As we approach the quarter-mark of the 2017 NFL season, we are starting to get a better idea of how good and how bad each team and player is relative to our expectation. We've learned that talent is perhaps more evenly distributed this year than most past years.
Only two undefeated teams -- the Falcons and Chiefs -- remain. While five teams -- the 49ers, Browns, Bengals, Chargers, and Giants -- are still searching for their first victory. If there's a dominant team, it's Kansas City, and it'll be hard to convince most fans that Alex Smith can lead the Chiefs to victory each week on the way to the Super Bowl. If there is an especially weak team, it's Cleveland, and the Browns should be getting an energy boost at some point from top overall pick Myles Garrett.
Everything we "know" at this point, we don't really know. Not when it comes to long-term answers. We have opinions and guesstimates based on recent results and relevant history. Which narratives should you be buying and selling three weeks into this season?
"The Redskins should pay Kirk Cousins whatever he wants"
Cousins had remarkable stats on Sunday night against the Raiders, completing 25-of-30 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-10 win for Washington. So conceivably there will be calls, once again, that the organization botched its opportunity to give him a franchise deal since he's so clearly a franchise player. Except that Cousins was mediocre in the team's first two games. Before the Redskins, or any other team, gives Cousins a deal worth over $120 million (a conservative estimate in these times), look no further than the current highest-paid QB, Derek Carr. Yes, the guy who on the opposite sideline on Sunday night, averaged 3.8 yards per attempt with two interceptions and was awful throughout. Carr got paid too soon. Cousins can't wait much longer. He won't likely have a ton more games like this one.
Verdict: Soft buy
"The Jaguars are going back to the playoffs"
Though the game was in London, at 9:30 a.m. Eastern (always an unpredictable variable for NFL contests), the Jaguars were still undeniable in their 44-7 win over the Ravens. Not only did they control the run game behind Leonard Fournette and hold Joe Flacco to one of his worst career games (18 passes, 28 yards, two interceptions), but Jacksonville even got a productive game out of Blake Bortles. However, the Jags are just a week removed from a 37-16 loss to the Titans, a division rival that is also 2-1 and coming off a convincing win over the Seahawks. With a decade-long absence from the postseason, this team has a lot more to do to prove itself.
Verdict: Soft sell
"Jacoby Brissett has proven he's a capable NFL starter"
How strange is it that Brissett, a third round pick out of NC State in 2016, has now made starts in place of both Tom Brady and Andrew Luck? Sunday was his second start for Indy, becoming the first Colts QB since Bert Jones in 1974 to rush for two touchdowns and throw for another in the same game, as the Colts beat the Browns 31-28. Is Brissett another diamond in the rough? Not quite. Cleveland is Cleveland and it was basically the T.Y. Hilton show all day. Brissett has proven himself as a potential career backup, which is still pretty good.
"The Bucs breakout season isn't coming this year"
It was easy to be sold on Tampa Bay during HBO's "Hard Knocks" because if nothing else, Jameis Winston was a clear leader on HBO Films, to go along with already being an obvious talent on game film. None of that mattered during the Bucs' embarrassing 34-17 loss to the Case Keenum-led Vikings. Tampa allowed Keenum to gain 11.2 yards per pass attempt (second-best mark of his career) with three touchdowns and no interceptions; his only game with a higher Y/A and passer rating came against the Bucs two years ago while Keenum was with the Rams. The Bucs had injuries all over the defense, including to Gerald McCoy and T.J. Ward in the second half, but that still doesn't excuse this poor of a showing against a career backup.
"The Jets have messed up their chances at the No. 1 pick"
Who had Week 3 in the betting pool for the Jets ruining their "perfect" season by winning a game, despite all the efforts to purge the roster for the highest possible draft pick? Much like Todd Bowles -- you win! The Jets beat the Dolphins 20-6 and showed that they can still play remarkable defense, while Josh McCown was solid with 10.8 Y/A and a rating of 126.3. Were the Jets too good to be the worst team in the NFL? I'd say that the only teams that clearly look worse right now are the 49ers and Browns. Every loss will be pivotal in the race for the first overall pick, and the Jets definitely hurt their chances with a victory this soon.
Verdict: Soft buy
"Jay Cutler has no business as an NFL starter"
For $10 million, while Colin Kaepernick remains a free agent? This doesn't need too much commentary. Cutler looked awful.
Verdict: Buy, buy, buy
"The Lions are a better team than the Falcons, regardless of the final score"
The Falcons looked like the best team in the NFC -- if not the entire NFL -- headed into Sunday's contest in Detroit against a Lions team that has also looked pretty good so far. It would have been a signature win for Jim Caldwell and Matthew Stafford: a "W" over the defending MVP. But the Lions had yet another controversial loss despite strong performances from Stafford, the defense, and whatever the refs had to say in the end. So could the Lions be the true best team in the NFC, but perpetually unlucky? Not quite. The Falcons never trailed and have an early lead on homefield advantage as the only remaining undefeated team in the conference.
"The Giants free agent frenzy of 2016 is a clear failure"
It's not often that spending sprees result in Super Bowls, but the Giants went from 30th in points allowed in 2015 to 2nd in 2016 after buying up Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, and Damon Harrison in free agency. They got blown out by the Packers in the playoffs, but were headed in the right direction … right? Nope, not at all. New York's lack of investment on offense has resulted in them dropping to 0-3 to open the year following a loss to the Eagles, with barely more than 100 rushing yards total over their first three games. If not for Odell Beckham, the Giants may never score at all. Given their dearth of offensive line, running back, and quarterback talent, it's hard to take New York seriously anymore and some serious tweaking -- if not another mini-rebuild -- will be required in 2018.
"With a win over the Steelers on Sunday, the Bears don't need to turn to Mitchell Trubisky yet"
John Fox must be impressed with his defense through three games, holding the Falcons to 23 in a close Week 1 loss and then upsetting the Steelers 23-17 on Sunday. "We're in a good state of mind right now,'' said Fox after the win, surely aware of how many articles will be attaching him to a hot seat in the coming weeks if Chicago doesn't show marked improvement from 2016's disaster. But Fox must also know that Mike Glennon is not good enough to help them contend each week, and that Trubisky wouldn't just be starting to gain experience; he'd also be more likely to give them a chance to score the points they need to contend. The Bears are in the middle of a brutal schedule, and Glennon (15 of 22, 101 yards, one touchdown, one interception) isn't likely to lead them to any victories, even if he falls backwards into one or two.
"The Chiefs are the best team in the NFL right now"
Alex Smith has seven touchdowns and no interceptions, Kareem Hunt is the leading rusher (in dominant fashion), Tyreek Hill is an elite weapon and the defense brutally dominated Philip Rivers. Why deny them at this point?
Verdict: Buy, buy, buy
"The Seahawks window has closed"
Millions of NFL fans have been waiting for this to be true, right? Seattle was a darling in 2012 with its franchise quarterback, a champion in 2013, a broken heart in 2014, and have spent the last two-plus years as a sometimes-dominant, sometimes-pathetic force that still winds up in the second round of the playoffs regardless. Is this the end, though? The Seahawks lost 33-27 to the Titans to drop to 1-2, finally finding some offense, but then giving much of that back to Tennessee, where Marcus Mariota, DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry were able to dominate Seattle's defense in the third quarter without resistance. The Seahawks window has not closed -- the defense has still been dominant for 11 of 12 quarters -- but it's perhaps one injury shy of slamming shut as their core players inch closer to 30.
Verdict: Soft sell