Week 3 of the 2021 NFL season brought us some wild endings. Through a frenetic final two minutes, the Chargers edged past Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs after Kansas City struggled with ball security. The Ravens avoided an upset loss to the Lions with a record-setting 66-yard field goal from Justin Tucker that rang off the crossbar and went through to end the game. The Falcons won a battle of winless teams, hitting a field goal to beat the Giants.
Elsewhere, the Cardinals overcame an early deficit against the Jaguars to roll to 3-0, and the Steelers’ offensive issues continued in a loss to the Bengals. The Browns’ pass rush was all over quarterback Justin Fields in the rookie’s debut as the Bears starter. The Titans got a big AFC South win, and the Saints and Bills posted statement wins — including 43 points from Buffalo’s offense.
In the late games, the Broncos shut out Zach Wilson and the Jets, the Bucs lost for the first time in 10 games and the Vikings beat the Seahawks. The Raiders beat the Dolphins in overtime to improve to 3-0.
In the night game, the Packers came from behind to win in the final minute.
Our NFL Nation reporters react to it all, with the major takeaways and lingering questions from this week’s action. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about the team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.
What to know: This is why you want Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback, Davante Adams as your No. 1 receiver and Mason Crosby as your kicker for as long as humanly possible. What other quarterback could get his team into position for the game-winning field goal after taking over at his own 25-yard line with 37 seconds left and no timeouts? And what other kicker — except maybe Justin Tucker — would you want booting a 51-yarder to win it with no time left? Rodgers hit Adams for gains of 25 yards and 17 yards and spiked the ball after each one to put the Packers in position for the winner. Adams came back after taking a brutal hit earlier in the fourth quarter and finished with 12 catches for 132 yards. And Crosby connected on his 22nd straight field goal attempt. — Rob Demovsky
How can you win a game with a third-string left tackle who had played exactly 14 NFL snaps coming in? By getting the ball out quickly. That helped second-year pro Yosh Nijman in his first NFL start. While Nick Bosa beat him a few times early, the Packers’ up-tempo, quick-hitting offense gave Nijman a chance to succeed. They could have gone with the more experienced Dennis Kelly at right tackle and moved Billy Turner to left tackle once they found out Elgton Jenkins (the fill-in for David Bakhtiari) was out this week. But they went with a guy who had previously played only in mop-up duty. Rodgers threw for 140 yards and a touchdown on his first 16 passes with 2.5 seconds or less to throw. His first incompletion on such throws didn’t come until late in the fourth quarter. — Demovsky
Demovsky’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, up from 6.5. You don’t love the Packers’ defense giving up a go-ahead drive late in the game, but with Rodgers, Adams and Crosby, you know you’ve always got a chance.
Next game: vs. Steelers (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: If the 49ers want to contend in the NFC, rookie quarterback Trey Lance has to be more involved. That doesn’t mean it’s time to panic and have him replace starter Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo deserves credit for putting together the late drive to give the Niners a temporary lead (and so do George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Kyle Juszczyk). It just means they need to find creative ways to get Lance in the game plan and take advantage of his unique skill set. Lance’s running ability and arm strength elevate the ceiling of an offense that simply has lacked dynamic plays the past couple of weeks, save for the final moments of Sunday’s contest. Lance gives the 49ers more ways to rip off yards in chunks, especially in their ailing running game. — Nick Wagoner
Can the 49ers rediscover their run game with a patchwork group of backs? Speaking of that run game, early-season attrition has left the Niners painfully thin at running back. Without Raheem Mostert (knee), JaMycal Hasty (ankle) and Elijah Mitchell (shoulder), the 49ers went with a group led by rookie Trey Sermon and a trio of backs signed in the past couple of weeks against the Packers. The result? Juszczyk, the fullback, was second on the team in carries, while Sermon registered just 10 attempts. The Niners finished with 67 yards on 21 carries, and offense was hard to come by for most of the night because of the lack of a running game. Mitchell should be back soon, but the Niners are going to have to figure it out with what they have until Jeff Wilson Jr. returns midseason. — Wagoner
Wagoner’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, down from 6.8. The Niners showed a lot of grit battling back against the Packers, but their injuries and lack of depth at running back and cornerback are obvious issues that appear increasingly tough to overcome against good teams.
Next game: vs. Seahawks (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)
What to know: These Raiders, the fourth version of coach Jon Gruden 2.0, do not blink. Not after being down 14-0 for the second time in three weeks. Not after blowing an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter. And not after winning a battle of attrition and storming back to win on the last play of overtime, a 22-yard Daniel Carlson field goal. Credit a stout defense (three sacks, a safety and a lot of bending but not breaking) and an opportunistic offense (the Raiders scored 25 unanswered points at one point) to pull out the win and improve to 3-0 for the first time since the 2002 Super Bowl season. The Raiders are the second team since OT was instituted in 1974 to start 3-0 with two wins coming in overtime. The 1995 Kansas City Chiefs did it en route to a 13-3 record. — Paul Gutierrez
Can the Raiders run the ball with regularity early? No. At least, not yet. Sure, Peyton Barber got it going late and in overtime after an extremely rough start, finishing with a career-high 111 yards and a one-yard TD plunge over the pile on 23 carries. But the young and inexperienced interior of the Raiders’ offensive line — left guard John Simpson, center Andre James and right guard Jermaine Eluemunor — were getting pushed around early and often. And rookie right tackle Alex Leatherwood had some issues early, too. True, the Raiders were missing Pro Bowl running back Josh Jacobs with an ankle injury for the second week in a row, but as Gruden intimated earlier in the week, it doesn’t matter if Earl Campbell is in the backfield if the O-line can’t get it together. — Gutierrez
Gutierrez’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.2, no change from 8.2. Let’s keep it the same, even with a win. A rough start and a rough ending to allow Miami to force overtime — and the lack of a running game early — are things to work on. At least the Raiders get an extra day this week with a Monday night game at the Los Angeles Chargers up next.
Next game: at Chargers (8:15 p.m. ET, Monday)
What to know: With or without Tua Tagovailoa, the Dolphins offense is not providing enough support for their defense. They scored three touchdowns as a team — one on an 85-yard interception return, another after their defense forced a turnover on downs at the Raiders’ 34-yard line, and a third with two seconds remaining to tie the game. Beyond that, it was a steady stream of stalled drives and stagnant offense. This defense is good but Miami is not a playoff team until it gets more consistent play on offense. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
What is the outlook of this team without Tua Tagovailoa? Miami placed Tagovailoa on injured reserve, meaning he will miss at least three games — against the Raiders, Colts and Buccaneers. If they sustain this level of play, the Dolphins are in serious jeopardy of losing all three. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett looked hesitant to push the ball downfield until the game depended on it and the performance on third down (5-of-15) is holding this offense back. Brissett was impressive down the stretch, including the game-tying touchdown and an incredible conversion on fourth-and-20 in overtime. If that version of Brissett appears for all four quarters, Miami might have something. — Louis-Jacques
Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 4.5, down from 5. We didn’t really learn anything new about the Dolphins but the only things keeping this rating from dropping lower were the flashes of offense we saw from Brissett and the Dolphins late in the fourth quarter and in overtime.
Next game: vs. Colts (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Week 3 was one of Kirk Cousins‘ best games as a Viking. The quarterback was 30-of-38 for 323 yards, three touchdown passes and a 128.4 passer rating — and he still hasn’t thrown an interception this season. Cousins’ huge outing had the offense rolling by halftime — this is the second straight game where he’s thrown three touchdowns in the first half. Seattle’s defense failed to pressure to Cousins, and it played to the quarterback’s advantage (all of his TDs came when not pressured). On the few occasions where the 32-year-old quarterback had a defender in his face, Cousins delivered, like the time he made a highlight-reel throw off his back foot to K.J. Osborn for a third-down conversion in the fourth quarter. — Courtney Cronin
Can the Vikings offense carry Mike Zimmer’s defense? Even without running back Dalvin Cook, Minnesota’s offense was able to keep pace, with Alexander Mattison setting the tone by tying a career-high with 112 rushing yards and Justin Jefferson adding nine catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. The offense carried the load in the first half before the defense turned it on in the third quarter. Minnesota pressured Russell Wilson on 55% of his dropbacks and got it together in the second half, allowing only 42 yards on 15 plays prior to a last-ditch Seahawks drive at the end of the game. — Cronin
Cronin’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.3, up from 4.5. The pressure is on Zimmer to beat former offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and Cleveland next week. Will the turnaround continue or will Minnesota be humbled by the coach it let walk in 2020?
Next game: vs. Browns (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. have to fix the Seahawks’ struggling defense in a hurry. As in, right now — before they play the 49ers and Rams in consecutive weeks, and before they lose more ground in the NFC West. They have to figure out why they’re getting gashed on the ground (this time by a backup running back) and through the air (this time by another receiver corps that overmatched their corners) as badly as they have the last two weeks. They have to figure out how to help whoever is at corner with more of a consistent pass-rush, and how to make safety Jamal Adams more of a factor. They turned their struggling defense around at midseason last year en route to a 12-4 record. They can’t wait that long this time, especially if quarterback Russell Wilson and their offense keeps failing to bail them out. — Brady Henderson
Who will be playing cornerback next week? There’s no justification for the Seahawks to continue to roll with Tre Flowers and D.J. Reed. They got worked again Sunday, albeit by an excellent duo of receivers and without much of a pass rush to take the pressure off of them. Nickelback Ugo Amadi also had a rough day after Marquise Blair (knee) was a late scratch. Sidney Jones is on the bench and will have had a month to learn Seattle’s defense by the time they head to the Bay Area to face the 49ers next week. He should be playing instead of either Flowers or Reed. Why not? He can’t be any worse. — Henderson
Henderson’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.7, down from 7.5. A 1-2 start is hardly a death knell — the Seahawks made the playoffs in 2018 after starting 1-2 — but the NFC West wasn’t as good then as it is now.
Next game: at 49ers (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Rams improved to 3-0 with a decisive victory over the previously undefeated and defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, proving themselves as favorites to make a run to Super Bowl LVI. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has provided an electrifying jolt to the offense with his ability to complete explosive plays, while three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald is again anchoring a dominant defense. — Lindsey Thiry
Do the Rams need a run game? Through three games, the Rams have been unable to consistently deliver on the ground. On Sunday, they went without starting running back Darrell Henderson Jr., who was inactive because of a rib cartilage injury. Sony Michel, acquired in a preseason trade with the Patriots, rushed for 67 yards on 20 carries, while rookie Jake Funk rushed for six yards on one carry. — Thiry
Thiry’s confidence rating (0-10): 9, up from 8. A victory over seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Bucs earns the Rams a big move in the confidence rating. There’s still room to improve, but this team is on pace to make a deep playoff run.
Next game: vs. Cardinals (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans said he wanted to play the Rams last year to avenge a three-point loss en route to their Super Bowl title. Instead, the Rams looked more like the ones to beat this year, handing the Bucs their first loss since Nov. 29, 2020, and ending their 10-game win streak. The Bucs were without wide receiver Antonio Brown, who tested positive for COVID-19, starting kick returner Jaydon Mickens (hand) and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) because of injuries. They then lost third cornerback Jamel Dean to a knee injury after Sean Murphy-Bunting went to injured reserve. — Jenna Laine
Do the Bucs need to bring in cornerback help? Is the sky blue? Is water wet? The answer was yes last week, before Dean’s injury. But now, the Bucs are in desperate need. Ross Cockrell had somewhat of a better game — he did get annihilated by Sony Michel on a blitz and got a holding call after Cooper Kupp put a double move on him, but he also had a pass breakup on a ball intended for Kupp. Still, he is not a long-term answer at nickel. Dee Delaney was also completely overwhelmed by Kupp, surrendering a 22-yard pass and 2-yard touchdown. But it wasn’t just reserves. Carlton Davis struggled against DeSean Jackson, who had 120 receiving yards. Coach Bruce Arians said the team had reached out to Richard Sherman. Those talks need to intensify, though Arians believes they may have answers on their roster in Pierre Desir and Rashard Robinson, who were signed to the practice squad last week but didn’t see defensive action Sunday.— Laine
Laine’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, down from 7. It’s early and they were short-handed, so it’s not time to panic, but this secondary needs help.
Next game: at Pats (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Broncos, now 3-0, are off to their best start since going 4-0 in 2016. They’ve done that thanks to an improved offense with Teddy Bridgewater behind center, to go with an often suffocating defense. But their three opponents — the Giants, Jaguars and Jets — each exited Week 3 at 0-3. Now the Broncos get down to business, given the next four games will be against the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Las Vegas Raiders and Cleveland Browns. And the Broncos will have to be a lot cleaner, on offense especially, than they were in the second half against the Jets to keep the momentum going. The Jets found some holes in the Broncos’ pass protection and the highly aggressive Ravens figure to test that next week. — Jeff Legwold
Do the Broncos have the depth in the offensive line to overcome their injuries? The Broncos lost two starters in the win over the Jets — guard Graham Glasgow (knee) and guard Dalton Risner (foot) — and had difficulty managing the line of scrimmage at times in the second half. Netane Muti, a 2020 draft pick, replaced Glasgow and rookie Quinn Meinerz replaced Risner. The Broncos were struggling a little to protect Bridgewater from pressure on the interior before Glasgow and Risner left. The offensive line will be tested plenty against a Ravens defense that will blitz early and often. — Legwold
Legwold’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.8, down from 8. It was an expensive win for the Broncos in terms of injuries with Glasgow, Risner and wide receiver KJ Hamler (knee) leaving the game, meaning the Broncos have lost at least one starter in each of their three wins.
Next game: vs. Ravens (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: You knew this would be a painful rebuilding year, but this is ridiculous: The Jets (0-3) were non-competitive yet again. They failed to score a touchdown for the second straight game, as rookie QB Zach Wilson got no help whatsoever. The most alarming part? They were cooked by halftime — again. Through three games, they’ve been outscored in the first half 46-3, meaning they were unprepared — an indictment of coach Robert Saleh and his staff. They became the fourth team in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to never hold a lead in their first three games in back-to-back seasons, per Elias Sports Bureau. Sadly, this looks a lot like the ill-fated Adam Gase era. Where are the glimmers of progress? — Rich Cimini
Is there one thing the Jets can do to be more competitive? One thing? Ha! The Jets are leaking oil in several areas — dropped passes, lack of discipline (eight penalties), questionable clock management, lack of situational awareness — and the list goes on. A better running game would take pressure off Wilson, but it will be hard to flip the script. The offensive line looks overmatched, the running backs lack explosiveness and the playcalling has been predictable. There’s no identity on offense. That’s troubling. — Cimini
Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 2, down from 3. The only reason it’s not 1.0 is we have to save that for the rock-bottom game, which has yet to happen (believe it or not).
Next game: vs. Titans (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Ravens can win as long as they have Lamar Jackson and Justin Tucker. After the depleted Baltimore defense allowed scores on Detroit’s final three drives, Tucker won the game with an NFL-record 66-yard field goal as time expired. The kick bounced off the crossbar and in. The winning kick was set up by Jackson, who converted a fourth-and-19 with a 36-yard pass to Sammy Watkins. The defense got blindsided two days before the game, when it lost four players, including Pro Bowl pass-rusher Justin Houston and top run-stuffer Brandon Williams, to the COVID-19 protocol. In total, Baltimore played without 13 players who counted at least $1 million against the salary cap, either because of injury or COVID-19. — Jamison Hensley
Can Marquise Brown overcome his three critical drops? Brown went from being Lamar Jackson’s No. 1 receiver to his No. 1 liability in Detroit. Brown’s three drops in the first half — the most any player has had in the first half of a game since 2015 — took away from Jackson’s most accurate passing day of the season. Brown’s drops totaled 97 air yards and all came on throws of 25-plus yards, including a perfectly thrown one in the end zone. This was uncharacteristic for Brown, who had no drops on 32 such targets in his career. But by the third drop, it was evident it was in his head. — Hensley
Hensley’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.8, no change from last week. This was the epitome of a trap game. The Ravens were coming off an emotional win over the Chiefs and faced one of the worst teams in the NFL. But Baltimore continues to figure out how to win in the most dramatic ways.
Next game: at Broncos (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The latest loss was yet another heartbreaker for Lions fans. The defense did everything to make the game competitive until the waning seconds, when Lamar Jackson completed a fourth-and-19 pass to Sammy Watkins for 36 yards. It set up Justin Tucker’s NFL-record 66-yard field goal at the buzzer. After going forward with the decision to seek a trade for veteran linebacker Jamie Collins and play younger guys like Derrick Barnes and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, the defensive line was relentless, sacking Jackson four times. But Jackson and Tucker found a way to pull it out. — Eric Woodyard
Is the Lions’ backfield for real? Swaggy & Swifty. That’s the nickname for the Detroit Lions backfield featuring D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. The run game has been an Achilles heel of the Lions for much of the post-Barry Sanders era, but this duo continues to be a strong points with another solid performance, not only on the ground, but in the air. Swift (47 yards rushing, 1 TD; 7 receptions, 60 yards) and Williams (42 rushing yards, 1 TD rushing; 2 catches, 25 yards) helped keep Detroit in position for the upset. — Woodyard
Woodyard’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 4.5. Unlike the first two weeks, the Lions showed potential by being competitive for an entire game and limiting mistakes.
Next game: at Bears (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: After three weeks, it’s clear Cordarrelle Patterson is going to be a multifaceted option on offense for Atlanta all season. Patterson had 20 yards rushing (on seven carries) and a team-high 82 yards receiving. He’s a player quarterback Matt Ryan clearly counts on and can be dangerous from multiple spots on the field. In other words, if you’re looking for a steady threat on a sometimes-shaky Falcons offense (that showed potential in the fourth quarter), Patterson might be it. — Michael Rothstein
Where was Kyle Pitts in Atlanta’s offense Sunday? The rookie tight end and No. 4 overall pick in the draft had started to seem as if he would be a consistent option in the Atlanta offense — one of the few constants the Falcons would have. Then came Sunday, when Pitts didn’t even see his first target (a 10-yard catch) until the 11:20 mark in the fourth quarter. He was targeted again in the end zone on Atlanta’s game-tying drive resulting in a pass-interference call, and he had a big 25-yard reception on the Falcons’ game-winning drive. But too often, Pitts was ignored. If Atlanta wants offensive success, that can’t happen. — Rothstein
Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, up from 4.8. Atlanta showed it can win a close game against a comparable team. It doesn’t mean the Falcons are a good team, but it offers a glimpse that they are buying into what Arthur Smith is trying to build.
Next game: vs. Washington (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Matt Ryan sells the handoff, then flicks a TD pass to Lee Smith for a 1-yard score.
What to know: If they’re not going to beat the Falcons at home on Eli Manning Day, where are the wins coming from on the schedule? The Giants (0-3) play next at the Saints, at Cowboys, vs. Rams, vs. Panthers, at Chiefs, vs. Raiders and at Bucs. Yikes! They want to keep saying they’re only worried about this week and what they can control at the moment. The rest of us are concerned about where this season is headed and who will be accountable for this mess. — Jordan Raanan
How bad are these injuries? The Giants lost wide receivers Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton to hamstring injuries. Blake Martinez had a non-contact knee injury. Prized offseason acquisition Kenny Golladay was in and out of the game dealing with a hip injury and running back Saquon Barkley even looked a bit banged up. Can the team survive this type of injury onslaught? Its margin for error appeared minimal prior to Sunday. — Raanan
Raanan’s confidence rating (0-10): 1.2, down from 3.2. They lost at home to Atlanta on Eli Manning Day despite having the lead in the fourth quarter. And the schedule is really tough for the next seven games.
Next game: at Saints (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Quarterback Josh Allen had his best game of the season, and it wasn’t particularly close. He went 32-for-43 for 358 yards with four touchdowns, including two to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, and one rushing touchdown. Allen put together a complete game and had a performance that echoed his MVP runner-up finish from the 2020 season. In the first half alone, Allen threw three touchdowns and six incompletions. He successfully stepped up in the pocket, avoided pressure and helped put the game out of reach by leading the offense on a 98-yard, 17-play drive that took more than eight minutes off the clock in the third quarter. Throws downfield were an issue to start the season, but Allen took a step forward in that area Sunday. He completed 10 of 15 passes for 200 yards and two TDs on throws of more than 10 yards downfield, tied for his second-most completions on those throws in a game in his career. — Alaina Getzenberg
Is the lack of consistent pass rush a concern? This is the question that will follow the Bills throughout the season. Getting the pass rush right was the biggest need for the team this offseason, which is why Buffalo’s first two picks of the 2021 NFL draft were invested in that area. Against an inexperienced Taylor Heinicke, however, the Bills’ defense had one sack, courtesy of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, and six quarterback hits. The defense had a good day with three takeaways, but it struggled to consistently make Heinicke uncomfortable. Against the better offensive lines and quarterbacks ahead on the Bills’ schedule, this will be an issue to keep an eye on. — Getzenberg
Getzenberg’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.7, up from 7.3. The Bills have some big tests ahead of them, but Allen and the offense looked unstoppable at times, something that had not been the case yet this season. Overall Buffalo put together its most complete game — a positive sign for things to come.
Next game: vs. Texans (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Washington QB Taylor Heinicke is a great story, but he’s not the long-term solution and that shouldn’t be surprising. He can still help this team, but that’s hard to do when playing with a defense that can’t stop anyone, which puts pressure on him to pass all game. He needs to be part of a balanced attack or the flaws show more. He showed his determination — witness the diving 4-yard touchdown run — but he also forces throws in an attempt to do too much. That led to both of his interceptions and nearly more. — John Keim
Where is defensive end Chase Young? The question before the season: Will the 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year become one of the NFL’s top-five pass-rushers? Right now, the defensive end is nowhere close. Through three games he has no sacks, forced no turnovers and hasn’t applied enough pressure. Much more was expected from a player who was a No. 2 overall draft pick. Young has shown flashes, but this defense needs playmakers, and in the second half of last season, that’s what Young became. Teams pay a lot of attention to him as they did last season, but he needs to develop more of a strategy to become a consistent force. He’s not the only issue, he’s just the one with the most talent who can provide a big boost. — Keim
Keim’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 5.2. Until the defense plays a good game, the confidence rating will hover in this area. Washington plays too many good quarterbacks, so if its play doesn’t improve, it will be a really long season.
Next game: at Falcons (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Cardinals’ offense is as deep and diverse as it’s been in years. The unit had two 100-yard receivers in A.J. Green and Christian Kirk. Green had his first 100-yard game as a Cardinal with 112. Kirk added 104. Having weapons like that at Kyler Murray‘s disposal allowed Arizona to come back from a nine-point deficit to win. This is what Arizona didn’t have last season but has been the difference between winning and losing in 2021. — Josh Weinfuss
What does it say about the Cardinals that they’re still winning games in which they struggle? It shows that they’re not the same team that went 3-6 to close out last season. This year’s Cardinals can take a hit and bounce back, which will serve them well in the hunt for the playoffs while facing the likes of the Rams, 49ers and Seahawks in a brutal NFC West. But what happens if they struggle against a team better than the Jaguars? Can they recover? To be determined. For now, Arizona is 3-0. The last time that happened was 2015, which is the last time Arizona went to the playoffs. — Weinfuss
Weinfuss’ confidence rating (0-10): 8.5, down from 8.6. That Arizona was able to come back from nine to win by 12 shows that they have the resiliency and firepower to make a run, but there’s some concern it was down nine to one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Next game: at Rams (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Byron Murphy returns Trevor Lawrence’s interception for a 29-yard touchdown.
What to know: The Jaguars have no margin for error. They finally get the run game going, return a missed field goal attempt 109 yards for a touchdown and hold Arizona to 1-of-9 on third down, yet still lose by double digits — their 18th consecutive loss since winning the 2020 season opener. They have to pretty much play perfect and they don’t have the personnel to do that. — Mike DiRocco
Is it time to be concerned about Trevor Lawrence? Yes, and no. He’s the fourth QB since the 1970 merger to throw multiple interceptions in his first three starts (he has seven) and only Peyton Manning and Alex Smith are No. 1 overall draft picks who have thrown more in their first three career starts (both threw eight). Lawrence’s second INT was a bad throw on a trick play, though he did get pressured by J.J. Watt. But he’s not really getting a lot of help, either. Jacob Hollister couldn’t hold onto a pass that hit him in the hands and was intercepted on the bounce. Lawrence’s receivers aren’t getting much separation. And it doesn’t help to be chasing points and stuck in an obvious passing situation (which happened in the fourth quarter). It was going to be a tough task for him as a rookie because of the lack of playmakers on the roster. He has to go through these struggles to grow but the Jaguars need him to cut down on the mistakes to have a chance to win games. — DiRocco
DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.5, down from 2.6. It jumps a little bit because the Jaguars finally got James Robinson involved (88 yards rushing), forced their first turnover, and made another big play on special teams, but they’re still turning the ball over too much and not making enough plays in key situations.
Next game: at Bengals (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: The Titans’ pass rush is emerging despite not having Bud Dupree involved. Defensive coordinator Shane Bowen mixed in a few timely blitzes to get pressure. But most of it was coming from the front four. Outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi has been in the zone as of late. Adeniyi had 1.5 sacks today with another one being negated by an illegal contact call on Chris Jackson. Jeffery Simmons is becoming a force up the middle as well. Although they aren’t getting sacks in bunches, the pass rush is causing opposing QBs to make mistakes. It should get another opportunity to have an impact against the Jets’ spotty offensive line and rookie QB Zach Wilson. — Turron Davenport
Can the Titans consistently win without contributions from Julio Jones and A.J. Brown in the passing game? Julio Jones and A.J. Brown were expected to provide a lot of fireworks for the Titans’ offense. That wasn’t the case in the Titans’ win over the Colts. Brown did not return from a first-quarter hamstring injury. Jones didn’t play for most of the fourth quarter. However, the Titans continued to push forward with Nick Westbrook-Ikhine leading the way. Derrick Henry also contributed with another 100-plus-yard rushing performance. That worked this week against a sputtering Colts offense, but it can’t be the formula the Titans rely upon every week. They’ll need bigger performances from Jones and Brown to compete with the top teams in the AFC. — Davenport
Davenport’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, no change from last week. It wasn’t pretty, but the Titans did what they were supposed to do by beating the Colts. An emotional win like the one they experienced in Week 2 could have set up a letdown game.
Next game: at Jets (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The defense forced three turnovers. The offense didn’t turn the ball over. What did those things get the Colts? Another loss and their first 0-3 start since 2011 — and their third since 1998. Quarterback Carson Wentz tried to shake off two bad ankles to play, but the offense was pretty watered down because of his health. The Colts focused more on trying to get the ball out of Wentz’s hands more quickly so he didn’t have to scramble around in the pocket, since it was obvious that he was nowhere near 100%. Wentz finished 19-of-37 for 194 yards, but the Colts struggled to get in the end zone going 1-of-3 in the red zone. The Colts had a final chance to steal a victory on the road, but the Titans chewed up more than seven minutes of the clock to send the Colts to their third straight loss. — Mike Wells
Will the Colts ever get healthy? The Colts continue to lose players. All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson left the game in the second quarter with a right ankle injury (to go along with the back injury). Starting safety Khari Willis left the game in the fourth quarter with cramps and DE Kwity Paye left earlier with a hamstring ailment. Injuries have been a common theme for the Colts as they went into the game without receiver T.Y. Hilton and right tackle Braden Smith. It’s anyone’s guess when Wentz will be healthy again, and it’s clear linebacker Darius Leonard is lacking his strongest attribute — speed — because of his ankle injury. — Wells
Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 4.6, down from 5. Injuries to way too many key players. Lack of a consistent defense. No deep threats down the field. Everything that has gone wrong for the Colts has, and there’s no end in sight, especially with the next two games also on the road, at Miami and Baltimore.
Next game: at Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Chargers coach Brandon Staley has been preaching all offseason about wanting to build a team that excels in the fourth quarter. Well, he got one, with help from a stellar day from QB Justin Herbert, a 4-yard, game-winning TD pass to Mike Williams with 32 seconds left and a key pass interference call on Chiefs S DeAndre Baker that set up the go-ahead touchdown. Herbert completed 26 of 38 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns. Herbert was upset after the Dallas loss and and came out firing. But the defense was upset too, intercepting Patrick Mahomes twice and recovering two Chiefs fumbles. — Shelley Smith
What can the Chargers do earlier in the game to put themselves in better position to win? Staley has said the team doesn’t need to establish the run game to set up the play-action, but it would be nice, as the Chargers really didn’t run the ball effectively until the fourth quarter. That said, Herbert was 8-of-8 in the first half on play-action, so maybe Staley has a point about the running game. Cutting down on illegal-motion penalties would help, too, as the Chargers had a touchdown pass to Gabe Nabers erased by a motion penalty. — Smith
Smith’s confidence rating (0-10): 6, up from 4. Don’t make Herbert — or the defense — mad. This team needs to work on costly penalties, though.
Next game: vs. Raiders (8:15 p.m. ET, Monday)
Mike Williams’ second touchdown catch of the game puts the Chargers ahead for good in a win over the Chiefs.
What to know: The Chiefs’ defensive problems look far from solved. They were improved against the run against the Chargers, though that was a low bar to clear. They’re still having trouble rushing the quarterback and stopping a passing attack. The Chiefs can’t be much worse in the red zone, where opponents have scored 11 touchdowns in 12 trips. — Adam Teicher
Can the Chiefs turn their season around? It’s going to require some defensive improvement, which looks unlikely. The Chiefs are formidable on offense and capable of big things, but opponents are determined to make them go without the big play and move their way down the field in smaller increments. It’s going to be difficult for them to consistently post big numbers without getting more big plays. They also have to quit with the turnovers. — Teicher
Teicher’s confidence rating (0-10): 6, down from 7. It’s impossible to believe in the Chiefs as a legitimate Super Bowl contender unless they improve significantly on defense and quit turning the ball over on offense.
Next game: at Eagles (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Saints aren’t sunk. This was an impressive and important bounce-back performance after their collapse in Carolina last week. Especially by the defense, which has been living up to its vow to become the identity of the team without Drew Brees. The Saints (2-1) will eventually get reinforcements back from injuries and suspension, and this performance greatly helps them stay afloat as they head toward their first real home game against the Giants next week. — Mike Triplett
Can QB Jameis Winston settle in after his early highs and lows? He mostly did that Sunday, playing it relatively safe in a game that did not require him to force much (and the Saints’ pass protection was greatly improved from last week, even though standout left tackle Terron Armstead got hurt in the first quarter). Winston completed 13 of 21 passes for 128 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers. But Winston still threw up a couple of risky passes that were reminiscent of past woes. And we don’t know how he’ll perform in a nail-biter since the Saints haven’t had one yet. — Triplett
Triplett’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, up from 6.8. The Saints are far from perfect — last week being a scary reminder. But this showed how much their defense, run game, coaching and veteran leadership can make an impact.
Next game: vs. Giants (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: If the Patriots can’t protect quarterback Mac Jones better, it’s going to be a long season. The Saints’ defense pressured Jones on 12 of his 21 first-half dropbacks (57%), and Jones was 4-of-11 for 28 yards and an interception when pressured, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information. When Jones had time, the results were better, but it didn’t happen enough. The projected return of starting right tackle Trent Brown (right calf strain) should help, but the protection problems seem to go deeper than one player. — Mike Reiss
How are the Patriots going to keep pace with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers next week? Everyone knew there would be growing pains with Jones, but as long as he protected the football and the offensive line could keep him upright, they’d have a chance. Neither of those things happened consistently enough Sunday. Now with Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady returning to Foxborough in one of the NFL’s most anticipated games, it feels like one side is like a stick of dynamite capable of a big spark at any moment (Tampa Bay) while the other is puttering along with the need to play perfect to have a chance (New England). The Patriots were far from perfect Sunday in a drubbing that was hard to watch at times. — Reiss
Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 6.2. Blocked punts. Kickoffs out of bounds. Coverage breakdowns leading to touchdowns. Careless ball security. The Patriots would have had trouble beating most teams with this type of effort.
Next game: vs. Bucs (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Browns’ pass rush completely overwhelmed Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who took more sacks (nine) than he completed passes (six). Myles Garrett led the way with 4.5 sacks, breaking the Browns’ single-game record. Though Chicago’s offense with Fields was hopeless, Cleveland showed the potential it has to get after the passer, with Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney combining for 11 quarterback pressures. A dynamic pass rush is a big reason the Browns have the potential to feature one of the league’s top defenses by season’s end. — Jake Trotter
Can Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. build off this 2021 debut? Mayfield and Beckham Jr. were clicking from the beginning, starting with a third-down conversion over the middle of the field on the opening drive. In his first appearance since season-ending knee surgery last year, Beckham finished hauling in five of his nine targets for 77 yards. Coming into the season, Mayfield and Beckham owned the second-worst completion rate (54.6%) of any QB-WR duo in the league dating to 2019. But Sunday, they showed they might have unlocked their chemistry. — Trotter
Trotter’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.4, down from 7.5. Despite some troubles finishing off drives and protecting Mayfield, the Browns won going away behind a dominant fourth quarter.
Next game: at Vikings (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Any chance for a redo? Justin Fields’ highly anticipated NFL starting debut turned out to be a complete dud. Fields and the rest of the offense were completely overmatched by the Browns, who made life miserable for the rookie quarterback. The Bears failed to block just about anyone, and Fields’ throws were mostly off the mark. He also held onto the ball too long. Sunday was burn-the-tape terrible. Chicago’s defense kept the team in the game as long as possible, but the contest never felt as close as the score indicated. — Jeff Dickerson
Does quarterback Andy Dalton actually start again when healthy? Most of us laughed off coach Matt Nagy’s declaration that Dalton remained Chicago’s starting quarterback when healthy. Who’s laughing now? The Bears offense was so putrid — not all of it Fields’ fault, clearly — that you have to wonder whether Dalton eventually gets another crack. The Bears’ offense is so bad that it might not matter who plays quarterback. But in fairness to Dalton, the offense looked OK in Week 2 before the veteran quarterback injured his left knee. The fact that this is open for debate shows you how terrible the offense played in Cleveland. — Dickerson
Dickerson’s confidence rating (0-10): 3.5, down from 5. The Bears’ offense is simply offensive.
Next game: vs. Lions (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Bengals’ win showed they can contend in the AFC North. Cincinnati went on the road, a week after a pretty flat loss to a middling Chicago team, and thumped Pittsburgh. The big play was a 34-yard touchdown from Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to rookie Ja’Marr Chase, which set the tone. Cincinnati has won two straight against the Steelers. But this one, early in the season and with plenty on the line for both teams, is the most significant of the Zac Taylor era. — Ben Baby
Is this Bengals team good enough to compete for a playoff bid? Yes. Through three weeks, we’ve learned that the defense is indeed legit. And the offense, after a rocky week with public questions about playcalling, shined behind the Burrow-to-Chase connection that yielded big touchdowns. Cincinnati has the squad to push for a wild-card spot in December. — Baby
Baby’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.8, up from 5.5. The Bengals’ all-around performance against the rival Steelers shows a team sustaining progress in a season with long-term implications.
Next game: vs. Jaguars (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: Missing so many key pieces, the Steelers’ defense can’t be the magic Band-Aid for the offense. Playing without outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, the Steelers’ defense saw its 75-game sack streak halted in Sunday’s loss to the Bengals. The offense continued to sputter, putting the defense in difficult positions. After holding Cincinnati to a field goal, the Steelers’ defense got a three-play breather before a bad interception by Ben Roethlisberger put it back on the field at its own 19. The Bengals scored three plays later. And for the second week in a row, the Steelers’ defense couldn’t keep a lid on the deep plays and gave up a long touchdown to Ja’Marr Chase in the final seconds of the second quarter. The defense is still the strength of the team, but the offensive ineptitude is weakening both sides of the ball. — Brooke Pryor
Is this the new normal for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, or can he turn it around? It’s a small sample size, but through three weeks, signs point to this being the new normal — hardly what he or the Steelers hoped for after bringing the 39-year-old back for another season. Roethlisberger threw one of the worst interceptions of his career in the third quarter when he tried to throw to a heavily covered JuJu Smith-Schuster and instead put it right in the gut of Logan Wilson. For yet another Sunday, Roethlisberger looked out of sync with his receivers. It’s not all Roethlisberger’s fault — playing behind a line with lingering growing pains isn’t easy — but some of the avoidable mistakes weren’t, well, avoided. Not only did Roethlisberger throw the third-quarter pick, he also took a sack in the first half after holding onto the ball far too long. Roethlisberger is one touchdown away from entering the 400 club, but if he and the offense keep playing like they have the first three weeks, he’s going to hover on the cusp for quite a while. — Pryor
Pryor’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.4, down from 5.7. With each passing week, the win against the Buffalo Bills feels more and more like a fluke; if the offense can’t get it together and the defense can’t play like the ’85 Bears, that will continue to be the case.
Next game: at Packers (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Running back Christian McCaffrey (hamstring) and cornerback Jaycee Horn (broken foot) will miss some games with injuries, but the Panthers showed they have what it takes to win without two of their biggest stars. This doesn’t mean Carolina can stay with Tampa Bay without them, but with a 3-0 start and a somewhat soft schedule over the next month, the Panthers can be competitive and win games to keep them in playoff contention. As left tackle Cameron Erving said, “We’re a football tam. We’re not the Carolina Christian McCaffreys.” — David Newton
Can quarterback Sam Darnold carry the offense without McCaffrey? Granted, this was the Texans, but, in the second half, Darnold played maybe as well as he has at any point in his NFL career. He stayed within the offense and made plays with his arm and legs. His quarterback sneak for a touchdown gave him two for the game, something he’d never done since entering the league. He even had a 32-yard run called back because of a penalty. The Panthers made the right gamble in trading for him. He’s tough. Or as Matt Rhule said, he has “moxie.” — Newton
Newton’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.9, up from 6.4. This might have been higher were it not for the injuries to McCaffrey and Horn, but the defense is for real and Darnold is better than expected.
Next game: at Cowboys (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Texans coach David Culley said QB Davis Mills did exactly what the Texans asked him to in terms of not doing too much and trying to “make a throw to try and get something going.” Mills did not turn the ball over and showed growth in that area from his preseason performances. But if the Texans are going to win games with quarterback Tyrod Taylor on injured reserve, Mills will have to do more than that going forward. Can he use the 10-day window before next week’s contest in Buffalo to continue to improve in this offense? — Sarah Barshop
Can Houston return to its Week 1 success in the run game? The Texans struggled to run the ball on Thursday night, combining for 42 yards on 17 carries. Culley said when Houston came out for the second half, it was focused on trying to “establish the run again.” The Texans couldn’t do that, and Culley said he thought the biggest reason the offense struggled was because the team couldn’t establish any consistency on the ground. “We have to be able to (run the ball),” Culley said. “That’s who we are.” It won’t get any easier next week as the Bills entered Week 3 allowing an average of just 73 rushing yards per game, which was the seventh-best in the NFL. — Barshop
Barshop’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.0, no change from 2.0. The Texans showed promise in their first two games, especially with Taylor under center, but it was clear they’re not ready to consistently compete with the best teams in the NFL.
Next game: at Bills (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)