NFL Week 3: What We Learned from Sunday's Action

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor ISeptember 23, 2013

NFL Week 3: What We Learned from Sunday's Action

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    Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers were all smiles after routing the New York Giants on Sunday.
    Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers were all smiles after routing the New York Giants on Sunday.Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    We are closing in on the quarter pole of the NFL’s 2013 campaign, and we are no closer to figuring out what is going to happen at the end of the season. 

    As usual, it’s been three weeks of unpredictability and surprises. Offseason theories have proved to be off, and preseason predictions have been a bit premature.

    So here are 10 more things we learned on Sunday about this young season. And let’s see just how long these lessons will last.

Seconds to None

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    Tennessee Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter with the game-winner.
    Tennessee Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter with the game-winner.Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Three games into 2013, and we’ve been able to learn one thing about the San Diego Chargers: Head coach Mike McCoy and Co. are all about entertainment.

    In Week 1, the Chargers lost to the Houston Texans 31-28 after allowing a field goal on the final play of the game. One week later, McCoy’s club prevailed over the Philadelphia Eagles 33-30 when Nick Novak kicked a 46-yard field goal with seven seconds to play.

    On Sunday, Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to rookie wideout Justin Hunter with 15 seconds to play, the difference in a 20-17 loss for the Chargers.

    And how do you explain this statistical oddity? Last season, the 7-9 Chargers scored 350 points and allowed 350 points. Two weeks into 2013, the Bolts had totaled 61 points and given up 61 points.

    Now the Bolts find themselves down by three in the point-differential department once again. That can only mean a three-point win in the final seconds over the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday.

Road Worriers

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    A year ago at this time, the 1-1 New York Giants traveled to Carolina to face the 1-1 Panthers.

    It was Giants 36, Panthers 7.

    Sunday proved to be quite a reversal of fortune.

    It was Panthers 38, Giants 0.

    All told, Tom Coughlin’s team has now dropped six straight games on the road dating back to last November. The Giants have been outscored by a combined 189-74 in those setbacks, have allowed 31 or more points five times and been shut out twice.

    In recent seasons, New York has come up big away from home, most notably in the postseason. But this hardly looks like a team that would strike fear into an opponent no matter where the game was played right now.

    The Giants have been a battle-tested club known for playing their best when it counted most.

    Off to their first 0-3 start since 1996, Big Blue fans are hoping that their team is not being counted out.

Conference Wake-Up Call (Part 1)

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    The 2-1 Bengals are in a strong position to make it back to the playoffs in 2013.
    The 2-1 Bengals are in a strong position to make it back to the playoffs in 2013.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Last season, the AFC’s Baltimore Ravens bested the NFC’s San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.

    But during the regular season, the NFC had its way with the other conference in convincing fashion. In the 64 head-to-head interconference meetings in 2012, the NFC prevailed in 39 of them.

    This weekend, eight of the 16 games on the slate were of the AFC versus NFC variety, with the former winning six of those contests. Three weeks into the season, the AFC owns an 11-3 edge over the NFC in mano-a-mano encounters.

    When it comes to conference supremacy in the NFL, it has always been of a cyclical nature. It was assumed that the NFC would be the better conference this season. And once again, we have not gotten through September.

    Perhaps there’s a lot to learn on this subject after all.

Conference Wake-Up Call (Part 2)

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    Russell Wilson and the Seahawks hold a unique distinction in the NFC.
    Russell Wilson and the Seahawks hold a unique distinction in the NFC.Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Again, we don’t want to jump to any concrete conclusions. However, it’s interesting to see how last season’s dozen playoff teams have come out of the gate, especially when you break it down by conference.

    Even if the Oakland Raiders surprise the Denver Broncos on Monday night, John Fox’s team is no worse than 2-1. That means all six AFC teams that reached the postseason in 2012 would own winning records. A win by the Broncos makes them and the New England Patriots both 3-0, while the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts sit at 2-1.

    It’s quite a different story in the NFC, where astoundingly the Seattle Seahawks are the lone playoff team from a year ago with a winning ledger (3-0). The conference’s top seed in 2012, the 13-3 Atlanta Falcons, sit at 1-2, as do the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers. All three clubs won division titles last season.

    Then there’s the winless Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins, both 0-3 after sporting identical 10-6 marks last season.

    Is it about to be a topsy-turvy year in the NFC? It may be too early to tell but not too early to ask.

Champions Until Dethroned

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    So it appears there’s a little life in John Harbaugh’s team after all.

    Two weeks after being humbled by the Denver Broncos in the season opener, the Baltimore Ravens are suddenly 2-1 and come off a convincing 30-9 win over the visiting Houston Texans. Harbaugh’s team scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams in the victory and avenged a 43-13 loss last season at Reliant Stadium.

    Back to Week 1 at Denver. In that 49-27 loss, the Ravens defense allowed seven touchdowns, all passes via Peyton Manning. Since that forgettable evening (if you are a Baltimore fan), Harbaugh’s club has allowed five field goals in eight quarters versus the Browns and Texans.

    The Ravens head to Orchard Park this week to face the improving Buffalo Bills. And if recent history is any indication, it will be a struggle for a team that looks very different at home than it does on the road.

    But for those who felt the Ravens were in for a long year after a 22-point loss on opening night, that thought should be never more.

Not Joshin’

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    Winslow Townson/Getty Images

    There’s a lot to be said for consistency when it comes to the game of football.

    There’s also been a lot said the last few weeks when it comes to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    In an odd way, the Bucs have been reliable this season to date. The team lost by one point to the New York Jets in Week 1 (18-17) and lost by two points to the New Orleans Saints in Week 2 (16-14).

    And Greg Schiano’s club was spot-on in Week 3, scoring a total of three points in a 23-3 setback to the New England Patriots.

    All numerical and whimsical references aside, this is a team that seemingly lacks confidence on offense these days. Five-year veteran quarterback Josh Freeman looks apprehensive, completing only 45.7 percent of his passes in three games this season. The young signal-caller has thrown for a pair of scores but has been picked off three times, lost one of this two fumbles and has been sacked seven times.

    Could there be a change behind center coming for the Bucs? It may be one of a few tweaks that Schiano might need to make to keep this ship afloat.

Settling In

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    Drew Brees and the Saints beat the Cardinals 31-7 in New Orleans.
    Drew Brees and the Saints beat the Cardinals 31-7 in New Orleans.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    So much for playing it close this season.

    While Saturday nights may be all right for fighting, apparently Sunday afternoons are all right for routing.

    In the first two weeks of NFL 2013, 22 of the 32 games played had been decided by seven points or fewer. That included four games decided by one point, three of those in Week 2.

    There were still a few close calls in Week 3. Six games on Sunday were decided by seven points or fewer. But those competitive contests were offset by seven games decided by 20 points or more. Only three times in the first two weeks of the season did a club win a game by at least 20 points.

    So are we starting to see some things sort themselves out in terms of the quality teams? Or was this a bad day at the office for nearly one-fourth of the league?

    You know the answer to both of these questions.

NFC West Gone South?

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    Colin Kaepernick went 13-of-27 for 150 yards and an interception versus the Colts.
    Colin Kaepernick went 13-of-27 for 150 yards and an interception versus the Colts.Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Remember when the NFC West was proclaimed the best division in the league over the summer?

    Three weeks into the season, only the Seattle Seahawks have lived up to their end of the bargain.

    And on Sunday, the rest of the West was not at its best (say all of that three times fast).

    Both the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals lost on the road by identical 31-7 scores to the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints, respectively. Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers were being manhandled at home 27-7 by the Indianapolis Colts.

    So the Seahawks stand at a perfect 3-0 and have outscored their opponents by a combined 86-27 score. The Rams, Cardinals and Niners are a combined 3-6 and have combined for a minus-91 scoring differential.

    Obviously, there’s a long way to go. But is this division as good as everyone claimed it would be? It is also worth noting that the 49ers and Rams square off Thursday night at St. Louis, and the loser will drop to 1-3 barring an unlikely tie.

    Uh, scratch that unlikely tie thing.

Ryan’s Loss Is Ryan’s Gain

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    What Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan wouldn’t give to be in Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s cleats.


    For the third time in as many games this season, Mike Smith’s club has opened a double-digit lead only to see it completely disappear for the second time in three weeks. On Sunday, Atlanta watched as the Dolphins came all the way back and handed the Falcons a 27-23 loss.

    On Sunday, Ryan threw for 231 yards and a pair of scores, one interception and was not sacked.

    For Miami, Tannehill threw for 236 yards and a pair of scores, one interception but was sacked five times.

    A year ago, the Falcons finished 13-3 (the best in the NFC and tied for the top mark in the NFL) thanks to an 8-0 start. This season, a pair of 10-0 starts have led to a pair of losses.

    As for Tannehill, he’s been sacked at least four times in each game this season. But the Dolphins are off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2002.

    Are we surprised that the Falcons have stumbled a bit out of the gate? Perhaps. But it may be an even bigger surprise that Joe Philbin’s club is unbeaten after three weeks and have knocked off a pair of 2012 playoff clubs (Indianapolis Colts and Falcons) the last two Sundays.

Stealers over Steelers

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    It’s tempting to cue up a little classic tune entitled "My Sharona," because the Chicago Bears still have “the knack.”

    Last season, under longtime head coach Lovie Smith and veteran defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, the Bears led the NFL with 44 takeaways. That was the exact number of turnovers forced by Smith’s team in 2006, when they reached Super Bowl XLI.

    The Bears have thrived on this kind of football. And on Sunday night in the Steel City, Chicago was at it again. The team forced the Pittsburgh Steelers into five turnovers and returned two of them for scores in a 40-23 win.

    That gave Chicago 11 takeaways in three games this season, three or more in each contest.

    Now remember, these are Marc Trestman’s Chicago Bears, and the defense is led by Mel Tucker, the onetime defensive coordinator and interim head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    Obviously, it’s not hard for these old Bears to remember some old tricks.