Analysis: Few surprises among NFL’s top teams a quarter into the season

Philadelphia Eagles place-kicker Jake Elliott (4) celebrates with teammates after the game-winning field goal in overtime of an NFL football game against the Washington Commanders on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs, center, celebrates his touchdown with offensive tackle Spencer Brown, left, and quarterback Josh Allen, right, during the first half an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

The NFL’s top preseason contenders played like it in the first quarter of the season.

Defending champion Kansas City (3-1), Philadelphia (4-0), San Francisco (4-0), Dallas (3-1) and Buffalo (3-1) are 17-3 combined. The Chiefs, Eagles, 49ers, Cowboys and Bills are, in Dennis Green’s words, who we thought they were.

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Of the six teams with the best Super Bowl odds entering the season, only the Bengals (1-3) haven’t lived up to expectations. Cincinnati is struggling because Joe Burrow is playing hurt. A calf injury has severely limited the NFL’s highest-paid player.

If Burrow can get healthy and get the Bengals going, they can’t be counted out because they’ve won road playoff games against Kansas City and Buffalo in the past two years.

Most of the frontrunners are winning despite not playing their best football.

The Chiefs barely escaped with a 23-20 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday night.

Their only loss came against the Lions (3-1) in the season opener — a game played without Travis Kelce and Chris Jones.

Patrick Mahomes posted the fourth-lowest passer rating (63.6) of his career against New York’s tough defense, but the two-time Super Bowl MVP made critical plays with his legs on a final drive to ice the win.

“It’s not always going to be a pretty four quarters, especially against a good defense, but it’s about, when the opportunity arises, going down and finishing,” Mahomes said.

The Eagles needed overtime to beat the Commanders 34-31 behind Jalen Hurts’ best game of the season. They’re undefeated even though they haven’t hit their stride. Philly’s passing attack took four weeks to click. The defense has been spotty. The Eagles face the Rams and Jets the next two weeks, so they have an opportunity to work out the kinks before the schedule gets tougher.

“When you can win different ways — you’re going to be put in all these scenarios through a long season, right? And so, it just builds confidence that, OK, we’ve been here before, we know how to win this way,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said.

Hurts played his first turnover-free game of the season, throwing for 319 yards and two TDs to lead Philadelphia back from a 10-point deficit.

“I think it is reassuring for us,” Hurts said. “When you feel those moments, they build so much character for you. … No one is satisfied. No one is ever satisfied. I’m never satisfied, but winning is the only thing that matters and we’ll enjoy those wins because we earned them and we know what winning can do if you take it in the right way, so we just want to keep that hunger, keep the eagerness to get better, just keep growing.”

The Bills have won three in a row following a season-opening loss to the Jets on the night Aaron Rodgers’ season ended. Their 48-20 win over Miami (3-1) was most impressive. Josh Allen and Co. sent a clear message that the AFC East still goes through Buffalo. The Dolphins came in unbeaten off a 70-point outburst.

“Every week is a different week,” Allen said. “It doesn’t matter what you did last week or what you’re going to do next week.”

Allen, who had a perfect 158.3 passer rating after throwing for 320 yards and four touchdowns, wants to see the Bills improve.

“I still think we have more,” Allen said. “We’re gonna have to learn a lot from this tape and find ways to get better, but we left a lot out there and we’re all focused on correcting those things.”

The Cowboys, coming off a stunning loss to Arizona, earned their third dominant win of the season, 38-3, over the Patriots. It was the worst loss in Bill Belichick’s career. Dallas has outscored its opponents 108-13 in three wins, but the offense still hasn’t hit its stride.

“Pretty efficient but still not to our standard, honestly,” QB Dak Prescott said. “To have as many opportunities as we had in the red zone and (just) have some field goals. … A lot of good comes from it and a lot of great comes from it when you win a game 38-3. So, it’s a lot easier to get better with a win like this and a score like that.”

The 49ers pulled away from the Cardinals in the fourth quarter of a 35-16 win. Brock Purdy improved to 11-0 in games he starts and finishes without injury. Christian McCaffrey has been outstanding on an offense filled with playmakers and the defense has been stingy.

Next week, the Cowboys visit the 49ers.

The Dolphins, Ravens and Buccaneers also are 3-1 and the Seahawks can match that start with a win over the Giants on Monday night.

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