There are just three undefeated teams left in the NFL, but are the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans really the cream of the football crop?
The NFL season has hit the quarter mark, and boy do things look different. It's important to remember that power rankings aren't based on record alone. Instead we are balancing record with performance and expectations. A team like the Cardinals might be 4-0, but when held up against their low preseason expectations, there is no reason to rank them No. 1 overall. Or is there?
With four weeks of play in the bag, here's a new look at NFL power rankings with each team's season MVP listed as well.
Season MVP: Running Back Trent Richardson
There have been a lot of moral victories for the Cleveland Browns, but so far, no real wins. They are one of two teams without a win. With the division schedule they must face and a roster loaded with rookies, it's easy to see the Browns claiming the first overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
One of those bright spots for the Browns has been rookie running back Trent Richardson. More so than any player on the team, Richardson has been impactful. It doesn't always show up in 100-yard rushing games, but watching Richardson fight for yards, you can see how special he is now and will be in his NFL career.
The Browns defense is good enough that they'll get a few wins this season, but 2012 is all about developing young players.
Season MVP: Center Nick Mangold
The easy choice for team MVP would normally be Darrelle Revis, but seeing as he played in fewer than three total games, he can't really be considered the most valuable performer. In Revis' absence, the Jets' best player is center Nick Mangold.
Mangold has been stellar in the middle of the Jets offense. As a run-blocker and pass defender, Mangold has more than held his own amid poor play around him in the New York offense.
The Jets' record is misleading, and at 2-2 they'd rank higher if we based this on standings alone. With Revis out and the potential of Santonio Holmes missing major time, the Jets' prospects are bleak.
Season MVP: Linebacker Philip Wheeler
You may be surprised that the season MVP isn't Carson Palmer or Darren McFadden or even Rolando McClain. Nope, it's Philip Wheeler, the team's best tackler so far this year and a key cog in the Oakland defense.
Wheeler has played exceptionally well for a young player, showing the type of agility and range Oakland needed to replace Kamerion Wimbley. Wheeler isn't a great pass-rusher, but he's able to hurry the quarterback when asked to crash the backfield. He's quickly becoming a go-to defender for the Raiders.
In a wide-open AFC West, it's too early to count the Raiders out of the postseason race. The team has improved since the start of the season, but the missing pieces in the secondary and lack of a run game don't lend much confidence in the next 12 weeks.
Season MVP: Quarterback Drew Brees
Initially, head coach Sean Payton was listed as the team's MVP, because clearly he was the most important person to the Saints' success in years past. For the first time since 2007, the Saints are winless at the season's quarter mark. Payton is missed.
For the Saints to have a chance at the playoffs, Drew Brees has to pull this team together. Brees alone can't create wins, unless he can line up at defensive end opposite Cameron Jordan. Barring that, Brees needs to play absolutely flawlessly. The New Orleans offense is doing their part, but when the defense is allowing at least 27 points each game, the offense has to play lights-out.
With the Atlanta Falcons moving to 4-0 and looking dominant, the Saints are seeing their playoff hopes fade more and more each week.
Season MVP: Wide Receiver Reggie Wayne
We didn't know he had it in him, but veteran Reggie Wayne has been amazing this year. Especially when you consider that he's almost 34 years old.
Wayne has been exceptional, but the Colts as a team are struggling. With a Week 4 bye, the Colts are able to take a week off and prepare, but this also means they'll have to make it through the rest of the season with no breaks. For a team with so many young contributors, the stretch run could be tough.
Signs are encouraging in Indianapolis, starting with quarterback Andrew Luck. The way this team was built, and the talent assembled, gives us reason to believe the Colts won't be out of the playoffs for long.
Season MVP: Running Back Reggie Bush
When Reggie Bush left New Orleans, no one could have predicted he'd be this good with the Miami Dolphins. Well, he is.
Bush has been a spark for the Dolphins offense when healthy. Each week that he's been on the field, the Dolphins have been competitive in the game. Bush also has one of this season's highest rushing marks, with 172 yards in Week 2. As Bush goes, so go the Dolphins.
With rookie Ryan Tannehill proving he belongs at quarterback and the defense making solid plays, the Dolphins won't be out of the AFC East race for long.
Season MVP: Offensive Tackle Eugene Monroe
If you don't believe that Eugene Monroe has been the best left tackle in football this year, well, you probably haven't been paying attention to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Monroe has dominated this year in pass protection and in fueling the run game. Monroe shut down Jared Allen in Week 1, was very good against the Houston Texans defense in Week 2 and hasn't looked back since.
The Jaguars aren't ready to call this season a throwaway, and those suggesting they are the NFL's worst team need to wake up. The Jaguars aren't great, and they're unlikely a playoff team, but this is a team on the rise.
Season MVP: Defensive Tackle Gerald McCoy
Fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers know that there have been a lot of ups and downs this year, but one constant has been the absolutely amazing play of Gerald McCoy.
The third-year defensive tackle is finally healthy, and he's showing off the ability that made him the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. McCoy's pass-rushing ability has been the best of any interior defensive lineman this season.
As the Buccaneers learn and grow—this is a very young team, mind you—there will be rough days. The team's record this year might not be great, but the development of a young defense and a stud running back (Doug Martin) will fuel them for a bright future.
Season MVP: Outside Linebacker Justin Houston
A case could be made for Jamaal Charles as the team's most valuable player, especially after his 233 rushing yards in Week 3 fueled the team's first and only win. Were it not for two fumbles in Week 4, he'd probably get the mention here.
Justin Houston deserves the praise. Houston has been the best player on the team from a week-to-week basis. His pass-rushing talents kept the team alive against the New Orleans Saints, and quite frankly it has been one of the few good things about a team that is failing to live up to preseason expectations.
It's maddening to watch the Chiefs limp to a 1-3 record, because the on-field talent is better than the product they are producing. Changes will be coming to the lineup if the team continues to lose. And maybe to the coach's office.
Season MVP: Defensive End Chris Clemons
Would it have been wrong to put the replacement referees as the Seahawks MVP?
On a serious note, the Seattle Seahawks had plenty of players to choose from for MVP. Earl Thomas, Marshawn Lynch and K.J. Wright were all worth a vote. In the end, Chris Clemons and his pass-rushing dominance won out.
Clemons has been great for the Seattle defense, once again bringing the spotlight to a unit that deserves a ton of national recognition. The Seahawks defense is the real deal, and teams are finding that out this season.
A rookie quarterback and lack of talent at wide receiver are hurting the Seahawks' record, but teams that play them will know that this is one of the tougher teams in the NFL.
Season MVP: Offensive Tackle Jordan Gross
The Carolina Panthers' expectations this season ranged somewhere between "sophomore slump" and "NFC South champions." That's about where they are right now.
The Panthers have talent across the board, but their play hasn't matched up with the individual abilities of the roster. Cam Newton has struggled in his second season as teams do more to prevent his running ability and focus instead on making him win as a passer. The defense is weak at tackle, weak at safety, and even Jon Beason is struggling to make stops.
All in all, it could be a long rest of the year for Carolina.
Season MVP: Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson
A fun fact: In the last 16 games, the Detroit Lions are 6-10. Not good.
Those of us who went out on a limb and predicted the Lions wouldn't make the playoffs are feeling pretty good after four weeks of play. At 1-3, and with no momentum at all, the Lions look like the NFC North's weakest team. A far fall from last year's playoff run.
The talent is here, but the Lions made a mistake in thinking their secondary didn't need to be upgraded. They made a mistake in trusting that their offensive line, with the addition of a first-rounder who isn't playing, could protect Matthew Stafford.
That all adds up to a team with massive talent, but just one win.
Season MVP: Cornerback Alterraun Verner
The Tennessee Titans are facing a season in which their starting quarterback can't keep his shoulder in place, their best wide receiver has barely played, and their high-dollar running back is inconsistent. It's no surprise that they can't win each week.
Several players have stood out for the Titans, but cornerback Alterraun Verner is the most impressive. He has just one interception so far, but Verner has been on lockdown on the edge. He's physical, and his presence on the edge has been a reminder that the Titans won't let anyone get easy yards.
With Chris Johnson finally waking up in Week 4, the Titans have reason to be optimistic, but Jake Locker's shoulder issues leave a heavy cloud hanging over the team's chances at redemption.
Season MVP: Running back C.J. Spiller
When Fred Jackson went down with an injury during the 2011 season, C.J. Spiller came to the rescue, quietly turning in a very good season. Same story, different year, as Spiller carried the team after Jackson's injury in 2012.
Spiller showed off his dynamic ability as a runner and receiver in the Bills offense, and now that he and Jackson are both healthy, you would think Buffalo is ready to take off offensively. They even looked that way briefly against the Patriots. Most weeks, 28 points will be enough to win the game, but when the opposition scores 52, you're in trouble.
The Bills were supposed to be led this season by a dominant defense, but we're still waiting for them to show up. There have been moments—rookie Stephon Gilmore looks great—but all in all, this is a unit of talented players but poor chemistry.
Season MVP: Safety Eric Weddle
The human football magnet, Eric Weddle is the NFL's best free safety. Sorry, Ed Reed; it's true.
Weddle has been his usual dominant self this season, notching 20 tackles and two interceptions in four games. The numbers don't tell the full story—NFL quarterbacks avoid Weddle like the plague. His impact on the game is measured by how often teams go away from him. And they go away from him a lot.
It doesn't seem like this Chargers team should have a 3-1 record, and perhaps that's why we haven't jumped to move them up rapidly in the rankings. We've seen San Diego beat the Chiefs, Raiders and Titans—three teams who have combined for a 3-9 record thus far. Until the Chargers can play and defeat a quality opponent, it will be tough to rank them much higher.
Season MVP: Quarterback Robert Griffin III
This is not an intention to slight linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, as he's been brilliant, but there is no player more important to the Washington Redskins than quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Mr. Griffin has been better than expected in his first season, proving to doubters why the Redskins traded away so many draft picks in order to secure his rights this spring. Griffin has been as electric as anyone could have hoped for, and even in defeat he's making big plays to give his team a chance to win games.
A 2-2 record isn't bad for a team that finished last in the NFC East last season. The Redskins can rest easy knowing they have scored the fourth-most points in the league this year with RG3 at the controls. If the defense can stay healthy the rest of the season, the playoffs might be a possibility sooner than anyone thought.
Season MVP: Outside Linebacker Demarcus Ware
It's important to note that at 2-2, the Dallas Cowboys can't be happy with the way the season has started. The loss in Week 4 to the Chicago Bears was an embarrassing home loss that the team will have to come back from after the bye week.
One bright spot has been DeMarcus Ware. The All-Pro outside linebacker continues to play at an incredibly high level, padding his stats in what will definitely be a Hall of Fame career.
The Cowboys are still in the hunt in the NFC East, but the loss to Chicago exposed flaws in the Dallas machine.
Season MVP: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger
The usual suspects for MVP of the Pittsburgh Steelers are missing in action. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may be playing his best football, though. Big Ben has been on point this year, playing aggressively while making better decisions down the field. With eight touchdowns and just one interception, we're seeing a much more mature Roethlisberger this season.
A Week 4 bye can be a blessing or a curse, and with a banged-up team it may be what the Steelers needed to get back on track. Their 1-2 record and the way they've played on the road this year hasn't been pretty. Getting back Casey Hampton, Troy Polamalu and James Harrison has to help.
Pittsburgh has made the playoffs the last two seasons, but with Cincinnati and Baltimore playing so well, this might be an off year for Mike Tomlin's crew.
Season MVP: Cornerback Cortland Finnegan
Head coach Jeff Fisher deserves a ton of credit for the quick turnaround he's engineered in St. Louis, but so do the players. Whether it be quarterback Sam Bradford or defensive end Chris Long, the players are the ones executing on the field.
No one is executing at a higher level right now than Cortland Finnegan.
Finnegan's play has been brilliant, but he also brings a certain attitude to the defense—an attitude that Fisher knew he was getting when he signed his former Tennessee Titans' star corner. Finnegan has been called dirty, but what he brings most is a swagger and a confidence to the defense.
It's been contagious, and the Rams are playing with a confidence unseen during their recent playoff drought.
Season MVP: Quarterback Christian Ponder
The reasons for the Minnesota Vikings' 3-1 start are multiple, but the headliner for their improvement is quarterback Christian Ponder.
In his second season, Ponder is showing why so many people were high on his ability coming out of Florida State in the 2011 NFL draft. His poise, accuracy and mobility are all at a high level. He's becoming more confident each week, and it's clear that this is his team.
With a healthy Adrian Peterson, an improved offensive line and the return of a hard-hitting defense, you can't rule out the Vikings having a season much like the Detroit Lions did in 2011—going from a top-10 draft pick to the playoffs in one offseason.
It also never hurts to have two special teams touchdowns when beating a division rival. Sometimes it takes a little luck over the course of a long season, and right now the Vikings have luck and momentum on their side.
Season MVP: Quarterback Eli Manning
The defending Super Bowl champions are 2-2, with both losses coming within the division. It's not time to panic, but the Giants do have weaknesses that will trouble them in their quest to defend their title.
One area that's not weak is at quarterback, where Eli Manning continues to develop into an elite signal-caller. Manning is at his best in the fourth quarter, which we saw again in Week 4 as he led the team down the field for a go-ahead score. Unfortunately, Michael Vick answered and the Giants lost, but Manning's ability and confidence were on display.
It's way too early to write off the Giants, but there is a sense of urgency for this team. Now is the time to win, and in Week 5, the Giants need to start a momentum-building winning streak.
Season MVP: Cornerback Tim Jennings
So many players have made a huge contribution to the Chicago Bears' 3-1 start. This doesn't look like the same team that imploded against the Green Bay Packers back in Week 2. Credit Brandon Marshall, Henry Melton, Julius Peppers and the rest of the defense. Even credit Jay Cutler for turning it on in Week 4 when the game was close. The player deserving the most credit? Tim Jennings.
The "other" cornerback in Chicago, Jennings has been spectacular this season. Whether it's in coverage locking down his man or in his ability to create turnovers, Jennings has been a catalyst for the Chicago defense.
At 3-1 the Bears are tied for first place in the NFC North.
Season MVP: Quarterback Peyton Manning
You can already see it happening. As the season progresses, Peyton Manning keeps getting better. His arm is becoming stronger. His timing is getting better. By the time the playoffs roll around, the Denver Broncos are going to be scary.
I was one of those who was cynical of Manning's ability to come back and play at full strength for a full season, but instead of wearing down he's actually getting stronger. And more deadly. As Manning's physical ability comes back, his chemistry with the Broncos offense grows.
You can already see Brandon Stokley and Eric Decker making big plays. Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen are coming alive. Before long, Manning and Demaryius Thomas will get their timing down and this offense will be rolling.
You still worry about Denver's offensive line and the ability of the run game to support the offense through rough patches, but this team is clearly the best in the AFC West right now.
Season MVP: Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
The Philadelphia Eagles MVP should be LeSean McCoy, but head coach Andy Reid must know something we don't, because he continues to ignore McCoy early in games. As such, the NFL's most physically gifted running back becomes an afterthought on a weekly basis.
You could make the case for any number of players, especially Jason Babin at defensive end and DeMeco Ryans at middle linebacker. Since we had to pick just one, the nod goes to a fellow defender: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
When the Eagles traded for the former first-round draft pick, he didn't look like a worthy investment. Rodgers-Cromartie struggled in 2011 as the team tried to find an identity on defense, but in 2012 he's been the best player on the field.
The Eagles have won ugly, but winning is winning in a division as tough as the NFC East. No matter how they are doing it, as long as Reid's team keeps pulling out victories, they'll head into the playoffs as a high seed.
Season MVP: Wide Receiver A.J. Green
I like to think that I'm not one of those "everything that happens right now is the best ever" type of guys. That said, A.J. Green is making it hard to not jump to conclusions.
Green's play in his first 20 regular-season games has been amazing. Comparable to Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson's first 20 games, Green is just as good—and in some cases better.
Green may never be Jerry Rice, but he's already one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. And he's played in 20 games.
The Bengals will be just fine as long as the Andy Dalton-to-Green duo is able to perform at a high level. Once the defense improves overall—and that will come with time to gel this season—Cincinnati will be making a case for the best team in the AFC North.
Season MVP: Cornerback Patrick Peterson
Winning against all odds—that's the headline for the Arizona Cardinals' 2012 season. Whether it's an unbelievable win against the New England Patriots or a comeback victory over the Miami Dolphins, the Cardinals are getting it done.
No one could have seen a 4-0 record coming, not even diehard Arizona fans, but that's where the team stands after four weeks. Through good games and bad, the Cardinals keep winning. The long-held belief that defense wins games is being put to the test in Arizona, and thus far, it's working.
Patrick Peterson leads a group of defenders responsible for this four-game run of improbability. His play at cornerback is markedly better than we saw in 2011, and his impact as a return man is still as dynamic.
The Cardinals can't be expected to keep winning at this pace—at some point the luck must run out (right?)—but the wild ride to 4-0 has put the NFL on notice.
Season MVP: Quarterback Tom Brady
You could make a solid case for Tom Brady or Chandler Jones as the MVP of this season at the quarter mark. Brady gets the slight edge due to his play in Week 4's win over Buffalo.
New England's offense and defense found themselves after the Buffalo Bills extended their lead to 21-7. The Patriots would limit Buffalo to just one score for the rest of the game, while their offense tallied 45 points after halftime. Something was working.
The Patriots have struggled—their 2-2 record proves that—but they have the talent to win every week. Once the playoffs get here, New England will be tough to beat.
Season MVP: Outside Linebacker Clay Matthews
I'm sure plenty of you expected Aaron Rodgers to be listed here, and while the quarterback has been very good, Clay Matthews has been ridiculous.
With seven sacks through four games, Matthews is on pace for an NFL-record 28 sacks. At his current pace, Matthews would easily win Defensive Player of the Year and may even have a chance to end the 25-year run of offensive players winning the league's Most Valuable Player award.
The Packers were on the ropes in Week 4, with a 1-3 record in sight after letting the New Orleans Saints get back into the game. But they fought back and won.
This isn't a perfect team, and they aren't playing at the level they did in 2010 or 2011, but in an imperfect season, the Packers might be good enough to pull off a surprise Super Bowl run.
Season MVP: Wide Receiver Torrey Smith
Things are different in Baltimore this year, but in some ways they are the same.
The Ravens are winning; their 3-1 record tied for second best in the AFC. The defense is still hard-hitting and fueled by the strong play of Haloti Ngata and Lardarius Webb. What's different is that more than ever before, the Ravens are an offensive team.
Joe Flacco has played his best ball at quarterback, and while he still makes the occasional bad throw, Flacco has been good enough to win. Ray Rice is still Ray Rice—and that's pretty damn good. The most pleasant surprise has been second-year man Torrey Smith, the team's MVP after four weeks.
Not only has Smith been the biggest producer on offense, but he's provided an emotional spark to the team after the loss of his younger brother in a motorcycle accident before the Week 3 game against New England. Smith's play has been an inspiration, as has his toughness.
Season MVP: Quarterback Matt Ryan
There are so many players worth mentioning for the Atlanta Falcons, but no player has been more important than quarterback Matt Ryan.
Ryan has been the catalyst to everything the Falcons have done on their way to a perfect 4-0 record. There is no better example of that than his play in Week 4.
Ryan started the game poorly, throwing an early interception that allowed the Carolina Panthers to build momentum. A younger Matt Ryan would have let that interception ruin his day, but he shook it off and went on to throw for 369 yards and three touchdowns.
No throw was bigger than his 70-yard bomb to Roddy White from his own 1-yard line, trailing by one point with 59 seconds left on the clock. Ryan's gutsy throw to White set up a drive that would lead to a Matt Bryant field goal with five seconds left that sealed the win.
Ryan's cool play under the pressure of a perfect record, a division loss and every player on his team looking to him for a miracle makes him not only the MVP of the Atlanta Falcons, but the MVP of Week 4.
Season MVP: Running back Frank Gore
The San Francisco 49ers proved this week that their Week 3 loss to the Minnesota Vikings wasn't a sign of things to come. With a 34-0 beatdown of the New York Jets, the Niners proved to the NFL world that they are still a team to be reckoned with.
The 49ers won by going back to the basics of what they do so well—running the ball and setting the tempo for the game with hard-hitting plays on both sides of the ball. The key to that is Frank Gore.
The veteran running back moves with such force that he's rarely stopped by first contact, and in Week 4 that mentality radiated through the team and allowed the 49ers to play dominant ball in all three phases of the game.
A 34-0 win is great, but the 49ers left plenty of points on the board. Had David Akers not been off his game, this one could have easily been 40-0 or worse. With a knockout win this week, the 49ers stay at No. 2 overall, despite the Falcons having a better overall record.
Season MVP: Defensive End J.J. Watt
The Houston Texans are the best of the NFL's 4-0 teams and arguably the best overall team in the NFL right now. A big part of that is J.J. Watt.
The second-year defensive end has been dominant from his spot in the Texans 3-4 defense, playing the role of a younger Justin Smith for Houston's front three. Watt has been able to generate a pass rush, but he's also getting his hands up to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage. He's a quarterback's worst nightmare.
The Texans are a great example of team-building and trusting your coordinators to do their jobs. Wade Phillips has been a godsend for the Houston defense, and with him taking control Gary Kubiak has been able to focus on the offense. The result is a balanced team with the talent to go the distance.
The Texans have a very talented roster, but J.J. Watt is the anchor for this team and a key reason the team is the AFC's Super Bowl favorite right now.