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Power Rankings, Week 4: Bears, Saints ascend; 49ers plummet

Three weeks deep we are.

Forgive the Yoda phraseology, but not even the little green guy with the Force and a Hefner robe possibly could have foreseen the San Francisco 49ers getting hammered (again), or which teams would occupy Nos. 10 through 15 in these rankings, or Andy Reid deciding that running the ball is a fun way to coach football. Yep, the NFL season isn't even 20 percent in the books, and it's already getting weird.

Ah, Jeff. Love the tactic. Threaten with what you want, then soften the blow with a compliment. That's like saying to your girlfriend, "I'm going out with my friends tonight. Oh, and you look amazing in that sundress." Smart. As for your Chicago Bears, you were right on the money there, too. They've earned their ranking below with a 3-0 start, improved play up front and Matt Forte looking smooth in white cleats.

Meanwhile, some other NFC teams that had winning records last year continue to plummet in our Power Rankings, as you'll see. Were we too hard on them? As always, your take is welcome ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Let the dissension commence ...

(Note: Arrows reflect change in standings from last week's Power Rankings.)

PREVIOUS RANKINGS: Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1

Well, at one point in the second half Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars got within 21 points.

You might've heard that Tom Brady called some of his old receivers to come back and play for the New England Patriots. Well, the word in Denver is that Mark Jackson, Ricky Nattiel, Mike Pritchard and some other guys have dialed up Peyton Manning to see if they can dust off their cleats and get in on this Broncos offense. Geez, 37 more points Monday night.

It sure wasn't vintage Tom Brady (225 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception), but it was enough to get it done against a pretty strong Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. The 14th-year vet seems to have found something -- or someone -- in Kenbrell Thompkins, an undrafted rookie who caught both scoring tosses from the Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Sunday. On the flip side: What a quality performance from the Patriots' secondary. We didn't see 23-3 coming.

 **Power Rankings sidenote:** Getting a lot of feedback on New England being so high. While the 
 Patriots don't feel like a No. 3 team, they're tied for the second-fewest points allowed in the NFL. Meanwhile, 
 Tom Brady is still the quarterback, and there's 
 a solid chance that the team's second-best player -- 
 Rob Gronkowski -- comes back this week. And which team in the NFL has allowed fewer points than New England? That would be Seattle. 

Here's a fun football question: How many wins is Sean Payton worth in a season? Three? Seriously, hit me up @HarrisonNFL; I'm curious to see if you think I'm overreacting.

Payton doesn't coach the defense, but that unit sure is interested in playing for him and coordinator Rob Ryan. Next up: Hosting the 3-0 Miami Dolphins on Monday night.

Two things for your consideration:

a) The Bears' offensive line, despite giving up a couple of sacks, really is playing better. I originally thought all the glowing reports about the improved play of the front five were a bit overblown, but then, holy cow, Matt Forte had a huge hole on his first-quarter touchdown run.

b) The defense truly is scoring at a historic pace.

Since 2011, the Bears have scored 23 miscellaneous touchdowns, a category that includes all return and defensive scores; the next closest team has 14. That nine-touchdown difference is more than the total number of miscellaneous touchdowns scored by 15 different franchises over the same time period. The Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, have scored just three miscellaneous touchdowns since 2011.

What a wild affair -- and what a huge win -- against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Everyone contributed, although the Bengals did, of course, look content to give it away by committing four turnovers on four consecutive possessions. Coordinator Mike Zimmer's defense kept getting put into bad situations; still, the unit was able to at least hold the fort. Speaking of, that was a big-time play by Michael Johnson, getting a hand on Aaron Rodgers' fourth-down, fourth-quarter throw. So clutch.

While it would be nice to see some more consistency from the Dolphins' offense, the victory over the Atlanta Falcons was an organization-building win for Joe Philbin's club. Ryan Tannehill was far from perfect, but at this point, he's squeezing in two steps forward after every step he takes backward. The second-year quarterback hit nine different receivers Sunday in Miami, with four different guys catching at least four balls.

You want a glimpse of the modern NFL? Look no further than Andy Reid's Chiefs, who went from 2-14 to 3-0 in nine months. That's parity, folks. Changing the head coach and/or quarterback makes more of a difference now than perhaps it ever has, given the minute difference between "good" and "bad" teams.

Of course, even the Texas State Armadillos would have been awesome Thursday night if Justin Houston had been suiting up for them. Holy cow, that guy. #50inRedAndWhitePleaseBlock

Here's all you need to know about the Colts' win at Candlestick: Indy ate up seven minutes of clock on a successful touchdown drive, even as the San Francisco 49ers were desperately trying to make a stop in a 13-7 game. Luck polished off said drive with a short scoring run, the last bunch of the 54 yards the new-look Colts gained on the ground on that possession alone. This was a physical whuppin' laid on the 49ers -- the second in a row.

Talk about a wounded team. All the injuries -- to guys like Eddie Lacy, James Starks, Jermichael Finley and Clay Matthews -- and Sunday's defeat send Green Bay down on this list for now. On another note, yes, many noticed the heated chat between Aaron Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy on the sideline. But seriously, who -- besides Tony Dungy and, well, anybody -- gets along all the time? Tough road loss for the Packers, who suddenly are devoid of a reliable running

attack -- just like they've been every year since 2009. Rookie Johnathan Franklin made some nice moves, set Twitter afire ... then lost the game on a fumble.

That was a heckuva defensive performance in Baltimore; my bad for changing my pick last week. My original thought was that the Ravens would show a lot of pride and thwart the Houston Texans' attack, but then I fell victim to "NFL analyst nervousness," given the loss of Ray Rice and the general poor performances by John Harbaugh's offense. Oops. Several big plays were made by Baltimore's front seven, especially Daryl Smith, who had 10 total tackles, a pick-six and a pass defensed. That's a heady stat line for an inside linebacker.

In honor of what seemed like the 20th anniversary of the Dallas Cowboys actually having a running game, the team decided to run the football, leaving DeMarco Murray breathing heavily, like a boxer worn out from continually punching a guy.

Oh, and before we go, all those USC fans who derided Dallas' decision to hire Monte Kiffin might want to rethink their stance. The Cowboys' defense has been a huge bright spot, ranking second in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (66.3), sacks (13) and opponent time of possession (25:52). The unit is allowing opponents to convert on third down just 29.7 percent of the time (fifth best in the league).

This is not how Atlanta fans envisioned their team starting the season. It's bad enough enduring another second-half setback -- just like against the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 and St. Louis Rams in Week 2 -- but getting beat on a one-handed grab by Dolphins rookie backup tight end Dion Sims? That's like being dumped by your girlfriend for Jason Biggs.

Houston's offense was nothing short of awful in Baltimore. Few fan bases are more impatient with their quarterback play than the followers of Houston and Matt Schaub. @McClainonNFL was tweeting gems throughout Sunday's dreadful performance. There's no question, John: Schaub has to play 200 percent better, particularly early in games.

Dutch Clark, Byron "Whizzer" White, Doak Walker, Billy Sims, Barry Sanders ... and Joique Bell. Joique. Bell. Defenses can only hope to contain him.

The little-known Bell had drifted behind the likes of Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure and Reggie Bush in the minds of fans (that is, those who even knew who Bell was) over the past couple of years, but there he was, putting up 132 yards from scrimmage and scoring a touchdown in Washington. Nice way for Detroit to rebound from a gross second half against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2. Tough blow to lose Nate Burleson, who chipped in (heavily) with six catches for 116 yards Sunday.

Back-to-back blowout losses, plus a lack of wide receivers and tight ends; it's a combination that signals a massive drop for the 49ers, who have been outscored 84-44 this season. Things were looking ugly at Candlestick for most of the late afternoon Sunday -- like, from the second quarter on. But what should be expected when your receivers can't get any separation? With no Michael Crabtree or Vernon Davis, 49ers fans began longing for the halcyon days of Arnaz Battle and Cedrick Wilson. What really was surprising was how San Francisco's lines -- both of them -- were overmatched again. And now Aldon Smith is gone.

If you're on any kind of heart medication, please consult your doctor before taking in Tennessee Titans football, as being a fan of this team might be harmful to your health.

We mentioned in the picks column last week that Jake Locker needed to start running more. He must have read it on Sunday morning, because after gaining just 13 yards on seven attempts through the first two games of the season, Locker took off. There's no diminishing the impact of the five runs for 68 yards that Locker recorded against the San Diego Chargers; that added a big-play dimension that had been missing from the Tennessee offense.

The Chargers did what they needed to do to pull out a close road win in Nashville ... only to blow it on an up-for-grabs play. Of course, it seems like nearly every game in the league is up for grabs these days; still, one can make the case that San Diego should be 3-0. After the Chargers biffed the opener against the Houston Texans with play-calling and secondary let-downs, the loss to the Titans must have made for a very long plane ride to Southern California.

This San Diego defense can play with the Kansas City Chiefs, and Philip Rivers can keep up with Alex Smith. What might push Kansas City to a wild-card slot over the Bolts is the fact that the Chiefs have a big-time playmaker on both defense ( Justin Houston) and offense ( Jamaal Charles). San Diego certainly is a viable postseason threat, but the team lacks that one guy who can take over.

Had this club laid an egg and fallen to 0-3, who knows what the future would have held for Ron Rivera (despite what one report says)? No head coach needed a "W" in Week 3 quite like Rivera did after his defense broke down late in the season's first two weeks. Sunday in Charlotte held no such drama, as the Panthers (402 yards) outgained the New York Giants (150), converting on 8 of 14 third downs.

Want more? Eli Manning completed 12 passes all game, despite being down by multiple scores early. Oh, and Carolina ran for 194 yards.

OK, you get the picture. Actually ... did you know that Cam Newton had an in-game passer rating of 104.4? All right, we'll stop now.

It's amazing, the similarity in scope of the careers of Randall Cunningham and Michael Vick. A colleague in the industry who has worked for the Eagles told me the team never will win a championship with Vick, and while I never want to overreact, it's almost impossible to disagree with that sentiment.

That said, the Eagles' defense played easily its best game Thursday night -- Connor Barwin in particular made several impressive plays. Still, the unit could not overcome the giveaway-fest hosted by the offense and special teams; facing too many short fields proved to be too much.

Hand it to the Jets -- they make lovin' fun. New York did everything possible to surrender its third tight affair of the young season. Despite suffering through 20 penalties -- 20 -- and seven punts, the Jets still gained more than 500 yards of offense. That is absolutely incredible. And give Bilal Powell his due. For all the offseason chatter about Chris Ivory -- particularly in fantasy football -- Powell was the team's MVP against the Buffalo Bills. Gaining 158 yards on 29 touches in a division game is outstanding. Ivory v. Powell ... it's like Emmitt v. Barry.

Injuries and poor overall line play made the going tough for EJ Manuel in New Jersey. Hey, Buffalo receivers, try running to the quarterback when he's running for his life back there. Did Manuel play particularly well? No. But then, how often is a rookie going to tear up a Rex Ryan-led defense anyway? Next week, the Baltimore Ravens and their defense -- which just made the Houston Texans look very "Gabbertish" -- venture into Orchard Park, meaning Manuel and the Bills' offense will face another big test.

Maybe people shouldn't have been so harsh in their assessment of Bernie Kosar's assessment of this Rams team -- you know, the off-the-cuff ( some thought "off his rocker") indictment he offered of St. Louis' receivers back in the preseason.

If you watched Rams-Cowboys on Sunday, you saw a quarterback get no help. Sam Bradford was hit nearly 20 times by Dallas' pass rushers. Not to worry -- his receivers made up for the poor offensive-line play by dropping several easy catches (and by "easy," we mean "right in the hands, in stride").

Coaching also came into play in this defeat, as the Rams consistently played with six or seven guys in the box despite the fact that DeMarco Murray was running all over them. What a brutal afternoon for Rams fans.

Carson Palmer and the Cardinals' offense went right down the field on the opening drive in New Orleans, passing five times and running it six while converting on both third downs and finishing up with a score. But it was all downhill from there. Arizona struggled in protection, struggled to protect the football and struggled in the secondary.

If the Cardinals can steal a road win in Tampa Bay this week, they'll have a chance to put together a nice stretch, as they'll be at home for four of five after that.

Brian Hoyer showed Browns fans a human trait not seen as much in Brandon Weeden over the past year or so: resilience. The former caddy for Tom Brady survived three interceptions to notch three touchdowns, the last of which came on a perfect touch pass to tight end Jordan Cameron with less than a minute to play.

As far as the Trent Richardson trade goes, the organization clearly was making a play for the future. Of course, Browns brass wouldn't tell the fan base that, especially after Richardson and the Indianapolis Colts demolished the 49ers. Still, I don't think it was a bad move. Many organizations don't believe in spending a first-round draft pick -- especially one in the top five overall -- on a running back. Browns general manager Mike Lombardi was able to get a future first-round selection for a guy who didn't have first-round value in the organization's eyes. Had Richardson rushed for 905 yards, averaging 3.5 per carry, and scored seven touchdowns in a Browns uniform this season, how much would Lombardi have been able to get for him in March? Not a first-round choice, I can tell you that.

Don't blame Redskins fans for panicking. Robert Griffin III looks out of sync at times, though he threw for 326 yards against the Detroit Lions. And the Redskins positively cannot stop the other teams' quarterbacks. Through three games, Washington has surrendered more than 1,000 passing yards, allowing eight touchdown tosses and snagging just one interception.

On Sunday, Matthew Stafford completed 25 of 42 attempts for 385 yards and two touchdowns, and he gave up that one pick. Even with those numbers, the Lions signal-caller actually lowered the passer rating of all quarterbacks against the Redskins this season. Wow.

Minnesota fans were calling for backup quarterback Matt Cassel on Sunday; then Christian Ponder started running, and the Vikings climbed back into the contest against the Browns. Unfortunately, neither those fans nor NFL analysts are seeing development in Ponder's overall game, and that lack of progress is making things harder for Adrian Peterson.

Ponder's struggles also mean the team must rely on the defense to make plays -- which it has not been able to do effectively. With home games versus the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers coming up, there is the potential for the Vikings to recover from their 0-3 start. Still, this squad certainly missed an opportunity against the Brian Hoyer-led Browns.

As we were typing this blurb, Ted Ginn caught yet another touchdown pass, making it 159-6, Carolina. Throw the game film away, Tom Coughlin. Just do it.

The questions about Josh Freeman won't subside. It's hard to blame Tampa Bay's defense for allowing a couple of touchdown passes when the most the offense could produce is a field goal and a 5-of-18 conversion rate on third and fourth downs. Against a team (the New England Patriots) that couldn't care less about time of possession, the Bucs couldn't, uh, possess the ball.

On the bright side, Mark Barron and Lavonte David had nice stat lines, and a healthy Adrian Clayborn added another sack after missing almost all of last season. Young talent resides in Tampa ... and the offense still stinks.

Last week, we mentioned that finishing the season at 6-10 could be a likely scenario for Pittsburgh. After Sunday night's loss, that seemed to be a probability. That said, though the Steelers have to play three of their next four on the road, those games are against the Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets and Oakland Raiders. So I'm saying there's a chance ...

The big Monday night loss and the injury to Terrelle Pryor kick Oakland back down to No. 31. You couldn't leave the telecast Monday night without being impressed with Pryor's poise. Forget the numbers; the kid hung in, didn't panic and often delivered strikes. He wasn't constantly looking to take off and run, either. Simply put, Pryor at least gives his franchise some hope with which to build. #Cool

It's not often that No. 1 meets No. 32. The game between the Seahawks and Jaguars was a real non-treat. I got so frustrated watching the Jags that I went looking for a VHS copy of their 1999 divisional-round playoff matchup against the Miami Dolphins. #62-7

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_.

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