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NFL Quarter-Season Power Rankings: The Patriots and Chiefs Are in Control of Their Destinies

The AFC hierarchy has held firm through the season’s first four weeks, but surprise runs from the Cowboys and Lions (?) have shifted the outlook in the NFC

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There have been a few surprises so far this NFL season—like Dak Prescott playing like an MVP, the Lions looking good, and the Steelers plummeting. But the very top end of the league’s hierarchy has remained relatively steady: The Patriots and Chiefs are in control of their destinies. Here’s how all 32 teams stack up through the first four weeks.

32. Miami Dolphins (0-4)

The tank is strong with this one. Turns out when a team systematically trades and releases all of its good players, it’s tough to win games. It’s 0-16 or bust for Miami.

31. Washington Redskins (0-4)

All you need to know about the Redskins is that the Dolphins are orchestrating the most shameless teardown in NFL history, and Washington still might get the no. 1 pick. I wrote about the franchise’s future in Monday’s Starting 11 column, and let’s just say it’s pretty damn bleak. This mess isn’t all Jay Gruden’s fault, but his days in the nation’s capital are surely numbered.

30. New York Jets (0-3)

After visiting Jets’ training camp in late July, I wrote about the team’s optimism following an influx of talent this offseason—and whether that optimism was actually warranted. One of my editors here at The Ringer (who shall remain nameless) wanted to include the phrase “Go full Jets” in describing how the team could disappoint in 2019. At the time, I thought that was a little harsh. Well, it turns out this team has gone “full Jets” harder than anyone could have imagined. Rather than make the leap that many fans expected him to this year, 22-year-old Sam Darnold has missed the last two games with a disease typically reserved for hormonal teenagers. C.J. Mosley, who became the highest-paid linebacker in NFL history this offseason, has been out since Week 1 with a groin injury. And Adam Gase is proving that his failures in Miami were no fluke. It’s possible that with Darnold back in the fold (potentially as early as this Sunday), the Jets could turn this season around. But things couldn’t have started any worse.

29. Cincinnati Bengals (0-4)

The Bengals offense has been horrid over the first month of the season. Without star wideout A.J. Green and left tackle Cordy Glenn, Cincinnati is down to Andy Dalton, Tyler Boyd, and … nothing else on that side of the ball. And first-year head coach Zac Taylor has done little to inspire confidence. The Bengals are headed toward a lost season—and possibly the end of the Dalton era in Cincinnati.

28. Arizona Cardinals (0-3-1)

Those who expected an offensive revolution in the desert have been sorely disappointed thus far. Kliff Kingsbury’s unit has struggled, and the situation isn’t much better on defense either. The Cardinals look well on their way to landing yet another top-five pick.

27. Denver Broncos (0-4)

Denver’s defensive issues under head coach Vic Fangio are downright shocking. I expected this Broncos unit to hit the ground running with the former Bears defensive coordinator at the helm, but Fangio’s team currently ranks 27th in defensive DVOA and hasn’t managed a turnover the entire season. Emmanuel Sanders and second-year receiver Courtland Sutton have formed an excellent receiving duo, but other than that, it’s hard to find much of a silver lining for this team.

26. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-3)

Pittsburgh’s 27-3 win over the Bengals on Monday night provided a glimpse into a strategy this Ben Roethlisberger–less offense may use moving forward. The Steelers minimized quarterback Mason Rudolph’s impact with a creative running game, short throws, and even a little wildcat. Combined with an excellent performance from its defensive stars in the front seven, Pittsburgh overwhelmed the Bengals on both sides of the ball. Unfortunately, this team doesn’t get to play Cincinnati every week. The Steelers still have plenty of issues in coverage, and Rudolph has looked shaky at best in his time as a starter.

25. Atlanta Falcons (1-3)

The Falcons fired both of their coordinators this offseason in an effort to jump-start the franchise, but it’s starting to feel like Marquand Manuel and Steve Sarkisian might not have been the problem. With head coach Dan Quinn running the defense, this unit hasn’t looked any better than in years past. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones’s connection in the passing game is enough to keep Atlanta out of the league’s bottom tier, but unless circumstances change in a hurry, it’s time to start wondering what the future holds for this team.

24. Oakland Raiders (2-2)

Tight end Darren Waller has made everyone who pegged him as a fantasy sleeper this summer look pretty smart, and Derek Carr seems significantly more comfortable in his second season under Jon Gruden. But this roster still desperately lacks talent, especially on defense. Oakland may jump on some teams like it did to Indianapolis last Sunday, but the Raiders will likely spend the year as another middling team.

23. New York Giants (2-2)

It turns out that Daniel Jones might not be the greatest quarterback who’s ever lived. Jones tossed two interceptions against Washington on Sunday to go along with the pair of fumbles he had against the Bucs a week earlier. The rookie QB has a long way to go, but this offense is still much more intriguing with him under center than it was with Eli Manning. The Giants get Golden Tate back this week, and it sounds like Saquon Barkley may return from his high ankle sprain much earlier than expected. Throw Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram into the mix, and this suddenly becomes a potentially exciting offense. The problem is you can say the same about every offense that gets to play the Giants defense too.

22. Indianapolis Colts (2-2)

Indy needs to get healthy—and quick. It was apparent during the Colts’ 31-24 loss to Oakland just how much this team misses T.Y. Hilton, Darius Leonard, and Malik Hooker. Hilton and Leonard should both be back this week against the Chiefs, and though the Colts probably won’t be a playoff squad even at full strength, they should be in pretty much every game they play.

21. Tennessee Titans (2-2)

For what seems like the fifth straight year, the Titans are the most perplexing team in football. Tennessee’s first win came against a reeling Browns team that seems to have found its footing, and last week’s blowout win over the Falcons should also be taken with a grain of salt. The Titans look … fine. And it seems like I’ll be able to reuse this same blurb for the rest of time.

20. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2)

Minshew Mania is alive and well in Jacksonville, and the excitement over the rookie is about more than a mustache and jockstrap lunges. He’s been damn good in his first few starts, which included some big-time throws in high-leverage moments. Minshew’s surprising ascension has also helped bring out the best in second-year receiver DJ Chark. The hyperathletic LSU product has 321 yards and three touchdowns in the Jags’ first four games and looks like a budding star. The same goes for first-round pick Josh Allen, who’s shown a ton of flashes as a pass rusher. There are still plenty of holes on this roster, but the Jags’ young talent has salvaged what was shaping up to be a nightmare season following Nick Foles’s collarbone injury in Week 1.

19. Minnesota Vikings (2-2)

A month. That’s how long it took for all of the Twin Cities to turn on Kirk Cousins—and I’m not sure people grasp how difficult it is for Minnesotans to be mean.

With the arrival of offensive adviser Gary Kubiak and the installation of a new run-heavy, play-action-oriented approach under coordinator Kevin Stefanski, the hope was that the Vikings had finally found a system that could get the most out of their $84 million quarterback. But four games into the season, Cousins seems to be getting worse. Minnesota’s continued problems up front—even after drafting center Garrett Bradbury in the first round—have only exacerbated the team’s quarterback issues. And the team’s inability to move the ball through the air is starting to irk its duo of star receivers. Adam Thielen wasn’t shy about sharing his frustration after Sunday’s loss to the Bears, and rumors have been swirling about how unhappy Stefon Diggs has been with the state of the offense. Dalvin Cook may look like a superstar, and this defense is still lined with talent, but the Vikings’ QB problem may hold them back yet again.

18. Los Angeles Chargers (2-2)

It’d be hard for the trio of Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, and Austin Ekeler to play much better than it has, but that’s where the good news ends for the Chargers. Injuries have torn the defense’s back seven apart, and Russell Okung’s absence has had a large impact along the offensive line. Anthony Lynn’s team will need more than the return of Melvin Gordon to compete in the AFC.

17. Buffalo Bills (3-1)

Buffalo’s strengths and weaknesses were perfectly illustrated in the team’s loss to the Patriots this week. The Bills have one of the league’s top three defenses. With players like Jerry Hughes, Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde, and Jordan Poyer, there’s talent at every level. It’s also a well-coached group that can make life difficult for any quarterback—even 42-year-old future Hall of Famers who have seen every defense known to man. But even with all the smart additions Buffalo made this offseason, the offense will likely hold the team back. Josh Allen is an ultratalented athlete playing quarterback. He may have some truly spectacular highlights, but he’ll also have games like his three-interception performance against New England.

16. Houston Texans (2-2)

Even after dealing a pair of first-round picks to the Dolphins for left tackle Laremy Tunsil this offseason, the Texans’ pass-protection issues have persisted. Deshaun Watson has been pressured on 46.8 percent of his dropbacks, the second-highest rate in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. And the QB hasn’t been helping matters—his average time to throw of 2.92 seconds is tied for the third longest in the NFL. The Texans have also had significant problems picking up blitzes. Until Houston shows it can make teams pay for sending extra rushers, defenses are going to continue to bring the heat. But I still believe that Watson and the Texans’ quality pass-catching talent can hit their stride.

15. Carolina Panthers (2-2)

No Cam Newton, no problem. The Panthers are 2-0 since their franchise QB went to the shelf with a Lisfranc injury. Replacement QB Kyle Allen’s ball-security issues are a concern after his three fumbles in Sunday’s win over the Texans, but Carolina’s defense has been more than capable of picking up the slack. This is an extremely well-coached unit that has the added benefit of Luke Kuechly acting as a coach on the field. Watching him direct traffic against Houston was akin to watching Peyton Manning at the line of scrimmage. Rookie pass rusher Brian Burns has been a revelation, and on the offense, Christian McCaffrey looks like the most indispensable nonquarterback in the NFL. He’s accounted for over 42 percent of the Panthers’ scrimmage yards this season.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2)

This may seem a bit high, but I’m ready to believe in the Bucs. Jameis Winston is still good for one head-scratching interception a game, but for the most part, he looks locked in. He’s anticipating windows and seems to really be grasping the timing of coordinator Byron Leftwich’s offense. It helps that he’s throwing to the scariest wide-receiving duo in the NFL right now. We knew entering the season that Mike Evans was great, but Chris Godwin has also been utterly dominant. He has two games with more than 120 yards, and no one will blink when he puts up a couple more by season’s end.

A productive Bucs offense isn’t much of a surprise, considering what this group did last season. But the defense ranking sixth in defensive DVOA is a borderline miracle. Coordinator Todd Bowles has shown just how important competent coaching can be, and with nine sacks on the year, free-agent signee Shaq Barrett is the find of the offseason.

13. Cleveland Browns (2-2)

I think ESPN analyst and friend of The Ringer NFL Show Dan Orlovsky put it best earlier this week: After three games, the Browns looked as bad as they possibly could. And a week later, they’re sitting at the top of the division after a convincing win over the Ravens. The talent on this roster was always going to shine through eventually, and Baker Mayfield looked noticeably more comfortable in the pocket against Baltimore. More two-tight-end looks and play-action throws should simplify this offense and give it rhythm. The defense also held Lamar Jackson and Baltimore’s explosive passing game in check without its two starting corners. Now, despite a challenging first month, head coach Freddie Kitchens and his team have a chance to let the sheer ability on this roster take over.

12. Baltimore Ravens (2-2)

I know, I know. The Browns just beat the Ravens. But this ranking is about more than one game. Lamar Jackson and the offense have been explosive, and I have faith that will continue all year. Baltimore’s offensive coaching staff, led by coordinator Greg Roman, has tapped into the best way to maximize Jackson’s skill set and take advantage of the team’s talented young pass catchers. The Ravens’ inability to generate much pressure up front has exposed some issues in the secondary, but coordinator Wink Martindale is one of the top defensive coaches in football. Baltimore should still be considered the best team in the AFC’s second tier.

11. San Francisco 49ers (3-0)

The Niners are the only remaining undefeated team in the NFC, but I still need to see a little more from them before I believe this is real. Kyle Shanahan deserves mention in any conversation about the best play-callers in the NFL, and his ability to scheme up big plays has given the Niners a scary offense. San Francisco is averaging five plays a game of at least 20 yards. Only the Chiefs, Chargers, Lions, and Ravens average a higher rate. The Niners have also utilized a perimeter-based running game to great effect. Both Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert have done damage around the edge on tosses and outside runs, and San Francisco is currently ranked seventh in rushing DVOA. If defensive coordinator Robert Saleh can show that his group—led by the newly acquired Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Kwon Alexander—is as legit as it’s seemed over the first three games, the Niners are a playoff team.

10. Detroit Lions (2-1-1)

It’s tempting to put the Lions even higher on this list, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Detroit has looked strikingly potent on both offense and defense. Discounting YOLO-ball king Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matthew Stafford leads the league in average air yards per throw at 11.1, and watching Stafford and his generational arm talent operate in a hyperaggressive offense has been a delight. Detroit still hasn’t quite figured out the right run-pass balance (running back Kerryon Johnson is running into boxes of eight or more defenders on 32.4 percent of his carries, the third-highest mark in the league), but the connection between Stafford and Kenny Golladay has still made this offense efficient. Head coach Matt Patricia’s defense has also done its part. Free-agent signee Justin Coleman is playing as well as any cornerback in the league, and last Sunday, this group limited Patrick Mahomes more than any defense in recent memory.

9. Seattle Seahawks (3-1)

Grouping the Lions and Seahawks together makes sense because Seattle’s offense reminds me of a better version of the one being run in Detroit. The Seahawks seem committed to their run-heavy approach, even as Russell Wilson has been magnificent this season. His 72.9 completion percent is 10 percentage points higher than his expected completion percentage—the largest difference of any qualified passer—which is an indication that Wilson is outperforming his team’s offensive scheme more than any other quarterback in the league. The young defense still has plenty of concerns in the secondary, but Wilson is playing well enough to make Seattle a dangerous presence in the NFC race.

8. Los Angeles Rams (3-1)

The Rams have looked thoroughly unimpressive during their 3-1 start, but at this point, I’m willing to give Sean McVay and Wade Phillips the benefit of the doubt. Jared Goff’s continued struggles after a middling second half in 2018 are troubling, but the most concerning part of this team’s offensive performance has been its pass protection (or lack thereof). Goff has been pressured on 43.2 percent of his dropbacks this season, the third-highest rate among qualified QBs. Compare that to last season, when he saw pressure just 32 percent of the time. The Rams also had defensive struggles against Tampa Bay, and they’ll have a lot to fix if they’re going to get back to the Super Bowl.

7. Chicago Bears (3-1)

When a team’s offense looks better with its backup quarterback instead of its starter, that’s a problem. And it’s precisely what happened last Sunday when Chase Daniel took over for the injured Mitchell Trubisky. With Daniel at the controls, the Bears offense operated on time, and the 11-year veteran consistently found the right receiver. Trubisky will have to be better upon his return later this season for this unit to have a chance. Right now, though, the defense has been picking up the mantle. This group hasn’t missed a beat under new coordinator Chuck Pagano, and Khalil Mack looks as dominant as ever.

6. New Orleans Saints (3-1)

The Saints’ past two wins haven’t been pretty, but they’ve served as a reminder of just how deep and talented this roster is. Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has struggled to ignite the passing game with Drew Brees sidelined, but New Orleans has been able to lean on Alvin Kamara and its defense in consecutive wins over the Seahawks and Cowboys. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore was the star against Dallas as he shut down Amari Cooper, but the Saints defensive front has been the best position group on this team. Cameron Jordan was already a superstar, but guys like Marcus Davenport and Trey Hendrickson have also come into their own, and they’ve given the Saints arguably the league’s most intimidating pass rush.

5. Green Bay Packers (3-1)

Even with a late red zone interception on a tipped pass, last Thursday’s showing against the Eagles was a vintage Aaron Rodgers performance. Green Bay’s offense has sputtered in its first season under head coach Matt LaFleur, and the passing game will struggle even more if Davante Adams has to miss any time with turf toe. But the Packers have survived their growing pains by relying on a vastly improved defense. Free-agent additions Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Adrian Amos all look like hits, and along with the team’s homegrown talent of Kenny Clark, Jaire Alexander, and Darnell Savage Jr., this unit looks a lot different than it did last season. It’s strange to watch a Packers team that doesn’t need Rodgers to be a superhero. But here we are.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (2-2)

Injuries have hit the Eagles hard this season, but at least on offense, they’ve largely been able to weather the storm. When Philadelphia gets DeSean Jackson back—which is expected to happen at some point in the next couple of weeks—it should help unlock a passing game that’s shown flashes of greatness. The defense is a bit more concerning, considering how much the secondary has struggled. And with Malik Jackson on injured reserve and Timmy Jernigan banged up, the pass rush has also had a slow start. But Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are too talented for that unit to stay down for long.

3. Dallas Cowboys (3-1)

The Cowboys offense hit a bit of a speed bump in New Orleans last weekend as first-year coordinator Kellen Moore went away from the play-action-heavy passing game that had unlocked Dak Prescott through the first three games. But this group will be just fine moving forward. Moore has done an excellent job of scheming downfield throws for Prescott and judiciously deploying his team’s dominant running game. With the amount of talent Dallas has on defense, the signs of life from Prescott and the passing game make the Cowboys the current favorites in the NFC.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (4-0)

Patrick Mahomes is the best player in the NFL. There’s not much else that needs to be said. Kansas City’s defense is still a huge problem, especially against the run, but Mahomes has told regression to go to hell, as he’s thrown for 1,510 yards and 10 touchdowns in four games. Oh, and he’s done nearly all of that without Tyreek Hill. Mahomes and Andy Reid are a match made in football heaven, and as long as the reigning MVP is healthy, the Chiefs will be a top-flight contender.

1. New England Patriots (4-0)

With an aging Tom Brady at the helm, injuries along the offensive line, and a shortage of pass-catching playmakers, the Patriots offense doesn’t compare to some of the units they’ve fielded in years past. But it just doesn’t matter. New England has arguably the best defense it’s had during Bill Belichick’s tenure as head coach. In an era when secondary depth and flexibility matters more than ever, the Patriots have the most well-rounded group of defensive backs in football. Combine that with the experience and talent in the front seven, and Belichick has a virtually perfect defense at his disposal.