After three weeks, we can comfortably say that it’s been a surprising start to the NFL season. Virtually all predictions made before week one have turned out to be wrong. Teams that were expected to be front runners for the Super Bowl (Carolina and Green Bay) are struggling coming out of the gate, while others (Philadelphia and Minnesota) are blowing away expectations.
Among the teams punching above their weight has been New England. While there’s no question that the Patriots are too talented to ever be called underdogs, they were expected to have a slow start with Tom Brady suspended and Rob Gronkowski out for several weeks with a hamstring injury. But backup Jimmy Garoppolo rose to the challenge and helped lead the team to wins against the Arizona Cardinals and the Miami Dolphins before injuring his shoulder. That left the Pats with rookie QB Jacoby Brissett as they went up against a ferocious Houston defense. Like Garoppolo, Brissett shocked fans with a strong performance in his first start as the team went on to win 27-0 while suffering an injury of his own. Thankfully, both QBs were present at this week’s practice as the Pats look to close out their final game before the Brady’s return in week five.
Teams rising above injury problems seems to be a running theme for this season. Following a pre-season ACL tear to starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, no one expected much from Minnesota. A win against the Tennessee Titans was hardly anything to brag about, but the week-two victory over Green Bay came as a shock to fans. The Vikings defense recalled flashes of the Purple People Eaters and rendered Aaron Rodgers a shell of the quarterback he usually is. Unfortunately, during the game, star running back Adrian Peterson went down with a nasty knee injury that could have him sidelined for the season. At this point, pretty much everyone threw their hands up and chalked the Vikings’ season up to bad luck. Losing both a starting QB and RB in the first two weeks? Even the most demanding fan would forgive a team a couple losses in the face of such adversity.
But the Vikings refused to give up. Instead, they have continued to succeed with flying colors, including absolutely destroying the Carolina Panthers at Charlotte with a 22-10 win. The Vikings defense looks like it might be the best in the league and recorded a whopping eight sacks on quarterback Cam Newton. The Vikings have quickly gone from a sob story to one of the most feared teams in the NFL.
Parity has long been one of the biggest selling points of the NFL, and that helps to make every single game exciting. The NFL prides itself on competitiveness so having a bit of a shake-up in the top teams from year to year is almost always a good thing, at least from the point of view of a neutral fan. Of course, it’s important to remember that three weeks is still far too early in the season to make any sort of prediction for how things will end. Remember that last year’s Atlanta Falcons started 5-0 only to end with an 8-8 record and miss the playoffs. Anything can happen between now and February, and the Super Bowl is still very much up for grabs, even for a slow starting team like the Carolina Panthers.