Goal-line Stand: Any playoff shot for an 0-3 team this season? Cardinals legitimate threats in NFC?

Updated: September 29, 2015
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From week-to-week, opinions and perspectives across the NFL landscape are bound to change. One week, a team could be the favorite to win their respective division. The next week, they’ve hardly got a shot at making the playoffs. A lot of that is due to it being so early in the season, as we all attempt to make premature predictions. But there are a boatload of interesting storylines that come along with that.

In my new weekly column, “Goal-line Stand,” I’ll take a look at four intriguing stories that have suddenly become topics of discussion. This week we focus on the Arizona Cardinals, 0-3 teams across the NFL, the NFC East division and Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, two of the best quarterbacks we’ve ever witnessed.


First-and-goal: Are the Arizona Cardinals legit threats in the NFC?

The Cardinals are off to a 3-0 start this season, and they’re looking as good as ever. Carson Palmer is healthy, and playing at an elite level. He’s looking like the Palmer of old — you know, the one that was once a Pro Bowl player during his Cincinnati Bengal days. He’s thrown for 803 yards, nine touchdowns and just two interceptions through three games.

Oh, and he’s finally developed some chemistry with All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has 23 receptions for 333 yards and five touchdowns, already. Last season, he only had 63 catches for 784 yards and two measly touchdowns. Palmer is starting to realize what type of weapon he has in Fitzgerald.

Even though the Cardinals’ opponents so far this season have a combined record of just 1-8, they’ve been blowing everyone out of the water — including their dominant 47-7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers this past week. They’re averaging 42 points per game, as their offense is starting to catch up with that stout defense. Oh, and here’s a stat for you: In the last 13 games where Palmer has been the starting quarterback, the Cardinals have a record of 12-1. Yup, I think they should make sure he remains healthy and under center. It’s still early, but the Cardinals are a team to keep an eye on as the season plays out.


Second-and-goal: Which NFC East team has the upper hand after three weeks?

Well, who’s it going to be? Who’s going to separate themselves in this wild, messy division? The Dallas Cowboys got off to a quick 2-0 start, but lost quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant in doing so. Romo will be out for at least another seven weeks, which would cause him to miss six games. And who knows when Bryant will return. There have been reports that he’ll be out 10 weeks, and some that say closer to six weeks.

The Philadelphia Eagles were a team that many picked to go to the Super Bowl this season — which I’m not sure why, after all the pieces they lost — but they haven’t been playing great football to start the year. They lost their first two games, to the Atlanta Falcons (3-0) and Cowboys (2-1), but finally got a victory over the then-undefeated New York Jets (2-1) Sunday. Even though Sam Bradford and DeMarco Murray haven’t panned out the way Chip Kelly thought they would thus far, the Eagles have just as good of a shot as anyone to compete in this division.

The New York Giants may be the one team in the NFC East with stability right now. They have the best quarterback — at least while Romo is out — in Eli Manning, the best receivers — at least while Bryant is out — in Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz, and a defense that’s playing better than expected. They lost their first two games after blowing a lead in the fourth quarter, but beat up on the Washington Redskins in a primetime game last Thursday night.

Speaking of the Redskins, they’re back with the same dilemma they had when the season first began. Who should be starting at quarterback? Kirk Cousins seems to be a hit-or-miss type of player. When he’s on, he’s on. But when he’s off target, he’s really off — like he was against the Giants. Their defense is much improved under new coordinator Joe Barry, and they have an efficient rushing attack in their duo of Alfred Morris and Matt Jones. But the quarterback — who’s currently Cousins — has to be more consistent. They are expected to get DeSean Jackson back soon, maybe that’ll help open things up for Cousins and the offense.


Third-and-goal: Which 0-3 team has the best shot to make a playoff run?

The New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens are the four teams in the NFL who have yet to get a victory under their belts. And it’s not looking good for any of them right now, to be perfectly honest. But of these teams, which one has the best shot to make a playoff push?

Well, it’s not likely that any of them will get to the postseason, as an 0-3 team has only made it to the playoffs three times since 1990 — the San Diego Chargers in 1992, Lions in 1995 and Buffalo Bills in 1998. The Saints are in a division that currently includes two undefeated teams, the Falcons and Carolina Panthers. They’ve also got an injured quarterback, in Drew Brees. He’s expected to play against the Cowboys Sunday, but that’s still up in the air. The Lions are in a division that includes the Green Bay Packers, who have looked dominant early on this season. Aaron Rodgers seems to be taking his game to yet another level, and their defense just continues to improve weekly.

Should the Bears even be considered here? They look God awful. They aren’t able to get anything going offensively, their defense just isn’t good and they’re without starting quarterback Jay Cutler for the time being, who probably wouldn’t make a difference anyhow. They were blanked by the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, 26-0, showing absolutely no fight.

That leaves the Ravens, who have lost their three games by a combined 14 points. They seemed poised to defeat the Bengals (3-0) Sunday, but the Andy DaltonA.J. Green combination served to be too much for that Baltimore secondary. But, I do think they’ll still be in the thick of things when it’s all said and done. The Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) will be without Ben Roethlisberger for about six weeks, as he suffered an MCL sprain Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, and the Bengals always start off hot — this is nothing new. If the Ravens can get some type of running game going — cough, cough, Justin Forsett — to go along with their passing attack, that features a never-aging Steve Smith Sr., they’ll have a shot to make up some ground in the AFC North.


Fourth-and-goal: Who is league MVP after three weeks, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady?

I know, it’s way too early to start talking about NFL MVP’s at this point. But, have we ever seen better quarterback play out of two guys at the same time, than what we’ve witnessed from Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers thus far? We all knew Brady would be on a personal mission to destroy the NFL with his play on the field this season, and he’s doing just that. Brady has thrown for 1,112 yards, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions through three weeks, while Rodgers has thrown for 771 yards, 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions. They both have their teams rolling at 3-0, and I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise anyone if we saw them meet in February’s Super Bowl.

Brady is 38 years old, and has never looked better. His chemistry with tight end Rob Gronkowski makes up the best one-two punch in the NFL, and he consistently seems to get the best out of average-at-best receivers on a season-to-season basis. For instance, even Keyshawn Martin, who was recently acquired from the Houston Texans, caught a touchdown pass Sunday. Brady just has an uncanny ability to make players around him better — sort of like LeBron James does in the NBA.

Rodgers is without his top target, in Jordy Nelson, and the offense hasn’t missed a beat. Randall Cobb caught three touchdown passes Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs — has four on the year — and James Jones has filled Nelson’s role quite well, as he has four touchdown receptions of his own so far this season. Since we’re comparing football to basketball, Jon Gruden said on Monday Night Football that Rodgers reminds him of Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry.  “These two guys, quick release and it’s accurate,” Gruden said.

It’s impossible to say who’ll win league MVP at this point of the season, but if Rodgers and Brady keeps this up, it could be the closet race we’ve had in quite some time.

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