After 4 games, we are left with just two unbeaten teams – the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs and just one winless team – the Arizona Cardinals. The Houston Texans finally got on the board this week with their first win, while the Miami Dolphins suffered their first loss.
A bit further down the rankings from the Rams and Chiefs - the Titans, Bears, Ravens and Bengals are rising, whilst the Falcons, Steelers and Buccaneers are sliding a little bit. But it’s early in the season – just a quarter of the way through for most teams.
1. Los Angeles Rams (4-0) (last week’s ranking: 1)
The Rams won an offensive shootout with the Vikings in one of the best Thursday Night games in memory. Jared Goff threw for 465 yards and 5 touchdowns, whilst three receivers - Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods all had 100-yard receiving days. Goff currently leads the NFL in passer rating. It’s difficult to look anywhere else when assessing who the best team in the NFL is right now, although there must be some questions about a defense which gave up nearly 450 yards itself. Ironically, it was that defense that came up with the game clinching play, forcing a Kirk Cousins fumble on a potential game tying drive. CB Marcus Peters was able to fight off injury to play, but his counterpart Aqib Talib was placed on Injured Reserve.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (4-0) (last week’s ranking: 2)
Patrick Mahomes led his team down the field for the winning touchdown late in the game against the Broncos as the Chiefs preserved their unbeaten start to the season. They remain atop the AFC and second only to the Rams in the NFL according to our Rankings. Mahomes had a relatively quiet night for him but still had a 300-yard passing day and still no interceptions for the season. Mahomes trails just Jared Goff in passer rating through 4 games. The Chiefs defense continues to be the Achilles heel of this team – this week being gashed on the ground for more than 150 yards. They continue to miss S Eric Berry. However, right now, this offense is good enough to see them past most teams – with Kareem Hunt challenging Mahomes as the league’s 2018 breakout player.
3. New Orleans Saints (3-1) (last week’s ranking: 4)
The Saints put in a solid, if unspectacular, performance to overcome the Giants and raise their record to 3-1 for the season. The Saints were led by 134 yards on the ground from Alvin Kamara, including the game clinching score late on. The Saints defense played perhaps its best game of the season against the Giants, although in fairness the Giants offense was tepid for much of the game. New Orleans remains the favourite in the NFC South and are probably the second-best team in the ultra-competitive NFC at the time of writing. Michael Thomas leads the NFL with 42 receptions through 4 games.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-1) (last week’s ranking: 5)
From one week to the next, it’s not clear which Jaguars offense will turn up. This week it was the good guys as Blake Bortles passed for 388 yards and Dede Westbrook and Donte Moncrief both had 100-yard receiving days and despite giving up 3 turnovers they were way too much for the hapless Jets. On the other side of the ball, the Jags continue to demonstrate that they have one of the league’s top defenses – this week holding the Jets to less than 200 yards. On the downside, RB Leonard Fournette’s hamstring injury took a turn for the worse this week and it’s likely he’ll be out for a few weeks.
5. Carolina Panthers (2-1) (last week’s ranking: 6)
The Panthers had an early bye this past week, but they didn’t stand pat on their days off – the signing of safety Ed Reid immediately providing a boost to Carolina’s defense. It also looks like they are likely to get OG Trai Turner back from a concussion to help what is already the league’s no.1 running game.
6. Tennessee Titans (3-1) (last week’s ranking: 11)
Marcus Mariota led the Titans to an overtime victory over the Eagles, with a performance that included multiple big plays especially in the extra period. Wideout Corey Davis had a breakout day with 161 yards receiving and the Tennessee defense bent but didn’t break against Philadelphia – they will miss safety Kenny Vaccaro who injured his elbow and may be out for a while. With Mariota back under center following injury, and successive victories over the Jags and Eagles, this looks like a Titans team that is a strong playoff contender.
7. Philadelphia Eagles (2-2) (last week’s ranking: 3)
Despite a 348-yard passing day from Carson Wentz, the Eagles offense managed just 23 points against the Titans as Philadelphia lost in overtime to a Marcus Mariota inspired comeback. This remains an Eagles team which is close but hasn't quite recaptured the magic of 2017. The offense needs to convert yards into points whilst the defense needs to come up with some big plays to spark the Eagles season. Not quite time to panic yet.
8. New England Patriots (2-2) (last week’s ranking: 8)
Reports of the death of the Patriots dynasty appear to be somewhat premature as New England easily beat the previously unbeaten Dolphins this past week. Rookie Sony Michel led the Patriots with 112 yards rushing and despite Tom Brady throwing 2 interceptions it was a game that the Patriots dominated throughout. New England’s defense, which had struggled badly at times this season prior to this game, held Miami to just 172 yards. The next few weeks will give us a better guide to the 2018 New England Patriots.
9. Green Bay Packers (2-1-1) (last week’s ranking: 13)
The Packers put in a solid performance in shutting out the Bills and moving to 2-1-1. Green Bay’s defense came up strong, led by a pass rush that notched 7 sacks – including 3 from the surprising Kyler Fackrell. Buffalo’s rookie QB Josh Allen had the “deer in the headlights” look for the whole game. Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix had his third interception in as many games and is tied for the league in that category through 4 games. On the offensive side of the ball, the Packers did enough to easily win the game, but continues to look like it’s not quite clicking. It’s still difficult to work out what we have in this year’s Packers as they compete with the Vikings and the high rising Bears in the NFC North. Through 4 games, the Packers are 17th in total offense (14th passing, 19th rushing) and 6th in total defense (7th passing, 15th rushing)
10. Chicago Bears (3-1) (last week’s ranking: 16)
Mitch Trubisky threw for 354 yards and 6 touchdown passes, including 5 in the first half as the Bears routed the Bucs 48-10. Despite Trubisky’s performance, it’s difficult to say with certainty whether the Bears offense was more impressive than their defense, as the D held the previously (almost) unstoppable Bucs offense to just 10 points…Chicago coming up with 4 sacks (including 1 more for Khalil Mack) and 3 interceptions. Mack is tied second in the NFL with 5 sacks. If the Chicago offense is finally getting it together (and that remains to be seen – 1 game is just 1 game) to go with their defense then this is a very dangerous team.
11. Minnesota Vikings (1-2-1) (last week’s ranking: 9)
The Vikings offense returned to its explosive self, with Kirk Cousins throwing for 422 yards and receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen each having more than 100 yards but the Vikings defense couldn’t handle the Rams (who had 556 total yards). The Vikings defense had been pegged as one of the NFL’s best entering the season, but this far they are struggling and asking an awful lot of Cousins to win game games for them.
12. Atlanta Falcons (1-3) (last week’s ranking: 7)
The Falcons found a way to lose another close game this week, despite 419 passing yards from Matt Ryan, 173 receiving yards from Julio Jones and 3 sacks from Takkarist McKinley. Jones leads the league with 502 receiving yards and McKinley is tied for second in the NFL through the first 4 games of the season with 5 sacks. Rookie receiver Calvin Ridley now has 5 touchdowns over the past two weeks. But a last-minute drive broke the Falcons’ hearts and dropped them to 1-3. This is a good Atlanta team, but they are struggling badly on the defensive side of the ball – giving up 43 points last week and then 37 this week. If they don’t find a way to stop their opponents’ offense, then this is going to be an exciting but long season for the talented Falcons.
13. Los Angeles Chargers (2-2) (last week’s ranking: 14)
In a tougher than expected match-up, the Chargers just got by the 49ers to move back to .500 for the season. Phillip Rivers threw 3 touchdown passes, Melvin Gordon rushed for 104 yards and the defense had 2 interceptions to ensure a 2-point victory. The margin of victory would have been larger were it not for the struggles of kicker Caleb Sturgis. At 2-2, the Chargers are right on the edge of playoff contention in the AFC.
14. Baltimore Ravens (3-1) (last week’s ranking: 19)
Sound and solid seem to be the two best words to describe this Baltimore Ravens team. They are not beating themselves on either side of the football and did enough this past week to beat their divisional rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The defense led by Terrell Suggs played particularly well in shutting down the Steelers running game. Whilst Joe Flacco had one of the best days of his career throwing for 363 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Ravens are now tied for the division lead with the Bengals.
15. Cincinnati Bengals (3-1) (last week’s ranking: 20)
Andy Dalton threw for 337 yards and 3 touchdowns and led the Bengals to a last gasp come from behind victory against the Falcons. Despite missing the injured Joe Mixon, Cincinnati’s offense has thus far been good enough for most of this season to overcome any defensive frailties. On the downside, sadly, Bengals TE Tyler Eifert suffered what looks like a serious, season-ending, ankle injury in the third quarter of the game. The Bengals are now a surprising 3-1 and contenders in the AFC North.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2-1) (last week’s ranking: 10)
The Steelers were unable to get their offense on track, particularly the running game, and despite a strong defensive effort they fell to the Baltimore Ravens in a close game this past week. That loss already puts Pittsburgh 1½ games behind Baltimore and Cincinnati in the race for the AFC North. Pittsburgh has a tough match-up with Atlanta next but that should be a game in which they can get their offense moving again, given the Falcons defensive woes. In the meantime, the Le’Veon Bell holdout continues, although reports are that he’ll report to the Steelers somewhere around their bye week in midseason.
17. Miami Dolphins (3-1) (last week’s ranking: 12)
Miami had just 172 yards of offense and the defense gave up 449 yards, as the Dolphins put in a poor performance and were overrun by the Patriots. Having been unbeaten coming into this contest we perhaps expected too much of the Dolphins who clearly still have a lot of work to do to compete with the Patriots over a 16-game season.
18. Washington Redskins (2-1) (last week’s ranking: 17)
The Redskins had a bye this past week, giving much needed extra time to prepare for the Saints this week. Washington has been up and down this year – poor one week (e.g. against the Colts) and then outstanding the following week (e.g. against the Packers). They’ll need to bring the outstanding version of themselves to beat New Orleans. Whether star OT Trent Williams will be able to go remains to be seen – he had minor knee 'clean-up' surgery this past week. CB Josh Norman and RB Adrian Peterson are also both carrying injuries but are expected to go on Monday night.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) (last week’s ranking: 15)
The Bucs offense was finally unhinged against the Bears, throwing 3 interceptions and being sacked 4 times. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 126 yards and was replaced by Jameis Winston who had little more success. Having lost 2 straight, a quarterback controversy is brewing in Tampa. But the Bucs defense needs to look at itself as much as their offense as they gave up 6 touchdown passes to the Bears' Mitch Trubisky. The Bucs drop to 2-2 for the season and with such a lacklustre performance this past week, is this a team about to drop off the cliff into freefall? In an effort to stop this happening, the Bucs have restored Jameis Winston to the starting QB position for their next game (against the Falcons).
20. Denver Broncos (2-2) (last week’s ranking: 18)
The Broncos played hard against the unbeaten Chiefs but dropped their second straight game. This was a game that Denver could have won, and they will win more than they lose if this is their level of performance for the rest of the season. The running game notched more than 150 yards and Case Keenum was his usual steady self but they could still do with a little extra on the defensive side of the ball.
21. Seattle Seahawks (2-2) (last week’s ranking: 22)
The Seahawks won their second straight game to even themselves up at 2-2, although they needed a last second field goal from Sebastian Janikowski to scrape past the winless Arizona Cardinals. But the even bigger news this week was the probable season ending injury – a broken leg – suffered by want away safety Earl Thomas. Thomas, who is a free agent after this season, has probably played his last game for the Seahawks. How the Seattle defense will fair without their influential playmaker remains to be seen.
22. Dallas Cowboys (2-2) (last week’s ranking: 25)
Ezekiel Elliott had 240 yards from scrimmage as the Cowboys fought off the dogged Lions, scoring a late winning field goal, to move to 2-2 for the season. Despite giving up 307 passing yards to Matt Stafford, the Cowboys defense played tough as Demarcus Lawrence had 3 sacks. Lawrence leads the NFL through 4 games with 5.5 sacks. Dallas continues to look like the classic 8-8 team…which probably means their record is likely to be anywhere between 6-10 and 10-6 depending on how their luck with injuries and officiating goes. Elliott leads the league in rushing (426 yards) through 4 games.
23. San Francisco 49ers (1-3) (last week’s ranking: 21)
Replacing the injured Jimmy G, C.J. Beathard played well for the 49ers in throwing for 298 yards, but his 2 interceptions were crucial in his team coming up just short against the Chargers. San Francisco’s defense also played a solid game, holding Phillip Rivers and his offense in check for much of the game. But whether the 49ers can stay competitive for the remainder of the season with Beathard at the controls is huge question mark.
24. Cleveland Browns (1-2-1) (last week’s ranking: 24)
In one of the worst officiated games in memory, the Browns failed to make it 2 straight wins when they gave up an 8-point lead late in the game and succumbed to the winless Raiders in overtime. Baker Mayfield played like a talented rookie in his first start – making some big plays whilst also throwing 2 key interceptions. Rookie running back Nick Chubb had 105 yards rushing on just 3 carries (including a 63-yard touchdown run), whilst Carlos Hyde had 82 yards on the ground. The Browns look to have a good all-round offense but will undergo some growing pains whilst Baker learns. They should be concerned about their defense though that gave up 565 yards to the Raiders this past week. You don’t win many games giving up 565 yards.
25. Detroit Lions (1-3) (last week’s ranking: 23)
The Lions played another solid game but were unable to hold on against the Ezekiel Elliott led Cowboys. Matthew Stafford had a 300-yard passing day and completed 80% of his passes, but the Lions running game was pretty much kept in check whilst Detroit’s defense couldn’t slow down the Dallas running game. Detroit is not out of touch in the NFC North, but it will take a sudden rise in the level of play on both sides of the ball for them to move beyond the Bears, Packers and Vikings.
26. New York Giants (1-3) (last week’s ranking: 28)
In falling this past week to the Saints, the Giants lost a game that seemed like they had a chance of winning. The Giants defense played very tough against the Saints – holding Drew Brees to just 217 yards passing. But New York’s offense continues to sputter and can’t quite get it going. Right now, this looks like a team that will play hard all season long but will lose a number of games in the fourth quarter as their solid looking defense wears down.
27. Houston Texans (1-3) (last week’s ranking: 30)
Despite giving up more than 470 yards of total offense, the Texans notched their first win of the season with an overtime victory over the Colts. J.J. Watt continues to have a dominant comeback – this week he had 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles…he now has 5 sacks for the season (tied for second in the league). DeAndre Hopkins showed what a great receiver he is with 10 catches and 169 yards against Indianapolis. Surely, the Texans are better than their 1-3 record but scraping past the Colts doesn’t reflect this – perhaps this win will kickstart their season. They may have to get by without CB Aaron Colvin who suffered an ankle injury this past week – the severity of which is unknown at the time of writing.
28. Indianapolis Colts (1-3) (last week’s ranking: 27)
A risky 4th down play call in overtime most likely turned what would have been a tie into a loss for the Colts against the Texans. Andrew Luck had 464 yards passing and 4 touchdowns in an offensive shootout but his 4th down pass in the extra period fell incomplete giving Houston the ball in Indianapolis territory. Rookie LB Darius Leonard continues to make a very early season claim for rookie honours – this week notching up 13 tackles and now has a league leading 54. But the defense was average and you won’t win many games giving up 466 yards and 37 points.
29. Oakland Raiders (1-3) (last week’s ranking: 31)
The previously winless Raiders notched up 565 yards of offense against the Browns, thanks to 437 yards passing from Derek Carr and a 100-yard rushing day from Marshawn Lynch. Despite giving up nearly 500 yards to the Browns, the Raiders defense did come up with 2 key interceptions and just about kept their team in the game. Jon Gruden will be happy to finally get his first win in his NFL return, but his team remains firmly in the bottom third of the league and will continues to lose more than it wins until the porous defense is sorted out and they cut down on the turnovers given up (Carr leads the league in interceptions thrown, 7, through the first quarter of the season).
30. New York Jets (1-3) (last week’s ranking: 26)
The Sam Darnold led Jets offense continues to look more powderpuff by the week – this week they only mustered 178 total yards against the Jags. Darnold completed only 50% of his passes and he’s not being helped by his defense which gave up more than 500 yards this week to the Blake Bortles led Jags. Following the blowout victory over the Lions in week 1, this Jets team had optimism for the rest of the season, but three weeks later they look like one of the worst teams in the NFL.
31. Buffalo Bills (1-3) (last week’s ranking: 29)
After last week’s shocking win over the Vikings, the Bills fell quickly down to earth with a shutout loss to the Packers. Josh Allen was harassed all day by the surprising Green Bay defense, being sacked 7 times and throwing 2 interceptions. Considering the ineptitude of the offense, the Buffalo defense played pretty well against the Packers. If this week is anything to go by, this will be a long season for the Bills.
32. Arizona Cardinals (0-4) (last week’s ranking: 32)
Again, the Cardinals played a tight game – losing on a last second field goal – but they slipped to 0-4 and are now the NFL’s last winless team. Rookie QB Josh Rosen made his first career start and was up and down but showed a lot of promise – particularly in leading his team down the field for a go-ahead field goal opportunity late in the game (an opportunity that Phil Dawson missed). The Cardinals defense played well against Seattle but for now, Arizona remains at the bottom of our rankings.
Find Peter on twitter here: @The_IT_Hedgehog