Four weeks of the NFL season have concluded, and the league is starting to see some contenders emerge from the pack. The Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills are the top contenders in the AFC while the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, and Green Bay Packers look like the top teams in the NFC.
Outside of those five teams, the league appears wide open. Three teams in the NFC East are 3-1 or better while every team in the NFC West is 2-2. Three teams are tied for first in the AFC North at 2-2 and the Jacksonville Jaguars still are tied for first in the AFC South at 2-2.
Week 4 wasn’t as crazy as the first three weeks, but the league learned plenty as the first quarter of the season came to a close. This is one thing we discovered about each team at the conclusion of Week 4.
Defense has shown up the past 11 quarters: For all the talk on the inconsistent offense and the slow starts to games, the Cardinals defense has allowed just 39 points in the last two and a half games (10 quarters plus overtime). Seven of those quarters game against the Raiders and Rams, so there’s a significant sample size to indicate that the defense is getting better.
Arizona has five takeaways during that stretch, including a walk-off fumble return touchdown for a win. The Cardinals have allowed only 18 points per game and 279.5 yards per game over the past two weeks — including 70 rushing yards per game. The defense is a huge reason Arizona is in the NFC West race after what looked to be a disastrous start.
Falcons can run against any defense: In Week 3, Cordarrelle Patterson gashed through the Seahawks defense for 141 yards and a touchdown to pace Atlanta’s running attack. In Week 4 — though, to be fair, the Browns were missing three starters on the defensive line — the Falcons got 140 rushing yards and a touchdown from Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley combined (Huntley was called up form the practice squad Saturday).
Patterson was contained (he’s now headed to IR due to a knee procedure), yet the Falcons still rushed for 202 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Give credit to the offensive line for Atlanta being able to run the ball, a unit that has significantly overachieved through four games.
John Harbaugh still has a ‘go big or go home’ mentality: The decision by Harbaugh to go for it on fourth-and-goal in a 20-20 game with 4:15 left isn’t bothersome. The Ravens were going for a touchdown against a high-powered offense in Buffalo, even if a chip-shot field goal by Justin Tucker gives Baltimore the lead.
Lamar Jackson had Devin Duvernay open in the back corner of the end zone, but just didn’t see him right away. The decision was right, but the execution was not and it cost the Ravens. The Bills chewed up the remaining clock, drove down the field, and kicked the walk-off field goal for the victory.
Harbaugh has been aggressive over the last two years, and the decisions haven’t gone in the Ravens’ favor most of the time. He had to be aggressive after the defense blew another big lead. Hard to fault Harbaugh for his mindset here.
The close game narrative is gone, thanks to Josh Allen: What Allen did on Sunday’s final drive showed why he’s a top-three quarterback in the NFL. On a third-and-2 from the Buffalo 28 with 2:59 left, Allen fired a pass to Dawson Knox that went for 20 yards — a throw that only he (and a few others) can make. He followed that with a seven-yard run, completions of nine and 16 yards, and a roughing the passer penalty mixed in that got the Bills to the Ravens’ 11-yard line.
Allen willed the Bills to a win in Baltimore after trailing by 17 at one point, finally ending the “can’t win one-score games” narrative. The Bills got that off of their back and will win more close games, thanks to Allen.
Baker Mayfield isn’t saving the inept offense: Whether it’s play calling or execution, the Panthers offense just isn’t NFL level. Mayfield has his worst game of the season in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals, going 22 of 36 for 197 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions (61.9 rating).
Through four games, Mayfield is completing 54.7% of his passes for 747 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions for a 75 passer rating. The Panthers are averaging just 19.5 points and 262.3 yards per game (last in the NFL).
PJ Walker is the backup quarterback with Sam Darnold still injured. Whether Mayfield has failed or not, he’s the quarterback as long as he’s healthy. This is what the Panthers are — an inept offense.
The Bears actually scored points by opening two possessions with passes: Passing seems to be a lost art in Chicago since Sid Luckman retired, yet the Bears may have found ways to move the ball downfield with Justin Fields. On Chicago’s second possession, Field threw a deep bomb to Darnell Mooney for 56 yards (29 more yards than Mooney had entering the game) which eventually led to a red zone field goal.
Fields opened the first drive of the second half with a 23-yard pass to Trevon Wesco, which led to another red zone field goal. The Bears started two possessions with a pass and Fields went 2 of 2 for 79 yards in the process. They didn’t score a red zone touchdown, but Chicago moved the ball downfield and got points on the board.
Perhaps there’s hope for the Bears offense after all.
Explosive plays are masking the poor run game: The Bengals are back with the explosive plays, as they had five over 20 yards in Thursday’s win over the Dolphins. Cincinnati became one of the most exciting teams in the league last year because of the deep passes from Joe Burrow, and in Week 4 we saw a 59-yard touchdown to Tee Higgins, a 43-yard pass to Tyler Boyd, and a 36-yard pass to Ja’Marr Chase.
This is a great sign from a team that started 0-2 and is now 2-2, but the run game must significantly improve. The Bengals are just 26th in the league in rushing (89.8 yards per game) and have just one rushing touchdown through four games. Joe Mixon is only averaging 2.7 yards per carry and the team isn’t much better at 3.1 (31st in NFL).
The Bengals are getting the flow of their offense back, but the run game needs to come together soon.
Defensive line injuries hurt: Myles Garrett being out Sunday was already a tough pill for Cleveland to swallow. Add Jadeveon Clowney and Taven Bryan to the mix and the Browns were going to have issues stopping a Falcons team that can pound the football.
The Browns allowed 172 rushing yards in the second half after slowing down Cordarrelle Patterson in the first half. The combo of Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley wore the defense down, despite the Browns holding Marcus Mariota to 7 of 19 passing.
Cleveland needs its starters back on the defensive line, especially in a wide open AFC North that the Ravens just don’t seem to want.
CeeDee Lamb is getting in a rhythm: Lamb had a breakthrough performance against the Giants with his one-handed touchdown grab in the fourth quarter to get his confidence up (eight catches, 87 yards, one touchdown) as he’s getting accustomed to the WR1 role. He followed that performance Sunday with six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown — a 30-yard grab that gave Dallas a two-score lead over the Commanders in the fourth quarter.
Lamb is significantly helping Cooper Rush win games and not throw interceptions, as he has 14 catches for 184 yards and two scores over his last two contests. Rush had a 154.2 passer rating targeting Lamb in Week 4, one week after having a 115.6 rating targeting him.
Lamb is playing that WR1 role like the Cowboys envisioned. He’ll need to continue that production once Dak Prescott returns.
Javonte Williams injury makes offense even worse: Williams is out for the season with a torn ACL, a major blow to a Denver offense that won’t have its most explosive back for the final 13 games. The Broncos had just 299 total yards of offense Sunday, severely missing Williams once he went down on the first play of the second half.
Without Williams, Denver had six possessions, 24 plays, 113 yards, four punts, a touchdown, and a turnover on downs. The Broncos had just 41 rush yards in the second half on nine carries, not really trying to run the fall with Melvin Gordon or Mike Boone. The latter dropped a crucial pass on fourth-and-5 that would have moved the chains late.
The Broncos needed Williams healthy to get the offense going. Now, he’s done for the year. Not good.
Ben Johnson is a darn good offensive coordinator: Duce Staley gets a lot of credit for the Lions offense too, as this team has averaged 35 points and 436.8 yards per game through four weeks — both No.1 in the NFL. Sunday was the most impressive performance, as Detroit scored 45 points without D’Andre Swift, Amon-Ra St. Brown, or DJ Chark.
Jamaal Williams leads the league with six touchdown runs. Josh Reynolds and T.J. Hockenson were dangerous pass catchers Sunday and Jared Goff throw for 378 yards and four touchdowns. The Lions shouldn’t be this dangerous offensively with Goff but they are.
The defense has let Detroit down, but this offense will win them games sooner rather than later. Just wait until Jameson Williams joins the fray.
Green Bay Packers
The offense is still remarkably inconsistent: The Packers scored just one touchdown and had two turnovers in the first half (one was an Aaron Rodgers pick-six) en route to a halftime deficit as 9-point favorites against the Patriots. Green Bay woke up as it scored three straight times to open the second half (two touchdowns and a field goal).
Rodgers still doesn’t trust his one receivers yet, as a dropped ball by Romeo Doubs in the end zone was almost costly. In the fourth quarter and overtime, the Packers had three possessions in which they ran nine plays for 18 yards with two punts. Against better teams, that just isn’t good enough to win.
Rodgers knows it shouldn’t take five quarters to beat the Patriots with their third-string quarterback. The offense has to be better.
Dameon Pierce looks like a star running back in the making: Pierce was the lone ball carrier for Houston in Sunday’s loss to Los Angeles, finishing with 14 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 9.4 yards per carry, which included a 75-yard touchdown run that got the stagnant Texans offense going as it was down 21-0.
It was Pierce’s first 100-yard rushing game and his second straight game with a rushing touchdown. He has 60 carries for 313 yards and two touchdowns as a fourth-round rookie (5.2 yards per carry). Houston had a good 2022 draft, but Pierce may be its best find.
Ground game nonexistent against Titans’ poor run defense: The Titans entered Sunday’s AFC South showdown against the Colts allowing 145 yards in three games and Indianapolis has Jonathan Taylor. Big day on the ground for the star back, right?
Taylor had 20 carries for just 42 yards as the Colts failed to score a touchdown on the ground. The slow start led to Indianapolis being one dimensional as the Colts had 23 carries for 38 yards (1.7 yards per carry). Indianapolis should be better on the ground, yet it is just 27th in the league in rushing (87.8 yards per game). One reason why Indianapolis is 1-2-1 to start the year.
Trevor Lawrence’s four fumbles aren’t a concern: With the heavy rain and chilly wind in Philadelphia, Lawrence had four fumbles in Sunday’s loss and became the first player since at least 1991 with that many fumbles in a game. Those were the only fumbles Lawrence has had this season. He also threw an interception in Week 4.
Lawrence has to do a better job protecting the ball in adverse conditions, but the weather in Philadelphia wasn’t ideal for anyone. The Eagles deserve a lot of credit for not putting the football on the ground, which is why Lawrence’s fumbles were under the microscope.
The Jaguars quarterback does have six giveaways this season, but five were in that heavy rain in Week 4. Lawrence won’t be facing those elements every week.
Kansas City Chiefs
The run defense is dangerous: With Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense stealing the spotlight on “Sunday Night Football,” it’s easy to forget how dominant Kansas City’s run defense was. The Buccaneers ran for just three yards — yes three — on six carries against a Chiefs front that swarmed to the football throughout the night.
The Chiefs tied the franchise record for the fewest rushing yards allowed and the six carries Tampa Bay had were the fewest against Kansas City in franchise history. Thanks to the Week 4 performance, the Chiefs have the No. 1 run defense in the NFL.
Kansas City will be tested this week against the Raiders, but team’s aren’t trying to run on the Chiefs if that K.C. offense gets off to a strong start with a big, early lead.
Las Vegas Raiders
Josh McDaniels was wise to pound the rock: The Raiders needed a win in the worst way, and McDaniels may have found a healthy balance for his offense to score points. Josh Jacobs deserved more touches, and he received 33 of them for a total of 175 yards (144 rushing, 31 receiving) and two rushing touchdowns.
The Raiders rushed for 212 yards against a Broncos defense that allowed only 80.3 rushing yards a game to that point. Jacobs ran with conviction, leading a rushing attack that had 38 carries and averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
Vegas has to run the ball more. Maybe McDaniels is seeing the light.
Jamaree Salyer had an impressive debut at left tackle: Replacing Rashawn Slater isn’t an easy task, especially when a sixth-round rookie is assigned the job of protecting an injured Justin Herbert. Salyer was excellent in his first start at left tackle (a position he hasn’t played since the Senior Bowl), not allowing a sack, pressure, or hurry in 40 pass-blocking snaps.
Salyer pitched a shutout against the Texans, the first challenge for the rookie as the entire Chargers offensive line kept Herbert mostly upright. Arguably the best performance by an offensive lineman on the Chargers this season, Los Angeles may have a good find in Salyer.
Los Angeles Rams
Someone not named Cooper Kupp has to step up at wide receiver: A one-man show in Monday’s loss to the 49ers, Kupp had 14 catches for 122 yards on 19 targets. That’s right, Kupp had 19 targets in the loss because Matthew Stafford had no one else to throw to.
Allen Robinson and Stafford can’t get on the same page and Van Jefferson is still out. Jefferson coming back should help, but Robinson has been a major disappointment to this point. The Rams need Odell Beckham back at some point too.
The Rams passing game is a mess and Stafford doesn’t look the same since his elbow procedure. The problems may be mounting in Los Angeles.
Tua Tagovailoa being out significantly hurts Miami: The Dolphins are under the microscope with how they handled Tagovailoa’s injury in Week 3. On three days rest their franchise quarterback suffered a more significant head injury in Week 4 and is out indefinitely. Can Teddy Bridgewater find success leading this team for however long it takes Tagovailoa to return?
Bridgewater immediately led the Dolphins on a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in relief of Tagovailoa, but in the six possessions following that he led them to 181 total yards and only three points — averaging 6.03 yards per play. A fourth quarter interception doomed Bridgewater, who has to take care of the ball.
Let’s see how 10 days of preparation helps Bridgewater this week, who will start in Week 5 and looks likely to be Miami’s QB1 for a bit.
Something is off with Kirk Cousins: Through four games, Cousins looks uncomfortable in the pocket in Kevin O’Connell’s offense. His completion rate is down to 63.1% (lowest as a full-time starter) and the pass yards per game has dipped to 257.8 (lowest since 2019). Cousins has thrown four interceptions and has an 84.1 passer rating — also his lowest as a full-time starter.
The Vikings can’t compete in the NFC North unless Cousins sharpens up. He’s been mediocre at best through four games.
New England Patriots
New England still has some Belichick in it: The Patriots probably had no business being in an overtime game with the Packers at Lambeau — especially with a third-string quarterback. Yet, Bailey Zappe threw 15 passes for 99 yards with a touchdown and New England rushed for 167 yards to hang in a game where everyone was waiting for Green Bay to pull away.
This isn’t a good team, but Belichick has them playing above their talent level. The defense couldn’t get pressure on Rodgers, yet the Patriots forced two turnovers and had an opportunity to win in overtime after stopping Green Bay on its initial possession.
Simply put, the offense isn’t good enough and the roster is subpar. But like all Belichick coached teams, the Patriots won’t be an easy out.
Chris Olave has the looks of a No. 1 wide receiver: With no Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara available and with a backup quarterback throwing him the ball, Olave had four catches for 67 yards and a touchdown as the No. 1 option in a Saints offense devoid of playmakers. Olave ran crisp routes and was able to create separation from the Vikings cornerbacks as the game wore on.
When Olave gets to go up against No. 2 cornerbacks with Thomas back and defenses focusing on Kamara, he’s going to make a lot of plays for this offense going forward. He has 21 catches for 335 yards and one touchdown (16.0 yards per catch) in his first four career games. Olave is a very good receiver already at this stage in his career.
New York Giants
The Giants may need a quarterback: Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor were both sidelined at points in the Week 4 win, leaving Saquon Barkley as the emergency wildcat quarterback. Eventually, Jones returned to hand the ball off and preserve the win — but how serious is his ankle injury?
If Jones can’t go next week against the Packers and Taylor is out with a concussion, the Giants will have to go with Davis Webb as the starter in their biggest game of the year. Barkley can’t be the No. 2, so New York will have to sign a quarterback.
The Giants are having trouble moving the ball already. Sunday could be rough without Jones and Taylor.
The Jets have shown a lot of fight on the road: The Jets have two wins in 2022, both have come on the road while facing double-digit deficits in the fourth quarter. Sunday’s win over the Steelers showcased the Jets are a tough out.
New York scored 14 unanswered points in the final 7:35 to erase a 10-point deficit against Pittsburgh, holding the Steelers to nine plays for 63 yards and creating two takeaways in their final two possessions to complete the comeback.
Whether the Jets are better than we thought is up for debate, but they fight to the end for Robert Saleh. There is legitimate, young talent on the Jets, and Saleh is keeping his receipts.
Miles Sanders is a No. 1 running back: Nick Sirianni said it immediately after Sunday’s win regarding Sanders — and the Eagles head coach is right. Sanders had a career high 27 carries for 134 yards and two touchdowns in weather that wasn’t ideal for anyone on the field.
Sanders ran like a man possessed and took what the offensive line gave him, running north to south and gaining the tough yards to keep the chains moving. The Eagles ran for 210 yards against the league’s No. 1 run defense, showcasing they can run against any defense and wear them down throughout the game.
Not only was Sanders impressive, but the Eagles were down Jordan Mailata and Isaac Seumalo — and still were able to pound the rock through the teeth of the Jaguars defensive line. A strong offensive line with Sanders running like he is (third in NFL in rushing yards) is a dangerous combination.
Starting Kenny Pickett going forward is the right call: The Steelers made the halftime call to switch from Mitch Trubisky to Kenny Pickett, and immediately saw more points go on the board as a result. Sure, Pickett threw three interceptions, but he also rushed for two touchdowns as the Steelers totaled 171 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per play.
Pittsburgh just hasn’t moved the ball enough with Trubisky to warrant him starting next week. The offense flowed better with Pickett, who masked some of the offensive line problems. George Pickens looked better and Pickett will find the playmakers in Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool with a full week practicing with the starters. The future is now in Pittsburgh.
San Francisco 49ers
Nick Bosa is early frontrunner for defensive player of the year: Bosa is having another incredible season and Monday night showed the national stage how dominant he is. Bosa had 14 pressures (five quarterback hits, nine hurries) and two sacks against the Rams, leading the league in pressures (30) and sacks (six).
With T.J. Watt out, Bosa is the best pass rusher in football. He’s a true difference-maker on the 49ers defense.
Geno Smith might be pretty good: What Smith has been able to accomplish through four games deserves a lot of praise. Smith leads the NFL with a 77.3% completion rate, the highest in league history for any quarterback after four games in a season (minimum 125 attempts).
Smith has completed 77.3% of his passes for 1,037 yards with six touchdowns to two interceptions for a 108.0 passer rating (which ranks third in the NFL). Smith is 12th in touchdown percentage (4.5), seventh in interception percentage (1.5), fourth in yards per attempt (7.9), and tied for 10th in touchdown passes (six). In Sunday’s win over the Lions, Smith went 23 of 30 for 320 yards with two touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 132.6 passer rating — also having 48 yards on the ground with a rushing touchdown.
The numbers say Smith is a top-10 quarterback right now. He’s certainly playing better than Russell Wilson, who is on a terrible offense in Denver. Perhaps Pete Carroll knew something we didn’t?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The run defense failed miserably: Tampa Bay has a reputation of being the best run defense in the NFL over the past few seasons under Todd Bowles (as defensive coordinator and head coach). The Chiefs — yes the Chiefs — made the unit mortal as they rushed for 189 yards and 5.1 yards per carry against a Tampa Bay front that allowed only 79.3 yards per game.
Tampa Bay was dominated by Kansas City’s offensive line, giving good teams that run the football hope to beat the Buccaneers as the season wears on. The offense isn’t in sync and now the run defense may not be as dominant as it once was. The Buccaneers seem very beatable all of a sudden.
Derrick Henry back on track: The Titans have been inconsistent all year, but they have rebounded from an 0-2 start to get back to .500. Derrick Henry is playing a major role in the turnaround, having 42 carries for 199 yards and two rushing touchdowns over the last two weeks.
In Sunday’s win over the Colts, Henry finished with 22 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown — 99 of which came in the first half. To solve the second half scoring woes, the Titans need second-half Henry to show up over the next few weeks. Good thing for Tennessee is Henry is starting to round back into his dominant form — which may be the link toward winning the AFC South in 2022.
Carson Wentz still doesn’t help himself while facing pressure: To be fair, Wentz is down his starting center as well as the backup center, but he had both his starting tackles. The Cowboys only had three sacks on Wentz, but the Commanders quarterback didn’t help himself with his lack of pocket presence, even with offensive coordinator Scott Turner calling safer plays so Wentz doesn’t beat himself.
The Commanders had 4.05 yards per attempt Sunday, the lowest in any game in the NFL this season. The 2.14 seconds the offensive line allowed pressure isn’t good on a day which they allowed pressure on 40% of Wentz’s dropbacks.
Wentz is who he is at this point, and his five interceptions prove he’s trying to force the issue. The Commanders shouldn’t bench Wentz, but he’s not helping them win games either.