Last season, the Ravens' John Harbaugh, Falcons' Mike Smith and Dolphins' Tony Sparano set a bar for most first-year head coaches, taking their teams to the playoffs. But several of this year's rookie coaches have been impressive as well. In fact, if Josh McDaniels (Broncos), Jim Caldwell (Colts) and Rex Ryan (Jets) all win this weekend, they'd be the first three rookie coaches to lead their teams to 4-0 starts in the same season in the Super Bowl era (since 1966). We break down the three and give the odds they can complete the feat:
Josh McDaniels, Broncos
The McDaniels Era got off to a rocky start before the season began, with the messy divorce (trade of franchise QB Jay Cutler to the Bears) then the suspension of top WR Brandon Marshall. But, on the field, McDaniels' plan has worked out well. The Broncos boast the league's best defense, and a three-headed running attack ranks fourth in the league.
Skinny: With the Cowboys having to play without RB Felix Jones and with RB Marion Barber not 100 percent, it should be much easier for a Broncos defense that has given up just 16 points over three games. Barber is expected to play, but second-year back Tashard Choice could get more carries.
Jim Caldwell, Colts
Taking over for Tony Dungy is an unenviable task — for anyone. But having Peyton Manning as your quarterback certainly helps. The three-time MVP has thrown for more than 300 yards in the Colts' first three games, and last week against the Cardinals, the defense started putting everything together. If the Colts can keep it up, they appear ready to challenge again in a tough AFC.
Skinny: This game against the Seahawks could be tougher if the Colts are without Dwight Freeney, who is questionable with a quad injury, further depleting a defense that is already missing three starters. But it's hard to envision QB Seneca Wallace leading the Seahawks to an upset.
Rex Ryan, Jets
Ryan, a former Ravens defensive coordinator, can sure talk a big game, including saying he wouldn't kiss Bill Belichick's Super Bowl rings before his Jets faced their division rival. But his team has backed him up, thanks to an impressive start by rookie QB Mark Sanchez (606 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions) and a stout defense that ranks second in points allowed (11 per game) and has forced seven turnovers.
Skinny: This may be when Ryan's bubble bursts. The Saints offense is not only explosive (averaging an NFL-best 40 points per game), it is balanced (rushing for 222 yards last week).
Ravens (3-0) at Patriots (2-1)
The Patriots were able to contain Falcons QB Matt Ryan last week, and they'll do the same against QB Joe Flacco.
What they're saying
"I cannot stand what Eric Mangini has done to the Browns, the team of my childhood. I cannot stand the lack of respect he has shown for the team's history, the Mickey Mouse game he plays with quarterbacks, the amazing knack he has for getting his players to not play hard for him or the stupid fines he hands out like he's Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason, right) from The Breakfast Club. Don't mess with the bull, young man, you'll get the horns."
Sports Illustrated columnist Joe Posnanski on Browns coach Eric Mangini
Number of the day
21,077 Net passing yards tallied by NFL teams through the first three weeks (439.1 average per game)
Compliment of the week
"He showed me some grit. … Any time you have a quarterback that's willing to sit in the pocket, stare down the barrel of the gun and get hit just so he can get the pass off for a completion, you have to respect that."
Jets LB Bart Scott on rookie QB Mark Sanchez
Flashback of the week
Seahawks coach Jim Mora reminisced this week about the last time he was on the sideline in Indianapolis, where his team faces the Colts today. It was when Mora was a 49ers assistant, and his father, Jim, left, then the Colts coach, delivered one of the NFL's most memorable sound bites after a 40-21 loss Nov. 25, 2001.
"Playoffs? Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs. Are you kidding me? Playoffs?"
Mora said his father's outburst didn't give him the best depiction publicly, but his family has made light of it over the years.
"I put my 6-year-old on the phone with him last year or two years ago and he had it down perfect," Mora said. "So it lightened up the moment.
"That was probably not one of his finer moments, but it's one that's lived on, hasn't it?"
Quote of the week
"Brett Favre wearing a Vikings uniform playing the Packers? That's about as bad as it gets."
Former Packers OL Jerry Kramer on Favre wearing Vikings purple against Green Bay on Monday night
The Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, the NFL and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel contributed to this report.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]
NFL WEEK 4
4. Vikings 5. Jets
When Vikings QB Brett Favre takes on the Packers, his former team, Monday night, he may say it's not about revenge or redemption. But a win could put him in the record books. Favre has beaten 31 different teams as a starting quarterback. If the Vikings win, he'll be the first quarterback to defeat all 32 current teams.