Another pulsating, incredible NFL Sunday! Upset wins, crushing losses and a whole heap o’ special teams insanity.
So, now that we’ve had a minute to catch our breath, what are the big-picture takeaways?
It’s time to separate fact from fiction, Schein Nine style.
1) The Rams are the team to beat in the NFC
- 2021 NFL season, Week 3: What we learned from Sunday's games
- Matthew Stafford, Rams prove the hype is real in win over defending champion Buccaneers
- Broncos, Raiders atop rudderless AFC through first three weeks of 2021 NFL season
- Justin Fields' frustrating debut vs. Browns leads to more concerning questions about Bears
- Week 3's biggest decisions: 49ers punt away their chances; Raiders follow fourth-down trend
This is absolute fact. And don’t tell me I’m overreacting to the Rams’ home win over the defending champion Buccaneers — I picked Los Angeles to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVI before the season kicked off.
Matthew Stafford brilliantly guided the Rams to a statement win over the Bucs. The final score was 34-24, but the game wasn’t even that close, as Stafford shredded Tampa’s banged-up defensive backfield to the tune of 343 yards passing, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. This is why the Rams made the trade; Stafford was the missing piece. The former No. 1 overall pick has always had the goods, but now he’s getting the chance to truly shine, playing for a fantastic head coach in Sean McVay on a team that oozes talent. Shoot, the man just thoroughly outplayed Tom Brady. And with nine total touchdown passes, Stafford tied Kurt Warner’s franchise record for the most scoring strikes in the first three games of a season. Warner initially set that mark back in 1999 — you know, when he won league MVP and guided the Rams to their only Super Bowl title? Yes, Stafford has that kind of potential on this Rams roster. And his instant rapport with Cooper Kupp is something to behold, as the 28-year-old Eastern Washington product has been the best receiver in the NFL this season.
The Rams have a pair of megastars on the other side of the ball, as well. Aaron Donald continues to wreck every game he plays in, furthering the notion that he could end up as the best defensive player EVER. Jalen Ramsey continues to make plays all over the field, thriving as new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris’ moveable chess piece.
With the major upgrade at quarterback, this star-studded L.A. team is going to play in the L.A. Super Bowl.
2) The Pack are the Rams’ biggest NFC competition
Oh, yeah: FACT.
How about my guy Aaron Rodgers on Sunday night! Thirty-seven seconds to go and no timeouts? No problem! Rodgers promptly delivered a pair of dimes to Davante Adams, passionately pumped his fist and gave way to longtime cohort Mason Crosby, who proceeded to nail a game-winning, 51-yard field goal. Bam! Shame on the haters and trolls who outlandishly buried Rodgers after the blowout loss at New Orleans in Week 1. Remember those conspiracy theories about Rodgers sabotaging the team from within? Sunday night’s half-minute drill kinda bucked that stupid narrative. Aaron Rodgers is the most talented quarterback in football history, and the guy’s still playing at the top of his game. Inherently, in a QB-driven league, the Packers are the Rams’ top competition for the conference crown.
The Rams just dispatched of the Bucs pretty easily. Now they’re set to face Arizona and Seattle over the next two weeks, but I can confidently say Los Angeles is just more well-rounded than its NFC West rivals — San Francisco included. The date I have circled on L.A.’s calendar: Nov. 28 at Green Bay. I think this will be the first of two meetings between the Rams and Pack, with the second occurring in the NFC title game.
3) The Seahawks will bounce back
Major fiction. I picked Seattle to finish last in the loaded NFC West. Granted, nine wins could equal the basement in this loaded division, but the Seahawks just don’t compare to the other teams in the quartet — especially on defense, where Pete Carroll’s crew ranks dead last in yards allowed. And while Russell Wilson is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Matthew Stafford and Kyler Murray have started the season better — and that will only continue going forward.
Seattle has served as Tennessee’s and Minnesota’s get-right opponent over the past two weeks. Now the ‘Hawks must travel to San Francisco to face an angry 49ers team before returning home to host a raging Rams bunch. This will get worse before it gets better.
4) The Broncos are the best team in the AFC West
I’m so impressed by the Broncos’ 3-0 start. This team is legit in every phase, and Teddy Bridgewater is playing dynamite football. But this is fiction. In fact, I still have Denver as the fourth-best team in the division. This isn’t an indictment on Vic Fangio and Co., but rather a credit to the AFC West. I entered this season thinking all four of the division’s team would win at least nine games, and that forecast looks pretty good right now. But I just can’t see the Broncos as the cream of the crop, not when I stack them up against each of the other three squads.
I’d rank Las Vegas, which is also 3-0, ahead of Denver. Jon Gruden’s crew just survived a hard, late charge from the Dolphins to win in overtime. That’s a game the Raiders lose last season — and in numerous seasons before that. Not this year. Not when Derek Carr is playing like an MVP candidate. That’s right, haters: Right now, I’d have him as the early MVP favorite. The Chargers, fresh off a thrilling win at Kansas City, also top the Broncos in my mind. Justin Herbert is a bona fide star, and I love how aggressive first-year Bolts boss Brandon Staley was against Patrick Mahomes and Co. Against K.C., you have to be aggressive and intelligent. Staley was both. He changed the perception of the Chargers in a big spot. And lastly, while the Chiefs are 1-2 with legit issues on defense, it’s still Mahomes and Andy Reid. I think they win the division and enter the playoffs as a true Lombardi threat, same as always.
5) Justin Tucker is the best kicker ever
Oh, this is a BIG fact. No offense to Adam Vinatieri, a first-ballot Hall of Famer in his own right, but Tucker is a freaking machine.
In the most exciting moment of Week 3, Tucker hit the longest field goal in NFL history — with a bounce off the crossbar for style — to slay the Lions at the horn. And this wasn’t the first time Tucker left Ford Field in stunned silence. Eight years ago, he hit a 61-yarder to nip Detroit on Monday Night Football. This is just what Justin does. What a stud. And he remains the most accurate kicker in NFL history, so what are we even talking about here?
6) Ben Roethlisberger is cooked
This is like Willie Mays stumbling around the Shea Stadium outfield. It’s sad. And yes, it’s a fact.
Honestly, it was over last season, when Big Ben looked fried down the stretch and the Steelers went from 11-0 to 12-4 wild-card losers. Roethlisberger looks like a 39-year-old quarterback hanging by a thread because he is a 39 year old quarterback hanging by a thread. Back in May, I predicted Cincinnati would win more games than Pittsburgh. On Sunday, the Bengals pummeled the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
To be fair to Ben, the Steelers’ problems go far beyond the quarterback position. The offensive line is dreadful. The secondary’s a sieve. Pittsburgh is going to finish under .500 for the first time in Mike Tomlin’s career. It’s the residue of poor design.
But there’s no denying that the face of Steelers football for most of this millennium is washed.
7) The Bills are the most complete team in the AFC
This is an unquestionable fact — and it coincides with my preseason pick of the Bills (now 2-1) as Super Bowl champions.
The Josh Allen skeptics were beginning to re-emerge after the quarterback’s relatively pedestrian play during the first two weeks of the season. But then rocket-armed passer went out Sunday and shredded Washington’s overrated defense, completing 74.4 percent of his passes for 358 yards and four touchdowns (against zero interceptions), adding a rushing touchdown to punctuate the Bills’ 43-21 beatdown. Never get it twisted: Josh Allen is a superstar. And on this Buffalo roster, he’s not a one-man band.
Bills GM Brandon Beane has assembled an ultra-talented and deep roster. After a surprising downturn on defense last season, Buffalo once again ranks top five in points allowed, yards allowed and takeaways. Linebacker Matt Milano’s playing at an All-Pro level, while defensive end A.J. Epenesa has taken a substantial leap forward in Year 2.
The Bills have an explosive offense, swarming defense and top-notch coaching staff fronted by Sean McDermott. Good luck, AFC.
8) The Titans unofficially won the AFC South
Print the T-shirts! Hyperbole? Heck no. This is fact! The Titans are 2-1 and only getting better. Indy is winless and snakebit. The Jags are clearly rebuilding. And the Texans are the Texans.
Tennessee pounded the Colts behind the best running back in the NFL, Mr. Derrick Henry, who has now rushed for 543 yards against the Colts in the teams’ last four meetings. Ryan Tannehill spread the ball around brilliantly on Sunday. This team is no joke, unlike the competition in the division.
9) Everyone needs to cut the Jets a break
No! Fiction! The Jets deserve to catch grief, especially when you see what Sam Darnold is doing with the 3-0 Panthers. I thought the Jets should’ve kept Darnold, traded down, stacked picks and improved the roster’s overall talent. When New York sent Darnold to Carolina, I knew he’d be in for a breakthrough campaign in Year 4. Because the Panthers aren’t the Jets.
Gang Green’s cupboard is bare. These 0-3 Jets are an unmitigated disaster, getting outscored 70-20, including 46-3 in the first half. Sure, Zach Wilson absolutely deserves a few seasons. That goes without saying. But when you watch him, there is no feel. How could there be with the cast surrounding him? The Jets can’t block. Can’t catch. Can’t cover. Can’t tackle. Can’t coach. Can’t function. This has been the worst team in the NFL over the first three weeks of this season — 32 out of 32. Let the Bronx cheers fly!
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