Week 4 has come and gone and we still don’t exactly know who the best team in the NFL is. Hence, another week and another No. 1.
What we do see are a few teams officially untying themselves from the dock of competitiveness and sailing adrift. There is no doubt that we said goodbye to a handful of teams this past week that have almost no chance of recovering (and given this year’s draft, probably little interest). While that doesn’t necessarily help us in our quest to truly identify those eight or nine teams capable of winning a Super Bowl, it does get rid of some of the superfluousness.
Onward we go:
1. San Francisco 49ers (4–0)
Last week: win vs. Arizona Cardinals, 35–16
Next week: vs. Dallas
Back on top, the 49ers are enjoying the process of helping Christian McCaffrey shatter every NFL skill position scoring record. McCaffrey has seven touchdowns through four games, which puts him on pace for 29.75 (if anyone can figure out how to score three quarters of a touchdown, it’s Kyle Shanahan). The single-season record of 31, held by LaDainian Tomlinson back in 2006, finally feels like it’s being threatened again. Shaun Alexander and Priest Holmes: beware!
2. Kansas City Chiefs (3–1)
Last week: win vs. New York Jets, 23–20
Next week: at Minnesota
Patrick Mahomes said it after the game on Sunday night and I agree: there is nothing wrong with the Chiefs winning a sloppy time-of-possession game against a really good defense. The Isiah Pacheco effect seems to be maturing into what Andy Reid had always hoped he could find in this running game: a true, clock-draining hammer who can take the pressure off his transcendent star quarterback. The officiating helped Kansas City eke out this Jets victory for sure, but the result was valuable from a team sanity standpoint.
3. Philadelphia Eagles (4–0)
Last week: win vs. Washington Commanders, 34-31
Next week: at Los Angeles Rams
The Eagles are 4-0, but their defense—which, at this point a year ago, was one of the best units in football—is roughly the 18th- or 19th-best at present. I don’t really think anyone cares about style points, but if you’re projecting this team out over the course of 17 games, it’s undeniable that they’ve lost some of their efficiency but still seem to be surviving based on the sheer depth of their talent. Through four games last year, Philadelphia had an almost 50% success rate against runs and a 43% success rate against the pass. This year? A 45% success rate against the pass, and a meager 34% success rate against the run.
4. Buffalo Bills (3–1)
Last week: win vs. Miami Dolphins, 48–20
Next week: vs. Jacksonville (London)
A full-team statement win for the Bills over the Miami Dolphins. This was as good of a performance by Sean McDermott and his curated defense as we’ve seen throughout his time in Buffalo. Tua Tagovailoa is a good quarterback, and when he went to his first reads on Sunday they were almost always clogged and muddied. The Bills also ran the ball effectively, complimenting another otherworldly performance from Josh Allen.
5. Dallas Cowboys (3–1)
Last week: win vs. New England Patriots, 38–3
Next week: at San Francisco
Another all-encompassing drubbing by this defense, which has had some selectively amazing performances this year. While they were helped by some dismal decisions by Mac Jones—including a scramble near the goal line where he somehow didn’t think one of the league’s best pass rushes wasn’t going to collapse on him and knock the unprotected ball out of his hands—Dallas’s opportunistic style was not just a series of fortunate turnover chunks in 2022. They are complimented by an offense that is undeniably more efficient than it was a year ago. Dak Prescott’s dropback success rate is up nearly 7% from this time a year ago.
6. Detroit Lions (3–1)
Last week: win vs. Green Bay Packers, 34–20
Next week: vs Carolina
Think about this for a minute: There are 14 teams with a better rushing success rate than the Lions, and 14 teams with a better drop back success rate. While this variable is still all over the place right now given that we’re four weeks into the season, it does tell us something: the Lions haven’t even hit their stride yet offensively. Jahmyr Gibbs has yet to break out. Jameson Williams is still coming back. Sam LaPorta, who has been an excellent, high catch percentage target, still has such a high ceiling. And Detroit’s pass rush just arrived.
7. Miami Dolphins (3–1)
Last week: loss vs. Buffalo Bills, 34–20
Next week: vs. New York Giants
It’s still pretty wild to consider that even on a terrible day, Mike McDaniel can still scheme up a rookie running back to average 12.1 yards per carry (with a long of 55, of course). I think the Dolphins were just kind of knocked off their mark in this one and I don’t really have a 30,000 foot take. Their season was always going to depend on their ability to maintain their speed advantages, their health and, hopefully, bring the defense along in time. They are still by far the most efficient passing team in the NFL.
8. Baltimore Ravens (3–1)
Last week: win vs. Cleveland Browns, 28–3
Next week: at Pittsburgh
Congratulations to the Baltimore defense, which picked apart Browns rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson and also hilariously pinned Elijah Moore 20 yards backwards on one of the worst jet sweep handoffs I’ve ever seen. Mike Mcdonald’s unit has been vintage this season, and complements an offense that seems to tell a different story every week. Albert Breer brought up a good point on the pod this week: Todd Monken’s recent college experience has really helped with Zay Flowers. Flowers is relevant every week and is changing the dynamic of this offense.
9. Seattle Seahawks (3–1)
Last week: win vs. New York Giants, 24–3
Next week: bye
A completely dominant, lights-out performance on Monday Night Football has us pretty high on the Seahawks. At MetLife Stadium, Devon Witherspoon broke out as another anchor cornerback in this completely rebuilt secondary. While teeing off on a pressured Daniel Jones behind that saloon door offensive line is not necessarily a display of strength, the manner in which they separated themselves from the Giants and shut the door on any possible comeback was impressive. They are clearly in a different tier.
10. Los Angeles Chargers (2–2)
Last week: win vs. Las Vegas Raiders, 24–17
Next week: bye
Aside from the Raiders’ late comeback, this felt like a perfect, signature pre-bye victory for the Chargers. Los Angeles was able to rip straight through the Raiders’ defense on the opening drive and ended the game on an at-will frozen rope from Justin Herbert to Joshua Palmer. Khalil Mack, without the help of Joey Bosa, walked through the Las Vegas offensive line. Here is what the plan looks like (somewhat) when it’s working. Now, they have a bye week to iron out the late-game vulnerability.
11. Los Angeles Rams (2–2)
Last week: win vs. Indianapolis Colts, 29–23
Next week: vs. Philadelphia
With Cooper Kupp close to a return, here’s something to consider: the Rams now have multiple receivers who can essentially play like tight ends, giving them the ability to have 12 or 13 personnel looks with a slate of talented, fast pass catchers. We knew this was going to be a regenerative year for Sean McVay and wrote about as much. But we didn’t know exactly how fast we’d see the rubber hitting the road. The Rams are contenders.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars (2–2)
Last week: win vs. Atlanta Falcons, 23–7
Next week: vs. Buffalo (in London)
Still a bit pedestrian looking, the Jaguars are scraping by as they try to get some runway to launch this offense formally. In London, Jacksonville didn’t really run the ball all that well, and Trevor Lawrence posted his third straight game with fewer than seven yards per attempt passing. He did most of the game’s heavy lifting with his legs, and finished second on the team in rushing. But, like we said with the Chiefs, good teams win this way, too, before they end up becoming themselves.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3–1)
Last week: win vs. New Orleans Saints, 26–9
Next week: bye
The best part about Baker Mayfield 3.0 is that when he faces pressure—which he’s done at almost every stop in his career—he now keeps his eyes locked robotically downfield and always seems to have a plan as to when and how he’ll get rid of the ball. A lot of younger players struggle with this and Mayfield, undoubtedly, had his issues in Cleveland. But now, despite a similarly shaky offensive line (the Buccaneers came into this week 24th in pass block win rate), Mayfield is so much less dependent on the idea that he can finesse his way out of a situation and so much more confident that Chris Godwin or Mike Evans will help him figure it out.
14. Green Bay Packers (2–2)
Last week: loss vs. Detroit Lions, 34–20
Next week: at Las Vegas
I count just 17 total running back targets for Jordan Love right now over all of Green Bay’s backs combined. For reference, there are five running backs who have more than 15 targets themselves in the NFL through four weeks. It’s a little thing, but part of what made Aaron Rodgers so good was a checkdown rate of nearly 9%. Love, who has now had two less-than-ideal, sub 70-QB ratings in a row, just needs to find his efficiency again. Getting Aaron Jones healthy seems like a big part of the plan.
15. Cincinnati Bengals (1–3)
Last week: loss vs. Tennessee Titans, 27–3
Next week: at Arizona
I think we’re very close to the point of no return this season for the Bengals, but here’s why I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad team (apologies to all of you with those Super Bowl futures locked in). Having a break in competitiveness for the Bengals gives a really good team a rare chance to draft high in a quarterback-heavy draft, much like the 49ers were able to when they nabbed Nick Bosa. Quarterback injuries happen, but this coaching staff didn’t forget how to coach, nor did Burrow forget to play quarterback. Let’s say the Bengals have to sit Burrow to get him fully healthy after all and they end up losing a few games: at this point, take the long view and look at how much it helped San Francisco. They could even take a wide receiver to replace one of the weapons they’ll inevitably lose in free agency.
16. Atlanta Falcons (2–2)
Last week: loss vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 23–7
Next week: vs. Houston
Desmond Ridder is seeing a lot of pressure (more than 20% of his dropbacks to be exact). This was always going to be the weak point in Atlanta’s develop-on-the-fly plan, which didn’t necessarily account for Ridder being in so many situations where he would have to throw his way out of a jam. The pick-six was a backbreaker, but he did hang in there and hit Drake London on a back shoulder ball in the end zone that was somewhat promising.
17. New Orleans Saints (2–2)
Last week: win vs. New England Patriots, 38–3
Next week: at New England
I don’t want to bang on the Saints’ offense too much given that they were about a split second away from a massive Chris Olave deep ball touchdown that is probably completed seven out of every 10 times Derek Carr throws it. But I do think New Orleans needs to find a way to function smarter with the weapons at their disposal. This should be a team that can win regularly on first downs, which was a hallmark of the Sean Payton-led Saints long ago.
18. Indianapolis Colts (2–2)
Last week: loss vs. Los Angeles Rams, 29–23
Next week: vs. Tennessee
Anthony Richardson’s poise was absolute. While Shane Steichen and the Colts obviously wanted to win here, this has got to be one of the more acceptable losing scenarios for a team that is no longer a year away from serious contention. Richardson’s touchdown throw to Mo Alie-Cox was beautiful, and Kenny Moore’s interception was a complete game-changer.
19. Cleveland Browns (2–2)
Last week: loss vs. Baltimore Ravens, 28–3
Next week: bye
The Browns’ world-beating defense is always going to struggle when the quarterback gives the ball away three times and Lamar Jackson is twirling floater jump passes to Mark Andrews that no one else can catch. Still, it was a rude awakening for a team that is so clearly built around the run game and the defense. What happens if the defense regresses to the mean (which is possible considering that their Week 1 victory was against the now clearly hobbled Bengals) and the quarterback position remains static?
20. Houston Texans (2–2)
Last week: win vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 30–6
Next week: at Atlanta
CJ Stroud made some incredible throws on Sunday, but let’s start talking about something else, and then circle back to the obvious. This defense is also opportunistic and aggressive. Jonathan Greenard is a great speed rusher and is on pace for his best season in the NFL. We’ve always been a fan, but now the rest of the league will start catching on. DeMeco Ryans makes me feel like we may soon see an era in the NFL where nearly every coach is a former player.
21. New York Jets (1–3)
Last week: loss vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 23–20
Next week: at Denver
I think the Jets have shown some incredible resilience throughout the season, coming back against the Bills and then down 17 against the defending American Football Champions. Hopefully, we see more of the team’s usage of creative max protection offenses that can get Zach Wilson comfortable and moving. This was maybe the third or fourth time in his career he felt comfortable enough to flash the beautiful arm talent that got him drafted so highly in the first place. The Jets’ schedule softens from here.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers (2–2)
Last week: loss vs. Houston Texans, 30–6
Next week: vs. Baltimore
Six Dameon Pierce touches in the Texans’ first 12 plays,and then on back-to-back plays to start the following drive, and then three times in the first four plays of the third drive. All of these ended up yielding points. As much as CJ Stroud is the story here, so, too, is the fact that a Steelers defense that has one of the best rushing success rates in the NFL was challenged in a major way on Sunday and failed. Stroud can have a good life when his two lead backs are consistently grinding out four yards per carry.
23. Tennessee Titans (2–2)
Last week: win vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 27–3
Next week: at Indianapolis
The Titans were presented with an ideal opportunity to flex their strengths: a wary defense susceptible to their army tank running back and a mobility-challenged quarterback who is going to struggle against a good pass rush. I think the Titans can find enough of these games remaining on their schedule to stay relevant throughout the regular season.
24. Washington Commanders (2–2)
Last week: loss vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 34–31
Next week: vs. Chicago
Sam Howell is throwing for about as many air yards per pass as Patrick Mahomes, and is far from the bottom-five starter we had projected him to be at the beginning of the season. I would have to say that, if I’m Josh Harris and the new ownership group, the combination of Ron Rivera and Eric Bieniemy has to be growing on me. Like Jonathan Gannon in Arizona, the talent isn’t there, but the maximization of said talent is there. The Commanders have a better team than the Cardinals, but they don’t have nearly as good a team as the Eagles. Staying in a fistfight with the defending NFC champions shows a well-prepared and still-motivated group.
25. New York Giants (1–3)
Last week: loss vs. Seattle Seahawks, 24–3
Next week: at Miami
Top to bottom an embarrassing performance by the Giants, who began the night with some momentum via their pass rush and completely squandered the early success. This offense cannot operate behind this line anymore. It’s starting to be deleterious to the quarterback’s health. While some of these highlight plays against the Giants came when the game was clearly over and the team had already quit, it’s going to be a difficult film session to recover from, especially given how the season began against Dallas.
26. New England Patriots (1–3)
Last week: loss vs. Dallas Cowboys, 38–3
Next week: vs. New Orleans
The worst blowout in Bill Belichick history wasn’t just a blowout, it was a punking. The Cowboys were pulling out fake field goals on the NFL’s best game plan mastermind. Mac Jones made a series of ill-advised, egregious throws across the field, the second of which was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. We are almost certainly coming to a point where we need to wonder if the Patriots are a prime candidate to move on a quarterback at the deadline. It seems to be the only sensible way for them to upgrade right now given that Belichick will never tear down a roster enough to let it grow with a rookie.
27. Minnesota Vikings (1–3)
Last week: win vs. Carolina Panthers, 21–13
Next week: vs. Kansas City
I saw Kirk Cousins get hit twice in this game—once amid a Jeremy Chinn sack and once as he tried to make a tackle on his pick six—harder than some skill position players get hit all year. This is, ultimately, emblematic of the Vikings’ season: everything is hard, nothing is beautiful and even the wins leave scars. I still believe the Vikings should not entertain keeping Cousins. Trading him is not difficult and is getting less costly by the week. A loss to the Chiefs next week should seal the precursor to an open bidding process.
28. Arizona Cardinals (1–3)
Last week: loss vs. San Francisco 49ers, 35-16
Next week: vs. Cincinnati
I, for one, am very excited about Josh Dobbs inching his way toward a Geno Smith-sized contract after the end of this season. I know at some point we have to stop being amazed at the Cardinals’ sheer competence, but Dobbs is outplaying so many seasoned professionals this year, including Deshaun Watson, Derek Carr, Daniel Jones, Mac Jones and Justin Fields. Dobbs’s back shoulder throw and eventual touchdown to Michael Wilson before the half are so emblematic of Arizona’s fight.
29. Las Vegas Raiders (1–3)
Last week: loss vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 24–17
Next week: vs. Green Bay
Go back and watch the push this Chargers offensive line was getting on Las Vegas early in this game. The Raiders’ defensive line was getting compressed like a blocking sled, leading to embarrassingly large gashes in the running game. I think this team was being built in a strange way already, then came a hurried shift to a Patriots-adjacent regime with the Davante Adams contract around their necks led to such a bizarre team building structure. Jimmy Garoppolo or not, this is not a team capable of making a dent in the division this year.
30. Denver Broncos (1–3)
Last week: win vs. Chicago Bears, 31–28
Next week: vs. New York Jets
The Broncos rebounded from an awful first half—and a 70-point whipping at the hands of the Dolphins the week prior—to log the first win of the Sean Payton era. This Sunday’s game against the Jets and Nathaniel Hackett will be a fine measuring stick as to how Russell Wilson can compete against a legitimate defense that shuts entire portions of the field down. Payton himself made this game deeply personal. We’ll see if his team cares enough to back him up.
31. Carolina Panthers (0–4)
Last week: loss vs. Minnesota Vikings, 21–13
Next week: at Detroit
Ultimately, we are seeing the issue with Carolina shaving its roster down before drafting Bryce Young. There isn’t much for him to work with, and a strong Panthers defense can only hold its weight for so long. There is no complimentary run game to speak of. This team’s inability to run on the Vikings of all teams speaks volumes. While some other rookie quarterbacks have jumped out ahead of Young in the Rookie of the Year race, I am confident he was the right selection for Frank Reich and Carolina. There were some throws he made Sunday that only he can make.
32. Chicago Bears (0–4)
Last week: loss vs. Denver Broncos, 31–28
Next week: at Washington
More on the Bears from Sunday. I think that the only on-field occurrence that can save their season at this point is a handful of steady, comfortable-looking passing appearances from Justin Fields. Given the surge of CJ Stroud and Anthony Richardson, it’s looking harder to justify Chicago’s grand plan, even if they are currently in line for the top two picks in next year’s draft.