By Russell S. Baxter
Cold Hard Football Facts' Resident Factologist (@baxfootballguru)
They say both good and bad things come in threes.
It’s hard to argue the point. For the third straight season, we have only three teams (Cardinals, Falcons and Texans) that have opened the season 3-0.
For the 0-3 Saints (who lost only three games last season) and Browns, they also know that under the current playoff format (since 1990) that only three clubs (1992 Chargers at 0-4, along with the 1995 Lions and the 1998 Bills) have made the playoffs following such a start.
And did you know that half of last season’s 12 playoff participants, three each in the AFC (Patriots, Steelers and Broncos) and NFC (Lions, Packers and Saints) have losing records after three games?
Welcome to another year of unpredictability in the NFL, where they only thing that’s certain this week is that neither the Colts nor Steelers will win…or lose.
When it comes to predictions, we opt for better safe than sorry.
Thursday Night, Sept. 27
Cleveland (0-3) at Baltimore (2-1): Quote the Browns; can we make it never-more when it comes to having to play the Ravens? Baltimore has won the last eight meetings between the rivals and given up only 91 points (11.4 points per game) in those wins.
And more often than not, Ravens’ RB Ray Rice has frustrated Cleveland’s usually-iffy run defense. The Browns (losers of nine straight games) have totaled 17 points or less in 16 of their last 19 games dating back to last season. John Harbaugh’s team has put 44, 23 and 31 points on the board this season...
Sunday, Sept. 30
Carolina (1-2) at Atlanta (3-0): The Panthers will have had more than a week to not only lick their wounds from the Thursday night loss but prepare for a Falcons’ team off to its best start since 2004.
It’s also an Atlanta club that has won four straight meetings in this rivalry and put exactly 31 points on the board in each of those victories. The bad news for Matt Ryan last week is that he finally threw an interception.
The good news is that it’s the only turnover by the team this season and four less than the Panthers committed in the blowout loss to the Giants…
Cincinnati (2-1) at Jacksonville (1-2): Don’t blink if you’re watching the Bengals this season.
Last week, Andy Dalton lined up at wide receiver and rookie Mohamed Sanu opened at quarterback and the latter responded with a 73-yard touchdown to A.J. Green. Unfortunately, Marvin Lewis’ club needs every score it can get as Cincinnati has already given up 102 total points, including a pair of Dalton interception returns for touchdowns.
Blaine Gabbert to Cecil Shorts has now come up big late twice in the first three weeks and can’t be overlooked…
Miami (1-2) at Arizona (3-0): The Dolphins had chances to put the Jets away last week but couldn’t close the door. Not many were surprised that the Cardinals knocked off the Eagles, while a lot of people were a bit shocked to see Philadelphia held out of the end zone.
A year ago, Kevin Kolb’s debut season in Arizona threw nine touchdown passes and committed 11 turnovers in 9 games. This season, the suddenly confident performer has thrown for four scores and zero interceptions (1 lost fumble) as the franchise is off to its best start since 1974…
Minnesota (2-1) at Detroit (1-2): Talk about eye-opening. Who would have guessed that last year’s three-win Vikings would have gotten this season’s second victory at the expense of the 49ers as quarterback Christian Ponder continues to deliver.
The Lions’ offense, defense and special teams gave up five touchdown plays of 60 or more yards in last week’s bizarre loss at Tennessee.
Still, Detroit has now won the last three meetings in the series and Minnesota has lost an astounding 11 straight games to their NFC North rivals…
New England (1-2) at Buffalo (2-1): The Patriots won on opening weekend at Tennessee by 21.
The Bills lost on the road to the Jets by 20. But a funny thing happened on the way to this meeting as New England has lost 2 straight and Chan Gailey’s club has posted back-to-back victories.
Last year’s two meetings also had that reversal of fortune thing going as Buffalo rallied from 21 down to snap a 15-game losing streak in the rivalry, while the Pats came back from 21-0 to win 49-21 at Foxborough. Bill Belichick’s team hasn’t lost 3 games in a row since 2002…
New Orleans (0-3) at Green Bay (1-2): Last season, the Saints (13-3) and Packers (15-1) combined for a 28-4 mark. This season, these recent Super Bowl champions are a combined 1-5 and having their issues.
New Orleans has allowed a whopping 102 points in three games and blew an 18-point lead at home last week.
Meanwhile, Mike McCarthy’s club has scored a mere 57 points in 2012. But these opponents have combined for 61, 80 and 76 points in their last 3 meetings since ’06, including a 42-34 Packers’ win a year ago in the Thursday night opener…
Oakland (1-2) at Denver (1-2): These intense AFC West rivals have gotten to the identical place in the division standings different ways, although both teams’ lone victory this season to date has come at home against the Steelers.
The Raiders opened the year with a pair of losses before rallying for a win last week, while the Broncos have been cooled off the last two weeks by a pair of clubs (Falcons and Texans) that have yet to lose in 2012. If recent history is any indication (Oakland with four straight wins at Denver), this isn’t a lock for the host team…
San Diego (2-1) at Kansas City (1-2): Norv Turner’s team was pushed around at home by the Falcons’ defense, which picked off Philip Rivers twice, the ninth time in his last 19 games the Pro Bowl quarterback threw at least two interceptions.
The Chiefs were moments away from a 0-3 start but is Romeo Crennel’s team ready to turn the corner like Jamaal Charles did Sunday at the Superdome?
Rivers has excelled in his last eight games in this rivalry, throwing for 2,406 yards (300-plus in half of those outings and 13 scores compared to only eight interceptions …
San Francisco (2-1) at N.Y. Jets (2-1): After impressive wins over a pair of playoff teams last season (Packers and Lions) to open 2012, the Niners fell to a Vikings’ team that won as many games (3) as they lost a year ago.
Jim Harbaugh’s club committed 3 turnovers at the Metrodome; quite a stat considering that San Francisco coughed up the ball just 14 times in their previous 20 games (including playoffs). As for the Jets, their offense has produced only two touchdowns in the last eight-plus quarters following that scoring outburst against the Bills…
Seattle (2-1) at St. Louis (1-2): The Cardinals are undefeated and the 49ers get most of the attention.
But guess which NFC West team has given up the fewest points in the league after three weeks? Regardless of Monday night’s result, the Seahawks held the Packers to a dozen points and have allowed just 39 points to date.
Now they face a Rams’ franchise they have dominated as of last (13-1 in 14 meetings dating back to ’05) and one that failed to score a touchdown last week at Chicago …
Tennessee (1-2) at Houston (3-0): Plenty of people will remember the Titans’ overtime win over the Lions as one of the most entertaining and bizarre games you will ever see as Mike Munchak’s team got touchdowns from all three of his units.
But lost in the win if the fact that Tennessee has allowed an NFL-high 113 points, as well as a dozen offensive touchdowns. And that’s bad news against a Texans’ team that hasn’t allowed a touchdown in the first half and outscored their first three opponents a combined 62-14 in the first 30 minutes…
Washington (1-2) at Tampa Bay (1-2): Mike Shanahan would have been ecstatic if you told him his team would amass 99 points and a dozen total touchdowns in their first three games this season (Washington averaged 18.0 points per game and 28 touchdowns in 16 games in 2011).
But Redskins’ opponents have now put 30-plus points on the board in five straight games dating back to last season and last week, Robert Griffin found himself under siege, sacked six times in the loss to the Bengals.
Tampa’s revived pass rush may continue to get healthy …
N.Y. Giants (2-1) at Philadelphia (2-1): The supposedly shorthanded Giants made easy work of the Panthers a week and a half ago in a 36-7 win.
At least the Eagles are making strides in the turnover department, giving up the ball “only” three times in the loss at Arizona. Andy Reid’s club has now coughed up the ball 12 times in three contests, as much as the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins combined this season.
But the road is where the heart is in this series. Including playoffs, the visiting team is 11-4 in the last 15 meetings and the Giants are 5-2 at Philadelphia since 2005...
Monday Night, Oct. 1
Chicago (2-1) at Dallas (2-1): Both the Bears and Cowboys come off wins a week ago, but the Chicago and Dallas offensive units each only scored one touchdown each in their respective victories over the Rams and Buccaneers.
Lovie Smith’s pass rush got to Sam Bradford six times last Sunday, bad news for a Cowboys’ offensive front that is still trying to find itself. And after scoring 24 points in that opening-night surprise of the Giants, Jason Garrett’s club has put a combined 23 points on the board the last two Sundays …
Off This Week: Indianapolis and Pittsburgh