San Diego defensive end Marcellus Wiley has an interesting slant on his team's 3-0 start. "We are climbing up the the food chain in terms of our opponents," he says.
After the Chargers beat the Bengals and the Texans by a combined 58-9, no one was very excited. I mean, who had they played? But things were different on Sunday. They outlasted the Cardinals in the 103� Arizona heat. In the fourth quarter, when they should have been semicomatose, San Diego's defenders brought even more heat, forcing Jake Plummer into four straight incompletions from the Chargers' nine.
Now that's a step up on the food chain. And when they host the unbeaten Patriots this Sunday, the Chargers will have reached the very top. In a weekend devoid of really big games, this looks like the most interesting one on the board. The Chargers once again are keyed by their defense. It's a familiar story. They've finished last or tied for last in the AFC West in four of the last five seasons, but they've always played good D. In 1998 they went 5-11, but their defense led the league.
It's a unit built on speed. San Diego alternates three big-league pass rushers from the wings—Wiley, Raylee Johnson and Adrian Dingle. Donnie Edwards is an undersized middle linebacker, but he's one of the fastest in the league. And Marty Schottenheimer must have his team in great shape, because there was no sign of a meltdown on Sunday.
Are they ready for the Patriots, who proved they could ride their young quarterback, Tom Brady, and win a 41-38 overtime shootout when the defense had an off day? If everyone were healthy, I'd say yes. But center Cory Raymer and linebacker Junior Seau came away with injuries. Plus, the Patriots have already gotten their September scare, and now they're ready to get serious again.
A San Diego pick is tempting, but I just can't see a young quarterback ( Drew Brees) beating a Bill Belichick defense, so I've got to ride with the Super Bowl-champion Patriots.
? Carolina is another in the parade of unlikely unbeatens who are doing it with defense. The Panthers have one of the league's best and most underrated defensive lines, and now they've got a chance to prove, in Green Bay, that their 3-0 record is no fluke. I think they'll put pressure on Brett Favre and bang him around, but what else is new? He's been down that road before. The Pack will win it.
?It's a pleasure to watch Drew Bledsoe work a two-minute drill. This guy knows what he's doing, and I like his Bills, at home, against Chicago.
?After holding up for three quarters plus, the Jets' defense finally cracked against the Dolphins, but it was the Jets' offense that really did them in. This is just a hunch, but I have a feeling the Jets will get it together in Jacksonville, so I'll make this my upset special.
?They won't enjoy the Arizona steam cooker, but I say the Giants will come away with the win.