By Mike Ivcic, UltimateCapper Contributing Writer
At this point, I don’t know which way is up after three weeks. Last year’s NFC playoff teams are a combined 6-12 – and that doesn’t even count the 0-3 Giants who missed the playoffs by one game in 2012. Meanwhile the AFC playoff teams are 14-4, with two big inter-conference wins scored this past weekend with the Miami rallying past Atlanta and Indianapolis steamrolling the 49’ers in the fourth quarter en route to a lopsided-looking victory. Typically by week two I have a clear indication of what teams are and aren’t good, but as we head into week four I’m even more clueless than ever as to what to expect in a given week. Maybe this is what Roger Goodell and the NFL higher-ups want, but it’s making my job extremely difficult.
Who Knows What?
Case in point – who’s good and who’s not? I will allow Dan Parzych, my fellow University of Dayton alumni and current writer for Rant Sports, the honors of explaining what we do and do not know after three weeks of the NFL season:
“The Dolphins are 3-0. The Jets are 2-1. The Packers, 49ers, and Falcons are 1-2. Brian Hoyer led the Browns to their first win on the road when all hope seemed lost without Trent Richardson. The Giants are 0-3 and were shutout…by the Panthers. The Vikings and the Redskins are 0-3. The only predictable thing about football is the Jaguars may never cross the 20-point mark.”
Oh, and the Broncos are really, really good.
Super Bowl Loser Let-Down
Once upon a time this used to be a trend – a team would lose the Super Bowl and suffer the old “Super Bowl hangover” and fail to make the playoffs the next season. While that theory has been routinely been proven false over the last couple of years, perhaps there is something to that idea with regards to San Francisco in 2013. They rallied past Green Bay in week one in what seemed like an impressive victory, but some of the luster of that win was lost when the Packers choked away their game against Cincinnati on Sunday. The Niners then got waxed in primetime in Seattle – not a good-looking game, but no one wins in the Pacific Northwest – before looking downright awful on Sunday at home against the Colts. The schedule doesn’t get much easier with a short week ahead of Thursday’s game in St. Louis before a return home to play the Texans, and there’s still matchup with New Orleans, Atlanta, and a return visit from the Seahawks, so it’s definitely possible to see this as a 10-win, 9-win, or even 8-win team at the end of the year – an unfathomable thought just three weeks ago.
Brown Out? Not Quite
So much for tanking for the number one overall pick. The Browns traded Trent Richardson, handed the keys of the offense to Brian Hoyer – and promptly went out and beat the Vikings. Granted, Minnesota’s defense is nothing to write home about, but the Browns managed just 6 points against the Ravens in week two, so their 31-point outburst against the Vikes was a major sign of improvement. Ultimately the Browns are still the worst team in the AFC North, and are assuredly still an easy choice to get one of the top five picks in the 2014 draft, but for now the fans in Cleveland – who hopefully are paying a lot more attention to their baseball team instead of their football team – have some bright spots in the wake of what looked to almost everyone, me included, as the waving of the white flag on the 2013 season.
Welcome to life in the suddenly mediocre NFC East. I wrote about Washington and New York last week, and both teams are now in even worse shape than they were a week ago. The Redskins lost for the first time ever to the Lions in D.C., while the Giants went to a winless Carolina team and were promptly handed the worst loss of the NFL season thus far, a 38-0 drubbing that left Tom Coughlin searching for answers. The fact that the Eagles and Cowboys appear to be the front-runner for the division says a lot – especially since they both have already lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, the same Chiefs that were a whopping 2-14 last season. So who will win the division, and what will the record be? In the preseason I said “Giants” and “11-5,” but after watching the first three weeks of the NFL season I’m starting to think “Cowboys” and “9-7” are much better bets. The best bet, though? Pick against this entire division. The four teams are a combined 1-7 in games outside of the division, and this week all four teams go on the road to an AFC West opponent – Philadelphia at Denver, Dallas at San Diego, Washington at Oakland, and New York at Kansas City. Obviously final lines are still a couple days away, but just trust me when I say that if you take all four AFC teams straight up, you will almost certainly get at least three of those picks correct.
San Francisco 49’ers @ St. Louis Rams
Thu, 8:30pm, NFLN
Line: 49’ers by 3
So will the Super Bowl let-down trend continue this week? The fact that the Niners are favored a as a Thursday night road team shows that Vegas obviously thinks they can. They will definitely need Colin Kaepernick to throw the ball as he did in week one against Green Bay, and they could definitely use more from Frank Gore and the running game as a whole. Plus, this is a Rams team that beat and tied the 49’ers last season, so they certainly won’t have any level of fear or intimidation. Still, I think I agree with the odds makers here – San Francisco gets to .500 with a win.
Pick: San Francisco 24, St. Louis 17
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