KANSAS CITY & MIAMI LEAD CROP OF AFC TURNAROUND TEAMS
You see it every season. Since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990, at least four clubs made the playoffs that were not in the postseason the previous year.
Entering Week 4, seven NFL teams remain undefeated, including four clubs that failed to qualify for the 2012 playoffs – Chicago, Kansas City, Miami and New Orleans.
While no guarantee, wins early in the season lay a foundation for future success – 75.4 percent of teams (86 of 114) that started 3-0 since 1990 made the playoffs.
In the AFC, the turnaround efforts by the Chiefs (2-14 in 2012) and Dolphins (7-9) have been impressive.
Last Thursday night, Kansas City defeated Philadelphia 26-16 to remain undefeated, becoming the fifth team in NFL history to start a season 3-0 after losing 14 or more games the previous season.
The teams to start 3-0 after finishing the previous season with 14 losses:
PREVIOUS SEASON RECORD
- Active streak
"We try to get better every day," says Chiefs safety ERIC BERRY. "We're trying to take this team to the top. We're just going to keep putting in the work, day in and day out."
Kansas City will host the New York Giants in Week 4 and aims to become the second team in NFL history to start a season 4-0 after finishing the previous season with at least 14 losses. Only the 1980 Detroit Lions have accomplished the feat.
One key factor for the club has been playing mistake-free football. Through Week 3, Kansas City owns the best turnover ratio ( 9) in the NFL. The Chiefs are one of two teams yet to commit a turnover in 2013 (Tennessee) and can tie the 1995 St. Louis Rams (four games) for the longest streak without a turnover to begin a season in NFL history.
"It is hard to win games in the National Football League," says Kansas City head coach ANDY REID. "We still have a lot of season left. There is no time to relax on what you have done, you just have to continue to build and get better."
Miami is off to its first 3-0 start since 2002, winning back-to-back games against 2012 playoff participants in the past two weeks. The Dolphins earned a 24-20 road victory against Indianapolis in Week 2 and followed with a 27-23 win at home against Atlanta in Week 3.
"We have a special team, a team with a lot of talent," says Miami wide receiver BRIAN HARTLINE. "We're going to continue to improve. The sky's the limit."
Miami has relied heavily on its opportunistic defense, which ranks second in the AFC with five interceptions, and the standout play of second-year quarterback RYAN TANNEHILL, who orchestrated the fourth game-winning fourth-quarter drive of his career against the Falcons.
With the Dolphins trailing 23-20 with 4:46 remaining, Tannehill led Miami on a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that culminated with a touchdown pass to rookie tight end DION SIMS with 38 seconds left in the fourth quarter to seal the Dolphins' victory.
"Expectations will continue to rise," says Hartline, who had an 18-yard TD catch against Atlanta. "And high expectations bring out the best in you. We welcome it."
Miami, which aims for its first 4-0 start since 1995, will face undefeated New Orleans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on *Monday Night Football *in Week 4.
COME-FROM-BEHIND VICTORIES HIGHLIGHT NFL'S UNPREDICTABILITY
"What people love about the NFL," says New Orleans Saints quarterback DREW BREES, "is that every game, every week, no matter who is playing, anything can happen. So many games come down to that last possession."
That has certainly been the case this season. Through the first three weeks, there have been eight games in which a team was trailing and scored the game-winning points in the final minute of the fourth quarter. That is the most such games through the first three weeks of a season since at least the 1970 merger.
New York Jets
In six of those eight games, the winning points were scored in the final 10 seconds.
"That's football," says Brees, whose team came from behind to defeat Tampa Bay in Week 2 with a field goal as time expired. "That's why we love it. And that's why we never give up. We always feel like we have a chance to win."
Adding to the excitement is that in five of the eight contests, the game-winning points were scored via touchdown.
"A lot of games in this league come down to the end," says Buffalo Bills running back FRED JACKSON, whose team scored the game-winning touchdown with two seconds remaining in the Bills' Week 2 victory over Carolina.
A look at the five games this season in which a team was trailing and scored a game-winning touchdown in the final minute of the fourth quarter:
Week 2: Buffalo 24, Carolina 23. Trailing 23-17, Bills rookie quarterback EJ MANUEL throws a two-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver STEVIE JOHNSON with two seconds remaining.
Week 2: Chicago 31, Minnesota 30. Trailing 30-24, Bears quarterback JAY CUTLER throws a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end MARTELLUS BENNETT with 10 seconds remaining.
Week 3: Cleveland 31, Minnesota 27. Trailing 27-24, Browns quarterback BRIAN HOYER throws a seven-yard touchdown pass to tight end JORDAN CAMERON with 51 seconds remaining.
Week 3: Miami 27, Atlanta 23. Trailing 23-20, Dolphins quarterback RYAN TANNEHILL throws a one-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end DION SIMS with 38 seconds remaining.
Week 3: Tennessee 20, San Diego 17. Trailing 17-13, Titans quarterback JAKE LOCKER throws a 34-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver JUSTIN HUNTER with 15 seconds remaining.