Week 4 of the NFL has us left with three teams that are still undefeated – The Atlanta Falcons in the NFC South, the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West and the Houston Texans in the AFC South. Common ground? Great defense, smart, calculated, patient offense.
That seems to be the recipe for success. Gun slinging and putting up big numbers doesn’t usually bring you the NFL title. Yes, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers won the Super Bowl back to back. But in between and after it was about the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not Eli Manning who throws 500 yards a game, but an Eli Manning who makes big plays while backed up by his incredible defensive and offensive lines.
Unlike College Football, it’s hard to imagine anyone in the NFL and especially these teams finishing a season undefeated. All three of them, with the possible exclusion of the Houston Texans, aren’t preseason Super Bowl material, especially not the Cardinals. The quarterback situation in Arizona seemed like a recipe for disaster. Instead, John Skelton and mostly Kevin Kolb are simply keeping mistakes to a minimum. There isn’t a single offensive category the Cardinals can be actually proud of, but they’re allowing only 15.3 points per game. They make plays when it matters.
When do they fall? Although a visit to an improved Rams team isn’t going to be easy, I think their week 7 trip to Minnesota will be their first loss of the season.
The Atlanta Falcons are getting it done with defense (allowing 19 points per game, 207 passing yards), but a lot is on Matt Ryan, so far playing like the best quarterback in the NFL. He leads the league in rating with 112.1, is second with a 69.4% completion rating, sixth in the NFL with 1162 passing yards (7.9 per attempt) and has thrown 11 touchdowns to only two interceptions. Michael Turner is probably hitting that decline period in a running back’s life (despite his 103 yards against Carolina), so Ryan makes up for it with smart plays and big plays, like his huge pass to Roddey White with his back against the wall.
When do they lose? Week 7, at Philadelphia.
The Houston Texans are a bit of a different story. While the Cardinals are coming out of nowhere and the Falcons are defying stagnation and perceptive mediocrity, the Texans were meant to be the best in the AFC South, but not the best in the AFC, some even say the NFL. Their defense is allowing only 14 points per game, best in the NFL, while keeping teams at only 90 rushing yards per game. Chris Johnson did run all over them (141 yards) on Sunday, but the Titans weren’t even close.
Offense? Run the ball, and then let Matt Schaub enjoy defenses opening up. The Texans are ninth in the NFL with 136.5 rushing yards per game, Arian Foster gaining 380 yards and scoring four touchdowns so far. Schaub has been the third most efficient QB in the league so far with a 105.3 rating, getting flawless protection (sacked only three times) and turning the ball over via interception only once, while throwing 7 touchdown passes.
When do they lose? Possibly week 6 against the Green Bay Packers, although their pass defense is fantastic (182.8 yards per game). Baltimore come up in week 7. Probably one of these two games, although they both are at home. If the Texans get through those, Bears on the road should be the last stop.