Week 3 is far in the books as we wait patiently (somewhat) for Week 4 to arrive, here are some picks:
I am going to make the case for both sides here, mostly because I have absolutely ZERO confidence in this pick.
Case for Pittsburgh: Yes the Steelers lost Big Ben, but your backup could be worse than Michael Vick. No seriously, you could be stuck with Jimmy Clausen, like be thankful you have Vick… unless he bombs then forget I said anything, But the Steelers still have Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, that will surely help to soften the blow of losing Big Ben. They have been one of the league’s most explosive offenses through three weeks, ranking fifth in total yards. The Steelers only need Vick to be average for them to have a shot. The Ravens are 0-3, and their defense is ranked 24th in DVOA through three weeks. If Vick can be average, or pull something amazing out of nowhere, the Steelers should take this home game.
Case for Baltimore: The Steelers lost their starting QB, a guy who was playing like one of the top five best quarterbacks in the league. It is very hard to win without those guys. The Ravens are also 0-3 for the first time in their franchise history, so you can bet they will be hungry to destroy a depleted Steelers team. This Ravens team also always gets up for games against Baltimore, even though they will be without Suggs, arguably the emotional heart of their defense. The Ravens offense looked fine last week against the Bengals. The Steelers secondary has struggled so far this year, so look for Steve Smith to have a big game.
Overall, the Steelers without Ben on a short week is why I am picking against them. Yes, they will have Vick prepared to go in their and play, but the Ravens really need this win, If 0-3 does not mean that the playoffs are impossible, then 0-4 surely would spell doom for this Ravens team before October has even had time to settle in. I’m picking the Ravens.
Now let’s look at something from this past week that really fascinated me, and that was the Arizona Cardinals. They looked absolutely dominant in their win over the San Francisco 49ers(FWIW all stats come from ESPN and football outsiders). Coming into the season it appeared that the Seahawks and Packers would be the unquestionable top teams in the NFC. But have the Cardinals entered that tier? More importantly, could the be the best team in the NFC at this point?
The Cardinals are pretty damn good. Last year we saw flashes of it, as the Cardinals started the season 9-1. Their only loss came against the Broncos, with a Peyton Manning that was not yet showing any signs of aging, and they were without Carson Palmer(a loss is still a loss, but at least it was too a formidable opponent and they were without they’re starting qb). The interesting thing is that, even after Palmer went down when the team was 8-1, I’ll give him the win against St. Louis seeing as how he was the team’s leading passer, the Cardinals finished 3-4. Including the three games Palmer missed earlier in the year, the Cardinals went 5-5. They were 6-0 with him. This suggests that if Palmer can stay healthy, the Cardinals could actually be one of the best team’s in the league.
So far, the Cardinals are 3-0, granted they have played the Saints, Bears, and 49ers who are a combined 1-8 record, but the manner in which they have won these games is what’s impressive. The Cardinals have scored a league best 126 points, seven more than the Patriots. They are tied for fourth in points allowed with 49 on the season. That is good for a league best +77 point differential. Those are pretty impressive numbers through three weeks. They are averaging 42 points per game, while allowing just a touch over 16 per game. This past Sunday, they were all over Colin Kaepernick, getting two early pick-6’s, paired with two Chris Johnson rushing touchdowns, helped them jump out to a commanding 31-7 halftime lead.
They did not look back from there. Through three weeks, the Cardinals ranked first in total DVOA, ranking third in both offensive and defensive DVOA Carson Palmer has been a big reason why, ranking 2nd in QBR, and 2nd in QB DVOA. He ranks only behind Aaron Rodgers in both categories. He also ranks third in a stat called effective yards, behind only Brady and Rodgers In other words, Palmer has been one of the league’s best qbs so far this year, and one of the most valuable. Peter King suggested that Palmer was arguably the league’s most indispensable qb and many laughed at him. However, through three weeks, Palmer has proved almost as valuable as Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, if that does not say something about his value to the Cardinals, then I do not know what does.
The Cardinals defense has also been pretty good this year, they rank inside the top 10, or just outside the top 10 in points allowed per game, yards allowed per game, rushing yards per game, and passing yards per game. Again, the Saints, Bears, and 49ers offenses are nothing to be writing home about(the Bears were with Clausen for about half of the game), but this is still an impressive feat by a good defense. They also rank third according to football outsiders in overall defensive DVOA. This means that the Cardinals defense has been very impressive this year, especially since DVOA likes them.
The Cardinals may be the most complete team in the league right now, pairing a great defense, with and offense that looks good right now and could get even better once Mike Iupati and Andre Ellington return. In other words, it may be early but watch out, the Cardinals might be the team to beat in the NFC.
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Ted Van Green
Spark Sports NFL Analyst