1. Houston (3-0). The AFC South race could be over before the American League East race is.
2. Atlanta (3-0). Mike Smith is going to get hired by those multinational companies that deal with employees getting travel burnout. The Falcons are 6-0 on the West Coast since Smith took the coaching job in 2008. And this one -- 27-3 in San Diego -- was a tour de force game from the opening kick.
3. San Francisco (2-1). Sunday, in Minnesota, was the first real sign that the Niners might be mortal.
4. Arizona (3-0). I am very nearly a believer. I love what Ken Whisenhunt did with the offensive game plan, moving the chains with Kevin Kolb. And giving up 13.3 points per game -- that is one impressive defense. By FOX's count, 20 pressures and hits on Mike Vick.
5. New York Giants (2-1). Sitting in a good position after three weeks. They're the hottest offense in football -- Giants 61, Foes 14 over the last five quarters -- and they now sit back on their mini-bye, three days away from football, while the Eagles wake up after a long trip home from Arizona and a very short night. The Giants will be well-rested when they arrive at the Linc next Sunday night.
6. Green Bay (1-1). Looks like Greg Jennings plays tonight. I'll change the old training-camp saw about injured rookies of "Can't make the club in the tub,'' to something special for the 29-year-old Jennings, who's in the last year of a contract at a quite-low salary of $3.89 million: "Can't make $12 million a year in the tub."
7. Baltimore (2-1). Never heard a manure chant that loud in my life, Al Michael said Sunday night. Imagine what those fans would have done if the Ravens had lost.
8. New England (1-2). So much for the mothballing of Wes "8 for 142'' Welker.
9. Chicago (2-1). Mayhem turns to fine working order in the span of a week. The Bears held St. Louis to 160 yards, and physically handled the St. Louis offensive line.
10. Minnesota (2-1). Wins over Jacksonville and San Francisco have nearly convinced me, as Christian Ponder tried to do with me late Sunday afternoon, that the Vikings will be a major factor in the NFC North.
11. Seattle (1-1). Barometer game for this franchise tonight. Congrats, by the way, to Trent Dilfer. He'll be the representative of the fans, the 12th man, in raising the flag in the south end zone before the Monday night game against Green Bay. Glad to see the franchise embracing him like that.
12. Cincinnati (2-1). I get it. The defense (34 points per game surrendered) can't hold up. Maybe -- probably -- it can't. But I love the offensive explosiveness, and let's give Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins (seven tackles, two sacks, five quarterbacks hits on Robert Griffin III) a chance to play with the relentless Michael Johnson before we say they're going to stink on D all year.
13. San Diego (2-1). Atlanta 27, San Diego 3. Mulligan, Norv said. Looked like an overwhelmingly bad shank to me, but we shall see.
14. Dallas (2-1). I can't figure the Cowboys out. But they beat the Giants on the road, then took all the roundhouses the Bucs could throw and won again.
15. Denver (1-2). For those who'd like to throw Peyton Manning out with the trash, here's a stat for your consideration. Yards per attempt in his last healthy season, 2010: 6.9. Yards per attempt this season: 7.2. Time, people. Time.
Offensive Players of the Week
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore. Playing 19 hours after learning of his younger brother's death in a motorcycle accident in Virginia, Smith caught six passes for 127 passes in the victory over New England Sunday night, including touchdown catches of 25 and five yards. Before the game, a heavy-hearted Smith tweeted: "Can't believe my little brother is gone. Be thankful for loved ones. This is the hardest thing ever."
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City. With his team down 24-6 and facing a season gone down the drain before the leaves even start turning in Missouri, Charles bailed the Chiefs out. He ran 33 times for 233 yards and was breathtaking in the third quarter. With Kansas City trailing 24-6 and pinned back at its nine, Charles broke through the line for a 91-yard touchdown. That was the start of a 21-0 run that gave the Chiefs a stunning win.
Defensive Player of the Week
Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City. Three sacks is terrific enough, but one of them was a vital play in the Chiefs' first win of the season. With 5:40 left in the fourth quarter and the Chiefs down 24-19, the Saints had the ball at their 7-yard line, and Houston burst through the line and nailed Drew Brees for a sack in the end zone. Safety; 24-21. Ryan Succop went on to kick the tying and winning field goals after that. Houston went on to have the best day of his young career: four tackles, three sacks, another quarterback pressure and two passes deflected, helping a shaky (early) Chiefs' defense settle down and beat the Saints.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Darius Reynaud, RB/KR, Tennessee. For a guy no team wanted last season -- Reynaud worked out at home in Louisiana while the phone never rang -- he had the kind of day very few special teamers in history have ever had. After fielding a punt late in the first quarter Sunday against Detroit in Nashville, Reynaud executed a perfect backward pass, a lateral 35 yards across the field that Tommie Campbell caught at the 35 and ran back 65 yards for a touchdown. Midway through the fourth quarter, with the Lions up 27-20, Reynaud took a kickoff midway through the end zone and ran it 105 yards up the right side. Touchdown. "Never had a day like this in my life, at any level,'' Reynaud told me after the game. Few have.
Dr. Z Unsung Man in the Trenches of the Week
The award for the offensive lineman who was the biggest factor for his team in the weekend's games, named for my friend Paul Zimmerman, the longtime SI football writer struggling in New Jersey to recover from three strokes suffered in November 2008. Zim, a former collegiate offensive lineman himself, loved watching offensive line play.
Will Beatty, T, New York Giants. Except for two late pressures allowed, Beatty, in his first start of the season, provided a safety net for Eli Manning and paved the way for Andre Brown, in his first start in the NFL, to run for 113 yards. More lithe and agile than he seemed as a rookie out of UConn, Beatty's going to be a vital part of the New York offense. He showed against Carolina he's ready.
Coaches of the Week
Jay Gruden, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati. What a smart game he coached in Washington. On the first snap of the game, he called for rookie wideout Mohamed Sanu to throw a bomb to A.J. Green. Sanu, a high-school quarterback in New Jersey, threw a strike 49 yards in the air that Green caught and ran in for a touchdown. Later, Gruden called for BenJarvus Green-Ellis to take a Wildcat snap and bash his way through the Washington goal-line D ... and that worked for a touchdown too. Good day for the less-famous of the Grude-dog brothers.
Pat Flaherty, offensive line coach, New York Giants. Preparing on a short week, going on the road ... those are problems enough for a team playing on a Thursday night, and playing a team that just beat up the New Orleans Saints. But add this: Flaherty had to prepare an offensive line that would be starting in tandem for the first time ever -- and with a right tackle, Sean Lockler, starting his first game at right tackle for the Giants, and with Will Beatty starting for the first time this season at left tackle.
Flaherty's the unsung hero on the Giants' coaching staff, and he proved it again Thursday night. Eli Manning was sacked once in 51 minutes of play time, and rarely under duress. A first-time starting back, Andre Brown, rushed for 113 yards, and the Giants held the ball for 36 minutes. It shouldn't be this easy, but Flaherty's line made it look that way.
Goats of the Week
Dan Carpenter, K, Miami. Missed a 47-yarder, wide left, in regulation -- in a game that went to overtime. Missed a 48-yarder, wide left, on the second possession in overtime, a kick that would have won the game. I know Carpenter's 41-yarder in the final minute forced overtime. Goody goody. A kicker can't miss two kicks in the 40s.
The officiating crew in Oakland. The crew missed an egregious helmet-to-helmet hit on Darius Heyward-Bey that landed him immobilized on a back-board and sent to the hospital overnight with a severe concussion.
Detroit's mode of offensive communication. I tried to ferret around to see who on the Lions was at fault for the bad call midway through overtime, when the Lions, who could have tied the game with a chip-shot field goal, instead of going for it on 4th-and-inches in overtime. Turns out they snapped the ball, ran for it, missed -- and lost the game. "Miscommunication,'' said coach Jim Schwartz. "We were trying to draw them offsides, not go for it." Didn't work.
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