NFL Power Rankings: Week 4

Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball

Sep 23, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball (28) is defended by Oakland Raiders safety Charles Woodson (28) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Raiders 37-21. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Going 2-0 can sometimes be written off as a fluke — a break in scheduling difficulty, lack of evidence on tape for defenses to adjust to, the benefit of a new coaching regime.  To be honest, 3-0 can be a fluke too — but with every passing week, that possibility becomes less and less likely. Predicting the Broncos, or the Bears, or the Seahawks to go 3-0 is fairly understandable, and the fact that they lived up to those designations fairly predictable. Of the seven 3-0 teams, though, two stand out as surprises — the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins.

Once you get past the dynamic two at the top of the table, no team has played better football over the last three weeks than the Kansas City Chiefs. Some of that is getting to play Jacksonville, who seem to make everyone look fantastic, but Dallas is 2-1, and Philadelphia has a potent offense – s0 they haven’t all been pushovers. Andy Reid and Alex Smith have turned an unsuccessful team — albeit one with a surprising haul of Pro Bowlers — into a legitimate playoff contender. Taking a look at their schedule coming up, before their bye, the three home games against the Giants, Raiders, and Browns seem eminently winnable, with the game hosting the Texans seeming to tilt in their favor if Houston keeps looking like they did in Baltimore. Road games at Tennessee and Buffalo are tougher — road games always are — but with the safe, error-free football on offense, and the swarming attack on defense, you couldn’t count the Chiefs out of either of those, either.  Their schedule after the bye looks tougher, but there’s nothing to say that this team can’t be 7-2 or so when they take the break — almost inconceivable considering how they looked last year.  A trip to the playoffs for the first time in three years is far from locked up, but this is about as well as the rebuild could have gone.

I did expect a rebound from the Chiefs — although perhaps not one this large — but the Dolphins have floored me.  I wrote that the offseason splash of signing Mike Wallace would be offset by the difference between Ryan Tannehill and Ben Roethlisberger, but through three games, the former’s far outplayed the latter. I thought that Dustin Keller‘s injury would cripple the passing game, writing off Charles Clay entirely, but he’s been one of the top 10 tight ends in the league so far, and I could hear arguments for top five, considering what he’s been asked to do. The defense has been adequate, the offensive line adequate — and when you add all the adequates up and add to them a step forward by your second year quarterback, your second year running back, and your big free agent receiver, and you have a team contending for the playoffs. Their schedule is a bit bumpier than the Chiefs in the immediate future — Monday night’s game against New Orleans might be the biggest of the week, and hosting the defending Super Bowl champs on a short week is never easy — but this team’s for real, at least, for certain values of “for real”.

One of these two squads is probably the worst 3-0 team, but that’s a little like being the worst Best Picture nominee, or worst Olympic athlete — the record speaks for itself, without need to compare it to others quite yet.  Is 3-0 a fluke for them?  Time will tell, but we’re just about at the point where we have to accept some of these guys are for real.

Last Week
Denver Broncos(1)(1)(3-0) Peyton Manning is on pace for 64 touchdowns. You want to bet against him?
Seattle Seahawks(2)(2)(3-0) Hard to judge how good they really are against a horrible Jaguars team -- on the road against Houston is a much more challenging test.
Green Bay Packers(3)(4)(1-2) Just because they fumbled on 4th and one doesn't make it a bad call.
New England Patriots(4)(3)(3-0) Dress rehearsal is over -- Atlanta's their first major challenge. Time for the understudies to step up.
Cincinnati Bengals(5)(5)(2-1) If that offense can get clicking, the Bengals could be frightening in January.
Philadelphia Eagles(6)(7)(1-2) See Cincinnati, but swap defense for offense.
Carolina Panthers(7)(9)(1-2) Finally, finally I began to see some of the spark out of Carolina that I was expecting before the season. With Arizona, Minnesota, and St. Louis coming up after their bye, a winning record seems more likely than not.
Chicago Bears(8)(10)(3-0) I still have them losing the NFC North, but I'm feeling less and less confident with that decision with each passing game.
New Orleans Saints(9)(8)(3-0) Big game against Miami on Monday Night -- I think they'll come out on top, but it's more of a legitimate test than it looked like before the season started.
Baltimore Ravens(10)(14)(2-1) Nice to see the defense return to form -- it wasn't their calling card last season, but it feels so odd to not see a dominant Ravens defense out there.
Houston Texans(11)(6)(2-1) Quite the beat-down in Baltimore, and the fact that they've needed last-second comebacks in both their wins begins to loom larger.
Atlanta Facons(12)(13)(1-2) No shame in dropping games to New Orleans or Miami -- or New England for that matter. At some point, though, they've got to start winning these close games.
Miami Dolphins(13)(18)(3-0) I'll admit it -- I didn't predict any of this before the season. If they beat New Orleans on Monday Night, we'll have to take a look at the AFC East a little closer.
Pittsburgh Steelers(14)(16)(0-3) They ain't risin' because they've been playing well -- it's the shuffle of teams around them. It's also been a surprisingly rough start to their schedule -- and they played the Bears close, up until the end. Still, 0-3 is 0-3.
Kansas City Chiefs(15)(20)(3-0) Wins over Jacksonville aren't thrilling, but wins over Philadelphia are another story. They're a serious contender for a wildcard berth.
Detroit Lions(16)(19)(2-1) Hey, first win in Washington ever -- I didn't think stats like that still existed.
Tennessee Titans(17)(22)(2-1) Yeah, I had them pegged wrong from the beginning, and I have buddies who won't let me forget that.
San Francisco 49ers(18)(11)(1-2) Until they get their receivers back, this team is playing like a 6-10 squad. They're better than that, but if wishes were horses...
Tampa Bay Buccaneers(19)(12)(0-3) I like Mike Glennon. I think he's not bad -- but going to him this early is not a good sign.
Washington Redskins(20)(15)(0-3) Hey, the defense didn't get them obliterated in the first half. Baby steps.
San Diego Chargers(21)(21)(1-2) Rivers v. Romo is going to provide "clutch" narratives for weeks.
New York Jets(22)(17)(2-1) Raise your hands, people who thought Tennessee v. NY Jets would have wildcard implications.
Indianapolis Colts(23)(26)(2-1) Not quite sure what to make of them, because I'm not quite sure what to make of San Francisco. That's the trouble with doing these weekly -- we'll learn more shortly.
Buffalo Bills(24)(27)(1-2) They may have lost the battle of rookie QBs, but Manuel has done far better than I ever could have expected.
Dallas Cowboys(25)(29)(2-1) Hey, run for 175 yards and you'll win plenty of games. If only they could play the Rams every week.
Cleveland Browns(26)(23)(1-2) Last week's rankings came out before the Richardson trade, so this is down from that -- but up after their surprising win over Minnesota.
Arizona Cardinals(27)(25)(1-2) Losing a finger? Ow. Ow ow ow ow ow. Ow!
Oakland Raiders(28)(28)(1-2) Pryor's starting status is in question after suffering a concussion against Denver. Keep an eye on it.
St. Louis Rams(29)(30)(1-2) They didn't lose to the 49ers last year. With SF reeling, St. Louis could pull another rabbit out of their hat on Thursday.
New York Giants(30)(24)(0-3) Season's not over after three games, but an 0-4 start is a deep, deep hole to dig out of. Kansas City is a must win.
Minnesota Vikings(31)(31)(0-3) Hey, London -- sorry about handing you two 0-3 teams for your first game.
Jacksonville Jaguars(32)(32)(0-3) Hurray for the return of Blaine Gabbert! I mean, I suppose. Josh Freeman on line one?
Bryan Knowles is a writer and hopelessly devoted sports nut, with strong opinions that are subject to revision near-daily. A graduate of UC Davis and San Jose State University, Bryan spends his days teaching high school English and his nights watching far too many sporting events.