After three weeks of NFL action, we are left with seven teams with perfect 3-0 records. Among those teams, we have those who we expected to be here (Chiefs, Patriots, Cowboys and Rams), and we also have a few surprises (49ers, Bills and Packers). Let’s take a closer look at each 3-0 team (sorry Detroit, but 2-0-1 won’t cut it… and we all know you’re pretenders anyway) and figure out who actually has playoff aspirations, and which teams are just an early-season flash in the pan.
New England Patriots
After wins over the Steelers, Dolphins and Jets, the Patriots have seemingly picked up where they left off last season. After holding the Rams touchdown-less in last year’s Super Bowl, the Patriots defense has still yet to give up a touchdown this season. Is this because the Patriots have an elite defense, or is it because the three games they’ve played were all against terrible teams?
The Steelers, Dolphins and Jets are all 0-3 right now, and have started a combined seven different quarterbacks this season. The Patriots looked like they could do whatever they wanted on both sides of the ball against all three teams, but aren’t they supposed to? They’ve outscored these opponents 106-17, but this is hardly an accurate way to compare the Patriots to actual contending teams. Given that they are the Patriots and that they will almost certainly win the AFC East, I’m going to rule that they are contenders… but with the caveat that I’m not ready to pencil them in to the AFC Championship like many already have. Let’s see how next week’s matchup with Buffalo goes. Hey, speaking of Buffalo…
In 2017, the Bills made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Unfortunately for Buffalo, they failed to take another step forward and instead regressed to a 6-10 record in 2018. Josh Allen has proven to be the big, strong and mobile passer he was advertised to be, but the decision-making and accuracy development have been slow. But to Allen’s defense, he has his team standing undefeated without any major offensive weapons at his disposal. He’s been able to do just enough to beat the Jets by one, Giants by 14 and Bengals by four.
While close games against the currently 0-3 Jets and Bengals are definitely things to be concerned about, the 14 point win over the 1-2 Giants was impressive. The Bills’ defense essentially ended Eli Manning’s reign as the Giants starting quarterback, and Allen looked great. He threw for 250 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. More performances like these are required from the second-year signal caller for the Bills to be seriously considered for playoff contention, but we have yet to see any against a quality team. The Week 4 Patriots-Bills matchup will be a great test for Allen, but from what I’ve seen so far, Buffalo appears to be a pretender.
Kansas City Chiefs
It has been business as usual for Kansas City. Pat Mahomes is following up an MVP season with what seems to be another, already with 1195 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. A different receiver is stepping up each week to fill the temporary hole left by the injured Tyreek Hill. Travis Kelce and LeSean McCoy are fulfilling their roles phenomenally. Andy Reid became the first head coach to solve the Lamar Jackson puzzle this season. There isn’t much to say about this team besides that they’re going to be nearly impossible to stop… so yes, they are most certainly contenders. Next.
Obviously, the question that is on everyone’s mind is: How ‘bout them Cowboys? My answer to this is the Cowboys are very good. Dak Prescott is showing everybody that he is more than just a game manager, throwing for 920 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. Amari Cooper looks much more like the elite wide receiver prospect that we expected out of college (not being on the Raiders definitely helps with that), already with four touchdowns through three games. Ezekiel Elliot is representing all of the elite running backs that want to get paid well, with over 300 scrimmage yards and two scores. All of the offensive success has resulted in over 30 points scored in each game so far. What does concern me, however, is the defense.
Dallas was projected to have one of the best defenses in the league this season, and they’ve been okay so far. They held the awful Miami Dolphins to six, but allowed 17 points to the now-benched Eli Manning and 24 points to Case Keenum and the football team located in Washington. The Giants and Washington have two of the least threatening offenses in the league, and though they did well enough, I want to see more from the Cowboys’ defense. I expect them to improve as the season goes on, the offense to remain one of the best in the league and for the Cowboys to win the NFC East. They are contenders, and perhaps the team to beat in the NFC.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers were expected to improve under their new head coach Mike LaFleur with a totally revamped defense and a now-healthy Aaron Rodgers, but I don’t think many people expected them to start 3-0. Gone are the days where the Packers defense let the other team march up and down the field while Rodgers tried to clean up the mess on the other side of the ball. Green Bay’s defense has been one of the best in the league, holding the Bears, Vikings and Broncos to just 35 combined points. Aaron Jones has been solid out of the backfield, gaining over 200 yards from scrimmage and scoring thrice.
Rodgers hasn’t been the amazing gunslinger he used to be, but he has been making all the right plays. He has a modest 647 passing yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. If the Packers had a quarterback that didn’t have the rich history Rodgers has, I would dismiss the Packers as a great defensive team, but the limitations on offense would keep them out of the playoffs. Since they do have Rodgers, though, I think this offense has a much higher ceiling than they have shown us so far. Therefore, I think the Packers are bona fide contenders, but it is contingent on Rodgers getting better as the season progresses.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams were able to bounce back from a Super Bowl loss to the Patriots with a solid start to this season. All of their wins have been quality wins, as they beat the Panthers in Charlotte, the Saints without Brees and the Browns in Cleveland. Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown have been sharing time in the backfield, with Gurley getting about twice as much work as Brown. They have combined for 300 rushing yards and three touchdowns so far. Perhaps they’re using Brown to spell Gurley often so he isn’t worn down by the end of the season like he was last year. Had Gurley been 100% healthy towards the end of last year, maybe they could’ve moved the ball against New England in the Super Bowl.
Head coach Sean McVay seems to be using load management on his star running back to keep him fresh for the playoffs that he expects them to make easily. I also expect the Rams to be back in the playoffs this year. Their defense is among the best in the league from top to bottom. Returning stars Aaron Donald, Aquib Talib and Marcus Peters are joined by newcomers Clay Matthews and Eric Weddle. This defense has a ton of talent and experience, and will continue to be the best part of this team. I’m looking forward to the Rams’ Week 15 game in Dallas, which could potentially be an NFC Championship preview.
The San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are off to a hot start after winning games against Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Granted those are opponents they were expected to beat, but there is still something to be said about an unproven team taking care of business. The 49ers’ defense looks really good so far this season. Talented youngsters such as DeForest Buckner and Nick Bosa have been impressive, Dee Ford has proven to be a valuable addition and Richard Sherman still has it. The offense, though, has done just enough.
George Kittle, as expected, has been the 49ers’ leading pass catcher. However, no weapon has emerged from the wide receiver corps just yet. Starters Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin and Deebo Samuel have combined for 299 yards and three touchdowns on 22 catches. They have overcome injuries to Tevin Coleman and Matt Brieda in the backfield, utilizing Raheem Mostert for yardage and Jeff Wilson Jr. for goal line scores. The offense, however, still hasn’t shown me enough. Jimmy Garoppolo has been good, not great, with 739 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions. However, he has only been sacked twice. The offensive line has been great, allowing whoever lines up in the backfield to gain yards and keeping Jimmy G’s pocket clean. I have never seen a team make the playoffs without a dangerous offensive weapon before, and as it stands now, the 49ers don’t have one. Sorry Niners, but y’all are pretenders.
Thumbnail photo from The Associated Press.
Sean Janos is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.