A 3-0 start to the season has been synonymous with success for NFL teams; around 70% of them make the playoffs. With seven 3-0 teams (and one 2-0-1 team), we’re most likely looking at 5 or 6 playoff teams from the undefeated squads. So which teams will continue their success? Which teams will collapse in epic fashion? Let’s take a look by ranking the undefeated teams from most to least likely to be around in January.
1. New England Patriots
The Patriots defense has given up 3 points through 3 games this season. Combined with the continued dominance of the ageless Tom Brady, a seemingly mentally-sound Josh Gordon, and a stable of deadly running backs, there is no reason to believe that the Patriots will miss out on the playoffs. This team is not without their problems (the offensive line has been ravaged by injuries and the receiving depth is starting to be tested), but the returns of N’Keal Harry and Isaiah Wynn in weeks 8 and 9 respectively ought to reinvigorate these groups. Look for another 13+ win season from New England, and a sure spot in the postseason.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are managing to continue their absolute offensive dominance without their top receiver and top running back. Any concerns of a sophomore slump from Patrick Mahomes have quickly been eliminated, as the stellar QB is well on pace for another MVP season. The defense held their own against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, but is still potentially a concern for when the Chiefs play a team who has both an elite offense and defense, such as New England. Still though, Kansas City boasts the best offense in the league and has no trouble putting up 30 points pretty much every week. The Chiefs and the Patriots are a step above even the rest of the undefeated teams. Don’t be surprised to see a repeat matchup in the AFC Championship this year.
3. Los Angeles Rams
Despite not necessarily looking like a top-3 team, the Rams have taken care of business. The team is full of stars. Gurley has looked great, but the Rams have been noticeably limiting his workload thus far (that will most likely change in close games and later in the season). Cooper Kupp has come back from his season-ending injury better than ever, combining with Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods to form a deadly receiving trio. The Rams have to work out some kinks, but that’s what September is all about. There is no reason to believe that the Rams will collapse and miss the postseason. They may not appear as potent as last year, but give them some time.
4. Dallas Cowboys
It’s very difficult to decide how good this Cowboys team really is. They have thoroughly dominated their competition thus far, but they have played three of the worst teams in the league. What we can know for sure is that Dak is balling this year. Ever since Jerry Jones acquired Amari Cooper, the young QB has looked like he did his rookie season, showing accuracy, a potent deep ball, and good decision making. The offensive line is much improved as well, allowing for Zeke to feast. The Cowboys will face their first true test of the season this Sunday night in the Superdome but, even if that goes south, Dallas will be able to destroy their weak division for a ticket to the postseason.
5. Green Bay Packers
The Packers finally went out and got some players in free agency, and it is paying off in spades. The Packers defense has been stellar this season, something that has been foreign to Green Bay for quite a few years. Both of the Smiths have delivered exactly as promised and the secondary play has been quite impressive so far. Rodgers and the offense haven’t really been clicking yet but, if the they can start playing like they did a few years ago, watch out. The pieces are there for Green Bay to tear through the league, but a tough division and yet-to-impress offense leave Green Bay at 5th on this list.
6. San Francisco 49ers
There is a massive gap between Green Bay and San Francisco, but the Niners have done what they’ve needed to do through 3 weeks. Following an offseason full of questions, Jimmy G has delivered mixed results, hurling 5 TDs and 4 picks. The running game is what’s been carrying this team, which is surprising to many given the injuries to the team’s top two backs (Coleman and McKinnon). The 49ers are 4th in the league in rushing yards, with 175 per game. The defense has also been significantly better than last year, already managing to more than double their interception total (5 vs. 2). The reason the 49ers aren’t higher is that they haven’t faced real competition (the Bengals, Bucs, and Steelers are a combines 1-8 this year). They are also stuck in a division with the Rams, making a wild card spot their best shot at making the postseason. San Francisco will remain undefeated for another week (they’re on bye), so it will be telling to see how they perform against a talented Cleveland team in week 5.
7. Buffalo Bills
Speaking of teams that haven’t faced any real competition, the Bills opponents are also a combined 1-8 on the season. Only one of those games was a (relatively) comfortable victory, with the Bills needing a furious comeback to topple the Jets and needing to stop a furious comeback from the Bengals to escape with the win. But what counts at the end of the day is record, and the Bills have put themselves in a great position to make the playoffs as a wild card team this year. Buffalo has 6 remaining games against teams that are currently 0-3, meaning that they will end up with a winning record just by taking care of the bottom-feeders. The Bills also have a criminally underrated defense. Tre’Davious White has been unbelievable so far this year, and there is no reason to expect his production to drop. He’s joined by Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer to form a deadly secondary. The linebackers are stacked as well, with Tremaine Edmunds, Lorenzo Alexander, and Matt Milano creating a deep and deadly group. The offense has been much improved too, with John Brown finally playing up to his potential and Frank gore continuing to defy father time. The reason they are this low (in addition to the weak schedule thus far), is that they are in the same division as the best team in football. The Patriots are going to win the AFC East, so the Bills will have to content themselves with a potential wild card spot.
8. Detroit Lions
Who knows what to make of the Lions? Both statistically and by the eye-test, Detroit has been mediocre thus far. Yet, here they are, 3 weeks into the season, undefeated. The Lions barely managed to hang on against a furious comeback attempt from Kyler Murray and the Cardinals to walk out with a tie. They then managed to upset the Chargers and the Eagles by 3 points. So is this the year that the Lions finally fulfill the hype they build early on in the season? Unfortunately, it seems unlikely. Both the Chargers and the Eagles were riddled with injuries when Detroit beat them; one would imagine that if these teams were at full strength (or close to it) they would have been able to take care of the Lions. The Lions are also stuck in the toughest division in football, and they still have all 6 of their divisional matchups remaining. There are some pieces there; Kerryon Johnson continues to be the best running back in Detroit since Barry Sanders, Darius Slay continues to be an unheralded elite cornerback, and the receiving trio of Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, and Danny Amendola offers lots of upside. However, there are still appear to be lots of missing pieces (the defense is lacking in star power outside of Slay). The Lions have a shot, but don’t bet on it.