While much has changed in the NFL’s team hierarchy through the first quarter of the season, one thing has stayed the same: The Rams look like a juggernaut. But as Sean McVay continues his tenure at the top of our power rankings, other franchises are busy rising (the Chiefs) and falling (the Vikings). Here’s how all 32 NFL teams stack up after the season’s first four weeks:
32. Arizona Cardinals (0-4)
So far, Arizona’s performance probably has a lot of folks in the desert missing Bruce Arians and James Bettcher. The Cardinals offense was unwatchable for the majority of its first three games, and they had no choice but to hand the reins to rookie QB Josh Rosen last week. The no. 10 overall pick showed some encouraging flashes in his first start (a 20-17 loss to the Seahawks), but he has next to no help in that offense—especially with the team’s befuddling usage of David Johnson.
31. Buffalo Bills (1-3)
Last week’s loss to the Packers was a thundering crash to earth for the Bills following their shocking Week 3 win over the Vikings. Expect to see more Josh Allen stat lines of the “16 of 33 for 151 yards and two interceptions” variety moving forward. Buffalo’s defensive front has been impressive so far, but this is still the least talented offense in the NFL.
30. San Francisco 49ers (1-3)
Jimmy Garoppolo’s torn ACL has turned this into a lost season for the 49ers. Kyle Shanahan’s prowess as a play-caller should keep backup C.J. Beathard afloat, but there just isn’t enough talent across this roster for San Francisco to do much damage without its starting quarterback. Second-year playmakers George Kittle and Matt Breida have both been excellent, but the rest of the Niners’ pass-catching group has been banged up for most of the season. At this point, any playoff aspirations are gone. But San Francisco could still consider this season a success if the key pieces on one of the league’s youngest rosters show steady improvement.
29. New York Giants (1-3)
Entering the season, all optimism for the 2018 Giants centered on their pair of dynamic playmakers and the hope that their talent alone would be enough to overshadow an otherwise flawed roster. So much for that. Saquon Barkley has proven to be a remarkable rookie talent, but even he can’t make up for the issues on the Giants’ offensive line. And Odell Beckham Jr. has done almost all of his work after the catch, making his early-career highlight-reel deep shots feel like a distant memory. It’s probably time for Giants fans to admit that the end has arrived for Eli Manning. The 37-year-old QB has completed 74.2 percent of his passes, but his average completion has only traveled 4 yards in the air. Only Sam Bradford has a lower average.
28. Detroit Lions (1-3)
Every year, I find myself watching the Lions offense and wondering why it isn’t better. Detroit’s collection of skill-position talent is ridiculous—any quarterback would salivate at the idea of throwing to Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr., or Kenny Golladay. Rookie Kerryon Johnson already looks like the best running back the Lions have had in years, yet the coaching staff refuses to give him the bulk of the rushing work. Johnson is averaging 5.7 yards per rush on his 38 carries this season. On his 35 rushes, LeGarrette Blount is averaging 2.7 yards. But sure, let’s keep handing it to him.
27. Oakland Raiders (1-3)
Oakland’s offense has actually been a pleasant surprise so far. Sure, Derek Carr’s thrown a league-high seven interceptions, but he’s also averaging 8.1 yards per attempt for a passing game that’s shown potential under Jon Gruden. The problem is that the Raiders defense just isn’t capable of stopping anyone. Through four games, only the Giants have a worse adjusted sack rate, and remember—this is a team that traded away the best pass rusher in the league a month ago. The Khalil Mack deal is defensible in a vacuum. Oakland’s haul of picks is useful as it tries to rebuild the roster. But does anyone have even an ounce of faith that Gruden will use those picks well? Just this week, he stated that his rationale for not drafting Derwin James in April was that the Raiders had picked two safeties in the past two drafts. You can’t even make this stuff up.
26. New York Jets (1-3)
The Sam Darnold train, driven by conductor/Ringer editor-in-chief Sean Fennessey, has slowed in recent weeks. Darnold looks—shockingly—like a rookie quarterback. But as coordinator Jeremy Bates’s offense has sputtered through four weeks, the defense has been excellent. The secondary is loaded with talent, and it seems like safety Jamal Adams is on his way to becoming a full-blown superstar. Darnold’s progress is really all that matters this season for the Jets, but it’s been comforting to see some of their other highly drafted young talent playing well.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2)
With offensive coordinator Todd Monken calling plays, the Bucs have finally been able to unlock their devastating collection of pass catchers. Before running into the Bears’ buzz saw of a defense in Week 4, the trio of Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and Chris Godwin had been torching opposing secondaries. Even with Jameis Winston returning to his role as the team’s starting quarterback this week, Tampa Bay will continue to put up points as long as Monken is at the controls.
The problem, though, lies with the team’s defense. For the second straight year, the Bucs are fielding what might be the worst secondary in the NFL. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith’s group has looked lost for two straight seasons, and through a quarter of 2018 it doesn’t appear to have gotten any better. Expect plenty of shootouts for the Bucs the rest of the year—and expect Tampa Bay to be on the losing side more often than not.
24. Seattle Seahawks (2-2)
If there were any doubts that Seattle’s historic run on defense was over, they’ve been erased through the first quarter of the season. The Seahawks defense is a shell of the once-great Legion of Boom, and the unit’s descent should only quicken now that Earl Thomas’s broken leg has landed him on injured reserve. Simply put, the Seahawks don’t do anything well. Their passing game has flatlined under first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and no element of the defense should scare anyone at this point. Seattle’s NFC reign is decidedly done.
23. Dallas Cowboys (2-2)
The Cowboys’ Week 4 win over the Lions was the offense’s first glimpse of creative play-calling all season. Dallas’s complete lack of play-making talent at receiver has forced Ezekiel Elliott to become its first, second, and third option as both a runner and receiver. The lack of ingenuity from offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and the regression from the Dallas offensive line has led to serious problems, and those issues are likely to continue for the rest of the season.
Luckily, the defense has been able to pick up some of the slack. Several of the Cowboys’ recent high draft picks have played well so far this season. Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas’s 2018 first-rounder, looks like a home run selection at linebacker. Defensive end Taco Charlton has shown some promise in his second season. And Byron Jones has developed into one of the top cornerbacks in football. This group is likely to surprise over the next 12 games, but it won’t be enough to overcome the offense’s stagnation.
22. Denver Broncos (2-2)
Denver is in a similar position to Seattle this season, in that no area of either roster instills much fear. The Broncos fielded a historically great defense for years—including the one that won Denver Super Bowl 50—but those days are long gone. The Broncos are blitzing at a strangely high rate, considering the pressure Von Miller and first-round pick Bradley Chubb generate on their own, and the secondary is no longer talented enough to withstand the stress of man coverage when the team sends extra rushers. As a result, this group currently ranks a middling 17th in defensive DVOA. The offense has been better with Case Keenum under center, but that’s not saying much. Keenum currently ranks dead last in passer rating in the pocket among qualified quarterbacks, and even with Denver’s talented collection of receivers, he’s regressed from his career year in Minnesota. This season is shaping up to be a forgettable one in Denver, and it’s worth wondering how much longer general manager John Elway is willing to stick with head coach Vance Joseph.
21. Cleveland Browns (1-2-1)
My biggest concern about the Browns heading into the season was the team’s coaching staff—specifically, if they would be inept enough to render all the talent on Cleveland’s roster irrelevant. So far it hasn’t been quite that bad, but it’s been close. The Browns lead the league in blitz rate despite fielding a defensive line that includes Myles Garrett and breakout star Larry Ogunjobi. Why teams continue to seek out Gregg Williams as a defensive coordinator remains one of the NFL’s great mysteries. The same goes for Mr. 2-33-1, head coach Hue Jackson, whose job might have been saved in Week 3 when, after a mid-game injury to Tyrod Taylor, he was forced to turn to Baker Mayfield. Mayfield has rewarded the Browns’ faith in him as the no. 1 overall pick by jump-starting a dormant offense, but despite all the exciting young players on this roster, it feels like the Browns are still one year and one coaching change away from any meaningful step toward contention.
20. Indianapolis Colts (1-4)
General manager Chris Ballard and first-year defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus deserve a ton of credit for how quickly they’ve managed to turn this defense around. The unit was a lost cause for much of the Ryan Grigson–Chuck Pagano era in Indianapolis, and through four games, it looks like Ballard has stumbled upon some great finds. Second-round rookie linebacker Darius Leonard appears to be a star in the making at a position that’s long been a black hole for the Colts. Defensive tackle Denico Autry and defensive end Margus Hunt have become key contributors in Indy after being jettisoned by their former teams, and with the third-lowest blitz rate in the NFL, the Colts rank second behind the Bears in sacks. On the back end, Malik Hooker has picked up right where he left off after an injury-shortened rookie season. The offense hasn’t quite found its footing with the team’s new quick-strike approach; Andrew Luck has looked comfortable in the pocket, but the Colts have lacked much big-play potential. Indy is destined to have a confounding season that involves solid showings against good teams and no-shows against lesser competition, but those are the marks of a young team. The Colts are undoubtedly on the rise under first-year coach Frank Reich.
19. Atlanta Falcons (1-3)
The injury bug has bitten the Falcons, and it may have torpedoed their season before it could really begin. With Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, and Ricardo Allen all on IR, Atlanta’s defense is a lost cause. So far this year, teams have burned the Falcons for an average of 30.5 points per game. Opponents will continue to roast Atlanta over the middle of the field, and with Neal and Jones on the shelf, running backs are going to be unstoppable receiving weapons. Hammering the over in every Falcons game for the rest of the season is a good way to make some quick cash.
The defense’s demise is a shame because the offense has really started humming under second-year coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Rookie receiver Calvin Ridley has proved himself to be a perfect complement to Julio Jones on the outside. Ridley’s route-running ability makes him a nightmare matchup in man coverage against no. 2 corners, and the Falcons have taken advantage—he has multiple touchdown receptions in his past two games, which is absurd for a first-year pass catcher. Matt Ryan and the boys are likely to put up mind-boggling numbers as they attempt to keep pace with opposing offenses, but the injuries on defense have spoiled Atlanta’s chances to contend.
18. Washington Redskins (2-1)
This Washington team confounds. It’s so solid on defense that it’s hard to not talk yourself into the unit as a whole. Jonathan Allen is a joy to watch for any line-play nerd, and Da’Ron Payne is on his way to becoming a worthwhile sidekick on the inside. Ryan Kerrigan remains an underrated edge rusher. And the secondary, led by Josh Norman and D.J. Swearinger, has more than enough ability to give offenses fits. It won’t be easy to move the ball on coordinator Greg Manusky’s group, but no area of the defensive roster is exceptional.
Head coach Jay Gruden’s offense has a similar feel. Alex Smith was the perfect choice at quarterback to keep this group relevant, but with him under center the unit’s ceiling is defined. Washington should be in every game it plays, but this team is about as average as it comes.
17. Miami Dolphins (3-1)
I’m more than willing to admit I was wrong about the Dolphins coming into the season. With an adequate quarterback to work with, Adam Gase has shown he can be an exceptional offensive play-caller. Ryan Tannehill won’t terrify any defensive coordinator, but he’s more than able to execute what Gase asks of him. The Dolphins’ running game and several elements of their passing offense rival some of the most forward-thinking offensive systems in the league, but every once in a while, this unit will perform like it did against New England in Week 4.
The same maddening inconsistency will likely be true of the defense. Miami was excellent for the first three weeks of the season before falling apart against the Patriots. Cornerback Xavien Howard has blossomed into a star, and safety Reshad Jones is still an impactful player, but overall, the Dolphins just don’t have enough talent across the board.
16. Houston Texans (1-3)
Sometimes, preseason projections are correct. Virtually every NFL analyst on the planet expected Houston to field one of the worst—if not the worst—offensive lines in football in 2018. Wouldn’t you know it: The Texans have the worst line in football. Injuries to what was already a below-average group of starters has only weakened this front since the start of the season. Quarterback Deshaun Watson has been pressured on an astounding 47.3 percent of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus, yet somehow this offense has still moved the ball. Watson didn’t suddenly transform into a different player than he was last season. He’s still able to make spectacular plays, and the Texans’ receiving trio of DeAndre Hopkins, the speedy Will Fuller, and out-of-nowhere slot option Keke Coutee pose problems for any defense. The Texans currently rank 11th in passing DVOA; given their offensive line, a ranking that high should be impossible.
15. Tennessee Titans (3-1)
I was tempted to slot the Titans even higher, but I have to see just a little more. Tennessee’s offense was D.O.A. for most of its first three games, but coordinator Matt LaFleur’s group appeared completely reinvigorated in last week’s 26-23 win over the Eagles. Marcus Mariota’s health is the no. 1 factor determining whether this team heads to the playoffs. After barely being able to hold the ball in Week 3 against the Jaguars because of a nerve problem in his elbow, the QB was deadly accurate and flashed plenty of arm strength against Philly. That was a welcome sight, especially considering the talent Tennessee has at receiver. Second-year man Corey Davis is for real, and burner Taywan Taylor has ascended to a larger role. Combine that with the backfield duo of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis and a stellar offensive line, and this group should keep humming.
Davis and Taylor aren’t the only promising young players on this roster. Rookie pass rusher Harold Landry already looks like a steal as a second-round pick, and the Titans have a solid set of cornerbacks. It’s tough to not get excited about Tennessee’s short- and long-term outlook.
14. Los Angeles Chargers (2-2)
I want to hire someone to slap me in the face every time I get excited about the Chargers. Losing Joey Bosa for at least the first two months of the season is crushing. Bosa entered the fall with a lingering knee issue that wasn’t expected to keep him sidelined for the opener; now, a foot issue will cause him to miss at least half of the 2018 campaign. That’s particularly bad news because the Chargers cornerbacks—one of the strongest position groups in the league last season—have struggled so far. Rookie safety Derwin James has been a revelation, but the rest of this defense has experienced a swift decline.
The Chargers still have an offense that can score with the best of them. Check Philip Rivers’s stats through four games: 1,156 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, two interceptions, a 68 percent completion clip, and 7.9 yards per pass attempt. Among qualified quarterbacks, Rivers has the lowest sack rate in the league (9.1 percent) despite being the seventh-most pressured (35.9 percent of his dropbacks). Los Angeles is currently a chill third in passing DVOA, behind only the Rams and Chiefs. And oh yeah, Rivers is 36 years old.
13. Baltimore Ravens (3-1)
Don’t look now, but Joe Flacco is playing pretty well! After having a dismal aerial attack for the past few seasons, Baltimore is ninth in passing DVOA. A revamped receiving corps has done wonders for Flacco in what may be his final year as the Ravens starter. Speedster John Brown was an ideal find to help the quarterback rediscover his deep ball, and the line has been excellent in pass protection: The Ravens boast the second-lowest pressure rate in the NFL. All-Pro Marshal Yanda missed almost all of last season with injuries; getting him back in the fold has been huge. If Flacco and the offense keep playing this well, Baltimore could make some noise, as its defense is once again a force.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (3-1)
It’s amazing what a little bit of pass protection can do. Marginal upgrades along the line have allowed the Bengals offense to function this season, and that’s resulted in Andy Dalton’s best start since his MVP-worthy 2015 campaign. It’s also served as a reminder of how great A.J. Green can be. Green is on pace to finish with 80 catches, 1,188 yards, and 20 touchdowns. When Dalton is at an above-average level, Green turns into a defense-destroying beast.
Losing tight end Tyler Eifert to yet another season-ending injury is a gut punch to Cincinnati, and the slow progression of 2017 first-round pick John Ross is also somewhat disheartening. But 2016 second-rounder Tyler Boyd has blossomed opposite Green in his third season. This offense is legitimately fun to watch right now, and I wouldn’t have predicted that coming into the season.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2-1)
Putting the Steelers this close to the top 10 is more about lingering respect than anything else. Pittsburgh has been just plain bad on defense this season. It’s allowing 29 points per game (26th in the NFL) and has given up 1,219 yards and a ridiculous 12 touchdowns through the air. Some of that has to do with the competition. The Steelers faced two of the hottest passing offenses in football over their first four games (the Chiefs and the then-Fitzmagic-aided Bucs), but even Flacco slung the ball all over the yard when the teams met last week. This secondary is struggling, and it doesn’t look like things are going to get much better.
That’s a serious problem for Pittsburgh, because the offense without Le’Veon Bell has sputtered at times. Ben Roethlisberger has passed for 1,414 yards in four games, but that total has come on an absurd 186 attempts. The Steelers have been forced to throw time and again because the running game, outside of Week 1, has stalled. In two of Pittsburgh’s four games, James Conner has averaged less than 2.15 yards per carry. This team needs Bell to return to get back to its 2017 form.
10. Carolina Panthers (2-1)
It’s hard to believe, but Carolina’s offense looks creative and energized under first-year coordinator and 66-year-old grandfather Norv Turner. A few months ago, Turner was traveling the world and writing country music songs. Now he’s piloting an offense that ranks sixth in DVOA. Even with issues along the offensive line, the Panthers rank first in rushing DVOA, and Cam Newton is completing a career-high 67.4 percent of his passes. The defense has uncharacteristically lagged at times this season, but there’s still plenty of talent on that side of the ball. Carolina should improve as the fall goes along, and with several other NFC contenders struggling, it should have enough to make a push for the postseason.
9. Chicago Bears (3-1)
I’m not sure what the karmic implications of ranking the Bears too high or too low on this list would be, so I’m going to stick them directly behind the Vikings and Packers, just to be safe. Chicago’s defense is no fluke. The Bears lead the NFL in sacks while blitzing at a lower rate than any other team. Khalil Mack has been a runaway train, and he’s made every member of this defense better. With Mack drawing extra attention, the rest of the Bears’ talented front has been freed up to hunt the quarterback. And on the plays when Mack has been blocked one-on-one, well, he’s caused a ruckus. Chicago ranks no. 1 in defensive DVOA through four games; it’s likely to hover near the top as long as this group can stay healthy.
The situation on the other side of the ball isn’t as steady. Mitchell Trubisky looked excellent while uncorking six touchdowns in a 48-10 rout of Tampa Bay in Week 4, but his early-season struggles remain too fresh to just explain away. If Trubisky can settle somewhere between the quarterback he was over the first three weeks and the QB he was against the Bucs, this offense features enough firepower to be above average. Chicago’s pass catchers are solid, and head coach Matt Nagy’s scheme is dangerous. Pair that with the best defense in football and … as far as the playoffs are concerned … you know what, I don’t even want to say it.
8. Minnesota Vikings (1-2-1)
What the hell is going on with the Vikings defense? The absence of Everson Griffen, who’s away from the team until at least Week 6, is undoubtedly a factor. But the group’s shortcomings go beyond that. This unit finished second in defensive DVOA in 2017; it now ranks 25th in that category. Part of the steep decline is the byproduct of playing a Week 4 game against the Rams offense. Part of it has to do with the struggles in Minnesota’s secondary. Xavier Rhodes and friends will likely right the ship, but it’s concerning to see head coach Mike Zimmer’s unit playing this poorly, even if only for a stretch.
As is the case with the Texans, the Vikings offensive line seems like it might torpedo an otherwise high-flying unit. The Minnesota line has allowed more disrupted dropbacks (89, per Pro Football Focus) than any other group in the NFL. Kirk Cousins has been pressured on 42.2 percent of his dropbacks; only Houston’s Watson and Buffalo’s Allen have been pressured more often. The issues up front have also grounded second-year back Dalvin Cook. Through four games, he’s averaging 2.7 yards per carry. The amount of talent on this roster deserves the benefit of the doubt, yet so far this isn’t the team it was in 2017.
7. Green Bay Packers (2-1-1)
I have no idea how good these Packers are. Green Bay ranks an uninspiring 14th in offensive DVOA through four games, and if you read into the salty comments Aaron Rodgers made after the team’s plodding win over the Bills last Sunday, he’s clearly getting frustrated. At this point, we expect Rodgers to be a cure-all, a real-life superhero who masks the Packers’ other woes. But it’s becoming easier to see the extent to which Green Bay’s scheme caps his otherworldly ceiling with each passing season. As the Rams and Chiefs devise systems to rain down fire on opposing defenses, the Packers keep trudging through the schematic muck under head coach Mike McCarthy. Rodgers is still Rodgers, albeit a hampered version as he deals with a lingering knee injury. But this could really be the year that the Packers’ inability to keep pace with the rest of the NFL bars them from the playoffs even with Rodgers on the field for all 16 games.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (2-2)
I wrote about the Eagles’ early-season struggles earlier this week. The defending Super Bowl champions deserve to be this high in the rankings because they still boast one of the most absurdly talented rosters in football. But the cracks in the facade are there. Small steps back are keeping this team from returning to the wrecking-ball level it reached in 2017. The offense has stalled, although there have been signs of improvement with Carson Wentz back in place as the starter. The defense misses free safety Rodney McLeod, who was placed on IR with an ankle injury. Neither of Philly’s units is clicking right now, but it’s only the quarter mark. There’s still plenty of reason to have faith in these Eagles moving forward.
5. New England Patriots (3-2)
This is a relatively unremarkable team by the Patriots’ impossibly high standards, but the offense got a spark this week. Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, and the newly acquired Josh Gordon did this in a win over the Colts. Every time the Pats get off to a slow start, there’s some misplaced panic about Tom Brady’s demise and the end of an era. Nearly every time, the Patriots go on to win 12 games, secure another AFC East title, and head to the Super Bowl. Let’s skip the first part, shall we? The Patriots are good.
4. New Orleans Saints (3-1)
The Saints had an off day against the Giants in Week 4. They struggled to move the ball through the air, resulting in a terrible outing for Drew Brees. After the 39-year-old completed at least 79.6 percent of his passes in each of his first three games this fall (that stat is real; I can’t believe it either), the All-Pro quarterback completed just 56.2 percent against the Giants’ average defense. Now comes the part where I say the Saints scored like 20 points and lost, right? Nope. They hung 33 and won by two touchdowns. A bad day for the New Orleans offense now leads to 30-point outbursts.
With Brees, Michael Thomas, and Alvin Kamara, at least one element of this offense should go off every week. This group has become virtually impossible to slow down, because it attacks defenses from every angle. Regression has come hard on the other side of the ball. (The Saints rank dead last in passing defense DVOA.) This offense may be good enough that it doesn’t even matter.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-1)
Sticking with teams that dominate on one side of the ball, the Jaguars have picked up right where they left off in 2017. After watching some of their defensive film recently, a current NFL lineman told me, “Every single [play] is a QB pressure from somewhere. It’s insane.” That sums it up. Jacksonville’s nickel package is terrifying. For the second consecutive season, the Jags pass defense lacks any discernible weaknesses.
With the defense continuing to stifle opposing passing games, Jacksonville’s offense has a low bar to clear to put this team in position to win the AFC South and compete for a conference title. So far, it’s done that. As second-year back Leonard Fournette has dealt with injuries, the Jags offense has opened up and eschewed its frustratingly conservative approach. This team’s collection of young pass catchers (featuring Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole) is intriguing, and if coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and his staff continue to find creative ways to get them the ball, the Jags could be playing into late January once again.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (4-0)
I’m not sure what’s left to say about the Chiefs offense at this point. Through four games, it’s averaging 36.3 (!!!) points per game. Patrick Mahomes II has thrown for 1,200 yards with 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He’s completing 65.2 percent of his attempts with an average pass length of 10.2 yards and the sixth-highest air yards per throw in football. That shouldn’t be possible!
Kansas City’s defense currently looks like a horror show. Right now, who cares? Mahomes and Co. are the best show in town.
1. Los Angeles Rams (4-0)
This is the best team in football, full stop. Head coach Sean McVay’s offense has become an unstoppable machine in his second season, thanks largely to Jared Goff’s ascension into the quarterback elite. Goff played a perfect game in the Rams’ 38-31 win over the Vikings in Week 4, a performance that included some of the most on-target deep throws a quarterback could ever make. Goff suddenly looks like a 3-point specialist shooting at rims that are 10 feet wide.