NFL REVIEW: FIVE 3-0 TEAMS
Five teams have made it to 3-0 in the NFL and only one of those teams were among the top dozen or so favorites to win the Super Bowl before the season started. There is good reason to be skeptical of all five of those teams and being 3-0 this season is not quite as valuable as in past seasons with the move to a 17-game schedule. This is a breakdown of the chances to remain on a playoff path in the 2021-22 NFL season for the five 3-0 teams through Week 3.
3-0 DENVER BRONCOS (76-26 scoring)
The Broncos are tied with the Bills for the top scoring differential in the NFL and with just 26 points allowed no defense has had a better start through three weeks. Denver had quite a buzz in the off-season as one of the few logical fits for Aaron Rodgers as the discussion of his possible departure from Green Bay was a common focus in the NFL media for several months. Once Rodgers reunited with the Packers, Denver was mostly a forgotten squad in a difficult AFC West with several high-profile teams.
Many did peg Denver for the playoffs however and a big factor in that logic was a rather favorable schedule which the Broncos have made good use of so far. The three wins for Denver have come against a trio of 0-3 teams and arguably the three worst teams in the NFL right now. Two of Denver’s opponents have featured rookie quarterbacks, but Denver has had convincing results in all three games while picking up two road wins as plenty of teams do not take care of business in favorable opportunities.
Teddy Bridgewater was picked up in the off-season after an uneven and mostly mediocre season for the Panthers in 2020 and he won the job over Drew Lock in August. Bridgewater has played exceptionally well through three weeks, featuring a top five QB Rating and QBR and still without an interception. He has taken seven sacks but has terrific numbers against the blitz and is averaging over 275 yards per game as he hasn’t simply been a game manager. Known for his accuracy, Bridgewater has completed nearly 77 percent of his passes and the Broncos have had adequate balance in the running game as well.
FUTURE OUTLOOK: Denver has been favored in all three games as they have not done anything noteworthy yet and the schedule in October is very difficult as four of five foes made the playoffs last season while the other is their fellow 3-0 division leader Las Vegas. The Broncos have six difficult AFC West games remaining while also drawing all four teams in a deep AFC North. Denver does have enough winnable games remaining on the schedule for this team to stay in the playoff race all season, but this squad has been hit hard with injuries of late. KJ Hamler joined Jerry Jeudy on injured reserve last week to take two receivers out of the equation while the offensive line and linebacker group also has been thinned out. Denver should not be dismissed completely due to the early schedule, but this is not a team that should be confused for a serious AFC championship contender.
3-0 CAROLINA PANTHERS (69-30 scoring)
The Panthers may be the biggest surprise to be 3-0 as this was a 5-win team last season now in the second season under Matt Rhule and Sam Darnold’s NFL track record was about the worst of any regular starter in recent years. Darnold is producing in the passing game and has only one interception so far as the Panthers have won even with limited production on the ground. Christian McCaffrey has 201 rushing yards but left the Week 3 win over Houston and will be out for several weeks for a Panthers team that is gaining just 3.4 yards per rush.
In wins over New York and Houston the Panthers faced rookie quarterbacks including facing Davis Mills on a short week Thursday night game, meaning that two of three wins have been in the first NFL start for a pair of rookie quarterbacks. The win over New Orleans deserves praise however as it was a dominant defensive performance. It was perhaps a poor scheduling spot for the Saints, but the Panthers have been very impressive defensively through three weeks, leading the NFL in yards per play allowed while second in scoring defense.
FUTURE OUTLOOK: Carolina’s schedule should remain rather favorable in the coming weeks. They will face three NFC East teams in October while also drawing Minnesota and Atlanta teams that have losing records this season after having losing records last season. Two games with Tampa Bay are not until late in the season as the Panthers have a good chance to produce a playoff caliber record this season. The final four weeks are a beast however with three of four games on the road playing at Buffalo, home vs. Tampa Bay, at New Orleans, and then at Tampa Bay. A collapse in the final month to lose out on a postseason spot might be the most likely scenario for this group depending on how important those late season games are for the expected contenders.
3-0 ARIZONA CARDINALS (103-65 scoring)
Arizona has risen in stature significantly with a 3-0 start as the Week 1 performance against Tennessee was a dominant outing that may wind up as one of the more impressive game scores of the season. The Cardinals managed to survive the home opener against Minnesota as the Vikings missed a 37-yard-field goal at the end, while the team took care of business in Week 3 vs. Jacksonville. Arizona is tied with Tampa Bay for the most points scored in the NFL through three weeks and Kyler Murray is now the betting favorite for MVP.
The Cardinals were 8-8 last season as it is not a surprise that this team is already in the NFC mix as the off-season brought the team a few notable additions. Murray has already thrown for over 1,000 yards but he does have four interceptions and is not close to last season’s rushing pace with only 70 yards so far, although he has rushed for three touchdowns already. Arizona does have an excellent group of wide receivers and star players on both sides of the ball as this is a team that can stay in the spotlight.
Arizona allowed 7.0 yards per play vs. Minnesota and last week the Cardinals allowed 361 yards against Jacksonville while falling behind 19-10 late in the third quarter vs. the winless Jaguars. A pick-six late in the fourth quarter helped keep Arizona in the win column in a game they were +3 in turnovers in, as this group hasn’t looked like a serious NFC contender outside of the opening week.
FUTURE OUTLOOK: Tennessee and Minnesota could wind up as quality wins for Arizona as the team deserves a great deal of credit, but it is hard to envision this team staying undefeated much longer. Difficult division games are up the next two weeks while games with Cleveland and Green Bay also lurk in October as this group is much more likely to be 4-4 by the end of the month than 8-0. Playoff hopes will hinge on winning games in the very difficult NFC West as the Cardinals might still wind up right near the cut, just like last season.
3-0 LOS ANGELES RAMS (95-62 scoring)
The Rams are the one team in this quintet that most expected to have a good chance to be 3-0 as one of the highest regarded teams in the NFC. The Rams are 3-0 through a difficult schedule facing three 2020 playoff teams including last week’s big win over Tampa Bay for the current notion of NFC supremacy. The opening week win over the Bears may not be that valuable while the Colts are 0-3 as those two teams could be headed for seasons of decline. The Bears moved the ball fairly well against the Rams while the Colts were in a position to win vs the Rams even while having to play a backup quarterback at the end of the game.
Overall there is a lot to like about the pairing of Matthew Stafford with the Rams so far as he has nine touchdowns and one interception and the top QBR in the league at this point. The Rams have allowed just over 20 points per game this season but the defense did allow a great deal of yardage last week and has rather average defensive numbers overall, even with Andy Dalton and Carson Wentz accounting for two thirds of the statistics. Last season’s elite defensive numbers were likely a bit overstated with a few scheduling breaks as this squad risks being overvalued.
FUTURE OUTLOOK: The Rams don’t look likely to go anywhere as a top NFC threat as while they could certainly take a loss in division games the next two weeks facing Arizona and Seattle, they also have upcoming games with the Giants, Lions, and Texans. The late season schedule is quite difficult however as this is a group that might hit the Week 11 bye week at around 8-2 but then could take several losses in the final seven. That closing stretch includes three division games plus games on the road vs. Green Bay and Baltimore in potential late-season conditions for the southern California squad. Things look good so far for the Rams, but this team should not be the favorite for the #1 seed in the NFC just yet.
3-0 LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (scoring 90-72)
The Raiders have had a lot go right to reach 3-0 as both home wins have required overtime. It has been a quality schedule however beating Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Miami, three winning teams in the AFC from last season and expected AFC playoff threats. Pittsburgh may be in a great decline however and Miami played with a backup quarterback as there are some potential reasons for caution with the start for Las Vegas.
The Raiders have continued to win with Josh Jacobs injured however and Derek Carr has the most passing yards in the NFL by a significant margin. While the Raiders have allowed decent scoring, they are actually a top 10 team in yards per play allowed and the suspect offensive line has played better than expected so far. Las Vegas is not allowing many big plays in the passing game and while the run defense has been poor on a per carry basis, the Raiders have pushed the scoring pace in most games to make the running game less important.
FUTURE OUTLOOK: The 3-0 start is certainly unexpected for the Raiders as it came through what looked like a rather difficult stretch of the schedule. The path before a Week 8 bye week to close October is reasonable as the Raiders should pick up a few more wins and ultimately the schedule is well-balanced as Las Vegas rarely has consecutive games against top teams outside of facing the Chiefs and Browns in back-to-back road games in December. The Raiders have likely boosted their season projection the most of these five 3-0 teams and Las Vegas should now be considered a very realistic playoff threat in the AFC even in a loaded AFC West.
3-0 teams have done quite well in Game #4 in the NFL historically, going 116-80 S/U and 101-90-5 ATS since 1980. Last season seven teams reached 3-0 and six of those teams made it to 4-0, going 6-1 S/U and 6-1 ATS in the fourth games. 3-0 teams fare best at home with an over 62 percent ATS rate historically though that edge has lessened since 2000. When 3-0 teams face 3-0 teams, the host has gone 12-4 S/U and 13-3 ATS since 1986 as the Rams may have a favorable opportunity this week to reach 4-0.