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Texans, Cardinals, Falcons lead NFL as only 3-0 teams

The 1972 Miami Dolphins are safe. There are only three teams that are still undefeated after three weeks, and we'd be surprised if any of them get to the midway point of the season undefeated. Not all 3-0 teams are created equal, but it's a significant head start on the season.

Over 75 percent of 3-0 teams make the playoffs, and 21.6 percent of them make the Super Bowl. So where will the Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, and Arizona Cardinals end up?

The AFC Favorite

Houston's 3-0 start is the least surprising. They beat up on two poor teams (Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins) and got a nice road win in Denver. They aren't the AFC favorite because of their fast start or the team's great talent base. Simply put, they are the most likely team in the AFC to get a bye in the playoffs because of their weak schedule.

All offseason, I called the Texans the safest bet to win their division of any team in the NFL. This was a statement on Houston's returning talent and the rest of the AFC South. They already have a two-game lead.

The AFC West figures to be a quagmire. The New England Patriots already have nearly equaled their loss total from a year ago. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens' defenses have come back to the back. It's too early to say the Texans will be a great team or if they can remain in the top five in scoring and points allowed. It's not too early to say they have the best chance to get 12-plus wins and earn a playoff bye.

Not the 2011 Buffalo Bills

The Cardinals will remind some fans of the 2011 Bills as a surprise 3-0 team. We think Arizona is closer to the 2011 Lions. Like Detroit, Arizona is a lopsided team. The Cardinals' defense is dominant; the offense hopes to be ordinary. Guys like Calais Campbell, Daryl Washington, Patrick Peterson, Adrian Wilson, Sam Acho, and Darnell Dockett aren't going anywhere. They will keep Arizona in games week after week, just like the Detroit offense did a year ago. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton has a lot of chess pieces to give opposing offenses fits.

Buffalo sneaked up on the league to start last year. They out-schemed teams lacking great talent. Arizona has good schemes and great talent. They figure to have some ups and downs during the season because of their passing game, but there's no reason why this team can't make a playoff push.

Better than 2010

No team has played better thus far than the Falcons. They've been impressive in each of their performances. They squashed a 2-0 Chargers team on the road and everyone yawned. They have a quarterback just hitting his prime with the best wide receiver tandem in the league. The defense is fourth in points allowed, but we're still not sure it's a difference-making group.

Atlanta's next three opponents before their bye: The Carolina Panthers, Washington Redskins, and Oakland Raiders. A win over the Panthers could put the Falcons three games up in the NFC South.

The Falcons have made the playoffs three times in the Mike Smith era. They went 13-3 in 2010 and won the No. 1 seed in the NFC. This team may not win 13 games, but it should be better than the 2010 Falcons. Ryan was not as far along then. The offense is more dynamic with coordinator Dirk Koetter and Julio Jones. Even with Brent Grimes gone, the secondary is in better shape.

The NFC South looked like one of the most competitive divisions going into the season, but the Falcons will be tough to catch.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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