Keeping Score

Arizona Rising, Hot In Houston, the ‘Aints Fall Again: Three Lessons from Week 3 of the NFL Season

The Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans look strong: trouble in New Orleans

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REUTERS/Darryl Webb

Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald looks to an official to confirm his touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first half of their game in Phoenix, Arizona on September 23, 2012.

1. Cardinals Rule. Which is the best NFL team that no one has really been talking about? Look to the desert. The Arizona Cardinals finished last season on a 7-2 tear to end the season at .500; this year, they’re 3-0 for the first time since 1974. The Cards trounced the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles, 26-7, on Sunday, a win that was particularly satisfying for Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb. In 2010, Kolb was named Philadelphia’s starter, but then suffered a concussion in Week 1; Michael Vick played like a Pro-Bowler in his place, so Kolb never got his job back. The Eagles traded Kolb to Arizona before the 2011 campaign, and the Cardinals signed him to a five-year, $64 million contract. Kolb started the year 1-6, and looked like a bust. Now, at 3-0, (Kolb threw for 222 yards and two touchdowns on 17-of-24 passing) and with very winnable games against the Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams, and Buffalo Bills coming up, Kolb and the Cards are a serious threat in the NFC West.

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2. Texans Three-Step. We know it’s only Week 3 but the Houston Texans look built for a Super Bowl run. For the first time in franchise history, Houston is 3-0, as the Texans staved off a late comeback charge from the Denver Broncos to win, 31-25. Houston is the only undefeated team in the AFC, and really doesn’t have a weakness. The defense had Peyton Manning ripping off his helmet strap all day, out of frustration. And the offense is loaded, with two explosive running backs in the shape of Arian Foster and Ben Tate, an All-Pro wide receiver in Andre Johnson, and an underrated quarterback in Matt Schaub, who threw four touchdown passes against the Broncos. Plus, Houston coach Gary Kubiak is one of the most creative play-callers in the game. On a key third-down play with just under three minutes left, for example, Johnson and Owen Daniels ran a tandem route down the field, then split off from each other, distracting the defense: the scheme freed up Johnson, who caught a 12-yard pass that, in effect, clinched the game. It was one of Houston’s many pretty plays. Further, Houston plays in a relatively weak division — the AFC South, with the Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, and Jacksonville Jaguars. Don’t be surprised if the road to the AFC title goes through Texas.

3. Louisiana Losing. New Orleans is hosting the Super Bowl in February —  and the home team likely won’t play in the big game. New Orleans could not hold an 18-point lead in the third quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs, a pretty bad team, at home in the Superdome, no less. The Chiefs came back to win, 27-24 in overtime with their revival kickstarted by Jamaal Charles’ 91-yard touchdown run, which was not only the longest running play in KC’s history, but the longest given up by New Orleans. The Saints are now 0-3, with two losses coming at home, where they went undefeated last season. New Orleans has fallen to Washington, Carolina, and Kansas City — all 1-2 teams — and travels to Green Bay next week. Most experts figured that the absence of coach Sean Payton, who earned a season-long suspension for this role in the Bountygate affair, would negatively impact the team. But few figured it would crush the season so soon.

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