Analysis: Which NFL teams are best in which quarters

All the time, fans read and hear about late-game heroics in the NFL. This quarterback has led so many comeback victories, or this defense is most stout as the final minutes tick away.

What about the rest of the 60 minutes of play? Which teams in 2021 are getting off to exceptional starts and which ones need a wake-up call? Who comes out of the locker room at halftime and gets things done, and who, well, needs another wake-up call?

Here we go, based on scoring, passer ratings, turnover margin and sacks:

FIRST QUARTER

Getting out of the gate quickly on offense has been a major weapon for Tampa Bay, Arizona, Indianapolis, and, perhaps surprisingly, both Carolina and Philadelphia. All of them have scored more than 60 points in the opening period.

It’s the Bills who are most dominant, though: Buffalo has allowed a mere six points in the first 15 minutes while scoring 57. Opponents’ passer rating is an awful 35.4; next stingiest is the 66.6 by Carolina. Remember, too, that the weather hasn’t gotten nasty in Buffalo yet.

With Josh Allen operating at a 91.6 passer rating for the first quarter, the differential is a mammoth 56.2, 10 points ahead of Minnesota. The Vikings do have the best passer rating with Kirk Cousins at 135.0. Of course, the Vikings tend to fall apart after that.

The Bills also lead in turnover differential at plus-4 (six takeaways, two giveaways), and are tied in sacks (seven) with six other teams.

As for showing up late, the Jets have cornered that market with 14 points, a 39.2 passer rating, a whopping minus-66.6 differential in that category, and no turnovers forced while losing the ball five times.

SECOND QUARTER

Some teams get into a rhythm here. The Titans, Rams and Browns rev up, scoring 117, 92 and 90 points, respectively. Defensively, Green Bay, New Orleans and Carolina are the stingiest, yielding 47 points each, while New England has the best point differential (38).

Cincinnati (130.6) and somehow, Seattle (127.6) despite missing Russell Wilson for about a month, are most efficient throwing the ball. But the Bengals are quire charitable to opposing QBs, being picked apart at a 121.0 rating that is better than only Kansas City’s 121.4.

Sacks increase impressively in this period, with Tennessee and Denver each managing 11, while the Patriots, Cowboys, Raiders and Browns have nine apiece. Protecting their quarterback in this quarter is a major problem for the Browns and Titans, too — they have given up nine apiece — but Chicago (13) and Houston (10) are even more of a sieve.

The Cardinals really do some damage here with a plus-6 turnover differential, while Jacksonville, Miami and, you guessed it, the Jets are at the bottom at minus-5. Indeed, the Jets have given up 107 points here, the only team above 100 (KC is at 98).

THIRD QUARTER

Let’s start at the bottom this time.

Like in most weeks, the Texans (1-8) are the opponent everyone would want, with a point differential of minus-54, scoring an almost-invisible 14. Yet it’s the NFC wild-card contending Panthers who fall apart most in this period. Carolina is minus-43 in points and has an abysmal 35.5 passer rating, far below Houston’s 60.6. The Panthers (5-5) are minus-6 in turnover margin and have a 78.3 differential in how passers do against them versus how their QBs perform. But the Chargers (132.8) and Ravens (122.7) get beaten up most by opposing passers.

This is a very good quarter for the Rams’ defense, which has 13 sacks; LA has allowed only three in the period. The Bills also step up here, allowing a mere 13 points in this quarter.

With the ball, Arizona is tops with 86 points, ahead of Indianapolis (75).

FOURTH QUARTER

Money time.

New England has had the most dynamic offense, even with Tom Brady having taken his dynastic touch to Tampa. The Patriots, aided by several blowout victories, have a point differential of plus-58, and their 93 points are two behind the Saints. New England (6-4) has won four in a row.

New Orleans also has strong stats in this period, including a 112.7 passer rating (without the retired Drew Brees; impressive) behind only Kansas City (116.3) and Tampa Bay (113.3). The Saints have 12 sacks; Green Bay and Minnesota, who meet Sunday, each have 11.

Every coach will point to turnovers, particularly late in games, as decisive, and Tennessee and Philly are the only teams not to have a giveaway in this session. Best at ball-hawking are the Colts with eight, an indication of their turnaround from 0-3 to 5-5. Tail-enders Houston and Jacksonville are at the other end with minus-5 turnover differentials.

The Jets (again) and Bears are unable to protect their quarterbacks in crunch time, yielding 11 and 10 sacks in the final quarter of regulation. Atlanta, continued a trend from last season, can’t stop anyone here, allowing 104 points.

OVERTIME

Keeping in mind that 17 teams, just over half the league, have had overtime contests, and the period is 10 minutes long instead of 15, there’s not a lot to break down.

The Raiders have done best by going 2-0, scoring 12 points and allowing three. The Colts are worst, losing twice, allowing nine points while not scoring. Hey, they have a 0 passer rating in OT.

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AP Sports Writer Michael Marot contributed.

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