The Miami Dolphins play at the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. The NFL's game of the year snuck up on us.
There are other phenomenal matchups coming — Eagles-Chiefs, Bills-Eagles, Cowboys-49ers, a couple of Eagles-Cowboys tilts to name a few — but Dolphins-Bills got awesome in a hurry. There might be more on the line Sunday than any other NFL regular-season game this season. Included in what's at stake is the Dolphins' legitimacy as one of the NFL's best teams. Or perhaps the NFL's best team.
While the Dolphins were setting the NFL world on fire with their historic 70-point, 700-yard game against the Broncos, the Bills were a bit further up the East Coast, absolutely blasting the Commanders, 37-3. Buffalo had nine sacks, four picks, one interception return for a touchdown and a shutout until the final minute, when Washington kicked a field goal to save a little face.
There's no reason to believe the Dolphins are frauds. They look good. Clearly, their offense is a problem for other teams. But there's a big difference between beating the 1-2 Chargers, 1-2 Patriots and 0-3 Broncos and doing the same against a Bills team that has won three straight division titles.
The Dolphins have become favorites to win the AFC East at BetMGM. They still have to go through the Bills. Buffalo lost to a charged-up Jets home team in overtime of Week 1. They had four turnovers and still barely lost. They allowed a punt return touchdown in overtime. As we saw Sunday, bad losses and upsets happen. But other than Josh Allen's turnovers in Week 1, the Bills have been just about perfect. They were really good last season too, but had a rough playoff exit.
Sunday won't be about just the Dolphins trying to mark their territory atop the AFC East, and maybe the entire NFL. The Bills are going to hear a lot of Dolphins hype this week. When a team scores 10 touchdowns in a game, that captures everyone's attention. This week will be about praising the Dolphins, wondering if their offense is the latest version of the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams or sharing Tua Tagovailoa's MVP merits. This will be Dolphins week. We love a fun, fresh story.
The Bills will probably be miffed by it. Buffalo has been the king of the AFC East since the Patriots fell off. The Dolphins are 1-4 in Tagovailoa's starts against the Bills, and the one win was a fluky 21-19 victory last season when Miami was outgained 497-212. The Bills have been clearly superior to the Dolphins the past few years, but Miami (and Taylor Swift, of course) will take up the oxygen in NFL talk this week.
If Miami wins this weekend, the hype will multiply. The Dolphins would be up two games in the AFC East with a road win in hand over the Bills in what looks like a two-team race. They would be 4-0 and Tagovailoa's lead in the MVP odds would presumably increase. There would be even more think pieces about Tagovailoa and the Dolphins revolutionizing offense in the NFL. They'd have a case to be No. 1 in anyone's power rankings.
Losing at Buffalo wouldn't mean the Dolphins aren't legit. It would be a reminder that the Bills are still the kings of the AFC East for the moment. For most of the past two weeks, when they were outscoring opponents 75-13, they've looked every bit the part as Super Bowl favorites.
It's an awesome game with a lot on the line. The Dolphins' offense is the talk of the NFL, but the Bills' defense has been great, too. Get ready for a great one Sunday. The outcome will shape a big part of the NFL season.
Here are the power rankings after Week 3 of the NFL season:
32. Chicago Bears (0-3, Last Week: 32)
It's shocking how quickly the Bears not only became the NFL's worst team this season, but by a large margin. Being down 41-0 to the Chiefs was embarrassing. Matt Eberflus is 3-17 as Bears head coach and the only things that would save his job for the rest of the season would be an unexpected winning streak or the Bears' weird fascination with the fact they've never fired a coach during a season.
31. Denver Broncos (0-3, LW: 28)
The Broncos had a good defense last season. They were seventh in the NFL in yards allowed and generally played well. There was no way to predict the disaster the defense has been this season. The Broncos didn't play well in the first two weeks and then Sunday became the second team in NFL history to allow 700 yards in a game. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who took over from last year's coordinator Ejiro Evero, can't be feeling too comfortable.
30. Carolina Panthers (0-3, LW: 29)
The Panthers threw 58 passes and ran the ball 14 times, despite having backup quarterback Andy Dalton in the lineup. Carolina was within one score of Seattle or led for about three quarters of the game, so a bad game script isn't completely to blame. The Panthers are figuring out how to play winning football, and they don't have the formula yet.
29. Las Vegas Raiders (1-2, LW: 26)
The easy headline is Josh McDaniels making the astounding decision to kick a field goal at Pittsburgh's 8-yard line late in Sunday night's game. But the enduring bad news to come out of Sunday's game is the way the offense disappeared for 2 1/2 quarters. The Raiders are averaging 15 points per game and haven't scratched out more than 18 in a game. McDaniels said his decision to kick the field goal on fourth-and-4 didn't reflect a lack of belief in his offense. But a coach who truly had faith in his offense would have kept it on the field. McDaniels will get heat for a bad decision on the field goal, but he deserves more questions for why his offense is mediocre.
28. Arizona Cardinals (1-2, LW: 31)
Joshua Dobbs is a fun story. He spent last season on the Browns and then the Lions' practice squad before the Titans signed him out of desperation late in the year, making him their starter for the final two games. He was 27, had never started an NFL game and had thrown just 17 career passes. He played OK with the Titans, signed back with the Browns this offseason, and then the Cardinals traded for him a little more than two weeks before the season to be their starter. Dobbs has played very well considering the circumstances, and Sunday he experienced his first win as a starting quarterback. That's a rare path.
27. Houston Texans (1-2, LW: 30)
C.J. Stroud looked really good, throwing for 280 yards and two touchdowns in a win. So did rookie receiver Tank Dell, who had 145 yards and a touchdown. First-year head coach DeMeco Ryans got his first win. For the first time in a long time, it feels like something is building in Houston.
26. New York Giants (1-2, LW: 24)
The Giants' next three games are against the Seahawks, at the Dolphins and at the Bills. If the Giants can't beat Seattle this weekend, this could turn into 1-5 in a hurry. And the one win was a miraculous comeback against the Cardinals.
25. Tennessee Titans (1-2, LW: 19)
At halftime Sunday, Tyjae Spears had 18 snaps and Derrick Henry had seven. The game was competitive before halftime. That's just what the Titans preferred. Spears finished with a 27-18 edge in snaps. A similar situation happened with the RB split in Week 1. One explanation is it's bad coaching, and the staff is mindlessly playing a mid-round rookie over three-time Pro Bowler way more than it should. Another explanation is that the Titans think Henry has taken a big step back, and he can't be the focal point of the offense anymore, even though it needs help. Either way, it's a trend we need to watch.
24. Minnesota Vikings (0-3, LW: 23)
Let's run this stat back: The Vikings were 11-0 in one-score games last season, an NFL record, and this season they're 0-3. It seems like the Vikings are by far the best of the winless teams, but it's tough to come back from 0-3. Only six teams in the Super Bowl era started 0-3 and made the playoffs. Since 2002, only one of 99 teams (the 2018 Texans) that started 0-3 made the postseason, via Fox 9 in Minnesota. The Vikings have lost three games by 13 combined points and are in a world of trouble.
23. Los Angeles Rams (1-2, LW: 25)
22. New York Jets (1-2, LW: 22)
Robert Saleh gets a lot of grief for publicly supporting Zach Wilson, but what else is he supposed to do? Until the Jets make a move, either by acquiring someone or giving backup Tim Boyle a shot because it can't get any worse, Saleh has to put a happy face on things. The situation stinks. Everyone in Jets headquarters knows that.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2, LW: 11)
The air is completely out of the Jaguars' balloon. There was a lot of hype for them this offseason, but a bad loss Sunday at home to Houston exposed them as a team with a lot of work to do. It's early and the Jaguars could still have a fantastic season, but they're not going to be as good as some (myself included) had been projecting.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1, LW: 18)
Everyone knew the Bucs weren't one of the NFL's elite teams just because they started 2-0, but it had to be disheartening to get just 174 yards on the Eagles. They got 75 of those yards on a fourth-quarter drive after the Eagles already had a 25-3 lead. The good news is there's no team as good as the Eagles, or even close, in the NFC South.
19. Indianapolis Colts (2-1, LW: 27)
There was so much going on in the NFL on Sunday that the Colts' win might be overlooked. They went on the road against a 2-0 Ravens team, without quarterback Anthony Richardson and running back Jonathan Taylor, and got the first huge win of the Shane Steichen era. Is it possible this will be the 2023 AFC South champion?
18. Los Angeles Chargers (1-2, LW: 21)
Mike Williams' torn ACL is a huge injury, though one the Chargers should be able to navigate. Josh Palmer is underrated and he'll see a bigger role. It puts a bright light on rookie first-round draft pick Quentin Johnston, who has played just 22% of the Chargers' offensive snaps and has just 26 yards. If Johnston emerges, the Chargers can survive the Williams injury. It's a big spot for the rookie, and how Johnston responds could determine where the Chargers' season is going.
17. New England Patriots (1-2, LW: 20)
The Patriots kicked a field goal on their first possession of the second half, then the offense took the rest of the day off. The last six possessions resulted in punts. New England got just four first downs on those six drives. The Jets have a good defense, but the Patriots' offense needs to get a lot better.
16. Washington Commanders (2-1, LW: 17)
Sacks are often blamed on the offensive line, but it's at least as much of a quarterback stat. Sam Howell has taken 19 sacks, six more than any other quarterback, this season. He's on pace to shatter the record of 76, set by David Carr in 2002. Howell does some good things, but if he can't figure out how to process and get rid of the ball quicker, he's not going to make it as a starter in the NFL.
15. Atlanta Falcons (2-1, LW: 16)
Winning home games against an 0-3 Panthers team or a shorthanded Packers team is fine. But we saw Sunday that the Falcons' ceiling is probably limited. Passing on the chance to land Lamar Jackson because they believed in Desmond Ridder was dubious at best, and it's the kind of passive approach that limits how good this franchise can be. The Falcons played a good team on the road in Week 3 and put up six points at Detroit. This is probably who the Falcons will be. We'll see if they can win enough games against bad teams to stay in the playoff race.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1, LW: 15)
Not all is well with the Steelers. We still need to see more consistency on offense (and for the love of everything, please don't run the ball on every single second-and-long). But wins are wins, and the Steelers are figuring things out at 2-1. It would have been worse if Deshaun Watson didn't give them some easy points, or Josh McDaniels didn't completely blow a late-game decision.
13. New Orleans Saints (2-1, LW: 9)
Once the Saints knew that Derek Carr was badly hurt, there had to be more urgency to close out a 17-0 lead in the fourth quarter. But they blew that game, allowing the Packers to outscore them 18-0 in the fourth quarter, and now Carr might miss a few weeks with an injured shoulder. That's how a great start to the season turns sour over about an hour.
12. Green Bay Packers (2-1, LW: 14)
In 1992, Brett Favre was pressed into action against the Bengals when Don Majkowski got hurt. Favre struggled for three quarters. Then, in the fourth quarter Favre made plays, the Packers scored 21 points and he hit Kitrick Taylor for a game-winning touchdown that launched an era in Green Bay. It's way, way too much to say Jordan Love's fourth quarter Sunday is starting something similar, but it was impressive and it's hard to not draw some parallels. At the very least, the Packers go forward with a lot more confidence in their first-year starter.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (1-2, LW: 12)
It still doesn't look good for the Bengals, but 0-3 would have been a really big hole to dig out of. The Bengals still have to figure out how to get something going in the downfield passing game. Even while taking Joe Burrow's calf injury into consideration, it shouldn't be this much of a struggle.
10. Seattle Seahawks (2-1, LW: 13)
Kenneth Walker III had 156 total yards, two touchdowns and looked great on Sunday against Carolina. Rookie Zach Charbonnet played his best game yet with 46 rushing yards on nine attempts. On top of that, Geno Smith passed for 296 yards. It still seems like we haven't seen the best of the Seahawks' offense, and it's going to be impressive when we do.
9. Baltimore Ravens (2-1, LW: 7)
The Ravens' loss Sunday wasn't great, but it needs to be noted that they were without several injured starters. Just because they won at Cincinnati without those starters doesn't mean it wasn't a real reason for the loss to the Colts. The Ravens will be fine, but they need to get healthy.
8. Cleveland Browns (2-1, LW: 10)
While we all gush over the Dolphins' offense, what about the Browns' defense? That unit is off to a rare start this season.
Fewest yards allowed after the first three games since 1970:
1. Buccaneers 430 in 1999
2. Lions 431 in 1970
3. @Browns 491 in 2023
4. Oilers 512 in 1976
— Dan Murphy (@DMurph_BrownsPR) September 25, 2023
They held the Titans to 94 yards Sunday, which shouldn't happen in an NFL game. New coordinator Jim Schwartz has turned everything around. I still don't trust the Deshaun Watson-led offense without Nick Chubb, but the defense might be the NFL's best.
7. Detroit Lions (2-1, LW: 8)
Sam LaPorta is the real deal. He has an 18-186-1 line through three games, which is excellent for a rookie tight end. When the Lions traded T.J. Hockenson, it seemed weird. Hockenson is playing very well with the Vikings and his value was shown when he signed the largest deal for a tight end in NFL history. But it turns out the Lions got a good replacement and for the next few years will pay LaPorta a fraction of what Hockenson makes. That's smart business.
6. Dallas Cowboys (2-1, LW: 3)
Trevon Diggs' season-ending injury wasn't the reason the Cowboys cratered on defense. He wasn't going to be too much help in keeping the Cardinals from rushing for 222 yards. But in the long term, it's a problem. Diggs is a difference-maker at a high-value position. It's a rough blow.
5. Miami Dolphins (3-0, LW: 6)
The Dolphins have many reasons for their rise, but one of the key reasons is simple: Miami values world-class speed, and speed is still a tremendously valuable asset in practically any sport.
The Dolphins have all FIVE of top-5 fastest @NextGenStats top NFL ball carrier speeds this season.
1. Tyreek Hill, 22.07 MPH, Week 3 vs DEN
2. Tyreek Hill, 21.66, WK1 vs LAC
3. Raheem Mostert, 21.62, WK2 vs NE
4. Tyreek Hill, 21.52, WK1 vs LAC
5. De'Von Achane, 21.5, WK3 vs DEN
— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) September 24, 2023
4. Buffalo Bills (2-1, LW: 5)
Here's the difference between a good and bad franchise: The Bears signed LB Tremaine Edmunds to a four-year, $72 million deal. Edmunds was good for the Bills but not great. He plays an increasingly devalued position, but the Bears apparently wanted to appease their fans who speak wistfully about Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher. Meanwhile, the Bills put second-year player Terrel Bernard in Edmunds' old spot, and Bernard has been excellent. On Sunday, he became the first linebacker with two or more sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery in a game since (coincidentally) Urlacher in 2007. The Bears still have one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (2-1, LW: 4)
Insert witty Taylor Swift fake lyrics related to Travis Kelce here.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (3-0, LW: 2)
A.J. Brown had his sideline argument with Jalen Hurts in Week 2. You knew he was going to get the ball a ton in Week 3. Brown had nine catches for 131 yards in an easy win over the Buccaneers. He has plenty more big games coming.
1. San Francisco 49ers (3-0, LW: 1)
The 49ers are checking every box. The defense shut down the Giants, all while the offense handed out big plays to each of its superstars, almost to prove a point about its unmatched depth at the skill positions. It's early, but the 49ers look like the NFL's most complete team.