The 2009 NFL season is nearing its first quarter pole, and already the short season may have written some season-long implications.
“Separation Sunday” in Week Three brought some fantastic finishes (Vikings over Niners, Bengals over Steelers, and Bears over Seahawks), one huge upset (Lions ended their 19-game losing streak by scoring a 19-14 win over the Redskins), and a whole bunch of blowouts (Eagles over Chiefs, Giants over Bucs, Broncos over Raiders, Ravens over Browns, Packers over Rams, and Saints over Bills).
As we look at the standings after three weeks of NFL action, there is no doubt that parity is in the air. There are seven teams at 3-0, i.e. “The Haves”—Ravens, Jets, Giants, Vikings, Colts, Saints, and Broncos; nine teams at 2-1, i.e. “The Contenders”—Falcons, Niners, Packers, Eagles, Bengals, Patriots, Chargers, Bears, and Cowboys; nine teams at 1-2, i.e. “Stuck in the Middle”—Texans, Bills, Redskins, Jaguars, Steelers, Raiders, Cardinals, Lions, and Seahawks; and seven teams at 0-3, i.e. “The Have Nots”—Browns, Rams, Chiefs, Titans, Dolphins, Panthers, and Rams.
For the poor 0-3 teams, their season is basically over, as only three teams with that record have made the playoffs since 1990.
The biggest surprises of the seven currently 0-3 teams has to be the three 2008 divisional champs—Tennessee Titans (AFC South champs, finishing with a 13-3 record), Miami Dolphins (AFC East champs, finishing with an 11-5 record), and the Carolina Panthers (NFC South champs, finishing with a 12-4 record).
The plight of these “fallen from grace” teams shows that every year is different in the NFL. Anything, whether it is injuries, a coach on the hot seat, a harder schedule, poor quarterback play, etc., can turn a champ into a chump real quick.
Now on to the rankings for this week.
1. Giants (3-0)
The G-Men found their physical running game as they pounded out more than 200 rushing yards in beating the hapless Bucs into an early submission. Someone at the NFL’s scheduling office must really like the Giants as they get another “cupcake” this week in the Chiefs.
2. Colts (3-0)
This quietly undefeated squad, led by possible repeat MVP Peyton Manning, dismantled the Cardinals on "Sunday Night Football." Expect another offensive explosion as the Seahawks, playing without their starting quarterback, come to Indy.
3. Jets (3-0)
Another week, another win for Rex Ryan’s young, tough squad. The Jets made a believer out of me as they outmuscled the Titans. The Jets’ No. 1-ranked defense will have the test of their lives as they travel to New Orleans to face the high-flying Saints.
4. Vikings (3-0)
In an “Instant Classic” win over the Niners that ended with a last-second touchdown pass, quarterback Brett Favre showed the guts that made the Vikings take a chance on him. In the possible the game of the week, "Monday Night Football" will be abuzz as the Vikes host Favre’s former squad, the rival Packers.
5. Ravens (3-0)
QB Joe Flacco continued to build his impressive growing résumé as the Ravens' No. 1-ranked offense (points and yards) embarrassed the grasping at straws Browns. If ever there was a time to come of age, this is it, as John Harbaugh’s team will travel to New England to face the former kings of the AFC, the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady.
6. Saints (3-0)
In a rare occurrence, QB Drew Brees didn’t throw a touchdown as RB Pierre Thomas took over in a rather easy win over the fighting Bills. It will be offense vs. defense as the Saints host the Jets, who are looking like the reincarnation of the 1985 Chicago Bears.
7. Broncos (3-0)
Head coach Josh McDaniels’ squad continues to pile up the wins as they beat up on the hapless Raiders, but I still want to see if they are real “contenders.” The league should get to know the new-look Broncos this week as they face a tough early season test against the Cowboys.
8. Patriots (2-1)
Quarterback Tom Brady and the Pats fought back against talk that they were falling back toward the pack with a quality win over the formerly undefeated Falcons. In a possible playoff matchup, the Patriots host the hungry Ravens, who are looking to legitimize their place near the top of the AFC.
9. Eagles (2-1)
In a game that marked the return of Michael Vick to the NFL, it was a true butt-kicking game as the Birds, led by young quarterback Kevin Kolb, throttled the reeling Chiefs. The Eagles will have a much-needed bye week to help QB Donovan McNabb, RB Brian Westbrook, and others heal up for the second quarter of the NFL season.
10. Chargers (2-1)
Led by new star LB Kevin Burnett and improving DB Eric Weddle, the Chargers moved the Dolphins further down the standings in a solid win. In a Sunday Night Football showdown, the Bolts will travel to Pittsburgh to face the surprisingly struggling Super Bowl-champion Steelers.
11. 49ers (2-1)
“Iron” Mike Singletary’s team was on the verge of huge road win until Brett Favre and WR Greg Lewis stepped in, giving the Vikings a miracle victory. With the bad taste of an almost-win in their mouths, the Niners will host the Rams as RB Glen Coffee comes off the bench.
12. Falcons (2-1)
In Matt Ryan’s college homecoming game, the Falcons were out-physicaled by the Patriots. This week the Falcons will be home resting and rooting against the division-leading Saints during their bye.
13. Packers (2-1)
Another “quietly” good team that continued to just win, as the Pack beat up on the poor Rams, who also lost their quarterback. In this week’s grudge match special, on "Monday Night Football" the Packers will face the hated Vikings with “What’s his name?” at quarterback.
14. Bears (2-1)
Their win over the inconsistent Seahawks was not a work of art, but Lovie Smith and QB Jay Cutler will take the win and move on. In an NFC North black-and-blue special, the Bears will be hosting the surging Lions, and Lovie’s crew does not want to be their next victim.
15. Cowboys (2-1)
On "Monday Night Football," QB Tony Romo and the Cowboys took a while to get it going, but in the end the Panthers continued their losing ways. A highly anticipated battle awaits in Denver as the Broncos and Cowboys will figure out who is a “contender” and who is a “pretender.”
16. Bengals (2-1)
HBO’s Hard Knocks' No. 1 squad is starting to make believers around the NFL as they came back to surprise the overconfident Steelers in a huge AFC North win. Head coach Marvin Lewis’ team will be guarding against a big letdown as they face the reeling Browns in the “Battle of Ohio.”
17. Steelers (1-2)
The 2008 Super Bowl champions are starting to understand how hard it is to be the “Hunted” as the Bengals fought for 60 minutes and came away with a big win. In a possible desperation game, the Steelers will host the Chargers in a huge "Sunday Night Football" battle.
18. Cardinals (1-2)
The 2008 NFC Champs may be experiencing the dreaded Super Bowl loser hangover, as they had no answer for the Colts on "Sunday Night Football" and didn’t seem to care. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt decided that the Cardinals’ bye week would be a “work” week so the team could get their heads back in the game.
19. Texans (1-2)
For the past two years the Texans have been one of the NFL’s most inconsistent teams, and that trend continued in Week Three as the Jaguars and Pocket Hercules defeated them in a pinball machine game. In a must-win home game, the Texans need to take care of business against a struggling Raiders team.
20. Bills (1-2)
Bills quarterback Trent Edwards could not get the ball to T.O. even once, and the sparks are ready to fly after a lackluster loss to the Saints. In an AFC East rivalry game, the Bills will try to heal their relationships by taking a road trip to sunny Miami to face the winless Dolphins.
21. Seahawks (1-2)
Head coach Jim Mora is still searching for a way to get the Hawks back to their consistent winning ways after they didn’t capitalize on chances in a home loss to the Bears. The road back to respectability does not get any easier as the Seahawks travel to Indy to face a red-hot Colts team.
22. Jaguars (1-2)
With head coach Jack Del Rio on one of the NFL’s hottest seats, the Jags responded with a big road win over the Texans. Even though their game against the winless Titans will be blacked out locally, you know RB Maurice Jones-Drew will be looking to outperform fellow Pro Bowl player RB Chris Johnson.
23. Lions (1-2)
Well... Week Three and the Redskins were the answer to a long awaited win for the Lions, as head coach Jim Schwartz’s team ended their embarrassing 19-game losing streak. You never know... the Lions could make it two in a row as they travel to Chi-town to face the hated Bears.
24. Redskins (1-2)
The hottest seat in the NFL got even hotter as Skins head coach Jim “Hip-Hip-Per-ay” Zorn could not get his team up, as they suffered an embarrassing loss to the formerly winless in 19 games Lions. It may be win or get out of the way for Zorn as the Redskins host the “dangerous” currently winless Bucs.
25. Titans (0-3)
What a difference a year makes... head coach Jeff Fisher may be looking to Vince Young soon as the Titans lost another tight one, this time to the rising NY Jets. In a game that is not only crucial to the AFC South standings, the Titans will travel south to face a resurgent Jaguars squad.
26. Raiders (1-2)
It was another game that made you wonder how Al Davis’ team will ever pull out of their funk as the Raiders barely showed up against the Broncos. In a game where the loser should pack their bags and go home for the rest of the season, the Raiders will travel to play the Houston Texans.
27. Dolphins (0-3)
Much like the former 2008 AFC South Titans, the Dolphins have looked nothing like their former selves, and last week was no exception as the Chargers pushed them further down. In an AFC East basement brawl, the Dolphins will look to get back in the win column against the fighting Bills.
28. Panthers (0-3)
Carolina laid an egg on "Monday Night Football" against the Cowboys, and it looks like only a matter of time before head coach John Fox is watching Bill Cowher coach the Panthers. Maybe a bye week will help heal some injuries and the frosty relationship between WR Steve Smith and QB Jake Delhomme.
29. Buccaneers (0-3)
Head coach Raheem Morris is searching for answers after another horrible loss, this time to the Giants. After being shut out by the G-Men, the Bucs will turn to young quarterback Josh Johnson in a respect game in Washington against the embarrassed Redskins.
30. Chiefs (0-3)
I don’t know any other way to put it... the Chiefs are a joke. Last week against the Eagles there was little to no fight in this reeling team. The Chiefs will try to not be further embarrassed as they host the run-happy Giants.
31. Rams (0-3)
New Rams head coach and defensive guru Steve Spagnuolo has his work cut out for him as there is not much on his team’s roster, as shown by their blowout loss to the Packers. The Rams will look to get their first win against heated rival the Niners, who are angry over a last-second loss to the Vikes.
32. Browns (0-3)
It is looking more and more like Eric “Mangenius” Mangini has lost control of a Browns team that has little or no fight in them. The Ravens ran roughshod over the Browns in an embarrassing AFC North loss. In the “Battle for Ohio,” the Browns will host the surprisingly surging Bengals as Mangini pins his fleeting hopes on backup QB Derek Anderson.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA).