Evaluating the 16 NFL teams with winning records through Week 3
Ravens, Saints, Jets, Giants, Colts are best of the best
Vikings, Chargers, Pats among teams taking care of business
Broncos, Cowboys, Bears all have something left to prove
We're just three weeks into the NFL's new season, and it's already starting to distinguish itself mightily from its predecessor, as seems to be the case each and every year in Roger Goodell's 32-team fiefdom.
Of last season's eight division winners, five start Week 4 south of .500: Miami, Tennessee and Carolina are a desperate 0-3, while Pittsburgh and Arizona, who just met in that memorable Super Bowl not quite eight months ago, are floundering at 1-2. All but the defending NFC champion Cardinals already trail by at least two games in their division race as September draws to a close.
They say a win is a win in the NFL, but we know all winning teams are not created equal. So with 16 teams, exactly half the league, currently at 2-1 or 3-0, let's sort through the crowd of first-month winners and try to separate the real deals from the flukes and fakes:
The Elite Class
Baltimore (3-0) -- The rest of the league's nightmare scenario for about 10 years now has been the thought of the Ravens with a big-time offense, and it's a fear that has finally come true in the Joe Flacco/Cam Cameron era. Only New Orleans has scored more than Baltimore's 13 touchdowns, and the Ravens have been a model of consistency, scoring 38, 31 and 34 points in their three victories. The schedule is about to turn challenging the next three weeks -- at New England, Cincinnati, at Minnesota -- but Baltimore is a team that does everything well.
New Orleans (3-0) -- What's not to like about this Saints team? They've won at home, they've won twice on the road. They've won with overwhelming passing, and on Sunday in Buffalo, they won with a running game (222 yards) and defense, sacking Bills quarterback Trent Edwards four times, hitting him 14 times, and limiting Buffalo's offense to 243 yards. When Sean Payton's club can win on a day Drew Brees throws for just 172 yards with no touchdowns, you know things have finally changed for the better in New Orleans. The Saints' next two games will either prove or disprove their elite status: home against the Jets, then the Giants.
New York Giants (3-0) -- If I were a gambling man, I'd love the Giants. They've become one of the few NFL teams with a baseline consistency to their play. For the most part, you know what you're going to get from New York every week. They're methodical in how they win on the road (2-0 already this year), and they can beat you in so many ways: their two-headed rushing game, Eli Manning's underrated passing, or a defense that always seems to assert itself when necessary. With games at Kansas City and against Oakland in the coming two weeks, New York is also the league's best bet to start 5-0.
New York Jets (3-0) -- Nothing breeds confidence on a team more so than winning even when you don't have your "A'' game on any particular day, and that's why the Jets' Week 3 grind-it-out conquest of the Titans was valuable. Quality teams find a way to get the W even when they're not at their best. A huge test looms this week with New York's trip to New Orleans, but Rex Ryan has his Jets believing they're destined for great things this season, so no game will be too big for them. And check out that schedule. After the Saints, New York isn't likely to play another winning team until its much-anticipated rematch at New England in Week 11.
Indianapolis (3-0) -- If there's a preseason prediction I'd like to have back, it's that the Colts would finally slip out of the 12-win neighborhood into the nine-win range and miss the playoffs. Indy just keeps rolling, and I thought their dismantling of the Cardinals on Sunday night was the sure sign of a team that's starting to figure out what it does best and how to attack its opponent. The Colts haven't lost a regular season game since last October (12 in a row), and Peyton Manning continues to be the single biggest difference-maker for his team in the NFL. Bar none.
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