NFL Power Rankings: Dolphins are 3-0, though we need to keep it in perspective
The Miami Dolphins are 3-0. Strip away everything else and that's all that should matter at this moment to them and their fans. It has been a long time since there was this much justifiable excitement for that franchise. Celebrate it.
For those who aren't emotionally invested, it's worth taking a closer look under the hood.
The Dolphins are undeniably better this season. They've been adding talent for the past few years and it's finally paying off. They're probably a playoff team. Through the years, 76 percent of teams that start 3-0 make the playoffs, and it's easier now since the playoffs expanded to 14 teams in the 2020 season. The Dolphins look like they got the right head coach in Mike McDaniel, the Tyreek Hill trade has transformed the offense and Tua Tagovailoa is making strides. The defense has given up a lot of yards and points the past two weeks but there is talent on that side of the ball. They also have a one-game lead on the Buffalo Bills after Sunday with a head-to-head win in hand, which is big for tiebreakers.
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But it's hard to buy the Dolphins as the new AFC East favorite, and really hard to believe they could be more than that. Miami had a great, memorable comeback in Week 2, but you can only have a comeback if you played really poorly for most of a game. The Dolphins were down 35-14 to the Baltimore Ravens before getting hot in the fourth quarter. In Week 3, the Bills outgained Miami 497-212, had 90 plays to 39 for Miami, and Buffalo held the ball for 40:40. The Bills dominated play and came up short on the scoreboard. It happens. The Bills should have won but Josh Allen short-armed a pass to wide-open Isaiah McKenzie in the end zone late in the game. The Bills lost by two points on the road with multiple starters either injured or dealing with problems from the heat. It's not like the Dolphins dominated the game.
And all of that is OK. Miami is 3-0 and has a great quality win in its pocket for the rest of the season. The Ravens win will age well too. For a team that has been to the playoffs just once since 2008 and hasn't had a playoff win since 2000, there's nothing wrong with a step this season that doesn't include them being launched into the tier of Super Bowl contenders. The Dolphins are much better. They look like a playoff team. They have a promising coach and can feel a lot better about their quarterback than they did three games ago. All that's positive. Now we'll see what comes next.
Here are the power rankings after Week 3 of the NFL season:
32. New York Jets (1-2, Last Week: 28)
The Jets have played two good minutes all season. They've led for 22 seconds. The comeback against Cleveland was incredible but that was a clear outlier. I know I'm supposed to say we can't judge them until we see them with Zach Wilson, but do you believe he's transforming this team? Me either.
31. Houston Texans (0-2-1, LW: 31)
The Texans would be 1-2 if they didn't decide to try to sit on a Week 1 lead with Rex Burkhead, giving him all the playing time at running back over rookie Dameon Pierce. That was one of the weirdest coaching decisions of the season. That has corrected. Pierce had 80 yards on 20 carries Sunday, had a number of good runs, and it'll keep getting better from here. Houston still won't be very good overall.
30. Seattle Seahawks (1-2, LW: 27)
The Seahawks drafted Kenneth Walker III in the second round. They gave him nine snaps on Sunday. One of his three carries was fantastic. The Seahawks gave more snaps to DeeJay Dallas than Walker. In related news, the Seahawks lost at home to the Falcons.
29. Atlanta Falcons (1-2, LW: 32)
The Falcons finally got Kyle Pitts involved, with 87 yards on five catches. They got their first win of the season. Must be a coincidence. The Falcons have been fairly good this season, a lot better than their record or their roster would indicate. They won't be an easy out.
28. Chicago Bears (2-1, LW: 29)
Justin Fields has 23 completions in three games. This calendar year, every single decision the Bears have made — including the defensive-minded coach they hired, the lack of free-agent additions on offense, drafting defense first and continuing to the playcalling — seems to indicate they have zero belief in Fields.
27. Carolina Panthers (1-2, LW: 30)
Christian McCaffrey, one of the greatest receiving running backs ever with two 100-catch seasons on his resume, has 10 catches for 57 yards in three games. One of the signs of a bad coaching staff is when it doesn't understand how to play to the strengths of its best players.
26. Washington Commanders (1-2, LW: 24)
Pocket awareness sometimes fails Carson Wentz, and it definitely did when he was getting sacked nine times on Sunday. I'll write that off as facing a good Eagles defense, because Washington's offense was mostly fine before that. But it's a reminder that there will be some ugly games.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2, LW: 23)
Maybe the Steelers know that Kenny Pickett isn't ready and starting him now would set him back. But it didn't look that way in preseason. Other than that, I can't think of a single reason to not start Pickett right now. Mitchell Trubisky isn't the answer. What's the point in waiting?
24. New York Giants (2-1, LW: 22)
Hopefully you didn't buy too much into that 2-0 start. The Giants haven't arrived yet, but they are better. They have a much better head coach. It's a work in progress, and Monday night showed that.
23. Las Vegas Raiders (0-3, LW: 18)
It's funny that this is the only 0-3 team in the NFL. They're not bad. They've been outscored by just 13 points. But they're also 0-3 in a tough conference that is very unlikely to have a wild-card entry with less than 10 wins. It's a huge hole. The first order of business is figuring out how Davante Adams can have 12 and 36 yards in their last two games. That's inexcusable.
22. Arizona Cardinals (1-2, LW: 17)
I'm not sure how the Cardinals fix this. No, DeAndre Hopkins' return isn't going to turn them into a top-10 offense. James Conner hasn't been able to pick up where he left off last season. Kyler Murray isn't doing enough for a $230 million quarterback. Kliff Kingsbury doesn't seem to have the answers. And the defense isn't good enough to keep them in contention. This season could get ugly for the Cardinals.
21. New England Patriots (1-2, LW: 19)
The next few weeks will either be Mac Jones playing at presumably far less than 100 percent on a high ankle sprain or Brian Hoyer taking over. I'm not sure how an offense that already had its issues (though, it was better Sunday) gets much better than that scenario. These next few weeks are critical for the Patriots. They need to grind out some wins to stay relevant.
20. Tennessee Titans (1-2, LW: 26)
The Titans rediscovered their winning formula. They're not going to play well from behind because it minimizes Derrick Henry and puts more pressure on Ryan Tannehill. If they can get a lead and lean on Henry, they are a different team. That's easier said than done, but we know what the Titans need to do going forward.
19. Detroit Lions (1-2, LW: 21)
The Lions blew it on Sunday. They should have gone for it on fourth-and-4 with a little more than a minute to go but decided on a 54-yard field goal instead, a decision Dan Campbell said he regrets. This is where the Lions' history is a problem. Other teams can lose a game like that and while it stings, it doesn't follow them. It'll be hard for Detroit, which deserves much more than its 1-2 record right now, to not slip into the mindset that they're just the same old Lions.
18. New Orleans Saints (1-2, LW: 16)
The good news is rookie receiver Chris Olave seems like a great pick. He had nine catches for 147 yards on Sunday, a week after getting a ton of air yards but being unable to connect better with Jameis Winston. The bad news is there's not much else to like about the Saints offense right now.
17. Los Angeles Chargers (1-2, LW: 8)
Uh oh. The Chargers took a bad loss on Sunday, not because they lost to Jacksonville, but 38-10 at home? And they lost fantastic left tackle Rashawn Slater to a torn biceps. That's one of their best players out for the season. Edge rusher Joey Bosa went down with what appears to be a significant groin injury. They were already without center Corey Linsley, cornerback J.C. Jackson and receiver Keenan Allen, and quarterback Justin Herbert was clearly playing hurt. The Chargers aren't finished this season or anything, but if you had high hopes for them, it's time to recalibrate.
16. San Francisco 49ers (1-2, LW: 10)
The defense has to be beside itself. In one loss, it allowed eight completions. In the second loss, the Broncos had five points deep into the fourth quarter, and two of those points were on Jimmy Garoppolo's safety when he channeled Dan Orlovsky. The good news is San Francisco's defense is awesome and will help them dig out of this 1-2 start.
15. Cincinnati Bengals (1-2, LW: 15)
The Bengals did what they needed to do against a bad Jets team. They play a good Dolphins team at home on Thursday, and that will be a better barometer of what they'll be this season.
14. Denver Broncos (2-1, LW: 12)
The Broncos offense looks terrible through three games. All of the yelling about Nathaniel Hackett's game management overshadowed that Russell Wilson hasn't looked good either. I should be patient, given that it's just three games after an offseason of total change, but it has been three ugly games on offense. There should be some legitimate concern.
13. Indianapolis Colts (1-1-1, LW: 14)
The Colts can't worry about how it looked, they needed a win and got it against a good Chiefs team. They get the Titans at home this week and if they win that, they'll be right back on track in the AFC South. A suddenly huge rematch against the Jaguars comes early, in Week 6.
12. Dallas Cowboys (2-1, LW: 20)
Dallas could have been in some real trouble without Dak Prescott. Cooper Rush has filled in well and the Cowboys are 2-0 in his starts. He got a big assist from CeeDee Lamb in the fourth quarter on Monday night, and from a defense that is relentless. The Eagles aren't out of the woods in the NFC East yet. The Cowboys' Week 1 loss seems like a long time ago.
11. Cleveland Browns (2-1, LW: 13)
I wonder if Nick Chubb can make a run at NFL Offensive Player of the Year. He has 341 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 62 carries, and leads the NFL in all three categories. The Browns are going to ride him hard. If he keeps up close to this pace and the Browns stay in the AFC North race with their backup quarterback for 11 games, Chubb will get a lot of the credit.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-1, LW: 25)
I had the Jaguars too low last week. It was just a mistake. I probably was penalizing them too much for a Week 1 loss to Washington (and holding onto preseason preconceptions) and not giving enough credit for the Week 2 win over the Colts. The Jaguars are a good team. Trevor Lawrence is becoming everything he was hyped to be. They're fun. A trip to Philly this week is a fantastic test.
9. Minnesota Vikings (2-1, LW: 11)
We're back on the Dalvin Cook shoulder injury roller coaster, earlier than ever this season. Not great. They'll be fine at running back with Alexander Mattison. What is concerning is how Justin Jefferson has 62 yards in two games. He had just 14 yards on three catches Sunday. That should never happen.
8. Baltimore Ravens (2-1, LW: 9)
Lamar Jackson is amazing. Full stop. Sometimes on social media we focus on the small groups with awful takes, because it's easy to dunk on them. And I don't think the percentage of people still criticizing Jackson is very high. It just shocks me that any exist anymore.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1, LW: 3)
It's reasonable to wonder if the Buccaneers are in some trouble. My answer is still no, or at least "not yet." If the Bucs get all their players healthy and they're still laboring on offense, I'll worry. Until then I see a team playing great defense (seriously, Tampa Bay's defense is the most underrated unit of these first three weeks) and playing offense without a handful of Pro Bowlers or possible Hall of Famers. Let's give it some time.
6. Los Angeles Rams (2-1, LW: 4)
Arizona is the one team that can slow down Cooper Kupp. Since the start of last season, Kupp has played 24 games, including playoffs. He has at least 92 receiving yards in 21 of those games. All three of his games under 92 receiving yards are against the Cardinals (he had games of 64 and 61 yards last season and 44 on Sunday). Kupp still scored a touchdown Sunday on a jet sweep because he's unstoppable, but his hex against the Cardinals is tough to figure out.
5. Green Bay Packers (2-1, LW: 7)
It would have been nice if the Packers offense put that Buccaneers game away early, so the defense didn't have to face a two-point conversion in the final seconds. But the Packers were going against a very good Bucs defense. And they got a win that is going to matter a lot when the NFC gets seeded in January.
4. Miami Dolphins (3-0, LW: 6)
The Dolphins defense was on the field for 90 plays in ridiculous heat against a Bills offense that wanted to spread it out and pass it all over the place. Now the Dolphins go on the road on short rest for a Thursday night game at the Bengals. They also have injury issues, including quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (though excuse me for not worrying too much about him playing through his, ahem, back and neck injury). If the Dolphins win in that situation, it will be really impressive.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (2-1, LW: 2)
The Chiefs offense isn't the same. It doesn't help when Clyde Edwards-Helaire has zero yards on seven carries against the Colts. It will still be good because Patrick Mahomes is one of the best quarterbacks we've ever seen, but over the last couple weeks there have been more challenges than we're used to seeing.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (3-0, LW: 5)
If you're dismissing the Eagles defense for playing "only" the Vikings and Commanders the last two weeks, go check what those two offenses did in their games that weren't against the Eagles. Philadelphia's defense is good. I'm bumping the Eagles way up because I was too conservative on them before. I kept seeing a team that had Super Bowl upside but didn't act on that enough in these power rankings. That has been corrected.
1. Buffalo Bills (2-1, LW: 1)
One of the main tenets of the power rankings here is, when there's a difficult decision to be made we ask a simple question: If Team A played Team B on a neutral field, who would win? Well, I'd still pick the Bills to beat anyone listed above. You probably would too. A two-point road loss in sweltering heat, when they more than doubled up the Dolphins in yards, plays and time of possession, all with multiple starters out of the lineup, really doesn't lead me to believe Buffalo isn't the best team in the NFL. Every NFL team loses a game, unless you're the 1972 Dolphins.