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NFL Power Rankings, Week 4: New England Patriots back on top

The Patriots beat a playoff team with a third-stringer under center. The Eagles made it look easy against the NFL's hottest team with a rookie QB. Cody Kessler almost pulled off the upset of the season in his first pro start.

We haven't gotten to Sam Bradford's 2-0 start, Dak Prescott making broadcasters giddy or Case Keenum winning his last two starts. All of which makes the Week 4 Power Rankings darn near impossible.

I feel bad for me, too, Matt. That's what football do.

Uh, I'd say Nachos BellGrande.

I'm gonna give it the ol' college try. With that creative brilliance, how can it not go viral?

You'll see below that Siemian Toast Crunch's Broncos are right near the top. Their opponents from Sunday? Not so much. Send me your thoughts on any team. I might even post your whimsical musings up above ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence!

NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Sept. 20 Power Rankings.

PREVIOUS: Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1 | Preseason

After a one-week absence, the Patriots are back atop these here Power Rankings. The slight doubts that I had about them at this time last week were put on the grill with the Jacoby Bris-ket. (I'll be here all week. And yes, I know you don't pronounce it that way.) It'd be impressive to win a prime-time game -- on a short week -- with your backup quarterback. But how about winning by four scores with your third-string QB against a playoff team? Come on. Those "Bill Belichick is the greatest head coach of all time" pronouncements don't sound too hyperbolic anymore, eh? Next up: Rex.

Trevor Siemian -- take a bow, man. No team has impressed your hack writer more than the Broncos, particularly when it comes to the play they've gotten from this 2015 seventh-round pick. Like everyone else, I expected the defense to be phenomenal. (Minnesota, you've got a phenomenal unit, but I'm not taking the hot-take bait. Denver's D is still tops in this league.) On Sunday, Siemian was THE factor in the win. The bombs to Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas made the highlight reels -- but to be honest, those were better plays (adjustments) by the receivers. I was more impressed by all of the small tasks Siemian performed throughout the day -- the kind of stuff that typically gets overlooked, but leads to wins. That said, 23 of 35 for 312 yards and four TDs is cherry.

The Vikings continue to prove people -- including this Game Picks idiot -- wrong, winning with whoever suits up on game day. Sunday's triumph at Carolina belonged to Everson Griffen, Marcus Sherels, Andrew Sendejo, Eric Kendricks, Kyle Rudolph and Jeff Locke (that's the punter, folks). The defense sacked Cam Newton eight times, holding an offense that averaged over 31 points per game last year to 10. Kelvin Benjamin didn't catch a ball. Read that line again.

Aaron Rodgers pulled off the Tom-Brady-circa-2015 "Up Yours" performance with an insane first half. Then things got dicey after the break. So why are the Packers this high in the rankings? Because they were the walking wounded on Sunday, playing without Clay Matthews III and Morgan Burnett, among others. Not to mention (but we'll mention), Mike McCarthy got a bit conservative late. On that note, maybe "a bit conservative" -- i.e., pounding the rock on the ground -- isn't such a bad idea in the long run. Ratcheting up Eddie Lacy not only makes sense in terms of taking pressure off Rodgers, but it is the recipe for success in cold playoff games. Just a thought.

Much consternation regarding the health of Russell Wilson in the aftermath of Sunday's win. But it appears the Seahawks dodged a bullet, as Pete Carroll said on Monday that he expects his quarterback will be ready for this coming Sunday's road game vs. the Jets. Back to the victory over the 49ers, though ... That's what I'm talking about, all you Dave Krieg Starting Lineup figurine owners! (Don't take it out of the box.) The 'Hawks didn't eke by. They didn't come out of the gate slowly, either. At one point Sunday, fans across the country went back to the kitchen to grab some cheese puffs and Mountain Dew for the late games -- and before they even had a chance to decide between the original Dew and Baja Blast, Seattle had gone up 21-3. Here's something that will make you blink faster than Blaine Gabbert staring into the teeth of that Seahawk defense: Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham each hit the century mark in the first half.

What's not to like about the Eagles right now? They whipped one of the (presumed) top teams in the league. They paid a king's ransom for a rookie quarterback -- a rookie quarterback who apparently didn't impress one particular winless team (this decade, seemingly) -- and he's balling out. Most importantly, Jim Schwartz's defense has allowed a grand total of 27 points in three games ( the lowest figure in the NFL by 10 points). The defensive line played out of sight Sunday night. Ah, the NFL.

The Steelers looked flat terrible on Sunday. The only thing higher than Ben Roethlisberger's throws were the high fives Markus Wheaton wasn't getting for catching the ball. Good grief. The only reason Pittsburgh doesn't drop lower is the return of Lev Bell.

What a rebound by the Chiefs' defense on Sunday. The key stanza might have been the fourth-quarter interception by Marcus Peters on a tipped ball. Ryan Fitzpatrick tried to force a throw into Quincy Enunwa on first-and-goal, then went back to the well again on second-and-goal. Tip drill. With Jamaal Charles slated to return soon, next week's matchup looks awfully tasty ... at Heinz.

Dakmania continues, as every announcer starts to buy in, with the Sunday night crew being the latest to join the party. Prescott was both efficient and effective Sunday night, taking advantage of fantastic protection, then making plays outside of the pocket -- flashing accuracy while throwing on the run -- the few times the Great Wall of Dallas II faltered. (The original Great Wall? That '90s offensive line.) Back to the Sunday telecast: NBC mentioned Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott being the first rookie quarterback and running back to start a season opener for the Cowboys since Roger Staubach and Calvin Hill in 1969.

 **Historical side note:** That was actually the 
 *only* game Staubach started as a 27-year-old rookie. Don Meredith unexpectedly retired the summer before that season, with incumbent Craig Morton waiting in the wings. Morton was held out of the opener due to a broken finger, but the veteran would start the remainder of that season, 1970 and part of 1971 before Staubach wrestled the job from him and became a Hall of Famer. Meanwhile, Hill is never mentioned as one of the great Cowboy running backs because of Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith, but 
 Hill finished second only to Gale Sayers in rushing as a rookie, and he twice crossed the 1,000-yard plateau when seasons were only 14 games. 

Sure, all three games have been close. The combined record of the Ravens' vanquished opponents is now 1-8. Couple things to sort through here ... Baltimore is just making plays at the ends of games that other teams are not. Special teams and situational defense -- two areas Baltimore excels in -- are major parts of pro football. The blocked field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter Sunday was HUGE. Oh, and C.J. Mosley's interception was athletic, to say the least. Watch it again. NOW.

Ugly loss at home versus the Vikings. The Panthers must be kicking themselves for not capitalizing on a first half when they racked up 205 yards to the Vikings' 34. Special teams breakdowns, poor pass protection and, ultimately, not being able to move the ball when the outcome was in doubt puts Carolina at a dissatisfying 1-2. With Jonathan Stewart expected to be out several more weeks, look for OC Mike Shula to get Cameron Artis-Payne more involved.

Cardinals fans have permission to be worried. Carson Palmer = shaky. The defense? Not consistent. Or inconsistent. Or let the Bills banged-up offensive line have their way with them in the run game (208 yards on 32 carries). You know when you hear announcers say, "They look flat," and you wonder what that means? Go watch Arizona's first-half performance in Buffalo. Next up: The pesky Rams, who beat the Cardinals at their place last year. Remember who showed up that day?

The Texans appeared so awful Thursday night that they probably deserved to be lower. Check that, they didn't appear to be anything ... they were plain awful versus the Pats. If this team is ever to take the next step, it must be able to win in New England against a fully equipped Patriots outfit, much less one without its QB1 and QB2 and with its top offensive weapon limited to just 14 snaps. The sad deal here is that New England didn't even need an obligatory Gronk catch, much like Houston doesn't need an obligatory Will Fuller drop.

For a team that has made it to the postseason in five consecutive seasons, the Bengals sure didn't look impressive in their home opener. Granted, there is a reason the Broncos are the defending Super Bowl champions ... but letting Trevor Siemian throw for four touchdowns? As in any game, a few key plays painted ugly stripes on this contest for Cincinnati, such as Adam Jones' fumble. Yet, the case could be made that Marvin Lewis' outfit should've lost Week 1 in New York. Next up: Dolphins. They're bad. (Scroll down.)

Moments ... so many moments ... in Sunday's game when I wondered aloud if Derek Carr needed to personally walk down the field and hand the ball to his receivers. Oh, were there ugly drops in Nashville. At the end of the day, however, an unlikely hero emerged: the much-maligned Raiders defense. After two straight weeks of allowing 500-plus yards, Oakland forced three turnovers while thwarting the Titans on third- and fourth-down conversions -- Tennessee only made good on two of 13 attempts.

"What was he seeing there?"-style picks from Eli Manning on Sunday. For years, the Manning apologists have explained away his three seasons leading the league in interceptions. Statistically speaking, bad luck can lead a quarterback to pacing the league in picks. But three times? The last turnover was the game-decider, when it seemed Manning didn't catch Su'a Cravens roaming over the middle. Next week the Giants visit Minnesota. Remember that matchup last year? Don't.

Hold your breath here, folks. Take a look at who is in first place in the NFC South. Sure, the Falcons were kind of in this position last year -- though not alone in first place like they are coming out of Week 3. Jon Gruden wondered aloud about the pass rush during the Monday night telecast. It's a weakness. It's also not worth discounting two road wins in as many weeks. And if you are a fan in Atlanta, and you own Tevin Coleman in fantasy, you might be in such a happy-go-lucky mood that you endorsed 50 people on LinkedIn.

Said on the set of "NFL Fantasy Live" on Sunday morning that, every once in a while, Ryan Fitzpatrick will throw a few ... errant passes. Wasn't anticipating a six-pick grab bag, however. Holy crap. Andy Reid probably was hoping to save a couple of those for this week at Pittsburgh. Which, by the way, should be a timely litmus test to see whether this Chiefs group is a contender or a one-and-done in the playoffs. Sure hope @jcharles25 finally sees the field.

Anyone who felt the Bills players wouldn't compete for their coach got a trite "Shut the %#$@ up" Sunday afternoon in Orchard Park, New York. What kind of world are we living in where a guy is speculated to be coaching for his job in the third game of his second season (after going 8-8 in Year 1). Oh yeah, the NFL. "I don't know if anyone needed a win worse than we did," Rex Ryan said after blowing out the Cardinals. Yep. Shady McCoy: 117 yards rushing, two TDs. Nick O'Leary: one catch, 28 yards. You can't contain Nick O'Leary.

If Jim Caldwell led a team with Matthew Stafford, 20 Marvin Joneses and maybe Bennie Blades, this team would be 3-0. Jones' stat line Sunday was straight out of Tecmo Super Bowl: six catches, 205 yards and two touchdowns. That's just 34 yards per catch. Unfortunately, the Lions' defensive backs were torched by a quarterback who seemed to hear every bit of criticism directed his way last week and knew every blitz Detroit proffered.

How the Rams, who looked so atrocious in Week 1, could bounce back to beat the Seahawks and then drop the Bucs on the road is anyone's guess. Never underestimate athletic pride. In other words, perhaps the butt-kicking this group took in San Francisco fed into the emotional win over Seattle. Resilience was the name of the game in Tampa, especially on defense. First, there was the strip-sack by Robert Quinn that Ethan Westbrooks took to the house. Then, the Rams' D held the fort on Jameis Winston's final salvo, earning them this win.

The Redskins were the beneficiaries of stupid penalties and an assortment of mistakes by the Giants, but give credit where it is due. Regardless, Jay Gruden's squad deserves praise for staying with it and -- without overstating it -- saving the season. Where would this team be if its record was 0-3 with two home losses, and two losses within the division? Was impressed with Matt Jones' hard running. Quinton Dunbar's end-zone pick was brilliant. Of course, rookie Su'a Cravens made the play of the day. #1-2

Many spoiled opportunities for the Bucs in front of their home crowd Sunday afternoon. Some fans could point to the lightning delay halting Tampa Bay's momentum when the team needed a stop and a final drive. The real spoiler came earlier in the fourth quarter, when, with the passing game effectively moving the ball down the field, Robert Quinn caught Jameis Winston's hand jussssst before it started moving forward. The strip-sack was returned by Ethan Westbrooks for a score. It was at best a 10-point swing and at worst a 14-point swing. Tough loss to stomach for a week.

Nice work by Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton to come through in crunch time on a day the Colts' offense didn't dominate as much as people (or fantasy gurus) thought it would. Tough sledding out there for the bulk of the afternoon after getting off to a fast start behind Frank Gore. The veteran running back slowed down (70 of his 82 rushing yards came in the first half), and Hilton picked up the slack. T.Y. earned his production, too, with 174 yards (131 in the second half) while being shadowed by Jason Verrett. And kudos to the oft-worried-about Indy defense, which held the end-game lead.

Evaluating this Chargers' defense is beyond difficult. Both of San Diego's losses felt like that girl who matches you on Bumble but never sends you a follow-up message. Then there was the blowout win against the Jags, which seemed like an easy stroll by a dominant D -- but we know that's not the case. The unit was viable on Sunday. Unfortunately, the absence of Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead made it harder to pull off the road win.

Neither Marcus Mariota nor the Titans as a team are good enough yet to overcome those interceptions Sunday. At least Taylor Lewan compensated for the giveaways with some goonery ... Too bad, too, because the opportunities were there for this young nucleus to win its third home game in as many seasons. You read that right -- Tennessee won one contest in Nashville in 2014 and one in 2015. Now the Titans are 0-2 in front of the home folk. But at least you can get a Frank Wycheck jersey in the pro shop and $10.50 nachos at the concessions stand.

Please don't challenge the drop in the rankings here. Judging by Twitter, I don't think any Dolphins fans will complain. Ryan Tannehill threw for more than 300 yards, but as mentioned before, that merely speaks to the emptiness of the 300-yard game in today's NFL. Miami probably should've lost Sunday. Also, I've seen grumbling about why Cameron Wake has not been playing enough, which is interesting, because he had a sack and forced fumble in the first half, then had another strip-sack called back in the second. What's going on there with Wake? Anyone? Bueller? ( @HarrisonNFL)

Feels just like 2015, doesn't it? Last year, the 49ers blew out their opponent on the opening Monday night of the season, giving people confidence in their new regime ... then sucked the next two games. It sucks for 49ers fans. It sucks for the Power Rankings, because I have to write something here. On the bright side, Carlos Hyde rushed for more than 100 yards and two scores. Once again, San Francisco didn't roll over in the second half, either. The other side of that deal is that the 49ers need to make plays when the game is still competitive. Curious to see how Blaine Gabbert responds -- he wasn't really part of the awful start last year.

Another loss for the Saints, and it seems Sean Payton will have trouble finding enough wins on the schedule to match last year's middling total. Everyone knew the defense was weak entering the season. Start subtracting starters from that beleaguered outfit, and opponents put up numbers. Saw where Drew Brees took heat for his pick-six. Maybe those people would like to go out there knowing they need to put up 40 points to have a chance ...

How many good-hearted Jags fans drop an expletive or 30 when the Jaguars keep inventing ways to lose? Appropriate, because they deserve to be 30th in the rankings. Blake Bortles' next-to-last interception, the ball that was tipped by Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, can be chalked up to bad luck. On the Jags' next possession, Bortles was sacked on third down (in fairness, he probably didn't have time to get rid of the ball), which led to Jason Myers opting for a lower trajectory on his 52-yard field-goal attempt that ultimately was blocked by the Ravens. But, on their final possession, with 43 seconds left in the game and decent field position (at the Jags' 31), Bortles held the ball entirely too long, taking a bad sack while precious seconds ticked away. Sorry, Jacksonville fans, those are the facts. Hey, the defense looked much-improved from the track meet in San Diego in Week 2. So there's that.

It simply wouldn't be Cleveland Browns football without Cody Parkey missing a potential game-winning 46-yard field goal. Although I picked the Dolphins to win, and I enjoy being right, I derived little enjoyment from watching a group of guys play their hearts out and lose the way the Browns did. Cody Kessler fared much better than any analyst thought he would. Terrelle Pryor was awesome. The wrenching loss reminds me of the 1985 Browns, who made the playoffs for the first time with Martyball, then blew a 21-3 lead in Miami in the first round. The AFC Championship Games the next two years are far more famous, yet that game showed that Cleveland was a quality team. Anyone else remember that one? ( @HarrisonNFL) #Browns

After years of writing the Power Rankings, can't think of a time when the Bears resided in the 32-hole. Shocking? Perhaps not. The mounting injuries make it so this team doesn't have a chance on defense. Now, Chicago is losing running backs. You can throw Jay Cutler's injury in there, as well, though Bears fans would just as soon throw Cutler out of town off their back foot. Either way, opposing offenses are obstreperous when your best pass rushers are hurt. (There's a word to look up to keep you from watching Sunday night's loss on Game Pass.)

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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