What is the strongest division in the NFL?
According to the NFL dot com Power Rankings, it’s the NFC North … and it’s not particularly close. For the second straight week, I have the Packers, Bears and Vikings all taking up real estate in the top 10. The one NFC Norris team not in the top 10? That would be the undefeated Detroit Lions, whose fan base will soon organize a “Fire Hanzus” rally that will make the “Millen Man March” look like the Catalina Wine Mixer.
I understand your rage … but I cannot be manipulated or coerced by it. You have a wonderful city.
Let’s get to it.
NOTE: The previous rankings referenced in the lineup below are from the Week 3 Power Rankings.
Cowboys are 3-0 for the first time since 2008, but their
31-6 win over the Dolphins wasn’t quite as easy as the final score seems to indicate. The feeble
Dolphins played even with their heavily favored opponent for the game’s first two quarters. It wasn’t until
Kenyan Drake fumbled inside the Dallas 10-yard line late in the second quarter that momentum swung toward Big D for good.
Dak Prescott continues to cruise, throwing two touchdown passes (both to Amari Cooper) and running for another score. Prescott got hot in the third quarter, going 9 of 9 for 137 yards and a touchdown. A 10-6 lead at the half was 24-6 after three quarters. Turn out the lights. Here’s a great stat,
courtesy of The Athletic: Through three games, Prescott is a perfect 22 of 22 for 384 yards and three touchdowns in the third quarter. I want to know what he’s eating in the locker room at halftime.
You can imagine Brian Gutekunst throwing out the classic Michael Jordan
“I can’t believe I’m this good, either” shoulder shrug as he walked into team headquarters early Monday morning. Every move the
Packers GM made to improve his team’s defense has been genius through three weeks. On Sunday,
Preston Smith and
Za’Darius Smith combined for five sacks and a forced fumble in a
27-16 win over the Broncos. Money well spent on the pair of pass rushers who have been a huge upgrade over last year’s combo of
Clay Matthews and
Nick Perry. Despite a season high in points scored, the
Packers‘ offense remains a work in progress. It’s on head coach Matt LaFleur to make the necessary adjustments and keep Green Bay moving after working through the initial game script. The
Packers have started fast and cooled off considerably in each of the past two weeks.
Dawson Knox, have a day. With the
Bills down three late in the fourth quarter, Buffalo’s rookie tight end hauled in a
Josh Allen pass and morphed into an evolutionary Gronk. His
49-yard catch-and-run sent New Era Stadium into a frenzy and set up
the Bills’ go-ahead touchdown. The seven-play, 78-yard drive was a minor masterpiece by the
Bills, providing the latest evidence that Allen has taken the next step as a quarterback in Year 2. Buffalo had coughed up a 14-0 lead in this game, and a loss would have undone much of the progress of the season’s first two weeks. But Allen — with a huge helping hand from his Baby Gronk — wouldn’t allow that to happen. The
Bills are 3-0 and welcome the 3-0
Patriots to their house
on Sunday. This is the biggest
Bills game in a
long time. Circle them wagons!
49ers are 3-0 for the first time since 1998.
Sunday’s win was a minor miracle; not many teams finish a game with five turnovers — including three inside the opponent’s 20-yard line — and come out clean on the other side. Consider it a testament to the team’s resolve, and the continued progress of
Jimmy Garoppolo, who wiped away two
Steelers second-half leads with touchdown drives. Jimmy G’s final numbers were pedestrian, but both his interceptions came on passes that probably should have been caught by his intended targets. He delivered a solid performance — and looks more comfortable with each passing week, a very good sign. The most important statistic from the win? The
49ers‘ defense held the
Steelers to just six points off the
49ers‘ five turnovers. Early bye weeks are never preferred, but there’s something to be said for staying undefeated for another 14 days without playing a snap.
Bears took all the drama out of
Monday night, racing to a 28-0 lead in the first half before cruising to the finish line. It was another big day for Chicago’s vaunted defense, which forced
Case Keenum into five turnovers, including
a pick-six by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Khalil Mack led the charge in the front seven, stuffing the stat sheet with two sacks and two forced fumbles. On offense, it was a game — a half, really — of progress for
Mitchell Trubisky, who threw three touchdown passes and looked much more comfortable than what we saw against the
Taylor Gabriel caught all three of those Trubisky touchdown passes before leaving the game with a concussion. The next step for Trubisky is stacking some solid performances to bury the chatter of those who see him as the team’s weak link.
Three weeks into the season, the
Vikings‘ offensive philosophy is apparent: This is
Dalvin Cook‘s team. You see it on the field and even during the pregame introductions, where Cook has bumped
Kirk Cousins for top billing. The third-year running back set a franchise record with his third consecutive 100-yard game to start the season in
an easy 34-14 win over the Raiders. Minnesota is averaging 193.7 yards per game on the ground and has rolled up more yards rushing than passing during its 2-1 start. Cook is the unquestioned star of the attack, but he’s not alone.
Alexander Mattison has shown excellent burst when given the opportunity;
a 10-yard touchdown run was an impressive feat of athleticism by the third-round rookie. The middling
Raiders provided a perfect get-right opponent for Cousins, who bounced back with a solid effort after an alarming performance
last week in Green Bay.
My apologies to the
Saints. Yes, they lost
Drew Brees to a thumb injury in Week 2, but this team goes well beyond one star. That was apparent Sunday in Seattle, where Sean Payton’s team delivered a complete effort in
a 33-27 win that was not nearly as competitive as the final score indicates. New Orleans scored on
a 53-yard punt return, and
a fumble recovery — kudos to the officials for not blowing the play dead prematurely, an error that killed the
a week earlier.
Teddy Bridgewater started slowly but came on as the game progressed, and
Alvin Kamara looked like the best player on the field every time the ball was in his hands. The
Drew Brees to win the
Super Bowl. But they can survive — and possibly even thrive — without their star quarterback if they continue to put together complete efforts like we saw against the
John Harbaugh wasn’t messing around on Sunday. The
Ravens coach was in an ultra-aggressive mood against the high-octane
Chiefs, going for it on fourth-down four times (with three successful conversions) and attempting a trio of two-point conversions (all failed). “We don’t play scared,” Harbaugh told reporters after
the 33-28 loss. Fair enough, but it feels like an instance of Harbaugh putting both too much and not enough faith in his offense. The
Ravens came down to Earth a little bit in their first loss of the season, looking like a team that wasn’t quite ready to fight it out for four quarters against a conference superpower.
Lamar Jackson — despite the now requisite handful of highlight-reel plays — struggled for the majority of this game, and the Baltimore defense was no match for
Patrick Mahomes, who threw for 374 yards and three touchdowns.
Deshaun Watson does at least one thing every week that truly amazes. On Sunday, it came in the fourth quarter, near midfield, with the
Texans nursing a four-point lead against the
Chargers. Watson got flushed out of the pocket, stepped up, looked for a moment like he was going to run, then flicked the ball to tight end
Jordan Akins, who did the rest for
a 53-yard touchdown. Most quarterbacks in that situation take a sack, scramble for a few yards or toss up an ill-advised prayer. Watson made magic. Speaking of magic,
J.J. Watt has found his groove. The future Hall of Famer lived in the backfield and had two sacks. And once again, Watt received much-needed help from the revitalized
Whitney Mercilus, who had
a huge strip-sack of Philip Rivers and two tackles for loss. The
Texans are a top-heavy team, but that top is as talented as anybody’s.
Jacoby Brissett is no hold-the-fort guy. The
Colts quarterback might just be a legit player for the
Colts to build around. We knew Indy believed in their Andrew Luck replacement when they ripped up his contract and
doled out a generous new deal on the eve of Week 1, and Brissett has made his team look smart. The 26-year-old QB completed his first 16 passes against the
Falcons on Sunday and finished with 310 yards and two touchdowns. The highlight came on third-and-4 with less than two minutes to play. Instead of running the ball to take time off the clock and attempt a field goal to go up six, coach Frank Reich put his faith in Brissett, who connected with
Jack Doyle on a game-icing first down. Brissett will never be as dynamic a player as Luck, but he doesn’t need to be on this well-coached, well-balanced team.
Raise your hand if you predicted Detroit would be undefeated through three weeks. That’s what I thought. The
Lions don’t have enough talent to dominate teams, but in each of the last two weeks, we’ve watched Detroit step up and close out an opponent that looked on the verge of stealing a victory. These are the type of games that separate an 8-8 also-ran from a 10-6 playoff participant. The
Lions‘ defense undoubtedly benefitted from a slew of
Eagles mistakes Sunday, but no caveats are necessary in describing the play of
Matthew Stafford, who looks more at home on offense under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell than he was in the difficult final season under Jim Bob Cooter. The
Lions get a huge test
this week when
Patrick Mahomes brings the
Chiefs‘ air show to Ford Field. Detroit will need to be much sharper to hang with an AFC powerhouse.
a bad day all around for Pete Carroll, who
had his nose jacked up by an errant football during pregame warmups, then watched his
Seahawks come out flat against a
Saints team playing without
Drew Brees. Fun fact: Sunday marked the first September home loss for the
Seahawks in the Carroll era (15-0 entering the day). Seattle was not sharp in any phase of the game, from special teams (giving up a 53-yard punt return for a score) to ball security (a
Chris Carson fumble
was scooped up by Vonn Bell for a touchdown) to clock management (Carroll mishandled the final minute of the first half).
Russell Wilson missed a wide open
Tyler Lockett on fourth down with the opportunity to trim the deficit to 27-14 midway through the third quarter. Throw in seven penalties, and you have a rare letdown game at The Clink.
Chargers continue to kill themselves with unforced errors. A week after
a maddening loss to the
Lions, Los Angeles again struggled with execution in
a one-score loss to the
Texans at home. The
Chargers committed seven penalties, none bigger than the holding call on left tackle
Trent Scott that wiped out a Philip Rivers-to-Mike Williams completion that would have put the Bolts inside the
Texans‘ 10 with less than 20 seconds to play. The loss shouldn’t obscure a career day by
Keenan Allen, who had 13 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns on a whopping 17 targets. Allen has at least eight catches in each of the
Chargers‘ first three games and is on pace for 155 receptions and more than 2,000 yards. That will win some fantasy leagues. The
Chargers, meanwhile, are a much better team than their record indicates. Gotta clean it up.
“Sacksonville is back, baby!” Those were
the celebratory words of
Yannick Ngakoue at the end of
Thursday night’s resounding victory over the AFC South rival
Calais Campbell had three of nine sacks for the Jags, who held Tennessee scoreless until the fourth quarter and generally looked the far superior team. The win
quiets the noise around cornerback
Jalen Ramsey‘s future with the team … for one night, at least. The Jags’ offense had an up-and-down outing, but the team has to be thrilled with the play of
Gardner Minshew II. The rookie quarterback/living folk hero played smart, crisp football, and he would have ended his night with three touchdown passes, if not for a hideous end-zone drop by
Dede Westbrook. The Ramsey saga will continue to hang over this team, but Minshewmania has the fanbase excited and the Jags in the hunt.
Kyle Allen put some much-needed wind back in the
Panthers‘ sails. The backup quarterback was brilliant
against the Cardinals, throwing four touchdown passes with a passer rating north of 140 in a one-sided romp on the road. Carolina needed some good news after the struggling
Cam Newton re-aggravated his foot injury in
a dispiriting loss to the Bucs. On Monday, coach Ron Rivera wasted no time
ruling Newton out for Week 4 and — perhaps ominously — attached no timetable to the former MVP’s return. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Tuesday that Newton is dealing with a Lisfranc injury that could
keep him on the shelf awhile. On the plus side, Allen’s performance against the
Cardinals has to give Carolina confidence that the former undrafted 23-year-old has some legit talent. Allen didn’t do it alone on Sunday:
Christian McCaffrey ripped off
a 76-yard touchdown run, and the
Panthers defense sacked
Kyler Murray eight times. Next week will provide a stiffer challenge
on the road in Houston.
Another week, another slow start that doomed the
Falcons. Atlanta has now been outscored 47-13 in the first half of its games, a major reason why Dan Quinn’s team sits at 1-2. Discipline continues to be an issue, as well: The
Falcons committed 16 penalties for 128 yards in Indianapolis. The defense, which was responsible for 10 of those penalties, will go the rest of the way without hard-luck defensive back
Keanu Neal, who tore his Achilles after missing nearly the entire 2018 campaign with a torn ACL. On the positive end,
Matt Ryan was a machine in the second half, completing 22 of 23 passes with three touchdowns in Atlanta’s final three possessions. Incredibly, the
Falcons only had six possessions on Sunday (not counting the one-play kneeldown at the end of the first half). The running game — which ranks 27th in the NFL — also showed some life, with
Devonta Freeman looking a lot like the guy who drove defenses mad in 2015 and ’16.
We haven’t reached panic mode in Cleveland, but we’re not far off.
Baker Mayfield looked confused and jittery in
a prime-time home loss to the
Rams, and it’s on first-year coach Freddie Kitchens and the rest of the
Browns staff to fix their young star. Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution, with Mayfield working behind a shoddy offensive line that has left him in danger rather than
“feeling dangerous.” Kitchens mucked things up further on Sunday with some shaky play-calling, including a fourth-and-9 draw play in the fourth quarter
that will live in infamy. Speaking of bad play-calling, how does
Odell Beckham not get a target on any of the
Browns‘ four cracks at the end zone on their final drive? Beckham was brought in to be a dynamic difference-maker — throw the man the ball, and good things will probably happen. The
Browns need a common-sense check.
Titans‘ offense in the
Marcus Mariota era is like
Sisyphus and his rock. You can do your best to push that boulder up the mountain, but it always rolls back down to where you started. Tennessee’s doomed mission has never been more apparent than in the last two weeks — a flat loss at home to the
in Week 2, followed by
a virtual no-show on Thursday night against the
Jaguars. Mariota isn’t solely to blame for the
Titans‘ struggles, but his inability to spark this team makes you wonder how much longer head coach Mike Vrabel can stand by his man, with the capable backup quarterback
Ryan Tannehill waiting in the wings. Then again, the way Tennessee’s offensive line is performing, Tannehill will fare no better. Mariota was sacked nine times and pressured a career-high 18 times by the Jags. The absence of
Taylor Lewan is huge, but it doesn’t excuse a total collapse.
The Danny Dimes era
has arrived. Rookie quarterback
Daniel Jones, the much-maligned (through no fault of his own) No. 6 overall pick, played lights out in his first career start, throwing two touchdowns passes and running for two more in rallying the
Giants back from a 28-10 halftime deficit
in Tampa. And just when it looked like the kid’s effort would be wasted, the Bucs
blew a chip-shot field-goal try at the gun to give Big Blue the win. Suddenly,
Giants fans have a lot to be excited about in the post-Eli era. It wasn’t all good for New York:
Saquon Barkley suffered the dreaded high ankle sprain and will be
on the shelf 4-6 weeks. Barkley’s absence hurts the offense, but Jones’ debut instills hope that the
Giants will find a way to stay in the hunt, even without their star running back. What a difference a week makes.
Sometimes, the kicker just has to make a damn kick. It’s not an easy job, but
failure to knock through a 34-yard attempt as time expired
cost the Bucs the game and could permanently alter the trajectory of their season. Gay’s miss was especially crushing in light of the fact that the Bucs had fought to reclaim the game after blowing a 28-10 halftime lead.
Jameis Winston delivered what should have been one of the signature passes of his career,
a 44-yard strike to
Mike Evans to put Tampa Bay in field-goal position in the final minute. But the Bucs couldn’t close. Bruce Arians
made headlines after the game by telling reporters he purposely took a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty because Gay was better from a further distance. It was a head-spinning comment for a Bucs fan base already passed out on the floor.
There’s no use roasting the
Raiders for their
showing against the Vikings on Sunday. This remains a team under construction, and Oakland simply isn’t ready to hang against a quality opponent on the road. The goal is improvement, and there’s plenty of room for that. Since jumping out to a 10-0 lead last week
against the Chiefs, the
Raiders have been outscored 62-14 by a pair of
Super Bowl contenders. And now, a friendly reminder not to trust your box score implicitly: The stats (79.4 percent completion rate, 242 yards, two TDs, a 103.7 passer rating) tell you
Derek Carr played a strong game on Sunday. In reality, Carr was a dink-and-dunk machine who got happy feet on a key
second-quarter interception and did most of his compiling long after the game was decided. Again, this is a developmental year for the
Raiders. We know Jon Gruden, in the second year of a 10-year deal, is staying put beyond 2019. Will Carr? Thirteen games remain on his audition.
It sounds crazy to put a loss on a defense that created five turnovers, but the failure by the
Steelers‘ D to step up in crunch time helps explain this team’s 0-3 record. Twice
against the 49ers on Sunday, Pittsburgh quarterback
Mason Rudolph put Pittsburgh ahead with touchdown passes in the second half, and twice, a
Steelers defense loaded with premium draft picks failed to keep
Jimmy Garoppolo from leading the
49ers back to the end zone.
Steelers brass showed they were still all in on 2019 by acquiring defensive back
Minkah Fitzpatrick in exchange for a first-round pick
last week, but that selection — now the property of the
Miami Dolphins — could turn into a top-10 premium slot if the
Steelers keep losing. Rudolph was a mixed bag in his first NFL start, but as the rest of this Ben Roethlisberger-less season wears on, the second-year pro will need more help from running back
James Conner, who had
a killer fumble that led to
San Fran’s go-ahead score and is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry through three games.
We’ll give the
Bengals some credit: They were badly outplayed in the first half
against the Bills and were fortunate to be down just 14-0 at the break. But instead of packing it in, Cincinnati battled back in a tough road environment, reeling off 17 unanswered points to take the lead with five minutes to play. That’s when Zac Taylor’s defense needed to understand the gravity of the moment and lock down a vital first victory. Said gravity was not sensed. The unit allowed
Josh Allen to march down the field 78 yards on seven plays for the go-ahead touchdown. On the ensuing possession,
Andy Dalton fired high with his team in striking distance,
the deflected pass intercepted by Buffalo’s
Tre’Davious White to seal the loss. The
Bengals didn’t execute when it mattered most, and their season is slipping away because of it.
Emmanuel Sanders summed it up nicely after the
Broncos fell to 0-3. “We’re trying to get it right, right now we’re 0-3, living in
a world of suck.” Sanders had a quiet game
against the Packers, which made him pretty much like everyone not named
Phillip Lindsay on the Denver offense. Moving the ball downfield is
hard work with 2019
Joe Flacco at the controls. Chunk plays are virtually non-existent, and every yard is earned during marathon marches that often lead nowhere. A flat offense is only part of the problem, however: Almost impossibly, a
Broncos defense led by
Von Miller and
Bradley Chubb is still looking for its first sack through three weeks. The unit did a nice job to hold
Aaron Rodgers and Co. to just 312 yards, but mere competence is not enough. This is a team built to win games by scores like 17-13, but right now, the D is simply not up to the challenge.
Three games in, it’s become apparent that
Kyler Murray will not be taking the NFL by storm in 2019. That felt like a possibility, depending on who you listened to, in the weeks and months after Murray went No. 1 to the
Cardinals in the 2019
NFL Draft. But the transition to the pro game has been bumpy for the former Oklahoma star. On Sunday
against the Panthers, Murray threw for 173 yards on 30 completions.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, that is the lowest yardage total in a game for a QB with at least 30 completions in the
Super Bowl era. Only seven of Murray’s 43 passes traveled beyond 10 air yards. Only one of those was completed. It’s on rookie coach Kliff Kingsbury to find ways to open up the Arizona attack to help his young passer. Getting some better protection would be a start: Murray was sacked eight times on Sunday.
Dwayne Haskins Watch is on. Consider these facts as a case for turning to the first-round pick: 1) The
Redskins fell to 0-3 with a lopsided Monday night
home loss to the Bears. 2) Their veteran quarterback,
Case Keenum, accounted for five turnovers in the defeat. 3) A large percentage of fans at FedExField were rooting for the visiting team. Yep, the
Redskins badly need a shot in the arm, and Haskins represents the most logical source. Of course, there is the question of whether Haskins has shown enough to warrant such a promotion, but coach Jay Gruden has reached Hail Mary territory for both the 2019 season and his own job security. And, wouldn’t you know it, on Sunday
the Redskins meet the New York Giants, who just saw their season take a turn for the relevant by promoting
Daniel Jones. I know
what Gruden said postgame about the need for continuity at QB, but seriously: What do you have to lose, Jay?
Jets are comically inept on offense right now. Adam Gase’s “attack” managed 105 total yards and nary a point
against the Patriots, falling to 0-3 in the process. The offense has now scored a grand total of three points in the
Jets‘ last nine quarters, outscored 14-11 by the defense this season. The continued absence of
Sam Darnold (mono) is obviously the biggest factor, but it’s unfair to put all this dysfunction at the feet of poor
Luke Falk, the team’s third starting quarterback in as many weeks. Falk hasn’t looked like an NFL passer, but the
Jets‘ offensive line as presently constituted is non-competitive in a way that would doom 1988 Joe Montana. Compounding matters has been Gase’s stale and unimaginative play-calling. The only reason for optimism is
the possibility that Darnold returns following the Week 4 bye. Perhaps then Gang Green can get back to the business of being a competitive football team.
Week 3 brought modest progress. After a pair of humiliating home losses to open the season, the
Dolphins actually hung tough
against the Cowboys at Jerrah World, entering halftime trailing by just four points. Miami could have actually had the lead, had
DeVante Parker not dropped a slant pass inside the 10-yard line that would have gone for a touchdown with less than a minute to play. After a defensive holding penalty on Dallas set the
Dolphins up with a first-and-goal with 31 seconds left,
Kenyan Drake coughed up the football for a back-breaking turnover. The Fish were cooked after that.
Josh Rosen made his first start in Miami and provided an early spark, taking the offense inside Dallas territory on four different drives in the first half. Unfortunately, any signs of progress dried up in the second half, as the
Dolphins managed just 65 yards of total offense and zero points. If your organization chooses to jump into the tank, just know that you’re going to get wet.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.