OK, so earlier this week, I said my Midweek Musings would be about the 3-0 teams and where they stand. Well, OK, I sort of lied.
Actually, it came down to me having some time to squeeze this in today and wanting to talk more about things pertaining specifically to the Broncos in the Midweek Musings. I’m sure you won’t argue with additional content, right?
While it’s just three games into the season, there’s nothing wrong with looking at the teams who are off to 3-0 starts to determine if any of these teams has a chance at going 16-0. There are, of course, many factors that could come into play that could spoil that chance, ranging from injuries to significant players to the bad game that happens against an average-to-bad team that takes advantage of mistakes. But examining the schedules of each 3-0 team and who could be the toughest opponents gives everyone an idea of how likely a team might run the table.
So let’s look at the teams who are 3-0, in order of who appears to have the best chance of going undefeated.
1. New England: Yes, I know, the enemy starts out the list. Needless to say, I think we are quickly learning what happens when the spotlight is focused on the Patriots throughout the offseason about how what they do is not always on the up and up. They respond by extending the middle finger at the rest of the NFL and playing at a higher level than anyone could imagine.
Looking at the rest of the schedule, it’s hard to find a lot of teams that could knock off the Patriots, given how well the offense is playing and how well Tom Brady is playing under pressure. The Patriots drew the AFC South and the NFC East this year and neither division looks strong this season. The AFC South might have had an interesting matchup with the Colts, but the Colts have a poor defense and offensive line, a bad combination when facing the Pats. The Cowboys might have made things interesting, but not with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant both out of the lineup. One might have thought the Eagles could make things look interesting, but who knows if the Eagles will figure things out by the time that game arrives.
The flipside to consider is that the Broncos are playing so well defensively that even Brady might not have an answer, and that the Bills could catch the Patriots napping. Then there’s the Giants, whose first two losses appear to have come down to bad coaching decisions and player execution, both areas that are fixable.
More importantly, though, is that the Patriots get an early bye week this season. I don’t think they can be terribly fond of having Week Four off, because it means that as players get banged up (and they will; it happens to all teams), it’s tougher to play at a high level.
Still, the Pats have the best chance of a 16-0 finish, as there are just a couple of teams who could reasonably challenge them and it’s hard to see the weaker teams on their schedule playing spoiler. If not, it’s hard to see the Pats finishing worse than 14-2, assuming everyone stays healthy.
2. Arizona: Wait a minute, weren’t the Cardinals supposed to come back to earth this year? Who could have possibly said that? (Oh yeah, I did.)
The Cardinals may not have faced a strong opponent yet, but they are doing what great teams do and that’s take inferior opponents and blow them out. Additionally, the Cardinals have who we can safely call the second-best coach in the NFL in Bruce Arians — and honestly, he’s not that far behind Bill Belichick for the best coach in the NFL. Belichick has had his system in place for some time and he’s arguably got more talent, but Arians has done a magnificent job coaching up players. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald were both written off before the season but are playing at high form. Heck, even Chris Johnson has revitalized his career. Arians has the Cardinals looking like the one team nobody wants to face, no matter what those teams may bring to the table.
The one team on the schedule who could knock off the Cardinals is obviously the Seahawks, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be the Seahawks sweeping both games, not with the offensive line playing poorly. I would suspect the Seahawks will beat the Cardinals in Seattle, but it’s not likely they repeat that when the two teams meet again in Arizona to close the season.
Cincinnati and Green Bay will give the Cardinals fits, but they’ll have to go to the Cardinals’ house. And who knows what will happen with Philadelphia. But looking at the next few games, there’s a very good chance that Arizona will be 8-0 going into their Week 9 bye — a bye week that comes at a great time to rest up for the second half of the season. At the rate Arizona is playing, this team could finish 14-2 without much trouble.
3. Green Bay: After beating Kansas City Monday night, the Packers are in good position to go 6-0 before the bye week — yes, the Packers have a bye the same week as the Broncos. It’s hard to see San Francisco challenging the Packers and the Chargers aren’t showing consistency. The Rams could challenge the Packers thanks to a good defense, but I don’t know if the Rams have enough on offense to match up.
I don’t think the Packers have as good a chance of going undefeated as the Patriots and Cardinals do, though, because the Packers play a tougher schedule. There is, of course, the Week 7 matchup with the Broncos. They also have to go to Arizona and Carolina. I’ve already mentioned the Cardinals game, while the Panthers game could be more difficult for the Packers than it might appear because of Carolina’s defense.
The other game to consider is the road matchup at Minnesota. I think the Vikings are the only NFC North team who has a chance to beat the Packers. In terms of overall record, the Packers look more like a 13-3 team, but if they get out of Denver with a win and follow that with a convincing win at Carolina, it may be time to reconsider.
4. Denver: Was anyone honestly thinking that the Broncos would be in this discussion? Perhaps you did believe a 3-0 start was likely, but I imagine most of you weren’t sure 16-0 would be possible given the offense’s early struggles. But the Broncos defense is playing at such a high level, it’s not out of the question.
Of course, the Broncos have a couple of games coming up in which the opponents will give them fits. Minnesota and Oakland are both better teams than last year, and in the Vikings’ case, Teddy Bridgewater has played reasonably well under pressure. As for Oakland, Amari Cooper has looked very much worth that first-round pick the Raiders used on him and could be one of those receivers who finds ways to make plays despite the Broncos having a strong secondary.
If the Broncos do go 6-0 into the bye in Week 7, the schedule gets stronger, with Green Bay, New England and Cincinnati, plus Pittsburgh should have Ben Roethlisberger back in the fold. I’m not positive the Broncos can go 16-0 given the schedule ahead — 12-4 would be a reasonable expectation as long as the offense keeps improving. But if the Broncos start 6-0, then follow their bye week with a win over the Packers, things could get interesting.
5. Atlanta: I don’t think anyone bet on the Falcons starting 3-0 — even I was expecting Atlanta to start 1-2, even though I picked them to win the NFC South. Now that they have, a 6-0 start is very much in the cards.
Houston has no quarterback, Washington doesn’t have one either and New Orleans is falling apart. True, the Falcons don’t have a dominant defense, but the offense is clicking. Julio Jones has cemented his spot as a top-five receiver and Devonta Freeman has given the Falcons the running back they were lacking. So, yes, a 6-0 start is possible.
A 16-0 season, though? Well, they get the AFC Souith, which is not a strong division and I’m not certain a shootout favors Andrew Luck as much as people may think. They get the NFC East out of the way early and, if the Falcons beat Washington, that makes them 4-0 against that division. The only NFC South team that looks like a formidable challenger is Carolina, and the Panthers may only get the Falcons one time. And Minnesota is certainly capable.
I don’t see the Falcons finishing 16-0, but the schedule doesn’t look as intimidating as it once did. Getting a Week 9 bye helps, because it comes at a good time to rest players before going into the final stretch of the season. It would not surprise me to see a 13-3 finish for Atlanta. The only thing that may keep Dan Quinn from getting Coach of the Year, though, is Arians having the Cardinals playing a such a high level.
6. Cincinnati: I won’t spend too much time with the Bengals because I don’t think they have a chance at 16-0. The AFC North contests tend to be close, as was evidenced by Bengals-Ravens, and I can’t see the Bengals sweeping the division. Roethlisberger may not play for the Steelers when the teams meet Nov. 1, but he should be back for the Dec. 13 contest. The Broncos, of course, won’t make it easy for Cincy, and Seattle and Arizona both stand in the way of the Bengals’ route to perfection. Given how the AFC North tends to be fiercely competitive, I’d project Cincy to finish 11-5.
7. Carolina: Again, I won’t spend much time on the Panthers. The Panthers have some issues on offense, but theirs are a little different from the Broncos: They have a quarterback in the prime of his career but the only weapon they have for him is Greg Olsen. The defense is playing at a high level, but with too many weaknesses on offense, the Panthers don’t have enough to counter those teams that can generate offense. We know the Packers and Falcons can do this and a shootout with the Colts doesn’t favor Carolina. Plus the Panthers get Seattle on the road, one week after an early bye (Week 5). Carolina may start 4-0, but once they come out of the bye week, the path to 16-0 become much steeper. As with the Bengals, I think the Panthers are an 11-5 team.