Here at the Power Rankings, we feel very confident about the order of the first two teams. Things get a little tricky after that.
Through four weeks, the Patriots and Chiefs feel like the class of the NFL. But who else should we believe in? The Saints move into the top three on the strength of a pair of great performances without Drew Brees. The Cowboys should be fine despite their Superdome speedbump. But after that? This job is hard.
Let's do our best to sort this mess out.
Previous rank:*No. 1*
The Patriots' defense balled out again Sunday, forcing four turnovers in a tough road matchup against an equally game Bills defense. When the revitalized Jamie Collins*snatched a Matt Barkley floater* out of the air for the game-clinching interception, it finished a day of covering for New England's slumping offense. Here's a great stat from Greg Bedard: The Pats have had 22 possessions since taking a 20-0 lead over the Jets*in Week 3* -- only four of those drives have gone longer than five plays. Brady looked utterly lost in Buffalo, finishing with 3.8 yards per attempt -- in the dreaded Gabbert Zone for NFL quarterbacks. When Bill Belichick settled for a 23-yard field goal with the Pats up 13-10 and sitting at the Bills' 4-yard line late in the third quarter, was it a show of faith in his defense or a signal of doubt in his Brady-led attack? Probably both.
Previous rank:*No. 2*
So much for a dome environment unlocking even greater powers for Patrick Mahomes. The reigning MVP threw for 315 yards, but finished without a touchdown pass against the Lions at Ford Field -- ending a 14-game streak in which he'd thrown at least two TD strikes per game, one short of the NFL record. Still, Mahomes made magic when it mattered most for the undefeated Chiefs. Down 30-27 and facing a fourth-and-8 with less than two minutes to play, Mahomes scrambled 15 yards to move the chains. Darrel Williams would cap a 13-play, 79-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge. Meanwhile, the decision by Chiefs corner Bashaud Breeland to scoop up a loose football at his own goal line and run it back 100 yards the other way for an uncontested touchdown will serve as a teaching tool for offensive and defensive coaches going forward. ( The lesson? Play through the damn whistle!) A 14-point swing in a game ultimately decided by four points.
Previous rank:*No. 10*
It's not just that the Saints are now 2-0 with Drew Brees*sidelined.* It's who they've beaten -- the Seahawks*in Seattle* and the Cowboys*at the Superdome* -- and the manner in which they've done it. These have been team-wide efforts illuminating just how deep and well-coached this group is. You'd have to think these are two of the most rewarding regular-season wins of Sean Payton's illustrious run in New Orleans. On Sunday, the Saints' defense forced three turnovers and held a talented Cowboys attack to just 257 yards in a 12-10 win. It was the rarest of outcomes for New Orleans, which won for the first time in the Payton era without scoring a touchdown. It would help if Brees' fill-in at QB, Teddy Bridgewater, gave the team a little more -- he's been more down than up so far -- but the Saints are showing they don't need a star under center to stack wins. How many teams can claim that?
Previous rank:*No. 4*
Time to tap the brakes on the Kellen Moore Hall of Fame induction. The Cowboys' first-year offensive coordinator received plenty of praise during the team's 3-0 start, but his attack came down to Earth in Sunday's 12-10 loss to the Saints. The Big Three told the story of the evening's struggles: quarterback Dak Prescott failed to throw a touchdown pass, running back Ezekiel Elliott averaged 1.9 yards per carry and lost a fumble and receiver Amari Cooper was blanketed by New Orleans coverage ace Marshon Lattimore. To make matters worse, the Cowboys lost Tyron Smith*to an ankle injury* on the first play of their fruitless final possession. Tough night, but Dallas remains in good shape and should still be regarded as an NFC favorite ... even if the Saints planted a seed of doubt at the Superdome.
Previous rank:*No. 8*
What an incredible display by the Bears' defense, which absolutely suffocated a talented Vikings offense in a decisive 16-6 win at Soldier Field. Chicago was in complete control of the line of scrimmage and lived in the Minnesota backfield, making life hell for an overwhelmed Kirk Cousins, who was sacked six times. Most impressive? The Bears dominated their division rival on a day when they were missing five starters and lost their quarterback on the first drive of the game. Mitch Trubisky suffered a left shoulder injury and is doubtful for this Sunday's game against the Raiders in London. Backup Chase Daniel was an ideal hold-the-fort guy against the Vikings; the question is whether the veteran would be able to remain at that level over an extended stretch. The Bears are talented enough that they don't need superstar play at quarterback to win. Trubisky or Daniel just needs to make enough plays ... then get out of the way.
Previous rank:*No. 17*
The Eagles produced a tremendous team effort on Thursday night at Lambeau Field. Facing an undefeated Packers team, on the road, on a short week, with several key players still sidelined, coach Doug Pederson received huge efforts from both sides of the ball in a crucial 34-27 win. The defense stepped up with two goal-line stands in the fourth quarter, and the running game gave the offense much-needed balance on the way to 176 yards. Carson Wentz threw for just 160 yards, but he finished with three touchdowns and avoided the big mistake. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers couldn't say the same thing after his forced end-zone pass in the final minute led to the game-clinching interception by Nigel Bradham. Now 2-2, the Eagles get nine days to recover and prep before the winless Jets*come to town.* Order has been restored.
Previous rank:*No. 7*
The 49ers were assigned the unwelcome and entirely too early Week 4 bye, but at least they get to revel in the glory of a 3-0 start for another week. Two major areas of progress for the Niners, who are already just one win away from matching their total from last year: 1) They are making impact plays on defense that weren't happening a year ago. San Francisco has forced seven turnovers in three games, matching their total for the entire 2018 season. 2) The running game has been excellent. Matt Breida (226 yards, 5.5 YPC) and Raheem Mostert (202 yards, 5.9 YPC) lead a rushing attack that entered Week 4 ranked fourth in the NFL. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, meanwhile, has shown incremental progress as he works his way back from ACL surgery, and the Niners have done well not to put too much on his shoulders in the early going.
Previous rank:*No. 3*
You can imagine Sean McVay waking up Monday morning (assuming he ever went to bed) and thinking to himself, How the hell did that happen? The Rams were heavy favorites in their own building facing a thought-to-be-middling Bucs team ... and somehow, L.A. ended up on the wrong end of a 55-40 final. There were many culprits. Jared Goff had four turnovers (despite 500 yards passing). The Rams' pass rush disappeared after two early sacks. The secondary allowed Chris Godwin to pile up 12 catches for 172 yards. The running game remained an afterthought. Said Todd Gurley after five rushes for 16 yards: "I don't call the play calls, bro." Lastly, the offensive line continues to play below expectations. The Rams' hopes for a late rally were extinguished when Shaquil Barrett blew past veteran right tackle Rob Havenstein*for a strip-sack,* with Ndamukong Suh returning the ball for a touchdown. A grim performance all the way around.
Previous rank:*No. 5*
The big takeaway from Thursday was that the Packers lost to the Eagles because they failed in the red zone. The irony of this failure was that it occurred in the most productive game of the season for Aaron Rodgers and the offense. Green Bay ran eight plays over two possessions inside the Eagles' 10-yard line in the fourth quarter and came away with zero points in the 34-27 loss. Four of those plays began on Philly's 1-yard line. Coach Matt LaFleur stood by his decision to hand the ball off just once in those eight plays, but the lack of trust in the running game was apparent and costly. Also costly: Davante Adams suffered a toe injury that kept him out of the final possession and could cost the star wideout more time. Are Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison ready to assume bigger roles if Adams is compromised? The offense's functionality might ride on it.
Previous rank:*No. 15*
The Seahawks' August trade for Jadeveon Clowney was motivated by the need to import a defensive playmaker. On Sunday against the Cardinals, Clowney snagged a floating Kyler Murray pass with his left hand and looked more like Travis Kelce than a linebacker as he glided into the end zone for a pick-six -- the first interception of his NFL career. Clowney's big play set the tone for an easy, drama-free 27-10 win over the rebuilding Cardinals in the desert. It's exactly the type of game the Seahawks hoped for, with the divisional rival Rams up next on "Thursday Night Football." Clowney's re-emergence after a couple of quiet weeks was nice; also nice was running back Chris Carson finishing with 145 combined yards on 26 touches and, perhaps most importantly, no fumbles. Carson had put the ball on the ground three times entering Sunday.
Previous rank:*No. 6*
A disappointing performance by Josh Allen, and not because he exited in the second half with a head injury. Allen had shown undeniable growth as a quarterback during the Bills' 3-0 start, but the 2018 first-round pick wasn't quite up for the moment against a powerhouse Patriots defense. In the 16-10 loss to New England, Allen threw three interceptions, missed open receivers and generally looked a lot like the Bad Josh Allen that Bills fans hoped had been left behind last year. It's a shame, too, because Buffalo's defense showed (again) that it is one of the very best units in football. Ask Tom Brady, who looked completely out of sorts in leading the Pats offense to 224 yards of total offense. Bills safety Micah Hyde on the hit that ended Allen's day:*"If one of us* did that to 12 (Brady), we wouldn't have been in that game anymore. There's no way."
Previous rank:*No. 16*
Melvin Gordon is back after the world's least successful contract holdout, but there's no way Austin Ekeler can lose significant snaps as a result. Right? Ekeler was a standout once again on Sunday, accounting for 122 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in a blowout win over the Dolphins. That's the type of production Gordon has been known for during his time with the Bolts, but there's something to be said for riding the hot hand. It's obviously a very good problem for the Chargers to have ... and it makes you wonder if Los Angeles will be aggressive in trying to move Gordon ahead of the Oct. 29 trade deadline. Quote Of The Week comes from Philip Rivers, who won for the first time in his career in Miami: "I hadn't played worth a hoot here the last two times -- in 2013 and 2014. It was rough days for us, so it was good to win."
Previous rank:*No. 14*
The Lions were forced to settle for a moral victory on Sunday when it could have been so much more. Matt Patricia's team had a three-point lead with less than two minutes to play when Patrick Mahomes*scrambled for a first down* on fourth-and-8 to keep the Chiefs alive. Kansas City would finish off the drive with a touchdown, marking the last of five lead changes in the second half. Final possession aside, the Lions' defense did a great job all afternoon of putting pressure on Mahomes, who was held without a touchdown pass for only the fourth time in his career (including playoffs). Kerryon Johnson ran for 125 yards and Matthew Stafford threw for nearly 300 yards with three touchdowns, with two of those scores*going to*Kenny Golladay ... and it still wasn't enough. A tough loss to swallow, but Detroit showed it can hang with anybody on a good day.
Previous rank:*No. 21*
Now those were the Browns we've all been expecting this season. Cleveland piled up 530 yards and 40 points on the Ravens in Baltimore and now suddenly finds itself atop the AFC North at the season's quarter point. Baker Mayfield got back on track after a week of outside criticism, but the real star on Sunday was running back Nick Chubb, who went off for 165 rushing yards and three touchdowns, including the game-changing 88-yard score in the fourth quarter. We got both sides of Chubb's game in this one: He wasn't touched on his 88-yard score, showing eye-popping burst. On his first TD, a 14-yard run, he ran through three would-be tacklers. The Browns' defense also deserves credit. Coordinator Steve Wilks' unit kept Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson in check, even without the services of injured starting cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams. This is a dangerous team.
Previous rank:*No. 12*
Sunday's loss to Carolina was undoubtedly a tough watch in the film room for Bill O'Brien and the Texans. From Deshaun Watson's missed home-run balls to Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins, to Hopkins' doomed red-zone pass that went for a crucial interception, to O'Brien's strange decision to challenge an obvious Christian McCaffrey circus catch in the fourth quarter (costing Houston a valuable timeout in the process), the Texans let a winnable game slip away. The offensive line also struggled, allowing Watson to absorb six sacks and 10 quarterback hits. This came after the oft-maligned unit performed extremely well in a win over the Chargers last week. The loss sends the AFC South into a dogfight, with four teams tied at 2-2. The Texans are the most talented team of the bunch, but consistency has been a problem in the season's first quarter.
Previous rank:*No. 11*
The Ravens have reached a crisis point with their defense. Who thought that day would ever come? Baltimore's beleaguered D surrendered 500-plus yards of offense to an opponent for the second straight week, and it cost the Ravens sole possession of first place in the AFC North as a result. A front seven that was raided in free agency remains a particular concern. In Sunday's loss to Cleveland,*Browns* quarterback Baker Mayfield was hit just once in 31 dropbacks, and Nick Chubb rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns. The defensive struggles ramp up the pressure on Lamar Jackson, who in the last two weeks has not looked like the world-beater we saw against the Dolphins and Cardinals*in Weeks 1*and 2. Jackson struggled with accuracy in Week 3's loss to the Chiefs. This week, Jackson was unable to push the ball down the field against a Cleveland defense playing without two starting cornerbacks. All in all, a lost week.
Previous rank:*No. 19*
It's a good thing Christian McCaffrey is built like a He-Man figure -- the Panthers are using their star running back like he's an indestructible children's toy. McCaffrey finished with 37 touches for 179 total yards and a touchdown in Carolina's huge road win over the Texans on Sunday. As my colleague Gregg Rosenthal pointed out, McCaffrey is on pace for 444 touches this season. That would rank eighth all-time among running backs, and it would be the most since DeMarco Murray had 449 touches for the Cowboys in 2014. (It should be noted Murray was never the same player after that season.) With second-year pro Kyle Allen set to remain the starting quarterback in place of the injured Cam Newton for next week and perhaps beyond, offensive coordinator Norv Turner is unlikely to tap the brakes on McCaffrey's usage. But that doesn't mean he shouldn't.
Previous rank:*No. 18*
Do you believe in Minshew Magic? For the second consecutive week, the Jaguars' backup quarterback got off to a slow start, and for the second consecutive week, Gardner Minshew II closed strong in a Jags win. Minshew is so incredibly calm in the pocket, an enviable trait on display on both of*his touchdown passes.* Minshew didn't beat the Broncos alone, however. Josh Lambo, who's been excellent since joining the Jags in 2017, went 4 for 4, including the game-winner at the gun, and Leonard Fournette, much-maligned for most of his Jags career, piled up a career-best 225 rushing yards, with much of that damage being done in the second half. When Nick Foles was injured in Week 1, it looked like the Jags would be done with relevant football by Halloween. Instead, Jacksonville looks like a very real contender in the tight AFC South. Come play with your friends, Jalen!
Previous rank:*No. 9*
Very close to a bury-the-ball game in Chicago on Sunday. The Vikings went to Soldier Field expecting to go toe-to-toe with the defending division champion and instead got beat down for four quarters in a humbling 16-6 loss.*Kirk Cousins* didn't have time to think behind a line that played turnstile to a swarming Chicago front seven, and Dalvin Cook was treated to three hours of running into a wall of throwback Bears jerseys. The Vikings had 59 total yards of offense in the first half. After the game, wide receiver Adam Thielen wondered if Minnesota might have strayed too far from the pass-happy offensive philosophy of a year ago (you could also read his comments as indirect criticism of his quarterback). Either way, the Vikings got their butts whooped, and they have a lot of work to do to get to the Bears' level.
Previous rank:*No. 13*
Sunday is a reminder of why you don't assume anything in the NFL. On paper, the visiting Raiders looked like a lay-up for a solid (if banged-up) Colts team, but that's not how it played out. The Indy defense, playing without All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard (concussion) and safety Malik Hooker (knee) allowed 188 yards on the ground and permitted the slumping Oakland offense to score three touchdowns in its first four possessions. Things weren't a lot better on the other side of the ball. Eric Ebron had three ugly drops, while Jacoby Brissett threw a game-icing pick-six and struggled to move the offense until the Colts were playing catch-up in the fourth quarter. Brissett clearly missed wide receiver/safety blanket T.Y. Hilton, whose calf injury kept him in street clothes. The Colts will need Hilton healthy and productive to keep pace with the Chiefs in Arrowhead this Sunday night.
Previous rank:*No. 24*
Jameis Winston wants you to believe in him. He needs you, dear football fan, to give him another chance. And in the past two weeks, the former first overall pick is playing like the franchise quarterback the Buccaneers always hoped he would be. Winston threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday, leading a pile-driving Bucs offense to a stunning 55-40 win over the previously undefeated Rams. A 50-burger? For Tampa Bay? In Los Angeles? Yes, it was one of the wildest outcomes of the young season. It also showed commendable resolve by the Bucs, who the previous Sunday suffered a harrowing loss in which they blew an 18-point lead against the Giants. This time, the Bucs fought off a charging opponent -- the charging defending conference champions -- and made you think they could hold their own in the NFC playoff race as a result. This is why Bruce Arians came back.
Previous rank:*No. 22*
The Titans are in that #TitansCycle. Good performance, then a bad performance, then a dreadful performance, then a great performance. It's quite the party trick, honestly. On Sunday in Atlanta, Mike Vrabel's team looked like world-beaters. Marcus Mariota threw three touchdown passes and, for the fourth straight game, avoided a turnover. Mariota (zero sacks) got great protection up front, as did running back Derrick Henry, who reached 100 yards on the day. Tennessee even got a big performance from rookie wideout A.J. Brown, who was targeted three times and finished with three catches for 94 yards and two scores. They should probably throw to that kid more. Add in a rock-solid showing by the defense and special teams, and you have yourself the type of game that coaches dream about. Now, the big question: Was this the real Titans? I don't want to spoil it for you, so tune in next week.
Previous rank:*No. 23*
The Giants are back in the hope business. Rookie QB Daniel Jones improved to 2-0 as a starter, running back Wayne Gallman notched two scores ( one in the air,*one on the ground) in place of *Saquon Barkley and New York's previously putrid defense even had its way against Dwayne Haskins and the moribund Redskins*in a laugher* at MetLife Stadium. The past two weeks have been a breath of fresh air for the Giants, who seemed to feel weighed down by the Eli Manning saga and the internal pressure of how to properly move on from a franchise legend. Eli, as one would expect, has been a good soldier since his demotion, and Jones has brought energy to the Big Blue attack. Up next is a home date against the Vikings, a playoff hopeful dealing with its own internal drama right now. Could Big Blue wake up next Monday in a first-place tie in the NFC East? Not impossible!
Previous rank:*No. 25*
The Raiders' offense emerged from a prolonged slumber, surprising more than the Colts in a 31-24 win at Lucas Oil Stadium. Oakland had managed just two scoring drives in its previous 18 possessions, but Derek Carr led the offense on three touchdown drives in the Raiders' first four possessions on Sunday, building a lead the team never relinquished. The offense made progress, but the real hero of the day was safety Erik Harris, a CFL castoff who clinched the win with a 30-yard pick-six with 2:09 to play. All wins are beautiful things, but this victory was especially important for the Raiders, now 2-2 and in the midst of a 47-day run of game action away from Oakland. The Raiders will finish that road trip, and the rest of the schedule, without linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who was suspended for the balance of the year for his helmet-to-helmet hit on tight end Jack Doyle.
Previous rank:*No. 20*
On paper, Sunday looked like a classic "get right" game for the Falcons, who welcomed the struggling Titans into their building. Instead, Atlanta was outclassed in all phases of the game in a 24-10 loss. The Falcons, now 1-3, must make immediate improvements to alter the course of a season that is slipping away. If they don't, it's fair to wonder if coach Dan Quinn is in serious danger of an in-season dismissal. Atlanta struggled through a frustrating 7-9 season a year ago that led Quinn to part ways with each of his coordinators. Quinn's defense has taken an obvious step back since he took over play-calling however, and Dirk Koetter has fared no better than Steve Sarkisian, the oft-maligned offensive coordinator he replaced. If the Falcons continue down their current path, Quinn won't get the opportunity to shuffle the deck again.
Previous rank:*No. 26*
The Steelers might not be a title contender with Ben Roethlisberger sidelined, but that doesn't mean they'll be a punching bag in the AFC. Pittsburgh made that clear in a dominant showing against the Bengals on Monday night. Mason Rudolph didn't light up defenses like Big Ben, but he made good decisions on a 24-for-28 day. James Conner (125 total yards, TD) snapped out of an early-season funk and the Steelers' defense beat up on Andy Dalton, who was sacked eight times and averaged just 4.6 yards per attempt in an A.J. Green-less world. Write off Pittsburgh if you wish, but Mike Tomlin's team is just one game out of first place in the AFC North with 12 games to play. The Steelers are alive and well.
Previous rank:*No. 27*
Maybe Marvin Lewis wasn't the problem after all. The Bengals were spanked by the previously winless Steelers on Monday night, falling to 0-4 in the process. It's one thing to get lit up by a future Hall of Famer in Ben Roethlisberger, but soul-searching is in order for Cincinnati after the Bengals' defense allowed Mason Rudolph to complete 24 of 28 passes with two touchdowns in an easy win. Angry Bengals fans will find an easy scapegoat in Andy Dalton, but this team has issues that go far beyond the quarterback. The NFL's Glowing Ginger Man can still light up the NFL, but he can't do it alone.
Previous rank:*No. 28*
Vic Fangio's debut season as head coach has descended into Pennywise-in-the-bedroom-closet nightmare status. For the second time this season, the Broncos lost at home on a last-second field goal, falling to 0-4 in the process. The news somehow got worse on Monday morning. The team announced linebacker Bradley Chubb -- the No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 draft -- is done for the season after suffering a partially torn ACL against the Jaguars. Despite a slow start in September, Chubb is a major difference-maker who was expected to take a huge leap in his second season. Instead, it's another setback for a Denver defense that didn't have a sack before Sunday and missed 15 tackles against the Jaguars, including 14 in the second half. All those whiffs helped Jags running back Leonard Fournette (225 yards) to a career day. "They were pushing us around," Fangio lamented afterward. Dark days in Denver.
Previous rank:*No. 29*
So far, no good for the Cardinals' hypothetically explosive offense. Kyler Murray and Co. never got it going on Sunday against the Seahawks, managing just one touchdown drive in 10 possessions in a 27-10 loss. The final score would look a little more respectable if Zane Gonzalez hadn't missed two first-half field-goal tries, but Kliff Kingsbury has a lot of work to do. The Cardinals are averaging just 18.5 points per game during their 0-3-1 start -- it's simply not enough output in support of a talent-poor Arizona defense in the midst of a total rebuild. At least Arizona still has running back David Johnson, who accumulated 139 yards of offense (including 99 yards receiving) and generally is moving with the fluidity of his best days when the Cardinals can get him the ball in space. The man needs help.
Previous rank:*No. 31*
The only thing that matters for the Jets right now is getting Sam Darnold back on the field. At 0-3, the idea of a playoff run has been reduced to a pipe dream, so 2019 becomes a season more about player and scheme development rather than success from a win-loss perspective. Darnold has made steady progress in recovery since his stunning mono diagnosis took him out of the equation going into Week 2, and the quarterback could be on the field when the Jets play the Eagles on Sunday. Darnold admitted the early symptoms of the illness had weakened him in his Week 1 start against the Bills, so in a way, we're still waiting to see what Adam Gase's offense is supposed to look like. The coach has received heavy criticism for the Jets' offensive struggles, but real judgment should only begin once Darnold is healthy and back behind center. The Jets hope that day is near.
Previous rank:*No. 30*
With Case Keenum unable to move the Redskins on offense, one could imagine coach Jay Gruden felt he had no choice but to insert rookie Dwayne Haskins into the lineup during Sunday's loss to the Giants. Gruden was looking for a spark -- in that game, in this season -- but unfortunately, Haskins (three interceptions) was not up to the challenge at the Meadowlands. Should we expect better results for the undercooked first-round pick against the Patriots' gnarly defense? Not bloody likely. On Monday, Gruden left the door open for Colt McCoy or Keenum to make the start under center against New England, a decision that's probably best for all parties involved. The Redskins will be trying to win that game, but they'll probably settle for not getting embarrassed. Yep, the bar has been lowered in D.C.
Previous rank:*No. 32*
Here at the bottom of the Power Rankings, we'll continue to focus on incremental gains for football's worst team. The Miami Dolphins held a lead for the first time this season against the Chargers on Sunday. It only lasted for 3:47 of game time ... but it was a lead nonetheless! Otherwise, things remain as grim as can be. The Dolphins have been outscored 163-26 during their 0-4 start. Most damning, they have been outscored 81-0 in the second half. That is not a typo. It'd be easy to look at that last figure and put it on rookie head coach Brian Flores and his seeming inability to, I dunno, formulate a successful scheme recalibration at halftime, but who are we kidding here? Flores is in the worst situation imaginable, coaching a locker room filled with players who know they probably aren't part of the franchise's long-term plans. The money is guaranteed, coach ... do your best.