Last week, we called the next stretch of five games possibly the easiest stretch in the entire schedule. What a difference a week makes. Not only did the Lions drop the opening game of the five-week span, but three of their four next opponents won in Week 3, making the next month look considerably tougher.
Week 4 at Bears (0-3) - lost to Cowboys, 17-31
The Bears were the only one of the next four teams that lost in Week 4. Again, the Bears defense looked overmatched by Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 140 yards at 4.7 a clip.
Meanwhile the Bears offense meandered through the first half before starting to catch on in the final 30 minutes. Brian Hoyer’s stat line looks fine overall—30 for 49, 317 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions—but most of that production came after the Bears were already down 21 points in the second half.
Week 5 vs. Eagles (3-0) - beat Steelers, 34-3
The Philadelphia Eagles may be the most surprising team in the NFL right now. After dismantling the roster built by Chip Kelly, most expected a rebuild year of at least a year or two, but Doug Pederson has the team already playing like a conference contender.
The team is undoubtedly led by their defense, who not only held the Steelers to three points all day, but sacked Ben Roethlisberger three times, forced two turnovers and held a talented Pittsburgh offense to just 251 total yards.
Offensively, the Eagles are led by rookie Carson Wentz, who has been terrific in his first three games. Wentz ranks seventh among quarterbacks in passer rating—just below Matthew Stafford—and has yet to throw his first interception. After Week 3, the Eagles are second in the league in points scored, due largely in part to five rushing touchdowns—third-most in the NFL.
Week 6 vs. Rams (2-1) - beat Buccaneers, 37-32
After one of the worst looking performances of any team in Week 1, the Rams have bounced back and won two straight.
This game went back and forth all day. In fact, both teams had double digit leads at some point on Sunday. Despite a thunderstorm delay that pushed the game into “Sunday Night Football” territory, the final quarter was a thriller. Four touchdowns were scored in the final stanza, and the Bucs were just 15 yards away from scoring the game-winning touchdown at the end. However, the Rams held strong and forced four straight incompletions from Jameis Winston to end the game.
The Rams were actually outgained in total offense this game, 472-320, and while I don’t expect them to truly contend in the NFC West, the fact they are tied for first at 2-1 certainly means this team is trending in a different direction than previously thought.
Week 7 vs. Washington (1-2) - beat Giants, 29-27
Washington and Kirk Cousins may have saved their respective seasons on Sunday, picking up a huge divisional win on the road against the New York Giants.
Though the Washington defense was porous nearly the entire game, 457 yards of total offense allowed, they also created three crucial turnovers on Sunday that ultimately was the deciding factor in getting their first win of the season. Holding on to just a two-point lead, Washington managed to pick off Eli Manning twice in the fourth quarter, including once in the end zone.
Offensively, Cousins got his groove back, finishing the game with 296 passing yards and two touchdowns. Cousins’ touchdowns were two huge plays: a 44-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson and a 55-yard pass to Dustin Hopkins.
Week 8 at Texans (2-1) - lost to Patriots, 0-27
Houston was just all-out embarrassed by the New England Patriots and their third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett. The Texans offense never got going, and while they weren’t horrible on defense—they allowed just 282 yards of offense—they weren’t all that effective at holding the Patriots to field goals instead of touchdowns.
The Texans weren’t helped out by their special teams play, either. Houston fumbled the ball twice on kickoffs, both leading directly to Patriots touchdowns.
Houston got even worse news on Tuesday night, as it looks like J.J. Watt’s back injury has flared up, and he may not play again in 2016.
Week 9 at Vikings (3-0) - beat Panthers, 22-10
As we detailed in Around the NFC North, the Vikings look like they are the best team in the entire NFC right now. Their defense is making former MVPs look like rookies. Their front seven is turning opposing offensive lines into mincemeat. And perhaps most shocking of all, they are making the Sam Bradford trade look... worth the price.
The Panthers hadn’t lost a home game since November of 2014, but the Vikings cleaned the floor with them on Sunday.
Week 11 vs. Jaguars (0-3) - lost to Ravens, 17-19
The Jaguars were supposed to have a breakout party in 2016, but it appears they are late to their own get-together. Blake Bortles was due to have an amazing season, but through three games he already has six interceptions and one fumble. Even worse is the Jaguars running game, who finished with a respectable 4.2 yards per carry in 2015. So far this season, the Jaguars are averaging 55 rushing yards per game at just 2.8 per carry.
Defensively, the Jags held their own by forcing three turnovers of their own, but late in the game, Jacksonville couldn’t stop the Ravens from kicking the game-winner with just 1:02 left in the game.
Week 12 vs. Vikings (3-0) - beat Panthers, 22-10
Week 13 at Saints (0-3) - lost to Falcons, 32-45
Nearly 10 years to the date after Steve Gleason’s iconic punt block that led New Orleans to an emotional post-Katrina win, the Saints once again faced the Falcons at home on “Monday Night Football.” The results were quite different.
New Orleans continues to have one of the worst defenses in the league, despite shedding Rob Ryan from their team. Atlanta managed five touchdowns and 442 yards of offense while only suffering two sacks and not turning over the ball once all game.
Drew Brees did his best to keep pace, throwing for 376 yards of offense and three touchdowns. But a pick-six late in the third quarter put the Saints down twenty, which would prove to be too much to overcome.
Week 14 vs. Bears (0-3) - lost to Cowboys, 17-31
Week 15 at Giants (2-1) - lost to Washington, 27-29
The Giants blew a 12-point lead despite moving the ball well on offense: Eli threw for over 300 yards and the Giants backfield rushed for over 100 yards. Odell Beckham won the battle with Josh Norman, tallying 121 passing yards against the cornerback, but he lost the battle with the kicking net:
What did this net ever do to you, Odell Beckham Jr.? https://t.co/V7sHfNoh71 pic.twitter.com/iEYRBXZE00— SB Nation NFL (@SBNationNFL) September 26, 2016
The Giants defense was a huge disappointment on Sunday, allowing Washington to drive up and down the field all game. The Giants, holding on to a two-point lead, couldn’t stop Washington from a 10-play, 56-yard drive that ate up six minutes of the clock to put Washington away for good.
Week 16 at Cowboys (2-1) - beat Bears, 31-17
Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott continue to make the Cowboys’ future look bright. The two combined for over 400 yards of offense against the Bears.
This game, although it finished with a score that was somewhat close, always seemed in hand by the Cowboys.
Week 17 vs. Packers (2-1) - beat Lions, 34-27
We all know what happened in this game, but it will be interesting to see if the Packers’ offensive revival is for real when they face the New York Giants in Week 5.
Overall record: 7-6 this week, 20-19 overall
The strength of schedule didn’t change much after Week 3. The Lions still have an average schedule ahead of them, but the immediate future looks a lot more daunting than it did a week ago. A win against the Bears becomes all that more important because the Eagles and Rams seem to be more formidable than anticipated.