Looking at the NFL as a whole throughout three weeks, we’ll take a look at the four teams who’ve surprised the most in terms of exceeding expectations. Many teams can be considered “contenders” and “pretenders” at this point as three games is a small sample size, though teams can only play who’s on their schedule. Let’s get into it.
The Bills are one of the teams that most will consider a “pretender” as they’ve beaten the winless New York Jets, the 1-2 New York Giants, and the winless Cincinnati Bengals. Like we’ve become accustomed to in the past, the Bills field one of the best defenses in football as they land inside the top-6 in points per game allowed and yards per game allowed. The weaker point of the team is the offensive side of the ball where the Bills rank 18th in points per game and 8th in yards per game. Heading into week four, the Bills face off against an unbeaten divisional foe in the New England Patriots. The Pats are favored unanimously across the board, and are laying 7 points on the road.
The skepticism surrounding the Bills thus far is warranted, though the Bills have a great opportunity to prove they’re ready to take the next step against the Patriots in week four. Should they be cause the shock upset, then the odds on them to win the AFC East could become very interesting.
Outside of an epic collapse in week 1, the Detroit Lions have been highly impressive through three weeks in the season. Personally, I didn’t believe in the Lions entering 2019, so they’ve exceeded all of my expectations already. The Lions currently rank 16th in points per game, 12th in yards per game, 12th in points per game allowed, and 23rd in yards per game allowed. None of those marks are particularly impressive, though the Lions have knocked off two very good teams in the Los Angeles Chargers and the Philadelphia Eagles, and tied with the Arizona Cardinals. Offensively, the Lions need to get a more effective running game going as Kerryon Johnson is only averaging 2.6 yards-per-carry, though the passing offense is clicking. Defensively, the Lions are solid, particularly along the defensive line, though they’ve recently suffered two injuries to that unit in Mike Daniels and Da’Shawn Hand. The Lions will have an incredibly tough matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs in week four, although they're only recieving 6 points on the spread.
Maybe the most surprising team on this list, the San Francisco 49ers are tied for first in the NFC West with an unbeaten 3-0 record through three weeks. The 49ers are producing a ton offensively as they’re currently 5th in the league in points per game and 4th in yards per game, in addition to their defense playing outstanding and ranking 9th in points per game allowed and 2nd in yards per game allowed. Like the Bills, the 49ers haven’t really faced a formidable opponent thus far as they’ve beaten the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Ben Roethlisberger-less Pittsburgh Steelers. The 49ers have an early bye week as they’re resting in week four, officially sweeping the first quarter of the season.
The Ravens are likely the least surprising team on here, though their productivity throughout three weeks has been through the roof. The offense has been insanely productive as quarterback Lamar Jackson has developed into one of the biggest threats as a passer and runner in the league, free agent running back addition Mark Ingram looks poised to produce a career-year, and the defense – like always – is dominant. The Ravens are currently 1st in points per game and yards per game, and are 10th in points per game allowed and 16th in yards per game allowed, though those numbers are probably skewed as they just played the insanely explosive Kansas City Chiefs. The Ravens now get a divisional foe in the Cleveland Browns in week four, lending them the opportunity to get back on track as the 7 point favorites in the game.
Moving forward, certain teams are sure to continue to impress while others fall off. It will be interesting to follow these teams moving forward in the season, sorting out which could be contenders and which will fall out of the race as pretenders.