Like I do after four weeks of every NFL season, it’s time to look at all 32 teams and rank them based on what they have shown so far. While their record is the main indicator for this list, the opponents they have faced so far and other factors, like injuries or lineup changes, influence my decisions as well. Of course projections play a role to some degree to differentiate between actual contenders and those whose record can be misleading. Therefore I have multiple two-win teams in my top ten, while there’s a 3-1 squad that didn’t even crack my top ten. Find out how all these teams stack up against each other.
1. Los Angeles Rams (4-0)
This team is just loaded and they all know they are. The 4-0 Rams are so talented, so confident and so damn good. Sean McVay is the NFL’s best offensive play-caller right now and he does an outstanding job getting all his playmakers involved. He constantly manages to isolate wide receivers against linebackers, like he did against the Vikings’ Anthony Barr when Cooper Kupp turned that drag route into a wheel late. Brandin Cooks has been an upgrade to Sammy Watkins as that deep threat, who puts fear into defensive backs with his speed and creates major separation out of his breaks even against All-Pros like Xavier Rhoades. With all the pass-catchers around Jared Goff who is as comfortable as he has ever been, Todd Gurley is what makes this whole thing go. On the opposite side of the ball, Wade Phillips compliments them perfectly and puts all his player into a position they feel comfortable in. They can move quarterbacks off their spot from the interior and they have guys that can cover. The Rams have defeated their opponent by a combined 73 points so far. That’s crazy.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (4-0)
The Chiefs are the second undefeated team. I have them just behind the Rams because they are nowhere close defensively to what Wade Phillips’ troops bring to the table. However, I think this offense is even more explosive because of the once-in-a-generation type playmaker of Patrick Mahomes, whose game I analyzed recently, and all those weapons around him. This offense keeps defenses guessing with jet sweeps, unique motions, fake screens and all that other stuff, but more importantly a young leader, who makes magic happen every week. Turning to the opposite side of the ball, the KC defense could not stop the Broncos run game right up the gut, their tackling has been horrific and they let games, most notably against the Steelers and 49ers, get closer than they should have been because the defense could not shut the door. With that being said, they are still expecting to get their best and most important defensive player in Eric Berry back, they have two book-ends in Justin Houston and Dee Ford, plus this is still a young group for the most part. All they need to do is keep opponents under 30 points going forward.
3. New Orleans Saints (3-1)
Yeah, this is a bit of an ugly 3-1, but it is a 3-1 nevertheless. The Saints lost their season opener at home to the Buccaneers giving up 48 points, then they were lucky in week two that the Browns kicker at that point missed two field goals and PATs each to turn it around, they needed a late touchdown to send the Falcons game to overtime in week three and if not for that late Alvin Kamara touchdown run, the Giants might have come back on Sunday. However, there’s a lot of things to get excited about here and why you would believe that this team will only get better. Alvin Kamara is becoming one of the league’s elite all-around running backs, Drew Brees is completing 75.8 percent of his passes for eight TDs and no picks and Michael Thomas has caught a ridiculous 42 of his 44 targets this season. New Orleans’ defense worries me because after an embarrassing showing in week one, Marshon Lattimore has been the only guy in the secondary, who has been able to cover anybody basically. Yet, Marcus Davenport who they traded up for in the first, is emerging to go with Cam Jordan and with Mark Ingram coming back, the power run game will take pressure off the defense.
4. Green Bay Packers (2-1-1)
After Sunday’s 22-0 defeat of the Buffalo Bills, Aaron Rodgers said the “offense was terrible” and there is some truth to that. The receivers all had a horrible day dropping balls and Rodgers turned the ball over twice himself, but the defense came through big time with seven sacks, three takeaways and no points allowed to Josh Allen & company. Moreover, Aaron Jones looks special in a group of running backs that hasn’t done in quite some time. He displayed the balance to bounce off tacklers as well as when he was tripped up on a screen pass, but put a hand down and spun back onto his feet, the power to run a defender over on the goal-line and the burst to knife through defenses. I don’t believe Green Bay’s offense will struggle going forward, especially with Jones getting more involved, and I’m very encouraged by what I’ve from these young defenders they have added. I thought the Packers should have easily won versus Vikings if not for a ridiculous roughing the passer penalty on Clay Matthews and Rodgers’ knee is only getting better. Give that guy an average defense and somewhat of a running game and it’s a wrap.
5. Baltimore Ravens (3-1)
There is a pretty argument to make that the Ravens have the most complete team in the AFC. Their defense is ranked second in yards and third in points allowed with 16.2, while their offense is putting up more than 30 games a contest. Terrell Suggs leads a defensive unit that has Brandon Williams & company plugging up the middle, goes five guys deep at edge rusher, has a tremendous veteran safety duo and plenty of cover-guys. Joe Flacco is playing as well as he has ever done in the regular season with all those new weapons around him in the passing game. At the end of the season, it is highly possible that their top five pass-catchers will be new to the roster. They might not have a running back that really stands out, but they can convert on the ground when they need to and an Alex Collins goal-line fumble on Sunday night marked their first red-zone drive that didn’t end in a touchdown. While they lost already at Cincinnati, their win at Heinz Field has made this division pretty much a two-headed race at the moment and Baltimore still gets back their number one cornerback Jimmy Smith and their first-round pick Hayden Hurst at tight-end.
6. Chicago Bears (3-1)
I was very high on the Bears already before acquiring Khalil Mack in a trade from the Raiders, but at 9-7 I had them just miss the playoffs because of tiebreakers favoring the Vikings. I feel sick to my stomach to not have put them in there as that number six seed now. Up to this point Chicago has been the best defense in the league with the current MVP on either side of the ball in the aforementioned Mack. He has now recorded a sack and a forced fumble in all four games to start the season. With that being said, the entire front-seven is loaded – Akiem Hicks is one of the most underrated players in the NFL as an interior disruptor, the dynamic LB duo of Danny Trevathan and rookie Roquan Smith makes plays all over the field and even rotational guys like Aaron Lynch come up with impact plays. The pressure they put on the opposition up front allows that secondary to be aggressive and guys like Prince Amukamara and Eddie Jackson benefit from that. Now the offense under Matt Nagy is showing signs and you have Mitch Trubisky throw six touchdowns? That’s a scary bunch, because they have the weapons around their second-year QB.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-1)
Watching Blake Bortles play quarterback is like a rollercoaster ride. Week two in New England he destroys the Patriots D, then the next week he comes back against the Titans and seems like he doesn’t know how to throw a football. Sacksonville’s defense is ranked first in yards and points allowed with the premiere cornerback duo and one of the best all-around pass rush attacks in the league. Their offensive line has taken a hit with the loss of left tackle Cam Robinson, but overall they have worked well together as a unit providing protection and getting their number two and three backs going in the run game. With that being said, I’m no quite ready to put the Jags any higher at this point as long as Leonard Fournette can’t stay healthy. I don’t really have any questions about this defense, because on the back-end they have the personnel to simply run that single-high safety scheme and up front I love their stunt and twist games. However, as long as this offense relies on Bortles to put points on the board (and he hasn’t been terrible) I like some other teams better.
8. New England Patriots (2-2)
Well, that was a beatdown. Did anybody ever feel like the Dolphins had a chance to come back against the Patriots? I didn’t. Miami actually didn’t even get into field-goal range until Brock Osweiler was inserted in the fourth quarter. BROCK FREAKING OSWEILER. Only now the Patriots get Julian Edelman back, Josh Gordon will get more involved in this offense on a weekly basis and Gronk might already be back in the line-up for Thursday. No matter how potent this offensive lineup now looks, I was more encouraged by what I saw from that Pats D. They allowed just three first downs in the first half and one of them came with time running out, plus they forced a couple of turnovers. The Lions ran all over them the week prior and they made Blake Bortles look like a great quarterback, but New England and especially their defenses have been known to start the season slowly. They will get their act together and play their best ball in December. The only team that looked like they had a chance to dethrone Brady and Belichick in the AFC East was Miami and that chatter ended quickly. When they get to the postseason, we have seen this movie plenty of times.
9. Cincinnati Bengals (3-1)
While I liked the roster itself, which has been the case with the Bengals for years now, I didn’t understand bringing back Marvin Lewis, Andy Dalton had levelled off at that spot where you see him just on the brink of being a franchise quarterback and the players just showed a lack of discipline. Therefore starting 3-1 was pretty surprising for me. Yet, the Bengals have one of the most well-rounded offenses in the NFL when healthy. Joe Mixon has been a stud before getting banged up, Billy Price has been a great addition at center, A.J. Green is one the game’s best receivers despite never being talked like it and Tyler Boyd is becoming a guy, who consistently moves the chains. The defensive line can get after the passer and rookie Jessie Bates has upgraded the defense in a major way because of the range he presents as that single-high safety and how it allows their corners to be aggressive at the line. When Andy Dalton plays above-average, this team can make a lot of noise. The reason that they aren’t any higher is that Andrew Luck was driving down the field for a game-winning touchdown before his tight-end fumbled the game away and if the Falcons rookie corner didn’t completely mess up on the final play, they should lost in Atlanta on Sunday.
10. Carolina Panthers (2-1)
Cam has been a problem running the ball on designed plays as well as scrambles, but the key to the Panthers success has been limiting his pass attempts. In their two wins over the Cowboys and Bengals, he threw a combined 50 passes, and they leaned more on their defense. Christian McCaffrey now has a total of 68 touches for 428 yards, which is right where you want him to be. After catching 14 passes for over 100 yards in week two, he went for 184 yards on the ground the next game by running power and trap plays up the middle. Run CMC should be the focal point of this offense to complement a defense that sets the tone. Carolina’s front-seven is one of the elite units in the game. Rookie cornerback Donte Jackson’s ability to close on passes has translated beautifully to the pros and I think the addition of veteran Eric Reid will help this secondary a lot. Even if the other teams have shown some vulnerability, the NFC South is a tough division, but I like what Norv Turner has done for this offense that leads the league in rushing and has Cam completing 67.4 percent of his passes.
11. Philadelphia Eagles (2-2)
The Eagles should not have given up that game in Nashville anymore, but I prefer to give the Titans’ aggressive coaching credit and talk about how the Eagles are a very dangerous team going forward. With Carson Wentz back, this offense doesn’t have any limitations, because their offensive line is still one of the best if Jason Peters is in the lineup, they have a multitude of backs and now that Alshon Jeffery is healthy again they have that big-bodied receiver on the outside Wentz can trust. Defensively, their D-line goes seven guys deep with Fletcher Cox leading the group as that monstertruck bulldozing through the opposing interior. Jordan Hicks looks energized and Nigel Bradham has been one of the most underrated players for years now at that linebacker level. At the back-end is where I see some trouble. Jim Schwartz leaves his cover-guys out on an island constantly and quarterbacks decide to go away from Ronald Darby in favor of exposing Jalen Mills constantly. Malcolm Jenkins was all over the Titans receivers and I like some of their young DBs, but I think they might need to go to a more zone-based approach going forward.
12. Los Angeles Chargers (2-2)
I’m not sure if there’s a more talented team in the AFC than the Chargers that has an upper-tier quarterback. However, this squad just can’t get out of the gates with any momentum. Outside of tight-end this group of skill players on offense might be the best in the entire league and they have all produced, but the defense is giving up 30 points per game and they still have their issues converting crucial field goal attempts. With that being said, there’s a lot of optimism – Derwin James is one of the lead-candidates for Defensive Rookie of the Year, Kyzir White is another rookie who has been a nice addition as a hybrid dime linebacker and they still get their best player in Joey Bosa back. Moreover, their two losses have come to the Chiefs and Rams, which are my top two teams in the league right now. This is still a long season and right now it looks like the only game on their schedule that will be equally difficult to those two losses will be their rematch against Kansas City when they travel to Arrowhead. I’d favor them in any other week and I wouldn’t be surprised if they would rise consistently as the year goes along.
13. Washington Redskins (2-1)
This team is built up front and when they win games they do so up in the trenches. The offensive line might be the most well-rounded group in the NFL, because of what they can do blocking power, zone, pull around and get hands on people on the second level and even how well they set up the screen game. A 33-year old Adrian Peterson has really taken advantage of those five guys and is on pace for over 1250 yards on the ground despite Chris Thompson being on the field more than half the offensive snaps. Alex Smith is best at managing a run-heavy offense and going play-action off that, where he has a healthy Jordan Reed coming across the field a lot of times. Defensively, they are loaded with high draft picks up front and D.J. Swearinger is just a straight up baller on the back-end as the leader of the entire group. So far they are second in the league with less than 15 points allowed per game despite having faced Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers already. Washington is an oldschool football club and they are too much to handle for some of those smaller teams built on speed.
14. Tennessee Titans (3-1)
Is it always pretty when you watch the Titans play? No, but they are gritty and they just find a way to win games. Mike Vrabel has instilled a type of toughness in this team, that has allowed them to win one game with Blaine Gabbert taking the majority of the snaps, another one where cornerback Dane Cruikshank led them in receiving and they won at Jacksonville without reaching the end-zone. I projected Tennessee to win the AFC South with an 11-5 record, but I didn’t know they would have to deal with missing both starting offensive tackles at times, losing their most dependable skill-position player in Delanie Walker for the season and Marcus Mariota not feeling his throwing hand properly. With all that being said, they stand at 3-1 and have already beaten the Jaguars and Texans inside their division. I thought the Titans offense would make a big jump with Matt LaFleur coming in at offensive coordinator and Mariota finally looked comfortable in that system on Sunday. Corey Davis is emerging as the number one receiver they drafted him to be last year and Derrick Henry has yet to have a big game. Defensively, I’ve been a big fan of Dean Pees’ hybrid fronts and unpredictable coverage looks for a while now and when you have a rookie edge rusher in Harold Landry beating Lane Johnson for a sack that’s a wonderful sign.
15. Minnesota Vikings (1-2-1)
What is the identity of this team right now? The Vikings went from an elite defense with dynamic players on offense that could deliver splash plays when they really needed them to Kirk Cousins throwing the ball an average of 47 times per game and giving up 27.5 points a contest. I thought Dalvin Cook would have a monster year because he is special, but injuries have kept him off the field and a sub-par offensive line doesn’t open up any room for him. They also struggle to protect the passer, as they are on pace to give up around 70 more pressures this season than any other team in the last decade. Defensively, clever play-callers have constantly exposed their scheme because of the coverage responsibilities they can take advantage of. Anthony Barr has been molested these last two week by Josh Allen, who outran, stiff-armed and hurdled him and then they went to L.A. where Sean McVay constantly schemed him against wide receivers and made him lose the battle in coverage. Mike Zimmer has been running this defense for years, but I think without Everson Griffen setting the tone up front they are not the same unit. If they get him back and Cousins continues to play at this level they can turn things around, because this still is one of the premiere rosters in the NFL.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2-1)
On this episode of “General Hospital” we have a football team whose star running back has yet to show up, offensive linemen bad-mouthing him, an All-Pro receiver complaining about targets despite being second in the league in that category and a defense that has yet to stop anybody. This is your 2018 version of the Pittsburgh Steelers. There is so much drama going on with this proud franchise that I just can’t put them any higher. They have a Hall of Famer at quarterback, one of the all-time great receivers in Antonio Brown, maybe the best number two in the game in Juju Smith-Schuster, two quality tight-ends and one of the better offensive lines in football. However, without Bell setting up their blocks those five guys up front haven’t looked like one of the elite units and the entire offense gained less than 50 yards in the second half as the Ravens shut them out on Sunday night. However, it has been the defense that has struggled ever since Ryan Shazier’s horrific injury that has doomed this team. They continuously get burned with two seam routes against one high safety looks, they mess up simple coverages and their guys seem to be out of position constantly.
17. Atlanta Falcons (1-3)
How in the world do you play cover-two versus A.J. Green singled up in a short-split alignment and not sink with him if you’re the cornerback to his side? There was 12 seconds left on the clock and the Bengals didn’t have any timeouts left. If they complete it in front of you, you make the tackle or you push him out of bounds and have one more play. The Falcons could easily be 4-0, but mistakes and a boatload of injuries have my Super Bowl pick reeling right now. They are now without three of their five or six most important defensive players, when I thought the speed on that unit could be the difference when they meet those high-powered offenses in the playoffs, but at this point it’s highly questionable if they even make it there. There’s a lot more pressure on that Atlanta offense, that has Matt Ryan playing like one of the game’s elite, Julio Jones leading the lead in receiving, Calvin Ridley looking like the rookie of the year and Devonta Freeman not even being back yet. The Falcons will be involved in plenty of shootouts for the rest of the season, but they need a couple of big plays on defense to win.
18. Denver Broncos (2-2)
I liked Denver’s team a lot going into the year and I still believe they are one of the most solid 2-2 teams. They have a big offensive line that they want to run the ball with, the rookies Royce Freeman and Philip Lindsay have looked outstanding and bring very different skill-sets to the table to contribute to this offense, Emmanuel Sanders has looked spectacular at times and another rookie in Courtland Sutton has emerged as a big vertical target in this passing game. Defensively, we all know what they bring to the table. Von Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb can wreak havoc on opponents coming off those edges and their cornerback trio can match up with just about anybody. It all comes back to the quarterback position. For all the heroic fourth-quarter performances last year with the Vikings and even now with the Broncos, Case Keenum has been below-average overall. He has thrown six interceptions compared to just three touchdowns despite the offense relying heavily on the run game. Regardless of that, Denver’s two losses came at Baltimore against one of the top teams in the league and they were an overthrow to Demaryius Thomas away from winning against the undefeated Chiefs.
19. Dallas Cowboys (2-2)
Finally the Cowboys handed the ball to Zeke for more than 20 times. I thought the Dallas offense had been a mess thanks to play-calling, sub-par wide receiver play and Dak Prescott missing easy reads. On Sunday versus Detroit they only won on a last-second field goal, but I thought they played with an identity. Their offense line looked better than they had done all year, they fed their workhorse and went play-action off that. I thought Scott Linehan’s play-calling got a little more creative, they tested the Lions D on the perimeter and I’d like them go zone-read more often in some spots, because it has been very effective so far. Defensively, they have a multitude of guys who can get after the quarterback and I like Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie out at the two corner spots. Most impressively however, when they get Sean Lee as the leader of their defense back, they might have one of the premiere linebacker trios in the NFL. Jaylon Smith finally looks like the guy I was in awe of at Notre Dame and first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch shows what had scouts intrigued.
20. Seattle Seahawks (2-2)
I hate this Earl Thomas situation. The nine-year veteran has been a leader and the most important player they have had on defense since starting their playoff success in 2012. Now the final image we have of him in a Seahawks jersey probably is him being carted off the field and flipping off his own sideline. So without him in the lineup, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are the only two members left of the Seahawks Super Bowl defense and with how the Rams are rolling right now, I don’t see how Seattle can slow them down. Offensively, they have felt kind of a re-emergence of the ground game, finally taking pressure off Russell Wilson, who did everything for them last season. However, this offense is still facing some challenges. Doug Baldwin is back in the line-up but outside of him Tyler Lockett is pretty much the only dynamic playmaker in the passing game and they are down to one tight-end on the roster. More importantly, the offensive line has been losing one-on-one matchups, was confused by stunts up front and even Wilson has deserved some blame for holding onto the ball when it should have come out of his hands already.
21. Miami Dolphins (3-1)
I know it seems unfair to put the Dolphins this low and I have plenty of good things to say about them, but they just got utterly dominated in New England on Sunday. Miami decided to go with veterans who would help build a culture around the organization in favor of some of their most talented and productive players. I applaud Adam Gase and the front office for doing so. Ryan Tannehill has looked like his 2016 version for the most part and that offense gets plenty of chunk plays. Defensively, they have taken some hits, but I still like what they have coming off the edges and I absolutely love Minkah Fitzpatrick. With all that being said, the offense didn’t get into field goal range until the final drive of the game when Brock Osweiler was inserted into the lineup and they were held to just 172 total yards by a defense that was really struggling up to that point. Similar to the Titans, Adam Gase is turning this into a tough-minded team that grind out some late victories, but if Sunday was a sign of what’s to come when they face off against the elite teams in the league, that 3-1 record is a little misleading.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2)
From one Florida team to another. The Bucs were one of the biggest surprises of the early season. Fitzmagic was alive and well, the offense was explosive and they almost went 3-0 despite three first-half interceptions against the Steelers. That all kind of went away in a 48-10 demolition by the Bears. If you’ve come this far, you know how high I am on Chicago, but that is due more to their defense than Mitch Trubisky. Mike Smith’s zone-heavy defense was continuously shredded by the second-year QB, who was criticized heavily up until that point, because of Matt Nagy’s route-concepts forcing safeties to commit and people failing to pass on responsibilities. While the defense already was one of the worst in terms of yardage allowed, it was more disheartening to see the offense be stagnant in the first half before Jameis Winston came in when the third quarter rolled around and threw a couple of picks. Dirk Koetter didn’t hesitate to name Winston the starter despite his defensive coordinator being completely outmatched and then he basically asked to be fired himself. That’s how quickly one of those surprise teams can possibly disappear completely again.
23. Houston Texans (1-3)
When you looked at the 2018 Texans and you saw Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus come back from injury plus the additions of Tyrann Mathieu and some guys I really liked in the draft, you would think they could be a championship contender. Through four weeks they don’t look like it whatsoever, especially when you consider they were basically handed their only win by the Colts deciding to go for it in overtime from their own side of the field. Some of the problems they have faced were predictable, others I didn’t expect. I named Houston’s offensive line the worst in the league before the season started and they have struggled mightily to protect their young franchise signal-caller, but that guy has looked rusty himself and made some rookie mistakes early on. Even the defense has struggled to create pressure and get opponents of the field. However, they have all the tools to turn this thing around. The O-line might be a mess, but Watson is getting better every week, Will Fuller and Keke Coutee are emerging in the passing game and this is the first time we’ve seen J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney in full force on the field together.
24. Cleveland Browns (1-2-1)
Let me start by saying this – these Browns are such a different team to what they’ve been over the last two years, it’s not even funny. In the same sentence, they should be much higher on this list because they could easily be 4-0 and they are doing their best to keep me from moving them up in my rankings. I thought Baker Mayfield was one of three absolute franchise quarterbacks in the draft, I liked the weapons around him and I thought this defense was definitely ready to compete. However, they couldn’t take advantage of several extra chances the Steelers gave them in week one, their kicker just screwed everything up in New Orleans the following week, then the concussion to Tyrod Taylor finally forced the QB change and then on Sunday they somehow let the Raiders come back in that game. I know Browns fans are probably still hot about some of those calls by the official later on in the game, but they could have closed the deal earlier. Keeping all those things in mind that they have going for them, I have no doubt they can win games and make a run for the playoffs. My question is – are they ready for it?
25. Detroit Lions (1-3)
I don’t understand it. Why would the Lions not let Kerryon Johnson touch the ball 20 times a game? I get that the coaches want to hand it off to LeGarrette Blount and that Theo Riddick is their best pass-catcher out of the group and I think that there are situations – short-yardage and third downs – in which you can take advantage of their skill-sets, but the rookie has finally broken the 100-yard rusher drought and he is clearly the most talented guy. Matt Patricia has come in and fundamentally changed the offensive philosophy. Detroit had Matthew Stafford go into shotgun and just fling it all over the place for most of the game in recent years and he has produced some magical moment. But this new regime wants to run the ball and play situational football. That’s completely new to their QB and I think that’s why he is only now starting to find his rhythm. With what potentially is the best trio of wide receivers and a much-improved offensive line, I really like what they have on that side of the ball. However, the defense can not stop the run and they have produced just three takeaways all season. I think the Lions are better than what their record indicates, but once again – how long will it take until things really start clicking?
26. New York Giants (1-3)
I look at the Texans and Giants in a very similar way. In Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Saquon Barkley and (even though he’s out right now) Evan Engram the G-Men have one of the most potent assemblances of skill-position players, but the offensive line is holding them back and in contrast to the Houston, their quarterback hasn’t shown anything that would make me believe in him. Of course he has been under pressure on plenty of snaps, but the guy who I always gave credit to for standing in that pocket and taking shots, has now started to take his eyes down to see the rush and finding his checkdown underneath. When you have this kind of talent around you, you have to create plays down the field and while I understand that the time hasn’t always been there for them to develop I think it is time to give some of the blame to Eli as well. Defensively, I think they have been decent. I like their secondary, Alec Ogletree has been a nice addition in coverage and all their draft picks seem to pay off. However, Big Blue now has failed to score 30 points on offense for 36 straight games in a high-scoring NFL.
27. Indianapolis Colts (1-3)
Andrew Luck is back. We almost got one of those vintage Luck moments, as he led his team from being down 28-10 to take them to overtime and they were a fourth-down conversion and another quick ten yards or so away from attempting a game-winning field goal. What do I think about Frank Reich’s decision to go for it on fourth down from their own 43? I loved it. Let’s be real – the Colts probably won’t make the playoffs this year and they should not have even been in that game. He is trying to build a culture and instill a form of confidence into his guys. That tie wouldn’t have brought them anything and I expect these coaches to stay aggressive over the course of the year. A healthy Andrew Luck can carry a franchise and the front office has started to put pieces around him. The offensive line is starting to take shape, their front-seven has been balling out and they have put together the draft capital to really make some noise next year. I thought this was one of the worst rosters in the league two years ago and Luck’s future was in the balance, but now I look at them much differently.
28. New York Jets (1-3)
The Jets are another one of those franchises, who don’t seem to be quite ready to compete, but have the quarterback and some other pieces in place to become a contender in the near future. I know Sam Darnold has struggled a little since that exceptional season-opener at Detroit, but I believe in him as a leader and I think these experiences will only make him better going forward. The offensive line can’t protect their future yet, which was apparent with the Jaguars pass rush chasing the rookie around on Sunday, and none of those targets in the passing game have been dependable outside of Quincy Enunwa, who even dropped a big fourth-down conversion himself. However, I think Gang Green is a difference-making edge rusher away from fielding a top-ten defense. They have two above-average corners, Big Cat Williams is getting it done on the interior, their two inside linebackers can cover ground and Jamal Adams is the tone-setter for this unit. Once again, I think the Jets are at least a year away since they have to rebuild the O-line and surround Darnold with weapons, but their outlook is a lot brighter now than it had been.
29. Oakland Raiders (1-3)
The Raiders on the other hand, I’m not really sure what they are trying to do. Jon Gruden has come in and put a team together that he wants, in an attempt to change the working culture. They traded away their best player Khalil Mack, who has been unbelievable for Chicago, because they didn’t have the money to pay him and they wanted to restock with the draft picks they got from the Bears. So now they have an extra first round pick these next two years, hoping to regain a difference maker like Mack as Gruden has been talking about how hard it is to find a pass rusher. In the meantime Mack is breaking records. So while I understand that you have to get assets before he walks out the door for nothing, why would you put together the oldest team in the league if you want to build on youth? Marshawn Lynch has looked revitalized, Derek Carr is finding his groove in that offense and Jordy Nelson has been an excellent addition, but the Raiders aren’t competing for the AFC West this year and those Bears draft picks don’t seem that intriguing right now as those guys are 3-1.
30. San Francisco 49ers (1-3)
Man, losing Jimmy G sucks. There’s just no other way to put it. I didn’t think the personnel on either side of the ball was ready to compete with the Rams or for a Wildcard spot for that matter, but I believe in this organization. It’s no coincidence that the 49ers almost beat the Chargers with C.J. Beathard at quarterback – Kyle Shanahan is a special play-caller. And they have a young defense that has a ton of talent. However, while I think they can compete with plenty of teams, not having their franchise quarterback will keep them from winning many games. So instead of sulking in the loss of playoff hopes, let’s look at the positives – Shanahan and John Lynch are here for the long run and we already started to see some of the fruits of their labor, Matt Breida is third in the league in rushing despite missing last week’s game, DeForest Buckner looks like a monster and while the injuries to Garoppolo and Jerrick McKinnon don’t seem to have any upside right now, another full year of learning the system could pay off big-time for them in 2019.
31. Buffalo Bills (1-3)
Dominating that game at Minnesota must have given the Bills a ton of hope after being blown out by halftime the first two weeks of the season, so not even putting up a single point at Green Bay must have hurt even more. Buffalo’s defense frustrated the Packers, which you heard in Aaron Rodgers’ postgame comments, but Josh Allen showed that he’s still pretty far away from being ready. Things like pocket presence and awareness of when to live for another down, which I praised in his preseason tape, seemed to completely go away again. However, like I said with the 49ers – I believe in this combination of head coach and general manager. Sean McDermott is very good at understanding the tendency of opponents and dropping defenders into areas that they like to attack. He may need some help offensively going forward to get their ground game and young signal-caller going, but he has all those guys playing hard and they lack severe talent on the perimeter. Brandon Beane has already impressed me by how he has handled trades and moved around the draft board. They won’t slip into the playoffs again, but a high pick for an offensive linemen or wide receiver should be more beneficial in the long run anyway.
32. Arizona Cardinals (0-4)
I’d like to put the Cardinals higher, but since they are the only winless team I just couldn’t do it. Their offense was anemic with Mike McCoy’s predictable play-calling and Sam Bradford’s unwillingness to push the ball down the field. Through the first three weeks of the season, they were averaging less than seven points a game and their defense suffered in the process, as opponents possessed for over 36 minutes. However, Steve Wilks finally decided at the end of that week three defeat to insert rookie Josh Rosen in a high-pressure spot and he almost led them back even though people only think of that interception on fourth down. In his first start against the Seahawks Rosen looked incredible at times and I thought the coaches took away the opportunity for him to win that game, as they kept the ball on the ground on third-and-six. They went on to miss the field-goal and Seattle drove down for their own game-winner. The defense can play, David Johnson is one of the best backs in the league and Rosen can get the ball to his guys through the air. They just need to allow their young signal-caller to make mistakes and learn from them.