Through three games, the Philadelphia Eagles have a legitimate claim as the best team in the NFL.
If you thought the Eagles’ 2-0 start was a product of playing two bad opponents, and that Carson Wentz would be exposed against a real opponent, Week 3 was startling. The Eagles destroyed the Pittsburgh Steelers, 34-3. It was never competitive. Wentz was great. And as I said on Sunday, if the Steelers were considered Super Bowl contenders before that game, what does that make the Eagles?
There are only five 3-0 teams. Four of them have a dominant quality win (sorry, Baltimore Ravens). Only the Eagles, however, have three blowout wins. They have a point differential of plus-65, which is unbelievable for three games. Last year the Denver Broncos, who won Super Bowl 50, were plus-59 for the entire season. The New England Patriots are second in point differential this season at plus-36 and nobody else has a differential of plus-30 or more.
The Eagles are blasting through the rest of the NFL through three weeks, and it’s tough to chalk it up to beating bad teams after watching them dominate the Steelers.
Wentz, who to this point looks like the most advanced rookie we’ve ever seen, is the main reason. The defense has been fantastic too though. It has allowed 274.3 yards per game, fourth in the NFL. Philly is allowing a 66.1 passer rating, third best in the NFL. Only the Broncos and Minnesota Vikings have more sacks than the Eagles, who have 10. Jim Schwartz didn’t work out as a head coach with the Detroit Lions, but he’s a fantastic defensive coordinator. It shows.
We have to reassess how good the Eagles are. I wasn’t high on them to start the season, mostly because of Sam Bradford (and had no idea Wentz was going to play like 1984 Joe Montana), I didn’t love their skill position players (still don’t) and thought their shaky cornerback situation would be exposed (obviously didn’t affect them holding Ben Roethlisberger’s offense to three points). They’ve answered those questions and then some.
At some point Wentz will regress. That’s not exactly breaking news. If Wentz doesn’t regress this season everyone might put him in the Hall of Fame next August, no five-year wait needed. He has to hit a slump, no matter how hard he prepares. I still wonder if the Eagles can play at this level without great skill-position players or cornerbacks. So hold onto some skepticism. But the Eagles are very good and deserve a healthy bump up the rankings. And it’s not just because of Wentz’s hot streak.
Here are the power rankings after Week 3 in the NFL:
31. Chicago Bears (0-3, LW: 31)
Something to remember: Early last season, they looked like the worst team in football. Then they got it together and were respectable for the middle portion of the season. This team shouldn’t be down this far. They’re not good, but the talent on the roster is not this bad either.
30. San Francisco 49ers (1-2, LW: 29)
Chip Kelly said Colin Kaepernick isn’t 100 percent yet. If the 49ers thought he was physically ready, he’d be playing now because Blaine Gabbert has been Blaine Gabbert so far.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3, LW: 28)
Welcome to the NFL’s most disappointing team! At this point you have to wonder if Blake Bortles is the long-term answer. He was bad Sunday when the Jaguars desperately needed a win. His offensive line is bad but if Bortles’ garbage-time stats are removed from his career, what has he done to show he’s the answer?
28. Miami Dolphins (1-2, LW: 30)
They needed three missed Browns field goals — from a kicker who was signed in a panic after Cleveland’s normal kicker suffered an injury in practice last Friday — to beat a Cleveland team that used Cody Kessler and Terrelle Pryor at quarterback. And that was in Miami. Hey, congrats on the win, but that was an awful performance that makes me wonder how bad the Dolphins will be this season. They only “move up” because the teams behind them are even worse.
27. New Orleans Saints (0-3, LW: 27)
Again: The Saints looked at their roster, after having one of the worst defenses ever last season, and spent most of their precious salary cap room in free agency on a tight end. Injuries are a factor, but they wouldn’t be a good defense with all those injured players.
26. Tennessee Titans (1-2, LW: 25)
I’m interested to see where this franchise goes. I am a firm believer in Marcus Mariota’s talent but this isn’t the staff to get the most out of him. How many years will the Titans waste before they realize they should be building their entire offensive philosophy around Mariota’s skills?
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2, LW: 19)
Had the Buccaneers called a timeout when Charles Sims was tackled in bounds with less than a minute left, maybe they would have won. They had two timeouts left. They ended the game with one remaining, and used the other when the clock was stopped before the final play. It’s an inexcusable clock management mistake. And unfathomable when you realize the coaching staff had an hour-long weather delay to collect their thoughts for many scenarios in the final two minutes.
24. San Diego Chargers (1-2, LW: 26)
It’s amazing how the injury bug is slamming the Chargers again. It’s unfortunate because this team isn’t too bad. The Chargers are so close to being 3-0 with road wins against the Chiefs and Colts. They deserve better than 1-2 with a handful of key players injured.
23. Buffalo Bills (1-2, LW: 24)
Doing something drastic, like firing the offensive coordinator, can give a team a one- or two-week bounce. It doesn’t always mean every problem is fixed. It’s unclear if the Bills had just a one-week shot of adrenaline or if they’re ready to play better the rest of the way.
22. Los Angeles Rams (2-1, LW: 23)
It’s OK not to believe in this team. The memories of watching them at the 49ers in Week 1, looking incompetent against a really bad team, are going to stick for awhile.
21. Washington Redskins (1-2, LW: 22)
Among receivers with 450 career catches, DeSean Jackson’s 17.7 yards per catch ranks sixth all-time. Three of the five (James Lofton, Lance Alworth, Don Maynard) are in the Hall of Fame. Lofton played the most recently among the top five, and his last season was 1993. The game has changed and the short passing game is king. And within this new era of football, Jackson still has a remarkable and unique ability to beat a defense deep.
20. Indianapolis Colts (1-2, LW: 21)
They needed that win, badly. And kudos to T.Y. Hilton for coming up with an enormous play when his team (and those who picked the Colts on the point spread) needed it. When you need a long touchdown in the final minutes to win against a beat-up Chargers team at home there are still issues to clean up, but it was a positive step.
19. Detroit Lions (1-2, LW: 18)
It’s surprising that Marvin Jones has been this good so far, and also that he is by far and away the Lions’ No. 1 receiver. Golden Tate has 94 yards in three games. At some point Tate, who has 189 catches the past two years, will reemerge in the offense.
18. New York Jets (1-2, LW: 13)
Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t seem like the type who will let a six-interception game put him in the tank. But there’s no question it was bad. So many of those interceptions were awful decisions.
17. Oakland Raiders (2-1, LW: 17)
The Raiders moved linebacker Cory James and safety Karl Joseph, a first-round pick, into the starting lineup and they looked like a brand new defense. Why they weren’t in the lineup in the first two weeks (especially in Joseph’s case) is weird, but better late than never.
16. Atlanta Falcons (2-1, LW: 20)
The duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, along with the great Julio Jones, gives the Falcons a lot of ways to move the ball. I’m still not sure about the defense, but it’s a good start for Atlanta.
15. Dallas Cowboys (2-1, LW: 16)
The Cowboys got the ball back with 2:10 left, up 14 points on the Chicago Bears. The game was over at that point. And yet, Jason Garrett gave rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott his 28th, 29th and 30th carries of the game. Why wear him down, put wholly unnecessary miles on his legs and risk injury too? What’s he trying to prove? Why are coaches unable to see the big picture in situations like that?
14. New York Giants (2-1, LW: 12)
Losing Shane Vereen to a triceps injury isn’t ideal. Rashad Jennings is already dinged up. Orleans Darkwa isn’t bad but he’s also not going to replace Vereen, a fine receiver out of the backfield. The Giants will have to rely on Eli Manning too much if their running backs fall apart.
13. Houston Texans (2-1, LW: 7)
What a face-plant. Everyone is allowed to have bad nights, especially on a short week, but the loss at the Patriots showed they’re not ready yet. Back to trying to beat up the junior varsity.
12. Baltimore Ravens (3-0, LW: 14)
This is a hard team to get a read on. They have defeated the Bills, Browns and Jaguars, who are a combined 1-8. They haven’t blown any of those teams out, winning by a combined 13 points. But it’s a sound franchise that’s well coached and has talent. There’s not a lot in the first three weeks that would lead anyone to believe the Ravens are one of the best teams in football, but you have to trust their track record a bit.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (1-2, LW: 6)
Let’s assume the Bengals have a good defense. There are many talented players on that side of the ball. But they allowed Trevor Siemian to become the first quarterback to have 300 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in his first career road start. That’s troubling.
10. Kansas City Chiefs (2-1, LW: 11)
Nobody has posted more than 10 interceptions in a season since 1981, when Everson Walls did it. Marcus Peters has four interceptions in three games. It’ll be hard for him to keep getting his hands on passes for picks, but he has a shot at a historic season.
9. Green Bay Packers (2-1, LW: 10)
Jordy Nelson looked like himself again. He was stretching the field, and had 101 yards and two touchdowns before the Packers went in a shell to protect their 31-3 lead. That’s a great sign going forward.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1, LW: 2)
I heard George Karl, the longtime NBA coach, talk once about “gong games.” Those are games so bad, you bang the gong and focus on the next game, never pausing before moving past what just happened. The Steelers had a gong game on Sunday in Philadelphia. It was so awful, all the Steelers can do is forget it and move on.
7. Arizona Cardinals (1-2, LW: 4)
I’m not really worried about them, though Sunday wasn’t a good look. The talent is clear. As long as Carson Palmer hasn’t hit the wall, they’ll be fine (Palmer hasn’t hit the wall … right?).
6. Carolina Panthers (1-2, LW: 3)
The Panthers’ two losses have come against the Vikings and Broncos. The good news is they won’t face another defense in that class until Dec. 4, when they get the Seahawks. The upcoming schedule will allow them to get on a bit of a roll.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (3-0, LW: 15)
It was good for the Eagles to take it easy on Ryan Mathews when his ankle was sore, and give some young tailbacks some carries. Mathews won’t stay healthy all season (he never does), and they’ll need to rely on their backup running backs at some point.
4. Minnesota Vikings (3-0, LW: 9)
The defense has made the leap. It has potential Pro Bowlers at almost every position, and it’s finally coming together. The offense wasn’t good on Sunday, and it didn’t matter. The Vikes also have a fantastic head coach. This is one of the best teams in the NFL.
3. Seattle Seahawks (2-1, LW: 5)
Russell Wilson has escaped a serious injury twice in three weeks. The Seahawks need to protect a lot better, and a banged-up Wilson has to get rid of the ball to avoid more hits. Seattle might be the NFL’s best team with Wilson, and they’re nowhere close to that if their QB misses time.
2. Denver Broncos (3-0, LW: 8)
I was skeptical if Trevor Siemian could play at a high enough level for the Broncos to beat good teams on the road. It’s hard to argue that anymore. The Bengals are no pushover, and Siemian shredded them.
1. New England Patriots (3-0, LW: 1)
When Bill Belichick’s story is written, this four-game stretch won’t be in the first paragraph. It’s not bigger than winning four Super Bowls or a never-ending streak of double-digit win seasons. But it’s incredible. When he’s finally done and we put him up against all-time greats like Don Shula, Vince Lombardi and Bill Walsh, we’ll remember him taking inexperienced quarterbacks — in place of Tom Brady, who might be the best quarterback ever — and not missing a beat. We might be witnessing Belichick cementing himself as the greatest coach of all time.
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