(Reuters) - The Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans and Detroit Lions missed the playoffs last season but on Sunday they looked serious about crashing the next postseason party as they all improved to 3-1.
Among the early other games, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Indianapolis Colts signal caller Andrew Luck each threw four touchdown passes in wins over key division rivals.
The Miami Dolphins obliterated the winless Oakland Raiders 38-14 at London’s Wembley Stadium in the first of three NFL games that will be played in Britain this season.
The Raiders opened the scoring less than six minutes after the opening kickoff but then surrendered 38 consecutive points to a Dolphins team that played the inaugural International Series matchup in 2007 at Wembley.
In Houston, former first round draft pick J.J. Watt turned the game in the Texans favor when he returned an interception 80 yards for a touchdown that gave his team the lead en route to a 23-17 win over the Buffalo Bills.
The retooled Texans are looking to follow in the footsteps of the 2012 Colts and 2013 Kansas City Chiefs as they try to go from worst overall to the playoffs.
Matthew Stafford had two touchdown passes and ran in another as the visiting Lions, who have missed the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, beat the host New York Jets 24-17.
Stafford gave the Lions a lead they would never relinquish when he connected with Jeremy Ross on a 59-yard play just past the midway mark of the second quarter for a 10-3 lead.
Baltimore, who have not made the playoffs since winning the Super Bowl for the 2012 NFL season, got a big game from 35-year-old wide receiver Steve Smith, who hauled in a Joe Flacco pass for a 61-yard touchdown in the opening minutes of a 38-10 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Smith hauled in another touchdown pass before halftime and finished the game with 139 yards. Flacco threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers for their first win of the season, Vincent Jackson catching a five-yard touchdown pass from Mike Glennon with seven seconds to play as the visitors rallied for a 27-24 win.
Green Bay’s Rodgers extended his dominance over the Bears, throwing for 302 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-17 win that marked his eighth consecutive victory over the division rival.
In Indianapolis, Luck also had a huge game, throwing for 393 yards and four touchdowns as the Colts cruised by the Tennessee Titans 41-17 and earned a share of top spot in the AFC South with Houston.
After striking first with a Trent Richardson touchdown, the Colts immediately recovered an onside kick and Luck led his team on a six-minute drive that was capped by a seven-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Allen for a 14-0 lead.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes