Week 4 of the 2013 NFL regular season is underway after NFC West rivals began the festivities with a lopsided battle. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the St. Louis Rams by a count of 35-11, and the postseason picture took a drastic turn.
The question is, how does the rest of the NFL look in Week 4?
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 3: 45-17 loss at Seattle Seahawks
Week 4: vs. Indianapolis Colts
The Jacksonville Jaguars are the worst team in the NFL, and there isn't a squad that has done enough self-inflicted damage to rival them. The Jaguars don't have a franchise quarterback, the run game has been putrid, and the defense seems to be getting worse with every passing game.
If disaster had a home, it'd be at EverBank Field.
The Jaguars finally posted a multi-touchdown game but ended up losing 45-17 to the Seattle Seahawks. Not too many expected Jacksonville to upset Seattle, but a 28-point loss is unacceptable regardless of which team is on the schedule.
It won't get any easier with the Indianapolis Colts on the schedule in Week 4.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 3: 23-3 loss at New England Patriots
Week 4: vs. Arizona Cardinals
In the same state as the dreadful Jaguars are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which has matched Jacksonville at 0-3. In their most recent outing, the Bucs lost 23-3 to the New England Patriots and continued their downward spiral.
Unfortunately, not much suggests Tampa Bay will turn things around.
Doug Martin continues to run the ball in a superstar-caliber manner, but Josh Freeman is the key to both success and failure in Tampa. He's completing 45.7 percent of his passes through three games and has thrown just two passing touchdowns.
There's potential, but the Bucs are taking steps backwards more than they're improving.
30. Cleveland Browns
Week 3: 31-27 win at Minnesota Vikings
Week 4: vs. Cincinnati Bengals
The Cleveland Browns shocked the world during Week 3, taking a 31-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings with a late-game touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer to Jordan Cameron. It was the first game of the post-Trent Richardson era, and the Browns ran for more than 100 yards as a team.
Just don't get too caught up in the Week 3 numbers.
Fifty-six of Cleveland's 103 rushing yards came on two total carries by non-running backs, and Chris Ogbonnaya added 23 on two carries. Cameron and Josh Gordon are genuine stars in the making, but until the Browns can run the ball with consistency, they will run into trouble.
A Week 4 game against the Cincinnati Bengals will gauge its progress, but Cleveland isn't out of the bottom just yet.
29. New York Giants
Week 3: 38-0 loss at Carolina Panthers
Week 4: at Kansas City Chiefs
The New York Giants have been the most disappointing team in the NFL through the first three weeks of the season. Eli Manning has been a turnover machine, the running game has been close to non-existent, and the defense still can't make a stop.
With a Week 4 meeting at the Kansas City Chiefs looming, the Giants are in legitimate danger of falling to 0-4.
Manning has completed 58.8 percent of his passes and has thrown eight interceptions through three games. As a team, the Giants are averaging 44.3 rushing yards per game and only have one rushing touchdown.
With a loss to the Chiefs, the Giants would need a miracle to make the playoffs in 2013.
28. Minnesota Vikings
Week 3: 27-31 vs. Cleveland Browns
Week 4: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Minnesota Vikings have gone through three weeks of football torture, losing two consecutive games during the final minute of the fourth quarter. During Week 1, the Vikings lost a close 34-24 game to the Detroit Lions.
Entering Week 4, the Vikings are 0-3 after three outings that could've gone in their favor.
Adrian Peterson has run for 281 yards and three touchdowns through three games, also catching 11 passes for 52 yards and a score. Christian Ponder simply hasn't been able to provide enough supporting fire, throwing two touchdowns to five interceptions.
A meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers, another 0-3 football team, could determine whether or not the Vikings end up competing for a postseason berth.
27. Oakland Raiders
Week 3: 37-21 loss at Denver Broncos
Week 4: vs. Washington Redskins
The Oakland Raiders have a bright future with quarterback Terrelle Pryor at the quarterback position. Pryor and Darren McFadden have combined to lead a potent rushing attack that ranks No. 3 overall, and as soon as the Raiders can create balance, Oakland will be a postseason contender.
Unfortunately, that hasn't happened yet.
After two strong performances against the Indianapolis Colts and Jaguars, the Raiders lost 37-21 to the Denver Broncos. Pryor accounted for 317 yards of total offense, but Oakland just couldn't slow down Peyton Manning and failed to match the offensive production.
The upside is there, but the Raiders will need to play a more consistent brand of football.
26. Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 3: 23-40 vs. Chicago Bears
Week 4: at Minnesota Vikings
The Pittsburgh Steelers were picked by some to be a team that rebounds from a lackluster 2012 campaign and contends for the Super Bowl. Instead, the Steelers are 0-3 and don't appear to have anything positive to hold onto.
Consider Week 4 against the Vikings to be a must-win situation.
The Steelers had the opportunity to step up on Sunday Night Football but ended up losing 40-23 to the Chicago Bears. Ben Roethlisberger continues to be productive, but the run game has accounted for 155 yards through three games.
If the Steelers can't defeat Minnesota, it'll be time for panic.
25. Washington Redskins
Week 3: 20-27 loss vs. Detroit Lions
Week 4: at Oakland Raiders
The Washington Redskins were the story of the 2013 NFL offseason, as the hype remained focus on Robert Griffin III's recovery process. Now, Washington is one win away from disaster.
The Redskins are 0-3 and preparing for a road game against the Oakland Raiders. Robert Griffin III has topped 300 yards passing in every game this season, but he's mixed slow starts with late-game collapses to fall in three straight games.
For all of the hype that RG3's comeback bid created, it's been a monumental failure in 2013.
24. Arizona Cardinals
Week 3: 7-31 loss at New Orleans Saints
Week 4: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Arizona Cardinals lost 31-7 to the New Orleans Saints during Week 3 of the 2013 NFL regular season. This comes on the heels of a 27-24 loss to the St. Louis Rams and a 25-21 win over the Detroit Lions.
Against the Buccaneers in Week 4, Arizona has the opportunity to reach 2-2 and bounce back from an ugly Week 3 performance.
Against the Bucs, the Cardinals will turn to Carson Palmer, who struggled to do much of anything against New Orleans. Larry Fitzgerald stepped up after a weak Week 2, but Arizona needs Palmer to find the end zone in order to remain in the hunt for the NFC West title.
Until that happens, however, Bruce Arians' squad will continue to be in the middle.
23. St. Louis Rams
Week 4: 11-35 loss vs. San Francisco 49ers
Week 5: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The St. Louis Rams took the San Francisco 49ers to overtime in both of their meetings during the 2012 NFL regular season. With the Niners coming off of back-to-back blowout losses and St. Louis possessing an improved receiving corps, the Rams had the opportunity to pick up a stunning win.
Not only did St. Louis fall short, but it reminded everyone why Steven Jackson was so valuable.
Daryl Richardson continues to lead a non-existent running game that managed 18 yards on 19 carries as a team. Sam Bradford was 19-of-41 with an interception and a fumble, and even when his receivers got open, he struggled to make accurate throws.
It wasn't much better on defense.
The Rams allowed the 49ers to go off for 219 yards and three touchdowns on rushing attempts alone. Michael Brockers, Chris Long and Robert Quinn continue to get after the quarterback, but the defensive backfield didn't do much against a turnover-prone Colin Kaepernick.
The potential was there for greatness, but the Rams are slowly learning what Tennessee Titans fans can attest to: Jeff Fisher doesn't consistently win big games.
22. Buffalo Bills
Week 3: 20-27 loss at New York Jets
Week 4: vs. Baltimore Ravens
The Buffalo Bills are 1-2, but their quality of play has been greater than the record shows. Buffalo's two losses have come by a combined nine points, and behind rookie EJ Manuel, the Bills have the look of a team that could contend for a postseason berth in the near future.
Running into the Baltimore Ravens during Week 4 will offer insight into just how close Buffalo is to that period of contention.
Manuel has four touchdowns to one interception through three games, and Fred Jackson has 282 yards of total offense on 6.3 yards per touch. Furthermore, Steve Johnson has 236 yards receiving, and rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso leads the team in tackles and interceptions.
It's not the greatest stretch of football you'll ever see, but Buffalo is a young team with plenty of upside. Even if the present is shaky, the future is solid.
21. San Diego Chargers
Week 3: 17-20 loss at Tennessee Titans
Week 4: vs. Dallas Cowboys
If nothing else, the San Diego Chargers have proven to be the most entertaining team in all of professional football. At 1-2, all three of the Chargers' games have been decided by three points—a 31-28 loss to the Houston Texans, a 33-30 win over the Philadelphia Eagles and a 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Don't be surprised to see San Diego's Week 4 game against the Dallas Cowboys end in a similar fashion.
Philip Rivers is still a star quarterback, throwing for 798 yards and eight touchdowns to one interception. Even with an inconsistent run game and an unpredictable defense, as well as an injury-depleted wide receiver corps, Rivers has kept the Chargers in all three games they've played.
If only Danario Alexander were healthy, this team could be 3-0.
20. Carolina Panthers
Week 3: 38-0 win vs. New York Giants
Week 4: Bye
Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are notorious for starting slow and closing out the regular season strong. Since Newton was drafted in 2011, the Panthers are 5-18 through Week 11 and 9-3 after it.
After blowing out the Giants 38-0 during Week 3, Carolina is hoping to break out of its early-season funk.
Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon LaFell combined for 124 yards and three touchdowns as receivers, and DeAngelo Williams continued a torrid start with his 120-yard performance on the ground. Cam Newton threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns after tallying three through the first two games.
That's an excellent way to enter a Week 4 bye.
Greg Hardy erupted with 3.0 sacks, and the team had seven as a team during the team's 38-0 win over the Giants. The Panthers forced three turnovers, as well, and established the explosive playmaking that this young and rising franchise possesses.
Carolina will return during Week 5 at the Arizona Cardinals.
19. New York Jets
Week 3: 27-20 win vs. Buffalo Bills
Week 4: at Tennessee Titans
Behind rookie quarterback Geno Smith, the New York Jets have managed to reach a record of 2-1. The Jets have defeated the Buccaneers and Bills, suffering their only loss in a 13-10 defensive battle with the New England Patriots.
With Bilal Powell coming to life at running back, the Jets may actually become a postseason contender.
Powell ran the ball 27 times for 149 yards and caught two passes for nine yards during New York's 27-20 win over the Bills. Stephen Hill also has 13 receptions for 233 yards and a touchdown through three games, catching seven passes for 194 yards and a score during his past two.
All in all, the ground-and-pound is back, and the Jets' passing offense finally has a competent quarterback.
Muhammad Wilkerson has helped to lead the Jets defense, going off for 3.0 sacks during his first three games. This is a continuation of what we've come to expect under head coach Rex Ryan, which makes for sustainable success.
The Jets have been in a state of turmoil for quite some time, but in 2013, the promise is real.
18. Philadelphia Eagles
Week 3: 16-26 loss vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Week 4: at Denver Broncos
The Philadelphia Eagles haven't been able to match the explosive offensive play they put forth in Week 1, but Chip Kelly's crew is still strong. The run game has been unparalleled, with both LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick dominating with their legs.
Unfortunately, two consecutive losses and a Week 4 game against the Denver Broncos spells an unfortunate twist of fate.
LeSean McCoy leads all players with 395 yards rushing, also tallying two touchdowns and going off for 6.4 yards per attempt. Vick has 832 passing yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions, also running the ball for 187 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
DeSean Jackson has added 19 catches for 359 yards and two scores, but until the Eagles develop consistency on defense, they will continue to struggle.
Philly has 9.0 sacks during its first three games, and in an NFC East division that has only one team above .500, the Eagles have potential. Unfortunately, Philadelphia is struggling to force turnovers with only two turnovers through three games.
The offense is fun to watch, but the postseason hype is running thin already.
17. Tennessee Titans
Week 3: 20-17 win vs. San Diego Chargers
Week 4: vs. New York Jets
The Tennessee Titans have suffered just one loss through three games, falling in overtime against the Houston Texans. Chris Johnson has been explosive, Jake Locker has finally developed into a duel-threat menace, and the defense has been powerful.
With a win over the New York Jets during Week 4, the Titans would inevitably become a postseason contender.
After two underwhelming weeks, Locker torched the Chargers for 299 passing yards and one touchdown, also running the ball for 68 yards and a score. Chris Johnson has 186 rushing yards over the past two games, and Justin Hunter's only reception all season was a 34-yard game-winner against San Diego.
The defense has picked up the slack wherever the offense has faltered.
The Titans have 9.0 total sacks, and second-year linebacker Zach Brown has 21 tackles and 2.0 sacks. Jurrell Casey and Derrick Morgan have added 2.0 sacks apiece and displayed just how far this young defense has come.
As long as Locker continues shining, the Titans will be in postseason contention.
16. Detroit Lions
Week 3: 27-20 win at Washington Redskins
Week 4: vs. Chicago Bears
The Detroit Lions have been an explosive offensive team since Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson were paired together. The Lions have picked up where they left off in 2012, ranking second in passing offense with Stafford continuing to air it out.
The difference in 2013 is that Detroit has finally developed a run game.
Joique Bell has three rushing touchdowns through three games, and Reggie Bush has 260 yards of total offense through two healthy games. Johnson has 268 yards and three touchdowns on 17 receptions, and Nate Burleson has 19 catches for 239 yards.
Unfortunately, Burleson is now sidelined with a broken arm, per Michael Rothstein of ESPN.
The truly pleasant surprise has been rookie Ezekiel Ansah, who has 2.5 sacks through three games. DeAndre Levy leads the team in tackles and interceptions, also registering a defensive touchdown, and is leading a strong linebacker corps.
The only question at this point is if Detroit can maintain this level of play.
15. Dallas Cowboys
Week 3: 31-7 win vs. St. Louis Rams
Week 4: at San Diego Chargers
Over the course of the past half-decade, the Dallas Cowboys have entered every season as a team that's bound to break through and win the NFC East. Instead, the Cowboys have made just one postseason appearance since 2008.
Through three weeks, it's beginning to look like Dallas has finally found a way to contend.
With the Giants and Redskins both starting at 0-3 and the Eagles at 1-2, the Cowboys are 2-1 and displaying signs of being a true postseason contender. Most recently, Dallas defeated the St. Louis Rams 31-7 and took the early lead in the NFC East.
Going up against the Chargers in Week 4, Dallas will have a chance to move to 3-1 and start its postseason campaign.
The key thus far has been balance, as DeMarco Murray has 402 yards of total offense and Tony Romo has six touchdowns to just one interceptions. Defensively, the Cowboys have an NFC-best 13.0 sacks through three games, with DeMarcus Ware leading the charge.
The football community knows better than to bet on the Cowboys, but Dallas is playing its best football in a long time.
14. Atlanta Falcons
Week 3: 23-27 loss at Miami Dolphins
Week 4: vs. New England Patriots
The Atlanta Falcons have faced their fair share of injuries, specifically on the offensive end of the football. Both Steven Jackson and Roddy White have been hindered by ailments of some sort, but even still, Atlanta has looked strong.
Unfortunately, two one-possession losses are still two losses.
The Falcons are 1-2 with a huge game against the New England Patriots on the horizon. Matt Ryan has completed 68.1 percent of his passes and thrown just two interceptions, but there are questions about the run game with Jackson hurt.
With the New Orleans Saints beginning the season at 3-0, there is an undeniable sense of urgency in Atlanta.
The Falcons have been strong defensively, smothering the run, but the inexperience at cornerback has been damaging to team success. Asante Samuel has been limited by injuries, and rookies Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant have been thrown into the fire, playing well but making key rookie mistakes.
Week 4 is not the time to panic, but if Atlanta doesn't defeat New England, there could be trouble.
13. Green Bay Packers
Week 3: 30-34 loss at Cincinnati Bengals
Week 4: Bye
The Green Bay Packers have lost two road games to the Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers, respectively, by a combined margin of 10 points. Both Cincinnati and San Francisco were postseason teams in 2012, but that doesn't change the way Green Bay is placed in the standings.
The Packers are two games behind the Chicago Bears in the NFC North, and a major reason for their struggles has been a banged-up offensive line and Aaron Rodgers' inability to make throws under duress.
Who saw that number coming?
The Packers did dominate the Redskins during Week 2, but this bye week is the best thing that could've happened. Green Bay is in a state of disarray and needs to prepare for a home game against the Detroit Lions on Oct. 6.
The Packers are still a Super Bowl contender, but dropping to 1-3 would be disastrous.
12. Houston Texans
Week 3: 9-30 loss at Baltimore Ravens
Week 4: vs. Seattle Seahawks
The Houston Texans have a winning record, but they've played some of the most uninspiring football of any Super Bowl contender. After securing one-possession wins over the Chargers and Titans, the Texans lost 30-9 to the Ravens.
Now, the Texans have a home game against the Seattle Seahawks on the horizon.
Matt Schaub has played a very strong brand of football, connecting on 66.4 percent of his passes, but the Texans offense was held without a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens. With Arian Foster and Ben Tate running the football, and Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins catching passes, the offense is potent.
We'll discover how strong it can be against Seattle.
Until then, it's worth noting that the defense has played well and the Texans are still in control of their own destiny. The Indianapolis Colts have tied Houston atop the division, but the ultimate X-Factor is J.J. Watt, who has helped shape one of the best defenses in football.
Houston needs to bounce back from a Week 3 loss, but its status as a contender is already established. Just don't think that makes it safe.
11. San Francisco 49ers
Week 4: 35-11 win at St. Louis Rams
Week 5: vs. Houston Texans
The San Francisco 49ers were in desperate need of a win during Week 4, and on the road against a tough St. Louis Rams team, they succeeded. The Niners toppled the Rams 35-11 and used rushing touchdowns from three separate players to reach .500.
It certainly doesn't hurt that the Niners' pass rush came to life and Colin Kaepernick remembered how to throw the football.
Kaepernick was 15-of-23 for 167 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions after completing 47.3 percent of his passes during his previous two games. The true story on offense was Frank Gore, however, who ran for 153 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
As a team, the Niners compiled 219 rushing yards and three scores on the ground and effectively restored confidence in the ground-and-pound philosophy.
Defensively, the Niners overcame Patrick Willis' absence by picking up five sacks, forcing two turnovers and holding St. Louis to 18 yards rushing. Glenn Dorsey, the No. 5 overall draft choice in 2008, registered his second sack of the season after recording four through his first five years.
It won't get any easier in Week 5, but San Francisco reminded the NFL of its greatness with a win in St. Louis.
10. Indianapolis Colts
Week 3: 27-7 win at San Francisco 49ers
Week 4: at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Indianapolis Colts began the season with a win over the Oakland Raiders and proceeded to lose a home game to the Miami Dolphins. Entering Week 3, that created the potential for a disappointing sophomore season by Andrew Luck.
Instead, the Colts went on the road and manhandled the 49ers en route to a 27-7 win.
Luck is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, but the poise he's displayed with a dreadful offensive line has been sensational. With Ahmad Bradshaw re-establishing his reputation as a star running back and Trent Richardson possessing that same capability, Indianapolis' offense has become a gold mine.
It certainly doesn't hurt that Reggie Wayne still hasn't realized he's 34.
Through three games, Robert Mathis has led a ferocious pass rush with 4.5 sacks, and Jerrell Freeman has added 3.0 of his own after securing 2.0 as a rookie. Assuming the Colts can continue applying pressure to the opposing quarterback, Indianapolis is a team worth watching as a Super Bowl dark horse.
The Colts have a long way to go before solidifying that reputation, but the potential is undeniable.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
Week 3: 34-30 win vs. Green Bay Packers
Week 4: at Cleveland Browns
The Cincinnati Bengals had one of the strangest victories in the history of the organization during Week 3. Cincy went up 14-0, allowed 30 consecutive points to fall behind 30-14 and then went on a 20-0 run to win 34-30.
If it was ever appropriate to use this phrase, it's after this game: It isn't over until it's over.
Andy Dalton has made significant strides early in the season, going toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger and emerging victorious. The key for the offense is the development of Giovani Bernard, who had three touchdowns in two weeks, and Mohamed Sanu, who had 13 catches through three games.
If Bernard is able to become more of an every-down back and Sanu can be a reliable No. 2 wide receiver, Dalton and A.J. Green can lead this offense to a postseason run.
The star of this team continues to be the defense, though, where the plays are made and the offense is saved. Even as Geno Atkins has struggled, the Bengals have been able get after the quarterback and attack the run.
Dalton and company need to step up, but the Bengals are a defensive-minded football team that continues to turn heads.
8. Miami Dolphins
Week 3: 27-23 win vs. Atlanta Falcons
Week 4: at New Orleans Saints
The Miami Dolphins have been the Cinderella story of the 2013 NFL regular season by starting at a surprising 3-0. A Week 1 win over the Browns isn't too inspiring, but since then, Miami has consecutive close wins over the Colts and Falcons.
During Week 4, Miami will have the opportunity to make a loud statement against the New Orleans Saints.
Ryan Tannehill has completed 66.4 percent of his passes and overcome his trouble with fumbling the football by making accurate throws for 827 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. The run game has been weak, but Lamar Miller has picked up 131 yards over the past two weeks.
Even as Mike Wallace has been quiet early in the season, the Dolphins have out-dueled two of the best teams in the NFL.
The defense has been the key, ranking No. 8 in opponent third down conversion percentage and picking up five interceptions through three games. With 9.0 sacks as a team, the Dolphins have the look of a true player in the AFC East.
A Monday Night Football clash with the New Orleans Saints will offer insight into how ready the Dolphins are for a postseason push.
7. Baltimore Ravens
Week 3: 30-9 win vs. Houston Texans
Week 4: at Buffalo Bills
The Baltimore Ravens opened the season with a lopsided loss to the Denver Broncos and instantly went from the reigning Super Bowl champions to a team in danger. In the two games since, the Ravens defense has come to life and Baltimore has moved to 2-1.
John Harbaugh's crew made quite the statement during Week 3 with a 30-9 decimation of the Houston Texans.
The Ravens held Houston to 94 yards, which is an impressively low number considering both Arian Foster and Ben Tate are on the Texans' roster. Daryl Smith had 10 tackles and a pick-six, and both Arthur Jones and Terrell Suggs continued to get after the quarterback.
The offense has question marks, but the Ravens defense is doing quite well for a unit that lost Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams.
Joe Flacco still isn't a standout regular-season quarterback, but he's trusted to make the big plays when the game is on the line. Once Ray Rice returns from injury, the offense should be able to move the ball better on the ground and give the reigning Super Bowl MVP some support.
Baltimore is paying the price for doing nothing about a depleted wide receiver corps, but as long as the defense is playing this well, the Ravens will be a postseason contender.
6. Kansas City Chiefs
Week 3: 26-16 win at Philadelphia Eagles
Week 4: vs. New York Giants
If the Kansas City Chiefs defeat the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos lose to the Philadelphia Eagles, Andy Reid's crew will be No. 1 in the AFC West. I'll let that process for a moment before continuing to tell you why we shouldn't be surprised.
If that doesn't happen, you should still believe the hype.
The Chiefs have made dramatic personnel improvements over the past few months, and it all starts with Reid at head coach and Alex Smith at quarterback. Through three games, Smith already has half as many passing touchdowns, four, as the Chiefs had as a team during the entire 2012 season, eight.
With a competent quarterback, a superstar running back in Jamaal Charles and a restructured and improved offensive line, the Chiefs offense can compete for the first time in a long time.
The key for Kansas City is on defense, which has benefited from the additions of Mike DeVito, Akeem Jordan, Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith. With Eric Berry, Brandon Flowers, Tamba Hali, NFL sacks leader Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson and Dontari Poe already in place, Kansas City has an elite unit.
With a head coach that has five career conference championship appearances, Kansas City is the real deal.
5. Chicago Bears
Week 3: 40-23 win at Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 4: at Detroit Lions
The Chicago Bears defense is expected to be great, even after it lost middle linebacker and future Hall of Fame inductee Brian Urlacher. The offense, however, is what has been the biggest factor in Chicago's 3-0 start.
Head coach Marc Trestman is already working his magic.
Trestman, who led Rich Gannon and the Oakland Raiders to Super Bowl XXXVII, has helped to create a more consistent Jay Cutler. With Matt Forte posting 363 yards of total offense in three games and Brandon Marshall catching 20 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns, Chicago is potent.
It doesn't hurt that Cutler is statistically the best fourth-quarter quarterback in the NFL.
Numbers never lie, even when they may surprise.
Defensively, the Bears lead the NFL with 11 forced turnovers, coming up with five interceptions and a league-high six fumble recoveries. Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman have combined for four forced turnovers, and Major Wright leads the team in tackles and has a defensive touchdown.
To think, Chicago is doing all of this and Julius Peppers doesn't have a sack yet.
4. New England Patriots
Week 3: 23-3 win vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 4: at Atlanta Falcons
The New England Patriots have struggled but are still a 3-0 football team. We can put a negative spin on things, but a squad that can overcome poor performances to win games deserves to be ranked higher than one that plays well and still loses.
The Patriots have the opportunity to put a temporary end to the criticism during their Week 4 meeting with the Falcons.
Rookie wide receivers Aaron Dobson (seven receptions for 52 yards) and Kenbrell Thompkins (three catches for 41 yards and two touchdowns) stepped up against the Bucs in Week 3. It was a welcome sight for a Patriots offense that is down Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen.
The only question at this point is whether or not Dobson and Thompkins can produce consistently.
The defense has been strong, specifically against the pass. Chandler Jones has 3.0 sacks, Aqib Talib has three interceptions, and Jerod Mayo continues to be one of the most active defensive players in the NFL.
It hasn't been perfect, but the Patriots are 3-0.
3. New Orleans Saints
Week 3: 31-7 win vs. Arizona Cardinals
Week 4: vs. Miami Dolphins
The New Orleans Saints have picked up where they left off in 2011, using Sean Payton's return to the sidelines to start 3-0. After finishing 13-3 in its most recent season under Payton, New Orleans' success shouldn't catch too many people by surprise.
What is surprising, however, is how well the Saints defense has played.
Through three games, the Saints rank fifth in scoring defense and fourth against the pass, most recently holding the Arizona Cardinals to seven points in a 31-7 win. No team has scored more than 17 points against New Orleans, and the pass rush has forced eight sacks and four interceptions.
Third-year defensive end Cameron Jordan has led the charge, finally living up to his status as a first-round draft choice with 3.0 sacks through three games.
Offensively, Drew Brees has been linking up with Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles at virtual will. The trio has combined for 53 receptions through three games, with Pierre Thomas adding 14 catches of his own.
The offense is proven, the defense is dramatically improved, and Payton is back on the sidelines; New Orleans is as legitimate as it's always been.
2. Seattle Seahawks
Week 3: 45-17 win vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 4: at Houston Texans
After months of hype surrounding the NFC West, three teams have thoroughly underwhelmed. The one team that hasn't, is the 3-0 Seattle Seahawks, who earned a signature 29-3 blowout over the 49ers.
In the end, the standings don't reflect who you beat, but how many games you win, and Seattle is currently perfect.
Even as Brandon Browner and Chris Clemons have been hobbled by injuries, the Seahawks have managed seven sacks and forced 10 turnovers. Michael Bennett is picking up where he left off in 2012 with 2.5 sacks, and Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas have combined for 38 tackles and four interceptions through three games.
Browner's return will only make the secondary more potent.
Offensively, Marshawn Lynch continues to be a between-the-tackles menace, and Russell Wilson is displaying poise in the pocket. With Doug Baldwin, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate all producing well at wide receiver, the Seahawks have effectively overcome the absence of a star wide receiver.
The competition gets stiff during Week 4, but Seattle is currently the best in the NFC.
1. Denver Broncos
Week 3: 37-21 win vs. Oakland Raiders
Week 4: vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Denver Broncos have a wide array of weapons on offense, but Peyton Manning is making everyone look elite. Denver also has a defense that's playing quality football without its top two playmakers, Champ Bailey and Von Miller.
Seattle has been sensational, but Denver hasn't done anything to lose the No. 1 spot.
After blowing out the past two Super Bowl champions, Denver defeated the Oakland Raiders 37-21 on Monday Night Football. Manning continued to flirt with perfection at 32-of-37 for 374 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
With Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker all ranging from reliable-to-elite targets, don't expect the Broncos offense to slow down anytime soon.
Defensively, the Broncos lead the league in rushing defense and will improve dramatically against the pass with Bailey and Miller. Even without those two, Robert Ayers has been a pleasant surprise rushing the passer, and the combination of Chris Harris and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is showing upside.
When Manning is under center, good things happen, and the Broncos may have the best supporting cast he's ever played with. Good luck to the AFC.
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