Team that should be excited
When it was announced the Steelers would be without suspended QB Ben Roethlisberger for the first four games, most Steelers fans looked at the schedule and probably hoped for a 2-2 start until Big Ben returned. Now the worst the Steelers can do is 3-1. Led by a ferocious defense, the Steelers have gotten better each week, beating the Falcons, Titans and crushing the Bucs. Beating the Ravens and starting 4-0 might be too much to ask, but 3-1 even with Roethlisberger would have been a nice start. Going 3-1 without him is eye-opening. The Steelers might turn into the best team in the NFL, if they aren't already.
Most exposed team
Sorry, but it's the Bucs. Tampa Bay started 2-0, but those two victories came against teams (Browns, Panthers) that are now a combined 0-6. It's not just that the Bucs lost Sunday. After all, did anyone really think they could beat the Steelers? No, what was alarming is just how easily the Steelers beat the Bucs despite using QB Charlie Batch, who is pretty much the team's fourth-string quarterback. The Bucs might be better than a season ago, but the Steelers showed them just how far away they are from being a truly competitive NFL team.
Team that can breathe easier
Don't underestimate just how big Sunday's victory against Houston was for the Cowboys, who avoided an 0-3 start with a 27-13 victory against the previously undefeated Texans. No team has won a Super Bowl after an 0-3 start, and since 1990, when the NFL expanded the postseason to 12 teams, only three of 103 teams that started the season 0-3 have made the playoffs. The Cowboys still have some issues. The defense gave up 340 yards, but the unit did record its first three takeaways.
Player that shouldn't get too excited
Okay, it's true that few people out there believed Michael Vick would ever be a productive quarterback again. And you have to be impressed with what he has done, especially Sunday when he threw for 291 yards, rushed for 30 and accounted for all four touchdowns in Philadelphia's 28-3 victory against Jacksonville. But it was Jacksonville. Then again, in what appears to be a weaker than expected NFC East, the Eagles look like the team to beat.
It's probably not fair to blame a loss on one player or one play. The Saints had plenty of chances to put away the Falcons on Sunday, and QB Drew Brees threw two interceptions. But K Garrett Hartley missed a field goal in overtime. Actually, it wasn't so much a field goal as it was a glorified extra point — a mere 29 yards. The missed kicked probably cost Hartley, below, his job in New Orleans, and it definitely cost the Saints the game.
Want to know part of the reason the Giants are 1-2? Serious lack of discipline. The Giants were flagged for 11 penalties, including six personal fouls, in a 29-10 loss to the Titans. OT Kareem McKenzie was called for two of those and yanked from the game. McKenzie walked to the bench and whipped his helmet to the ground. As the New York Daily News cracked, "At least showing better control tossing it than teammate Brandon Jacobs, who sent his helmet into the Indy stands last week."
Biggest surprise/biggest disappointment
The Chiefs came into this season having won only 10 games in the previous three seasons. They've already won three this season after thumping the 49ers, 31-10. It's Kansas City's first 3-0 start since 2003. Meantime, what's up with the 49ers? Before the season, some national types were picking this team to win as many as 12 games, and they were the clear favorites to win the sorry NFC West. But the 49ers are 0-3, including losses to the Chiefs and Seahawks by a combined score of 62-16.
Raiders K Sebastian Janikowski missed three field goals in what turned out to be a one-point Raiders loss to Arizona. Janikowski missed field goals of 41 and 58 yards, but the killer was missing a 32-yarder at the end. It was his first miss from inside 40 yards in more than three years (he had made 19 in a row from inside the 40). As if that wasn't bad enough, the former FSU kicker couldn't even be a stand-up guy and face the media. He left the rest of his teammates to talk while he left without speaking.
Most underrated team
We're not suggesting that the good folks of Seattle start mapping out parade routes, but a 2-1 start is more than many expected out of new coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks. They beat the 49ers in the season opener, which was no big deal. But then they beat the Chargers on Sunday, and that was a very big deal. The victory puts Seattle in a tie for first place in the NFC West with the Cardinals. Arizona is still my pick to win the division, but after three games, Seattle has outscored its opponents 72-57, while the Cards have been outscored 77-48.
Most underrated player
This is stunning: Ravens WR Anquan Boldin reached the 600-catch milestone in 98 games, faster than anyone in NFL history. It's not that Boldin isn't a fine receiver, but it's hard to believe that he set a mark such as that. Maybe it's because he spent the past few seasons playing alongside Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. Boldin caught eight passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns Sunday and has added punch to a Ravens offense that definitely needed punch.
Three intriguing games this weekend
Eagles at Redskins: Washington QB Donovan McNabb returns to Philadelphia, where he played for 11 seasons, to take on Michael Vick.
Ravens at Steelers: This might be the most intense rivalry in the NFL, and the winner moves ahead in the AFC North race.
Patriots at Dolphins: This Monday night matchup between a pair of 2-1 teams is critical for the Dolphins. They can't drop two straight division home games.
St. Petersburg Times staff writer Tom Jones looks back at the weekend in the NFL and ahead to next weekend.
Team that shouldn't get too excited
The Vikings snapped their two-game losing streak, but come on, they beat the Lions, not the 1985 Bears. And the Lions didn't even have their starting quarterback, Matt Stafford. Instead, backup QB Shaun Hill threw two interceptions in the end zone. The point is the Vikings should not start thinking that their problems are solved just because they beat a team that has won three of their past 43 games. (For the love of Lem Barney, three of their past 43! Think about that.) Anyway, Vikings QB Brett Favre threw his fifth and sixth interceptions of the year after throwing seven all of last season. The Vikings are not out of the woods just yet.