Words by Jonnie Carlyle
Rankings by Paul Charchian
1. Denver vs. Minnesota
Brace yourselves Vikings, the Bronco defense is coming. And unlike that winter we’ve been waiting years for in “Game of Thrones”, Minnesota is about to find out just how stinging things can get in Denver. No player has more quarterback hits than DeMarcus Ware, who is also the only player through three weeks with double digit hits. The Broncos themselves have the second most sacks in the NFL and that pressure has led to numerous mistakes from opposing quarterbacks. Denver has two interceptions in every game, allowed just one passing touchdown and given up the second fewest passing yards despite facing 22 more attempts than the Chargers. Say what you will about Adrian Peterson, but the rest of the Viking offense has been appalling. Teddy Bridgewater has one passing touchdown in three games and no team has less passing yards. In fact, no Minnesota quarterback/quarterback combo has opened with less passing yards through three games since 2007((Travaris Jackson/Kelly Holcomb). And though I am not one to bet against Peterson, the Broncos have allowed just four 100-yard rushers since the beginning of the 2013 season.
2. Arizona vs. St. Louis
If you’re looking for optimism, you aren’t going to find it here. The Rams can’t run the ball, can’t throw the ball and sure as hell can’t score the ball. No team has fewer rushing yards, only three teams have fewer passing yards and only the 49ers, the Bears, the Bucs and the Jags have scored fewer points. Surely that’d be enough for most, but if you need more inching (you don’t) consider the Arizona defense. The Cardinals have surrendered the fourth fewest rushing yards, snagged a league-high seven interceptions and only two teams have given up fewer points. Remember that time Nick Foles looked like Aaron Rodgers with his 25-2 interception to touchdown ratio? Since then, 11 interceptions in 11 games. Match made in heaven? Amen.
3. Philadelphia at Washington
You can always count on certain things in this life. The sun will always rise in the east and set in the west. Skip Bayless will always have an opinion on something and Stephen A. Smith will also have an opinion on that thing, coincidentally the exact opposite opinion. Toilet humor will always be at least slightly funny, but usually more than that. Oh and Kirk Cousins will always throw lots and lots of interceptions. Dude’s appeared in 17 games for Washington, he’s thrown at least 1 interception in 12 of them and at least 2 interceptions in 8. 1 interception per 22 throws. Like clockwork, son. Furthermore, only Denver and Arizona have more interceptions in 2015 than the Eagles and only the Jets and Denver have more takeaways overall. It’s likely Washington tries to keep the ball out of Cousins’ hands, but Philly has surrendered the 10th fewest rushing yards despite facing the 11th most attempts, meaning we should get a few more glances at Cousins’ play action fakes to an empty backfield like we did in Week 3. It’s clear Kirk’s got the sleight of hand down to a science, unfortunately it’s at the cost of all the other parts of being an NFL quarterback. Sun goes up, sun goes down.
4. Buffalo vs. New York Giants
Is the opposing quarterback a certain butt-chin donning number 12 and throwing darts to a gorilla and an army of tarsiers (largest and smallest primates in the world, respectively)? No? Good, then Buffalo’s defense should resume their role as one of the league’s best. The Bills have forced at least two turnovers and registered at least two sacks in every game in 2015. If we can ignore the Week 2 debacle for a moment, the Bills have also not given up more than 14 points or 298 yards passing despite facing an average of 49 attempts. You know how many interceptions Eli Manning has thrown when throwing the ball 49 times? 15, in 7 career games. But Eli hasn’t thrown an interception in 2015 you scream. How many times Manning has had a stretch interception-free games longer than three in his 12-year career? Once. Be it gameplan or script, teams have been one-dimensional against the Bills and there’s nothing to suggest New York’s 3.2 yards per carry will change that in Week 4.
5. Green Bay at San Francisco
Two words: Colin Kaepernick. Or is it, three words: San Francisco offense? The former should suffice, as Kaepernick has thrown more interceptions in his last 10 games than touchdowns and averaged an abysmal 177 passing yards during that same stretch. And that’s not even the worst of it. Through three games Kaepernick has the same number of passing touchdowns to his receivers as he does to the defense. Not surprisingly, the 49ers have struggled to mount much of an offense during those same 10 games either, failing to reach the 20-point mark 70% of the time. Only two teams have more sacks than the Packers through the first three weeks and Green Bay has at least one interception in 8 of their last 10 games, including three straight to open the season.
6. New York Jets vs. Miami (London)
I have a theory about these London games. The NFL sends their assumed worst every year in hopes of prepping the English for their inevitable adoption of the Jaguars in the near future. That way when Jacksonville arrives and promptly scores less than the English National soccer team, it’ll look like business as usual.
“Yeah, we totally didn’t ship our worst team over to you, your majesty.”
- Sam Adams and his revolutionary cronies
The Jets have brutalized the opposition; giving up the league’s fewest points, the most takeaways with 11 and historically have been tough on Ryan Tannehill. In five games against New York, the Dolphin quarterback has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns (6/5) and averaged 6.3 yards per attempt, which for comparisons sake would put him at 6th worst in 2015. Sorry England, you deserve better Ryan Fitzpatrick’s beard and Joe Philbin’s coaching (in)ability. Just be thankful we haven’t sent Mark Davis’ hair cut/style/whatever that is over yet.
7. Seattle vs. Detroit
Sure it’s not Jimmy Clausen and the JV Bears coming to town in Week 4, but there is something about Century Link that rattles even the most established of quarterbacks. Since 2012, the Seahawks have played 25 home games and forced at least one interception in 19 of them. During that same stretch, Seattle has never had consecutive home games without an interception, which bodes well for the Week 4 matchup against Matt Stafford. Stafford has thrown an interception in five of his last six games and has been beaten up in three straight weeks. He will have to deal with the likes of Cliff Avril, Bruce Irvin and Michael Bennett, who all reside in the top-23 for quarterback hits in 2015. Stafford has never been one to rely on sound mechanics and in no way will the constant pressure the Seahawks bring help alleviate that.
8. Carolina at Tampa Bay
Three weeks in and I am still not sure what we have in Carolina, outside of another opponent with shaky quarterback play and a non-existent running game. Carolina has forced at least one turnover in all three games this season and while Jameis Winston has played the part of taker (on more than one occasion, allegedly) in his past; he’s been a giver (of turnovers) in every game this season. Winston took seven sacks in his first two starts and although he kept clean against the Texans, look for the Panthers, who’ve registered at least one sack in every game, to bring that pressure back after trading for sack master Jared Allen on Monday. I know there was a time a few of us were quite enamored with Doug Martin’s apparent resurgence, but that dream is likely on hold (at minimum) as he faces a defense that’s surrendered the fifth fewest rushing yards and just two rushing touchdowns in their last nine games.
9. Indianapolis vs. Jacksonville
I am not saying Jacksonville offense hasn’t made progress since the Blaine Gabbert days, but what I am saying is that progress may need a microscope to be accurately measured. Blake Bortles is still handing out interceptions like the Jaguar marketing staff peddling free game tickets in hopes of getting the stadium half full. How bad has it been? 17 starts, 22 interceptions and only 4 games without at least one pick. The only thing Bortles does better than turning the ball over is avoiding that pesky thing called the end zone. In their last 19 games, Jacksonville has surpassed 17 points only 21% of the time. But wait, there’s more! If you start in the next ten minutes, you will also face a Jaguar offensive line that has surrendered seven sacks through three games and faces an Indy defense that has collected four sacks in their last two. Same old Jags? Same old Jags*.
*With worse hair.
San Diego vs. Cleveland
Admittedly, there’s not a ton to like about San Diego’s defense. However, as we’ve learned in the last few decades, that matters little when facing the Cleveland Browns. Somehow Josh McCown is still the starter, despite gripes (allegedly) from his own teammates and the fact he is Josh McCown. He’s amassed 25 turnovers in his last 13 appearances and led his team to an average of 16 points per game in that same stretch. Meanwhile, no team has allowed fewer passing yards than the Chargers, who’ve also accumulated eight of their last nine interceptions at home.
10. Atlanta vs. Houston
I reserve my right to adjust Atlanta’s inclusion based on what we hear later in the week on the NFL’s most observed groin, but assuming Arian Foster is still on the mend it’s hard to avoid a bet against Houston’s offense. Throwing 11 more passes than any other team should result in a healthy amount of receiving yards, right? Wrong. Despite being tops in attempts, Ryan Mallett and the passing offense aren’t even in the top 10 (13th, actually) as Mallett has averaged an NFL-worst 5.2 yards per attempt while the team has only produced four plays through the air of at least 20 yards. Captain checkdown hasn’t been able to avoid mistakes either, as he’s tossed an interception in both starts despite a willing game script. Expect that all to change in Week 4 as the Falcons explosive offense will force the Texans to keep up or risk getting left in Atlanta’s wake where their defense has forced 10 interceptions in their last 9 home games.
11. Cincinnati vs. Kansas City
If the Bengals have shown a weakness anywhere, it’s their pass defense. Thankfully, Alex Smith comes to town in Week 4 and he brings his conservative, put mildly, baby throws with him. Cincinnati has forced the opposition into a similar game script and it’s hard to believe given Kansas City’s inability to slow opposing wide receivers down it’ll be much different on Sunday. Twice the opposing quarterback has had to throw 40+ times against the Bengals, which is not exactly ideal for a Smith-led team. Since 2013, Smith has thrown the ball at least 35 times in 14 games; he’s accumulated 10 interceptions in those contests and has only surpassed the 300-yard make once. Kansas City has also allowed the most sacks through three games, allowing their quarterback to get sacked on nearly 13% of his dropbacks. Jamaal Charles should find the sledding rather tough too, as the Bengals have given up the 6th fewest rushing yards and are one of six teams yet to allow a rushing touchdown.
12. Oakland at Chicago
How bad did things get for Chicago in Week 3’s shutout against the Seahawks? Well, how much time do you have? How about this, Oakland makes this week of defense rankings. Granted, things will get considerably easier for Jimmy Clausen in Week 4 but unfortunately for the Bears backup quarterback, he is still Jimmy Clausen. Poor guy has never thrown for more than 200 yards, has thrown more than one touchdown once and no touchdowns eight times and has twice as many career interceptions as touchdowns. Oakland is Oakland, but like a moth that turns into a slightly less ugly moth, the Raiders appear to be making a transformation. They’ve collected an interception in two straight and picked up five sacks against the Browns in Week 3. The Bears offensive lines (because there’s already been more than one variation) are still a group in flux after starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod was concussed in Week 3, which should help a burgeoning and talented Raider pass rush.
13. Tampa Bay vs. Carolina
Just another PSA for anyone who has forgotten about the Panthers current wide receiving group:
Ted Ginn Jr. – That’s your number one, folks
“Philly” Brown- I guess the switch to ‘Corey’ wasn’t working out and he may be on to something. Since the going, going, going, back, back, back, to Philly, Philly, Philly, Brown caught his lone touchdown in Week 2. Of course, he went catchless in Week 3. Maybe there’s a case to be made that one’s name has no bearing on their actual skills? Nah, Philly you just keep doing you.
Devin Funchess- has half the catches Jon Stewart has on twice the targets. Move along.
Of course the Panthers have Greg Olsen, but the Bucs have been proficient at defending the tight end through three weeks, limiting the position to the second fewest catches and third fewest yards. Tampa Bay is eighth in the NFL in sacks, with current league leader Jacquies Smith pacing the NFL with four.
Look, I get it, when you scrape the bottom of the barrel you’re likely to feel a little dirty. Well, it doesn’t get much more bottom of the barrel than the Buccaneers. Though they have forced four turnovers in their last two games and shouldn’t have much trouble keeping the Panthers, who are 14th in scoring, from lighting up the scoreboard.
14. Baltimore at Pittsburgh
I know, I know. Baltimore’s pass defense has been downright offensive since shutting down skinny-arm Peyton Manning in Week 1 BUT I do think there are some things to like headed into Thursday night’s matchup with the hated Steelers. It’s a short week for a Steeler offense that is trying to replace Big Ben with a quarterback who admittedly has never been interested in studying and/or prepping as a backup. Not surprisingly, Michael Vick’s lack of willingness to put forth much effort has shown in his production (or lack thereof) when he has gotten on the field. In his last 10 appearances, Vick has only thrown eight touchdowns and has turned the ball over a whopping nine times, including losing 4 of his 10 (10!!!) fumbles. Terrell Suggs’ absence has been brutal for the Baltimore defense, but they’ve still managed to create at least one turnover in 9 of their last 10 and held LeVeon Bell to 79 yards on 21 carries and no rushing touchdowns in two games last season.
St. Louis at Arizona
I don’t know if anyone wants any part of the Cardinal offense in its current form, but if there is any defensive line that can force Carson Palmer to act like a bachelorette in Vegas and make some bad decisions, it’s the Rams. They have three players in the top-17 of sacks and lead the NFL as team with 13. Arizona has been masterful at keeping Carson Palmer off his back but the three teams they’ve faced thus far has only one more sack combined than the Rams. And it’s not like Palmer is impervious to mistakes, either, as he’s thrown at least one interception in 66% of his starts since 2013.