Football is a game of misdirection, so we can’t always believe our eyes. It’s only Week 3 of the NFL season, so we’re still going to see a lot of developments that seem like trends but turn out to be hiccups. Lots of false starts, if you will.
Still, there are some surprises in this young season, some early twists and turns that few people, if anyone, expected. Here are some:
Jared Goff is the best quarterback in the NFC West: It’s not San Francisco’s Brian Hoyer, or Arizona’s Carson Palmer, or even Seattle’s Russell Wilson. It’s the Rams’ Goff, who through three games has shown a particular knack for making good decisions on broken plays. He doesn’t throw a particularly pretty ball, but as we saw on that perfectly placed throw directly over the head and into the hands of Sammy Watkins, he finds a way to get it there. This, after a rookie season when Goff had seven starts, seven interceptions and zero wins.
Last season’s two top backs are scratching their heads: Maybe just a weird cosmic wrinkle, but the two most prolific running backs from last season — Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott and Chicago’s Jordan Howard — did a complete disappearing act last Sunday. Each carried the ball nine times in losses. Elliott had eight yards against Denver; Howard had seven against Tampa Bay. Of course, those are two good defenses.
The most reliable guy in the NFL plays for … Cleveland?: Browns tackle Joe Thomas, the third overall pick in the 2007 draft, has never so much as taken a breather since starting the first game of his rookie season. Last Sunday, he anchored the offensive line for his 10,000th consecutive snap. “As offensive linemen,” Thomas told reporters this week, “we consider ourselves mushrooms because we get thrown in the corner of a dark room and people pile poop on us and then expect us to grow.”
Somebody believes in the Browns: Believe it or not, Cleveland is finally favored to win. Las Vegas had the Browns opening as 2 1/2-point favorites to beat the Colts in Indianapolis. The Browns hadn’t been favored in a game since beating San Francisco in Week 14 of the 2015 season. And the last time they were favored on the road? When they played at Jacksonville in Week 7 of the 2014 season, a game Cleveland lost.
Can anybody beat Detroit?: OK, so it is two convincing victories over two (surprisingly) bad teams — Arizona and the New York Giants — but the 2-0 Lions are looking good on both sides of the ball. Could they wind up being the team to beat in the NFC North? They haven’t won the division since 1993.
The disappearing man: Defenses can’t get their hands on Eddie Lacy, but it’s not because the Seattle running back is so elusive. He’s not on the field. Lacy was left off the 46-man roster in Week 2 — the first time in his career he was a healthy scratch — after running for just three yards in five carries against his old Green Bay Packers. It doesn’t look like he’ll be the type of contributor many people thought he would be in Seattle.
The Bengals have yet to score a touchdown: In a pair of home losses, the Bengals were shut out by Baltimore and limited to three field goals by Houston. It was only a couple of years ago that quarterback Andy Dalton was a most-valuable-player candidate. Now, the team is ranked 28th in offense, and confounded Bengals fans are asking, “Who Dey?”
At a loss: The NFL will stage its 18th regular-season game in London on Sunday when Jacksonville (1-1) plays Baltimore (2-0) at Wembley Stadium. As Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com points out, that continues a curious pattern. Those overseas matchups have never pitted two teams with winning records. That trend won’t end with the 19th game, either, when the 0-2 Saints play Miami at Wembley next week.
His rooting roots: It will be particularly strange for Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith on Sunday when his Chiefs play at the relocated Chargers. Smith, who grew up in San Diego, was a big Chargers fan as a kid, so it will be odd for him to be facing them in a new city.
“I’m trying to see how many times I don’t say, ‘San Diego’ this week,” Smith said. “It will be hard, growing up there. This will be new. I’m so used to and comfortable going to San Diego and playing at Qualcomm, or whatever they call it now. So this will be new. New stadium, new deal — just have to handle that.”
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer