Deep Dive: Not all hot starters will make NFL postseason

Three weeks of the NFL season are in the books, and I know what you’re thinking: How do we know which hot-starting teams are contenders and which are pretenders? What are the big games to keep an eye on these next two weeks? Worry not, dear reader, you’ve come to the right place; this week’s deep dive will answer all these questions and more. 

Let’s start by looking at each team that has made it through the first three weeks undefeated, along with how likely I believe it is that they make the playoffs.

Kansas City Chiefs

Combined record of opponents: 4-5 

Head coach Andy Reid has built a video game offense in real life, and it seems no one has the answer for stopping it. I came across this bizarre statistic, courtesy of Scott Barrett with Pro Football Focus: In just the first half of games, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is averaging 300 yards and 2.7 touchdowns through the air. Extrapolate those numbers over a season and you get 4,800 yards and 43 touchdowns. That’s only been done six times in NFL history by a few guys named Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Mahomes himself last year. Can you imagine what those numbers would be if he needed to keep his foot on the gas in the second half? Playoff chances: 95%

New England Patriots

Combined record of opponents: 0-9

Raise your hand if you’re surprised the Patriots are off to a 3-0 start. No one? That’s what I thought. The biggest story for New England has been the turmoil wide receiver Antonio Brown brought to town, but those days are over. After his release Friday, it looks as though Brown won’t be on an NFL roster ever again. This team will very likely cruise into the playoffs regardless — they’ve got an easy schedule up until a five-game stretch in November and December where they’ll play the Ravens, Eagles, Cowboys, Texans and Chiefs. Playoff chances: 90%

Los Angeles Rams

Combined record of opponents: 4-5

The Rams have the most impressive three wins among the undefeated teams with two road victories and a win in their NFC title game rematch with the Saints. Wide receiver Cooper Kupp’s return has been the key to unlocking the Rams’ offensive potential, and head coach Sean McVay spent the offseason designing plays to overcome the offensive woes that limited the Rams to 3 points in last year’s Super Bowl. The NFC West is looking very competitive this year, but this team isn’t going anywhere. Playoff chances: 85%

Dallas Cowboys

Combined record of opponents: 1-7

The Cowboys’ new offense continues to impress. Quarterback Dak Prescott is leading the league in quarterback rating, ESPN’s most thorough efficiency rating, and has the second-most touchdown passes behind Mahomes. Thanks to a rash of injuries and bad luck affecting the Eagles, Dallas already has a two-game lead in its division, which will be difficult to overcome down the stretch. Jerry Jones probably likes his playoff chances right now, but I still have the Cowboys slightly below the Rams since their wins are less impressive. Playoff chances: 80%

I’d be surprised if any of the above teams missed the playoffs, but the jury is still out on the remaining undefeated teams. 

Green Bay Packers

Combined record of opponents: 3-5

The Pack has not looked particularly sharp in any of its games, but it’s found a way to stay undefeated. This offense is far from clicking on all cylinders — Aaron Rodgers’ quarterback rating is below that of Jaguars’ sixth round rookie Gardner Minshew, and star wide receiver Davante Adams has also underperformed. They also face some stiff competition within the NFC North and some tough tests in the coming weeks, including games against the Eagles, Cowboys, Chiefs and Chargers. The early leg up will help their playoff chances given the challenging stretch ahead. Playoff chances: 55%

Buffalo Bills

Combined record of opponents: 1-8

With a strong defense and some timely playmaking by quarterback Josh Allen, the Bills have looked better than expected. They’ve faced three unimpressive offenses, but they’ve been taking care of business, holding them to under 5 yards per play. The Bills’ schedule will get more difficult, but they have enough winnable games — including two against the Dolphins — to grab one of the two AFC wild card spots. Playoff chances: 50%

San Francisco 49ers

Combined record of opponents: 1-8

It appears quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is back to his winning ways after returning from tearing his ACL last season. He hovers around the league average in quarterback rating and found a way to win against the Buccaneers despite conceding five turnovers. The NFC West might be the strongest division in football, and the 49ers still have to face the Rams and Seahawks twice apiece. The Niners still have much to prove, but they’ll be alright if head coach Kyle Shanahan can continue his offensive wizardry. Playoff chances: 45%

Detroit Lions

Combined record of opponents: 2-6-1

With two wins and a tie, the Lions are technically still undefeated, and they’ve mustered wins over good teams in the Chargers and Eagles. They’d be 3-0 if they could’ve just held on against Arizona Week 1. Matthew Stafford appears to have rebounded from a down year, and the defense has come up with big stops in both wins. However, the Lions have three tough divisional opponents, and it won’t be easy to grab a wild card in the NFC. Playoff chances: 30%

Dario Offstein is a junior writing about sports. His column, “Deep Dive,” runs every other Tuesday.