The Starting 11 — CLOSE GAMES, COMEBACKS ARE COMMON THREAD AS LEAGUE ENTERS WEEK 3
It’s the new normal in the National Football League: Games are closer than they’ve been in 91 years and large leads are an endangered species.
NFL games have picked up where they left off in 2022, when the average final-score margin was only 9.70 points, the lowest for a full season since 1932 (9.13). This year, the average final-score margin is 9.50 points through two weeks.
That’s significant for many reasons, the most revealing of which is this: Winning close games leads teams to the playoffs. Since the NFL expanded the postseason in 2020, 20 of 21 teams that won at least 66.7 percent of their one-score games (decided by eight points or less) have advanced to the postseason.
|SEASON||TEAMS WITH .667 WINNING PERCENTAGE
OR BETTER IN ONE-SCORE GAMES
This past week was historic as 12 games – tied for the most ever in a single NFL week – were decided by eight points or less. Also in Week 2, 13 of 16 games were within one score in the fourth quarter.
And close games in the fourth quarter are many times intertwined with their sibling complement: Comebacks.
In the most impressive comeback this season, the NEW YORK GIANTS last week overcame a 21-point third-quarter deficit to win, 31-28. While it stood out so far in 2023, that comeback wasn’t unusual in recent history. The Giants’ win marked the seventh time since 2019 in which a team overcame a deficit of 21-or-more points to win, including the postseason.
So as you return from your halftime break this week, word to the wise: Do get comfortable with close games because they’re here to stay. But don’t get comfortable with big leads because, if you haven’t learned by now, comebacks are contagious in the NFL.
The Starting 11 entering Week 3…
1. SUPER BOWL HARBINGERS: PHILADELPHIA (2-0) travels to TAMPA BAY (2-0) for a Monday Night Football showdown (7:15 PM ET, ABC) featuring the week’s only battle of unbeaten teams. Since 2010, early season tests between undefeated teams have foreshadowed Super Bowl appearances. In that span, 14 NFL games have featured a pair of 2-0 teams in Week 3, and seven of those 14 games have produced an eventual Super Bowl berth. In recent seasons, both the Chiefs in 2019 and the Rams in 2021 earned Week 3 wins against undefeated opponents en route to world championships.
o Both Tampa Bay (plus-five) and Philadelphia (plus-four) rank among the league’s top three teams in turnover ratio. Only DALLAS (plus-seven) has a better mark through the season’s first two weeks.
o Since the beginning of 2020, the Buccaneers (34-18, .654) own the NFL’s fourth-best record, trailing only KANSAS CITY (41-11, .788), BUFFALO (38-13, .745) and GREEN BAY (35-17, .673).
o Tampa Bay has won each of its last four against Philadelphia, including the postseason.
o Eagles quarterback JALEN HURTS has guided his team to wins in 19 of his last 20 regular-season starts. During the Super Bowl era (1966-present), he’s only the sixth quarterback to win at least 19 games over a 20-start stretch, joining TOM BRADY (twice, 2003-04 and 2006-08), PATRICK MAHOMES (2019-20), JIM MCMAHON (1984-85) and Pro Football Hall of Famers PEYTON MANNING (2008-09) and JOE MONTANA (1983-84).
o In last week’s win, Hurts ran for two touchdowns. He now needs one more game of two-or-more rushing touchdowns to reach 10 such games in his career and match the NFL record among quarterbacks, held by CAM NEWTON.
2. NUMBER OF THE WEEK – 50: The number of wins by NFC East teams since the beginning of 2022, most in the NFL. The NFC East is a combined 50-24-2 (.671), substantially better than the next-closest division, the AFC North (42-33-0, .560). DALLAS, PHILADELPHIA and WASHINGTON are each 2-0. The last time the NFC East had three 2-0 teams was 1989, when the Giants, Eagles and Cardinals opened undefeated through two weeks.
3. RENEGADES: In their Monday night win, Steelers linebackers ALEX HIGHSMITH and T.J. WATT became the first pair of teammates to each post a sack and touchdown in the same game since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic. PITTSBURGH (1-1), which travels to face the LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (1-1) on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC), also became the first team to record at least six sacks, four takeaways and two defensive touchdowns in the same game since NEW ENGLAND in Week 2 of the 2019 season.
4. SPOTLIGHT – INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: Broncos cornerback PAT SURTAIN and Dolphins wide receiver TYREEK HILL each earned first-team All-Pro honors last season. They’ll line up on opposite sides when MIAMI (2-0) has the ball against DENVER (0-2) on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium (1:00 PM ET, CBS).
5. SPOTLIGHT – TEAM MATCHUP: NEW ORLEANS (2-0) visits GREEN BAY (1-1) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX). Through two weeks, Green Bay is tied for the league’s best red-zone offense (five touchdowns on six red-zone possessions, 83.3 percent). New Orleans, meanwhile, owns the NFL’s third-best defense in the red zone (one touchdown allowed on six opponent red-zone possessions, 16.7 percent).
6. STREAK SPEAK: No player in NFL history has reached 150 receiving yards in each of his team’s first three games of a season. When MINNESOTA (0-2) hosts the LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (0-2) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX), Vikings wide receiver JUSTIN JEFFERSON can become the first. Last week, Jefferson had 159 yards on 11 catches and reached 5,000 career receiving yards in his 52nd career game, tying Pro Football Hall of Famer LANCE ALWORTH (also 52 games) for the fastest ever to reach that milestone. Jefferson, who caught nine passes for 150 yards in Week 1, became just the fifth player since the 1970 league merger to reach 150 receiving yards in each of the NFL’s first two weeks, the first since STEVE SMITH did it in 2011.
o Chargers quarterback JUSTIN HERBERT has 23 career games with at least 300 passing yards and last week surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (22 games) for the third most by a player in his first four seasons in NFL history. Only PATRICK MAHOMES (26) and Pro Football Hall of Famer KURT WARNER (26) have more.
7. DID YOU KNOW?: The INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (1-1) make their 11th return trip to Baltimore, including postseason, since relocating to Indiana in 1984. The BALTIMORE RAVENS (2-0), who host the Colts on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS), have won the last four against Indianapolis at M&T Bank Stadium. Included in that streak is a 24-9 victory in the 2012 playoffs, the first step toward the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII victory. Six years earlier in the 2006 playoffs, Indianapolis earned a 15-6 win at Baltimore en route to a Super Bowl XLI win. Overall, the Colts are 4-6 all-time against the Ravens in Baltimore, including a 1-1 postseason record. The Colts called Baltimore home from 1953-83, winning three NFL titles during those 31 years, including Super Bowl V.
o In last week’s win, Baltimore quarterback LAMAR JACKSON totaled 54 rushing yards. Jackson now has 48 career games with at least 50 rushing yards and surpassed CAM NEWTON (47) for second in NFL history. Only MICHAEL VICK (54) has more.
8. UNDER-THE-RADAR STORYLINE: Quarterbacks DAK PRESCOTT and JOSHUA DOBBS were each selected 135th overall in the fourth rounds of the respective 2016 and 2017 NFL Drafts. This week, they’ll face off when DALLAS (2-0) meets ARIZONA (0-2) at State Farm Stadium on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, FOX).
o The Cowboys are the fifth team in the Super Bowl era to score at least 70 points and allow 10-or-fewer points through the first two games of a season, joining the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS in 2019, DETROIT LIONS in 1970, OAKLAND RAIDERS in 1967 and HOUSTON OILERS in 1966.
o Last week, Dallas linebacker MICAH PARSONS recorded two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Parsons has 10 career games with at least two sacks and is the sixth player since 1982 to record 10-or-more games with at least two sacks in his first three NFL seasons, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers REGGIE WHITE (16 games) and RICHARD DENT (12), as well as SHAWNE MERRIMAN (12), ALDON SMITH (12) and DWIGHT FREENEY (10).
9. TREND TIME: Twelve of the last 14 teams to open 3-0 have reached the postseason. Nine clubs have an opportunity to achieve that mark this week, including WASHINGTON (2-0), who with a win at home over BUFFALO (1-1) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS) will have its first 3-0 start since 2005.
o NEW ORLEANS (2-0), meanwhile, goes into GREEN BAY (1-1) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX) looking for its first 3-0 start since 2013.
o PHILADELPHIA (2-0), which won its first eight games last year, can advance to 3-0 in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1992-93. TAMPA BAY, the Eagles’ opponent this week in the first of two games on Monday Night Football (7:15 PM ET, ABC), also can improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2005.
o The second game of the Monday doubleheader pairs the two teams from Super Bowl LVI, the LOS ANGELES RAMS (1-1) and CINCINNATI BENGALS (0-2) at Paycor Stadium (8:15 PM ET, ESPN). Rams wide receiver PUKA NAKUA (25 receptions) is the first rookie to lead the league in receptions through two weeks since EARL COOPER in 1980. Last week, Nakua posted 147 yards on 15 receptions, the most catches in a single game by a rookie in NFL history. He’s also the first player in NFL history with at least 10 receptions and 100 receiving yards in each of his first two career games.
10. NEXT GEN STATS NOTE OF THE WEEK: In last week’s 25-24 victory, Falcons rookie running back BIJAN ROBINSON posted 172 scrimmage yards (124 rushing, 48 receiving). According to Next Gen Stats, Robinson averaged 5.15 yards per carry after coming within a yard of the nearest defender. Robinson and ATLANTA (2-0) are at DETROIT (1-1) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX).
o In Week 2, Detroit quarterback JARED GOFF completed 28 of 35 pass attempts (80 percent) for 323 yards and two touchdowns with one interception for a 121.8 rating. Goff threw 383 passes without an interception, the third-longest streak of attempts without an interception in NFL history. Only AARON RODGERS (402 attempts in 2018) and TOM BRADY (399 in 2022) had longer streaks.
11. AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST: Sunday’s game between HOUSTON (0-2) and JACKSONVILLE (1-1) at EverBank Stadium (1:00 PM ET, FOX) will feature five players selected among the first three overall picks of the last three NFL Drafts (2021-23). That group includes a pair of No. 1 overall selections (Jacksonville quarterback TREVOR LAWRENCE, 2021; and Jaguars linebacker TRAVON WALKER, 2022), one player drafted No. 2 overall (Houston quarterback C.J. STROUD, 2023), and two players selected No. 3 overall (Houston defensive end WILL ANDERSON, 2023; and Texans cornerback DEREK STINGLEY, 2022). In addition, the Jaguars are expected to play three other first-rounders from the last three drafts: Running back TRAVIS ETIENNE, 2021; tackle ANTON HARRISON, 2023; and linebacker DEVIN LLOYD, 2022).
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