Three weeks into the 2023 National Football League season finds that 28 of the 32 teams have won at least one game … four have not. That quartet of three-time losers are playing each other this Sunday. The four teams that have lost their first three games are the Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers.
The Broncos, who play at Soldier Field on Sunday against the winless Bears, still have public opinion on their side. Last year, when they acquired Russell Wilson from the Denver Broncos, fans in the Mile High City thought he would be the last cog in a return to championship form. Didn’t work out that way, so the Broncos determined that the problem was with their coaching and went out and hired the longtime successful coach of the New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton.
So far, the Broncos search for success with a player who seemingly enjoyed his best days in Seattle and a coach who won a Super Bowl in New Orleans, hasn’t turned out well for Denver.
The Bears, who started this season with optimism that this would be the year for their third-year quarterback, Justin Fields, to emerge are quickly losing faith that they yet have the personnel in the Windy City to succeed. This is a Chicago squad that opened the season as a point spread favorite over their NFC North Division rivals, the Green Bay Packers. They lost that game by 18 points and followed with double-digit losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs.
On Sunday, they are underdogs at home to the winless Broncos.
In 2022, the Minnesota Vikings had the second best won/loss record in the NFC, 13-4, but were knocked out of the playoffs in the Wild Card weekend by the New York Giants. Not much has gone right for Kevin O’Connell’s team since they finished last season winning the NFC North Division. They lost all three of their preseason games this year, nothing new or necessarily significant given the Vikings haven’t won a summer game since 2019, but the three losses to open this season is significant.
So, did they play three powerhouses leading into Sunday’s road favorite role against the Carolina Panthers?
They did fall to the defending NFC Champion Eagles in second week action, but bookended that loss with a defeat on their home field to the suspect Tampa Bay Buccaneers and last Sunday, again at home, handed the Los Angeles Chargers their first win of the season. This week, they are one of the most bet teams when they visit the Panthers.
The Panthers must be really bad, huh?
In fact, among the four winless teams this season, the Panthers may be the closest to getting good.
While the Broncos seem to have all the pieces, they are misfiring like an eight cylinder engine with water in the gas tank. The Bears appear rudderless at this point and the Vikings direction is moving away from success and has them in discussions to jettison their quarterback, Kirk Cousins, out of town.
Whereas in Carolina, they have both a new head coach in Frank Reich and used the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to tab quarterback Bryce Young. The Panthers had the first pick in last April’s allocation of college talent through a trade with the Chicago Bears.
Quarterbacks are always the key to success in the NFL, and finding a franchise signal caller can often be a hit-and-miss proposition. In 2017, Chicago was in search of a man to lead their offense and drafted Mitch Trubisky while leaving Patrick Mahomes available for the Kansas CIty Chiefs to select later in the first round.
The Panthers made Young the first pick in this year’s draft, and if the other signal callers selected at the top of the round, C.J. Stroud by Houston or Anthony Richardson by Indianapolis, outperform Young then Carolina will be saddled with the same regrets the Bears have endured by selecting Trubisky over Mahomes.
There is also the possibility that another quarterback out of last year’s draft will succeed beyond expectations. Clear examples of this are Tom Brady, who was a sixth round choice of the New England Patriots in 2000, or what the 49ers scored last year when they chose Brock Purdy with the last pick in the seventh round.
So, if Young turns to gold in Carolina, while they appear to have many of the other pieces of a championship puzzle in place, then of the four winless teams this year the squad best positioned to rise to a championship level in seasons to come is Reich’s squad.
Last week, Young was held out of action with a mild ankle injury, not to risk the ankle to be aggravated and a longer term problem. This week, he has shown no limitations in practice from the ankle injury and is expected to start on Sunday against the Vikings. His backup, Andy Dalton, who failed to get the Panthers a win last week in Seattle, is nevertheless a reliable backup.
So, the public likes the Vikings in this one and I don’t.
Qoxhi Picks: Carolina Panthers (+4) over Minnesota Vikings