Ranking the NFL’s Remaining Unbeaten Teams After Week 3
Seven unbeaten teams remain through three weeks of the NFL season. Those seven teams do not include four division winners from last season (Bears, Ravens, Saints and Texans). Also not among those seven teams are the fully healthy Carson Wentz-led Eagles, which opened the year with the second highest preseason win total in the NFL, according to Odds Shark. Nor are the Cleveland Browns, which many were ready to crown as the AFC North champions before the season even started.
Yet somehow, those seven teams include the Bills and 49ers, who combined to go 10-22 last season. The other five teams in that group are the Patriots, Chiefs, Rams, Packers and Cowboys, none of which would surprise most people.
So how do the remaining 3-0 teams stack up? Here’s a ranking of each of the unbeaten teams in ascending order of how likely they are to sustain their early success.
7. Buffalo Bills
How long has it been since the Bills started the season 3-0? You’d have to go all the way back to 2011 when Ryan Fitzpatrick was under center. What did the Bills do the rest of that season? They posted a 3-10 record and were outscored 361-259. If 2011 is any indication, history is not on the Bills’ side, especially when they share a division with New England.
There’s still acclaim to be had, though. Since allowing 78 combined points in their first two games against the Ravens and Chargers in the 2018 season, the Bills defense ranks in the top three in the league through three weeks of the 2019 season in all of these categories: points per drive, yards per drive, touchdown percentage, turnover percentage and three-and-out percentage.
Josh Allen also looks significantly more comfortable running the offense in his second season, raising his completion percentage from 52.8% to 64.1% and posting a passer rating 15.5 points higher.
6. San Francisco 49ers
It’s been even longer since the 49ers have started 3-0. You have to go all the way back to 1998 when they went 12-4 and eventually lost in the divisional round playoff to Atlanta.
Some will quickly point to Jimmy Garoppolo’s return as the primary reason for the 49ers’ resurgence, but Garoppolo has already tossed four interceptions this year and surprisingly trails both Joe Flacco and Jacoby Brissett in total QBR.
Rather, it has been the defense’s dramatic improvement in forcing turnovers. In 2018, the 49ers intercepted just two passes all year. They have already surpassed last season’s total in 2019 through three weeks with five interceptions, trailing only the Patriots in that category. Their seven total takeaways are also tied for second in the NFL behind the Green Bay Packers.
5. Los Angeles Rams
First, the good news: Wade Phillips, at 72 years old, is still one of the great defensive minds in the game. The Rams defense through three games is third in the NFL in yards allowed and seventh in scoring defense.
In Week 3, the Browns started four drives from their own 38-, 43- and 49-yard lines, as well as one before the end of the first half from the Rams’ 18. Those four drives produced a total of three points. Clay Matthews also appears to have been rejuvenated in Los Angeles, recording four sacks through three games.
The bad news: Jared Goff ranks 22nd in the NFL in total QBR. Even more troubling is that Goff’s expected completion percentage is 67.7% (eighth highest in the NFL), but he is completing only 62.9% of his throws. The only quarterbacks in the league with a worse gap than that are Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Josh Rosen, Mitchell Trubisky and Andy Dalton.
Furthermore, in 2017 and 2018, Goff’s passer rating on play action passes was 112.3, but that number is all the way down to 53.5 this year. Goff has to be better for the Rams to contend.
4. Green Bay Packers
The Packers offense hasn’t completely clicked yet, but that was expected through just three weeks with a new head coach while also having to play top-five defenses in the Bears and Vikings in two of those games.
The real story has been on the other side of the ball. Aaron Rodgers may finally have a legitimate defense for the first time in a decade. As it stands, the Packers are second in the NFL in scoring defense. How many times has Rodgers had even a top-10 scoring defense in his 13 years as the Green Bay starter? Only twice! The last time was all the way back in 2010 when the Packers allowed 15 points per game, a performance that helped the team win the Super Bowl that season.
The Packers have faced 38 drives through three games, which is tied for the second most in the NFL, yet they're allowing less than one point per possession, which is good for second fewest in the league. And how about those turnovers? The same defense that forced just 15 turnovers last year has eight already after just three contests.
For most of Rodgers’ career, the Packers would only go as far as he could carry them. Now he finally has a real defense behind him. One has to think that Rodgers will begin to heat up at some point this season, so if the Packers defense can be even close to this good for the whole season, the NFC will need to look out for Green Bay.
3. Dallas Cowboys
Dallas hasn’t exactly been tested through three weeks, having played an Eli Manning-led Giants, the hapless Redskins and the historically bad Dolphins. But the defense looks every bit as good as last year’s top-10 unit, and Dak Prescott looks markedly more comfortable under first-year offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
Prescott is completing 74.5% of his passes despite having an expected completion percentage of just 64.6%. That plus 9.9% difference is the best in the NFL. He is also averaging 9.7 yards in the air per throw, more than Patrick Mahomes’ 9.2 yards per throw. For all of our reluctance to anoint Prescott into the category of top signal callers in the league, he is well worth franchise quarterback money.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
The bad news: the Chiefs run defense is awful for the second year in a row. Kansas City is allowing 6.2 yards per carry and 2.5 yards per attempt after first contact, both last in the NFL.
The good news: LeSean McCoy has thrived since being reunited with Andy Reid, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Even better news is that despite a subpar defense, Patrick Mahomes and the explosive offense can carry the Chiefs any given week.
Even in Tyreek Hill’s absence, the Chiefs passing game hasn’t missed a beat thanks to some breakout performances from Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman.
Here’s what’s incredible though: Even after Mahomes’ otherworldly MVP season in 2018 where he threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns, he is on pace to eclipse both of those totals this year. Right now, Mahomes is on pace to throw for 6,373(!) yards and 53 touchdowns. That would shatter Peyton Manning’s 2013 record of 5,477 yards and fall just short of Manning’s 55 touchdowns.
1. New England Patriots
Tom Brady is averaging 8.6 yards per attempt through three weeks, which would be his most since 2011. He has yet to commit a single turnover and his 67.9% completion rate would also be his highest since 2007.
Here’s the scary part: Since 2007, the Patriots haven't produced a single top-10 defense to play opposite their Hall of Fame quarterback, but this year’s unit could eventually be in the conversation for the best defense Brady has ever had.
Dating back to the Super Bowl last season, the Patriots' defense has now gone four games without allowing a passing or rushing touchdown by the opposing offense. That has happened just eight times since the AFL-NFL merger. To those who were hoping for the end of the dynasty this year: sorry. That doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon.
Will Desautelle is a senior majoring in journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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Senior / Broadcast Journalism and Spanish