The Schein Nine  

 

Carson Palmer for MVP, Raiders for legitimacy & more madness

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Sunday's slate started out with a bang, a true "you can't make it up" moment in St. Louis.

Kickoff of Steelers-Rams was delayed a half hour because of fireworks damage. Seriously. Stranger than fiction indeed.

Every game, all season

It was that kind of day. In fact, it's been that kind of season thus far, chock full o' amazing and wild developments.

Here are nine things you simply can't make up:

1) Carson Palmer, MVP candidate.

My respect for the Arizona Cardinals organization is well-documented. In the preseason, I called the Cardinals a top-three team in the NFC. They are even better than that -- this team is a true Super Bowl contender.

And Carson Palmer is an early MVP candidate.

Can't make that up.

Through Sunday, Palmer is tied with Tom Brady for the NFL lead in touchdown passes (nine). Arizona is the NFL's highest-scoring team, averaging an eye-popping 42 points per game.

Bruce Arians' team has won nine straight games with Palmer starting at quarterback, and 16 of 18 going back to October 2013. Fresh off his second ACL surgery, Palmer looks better than ever. Clearly, the 35-year-old quarterback isn't just along for the ride on this talented team; he's as important a contributor as any player in the league right now.

2) Tom Brady's playing the best ball of his career at age 38.

I made a simple prediction in the preseason: "Tom Brady is about to embark on the greatest middle-finger tour in sports history."

Still, I can't help but marvel at this level of dominance. I'm beyond impressed. It's like Brady has played three straight scrimmages against air.

Following the Patriots' 51-17 shellacking of the Jaguars on Sunday -- a day in which Brady piled up 358 passing yards and two touchdowns -- the New England signal caller boasts a 119.6 passer rating as well as a 9:0 TD-to-INT ratio. At the moment, he's on pace to throw for 5,931 yards.

Brady's remarkable. He's a legend. And he's certainly a man on a mission, doing stuff that 16th-year pros just shouldn't be able to do.

3) Joe Philbin is even more underwhelming than I anticipated.

I was sort of expecting the Dolphins to change coaches at the half on Sunday. Miami travels across the pond this week -- perhaps the Dolphins will leave the coach in London.

Like Brady, Philbin spawned a lot of offseason analysis from this writer. Of course, my feelings on each individual were quite different. I thought Philbin would continue to leave something to be desired in Miami -- though I'm not sure I thought it'd be this uninspiring.

In Sunday's home opener, Miami got destroyed 41-14 by the division-rival Bills. The Dolphins played with no energy, no plan, no desire to adjust and, quite simply, no clue. Frankly, the final score doesn't do this blowout justice -- Buffalo led 27-0 at the half, thanks to three Ryan Tannehill picks in the opening 30 minutes. The crowd was dead. The defense -- fronted by 114 Million Dollar Man Ndamukong Suh -- was a sieve. Bills QB Tyrod Taylor looked like John Elway.

And this nightmare outing came right on the heels of a loss to the inferior Jags in Week 2.

The Dolphins have talent, but they don't have a coach. Miami entered Monday ranked 27th in scoring and 26th in total defense. The 'Fins are 1-2, with the one bright spot being a highly underwhelming win over the Redskins.

Bottom line: Less than a month into the season, Joe Philbin somehow has fallen below my basement-level expectations. And he now has a lower winning percentage (.471) in Miami than his predecessor, Tony Sparano (.475).

4) The Carolina Panthers are 3-0!

To quote the catchy team song from the mid-2000s, "The Carolina Panthers -- bringing the pain!" Cam Newton and the Panthers have been the epitome of toughness to start the season.

No Luke Kuechly (for the second straight game)? No problem. The Panthers stayed perfect with a 27-22 win over the Saints.

Honestly, I thought the Panthers were en route to six or seven wins this season, with general manager Dave Gettleman leaving the cupboard bare at receiver and along the O-line. And I wasn't the only one who left them for dead after the crippling injury to Kelvin Benjamin. But here they are tied for first place in the NFC South, thanks to clutch play on offense and smothering defense. (Carolina ranks second in the league in scoring D.)

On Sunday, the Panthers' starting wide receivers were Ted Ginn, Philly Brown and Brenton Bersin. And Cam finished with 315 passing yards, two touchdowns, no picks and a sparkling 119.7 passer rating. Nope, can't make that up.

5) The Eagles are better without DeMarco Murray?

Chip Kelly is a genius! Or something ...

On Sunday morning, Murray is declared inactive for the winless Eagles' road date with the undefeated Jets. Sunday afternoon, Philadelphia notches its first victory of the season.

Without the big-name free-agent addition in the backfield, Kelly's Eagles frustrated the Jets with ball-hawking defense (four takeaways) and a fine game from the team's other new back, Ryan Mathews (25 rushes for 108 yards, plus a 23-yard receiving touchdown).

In a flawed NFC East, the Eagles are right back in the thick of things at 1-2 -- especially with a winnable stretch of games on the horizon (at Redskins, home vs. Saints, home vs. Giants).

6) The Raiders are ... legit!

After beating the Browns in Cleveland, Oakland is 2-1 with a forthcoming game against the worst team in the NFL, Chicago. The Raiders haven't won three games in any season's first four weeks since 2002 -- which also marks the last time they've participated in postseason football.

Oakland, behind Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and a ferocious pass rush, looks like a real NFL team. That's still just a bizarre sentence to write, given this franchise's recent history (even though I envisioned this could be the case at the outset of this season).

7) The Colts remain a franchise in flux.

Another bizarre sentence to write: The Colts needed a massive fourth quarter to beat Tennessee and log their first win of the year.

It shouldn't be that hard for the Colts to look the part. This team has plenty of talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Andrew Luck came to play in the final quarter Sunday, but he looked awful for much of the game, forcing the issue in an extremely disconcerting manner. Luck entered the season as an MVP front-runner. Three weeks later, he leads the NFL with seven interceptions and owns a career-worst 65.1 passer rating. Maybe Sunday's fourth quarter, in which Luck led three TD drives, will get the talented youngster going. Hard to imagine he'll have more picks than touchdown passes for much longer.

A lot of folks blame the dreadful offensive line and defense for Indy's underachieving start. Honestly, I think the biggest problem with this franchise exists off the field of play. Even after Sunday's win, the conversation won't shift from the reported dysfunction between head coach Chuck Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson. Less than a month into a projected Super Bowl year, we're already talking about who will be coaching the Colts in 2016. Didn't see that coming.

8) Maybe Sean Payton will be the next coach Indy ...

Together We Make Football

... because it sure feels like the beginning of the end in New Orleans.

Drew Brees is hurt, and the Saints look completely rudderless. New Orleans is 0-3 and on a road to nowhere.

9) Andy Dalton, Mr. Clutch?!

First of all, credit Ravens receiver Steve Smith Sr. for a turn-back-the-clock performance in Sunday's loss to Cincy. Thirteen catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns? And this dude's retiring at season's end??

Still, Smith putting a team on his back is something we've come to expect over the years. Something we haven't come to expect: clutch play from the Red Rocket.

No, Andy Dalton didn't play a perfect game on Sunday, logging a pair of second-half turnovers, including a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and gave Baltimore the lead halfway through the fourth quarter. But with the game on the line, Dalton bounced back, hitting A.J. Green for a pair of touchdown strikes in the game's final seven minutes.

The Bengals have been one of the best and most complete teams in the league so far this season. And Dalton, with a dazzling 121.0 passer rating, is a major reason why.

You can't make it up.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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