NFL Analysis: AFC Drains A Week 3 Six-Pack Over The NFC

The AFC was supposed to be the weaker of the two conferences in the NFL this season. Maybe it will work out that way, but Week 3 provided precious little evidence of NFC superiority. Actually, check that—Week 3 provided zero  evidence of NFC superiority, because the AFC swept all six inter-conference games.

No rout was more surprising then Indianapolis blasting San Francisco. No turnaround was more eye-catching than Cleveland going into Minnesota and getting a win. No comeback more compelling than the final drive Atlanta used to beat Miami. No storyline more interesting than Andy Reid taking Kansas City into Philadelphia and coming out the W. No game was wilder than Cincinnati’s victory over Green Bay. And no game was…okay, New England’s win over Tampa Bay can’t muster any hyperbole from me. But you get the point.

The AFC’s surprise showing, and the fact it includes teams like Kansas City and Miami at 3-0, keeping pace with more heralded Denver and New England in their respective divisions, underscore my belief that this year is going to be an “off-the-grid” Super Bowl, where teams no one was talking about in August end up making it to New York City. Our review of Week 3 begins with the AFC Six-Pack.

Indianapolis 27 San Francisco 7: Stanford man Andrew Luck returned to his backyard and against his old college coach in Jim Harbaugh and led the way to a 27-7 win. But the focus here has to be the Colts’ running game. Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 95 yards on 19 carries. Trent Richardson’s 35 yards on 13 carries were nothing special, but the new acquisition got himself into the lineup and acclimated to the Indianapolis offense.

When you run the ball, you don’t take as many risks, and the Colts were error-free, while San Francisco turned it over twice. It’s the second straight bad game from Colin Kaepernick, but on the flip side the 49ers did get 82 yards rushing from Frank Gore, his best showing of the year. And the game was closer than the score looks, going deep into the fourth quarter at 13-7.

Nonetheless, it was a huge win for Indianapolis under any circumstances and to come in and outhit San Francisco has to get the attention of everyone.

Cincinnati 34 Green Bay 30: This game went from 14-0 Cincinnati to 30-14 Green Bay to its ultimate final score, in what was by the numbers the most topsy-turvy game in NFL history. The Packers showcased a surprisingly good running game, with Jonathan Franklin going for over 100 yards, and Green Bay’s defense did a good job at pressuring Andy Dalton.

But Cincinnati also exploited Green Bay’s poor pass protection, matching the Packers’ four sacks and doubling the number of hits on the quarterback. While Green Bay controlled Geno Atkins on the interior, that came at the expense of the edge, with Mike Johnson and Carlos Dunlap spending the better of the afternoon hanging out Aaron Rodgers in the backfield.

The pressure explains a game that was, at least for Rodgers, rather subpar. His 26/43 completion rate was average, and the 244 yards suggest an inability to get the ball downfield. We should note that it’s tough to get the football down the field when the pass rush is in your face.

Atlanta 27 Miami 23: The Falcons did most everything better than the Dolphins, at least by a little bit. Atlanta had a running game, getting 86 yards from Jacquizz Rodgers. Matt Ryan outplayed Ryan Tannehill , Atlanta ran 68 plays to Miami’s 59, and the teams were even at turnovers at two apiece.

What the Dolphins did was get key stops—Atlanta had to settle for short field goals twice, and Miami also avoided mistakes, committing just two penalties to the Falcons’ seven. It added up to giving the Fish a chance, and they scored the winning touchdown with 38 seconds left.

Kansas City 26 Philadelphia 16: It’s fine if you want to play at a fast pace, but you better take care of the ball. The Eagles didn’t on Thursday night, turning it over five times while the Chiefs were clean. And it’s not because Philadelphia can’t run the ball—LeSean McCoy ran for 158 yards.

KC got a big night from Jamaal Charles, who ran for 92 yards and caught seven passes for 80 more. Alex Smith was coolly efficient, at 22/35 for 273 yards and repeatedly hooking up with receiver Donnie Avery. The Chiefs

Cleveland 31 Minnesota 27: After the trade of Trent Richardson, it was assumed the Browns were writing off the season. The front office probably is, but the players and coaches showed they intend to show up each week and compete. Brian Hoyer stepped in for Brandon Weeden, and was erratic, throwing three interceptions.

But the Browns were used to erratic, and Hoyer at least give them some yardage to go with the mistakes. Cleveland ended up 306 yards in the air, came close to matching Minnesota and Adrian Peterson on the ground and stole the win with a touchdown pass in the final minute. Christian Ponder was bad—25/42 for 228 yards. It’s time for the Vikings to give up on this guy, bring in Tim Tebow and just use a read option with Tebow and Peterson the rest of the way.

New England 23 Tampa Bay 3: It took the Patriots a quarter to get on the board and Tom Brady had a pedestrian outing, as he continues to work with a new group of receivers. But Josh Freeman is just so bad—19/41 is a completion percentage that can’t be sustained in the modern NFL, even if he did get 236 yards out of it. The Pats scored 17 in the second quarter and never looked back.

The AFC’s surprise control of the early 2013 NFL season can be pointed out by this—while the conferences are even in 3-0 teams (three apiece), the AFC has a 6-2 edge in teams that are 2-1. The Week 3 six-pack went a long way to making that happen.

TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysis wraps up the rest of Week 3 here.