We’re only three weeks into the NFL season, but with so many bagels scattered across the standings, the league’s heirarchy is starting to take shape.
Six teams sport a spotless 3-0 record, with the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, and New England Patriots pacing the AFC, while the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, and Los Angeles Rams top the NFC totem pole. That bodes well for each squad’s postseason aspirations, as just over 75 percent of teams to start out 3-0 have secured a playoff berth by season’s end.
Conversely, football fans in six markets are still waiting for their favorite team to finally find the winner’s circle. The AFC is home to five teams – the Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, and Denver Broncos – stuck in the 0-3 doldrums. Over in the NFC, the woeful Washington Redskins are also wading through the malaise of an 0-3 start.
For this battered and beaten bunch, the dreadful start has all but erased any chance of competing in the playoffs. Only six teams in NFL history have clawed their way back from 0-3 to reach the playoffs, and although last year’s Houston Texans turned the trick, they were the first team in 20 years to do so.
With this atypical disparity between football’s elite contenders and pretenders laid strikingly bare entering Week 4, the oddsmakers at online sportsbook Bovada have their collective work cut out for them.
Undefeated Rivals Clash; Winless Squads Scramble to Salvage Season
Based on last week’s massive (-24) spread, New England was the largest favorite in recent memory ahead of the team’s annual AFC East matchup hosting the New York Jets (0-3).
The Pats appeared poised to cover that enormous number too, but a 30-point lead late evaporated thanks to a pair of return touchdowns by the depleted Jets in a 30-14 snoozer. New England faces another AFC East “rival” this Sunday, but with the banged up defending Super Bowl champions visiting the Bills, Bovada has set the line at a much more reasonable Patriots (-7.5).
Both the Bills and Patriots have ridden what may be the best defensive units in the league to an undefeated start. The Buffalo defense has amassed seven takeaways already, good for the second-highest output in football, and their 299.7 yards allowed and 15.7 points per game averages are both fifth-best.
But somehow, Bill Belichick’s group of mostly anonymous defensive grinders has been even better. The Pats’ D has only surrendered 199.0 yards and 5.7 points per game on average to lead the league on both accounts, and they’ve hauled in six takeaways of their own.
In fact, given that the Jets only found the scoreboard courtesy of muffed punt and interception returns, the Patriots defense hasn’t allowed a single touchdown in its last four games. That incredible 119-6 run includes a stunning 13-3 dismissal of the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl 53.
Both teams boast defensive bona fides, but Buffalo doesn’t have Tom Brady to fall back on, as evidenced by the Bills’ paltry 22.0 points per game scoring average.
Cincinnati Bengals vs Pittsburgh Steelers
On the other side of the standings spectrum, Monday Night Football (MNF) features a matchup of two winless teams with the Bengals visiting the Steelers.
Pittsburgh will be a (-4) favorite to save its season, but new starting quarterback Mason Rudolph’s dud last Sunday in his first start replacing the injured Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t exactly inspire confidence from the betting public.
Bengals fans are used to duds in primetime though, what with QB Andy Dalton’s notorious inability to thrive under the national TV spotlight (6-19 record in night games) throughout his lackluster career.
Sunday Night Football Promises Offensive Fireworks
The best game on this week’s docket takes place on Sunday Night Football when the undefeated Cowboys head to the Superdome for a date with the New Orleans Saints (2-1).
The Cowboys have enjoyed an offensive renaissance to kick off 2019, thanks to rookie offensive coordinator Kellen Moore calling a modern scheme predicated on play-action and movement. With last year’s rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott demanding attention from defenses on every play, Moore has unleashed QB Dak Prescott’s arm and ability like former play-caller Scott Linehan never could.
Dallas has topped 30 points in every contest thus far, and with Dak + Zeke equaling a supremely balanced attack on every drive, the Cowboys are averaging 481.3 yards per game.
That’s a top-three yardage total, and the Saints would ordinarily be right there with Dallas, but losing legendary QB Drew Brees to injury in Week 2 has hamstrung the New Orleans offense. The Saints are averaging only 339.7 yards per game, good for 21st in football while putting a typically explosive passing attack alongside middling clubs like Denver, Washington, and Jacksonville.
The numbers get worse for New Orleans when it comes to stopping the run, which will be of prime concern following a Dallas double-dip with two 100+ yard rushers (Elliott and Tony Pollard) last week. The Saints defense allows 134.7 yards per game on the ground, making them the sixth-worst in the NFL at stopping the run.