The AFC East looks like it will be sending a team to the Super Bowl this February in Las Vegas. The tricky part is figuring out which one.
The Dolphins and Bills are a combined 5-1 and have the best point differentials in the NFL after three weeks. The Dolphins (plus-59) improved to 3-0 and are looking like an unstoppable force after their record-setting 70-20 win over the Broncos. And the Bills (plus-56) rebounded from an ugly Week 1 loss to the Jets with blowout wins over the Raiders and Commanders.
The Chiefs of course will remain a top contender. And the AFC North always produces tough teams. But the two best teams in the conference right now are the two teams from the AFC East that will square off Sunday in Buffalo in what feels like an AFC Championship game preview. That is where we start the Week 3 Review:
▪ It’s hard to determine what was most impressive about the Dolphins’ 50-point win over the Broncos. It could be that they were the first team to hit 70 points since 1966. Or that they had more yards (726) than the Titans or Jets have all season.
Or that the Dolphins became the first team in the Super Bowl era to have 350 rushing yards, 350 receiving yards, and five touchdowns scored each way. Or that they had seven touchdown drives of at least 75 yards.
The Dolphins did it with flair, with Tua Tagovailoa throwing a no-look shovel pass with his right hand for a touchdown. And they did it without star receiver Jaylen Waddle, who was out with a concussion.
But this was most impressive about the Dolphins: They backed off. They could have gone for a touchdown or field goal at the end of the game to chase the record for points in a game (73), but coach Mike McDaniel took a knee instead. It sent a powerful message. We could set the record against you, but we choose not to.
“Chasing points and chasing a record — that’s not what we came to the game to do,” McDaniel said.
The Dolphins have already won twice on the road, have won close games and a blowout, have the fastest offense in the league, and are led by a confident young coach. That’s the look of a Super Bowl team.
▪ Of course, the Bills will have a say in it. Sean McDermott laid a 37-3 thumping on his old boss Ron Rivera, with the Bills intercepting Sam Howell four times and sacking him nine times. Rivera did the opposite of McDaniel, kicking a meaningless 51-yard field goal with 46 seconds left simply to avoid the shutout.
The 2-1 Bills have outscored their last two opponents, 75-13, while forcing eight turnovers. And Josh Allen has completed 74 percent of his passes with five total touchdowns and only one interception in the two games. The Bills will need an efficient Allen and a feisty defense to keep up with the Dolphins.
▪ With Josh McDaniels’s seat already heating up in Las Vegas, his decision to kick a field goal instead of going for it on fourth and 5 late in Sunday’s loss to the Steelers won’t work in his favor.
It was late in the game, the Raiders needed a touchdown, and they were on the 8-yard line, so going for it should have been a no-brainer. Per OptaStats, “Since the 2-point conversion was adopted in 1994, the Raiders are the only NFL team to attempt a field goal in the last 3:00 of the 4th quarter when down by exactly 8 points with less than 5 yards to go for a first down [or TD].”
That’s a decision McDaniels probably will want back.
▪ New Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon took a lot of flak this offseason — first from Eagles fans for his defensive game plan in the Super Bowl, then from social media users making fun of his motivational speeches. But he’s having an excellent start to his head coaching career.
The Cardinals were feisty in losses to the Giants and Commanders, then pulled off the upset of the season Sunday with a 28-16 win over the Cowboys. The fact that Josh Dobbs, a journeyman quarterback who wasn’t acquired until August, is currently No. 6 in the NFL with a 109.2 passer rating is mind-blowing.
▪ Chargers coach Brandon Staley’s seat cooled for one day after his team finished off an exciting 28-24 win at Minnesota to improve to 1-2. Staley’s defense was still a disaster, allowing 475 total yards, but linebacker Kenneth Murray saved the day by intercepting Kirk Cousins in the end zone with seven seconds left. But the Chargers may have lost receiver Mike Williams to a season-ending knee injury.
▪ No sympathy for Broncos coach Sean Payton for getting shredded Sunday, what with his cocky demeanor and classless comments about Nathaniel Hackett. “Every once in a while in this league you get your butt whooped, but this was more than that,” Payton said after falling to 0-3. I think he’s just now realizing how bad a team he inherited.
▪ Cousins said the crowd noise made it too difficult for him to hear the play call on his game-sealing interception, which is not something you expect to happen for the home team.
▪ Great win for the Chiefs, scoring 41 points after combining for 37 in their first two games. But it’s hard to take any win over the Bears very seriously. Head coach Matt Eberflus looks overmatched with a 3-17 record, and quarterback Justin Fields has been a disaster. That franchise needs a reset.
▪ Watch out for the 2-1 Browns. Their defense is ranked No. 1 in points allowed (10.7 per game) after stifling the Titans, 27-3, allowing just 94 total yards and six first downs. And Deshaun Watson had his best game as a Brown, completing 27 of 33 passes for 289 yards, with two touchdowns and no turnovers.
▪ The Colts are another team that forgot they weren’t supposed to be good this year, improving to 2-1 with a 22-19 upset win at Baltimore with backup QB Gardner Minshew. Matt Gay also became the first kicker to hit four 50-yard field goals in a game. The Colts won’t be a fun opponent for the Patriots in Germany.
▪ Good, tough win for the Lions, holding the Falcons to 183 total yards and sacking Desmond Ridder seven times in a 20-6 victory. The Lions are 2-1 and are becoming one of the most complete teams in the NFL.
▪ The Texans are feeling great about No. 2 pick C.J. Stroud, who threw for 280 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks in a 37-17 upset win over the Jaguars. Stroud’s 906 passing yards through three games are third-most in NFL rookie history behind Cam Newton and Justin Herbert.
Tracking Guys That Boston Fans Might Care About
▪ Raiders QB Jimmy Garoppolo: Injured his ankle again (but played through it), and threw three picks in the loss to Steelers. He’s not making it easy to justify the decision to move on from Derek Carr.
▪ Raiders WR Jakobi Meyers: Returned from a concussion to catch seven passes for 85 yards.
▪ Chargers CB J.C. Jackson: They called him a healthy scratch, but he’s clearly not himself yet after last year’s meniscus injury.
▪ Titans K Nick Folk: Improved to 8 for 8 on the season with a 44-yard field goal in the loss to the Browns.
▪ Titans WR DeAndre Hopkins: Had three catches for 48 yards and now has 14 for 153 on the season.
▪ Titans coach Mike Vrabel: Only 94 yards of offense and 3 points against the Browns? It’s going to be a long season.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.