The NFL is more unpredictable this year, and that’s a good thing


The first three weeks of the NFL season have been exciting and eventful, something we couldn’t always say in 2017.

The NFL standings aren’t much of a thing this early in the season but don’t tell that to the non-Patriots inhabitants of the AFC East, who are reveling in New England’s 1-2 record and a possible changing of the tide in the division for the first time this century. Out of nowhere, the Dolphins are 3-0, the Jets think they have the next Joe Namath and the Bills just beat Minnesota a week after a starting safety retired in the middle of a blowout.

Chaos in the NFL’s least chaotic division was only part of an eventful Week 3, which featured a Browns win, a 9-6 game and a few surprising results. The NFL has been unpredictable so far, and it’s refreshing.

More teams have competent quarterbacks, which means they’re more willing to upgrade around that QB. Last year was a perfect storm of quarterback vacuums and a top-tier QB draft class, in addition to an unusually active intra-league market — Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, and Tyrod Taylor are among those that have moved. Rather than letting a 4-12 season happen with the aim of drafting a franchise QB, teams are more likely build around their guy, often on the crucially valuable rookie contract.

It’s a cycle, and there are plenty of aging quarterbacks around the league that will likely see replacements sooner rather than later, creating more tankers and less parity. But every team has a starter right now, young or old, overpaid or underpaid, and when you have that, you’re way more likely to splurge on win-now types of players.

Arizona wants to surround Josh Rosen with weapons. Buffalo wants pieces for Josh Allen. The Chiefs, most notably, are all in with Patrick Mahomes’s bargain rookie deal running through 2021. It’s become a story in itself that Dallas isn’t doing enough to build around Dak Prescott on his initial contract.

The cycle will end, and the Saints, Steelers, Giants, Patriots, Chargers, and others will be left in limbo, as many were last year. It’s somewhat of a coincidence that last year’s QB draft class was amazing and this years is relatively underwhelming. For now, there are plenty of exciting young QBs and veteran, still-capable signal-callers competing for playoff spots.

More games are competitive with teams actually trying to be competitive, naturally creating more excitement and unpredictability. Injuries have also played a role. Last year has almost gained a level of infamy for the numerous star players falling victim to injured reserve. Superstars like Odell Beckham and JJ Watt staying on the field helps the entertainment value.

The Jimmy Garoppolo torn ACL is unfortunate, and likely puts the 49ers in a position too many teams found themselves in last year — playing out the stretch, with little chance of staying competitive. But so far, Jimmy G’s bad luck has been a relatively rare occurrence.

In Week 3, there were more good games and surprising results. The Bills’ 27-6 win over the Vikings was the most shocking of all of them. Buffalo appeared to be on a fast-track to the No. 1 overall pick, with an injured LeSean McCoy and an underperforming receiving corps. But their defense got to Kirk Cousins early and often, ultimately forcing three turnovers, and Allen was good — 15/22, 196 yards, 1 TD and no turnovers. He’d be better off with real receivers, of course.

Just as Buffalo was projected to have a difficult season, Houston was supposed to break out. Deshaun Watson is back, along with Watt and fellow pass-rusher Whitney Mercilus, and they signed Tyrann Mathieu to anchor the secondary. After a loss to the lowly Giants at home, the Texans are 0-3.

The Jaguars and Titans are doing their best to keep the Texans around in the division. The Titans smash and grabbed a 9-6 win in Jacksonville with Marcus Mariota still on the bench. Blake Bortles when from out-dueling Tom Brady to putting up just six points against Tennessee.

Brady didn’t have much better of a week, losing 26-10 against the Lions on Sunday Night Football, dropping the Pats to 1-2. New England has done this numerous times through the years, making everyone think they’ve finally fallen off, before pulling off some win streak. Never put stock in a bad Patriots run.

Washington beat the continually hobbled Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, 31-17, and look increasingly like contenders in the NFC. Adrian Peterson is producing, Alex Smith is being Alex Smith, and the defense is doing enough to win games. In the same week that the Falcons and Saints traded offensive blows with little real defense in either direction, the NFC looks more wide open than was originally thought.

The NFL, in general, is more wide open. The Bears, for example, could steal a win against any team with Khalil Mack and a big play or two from Tarik Cohen. It’s unpredictable. Healthy and competent quarterbacks, it turns out, are necessities.

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