriots.
Meanwhile, nothing negative can be said about the Seattle Seahawks who are rolling under sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson and a stellar defense that is giving up just 9 points a game thus far; they also held the vaunted 49’ers offense to just three points.
Teams that Have Disappointed
“I can’t believe you lost to the Browns, daddy,” Adeja Peterson told her father, reigning MVP Adrian Peterson, of the Minnesota Vikings. Neither can we, Adeja. While some teams are looking strong out of the gate, there are several teams that have looked equally as unimpressive. Perhaps even more surprising than the undefeated Chiefs and Dolphins, are the winless Vikings, Redskins and Giants. The Vikings and Redskins were playoff teams in 2013, both with 10-6 records, and the Giants are just two seasons removed from a Super Bowl victory.
The other winless teams include the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The combined record of these teams (excluding the Jaguars) was 44-36 last season, well above .500.
For the Redskins, 2012 Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III has looked lackluster following surgery this past offseason to repair a torn ACL and MCL suffered in last year’ playoffs. For Washington, the talent is still there, but they have been unable to produce.
For the Vikings, their 0-2 start to the season was understandable considering they faced formidable opponents in the Lions (2-1) and the Bears (3-0). Their most recent loss in Week 3 shocked us as much as it did Adeja. The Cleveland Browns were without starting quarterback Brandon Weeden due to injury, and it was their first game without star running back Trent Richardson following a blockbuster trade with the Colts earlier in the week. Tight end Jordan Cameron has emerged as the Browns’ playmaker with four touchdowns and 269 yards through three games.
Other surprising poor starts include those of the Green Bay Packers (1-2) following an 11-5 season, the Falcons (1-2) following a 13-3 season and the 49ers (1-2) following an 11-4-1 campaign. While these teams aren’t playing high caliber football at the moment, we would be surprised if any of them miss the playoffs.
A Look Ahead
1. Games to watch in Week 4: Seattle at Houston (1 p.m. Sunday), New England at Atlanta (8:30 p.m. Sunday) and Miami at New Orleans (8:30 p.m. Monday).
2. Game to ignore in Week 4: Arizona at Tampa Bay (1 p.m. Sunday).