How do you win a football game? That knowledge isn’t actually included in the NFL rulebook, which you can read (in PDF form) here, courtesy of the league, but a charitable interpretation of the circumstances might be that a victory is awarded to the team with the most points at the end of the game. Most people know this — football scores go up, highest score wins, so on and so forth. There are, typically, two different ways that NFL teams go about doing this: either by attempting to outscore the opposition or by smothering them with defense. The 2014 Super Bowl was so compelling for that exact reason, as the best offense in NFL history kicked off against one of the best defenses. The defense won. Sorry for any spoilers.
And while there may not be any defenses that wind up on a “Best of” shortlist this season, there are still teams that are doing a better job of shutting down their opponents than others. In fairness, we have to say that three weeks is a smaller sample size and that some teams have had easier schedules than others. At the same time, though, there’s enough evidence to start putting together trends, or at least indications that some teams might actually be for real.
Here, then, are the five NFL teams that have successfully kept the most points off the board for the first three weeks of the 2014 NFL season. The data is from Pro Football Reference.
5. San Diego Chargers, 49 points allowed
Typically, defense is not the first thing that’s brought up when considering the Bolts, as Phillip Rivers, Antonio Gates, and company seem to have a monopoly on the coverage that the San Diego team receives. But through three games the Bolts have been able to keep a lid on the offenses on the other side of the field, giving away a season-high 21 points to the Seahawks and holding the Bills to just 10 points.
4. New England Patriots, 49 points allowed
There’s an argument to be made that the Patriots and the Chargers should swap places on this list, because the Patriots have been able to get away with playing the Oakland Raiders, who are to scoring points what a broken record is to finishing a song. New England has already let one game get away, giving up 33 points to Miami, and it’s unclear as to whether the team has doubled down or simply faced a pair of pitiful offenses.
3. Detroit Lions, 45 points allowed
Could this be the year the Lions’ talented but oft-lackadaisical defensive line gets everything together? Cuts down on the unnecessary roughness long enough to finally be as good as the unit seems like it should be? Is this the third or the fourth year that we’ve been asking this question? We can’t remember, but after holding the Green Bay Packers to just 7 points in Week 3, we’re kind of stoked to find out.
2. Arizona Cardinals, 45 points allowed
More and more improbable with each injury (this defense has been decimated) the Cardinals have been able to put together three weeks of stifling D, holding every team they’ve played to no more than a pair of touchdowns and refusing to allow more than 17 points to the Chargers, the Giants, and the 49ers — hardly the dregs of the NFL’s offensive output.
1. Cincinatti Bengals, 33 points allowed
There’s no team in the league that’s been on fire quite like the Bengals, though, as they head into their bye week not only undefeated(!) but holding the title on the fewest points allowed in the entire NFL, something no one would’ve suspected going into the start of the season. Yes, it’s true that one of those games was against the Titans, who are the second most offensively inept team in the league so far, but the Ravens and the Falcons are both avian-inspired squads more than capable of scoring touchdowns.