In the blink of an eye, the first quarter of the 2015 National Football League season is over.
Similar to a typical game, the early part of the season is wrought with teams trying to figure themselves out, before venturing to solving the opponent. An organization such as the Philadelphia Eagles spent the offseason retooling with a specific style of play in mind, but have gotten off to a slow start in both the season and most of their games.
There are, of course, the teams that treat the first few weeks as an extension of preseason, executing set plays without risking the game. The New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers lead this charge, but the Denver Broncos best fit the bill. As the offense undergoes a transformation of sorts, the Broncos learn on-the-fly, and win, regardless.
As we enter the second quarter of the season, teams will begin to shift into the version we should see for the remainder of the year.
1. New England Patriots (LW: 1)
At 3-0 and on a bye week, the New England Patriots no longer hold the league’s best record. They are, however, the league’s best team. The Power Rankings are intended to consider more than simply wins and losses, and no team has impressed its will on its opponents quite like New England. Obviously, this is nothing new for the Patriots, as the franchise has enjoyed twelve consecutive winning seasons.
2. Green Bay Packers (LW: 2)
Another game, another win. Coming off back-to-back primetime matchups — and wins — the Green Bay Packers avoided a letdown by traveling to San Francisco and knocking off the scuffling 49ers. Although Green Bay did not put its typical offensive stamp on the game — that is, it was held under 27 points for the first time all season — it controlled the action from start to finish. The same is apparently happening for the Packers and the NFC North.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (LW: 5)
There appears to be no stopping the Cincinnati Bengals. They have consistently been one of the better teams in the AFC, although they typically fall victim to playing in a tough division. The tide may be shifting, however, as the Bengals have come out of the gate firing, and have not slowed down, yet.
4. Denver Broncos (LW: 4)
Perhaps there is value in the Denver Broncos winning games by close margins. Typically, Peyton Manning-led teams destroy opponents during the regular season, but struggle when facing resistance. In 2015, the Broncos have jumped out to a 4-0 record by winning only one game by more than one touchdown — and the contest was close until the waning minutes. Indeed, the Broncos’ are playing at a more human level, but they are coming out on top, every time.
5. Atlanta Falcons (LW: 6)
As contradictory as it may seem, the sign of a good team is one that wins the tough games and is still able to avoid letdowns against weaker opponents. The Atlanta Falcons had already captured the league’s attention with a 3-0 start, but put a stamp on the first quarter of the season by blowing out the Texans in Week 4. Atlanta should be in contention for the NFC South title all season long, as it has proven to belong in the upper echelon of the conference.
6. Arizona Cardinals (LW: 3)
The Arizona Cardinals simply looked too good for too long. They were bound to run into a wall, somewhere, and the St. Louis Rams — known to slay the giants of the NFC West — proved to be too much to handle. The Cardinals are still a fantastic squad that should compete for the division, but, like all teams, they are susceptible to an upset — especially when facing a division rival.
7. Seattle Seahawks (LW: 9)
The Seattle Seahawks have the uncanny ability to overcome flaws. Without running back Marshawn Lynch, and with an offensive line that left quarterback Russell Wilson scrambling on nearly every pass attempt, Seattle was able to hold serve at home with a win on Monday Night Football. The team has not been overly impressive, and a 2-2 record was justly earned, but the complete package on defense — now solidified with the return of Kam Chancellor — will make the Seahawks contenders in every game.
8. New York Jets (LW: 10)
Good teams recover from losses. The New York Jets were handed their first loss of the season in Week 3, calling into question the legitimacy of the team. Traveling to London for the first time since the league started playing games overseas, the Jets answered all questions by beating the Dolphins handily. With defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson expected to return after the team’s bye week, the 3-1 Jets are here to stay.
9. Carolina Panthers (LW: 13)
The Carolina Panthers just keep receiving gifts. For four straight weeks, the Panthers faced one of the worst opponents in the league — prior to beating the Buccaneers, Carolina played Jacksonville, Houston, and New Orleans. Granted, the Panthers deserve credit for winning games, regardless of opponent, but they are arguably the least worthy undefeated team in the league.
10. Indianapolis Colts (LW: 14)
The Indianapolis Colts have already shown enough vulnerability to cause concern, but the injury to quarterback Andrew Luck prior to their Week 4 divisional game borders on catastrophic. Thankfully for Indianapolis, the team was able to rally for an overtime win and improve to 2-0 in the division — 2-2 overall after losing its first two games — but the key to sustained victory obviously lies in the arm of Andrew Luck.
11. Buffalo Bills (LW: 7)
It was only a matter of time before the Buffalo Bills returned to earth; not for their otherworldly play as a whole, but for the outrageous output from the offense. Buffalo entered Week 4 with the third-best scoring offense in the league, and quarterback Tyrod Taylor was playing far beyond his abilities — he had, after all, spent four years as a backup quarterback. A home loss to the Giants now sends the Bills behind two teams in the AFC East and, as good as they may be, they are imperfect.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 8)
Therein lie the flaws of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Saddled by a kicker spiraling out of control and a backup quarterback for weeks to come, the Steelers have a number of hurdles to overcome. For the better part of their Thursday Night Football showdown with the then-winless Ravens, it looked as if the Steelers would be able to weather the storm for at least one game in the absence of Ben Roethlisberger. Instead, the boat began sinking, and the team sank. There were positives to come from the loss, but Pittsburgh is currently at risk.
13. St. Louis Rams (LW: 18)
If the St. Louis Rams played every team like they play their division rivals, they may never lose. Only four games into the season, the Rams have already upset the Seahawks and Cardinals, but lost to the Redskins and Steelers. If anything, they have chosen to play their best games wisely, as a 2-0 division record is helpful, but they need to avoid letdowns whenever they leave the comforts of playing a familiar opponent.
14. Dallas Cowboys (LW: 11)
Despite how undeniably valuable a quarterback is to his team, the Dallas Cowboys were proving that an injury to the most important singular player can still be overcome. Unfortunately for Dallas, the team that surrounds the quarterback needs to step up in his absence and find wins wherever possible. It hasn’t happened yet, and it appears to only be getting worse, as the Cowboys’ next opponent is the 3-0 Patriots, coming off a bye week.
15. Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 15)
When the Kansas City Chiefs look back on their 2015 season, the most likely catalyst for failure will be the misfortune of playing the Broncos, Packers, and Bengals in consecutive weeks. The opponents obviously presented their own problems for the Chiefs, but the reality is that the team simply hasn’t played well enough to have a winning record. The potential to go on a hot streak is still present, but it needs to be realized in the near future.
16. San Diego Chargers (LW: 17)
The San Diego Chargers continue to be as predictable as a coin flip. Seemingly capable of turning on the jets whenever needed, San Diego frequently falls asleep and gets lost during games. This was on full display in Week 4, as the Chargers were in a constant battle with the Cleveland Browns, only to come out victorious via a last minute drive. With the Broncos currently running away with the AFC West, the Chargers will need to find a way to limit its stretches of poor play.
17. New York Giants (LW: 21)
Suddenly, the New York Giants are contenders for the NFC East. Cast aside after losing their first two games, the Giants have posted back-to-back victories and returned to relevancy. More importantly the disarray within the division has left it open, and New York may actually be the team most suited to rise to the top. After all, they have played better than their 2-2 record would suggest, having carried late leads into both of their two losses.
18. Minnesota Vikings (LW: 19)
It was a tall task, and they fought valiantly, but the Minnesota Vikings will go into their bye week with a 2-2 record after a Week 4 loss in Denver. With second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater bouncing from rookie to veteran on a drive-by-drive basis, the Vikings’ Week 4 loss was a microcosm of the young season — each of their first three games had been decided by a minimum of ten points.
19. Philadelphia Eagles (LW: 12)
Whenever a team as heralded the Philadelphia Eagles starts a season 0-2, they receive the public benefit of the doubt. After a win in Week 3, it looked as if the season had stabilized for an Eagles team that had played far worse than its level of talent would suggest. A loss in Washington in Week 4 removes all forgiveness for the slow start, as the Eagles may simply be a below average team.
20. Oakland Raiders (LW: 20)
We almost lived in a world where the Oakland Raiders were 3-1. Almost. With expectations as high as they have been in years, the Raiders traveled to Chicago to take on the winless Bears. As fate would have it, the task was too much for Oakland, and they let a late-game drive end their bid for a carrying winning record into Week 5. The Raiders have the pieces in place to be a more successful franchise than they have been in years, but wins will ultimately be the barometer.
21. Tennessee Titans (LW: 22)
It is often argued that a bye week late in the season benefits teams consisting of mainly veterans. If this is true, then the young Tennessee Titans are hoping the adage can be reversed. The story out of Tennessee is clearly the play of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has thrown eight touchdowns and only two interceptions in the team’s three games. The hope for the Titans is that the bye week gives Mariota the opportunity to study and reflect before entering the long stretch of the season.
22. Baltimore Ravens (LW: 23)
The Baltimore Ravens have played such sporadic and chaotic football that the team could range anywhere from 0-4 to 4-0. Due to a number of incredible circumstances, the Ravens were able to steal a division game in Pittsburgh and get into the win column for the first time, all year. Make no mistake, Baltimore has more problems than answers, and needs to make large strides forward in order to recover from a 1-3 –formerly 0-3 — start.
23. Miami Dolphins (LW: 16)
Every year, there is one team that the consensus believes ‘won’ the offseason. Coupled with an already solid foundation, these teams are expected to grow into playoff caliber squads. Too many times, they fail. The Miami Dolphins are that team. Whatever talent they have acquired or developed prior to 2015, it has not translated to wins. The loss in London was apparently too much for Miami, as head coach Joe Philbin was fired shortly thereafter. With two weeks to recover, the Dolphins could only hope their bye week helps reset the season.
24. Washington Redskins (LW: 27)
The Washington Redskins get no recognition. Whenever they win, it is considered a ‘fluke,’ yet losses are ‘expected.’ Perhaps the move from quarterback Robert Griffin III to Kirk Cousins gives Washington the best chance to win a given game and, coupled with the surprisingly effective defense, the Redskins are a rather decent team. They are, at least, not to be overlooked.
25. New Orleans Saints (LW: 30)
At this point, not even a Sunday Night Football victory over the Cowboys inspires confidence. Simply put, the New Orleans Saints continue to be a disappointment, despite securing their first win in Week 4. Quarterback Drew Brees missed Week 3’s game with a shoulder injury, and he appeared to be somewhat limited in Week 4. If this continues, whatever slim chance the Saints have of recovering their season is surely lost.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars (LW: 26)
The Jacksonville Jaguars had their opportunity to insert themselves into the AFC South battle, but let it slip away as they lost their Week 4 matchup in Indianapolis. Losing a road game to the Colts is nothing new — Jacksonville is 4-10 lifetime in Indianapolis — but this season’s contest was far from ordinary, as Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck was inactive with an injury. Like they have in three of their four games this season, the Jaguars played far better than their previous versions. Unfortunately, like they have in three of their last four games, they couldn’t find a way to win.
27. Cleveland Browns (LW: 31)
The Cleveland Browns are not far off from being a fairly decent team. As they are currently constructed, they have a solid enough defense with a few offensive playmakers to keep them in games, as long as they aren’t buried early. As it tends to be with struggling franchises, the quarterback position is relatively unsettled, although current starter Josh McCown has not necessarily been the problem with the team. Until they are settled under center, they remain towards the bottom of the pack.
28. Detroit Lions (LW: 24)
It is tough to imagine that an 0-4 team could lose as many heart-breaking games as the Detroit Lions have in the first quarter of 2015. Opening the year with three road games, hosting the Broncos on Sunday Night Football, and traveling to Seattle has forced an average Lions team to the basement of the NFC North. Detroit has played well, at times, in three of the four losses, and was inches — or a missed penalty — away from potentially knocking off the Seahawks in Seattle. Instead, the Lions remain the only team without a win, and have to suffer through a long season in the NFC North.
29. Houston Texans (LW: 25)
The Houston Texans simply cannot compete with better teams. Even the return of dynamic running back Arian Foster did little to help in the team’s Week 4 loss in Atlanta. While the defense has been a strength for the franchise in the past, this has not remained the case in 2015, either, as the team has allowed the sixth-most points in the league. When both sides of the ball perform this poorly, there is little in which to find hope for the remainder of the season.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 28)
It is nearly impossible to assess the Tampa Bay Buccaneers without tying their performance to rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. Obviously, the team consists of more than one player — in fact, the offense has a few playmakers in wide receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, and running back Doug Martin — but Winston, alone, has usually been the reason a particular drive stalled or succeeded. The team will continue to rise or fall with him, so his growth is imperative.
31. San Francisco 49ers (LW: 29)
The San Francisco 49ers suffered a fate familiar to many when they hosted the nearly unstoppable Packers in Week 4. San Francisco had played Green Bay well in recent history, winning four straight contests, but the 2015 versions of each team are worlds apart. The 49ers had no realistic chance to win the game, nor do they have the chance to keep up in the NFC West.
32. Chicago Bears (LW: 32)
The Chicago Bears are likely not going to win many games, this year. When finding potential victories, a home game against the Raiders was likely the best option. Through some late game heroics in the return to the field by quarterback Jay Cutler, the Bears secured their first win of the season. The trend is not one that should continue, but, at least, it gets the team in the win column.
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