For the first two weeks of the 2021 season, things went pretty much according to script. This isn't to say that there weren't some surprises. But for the most part, the teams we expected to be Super Bowl contenders rolled along while the teams that were supposed to be doormats were just that.
That changed in Week 3.
In Los Angeles, the biggest showdown of the 2021 season to date went to the challenger, with the Rams knocking off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In Minnesota, the Vikings rattled off 23 unanswered points to send the Seahawks to 1-2. And in Pittsburgh, the now-reeling Steelers lost in decisive fashion to a Bengals team they have pushed around with impunity for years.
The Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos are a perfect 3-0. So are the Arizona Cardinals. But after falling at home to the rival Chargers, the Kansas City Chiefs are 1-2 and sitting in the cellar of the AFC West.
After a wild and wacky Week 3 around the league, Bleacher Report NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski have gathered yet again to rank the league's teams from worst to best.
The No. 32 team hasn't changed.
But there's a brand-new No. 1.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3)
Last Week: 32
Week 3 Result: Lost vs. Arizona 31-19
For a time Sunday, it looked like the Jaguars might be about to stun the undefeated Arizona Cardinals. By virtue of a 109-yard missed field goal return and a third-quarter touchdown, the Jaguars had a 19-17 lead and the football.
Then Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer decided to get cute. Meyer called a flea flicker, and rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw a perfect pass—to Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy. Murphy returned the ball 29 yards for the go-ahead score, and the Jags would not score another point.
Meyer told reporters afterward that he blew the call.
"It's gonna be a hard one to get out of my mind," said Meyer, who added he wants to be creative and aggressive. "It's my job to say, 'If it's not there, don't do that.'"
For Lawrence, it was another rocky start. He threw multiple picks for the third time in as many games, and the Jaguars have now dropped 18 contests in a row.
There isn't much time to lament another "L," though. The Jags have a short week to get ready for a Thursday duel between the first picks in the last two drafts in Cincinnati.
Given how much better than Lawrence Joe Burrow is playing, the odds of that game going well aren't especially high.
"The best-worst stat of the weekend is as follows," Sobleski said: "Trevor Lawrence's seven interceptions tied DeShone Kizer for the most by a rookie quarterback through three games since Peyton Manning threw eight in 1998, per ESPN Stats & Info. That 2017 Cleveland Browns team went 0-16. Manning's Colts finished 3-13. Basically, the Jaguars are the NFL's worst team by a wide margin and Lawrence will take his lumps before anyone really gets to see the talent that made him this year's No. 1 overall draft pick."
31. New York Jets (0-3)
Last Week: 31
Week 3 Result: Lost at Denver 26-0
Things have been bad with the New York Jets for quite a while now, especially at the quarterback position. It's a situation that isn't going to be remedied overnight.
But even so, the first three weeks of Zach Wilson's tenure as the team's starting quarterback have been rough.
Playing against a swarming Denver defense, Wilson got very little going, passing for just 160 yards and throwing two more interceptions. Wilson entered the week as the most-sacked quarterback in the league, and after being dropped five more times in Denver, he left it that way too.
It's not all on the youngster. As those five sacks and the team's 3.3 yards per carry on the ground indicate, the Jets offensive line was dominated Sunday. A Jets defense that was on the field for over 35 minutes allowed more than twice as many yards (344) as the team gained (162).
There just isn't a facet of the game in which the Jets aren't bad right now, and with a Titans team up next that made the postseason each of the past two years, win No. 1 likely isn't coming for a while.
30. New York Giants (0-3)
Last Week: 28
Week 3 Result: Lost vs. Atlanta 17-14
On Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the New York Giants inducted quarterback Eli Manning into the team's Ring of Honor and retired his No. 10 jersey.
That's about the only good thing that happened.
OK, that isn't entirely true. In his most extensive action of the 2021 season, running back Saquon Barkley topped 90 yards from scrimmage and scored a touchdown. That was nice.
And it really was the only good thing that happened.
After giving up a last-second field goal to a bad Falcons team, the Giants are 0-3 and sitting in last place in the NFC East. It's the second straight season that the G-Men have opened the season with at least three straight losses.
But wait! It gets worse!
In the game, Sterling Shepard (New York's leading wide receiver so far this year) suffered a hamstring injury. So did fellow wideout Darius Slayton. Linebacker Blake Martinez, arguably the team's best defensive player, left the contest after suffering a season-ending ACL tear.
The Giants are headed into a six-week stretch that includes games with the undefeated Panthers, Raiders and Rams along with trips to New Orleans, Dallas and Kansas City.
Last year's 0-5 start may be remembered fondly by the time that's over.
29. Detroit Lions (0-3)
Last Week: 30
Week 3 Result: Lost vs. Baltimore 19-17
On Sunday at Ford Field, the Detroit Lions had their collective hearts ripped out.
The Lions had hung with a Baltimore Ravens team that had just defeated the Kansas City Chiefs. Despite converting just three of 10 third downs, Detroit held the lead with just over a minute left. All that stood between the Lions and their first victory of 2021 was a 66-yard field-goal attempt by Justin Tucker.
That bounced off the crossbar and through for the longest successful kick in NFL history.
It was a soul-crushing defeat for the Lions, who have now put up a fight in all three games this season with jack squat to show for it.
Perhaps Detroit can break through in next week's trip to face the 1-2 Bears in Chicago.
But Week 3 won't be an easy loss to shake off.
28. Houston Texans (1-2)
Last Week: 27
Week 3 Result: Lost vs. Carolina 24-9
That the Houston Texans are a bad football team is not surprising.
That the Texans aren't actually worse than they are sort of is.
A quick glance at the stats from Thursday's loss to the Panthers isn't especially flattering. Houston scored just nine points and managed fewer than 200 yards of offense.
But Houston was trotting out a third-round rookie making his first career start in Davis Mills. The Texans are overmatched talent-wise at just about every position group on the field. But Houston trailed an undefeated Panthers team by just a point at intermission and has somehow managed to stay in all three games this season, winning one of them.
Prior to Tyrod Taylor's hamstring injury, the Houston offense was giving the Cleveland Browns all they could handle. Lovie Smith's defense has exceeded any reasonable expectation. Sure, the Texans are bad, but they were expected to be terrible—perhaps historically so.
That they aren't speaks well to both the effort level of the team's players and first-year head coach David Culley.
27. Atlanta Falcons (1-2)
Last Week: 29
Week 3 Result: Won at New York Giants 17-14
The Atlanta Falcons are not a good football team. A last-second win over an even worse New York Giants squad isn't going to change that.
But the Falcons may have found a little something in Cordarrelle Patterson.
Patterson has long been one of the NFL's more dangerous kick returners. But over his first few games with the Falcons, the quasi-running back/wide receiver has been much more than that. Against the Giants in Week 3, Patterson eclipsed 100 total yards, led the team in receiving yards and ranked second on the team with seven targets.
Now, it's debatable whether it's a good thing that Patterson had seven targets while rookie tight end Kyle Pitts only saw three. But given how much the Falcons have struggled to move the ball and score points, they aren't in a position to be choosy about where their offense comes from.
26. Indianapolis Colts (0-3)
Last Week: 26
Week 3 Result: Lost at Tennessee 25-16
Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich knows a little something about comebacks. While a player, he engineered two of the biggest comeback wins in NCAA and NFL history. In 2018, Reich's Colts started the season 1-5 before peeling off nine wins in 10 games to make the playoffs.
Given how the now 0-3 Colts have looked so far this season, there isn't going to be any magical comeback in 2021. Despite a plus-three turnover margin in Week 3 against the rival Titans, the Colts are still searching for win No. 1 on the season.
The offense sputtered against a mediocre Titans defense, managing just 265 total yards. The defense couldn't get Tennessee off the field, allowing six third-down conversions in 12 attempts and over 34 minutes of possession.
Colts linebacker Darius Leonard admitted that the start to this season has been something of a nightmare.
"It just feels like a bad dream, honestly," Leonard said. "Starting 0-3, first loss here in Tennessee. It just sucks. Got to find a way to win."
The odds of the Colts waking up and making a postseason run are longer than long: Since the NFL went to its current divisional setup in 2002, only one team that lost three straight to start the season made the playoffs.
25. Chicago Bears (1-2)
Last Week: 23
Week 3 Result: Lost at Cleveland 26-6
With rookie quarterback Justin Fields making his first career start, it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Chicago offense might struggle in Cleveland in Week 3.
It didn't just struggle—it completely disappeared.
The Bears ran 42 plays on Sunday that gained a total of 47 yards. Per CBS Sports, that's the second-fewest yards per play in any game this century.
Fields deserves some of the blame. But he wasn't exactly put in a position to succeed. The former Ohio State standout was running for his life all afternoon and was sacked a staggering nine times. After the blowout loss, head coach Matt Nagy took responsibility for the offense's pitiful performance.
"I obviously as a head coach did not do a good enough job of getting this offense ready. … It starts with me. It ends with me," he told reporters.
Given the comments from pundits like David Kaplan of NBC Sports Chicago, blaming Nagy is exactly what many in the Windy City intend to do.
"Coach, you're a really nice man," Kaplan said on Football Aftershow. "I hear you're a really nice person to work for. You have worn out your welcome in Chicago. It's time for you to get a cardboard box, the checks you're owed, and leave."
"What a train wreck," Gagnon quipped. "Nagy did nothing to help Fields in his starting debut as the Bears put up the lowest net yardage total in an NFL game in nearly two decades. There's just not enough support for whoever is quarterbacking that offense, and Nagy isn't very good at his job. It's already about 2022 in Chicago."
24. Washington Football Team (1-2)
Last Week: 21
Week 3 Result: Lost at Buffalo 43-21
Heading into the 2021 season, the belief was that the Washington Football Team would field one of the NFL's most formidable defenses.
Three games in, that belief has been shaken.
One week after allowing 29 points against a bad Giants team, Washington was shredded by Josh Allen and the Bills to the tune of 481 total yards and 43 points. The team that some pundits considered front-runners in the NFC East is one last-second field goal away from starting the season 0-3.
Of course, it's not all the defense's fault. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke threw a pair of costly interceptions and the offense struggled mightily on third downs (2-of-11).
There are significant issues on both sides of the ball, and those issues need to be resolved quickly. After a Week 4 tilt with the Atlanta Falcons, Washington begins a brutal five-week stretch that includes home matchups with both of last year's Super Bowl participants.
"Maybe we overrated the WFT this preseason," Gagnon said. "That defense is tantalizingly talented and they have some intriguing pieces on offense, but it just hasn't remotely come together for a team that could easily be 0-3 and was completely overmatched in Buffalo. The Bills are a great team, but Sunday's poor defensive performance from Washington wasn't a total anomaly. That unit just hasn't been great this season, which is quite surprising."
23. Philadelphia Eagles (1-2)
Last Week: 22
Week 3 Result: Lost at Dallas 41-21
We may have overestimated the Philadelphia Eagles.
Back in Week 1, the Eagles blew out the Atlanta Falcons. As we have come to see, that is not an especially difficult thing to do in 2021—unless you are the Giants.
In Week 2, the Eagles fell in a low-scoring, hard-fought affair with the San Francisco 49ers.
In Week 3, Philly got their doors blown off in Dallas.
The stats don't truly tell the story of how lopsided this loss was. The 380 yards the Eagles allowed would have been much higher had the Cowboys not been milking a late lead. Whether it was on the ground with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard or through the air via Dak Prescott's arm, the Cowboys did what they wanted offensively. A limited Eagles offense couldn't keep up.
That last part may be the larger issue. With Philadelphia running simplified passing routes, the team isn't equipped to hang with more prolific offenses like Dallas.
And with an angry Chiefs team coming to Lincoln Financial Field, that's a problem.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2)
Last Week: 14
Week 3 Result: Lost vs. Cincinnati 24-10
All is most assuredly not well in the Steel City.
For the second week in a row, the Pittsburgh Steelers were handled in their own house. But this wasn't an undefeated Las Vegas Raiders team beating the Steelers. This was the rival Bengals. A team the Steelers have throttled with regularity for years. A Cincinnati team that had lost five straight at Heinz Field.
With star edge-rusher T.J. Watt sidelined, the Steelers failed to register a sack for the first time in 75 games. The Pittsburgh running game was putrid once again, with Najee Harris gaining just 40 yards on 14 carries.
The Steelers offensive line is just that—offensive. Ben Roethlisberger topped 300 passing yards, but most of that was in garbage time, and he also threw a pair of picks in his own end of the field.
Right now the Steelers look like the last-place team they are, and that's a strange thing to say about such a storied franchise.
21. Minnesota Vikings (1-2)
Last Week: 25
Week 3 Result: Won vs. Seattle 30-17
The Minnesota Vikings entered Week 3 in desperate need of a win and short star tailback Dalvin Cook. The Vikings got that win against the Seahawks—and did so in large part because running back Alexander Mattison stepped up in a big way.
Mattison wasn't the only player for the Vikings who had a day against Seattle's struggling defense. Veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for 323 yards and three scores, and young wideout Justin Jefferson abused the Seattle secondary to the tune of nine catches for 118 yards and a score.
But it was Mattison's 171 total yards on 32 touches that set the tone for the Vikings offense—and may have saved Minnesota's season.
Mind you, this is a Vikings team that fell in overtime to the Bengals in Week 1 and was a missed field goal from downing the Cardinals in Week 2.
Getting back to .500 won't be easy, though. Not with the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers coming up in the next three weeks.
20. New England Patriots (1-2)
Last Week: 18
Week 3 Result: Lost vs. New Orleans 28-13
There are certain realities in the NFL. One of them is that first-year quarterbacks struggle. Even Hall of Famers like Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning had to take their lumps early on.
Week 3 was all kinds of lumpy for Mac Jones of the Patriots.
After playing relatively clean football over the first two games, Jones threw the first three interceptions of his professional career. One was returned for a touchdown. Another was brought back deep into Pats territory.
To his credit, Jones tried to put a good face on an ugly performance while speaking to reporters after the game.
"I think interceptions are a part of the game," Jones said. "You obviously don't want to throw them, and sometimes they're bang-bang plays and sometimes they're things you can control. I just have to learn from those errors. Everyone did have my back, it seemed. They were very supportive. For me, I've worked a lot on just playing the next play, and I felt like I wasn't lingering or thinking about the last play at all, and neither was any of our team. But, yeah, we can definitely get better there, and I appreciate everyone supporting me, and I got to get better, so I will."
Things aren't going to get any easier for the rookie. Week 4 brings a visit from an angry Tampa Bay Buccaneers team led by some guy who used to be a quarterback in New England.
Name's Brady or something like that.
19. Miami Dolphins (1-2)
Last Week: 20
Week 3 Result: Lost at Las Vegas 31-28 (OT)
If the Miami Dolphins fail to make the postseason in 2021, they may well look back to Week 3 as the win that got away—the game that turned the season's prospects from promising to pessimistic.
Despite the loss of starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the Dolphins gave the undefeated Raiders all they could handle. Miami held a 14-0 lead early and then came back with a touchdown and two-point conversion to force overtime. The Dolphins even matched field goals with the Raiders in overtime before eventually coming up short at the very end.
It's not panic time in Miami—at least not yet. Tagovailoa will hopefully return from his rib injury in a couple of weeks, and two of the Dolphins' next three opponents have yet to win a game.
But the third of those games is against the defending Super Bowl champions, and a trip to Buffalo looms on Halloween.
In other words, Miami's margin for errors like Sunday's wasted effort is evaporating.
18. Cincinnati Bengals (2-1)
Last Week: 24
Week 3 Result: Won at Pittsburgh 24-10
The Cincinnati Bengals are getting better.
For the first time under head coach Zac Taylor, the Bengals will head into the month of October above .500. That in and of itself is something of an achievement for the long-suffering franchise. Doing so by beating the rival Steelers (a team that has owned said rivalry in recent years) handily is another matter altogether.
Admittedly, the Steelers were short their No. 1 wide receiver in Diontae Johnson and their best defensive player in edge-rusher T.J. Watt. But after allowing 10 sacks over the first two games, the Bengals didn't surrender one in Week 3. The Bengals notched four sacks of their own Sunday and picked off Ben Roethlisberger twice.
"The Cincinnati Bengals aren't going to the playoffs in 2021," Davenport said, "but there are multiple reasons for fans to be enthusiastic. Joe Burrow is looking sharp in his second season, rookie wideout Ja'Marr Chase has scored in all three games this season and the Bengals defense is showing tangible signs of improvement."
17. Tennessee Titans (2-1)
Last Week: 17
Week 3 Result: Won vs. Indianapolis 25-16
There's good news and bad news for the Tennessee Titans in Week 3.
The good news is that by virtue of Sunday's victory over the rival Colts, the Titans have won two games in a row to assume first place in the AFC South. Derrick Henry rolled for 113 rushing yards on 28 carries, while quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw three scoring passes and added 56 rushing yards of his own.
The bad news is that the win came at a cost. Star wideout A.J. Brown left early with a hamstring injury, while fellow wideout Julio Jones spent much of the second half as a spectator himself.
After the game, head coach Mike Vrabel channeled mentor Bill Belichick while discussing why Jones wasn't on the field late.
"Just trying to manage where he's at, and the type of game the end of the game would be," Vrabel said.
Thanks for clearing that up, Coach.
Frankly, the Titans probably don't need either receiver to beat the woeful Jets in Week 4. Or the winless Jaguars the week after.
But with back-to-back matchups with the Bills and Chiefs coming after, Tannehill will need all his offensive weapons soon enough.
16. Seattle Seahawks (1-2)
Last Week: 16
Week 3 Result: Lost at Minnesota 30-17
The Seattle Seahawks have problems.
They appeared to have things going against the Vikings in Minnesota on Sunday, scoring on their first three drives of the game to build a 17-7 lead. But the Seahawks bogged down offensively, failing to score again the rest of the way. For the second straight week, Seattle allowed 30 or more points.
And after falling by 13 points to a Vikings team that had yet to win a game this season, Seattle fell to two games back of the surging Rams and Cardinals.
Despite the setback, head coach Pete Carroll told reporters that there won't be any panicking from the Seahawks.
"We've got to make sure that we get right and get better and improve and make some adjustments so that it doesn't look the same as it did," Carroll said.
Gagnon agreed that it isn't panic-button time just yet, but he did voice significant concerns about the team.
"I'm not dropping them way down just yet because Russell Wilson is Russell Wilson, but the Seahawks clearly don't have enough punch in the trenches, and that's far too familiar a sight," he said. "They're too top-heavy and far too reliant on Wilson to be the hero. It's a recipe for failure in a wildly tough division."
With the 49ers and Rams next on the schedule, Seattle needs to ramp things up quickly on both sides of the ball.
15. New Orleans Saints (2-1)
Last Week: 19
Week 3 Result: Won at New England 28-13
Three weeks into the 2021 season, there isn't a harder team to gauge than the New Orleans Saints.
In Week 1, the Saints blasted the Packers in Jacksonville. New Orleans followed that up by getting waxed by the Carolina Panthers. In Week 3, it was back to the blasting, with a decisive win over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium spurred by big plays on defense and special teams.
There's a theme running through all three games. If Saints quarterback Jameis Winston plays a clean game, New Orleans wins. If he turns the ball over, not so much.
However, while Winston didn't throw a pick against the Pats, it wasn't for lack of trying. The first overall pick in the 2015 draft made a number of questionable decisions with the ball in Week 3, and one of his touchdown passes was thrown up for grabs, and fortuantely for him, Marquez Callaway came down with it.
"The Saints are 2-1, and the defense is good enough to keep the team in quite a few games," Davenport wrote. "But I just can't get behind this team as a legitimate threat in the NFC South with Winston as their quarterback. There are just too many throws into places where footballs aren't meant to be thrown, and for every time he gets away with one there will be another where he won't."
14. San Francisco 49ers (2-1)
Last Week: 10
Week 3 Result: Lost vs. Green Bay 30-28
One home loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers is hardly cause for panic in the Bay Area. But the way the 49ers fell in Week 3 likely caused some eyebrows to head skyward.
As the injuries continue to mount in the backfield, the ground game that is such a huge part of what the Niners do offensively was stuck in neutral—just 67 yards on 21 carries. That lack of a running game put additional pressure on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and while the 29-year-old nearly led the Niners to a come-from-behind win, he also struggled for much of the night, averaging less than 6.5 yards per attempt and posting a QBR of 47.9.
"Garoppolo may have staved off a potential quarterback change with a late drive Sunday to give the 49ers a lead against the Green Bay Packers," Sobleski wrote. "But cries for Trey Lance will only grow louder if the 49ers start losing games. Right now, the 49ers are 2-1. However, San Francisco faces the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals in consecutive weeks before the team's bye. If the 49ers falter along the way, the Lance era will likely start sooner rather than later."
13. Las Vegas Raiders (3-0)
Last Week: 15
Week 3 Result: Won vs. Miami 31-28 (OT)
The last time the Las Vegas Raiders started a season 3-0 was 2002. That also just so happens to be the last time the Raiders made it to the Super Bowl.
Las Vegas isn't taking the easy road this season. For the second time, the Raiders went to overtime, and they spotted Miami a two-touchdown lead in the early going. But a win is a win, and head coach Jon Gruden told reporters after the game that he's not about to apologize for the Raiders' early success.
"I don't apologize for winning these games, no matter how we won them," Gruden said. "When you're down 14-0 and score 25 unanswered in the NFL against a team like that, something's going right."
The Raiders have beaten three teams (Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Miami) who won at least 10 games in 2020.
The biggest test may be yet to come—Week 4 brings a Monday night showdown in Los Angeles against the rival Chargers. It's a game Gagnon needs to see before calling the Raiders a real contender.
"Sorry, Raiders, but I'll need to see more," he said. "They were lucky to survive Sunday against a hurting team traveling three time zones with a backup quarterback. I still don't trust Jon Gruden or that defense. Prove me wrong against the Chargers on the road Monday night, boys!"
12. Carolina Panthers (3-0)
Last Week: 16
Week 3 Result: Won at Houston 24-9
The Carolina Panthers have started a season 3-0 exactly twice in franchise history—2003 and 2015. Both times, the season ended with a trip to the Super Bowl.
The Panthers are again 3-0 after dispatching an overmatched Houston Texans team on Thursday night. But a third Super Bowl trip is going to be awfully difficult, because while the Panthers won the battle in Week 3, they may have lost the war.
Carolina's defense was stifling once again, allowing just 193 yards of offense and nine points. But that defense also suffered a major loss, with rookie first-round pick Jaycee Horn suffering a broken foot that could require season-ending surgery.
On offense, star running back Christian McCaffrey was felled by a hamstring pull that will cost the 25-year-old multiple games, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
The Panthers beat the lowly Texans without their best player for most of the game. But against teams that can actually move the ball (like next week's opponent in Dallas), it could be a different story.
The pressure on Sam Darnold just skyrocketed.
11. Dallas Cowboys (2-1)
Last Week: 11
Week 3 Result: Won vs. Philadelphia 41-21
Before the season began, there was a fair amount of disagreement regarding the best team in the NFC East.
That disagreement has all but evaporated three weeks in.
After nearly downing the defending champions in Tampa in the season opener, the Dallas Cowboys have peeled off a pair of impressive victories—the latest a 20-point win over the Eagles that frankly wasn't as close as the score.
Offensively, the Cowboys were brutally efficient, using a balanced attack to move the ball essentially at will. Defensively, Dan Quinn's unit looks light-years better than the team that set a franchise record for points allowed last season.
"I'm not quite ready to put the Cowboys in the NFC's top tier," Davenport said, "or to anoint Jerruh's Guys as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. But if the Dallas defense can keep playing at the level it has the past couple weeks, the Cowboys are going to be a tough out—this isn't a team that's going to struggle to score. Micah Parsons' seamless change from off-ball linebacker to edge-rusher has been remarkable."
10. Green Bay Packers (2-1)
Last Week: 13
Week 3 Result: Won at San Francisco 30-28
Remember a couple of weeks ago when so many were freaking out about the Green Bay Packers after they were blasted by the New Orleans Saints?
As it happened, we all just needed to relax.
Mind you, this isn't to say that the Packers don't have any issues. Aaron Rodgers is playing behind a patchwork offensive line. The defense nearly coughed up Sunday night's game before Rodgers led the umpteenth comeback drive of his career.
But the Pack pulled things out, and Rodgers told reporters after the game that he feels good about where the team is.
"I feel good about our team," Rodgers said. "Week 1 was an anomaly. I said that and I believe that. We bounced back Week 2. Played a great team tonight right down to the wire. This plane ride is going to feel incredible."
Whether Green Bay has the firepower in the trenches to hang with the Buccaneers and Rams atop the NFC is debatable. But Green Bay has the reigning NFL MVP once again playing at a sky-high level, and the Packers look like the clear-cut No. 1 team in the NFC North.
9. Denver Broncos (3-0)
Last Week: 31
Week 3 Result: Lost at Denver 26-0
Before the 2020 season, Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio hadn't won a game in the month of September.
In 2021, the Broncos will leave the first calendar month of the season undefeated after dominating an overmatched Jets team to move to 3-0 for the year.
Those wins have come against three teams who are a combined 0-9. But Fangio insisted to reporters after the game that these Broncos are more than a club getting fat on tomato cans.
"I think we've got a good team," Fangio said. "We've been pretty damn solid for three weeks both offensively and defensively. Today, we had to work for everything offensively; they're a good defense. They've got a lot of good players over there and made it hard for us. [But] we were able to get enough drives going, make enough plays to put some points on the board."
Marshmallow time is over, as three of Denver's next four opponents sport winning records. But at least one of our analysts sees a path for Denver to keep the momentum to keep going.
"I expected Denver to start hot against bad teams," Davenport said. "And for the Broncos to play well defensively. But I did not expect Teddy Bridgewater to make it three games into the season without throwing an interception while averaging a yard more per attempt than last year in Carolina. So long as his play continues at this level, the Broncos are capable of being real contenders in the AFC West."
8. Baltimore Ravens (2-1)
Last Week: 5
Week 3 Result: Won at Detroit 19-17
If there was any question about Justin Tucker's status as the best kicker in the NFL, it was answered Sunday.
The questions about the Ravens as a team are another matter.
Tucker's NFL-record 66-yard field goal as time expired was the play of the week. Maybe the play of the year. But the fact that Tucker needed to blast through that moonshot to beat a winless Lions team is more than a little disconcerting for a franchise with Super Bowl aspirations.
Simply put, the Ravens didn't play well offensively. Quarterback Lamar Jackson was inaccurate. Wide receiver Marquise Brown dropped not one but two touchdown passes. Baltimore's usually potent running game was pedestrian, with Jackson accounting for half of the team's 116 yards on the ground.
It could be that the Ravens overlooked the Lions. But there's more than a little for Baltimore to clean up ahead of next week's trip to Denver to face the undefeated Broncos.
"Does anyone really know what type of team the Ravens are? They lost in overtime to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 1 and then squeaked by the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2," Sobleski said. "The officials gifted Baltimore a victory Sunday against the Detroit Lions, though Justin Tucker leveled up and entered a different stratosphere with his 66-yard bomb. The Ravens are beset by injuries. They seem to struggle yet stay in every game. Lamar Jackson changes the equation. As long as he's on the field, the Ravens have a chance."
7. Kansas City Chiefs (1-2)
Last Week: 2
Week 3 Result: Lost vs. Los Angeles 30-24
For the first time since 2015, the Kansas City Chiefs are sitting in the basement of the AFC West.
The Chiefs have now dropped back-to-back games for similar reasons. On offense, Patrick Mahomes has been careless with the football over the past few weeks, making poor decisions that have led to turnovers. Defensively, the Chiefs just haven't made plays and gotten stops when it matters most.
Despite the rocky start to the season, Mahomes told reporters after the game that he isn't worried.
"I think we're getting better. If you watched us, I think the offense played well, other than the turnovers," Mahomes said. "I thought the defense stepped up and really kept us in the game for a long time there. I think we're getting better as a unit. This game, it's a tricky deal. If you don't play your best football every single week, you're going to lose. Every team has NFL players; every team is good. I think we're getting better and we'll find ourselves over time. With the guys we have in the locker room, I'm sure we'll find ways to win."
Frankly, he's probably right.
But with both Denver and Las Vegas starting the season 3-0, the Chiefs need to get it in gear, especially since their next home game is in Week 5 against the rolling Bills.
6. Buffalo Bills (2-1)
Last Week: 7
Week 3 Result: Won vs. Washington 43-21
Heading into Week 3, the Buffalo Bills had yet to find their offensive groove in 2021.
They found it in Week 3—and then some.
After an up-and-down first two games of the season, Bills quarterback Josh Allen eviscerated a supposedly stout Washington defense to the tune of 358 passing yards and four touchdowns with another score on the ground. Running back Zack Moss, who wasn't even active in Week 1, had 91 yards from scrimmage with a score. In his third game with the team, veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders caught five passes for 94 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The Bills defense did its part as well. It held Washington under 300 yards of total offense, amassed three takeaways and allowed just two of 11 third-down conversions.
Buffalo looked the part of the Super Bowl contender it was labeled by many before the season. The Bills have now outscored their opponents 78-21 the past two weeks ahead of a Week 4 tuneup against the Houston Texans, followed by a Week 5 showdown in Arrowhead against the Chiefs.
5. Los Angeles Chargers (2-1)
Last Week: 9
Week 3 Result: Won at Kansas City 30-24
Sunday's trip to Arrowhead was a big game for the Los Angeles Chargers. Lose a second straight game, and the Bolts would fall to 1-2 and again look the part of an also-ran in the division. Notch an upset victory, on the other hand, and it would be the Chiefs who fell to 1-2 and the AFC West would be blown wide open.
That second one happened.
Offensively, Justin Herbert outplayed Patrick Mahomes, throwing for 281 yards and four scores. Wide receiver Mike Williams continued his torrid start to the season, hauling in a pair of TD passes, including the game-winner with 32 seconds left.
Defensively, Los Angeles was all up in Mahomes' business, sacking him twice, harassing him consistently and picking him off two times. It was an outstanding all-around effort that cemented the Bolts as legitimate contenders in the AFC.
"The Chargers are a couple of illegal shift calls away from being 3-0," Davenport said. "Herbert is playing as well as any quarterback in the league, and the L.A. offense is rolling. If they can get a little more consistency on defense, this team has what it takes to make a deep playoff run."
"If you slay the two-time defending conference champs in their own building, you have to move ahead of that team in power rankings," Gagnon added. "It's a legal thing. But, man, the Chargers look like they have something very special in the making with this core and regime. I'm not sure about the Broncos or Raiders just yet, but it's beginning to look like Bolts-Chiefs could be a hell of a rivalry for years to come in the AFC West."
4. Cleveland Browns (2-1)
Last Week: 6
Week 3 Result: Won vs. Chicago 26-6
Over their first two games, the Cleveland Browns looked OK. Baker Mayfield and the offense held up their end of the deal in a loss to the Chiefs and a win over the Texans. But the defense had been lackluster at best and especially awful on third downs.
Granted, it came against a rookie quarterback making his first career start behind a shaky offensive line, but that defense showed up against the Bears in Week 3—especially star edge-rusher Myles Garrett.
All Garrett did against Chicago was tally seven total tackles and set a new franchise record for sacks in a game with 4.5. For the game, the Browns allowed all of 47 total yards.
"When Cleveland's defense is playing at that level and the Browns are racking up north of 200 yards on the ground, the Browns can beat anyone," Davenport said. "But the Browns are also about to be tested in a big way defensively—the team's next three matchups are against rolling offenses in the Vikings, Chargers and Cardinals."
"One had to feel bad for Fields during Sunday's meeting with the Browns," Sobleski added. "After all of the offseason investments Cleveland made in its defense, the unit finally looked like a top-10 group. Garrett punished Fields with a franchise-record 4.5 sacks. The Browns got to the rookie nine times in total. Throw 15 quarterback hits into the mix as well. With an elite running game and emerging defense, the Browns have a recipe to beat anyone."
3. Arizona Cardinals (3-0)
Last Week: 4
Week 3 Result: Won at Jacksonville 31-19
Over the first two weeks of the 2021 season, there hadn't been a quarterback or offense that was hotter than Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals. The Redbirds were a buzzsaw, with Murray seemingly amassing yardage and touchdowns at will.
It took Arizona some time to get untracked Sunday in Jacksonville. The Cardinals actually trailed this game 19-10 in the third quarter. But after peeling off three unanswered touchdowns (including one on defense), the Cardinals left Duval County with a 12-point win.
After the game, Murray told reporters that the Cardinals could have played better.
"I'm frustrated, but as a team, I've been here three years now and the last two years we would have lost that game for sure," Murray said. "To see us fight through that and come on the road—obviously any given Sunday, not looking at anybody's record, you can be beat by anybody. … It's good to get a win any way you can, and that's what we came out here and did. That was the goal."
Murray is on to something. The schedule is about to tighten up in a big way, as Arizona has NFC West tilts with the Rams and 49ers followed by a trip to Cleveland to battle the Browns.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1)
Last Week: 1
Week 3 Result: Lost at Los Angeles Rams 34-24
It had to happen sooner or later.
The Buccaneers weren't going to run the table in 2021 and become the first team to go 17-0. It just wasn't going to happen. Still, it was a bit jarring to see the reigning Super Bowl champions beaten handily by the Rams in Los Angeles.
Tom Brady topped 400 passing yards against the Rams, but much of that came in catch-up mode, and he threw just a single touchdown pass. A beat-up Tampa secondary had no answer for Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and the Rams passing attack, allowing four passing scores.
Still, at least one of our analysts advises patience where Tampa Bay's latest setback is concerned.
"The Buccaneers lost this one," Davenport said, "and frankly it wasn't as close as the score. But Tampa was also short-handed in the secondary, on the edge and at wide receiver. The title of the NFC's best team in these power rankings may belong to the Rams now, but the Buccaneers are still the defending champs, and now Tom Brady will be angry heading into Week 4. Pray for the New England Patriots."
1. Los Angeles Rams (3-0)
Last Week: 3
Week 3 Result: Won vs. Tampa Bay 34-24
Hail to the king!
It shouldn't be especially surprising to see the Los Angeles Rams as the new No. 1 in these power rankings after the Rams handed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their first loss since last November. It was an emphatic win, as well, with Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford scorching the Tampa defense for 343 passing yards and four touchdowns.
"A shake-up at the top of the rankings became necessary after both the Buccaneers and Chiefs fell on the same weekend," Sobleski said. "The Rams took down the reigning Super Bowl champs, improved their record to 3-0 and generally looked great with Stafford leading the way. Sean McVay's group currently ranks third in points per game. But the difference lies in the unit's approach. Stafford is a difference-maker because of his experience and natural throwing ability. His teammates are gravitating toward him, too. "
The Rams are the new top team, but staying there isn't going to be easy. They host the undefeated Cardinals in Week 4 and then travel to face the Seahawks in Seattle in Week 5.
No rest for the weary.