HBT’s NFL Pulse Check – Week 3

NFL, Peter Curtin

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Week 3 of the 2015 NFL season got back to the basics. Many of the teams expected to do well before the season began were able to dust off slow starts and begin to resemble legitimate teams. Big wins from Seattle, Indy, and Philadelphia were all able to rebound, while surprise teams like Cincinnati, Buffalo, and Oakland continue their hot starts. Let’s get to it.

 

Most Important Matchup: Chiefs 28 – Packers 38

Alex Smith couldn’t get the Chiefs’ passing game until Rodgers had already put the game out of reach, but an optimist could point to Jeremy Maclin’s involvement in the passing game as a step in the right direction for a team that didn’t complete a touchdown pass to a wide receiver one season ago. As a neutral observer, I find it hard to not feel a little bit bad for the Kansas City Chiefs. They’re a disappointing 1-2 after their first three games, due in part to a difficult schedule, and the road doesn’t get any easier with a trip to Cincinnati next week. We could be one week away from this very good team being 1-3 and having a mountain to climb to catch Denver in the AFC West.

Aaron Rodgers reminded NFL fans that he’s the best football player in the universe, throwing 5 touchdown passes to lead the Packers to a convincing win. Rodgers is one of the League’s few defense-proof Quarterbacks who you would expect to the move the ball regardless of who he plays, but the way he moved the ball at will against one of the sport’s better defenses was incredibly impressive.

No one is surprised to see the Packers at 3-0, looking like a sure thing for the playoffs, but they’re far from perfect even if their Quarterback isn’t. They rank just 22nd in defensive DVOA so far and they could not establish a running game last night despite their best efforts. Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for 78 yards on 27 carries (2.88 yards/carry). But in this week marked by preseason favorites matching the hype, Green Bay delivered the league’s most impressive performance.

 

What Everyone is Talking About: Jaguars 17 – Patriots 51

Have you read enough “Could they be better than the 2007 Patriots?” articles to last you the rest of your life? If you haven’t, take a couple minutes and go to any sports or sports-adjacent website on the Internet. I’ll wait …

Personally, I am less interested in how these Patriots stack up against previous iterations of themselves than I am in how they stack up against their competition this year. I still don’t like the Patriots defense very much. I think that they are much worse now than they were one season ago without Vince Wilfork and Darrell Revis, and the one good offense they’ve played against had success moving the ball. But good news for Pats fans… with how good that offense is, it might not matter.

Congratulations, New England. You’re the AFC’s best team by some distance. It is a long season, but at this moment it is very difficult to imagine anyone other than the Patriots emerging from the AFC this year.

 

What Everyone Probably Should be Talking About: Bengals 28 – Ravens 24

It’s never particularly helpful to talk about playoffs after three weeks because the teams you talk about are usually teams you figured would be in the discussion anyway.

However, the way things broke in the AFC North this week make the AFC Playoffs worth discussing. The Cincinnati Bengals got a big win on the road against a depleted Ravens team. In the process, they improved to 3-0, sent the Ravens to 0-3, and gained the AFC North divisional tiebreaker over them.

Add Ben Roethlisberger’s 4-6 week injury to that huge head start over the Ravens and the Bengals already look like huge favorites in one of the NFL’s best divisions, a status they have thoroughly earned with outstanding play. They rank 5th in the NFL in offensive DVOA through three weeks and 9th in defensive DVOA.

There are 13 games left for the Ravens and Steelers to improve, but it already looks doubtful that they’ll be able to catch the AFC’s second-best team. Three weeks in, and the top of the AFC Playoff picture is clearly in focus.

 

“Football is the Best” Moment of the Week

Watching a great wide receiver who can go up and get the ball even if they’re in tight coverage is one of my favorite things about the NFL. Even though there weren’t moments like that for Amari Cooper this week, it sure seems like the Always Open Club has its newest member. This guy looks awesome.

 

“Football is the Worst” Moment of the Week

It feels too obvious to devote this space to covering a gruesome injury, but my worst moment of Week 3 was Ben Roethlisberger’s sprained MCL against the Rams. It’s not just because it will sideline one of the sport’s better quarterbacks or make one of the league’s best offenses much less entertaining for a month-plus.

When I was a kid, my parents bought an NFL Films VHS titled “The Greatest Moments in Washington Redskins History.” You might think that somewhere along the line of the 2,000-odd times I watched that video, I would become desensitized to Lawrence Taylor snapping Joe Theismann’s shin in half like a plastic spoon, but it never happened. And now, any time I see a defender roll up on a QB’s leg, I wince. I guess I’ll take consolation in the fact that it’s just a sprain and not a tear.

 

Quick Hits

Redskins 21 – Giants 32: What’s worse than Thursday Night Football? The NFC East. What’s worse than the NFC East? The NFC East playing Thursday Night Football. Eli Manning ended the game with good numbers, distributing the ball well to Odell Beckham Jr. and the shockingly productive Reuben Randle (7 catches, 116 yards). Featuring 3 Washington turnovers and a safety on a blocked punt, this was a gross, borderline-unwatchable game between two teams slap-fighting it out in the NFC East. Someone is eventually going to have to win this division by default, I guess.

 

Falcons 39 – Cowboys 28: The Cowboys were able to move the ball with surprising efficiency in the first half without Tony Romo, jumping out to an early 28-14 lead. It wasn’t enough to keep up with an offensive explosion from Atlanta, featuring a standout performance from spot-starter Devonta Freeman (30 carries, 141 yards, 3 touchdowns) and another titanic effort from Julio Jones (12 catches, 164 yards, 2 touchdowns). Jones leads the NFL in receptions (34), receiving targets (46), and receiving yards (440) and has been the NFL’s best wide receiver through three games.

 

Colts 35 – Titans 33: The Colts staged a furious 4th quarter comeback to avoid the dreaded 0-3 start. I picked the Colts to win the AFC this year, and somehow I’m more concerned for them after this win than I was after either previous loss. The Colts played two great defenses in weeks 1 and 2. Perhaps that fourth quarter from Andrew Luck will prove to be the turning point the Colts need, but they will have to be significantly better going forward if they are to meet their lofty expectations.

 

Steelers 12 – Rams 6: The St. Louis Rams STINK, football fans. Their defense did a respectable job keeping a great Pittsburgh offense in check, even before Ben Roethlisberger’s MCL sprain, but the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense is not good (24th in defensive DVOA) and the Rams’ offense could not get anything going all game with featured backs Tre Mason and Todd Gurley being very effective at running directly into their offensive linemen’s asses at the line of scrimmage. The Steelers won this game, but they now face 4-6 games without star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the slate of matchups is brutal. Their next 6 opponents: Baltimore, San Diego, Arizona, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Oakland. Backup Michael Vick has great players on that offense to work with and he will need them. October will make or break Pittsburgh’s season.

 

Eagles 24 – Jets 17: Philadelphia rides a strong defensive performance and big days from Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles to their first win of the season and Chip Kelly gets a temporary reprieve from his critics. This game may go down as the most inefficiently-quarterbacked game of the season. Sam Bradford and Ryan Fitzpatrick combined for 401 passing yards on 86 attempts (4.6 yards/attempt). Woof.

 

Raiders 27 – Browns 20: Who cares if it’s just the Browns? The Oakland Raiders are 2-1! That doesn’t seem like it’s happened in ages. I don’t think the Raiders are about to storm to a surprising playoff berth and neither should anyone else, but this is pretty exciting. With Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, and Amari Cooper all having very good seasons, they may finally be onto something in Oakland.

 

Chargers 14 – Vikings 31: I picked Minnesota in preseason as one of my NFC wild card teams, mostly because I like Teddy Bridgewater more than most people. Bridgewater has been fine so far this season, but he also hasn’t been asked to do very much as they’ve leaned heavily on Adrian Peterson in consecutive victories against bad opposing defenses. The sledding’s about to get tougher with games against the nasty defenses in Denver and Kansas City the next two weeks

 

Buccaneers 9 – Texans 19: This game featured four missed field goals and two missed extra points. This was a bad, irrelevant game between two bad, irrelevant teams who don’t offer much for anyone to get excited over. Mike Evans and DeAndre Hopkins are pretty great. That’s about it.

 

Saints 22 – Panthers 27: Luke McCown’s shockingly good performance (8.2 yards/attempt, 84.9/ QBR per espn.com) should be greatly unsettling for Panthers fans thinking ahead to their first matchup with division rival Atlanta, but Cam Newton keeps dragging Carolina to wins. Greg Olsen has become Cam Newton’s favorite target in Kelvin Benjamin’s absence. Olsen’s been targeted 28 times in their first three games.

 

Bears 0 – Seahawks 26: The Bears’ atrocious defense (32nd, dead-last, in defensive DVOA) offered Seattle an opportunity to go back to the cabinet for their ground-based bread and butter. The Seahawks took advantage, calling 23 designed running plays (up from their previous season average of 16.5). While they didn’t dazzle, they got the win that they desperately needed, improving to 1-2 against a Bears team that never looked particularly interested in winning.

 

49ers 7 – Cardinals 47: This win will likely turn out to be of little consequence for Arizona, but NFL fans should take note of just how impressive the Cardinals have been thus far. We shy away from hot takes on this little site, but indulge me just this once: the Arizona Cardinals have been the NFL’s best team of the first three weeks and they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Tell your friends. It’s proper time for this team to emerge from an eternity under the radar.

 

Bills 41 – Dolphins 14: I remain stunned by how poor the Dolphins look this year. Miami was a trendy preseason pick for an AFC wild card spot. The offense struggling against the Bills’ D is not a surprise. Lots of offenses are going to do that this year. But Miami’s defense was supposed to be much improved around a great defensive line and surrendered 64 points in their last two games against the Jaguars and Bills. The Dolphins are 1-2, despite a very lenient schedule.

 

Buffalo, meanwhile, was supposed to be the grind-you-down defensive beast that was going to try to win every game 10-9. The Bills are 2-1 despite a tough early-season schedule. They’re a team with plenty of problems. The offensive line is bad, Tyrod Taylor will still face growing pains against better teams, and they’re still in the same division as the New England Sith Lords. All the same, the Bills have been one of the NFL’s most pleasant surprises thus far, and their fans can be forgiven for beginning to dream of football in January.

 

Broncos 24 – Lions 12: PEYTON MANNING LIVES! But the Gary Kubiak offense sure doesn’t. The Broncos ran 18 designed runs for just 42 yards (2.33 yards/carry) while Peyton Manning dropped back to pass 43 times. This is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” offensive gameplan for Denver. They need to be able to move the ball and score points, but they also need to make sure that Peyton Manning’s arm is still attached to his body at the end of the season. If their running game could just be below-average instead of completely ineffective, it wouldn’t necessarily have to be one or the other.

Author

Peter Curtin

Peter Curtin is a working professional based in Washington, DC. A life-long sports fan, he has previously written as a contributor for Philadelphia-based sports site, thewoodercooler.com. Follow him on Twitter @Pete_Curtin.

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