Patriots, Saints, Packers in last place
There is something wrong with this picture: Patriots, Saints, Packers
and Peyton Manning all at the bottom of their divisions. And things
won't get better for either New Orleans or Green Bay, who meet Sunday
at Lambeau Field.
But the weirdest line in the standings has to belong to New England.
Not since 2003 have the Patriots been below .500. That year, they lost
their opener at Buffalo 31-0, then fell only once more all season and
won the Super Bowl.
A couple of close defeats in which New England made some critical
mistakes in the final minutes dropped the Patriots behind the Bills and
Jets in the AFC East. That's hardly what fans have come to expect from
''We don't talk about records,'' said coach Bill Belichick, who was
fined $50,000 for making contact with a replacement official after the
31-30 loss to Baltimore. ''There are so many things that can happen at
the end of the game, so many different situations. Those strategic
situations have to be played a certain way, whatever your strategy
happens to be. But there's an element of strategy there that's unique
to this game and that's what makes it great. Do we have to adjust?
The Bills looked awful in their opener at the Jets, then won their last
two. They lost the league's leading rusher, C.J. Spiller, to a left
shoulder injury against Cleveland, but hope to have incumbent starter
Fred Jackson back from a sprained right knee.
They don't want to hear anything about being tied atop the AFC East.
''In our eyes the Patriots are still the top dog in this division,''
said Mario Williams, the $100 million free agent defensive end Buffalo
signed in the offseason. ''There is no pressure because we are already
in everybody else's eyes not the leader of this division. It is the
Patriots. If anybody should feel pressure it is them.''
Them and, even more so, the regular officials who return after the
lockout ended with them reaching a new contract with the NFL. Their
performances will be firmly in the spotlight this weekend.
''Everything is fine until there is a call that decides a game and then
people - players, fans, reporters - are going to be complaining
again,'' Lions receiver Nate Burleson said. ''If you thought there was
a microscope on the replacement refs, just wait until people start
expecting the regular refs to be perfect.''
Also Sunday, Manning and Denver host Oakland; Miami is at Arizona;
Tennessee at Houston, Carolina at Atlanta; the New York Giants at
Philadelphia; San Francisco at the New York Jets; Seattle at St. Louis;
Minnesota at Detroit; San Diego at Kansas City; Cincinnati at
Jacksonville; and Washington at Tampa Bay.
Chicago is at Dallas on Monday night. Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, both
1-2, are off in the first of the bye weeks.
The week's action began Thursday night, with Baltimore holding off
visiting Cleveland 23-16. The Ravens improved to 3-1, and the Browns
dropped to 0-4.
New Orleans (0-3) at Green Bay (1-2)
Through three weeks, 731 points have been scored, an all-time high. Yet
these two normally potent offenses have struggled.
Yes, Drew Brees can tie John Unitas' record of 47 straight games with a
TD pass if he gets one against the Packers, and he might need a few to
get the Saints their first victory if Green Bay's dormant passing
attack awakens. Clearly, the suspensions of coach Sean Payton and his
interim replacement, Joe Vitt, for the bounty scandal have hurt the
''For us, despite what's happened this offseason and the circumstances
that we've been put under, all we can worry about is the guys that we
do have in the locker room, as coaches and players, the scheme that
we're running, trusting in, trusting in our preparation, and then going
out there and finding a way to go win games,'' Brees said.
Green Bay found the most painful and mystifying way to lose last Monday
night at Seattle, on what was the final decision by the replacement
officials. Coach Mike McCarthy doesn't want his players looking back at
the TD awarded to Seahawks receiver Golden Tate even though Packers
safety M.D. Jennings seemed to have the ball.
''Our experience the last couple of days has been different, unique,''
McCarthy said. ''You can't deny that or throw it off to the side. I
think it would be foolish. As far as my comments and my direction with
the team, it's the same as it always is. They know exactly how I feel
about everything that has happened and everything about the path
forward that we're taking.''
Oakland (1-2) at Denver (1-2)
Manning gets his first taste of this bitter rivalry, and he's only 3-2
against Oakland in his career. This is a key game for the Broncos after
two straight losses and with trips to New England and San Diego ahead.
The Raiders have won the last four meetings in Denver, outscoring the
Broncos 133-63. They gave coach Dennis Allen, the Broncos' defensive
coordinator in 2011, his first NFL victory by rallying past Pittsburgh
Miami (1-2) at Arizona (3-0)
The Cardinals can become the ninth team with 500 franchise victories.
They are off to their best start since sweeping the first seven games
in 1974 while in St. Louis. Before that, they lived in Chicago.
Miami has a difficult task against Arizona's stingy defense, especially
if RB Reggie Bush's bruised left knee sidelines him.
Tennessee (1-2) at Houston (3-0)
A win here clinches the AFC South for Houston - just kidding.
That division will be no contest if the Texans keep winning. They have
outscored opponents 45-6 in second quarters and the defense has not
allowed a touchdown in the first half. Houston also leads the NFL in
average possession time (36 minutes, 34 seconds); Tennessee ranks last
(23 minutes, 18 seconds).
Carolina (1-2) at Atlanta (3-0)
No team has been more impressive in the NFC than the Falcons, but they
have done it with three wins over AFC West opponents. They've won four
straight and six of seven against the Panthers, who reside in the NFC
South where Atlanta is a runaway leader.
Carolina's defense ranks 23rd in scoring, not a good sign against Matt Ryan, who leads the NFL in passer rating, completion percentage, first
downs and touchdowns in the best start of his career.
N.Y. Giants (2-1) at Philadelphia (2-1)
Philadelphia has been the league's sloppiest team with 12 turnovers,
and QB Michael Vick has been more charitable than anyone. The Eagles
know how dynamic New York's defense can be - the Giants have forced at
least one turnover in 34 of the last 36 games - so protecting the ball
is a must in the prime-time matchup.
New York's depth has been tested by injuries, and the Giants got
passing marks in a win over Carolina. Backup RB Andre Brown rushed for
113 yards and scored two TDs in first NFL start, and WR Ramses Barden
caught nine passes for 138 yards in his first start.
San Francisco (2-1) at N.Y. Jets (2-1)
An annoyed bunch of 49ers head to the Meadowlands after spending most
of the week in Youngstown, Ohio, following a loss at Minnesota. The
strategy worked a year ago when they swept consecutive road games, and
now they face a Jets team missing its best player, All-Pro cornerback
Darrelle Revis. He wrecked his left knee against Miami.
The Jets' offense has stagnated the last two weeks, not the approach
anyone wants to take against San Francisco's fierce defense.
Seattle (2-1) at St. Louis (1-2)
Few coaches are raging optimists the way Seattle's Pete Carroll is, but
even he couldn't have envisioned the scenario that played out Monday
night against Green Bay.
''Our fans had the moment of their life and I know it's crushing on the
other end of it,'' Carroll said. ''The point now is to understand that
we have to find the discipline it takes to be turned into the next
If they can find the same pass rush that sacked Aaron Rodgers eight
times, the Seahawks could be in great shape because St. Louis has a
jumbled offensive line.
Chicago (2-1) at Dallas (2-1), Monday night.
Key to this game also will be the performance of the offensive lines.
Can they protect their quarterbacks - Chicago's Jay Cutler gets rattled
under heavy pressure, and Dallas' Tony Romo is prone to mistakes in
The Bears lead the NFL with 14 sacks, getting six last week against St.
Louis. They also have nine takeaways. Dallas is minus-3 in turnover
Minnesota (2-1) at Detroit (1-2)
Smiles in Minneapolis, frowns in Motor City.
While the Vikings are off to a stunningly strong start - they barely
missed sweeping their first three games - the Lions have been
disappointing. Detroit gave up long scoring plays all day in Tennessee,
then couldn't convert a fourth-and-1 in overtime on a play when the
ball was not supposed to be snapped.
Minnesota has lost 11 straight in the NFC North, three of those to the
San Diego (2-1) at Kansas City (1-2)
Kansas City's Jamaal Charles comes off what most running backs would
consider a career game, but it was only his second-best rushing
performance in the pros. He ran for 233 yards, including a 91-yard TD,
in a win at New Orleans, still short of his 259 yards he gained in the
last game of the 2009 season. Another 230-yard game would tie him with
Jim Brown as the only players to manage the feat.
San Diego completely flopped at home against Atlanta last week after a
2-0 start. The Chargers' last visit to Arrowhead ended ugly as Philip Rivers fumbled a snap while trying to take a knee with 1:03 left in
regulation. The Chiefs won in overtime.
Cincinnati (2-1) at Jacksonville (1-2)
Jacksonville stole one in Indianapolis on an 80-yard catch-and-run
score by Cecil Shorts III with 45 seconds to go. The Jags expect to get
three starting linemen back from injuries.
A.J. Green, coming off a career-high 183 yards receiving last week at
Washington, had five catches for 90 yards and a 37-yard TD reception in
a win against the Jaguars last year.
Washington (1-2) at Tampa Bay (1-2)
Both teams won their openers and dropped close games after that.
Redskins QB Robert Griffin III leads NFL rookies with a 103.5 passer
rating and leads all quarterbacks in yards rushing (209, 6.5-yard
average) and his three touchdowns rushing are tied for most among all
Tampa has the No. 1 rushing defense, yielding 47.3 yards per game, but
that is totally misleading: The Bucs have allowed a league-high 353.3
yards per game passing.
The 2-1 Buffalo Bills have a chance to put a lot of distance between them and the 1-2 New England…