Each week of the NFL season, The Baltimore Sun will rank all 32 NFL teams. The rankings will take into account not just weekly performance, injuries and roster depth, but how well each team measures up as Super Bowl contenders.
Here are the rankings heading into Week 4:
Super Bowl contenders
1. Buffalo Bills (2-1, No. 1 last week)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (2-1, No. 2)
3. Miami Dolphins (3-0, No. 4)
4. Philadelphia Eagles (3-0, No. 5)
5. Baltimore Ravens (2-1, No. 9)
6. Green Bay Packers (2-1, No. 7)
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1, No. 3)
8. Los Angeles Rams (2-1, No. 8)
If there’s one lesson to be learned from a weekend of surprising results, it’s that there isn’t a clear Super Bowl favorite.
Let’s start with the Dolphins’ 21-19 win over the Bills, which ended Buffalo’s seven-game winning streak against its AFC East rival. It wasn’t an impressive performance by Miami, which was outgained 497-212, only ran 39 plays on offense and allowed Bills quarterback Josh Allen to complete a career-high 42 passes for 400 yards. According to the Miami Herald, the Dolphins became just the ninth team since 1940 to win a regular-season game running 39 or fewer plays.
While Miami deserves credit for making the most of its limited opportunities, Buffalo squandered several chances to score, with three trips inside the red zone in the second half resulting in just three points. That overshadowed an otherwise outstanding day for the offense, which went a combined 13-for-21 on third and fourth down, had a team-record 11 players catch passes and averaged 5 yards per carry.
While teams that start 3-0 can expect to make the playoffs 76% of the time and win the division 51% of the time, according to the NFL, Miami looked far from unbeatable Sunday. Now the Dolphins have to worry about the health of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is dealing with what coach Mike McDaniel said are back and ankle injuries heading into a short week of practice before Thursday night’s game against the Bengals.
Elsewhere in the AFC, the Ravens bounced back from a shocking fourth-quarter collapse against Miami to beat the Patriots, 37-26, and reestablish themselves as serious contenders. While there are still concerns about Baltimore’s defense after it allowed 7.1 yards per play and 321 passing yards Sunday, timely turnovers helped right the ship in the second half when the game appeared to be slipping away. Even more notable is the continued excellence of quarterback Lamar Jackson, who became the first player in NFL history to record back-to-back games with at least three touchdown passes and 100 rushing yards, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Ravens might not be the complete team they were during their dominant 2019 season, but Jackson looks more in command of the offense than ever before and might have his most talented group of playmakers now that running back J.K. Dobbins is back and wide receivers Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay have emerged. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the AFC, which looks more wide-open than originally thought.
That brings us to Kansas City, which suffered a head-scratching 20-17 loss to the Colts as quarterback Patrick Mahomes looked out of sorts against a Gus Bradley-led defense he usually dominates. Mahomes was seen arguing with offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on the sideline during the game, a sign of his frustration with a unit that punted on three of its first four drives and went 3-for-10 on third down. The Chiefs were also extremely unlucky, as rookie Skyy Moore muffed a punt that led directly to a Colts touchdown, backup kicker Matt Ammendola missed a 34-yard field-goal and extra-point attempt, and defensive tackle Chris Jones received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that gave Indianapolis a first down on its game-winning touchdown drive instead of what would have been a fourth-and-14. The loss is certainly disappointing, but not a sign of a downward spiral.
In the NFC, the hierarchy remains just as unclear. The Eagles look like the best of the bunch, having outscored the Lions and Commanders, 48-15, over the past two weeks behind the dazzling play of quarterback Jalen Hurts, who is completing 67.3% of his passes and ranks sixth in Total QBR, ESPN’s all-encompassing quarterback metric. The defense has been just as scary, sacking Carson Wentz nine times in Sunday’s 24-8 win and forcing five turnovers in three games.
Defense is also what’s carrying the Packers and Buccaneers, not their future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. In Sunday’s 14-12 win, Green Bay sacked Tom Brady three times, forced two fumbles and held Tampa Bay to just 2-for-11 on third down. Aaron Rodgers did enough to keep the Packers’ offense afloat with touchdown passes to Allen Lazard and rookie Romeo Doubs, but Green Bay needs more consistency from its running back duo of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, who combined for less than 3 yards per carry Sunday after averaging nearly 6 the week before against the Bears.
The Bucs should be concerned about Brady, who looks out of sync with his receivers, but coach Todd Bowles has to be happy with how his defense is playing. Tampa Bay entered Week 3 at No. 1 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA efficiency rankings and should keep the top spot after holding Green Bay scoreless in the second half. The secondary is among the league’s best with cornerback Jamel Dean playing at an All-Pro level, and linebacker Lavonte David is still a force at age 32. If wide receivers Chris Godwin and Julio Jones can return soon to join Mike Evans after his one-game suspension, the Bucs’ offense should get back to being one of the league’s best.
The wild cards
9. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1, No. 24)
10. Cincinnati Bengals (1-2, No. 20)
11. Denver Broncos (2-1, No. 13)
12. Minnesota Vikings (2-1, No. 11)
13. Cleveland Browns (2-1, No. 16)
14. Los Angeles Chargers (1-2, No. 6)
15. Dallas Cowboys (2-1, No. 17)
16. San Francisco 49ers (1-2, No. 10)
17. Arizona Cardinals (1-2, No. 14)
18. Tennessee Titans (1-2, No. 27)
19. Indianapolis Colts (1-1-1, No. 30)
20. Detroit Lions (1-2, No. 15)
With the Jaguars off to a winning start, Doug Pederson has built an early case to be Coach of the Year. Jacksonville’s free-agent spending spree was criticized for its big commitment to players of seemingly little consequence, but wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, linebacker Foyesade Oluokun and cornerback Darious Williams have been an important part of the Jaguars’ 2-1 start. Leading the way is second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who is living up to his billing as one of the top prospects of the last decade. He ranks fifth in expected points added per play — a measure of relative efficiency that accounts for situational factors — behind Mahomes, Tagovailoa, Allen and Jackson, according to RBSDM.com, making Jacksonville a serious threat to not only go from worst to first in the AFC South, but win a playoff game.
Speaking of outstanding quarterbacks, don’t forget about Joe Burrow. The Bengals star got back on track in a 27-12 win over the Jets, throwing for 275 yards and three touchdowns. Losses to the Steelers and Cowboys raised alarm bells, but the defending AFC champions have an opportunity to prove they’re still the class of the conference in games against the Dolphins and Ravens. The Bengals need more from running back Joe Mixon and the offensive line, but the defense has been excellent against the pass, allowing a 56.2% completion rate and 72.1 passer rating, both top-five marks in the league.
There isn’t much to learn from the Broncos’ 11-10 win over the 49ers on Sunday night other than the fact that Denver and San Francisco might have two of the best defenses in the league. The Broncos sealed the victory by forcing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to step out of the end zone for a safety and recording three turnovers, including an interception and a fumble in the final two minutes. The Niners, meanwhile, held Russell Wilson in check for most of the night until he led a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Both teams might have to win ugly to stay in the playoff race.
Crabs in a bucket
21. New York Giants (2-1, No. 22)
22. New Orleans Saints (1-2, No. 12)
23. Las Vegas Raiders (0-3, No. 21)
24. Washington Commanders (1-2, No. 23)
25. Atlanta Falcons (1-2, No. 29)
26. Chicago Bears (2-1, No. 28)
27. New England Patriots (1-2, No. 18)
28. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2, No. 19)
29. New York Jets (1-2, No. 25)
30. Carolina Panthers (1-2, No. 31)
31. Seattle Seahawks (1-2, No. 26)
32. Houston Texans (0-2-1, No. 32)
There isn’t much separating these teams, who are liable to beat each other any given week.
The most confusing 0-3 team thus far has to be the Raiders, who made a big splash this offseason by acquiring star wide receiver Davante Adams from the Packers and hiring longtime Patriots offensive assistant Josh McDaniels as coach. Those additions were expected to elevate quarterback Derek Carr and the offense, but through three games, the results have been disappointing. In Sunday’s 24-22 loss to the Titans, Adams had just five catches on 10 targets for 36 yards and a touchdown. While it seems too early to write the Raiders off, history suggests it might not be. Since 2000, the 2018 Texans are the only team to start 0-3 and make the playoffs.
McDaniels’ old team might be just as disappointing. Getting beat by the Ravens and Dolphins is understandable given how well those teams have played, but the Patriots lost by a combined 24 points. The defense has ranked no worse than seventh in points allowed in the previous six seasons under coach Bill Belichick, but it sits 22nd this year (23.7 per game). The offense has also struggled behind second-year quarterback Mac Jones, who has thrown five interceptions and could be out for several weeks with a high ankle sprain. After being a perennial Super Bowl contender for nearly two decades, New England is in danger of missing the postseason for the second time in three years.