We're only through four weeks of an 18 week season, but the early part of the season already gives a glimpse of the contenders and pretenders. He's a look at every team's grade through four weeks.
As expected, Arizona has shown an elite offense in the third season together for Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray, and the defensive line tandem of Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt has been dominant. There isn't much more we could hope for from the Cardinals, yet they have no time to celebrate in the brutal NFC West.
We knew it would be a long year in Atlanta after the team moved on from several key veterans in the offseason, but the team has somehow looked even worse than expected. The Falcons were blown out by Philadelphia and Tampa Bay to start the season, and Matt Ryan hasn't been able to get anything going on offense with almost no time to throw. First-round pick Kyle Pitts has also been a bit of a disappointment, though there were unfair rookie expectations.
Baltimore started the season 2-1, but each game could have gone either way. Week 1 was an overtime loss in Vegas that the team probably should have won, while the following two games were won on a miracle fumble and a record-breaking 66-yard field goal from Justin Tucker. Lamar Jackson has continued to look inconsistent, though the injuries around him are a big reason. The cardiac health of Ravens fans could be in jeopardy if this continues.
After an embarrassing loss to Pittsburgh at home in Week 1, the Bills are back on track. Josh Allen looks like the MVP candidate that we saw last year, and the defense has righted the ship with some very easy matchups. The team's Week 5 visit to Kansas City, a rematch of last year's AFC Championship, will be a great measuring stick for Buffalo's 2021 prospects.
There were big questions that came with Carolina's acquisition of Sam Darnold, but he's been solid to go along with an excellent defense. A very easy early schedule has helped, but a blowout 26-7 win over the Saints in Week 2 showed the team is legit. Unfortunately, Christian McCaffrey is having injury issues again, which could derail the team's season.
Bears fans entered 2021 with some optimism after the team drafted Justin Fields, but the optimism was wiped out by Fields' performance in Week 3. Chicago's offensive line has looked terrible, and the defense has been unable to do enough to support the team until a Week 4 win vs. Detroit. Head coach Matt Nagy's days look numbered.
There were concerns about Cincinnati's passing game entering the year with Joe Burrow returning from surgery and Ja'Marr Chase struggling in the preseason, but those questions have quickly been erased. An overtime win over Minnesota in Week 1 showed the team had something, and a dominant win at Pittsburgh showed the team was legit. It won't be easy, but the Bengals have a legitimate shot at a playoff berth this season, which is more than any fan could ask for after their poor performance in recent seasons.
It hasn't always been pretty, but Cleveland has matched expectations early in the year. They gave the Chiefs all they could handle in Week 1 on the road before beating Houston and Chicago easily, with Baker Mayfield playing through injuries to his receivers and the running game picking up the slack. There are still some questions about the defense that are about to be answered with upcoming games against the Chargers and Cardinals.
Dallas has managed to answer the big offseason questions with a quick start. Following a major ankle injury, Dak Prescott has picked up where he left off early last season and is an early MVP candidate. The defense has shown blemishes, but generally, it looks better organized under new coordinator Dan Quinn. It all adds up to a team that should win the NFC East easily if they stay healthy, and could have even bigger aspirations this season.
If anyone was skeptical of Teddy Bridgewater as Denver's starting quarterback entering the year, the Broncos have successfully pushed back. They have an extremely easy schedule to start the year, but Denver put together three very easy wins while Bridgewater was solid and Von Miller showed he was healthy. The bigger tests are coming, but the Broncos are looking like contenders in the AFC West following KC's slow start.
With an odd head coaching hire in Dan Campbell and almost no offseason spending, the Lions were predicted to be the laughingstock of the league. The brutal early schedule led to an 0-3 start, but the team has been fairly competitive and lost to Baltimore in Week 3 on a miracle field goal. Jared Goff has played like he has a chip on his shoulder with his new team, and the running game looks formidable. Detroit could be on the start of the right track.
Aaron Rodgers' unhappy offseason was at the forefront when Green Bay was blown out by the Saints in Week 1, but the team and Rodgers have looked like their old selves since then. Once again, Rodgers is playing like an MVP candidate, and his heroics were on full display when the team beat the 49ers in Week 3. There remain questions about the defense, but it looks like the Packers will be in the thick of things in the NFC again this year.
Nothing good was expected of the Texans this season after the team was left in disarray by Bill O'Brien. Yet, Houston shocked the Jaguars in Week 1, and has been competitive since then despite losing Tyrod Taylor to injury. It seems new head coach David Culley is getting the most out of his team, and we couldn't expect anything more from this squad lacking the talent of their opponents.
Much of the reason Carson Wentz's play went south in Philadelphia was due to injuries, and that trend has continued in Indianapolis. He underwent foot surgery in the preseason and sprained both ankles early in the year. His poor play and a brutal early schedule have already put the team in a tailspin, with fans brainstorming possibilities for the team's next quarterback. The good news is that the AFC South remains weak, giving the Colts a chance at some easy wins and possible playoff contention later in the year.
The Jaguars offseason was a mess under new head coach Urban Meyer, so no one should be surprised by their slow start. The offense has been inept despite a few promising signs from rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, including a close loss in Week 4 at Cincinnati. The team remains on a historic losing streak after losing 15 straight to end 2020, but no one should have expected this rebuild to be easy.
The Chiefs defense has looked like the 2018 version to start the year (not a good thing), and the team suffered two frustrating losses against the Ravens and Chargers. Still, some unlucky turnovers have been the culprit, so we shouldn't sour on the Chiefs just yet. Patrick Mahomes and company have continued to look spectacular when they've been able to hold onto the ball, and the team has the defensive talent to turn things around. There's a reason they remain the favorites in Vegas to win the Super Bowl.
The early chapter of Allegiant Stadium with fans has been spectacular for the Raiders, with two overtime victories and a great road win at Pittsburgh in between. Derek Carr has been a legitimate MVP candidate early in the year as the team's young wideouts have started to deliver, and the defense at least looks adequate with the addition of coordinator Gus Bradley.
The hiring of Brandon Staley after one year as a coordinator seemed somewhat risky, but the Chargers are looking like geniuses so far. The team picked up big early wins on the road at Washington and Kansas City, with the defense showing significant improvement. Justin Herbert has also continued to build on his great rookie season. The Chargers are in the thick of it in the AFC West, which is all they could ask for entering the year.
The Rams went big with the acquisition of Matthew Stafford this offseason, yet he's been everything the team could have hoped for and more in the first quarter of the season. The team's offense looks elite with Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and the addition of DeSean Jackson, while the defense has looked formidable again. After a big win vs. Tampa Bay in Week 3, the Super Bowl whispers are getting louder.
The Dolphins allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to walk after last season, and the biggest fears remained Tua Tagovailoa's injury history. It only took until Week 2 for the fears to be realized, with Tagovailoa set to miss multiple weeks due to a rib injury. The team's defense has taken a big slide, on top of the quarterback injury, allowing over 30 points to Buffalo and the Raiders. Despite what looks like another down year for the AFC East, the Dolphins are quickly heading toward a lost season.
After a disappointing 2020 season, the Vikings desperately needed a rebound. Early road losses to Cincinnati and Arizona didn't get the job done, but the Vikings were able to beat the Seahawks with their backs against the wall in Week 3. An early injury to Dalvin Cook has threatened the team, and the defense has continued to look inconsistent. It's shaping up to be another up and down season for the Vikings.
Starting a rookie quarterback is never easy, even with Bill Belichick on the sideline. Frankly, Mac Jones has looked like a rookie at times, but manageable game plans like what he had vs. Tampa Bay has helped. As expected, the team is off to a slow start, but they could be on the right track.
There were huge questions about the Saints offense after losing Drew Brees, along with the early-season absence of Michael Thomas. Jameis Winston has been more than adequate early in the year, though he did have duds in Week 2 at Carolina and Week 4 vs. the Giants. Like last year, it's the defense that has held the Saints up so far and should make them a formidable competitor for the Bucs in the division.
The Giants had an eventful training camp with several surprise retirements, and the team has looked in disarray early this season. A late offsides all but handed Washington a win in Week 2, and a home loss vs. Atlanta in Week 3 was no less embarrassing. The hiring of head coach Joe Judge last year looks more and more like a mistake, and Daniel Jones has been given no favors by his offensive line. A shocking Week 4 win at New Orleans does give the team hope.
It's difficult for an offense to look much worse than the Jets have early this season, with rookie Zach Wilson look in over his head. Fans just hope the organization hasn't ruined Wilson already as they seemed to do with their last quarterback, Sam Darnold. A shocking Week 4 win against a banged-up Titans squad is reason for fans to stay engaged.
Major offseason skepticism for the Eagles was briefly halted in Week 1 when the team blew out the Falcons on the road, but the team hasn't looked good since then. The jury is still out on Jalen Hurts as an NFL starter, and the defense has been embarrassed after a great start. The hope is that the offense will still make progress the rest of the way under first-year head coach Nick Sirianni.
The Steelers haven't had a losing season since Mike Tomlin was hired in 2007, but this squad looks well on their way. Ben Roethlisberger has looked inept at quarterback behind a bad offensive line, and defensive injuries have prevented that side of the ball from remaining dominant. After a great Week 1 win at Buffalo, the Steelers have been out of sorts. This isn't the way that Big Ben wanted to go out.
The 49ers have been inconsistent in all facets early in the year, with injuries taking a toll on the team again. Jimmy Garoppolo has managed with banged-up weapons and now he could miss multiple weeks again, while the defense has been leakier than expected. So far, San Francisco has failed to match expectations of a full rebound.
Seattle isn't off to a great start, with the defense having major early issues against the Titans and Vikings. A heart-breaking Week 2 loss at home vs. Tennessee could haunt the team in a tough NFC West division, though the hiring of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has already shown to be a positive. The Seahawks rough schedule remains a concern, but Russell Wilson's strong play should continue to make this team a contender.
The defending Super Bowl champs overcame turnovers to beat Dallas in Week 1, but there was nothing they could do at the Rams in Week 3. The team has suffered some significant early injuries, but Tom Brady has looked as great as ever at age 44, meaning that the sky is the limit again. With Antonio Brown's quick start, the optimism of a return to the Super Bowl is valid.
Tennessee woke up after getting blown out by Arizona in Week 1, picking up a tough win at Seattle in Week 2. Injuries to wideouts A.J. Brown and Julio Jones played a role in a terrible Week 4 loss at the Jets. The next month will show what the team really has in them with games against the Bills, Chiefs, and Rams.
Washington's hopes that Ryan Fitzpatrick would stabilize the quarterback position were dashed in Week 1 when he suffered a hip injury. Most disturbing has been the performance of the defense, which struggled against the Giants and Bills despite blue-chip talent. While Washington was good enough with mediocrity in the NFC East last season, that probably won't cut it this year with the way Dallas has looked thus far.
Seth Trachtman is a fantasy sports expert and diehard Kansas City Chiefs fan still hoping for a Super Bowl win during his lifetime. He doesn't often Tweet, but when he does, you can find him on Twitter @sethroto.