Column: N(ine) F(acts) L(earned)
Raise your hand if, three weeks into the NFL season, you predicted that the Chiefs and Dolphins would still be undefeated. Now, keep that paw held high if you foresaw the Giants having the second-worst point differential in the league, behind only Jacksonville. Really, someone seriously still has their arm up? Either they're a Kansas City native who spends the weekends clubbing in Miami in order to forget a past fling from the Big Apple, or they're lying. But hold on a moment Jacoby Jones, is there not one more possible alternative that could explain this conundrum? Ah, yes, maybe a certain female who goes by "Sweet Pea" is behind this, hopefully not with a glass bottle in her possession, though. Too soon, you say? I don't think so.
Whether or not you have been exposed to the bizarre story featuring an altercation between Jones and the entertainer "Sweet Pea"-one that could best be described as "from Dancing with the Stars to seeing stars"-understand that there is still much to be rehashed concerning Week 3. How about Ahmad Bradshaw, stealing the show for the Colts after Indianapolis dealt a first-round pick to land Trent Richardson, a move that would surely bury Bradshaw on the depth chart? Speaking of that seismic deal, did you catch the leftover gang of misfits in Cleveland beat the Vikings on the shoulders of Brian Hoyer? Plus, there is a mildly exciting team to watch in New York (er, technically Jersey), and it's not the Giants.
1. Andy Reid and Alex Smith are having a blast on "The Redemption Tour."
Although "The Redemption Tour" may sound like the perfect name to get Beliebers (I can't believe I just wrote that word in a column) or Drizzy Drake devotees all fired up, it's actually the labeling I have derived for the Chiefs' head coach-quarterback duo. The Eagles lent a helping hand to Michael Vick back when he was abusing animals, only to later throw Reid to the wolves after 14 seasons, six division titles, and five appearances in the NFC Championship. How do you repay a franchise that turned their back on you? For now, beating them 26-16 on their home turf will suffice. The Chiefs defense had five takeaways, Jamaal Charles did whatever he wanted, and Kansas City improved to 3-0 for the year. By the way, it isn't just the Eagles that Reid is getting revenge on, it's the entire NFC East. KC will be going for their third win over an NFC East opponent in as many weeks, as they host the Giants in Week 4. Meanwhile, Alex Smith, who already has an enormous chip on his shoulder after getting fleeced by the 49ers, threw 3 interceptions last season against those same Giants in a blowout loss. It's a toss-up between Reid and Smith as to which cares for New York less, but this much we know: the Chiefs aren't a fluke, and The Redemption Tour is just getting started.
2. Professor Jim Harbaugh is getting schooled by his pupils.
When 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was at Stanford, he had some mighty fine players that, with his teaching, blossomed into current NFL stars. Nowadays, it's Harbaugh who's being educated. In Week 2, San Francisco was smacked by Seattle, a squad comprised of former Stanford Cardinal Richard Sherman, the best cornerback in America, as well as receiver Doug Baldwin. On Sunday, it was quarterback Andrew Luck that brought his college coach back to the good old days in Palo Alto. Luck didn't throw a ton in the Colts' 27-7 victory, but he didn't need to-Indy inflicted enough pain on San Fran's D via the running attack. Luck, Bradshaw and Richardson collected a rushing touchdown each, and the way Bradshaw was moving you'd have thought he was a Stanford grad too. As for the 49ers, the problems lie far deeper than Sherman, Baldwin, and Luck. Colin Kaepernick has had two straight brutal outings, the wide receiving core is very bland without Vernon Davis, and their best defensive presence, Aldon Smith, has entered rehab and may be inactive until November.
3. The bye week couldn't come at a better time for Packers RB's.
Known as a definitive pass-first offense, it should open some eyes that Green Bay is tied for second in the NFL with a 5.3 yards per carry average. If you've actually watched the Packers at all these first three Sundays, you'd know that anyone who comes out of that backfield has been licking their chops. Still, many questions remain about that running back trio, enough questions, perhaps, that the extra week of rest has been perfectly timed. Eddie Lacy, the rookie and former Alabama bruiser, has been sidelined with a concussion after totaling 72 total yards and a TD in his professional debut. James Starks was next up, and he was handling the rock beautifully (132 rushing yards and a score versus Washington) before bowing out of the recent Bengals game with a knee injury. Enter Johnathan Franklin, another rookie who shined bright upon seeing action for the first time until he received his "Welcome to the NFL moment" in a way that no youngin' ever should. With four minutes remaining and Green Bay up three in Cincinnati territory, they elected to go for it on 4th and 1 in an attempt to further run clock and seal the win. Franklin, who impressed with elite quickness and good cut skills, would be the last person I'd ever want in a grind-it-out, potential game-changing, short-yardage situation. He didn't just get stuffed, he fumbled, and the Bengals picked it up and ran it back for the decisive touchdown. Franklin will continue to get his reps down the road, but it's time that Lacy returns and wears out defenses a la Marshawn Lynch. The upcoming bye week could be crucial for Lacy and Starks to return to decent health.
4. The New York Giants are a dysfunctional group.
Besides Victor Cruz strengthening the argument that he's a top-3 playmaker in football, have the Giants shown any signs of digging out of their 0-3 hole? Let's break it down. Eli Manning leads the NFL with 8 interceptions. New York is 32nd out of 32 teams with 133 rushing yards, at a clip of 2.7 yards per run. David Wilson, a supposed transfixing blur in the open field (OK, he does show flashes of it), has yet to break out for a run of over 20 yards. And, if he did, knowing the woes of the offensive line, the gain would probably be nullified by a holding penalty. Speaking of that O-line, do they even care about protecting the two-time Super Bowl MVP under center? Manning was sacked seven times on Sunday (that's probably even more than Sweet Pea). Hakeem Nicks, finally healthy and averaging over 20 yards a reception, was shut out against the Panthers, and so were the Giants, who lost 38-0. Defensively, Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck are spending too much time doing commercials, and too little time in the face of Tony Romo, Peyton Manning, and Cam Newton. The secondary has been on fire in spurts and has gotten others burned, but how much can you really expect from them when they're on the field so often? To me, what's most alarming are Eli's blockers, and Eli himself. New York has prided itself on winning the battle of the trenches for so many years, and so far it's just not happening. When Manning is not sacked, he's usually knocked down. "We have to find ways to slow down the pass rush," he said. "Whether that is running the ball with screens or getting the ball out quicker." Um, you think? The front five isn't going to magically improve anytime soon. Use Wilson, Cruz, Nicks, and even Rueben Randle-your best playmakers-and get the ball out quicker than Bears coach Marc Trestman preaches. Make an adjustment. Brady, Rodgers and Peyton all do it.
5. The Browns deserve a standing ovation. And you can stay standing for Jordan Cameron.
Cleveland has all but given up on second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden, who incredibly is the same age as Aaron Rodgers. The bigger head-scratcher is why they would even draft an almost thirty-year-old QB in the first round, but we'll save that for another article. I don't totally disagree with the trading of Trent Richardson-maybe they'll learn that it's childish to waste a first-round pick on a back, especially when that back is from Alabama-but the fact that they got no immediate player in return signals that the focus is on the future, not 2013. For a squad that makes the Bad News Bears look like blue-chip prospects, the Browns shocked many on Sunday and beat the Vikings 31-27. My pregame notes included the following: no idea how Cleveland will score, but at least Brian Hoyer will have Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron (assuming they don't get traded before 1 p.m.). It turns out that Gordon and Cameron were all Hoyer needed, as the two combined for 212 yards and 4 TDs. A closer look at the box score makes me smirk even more at the Vikings. Hoyer was undrafted, and although he was intercepted thrice, he completed huge throws down the stretch. Cleveland's leading rusher on the afternoon was Josh Aubrey, another undrafted dude, a rookie and, drumroll please, a defensive back. While nobody in their right mind would ever question Gordon's talent, failed drug tests and attitude issues put him in the supplemental draft. Which leads to this question: Has an NFL team ever previously recorded a win in which their leader in passing yards (Hoyer), rushing yards (Aubrey), and receiving yards (Gordon, with 146) were all not selected in the NFL Draft, as in the one at Radio City Music Hall? Trivia buffs, get crunching.
6. Ron Rivera's seat gets a shade cooler, at least for one week.
Rivera, for those who don't know, is the Panthers head coach. It is Year three on the job, and the strong knock on him has been a failure to win close games. On Sunday he didn't have to sweat much as Carolina rocked the Giants. With the Panthers off Week 4, it might even be practical to catch a whiff of Rivera's deodorant. Carolina could easily be 3-0 rather than 1-2 at the moment, as losses to Seattle and Buffalo were nail-biters. Rivera couldn't have asked for a better, more-dominating all-around performance out of his guys the game before a bye because, if they had lost, the media would've had another whole week to speculate whether a coaching change was coming. The proverbial hot seat became a little more comfortable to sit in, thanks to Newton's four total touchdowns and the defense's seven sacks, and now the Panthers have an opportunity to go on a roll. Post-bye, they have the Cardinals, Vikings, Rams, and Bucs, four winnable matchups, and a 4-game series that could determine if Rivera stays on as coach throughout January. Chances are, especially on the road, the fourth quarter will be the determining factor in some of those instances. Shall Rivera reverse the curse, it wouldn't be crazy for Newton to envision his first playoff appearance.
7. There resides in New York a fun team to watch, and it's not the Giants.
I can just imagine you thinking hard, trying to figure out who I'm referring to when I say "a surprisingly entertaining New York football team." Utilizing process of elimination, one can rule out the Giants. With C.J. Spiller slumping, the Bills aren't fun unless wide out Stevie Johnson is taunting every opponent in sight. Is there anyone else in NY? Syracuse? Hmm, maybe you mean futbol? Calm down, peeps, and don't kill your brain. Even though they technically play in Jersey, the mystery squad is the New York Jets. For starters, the defense is solid-mainly that front seven-and the offense has been coming along nicely. I don't believe the Jets are playoff-bound, per say, but they're developing into what I like to call a schedule groan: no one is going to want to play them soon, even the superior teams. Geno Smith will still suffer growing pains, as all rookie QB's not nicknamed RG3 do, but his upside is apparent-and scary. Smith had 331 yards on just 29 attempts in Week 3, showing supreme confidence in whipping the deep ball to Santonio Holmes (5 for 154 and TD) and Stephen Hill (3 for 108 and TD). Bilal Powell rushed for 149 yards, and each run was more impressive (and hard-nosed) than the one before. If it wasn't for the Jets racking up 168 penalty yards, they would've opened up the floodgates. I have a lot of friends who support the Jets, and for years I've been able to belittle them with Sanchez jokes. Sanchez's hairdo still makes for solid jabs, but his days are over. This is becoming Geno's team, accompanied by a revitalized Holmes and a defensive front screaming with potential. And that's fun.
8. The Broncos and the Seahawks are the two best teams in football.
Both covered gigantic spreads in Week 3 wins, as neither Denver nor Seattle took the foot off the gas against an inferior opponent. Denver has the NFL's best offense, and the best defense in the league is located in Seattle. I could write a book on a possible Super Bowl matchup between the two. But hey, it's Week 3. Justin Blackmon hasn't even played yet (then again, same with Von Miller).
9. Week 4's best will be captured in primetime.
Looking ahead to Week 4, the top matchups of the weekend take place Sunday and Monday night. Sunday Night Football pits the Patriots against the Falcons, the same Falcons that could fall to 1-3 if, say, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola return to the field. On Monday night, the upstart Dolphins travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints. I don't care if the Dolphins lose by 40-they're for real. They won't lose by 40, though. And man, I can't wait to check out that Saints defense. Will Rob Ryan finally be on a winning team?
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