I’ve always thought that weeks three and four are when the NFL really starts to take shape. The contenders begin to separate themselves from the also-rans, and the division races start to heat up.

So what did we learn from week three of the 2001-02 season?

Well, first of all, never count out a defending champion. One week after being embarrassed by Cincinnati, the Ravens proved that the road to the Super Bowl still goes through Baltimore with a 20-13 victory on the road over the Denver Broncos. With the win, the Ravens reminded all of their doubters that there is a reason that they won Super Bowl XXXIV, and it’s because the word “quit” is not in their vocabulary. Oh, and that suffocating defense doesn’t hurt, either.

Another team that stepped to the forefront on Sunday was the St. Louis Rams, who turned what many thought would be the game of the week into a romp, destroying the Miami Dolphins 42-10. Kurt Warner picked apart the ‘Phins’ vaunted defense for 300-plus yards and four touchdowns, proving that the Rams’ offense is still the best in all of football. However, I’m still not sold on St. Louis. I want to see how well it performs away from the turf of the TWA Dome before I jump on the Rams bandwagon.

Two teams that had fans around the country jumping ship were the aforementioned Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts. Coming into week three the Colts and Broncos boasted the number one and two offenses in the NFL in both points scored and yards gained. But both teams received sub-par performances from their Pro Bowl QBs. For Indy, Peyton Manning couldn’t get on track all day, throwing four INTs en route to a 44-13 shelling at the hands of lowly New England. Denver’s signal caller, Brian Griese also struggled, throwing two picks against the Ravens, after throwing only four interceptions all of last season.

To me, the most disappointing team thus far has been the Seattle Seahawks, just beating out Tennessee on my list. Seattle Head Coach Mike Holmgren brought in his handpicked QB (Matt Hasselbeck) and overhauled his porous defense in hopes of making Seattle a contender in the ultra-competitive AFC West. But Hasselbeck has struggled mightily and the free-agent pickups on defense haven’t meshed. Consequently, the Seahawks have sputtered to a 1-2 start, with their only victory a 9-6 win over Cleveland.

And the surprise team of this early season?

It could only be the San Diego Chargers. After going 1-15 last year, the Chargers look like a completely different team with Doug Flutie and rookie LaDainian Tomlinson in the huddle. They are moving the ball with efficiency, and with their always tough defense, the Chargers have bolted to a 3-0 record and the top of the AFC West.

Week four will help to clear up the picture a little bit more, but what we can tell so far is this: Good teams are now bad, bad teams are now good, and the NFL is more competitive than ever.

Check back after next week’s games to see how much things have changed (and how wrong I probably am).