By Russell S. Baxter
Cold Hard Football Facts Resident Facts Machine (@BaxFootballGuru)
As we prepare to wrap up the first month of the 2013 season, things are becoming a little clearer.
Then again … maybe they have not.
We do know how difficult it will be for the six teams that have opened 0-3 to reach the playoffs. We haven’t seen that happen since the Buffalo Bills in 1998.
We also have seven teams with 3-0 records for the first time since 2009. But not all of those clubs wound up in the postseason that year.
So for those of you who have already made Super Bowl reservations hoping to see your favorite team at MetLife Stadium in February based off the season’s first three weeks…we shall see.
Thursday Night, Sept. 26
San Francisco (1-2) at St. Louis (1-2): Ouch! After holding off the Green Bay Packers, Jim Harbaugh’s club is suddenly riding a two-game losing streak and has scored just one touchdown in those contests.
Now they head to the Gateway City to face an improving Rams’ team that they played for 10 quarters last season and still failed to defeat (0-1-1). Did anyone have Rams quarterback Sam Bradford with twice as many touchdown passes and half as many interceptions than 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick at this stage of the season?
Sunday, Sept. 29
Arizona (1-2) at Tampa Bay (0-3): The last time the Cardinals saw Raymond James Stadium, they saw Super Bowl XLIII slip though their fingers and into the hands of Steelers’ wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
This Sunday, Bruce Arians (Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator in that game) and company will see Buccaneers’ quarterback Mike Glennon start his first NFL game. How bad has it been for Tampa? Greg Schiano’s lifeless club has totaled only 1 touchdown in the second half this season. Anyone out there remember who came up with it?
Baltimore (2-1) at Buffalo (1-2): It’s amazing what a little home cooking, including a few crab cakes, has done for the Ravens.
The defending Super Bowl champions have settled down quite a bit following the debacle in Denver thanks to wins over the Browns and Texans. Last week, no one circled the quarterback more than the Jets as Bills’ rookie EJ Manuel was sacked eight times at MetLife Stadium.
Baltimore’s offense has been far from daunting the last two weeks and don’t be surprised if Mario Williams and company take matters into their own hands …
Cincinnati (2-1) at Cleveland (1-2): How big was Mike Zimmer’s defense last week vs. the Packers?
The Bengals overcame four of their own turnovers to beat Green Bay thanks to a unit that picked off Aaron Rodgers twice and scored the winning touchdown on a fumble return. The Browns traded Trent Richardson, started quarterback Brian Hoyer and took a 0-2 start to Minnesota.
So of course, Rob Chudzinski got his first win as an NFL head coach. It’s hard to believe that the Cleveland offensive line can block the Cincinnati defensive front …
Chicago (3-0) at Detroit (2-1): For the 84th consecutive season, the Bears and Lions will make acquaintances and this time around, it’s a battle between the first- and second-place teams in the NFC North (for now).
Chicago is at it once again when it comes to takeaways, forcing five more turnovers and scoring a pair of touchdowns in a win over Pittsburgh.
It only took the Lions a little over 70 years to get a win at Washington. But if Jim Schwartz’s team doesn’t hold serve in this divisional match-up, the euphoria and relief over last week’s victory will make that win a moot point …
Dallas (2-1) at San Diego (1-2): Now that the Cowboys finally seem to have that home-field advantage thing figured out, can they now pull a John McClane and beat the thrill-to-the-last-minute Chargers?
Philip Rivers has thrown eight touchdown passes and just one interception and hasn’t fumbled to date, good news against a Dallas defense that can get after the quarterback (13 sacks) in a big way. We’ll see if Dallas running back DeMarco Murray can follow up his traditional whipping of the Rams’ defense with another workhorse effort…
Indianapolis (2-1) at Jacksonville (0-3): Remember when the Colts were more known for scoring points than physical football? Don’t tell that to the San Francisco 49ers. Remember when the Jaguars opened the season 8-5 in 2010?
The franchise is a combined 8-31 since and is currently riding an eight-game losing streak dating back to last season. Jacksonville has fared well in this series as of late but these days, Gus Bradley’s club isn’t faring well anywhere. Two of their three losses have been by 26 and 28 points, so this isn’t apparently the Year of the Cat ...
N.Y. Giants (0-3) at Kansas City (3-0): One team can’t win a game or hang onto the football. Another team has yet to commit a turnover or lose a game. But while these teams appear headed in opposite directions, the head coaches are quite familiar with each other.
Tom Coughlin and Andy Reid had their share of battles the previous nine seasons with the Giants and Eagles, respectively, which included a pair of playoff encounters. But it’s also worth noting that Big Blue has lost six straight road games and given up 31.5 points per game in those setbacks…
Philadelphia (1-2) at Denver (3-0): Over the last three weeks, we have watched Chip Kelly’s offense slowly fade a bit and in their last performance, the Birds coughed up the ball five times and couldn’t block the Kansas City defense.
Now the Eagles fly a ton of miles west to the Mile High City, where quarterback Peyton Manning and his 12 touchdown passes, zero interceptions and 127 points scored are waiting.
Off a Monday night outing, John Fox’s club is coming off a short week. But odds are it may be a long afternoon for Kelly and his team …
N.Y. Jets (2-1) at Tennessee (2-1): In a clash of two teams that each finished 6-10 a year ago, one of these clubs is on the verge of getting halfway to that victory total in just four games. New York’s defense has been top-notch to date and comes off an eight-sack performance against EJ Manuel and the Buffalo Bills.
Quarterback Jake Locker and rookie wideout Justin Hunter combined for the game-winning score against the San Diego Chargers last Sunday. And just like the undefeated Chiefs, the Titans haven’t committed a turnover in three games this season …
Pittsburgh (0-3) vs. Minnesota (0-3) at London, England: The winless Steelers and Vikings head overseas but there’s nothing jolly about this visit to England.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line remains a shambles and was again a factor in the loss to the Bears. For the third time in as many games this season, Minnesota surrendered at least 31 points last week to a Browns’ team that had scored only one touchdown in its first two contests.
The good news for the city of London is that fact that at least one of the two Big Bens will stay upright on Sunday …
Seattle (3-0) at Houston (2-1): There’s been no let up by Pete Carroll’s club since late last season. Keep in mind that since opening 6-5 in 2012, the Seahawks own a 13-1 record which includes postseason and preseason games.
And while that summer time fun doesn’t count, it shows that this club is serious about winning everything these days. After rallying for wins over the Chargers and Titans, the Texans did what they have always done; lose at Baltimore.
It should be an interesting afternoon for Wisconsin alum as Russell Wilson meets J.J. Watt …
Washington (0-3) at Oakland (1-2): A year ago, the Redskins dug themselves a 3-6 hole before the team got hot and won the NFC East.
But this is certainly a different season and obviously a different bunch of Redskins. The Raiders were thumped in Denver last Monday night but Washington’s shaky defense should allow the Silver and Black some opportunities for big plays.
Lest we forget that Mike Shanahan was 21-7 vs. the Raiders, his one-time employer, while he was the head coach of the Denver Broncos. And revenge is best served with a good merlot …
New England (3-0) at Atlanta (1-2): While the Patriots offense continues to find itself, Bill Belichick’s club continues to win.
That’s because New England has allowed on 34 points in three contests, quite a reversal of fortune for a team that hasn’t seen that kind of defensive production is quite some time.
But the Pats will be dealing with arguably the best group of receivers in the league in the Falcons, although the club is off to a slow start.
Don’t shut off the television if Atlanta jumps out to a 10-0 start in the first quarter (0-2 in 2013) …
Monday Night, Sept. 30
Miami (3-0) at New Orleans (3-0): Joe Philbin’s team came into 2013 with high expectations and so far so good, with wins over the Colts and Falcons (playoff teams last season) the last two weeks.
What a difference a September makes as the Saints look to get to 4-0 just one year after it took five games to get a single victory.
Both of these clubs are playing some pretty good defense these days and it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Dolphins have given up a total of three points in the fourth quarter this season. But, oh that Superdome noise …
Off This Week: Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers