The key to NFL success is consistency. While that may seem like an obvious understatement, it’s also true. And it’s easier said than done.
Wins are hard to come by in 2016. The NFL doesn’t have any creampuffs or cupcakes; a mental lapse or breakdown in preparation will leave even the strongest teams ripe for upset. With roughly one guh-zillion factors coming into play each weekend, consistency can be fairly elusive. This early in the season, as teams grapple to find their identities and settle into a rhythm, it’s FEAST or FAMINE. Sometimes, both.
Through Week 3, only a handful of unbeaten teams remain. Among them, it’s a FEAST for the Minnesota Vikings on defense and special teams. The NFC North frontrunners invaded Carolina and pounded the Panthers, snapping their 14-game home win streak. The Vikes hounded Cam Newton and sacked him eight times, briefly knocking him out of the contest. They also intercepted him three times, forced him into a safety and returned a punt for a score. Minnesota physically dominated Carolina in the trenches. The leadership of head coach Mike Zimmer is on full display as the Vikings compete with cohesion and focus.
Despite quarterback questions, it’s also a FEAST for longtime AFC stalwarts Denver and New England. The Super Bowl champs already sport a world-class defense, but Sunday’s victory at Cincinnati was a coming-out party for new QB Trevor Siemian. More than 300 yards passing, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a pair of giddy receivers in Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas offered balance on the other side of the ball. For the Patriots, the tandem of Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett is doing more than just keeping the seat warm for Tom Brady. Add a healthy dose of running back LeGarrette Blount to the disciplined team football required by mad scientist Bill Belichick, and the Pats are flying above the fray of Brady’s suspension. They feasted on the Texans last Thursday, neutralizing Brock Osweiler, J.J. Watt and every other Houston option.
Surprisingly, it’s also a FEAST for the Eagles with rookie sensation Carson Wentz picking up confidence and earning new fans with every throw. Philadelphia is not only undefeated, but the only team in the league without a turnover! Jim Schwartz’s defense, with a mere 20 points allowed so far, deserves a ton of credit too. Fiery and aggressive like their coordinator, the Eagles sacked Ben Roethlisberger four times and stifled the potent Steelers on Sunday.
It’s a FAMINE for the Saints, even though Drew Brees has already thrown for more than 1000 yards this year. With a revolving door of coordinators, too much dead money on the books and not enough quality talent, New Orleans looks lost and overwhelmed on defense. The offense is sharp, but weekly shootouts put too much pressure on Brees and his weapons. It’s also a FAMINE in Chicago, where the Bears sport the worst point differential in the NFL through Week 3. The team can’t stay healthy; from the QB to the running backs to the linebackers to the secondary, the roster is depleted.
This early in the season, it’s FEAST and FAMINE for many teams as they seek some semblance of consistency. Indianapolis has been a slow starter, but when trailing late in a game, the Colts are smarter, sharper and more efficient. Four of Andrew Luck’s six touchdown passes have come with Indy losing in the fourth quarter. But why do they keep putting themselves in holes early on? The Kansas City defense feasted on the Jets last Sunday, producing eight turnovers on 11 drives. The Chiefs actually intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick six times! But the weekend before in Houston, it was a FAMINE for the KC offense with not even 300 total yards.
The NFC West is a collective case of FEAST and FAMINE, with each member showing flashes of both gluttony and malnutrition. Russell Wilson is scrambling for his life behind the Seahawks offensive line; but when he remains upright, the offense is versatile and dynamic. The 1-2 start for the Cardinals has coach Bruce Arians fuming. Four Carson Palmer interceptions as Cincinnati gives up 33 points to the Bills? The roller coaster ride is maddening. The Rams own a pair of wins and a blowout loss. San Francisco has twice lost by 19 but also posted a 28-0 shutout. It’s hard to make sense of the division as a whole.
Across the league, the season is a race to find stability and steadiness, to be less erratic and more dependable. The first teams to settle into a consistent rhythm and flow are generally the most dangerous. But for now, the NFL is a fascinating and rousing game of FEAST or FAMINE.
A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @.