Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett and columnist Jeff Seidel share their thoughts after the Lions' 14-7 win over the Vikings on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Minneapolis.
Oct 1, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford hands the ball to Ameer Abdullah in the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium.(Photo: Reese Strickland, USA TODAY Sports)
Making week-by-week conclusions on the NFL can be tricky. A bounce of the ball here, a bad call there, 6 inches at the goal line.
After four weeks of the season, one thing is evident: the margin between not good and average is thin. And the line between average and good is as blurry as a foggy morning in the fall.
At 3-1, the Detroit Lions are among the surprises this season, but there are a few more. In fact, there may be more eyebrows raised across the football landscape over the teams that are 2-2 (Patriots, Cowboys, Seahawks).
Safe to say the Lions are ahead of the those teams in this week's rankings. But where are they in relation to Sunday's opponent, the 3-1 Carolina Panthers? Find out below.
32. Cleveland Browns (0-4, last week: 31): The poor Browns. At least they haven't disappointed. Many thought they'd struggle this years and voilà, they could only muster seven points against the lowly Bengals.
31. San Francisco 49ers (0-4, last week: 30): They are getting closer and closer to that first victory. On Sunday, they took the lead in overtime, only to give up a game-losing touchdown to the Cardinals. But failed to reach the end zone in over 60 minutes of play.
30. Los Angeles Chargers (0-4, last week: 29): Falling to 0-3 in "home" games, the Chargers' late game charge fell short yet again. Aside from the sound takedown by the Chiefs, L.A. has lost its other three games by a combined seven points.>
New York Giants running back Wayne Gallman (22) scores on a 4-yard touchdown reception as Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Adarius Glanton (53) tries to defend during the third quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (Photo: Phelan Ebenhack, AP)
29. New York Giants (0-4, last week: 28): Probably our first big surprise through the first month of the season. A playoff team a season ago, the Giants are going nowhere fast. The bright side (perhaps): they host the Chargers this Sunday.
28. Miami Dolphins (1-2, last week: 27): How's that Jay Cutler comeback going? When you don't score a point against the Saints, it doesn't matter if it was in Florida, Louisiana, England or Mars, it looks terrible.
27. Cincinnati Bengals (1-3, last week: 32): OK, we're gonna give the Bengals a little credit after taking care of business against the Browns. And they have the third-best scoring defense in the NFL. Which is nice.>
27. Bears (23): Rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky enters the fray, though he should be fine if he can effectively hand off to RBs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki, USA TODAY Sports)
26. Chicago Bears (1-3, last week: 24): The Bears are averaging 15.3 points per game, 29th in the NFL. So why not hand to keys to the offense to rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky. His first opponent: Minnesota on Monday night.
25. Indianapolis Colts (1-3, last week: 25): They made the Sunday night game interesting for a little while. But, as most expected, they were swimming in the deep end in Seattle, losing by 28. They may ask the NFL if they can just start the season over once Andrew Luck gets healthy.
24. Arizona Cardinals (2-2, last week: 23): As we mentioned earlier, they needed overtime to beat the 49ers at home. They also needed a late drive to beat the Colts. But they have a top 10 offense and a top 15 defense. Go figure.
23. Baltimore Ravens (2-2, last week: 14): Two weeks ago, we had the Ravens eighth. But they've scored just 16 points then and couldn't find the end zone at home against the Steelers. They're having a hard time protecting QB Joe Flacco.>
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
22. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2, last week: 19): Maybe the most confusing team in the NFL. They've crushed two teams, been trounced at home and then fell in overtime at the Jets. The jury is still out, but games against the Steelers and Rams should tell us more.
21. New York Jets (2-2, last week: 26): Another overtime winner, New York almost went the distance-plus with the Jags. With a 20th-ranked defense and a 17th-ranked offense, this team reeks of 8-8.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1, last week: 20): Not overly impressed with a narrow victory over the Giants. They return to the Northeast on a short week for Thursday's game against the likely very ornery Patriots. Problem is, their defense allows 394.3 yards per game, 30th in the NFL.
19. Tennessee Titans (2-2, last week 12): If we had to pick a team to win the AFC South, we'd probably still pick the Titans. But we just can't with them this week after giving up 57 points to the Texans. Next five games: Dolphins, Colts, Browns, Ravens and Bengals.>
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) is helped off the field after being injured during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Oct. 1, in Minneapolis. (Photo: AP photo)
18. Minnesota Vikings (2-2, last week: 11): They drop six spots, not so much for losing by a touchdown to the Lions, but in losing rookie running back Dalvin Cook to a torn ACL. And with Sam Bradford still out, points may continue to elude the Vikings.
17. New Orleans Saints (2-2, last week: 22): When you shut out an opponent, it's impressive. When you're the Saints and you pitch a shutout, it's even more impressive. They've won two straight and get a bye before hosting the Lions.
16. Seattle Seahawks (2-2, last week: 16): They did what they were supposed to on Sunday night, take care of the Colts. But did you know: this notoriously defensive-led team has the No. 14 defense in the NFL and the No. 7 offense. Big game at the Rams this Sunday.
15. Oakland Raiders (2-2, last week: 6): The biggest drop of the week, but not so much for their 16-10 loss at Denver. The bigger loss was that of Derek Carr, who'll be out for 2-6 weeks with a fracture in his back. They host the Ravens on Sunday.
14. Houston Texans (2-2, last week: 21): Look, if you nearly score 60, you're gonna get a boost. Now, reality come knocking at Reliant Stadium on Sunday night when the Chiefs pay a visit.
13. Dallas Cowboys (2-2, last week: 9): They seemed to be cruising until the second half against the Rams happened, where they were outscored at home, 19-6. Still, they have all the components of a good team, right? Right?
12. Washington Redskins (2-2, last week: 11): Two big losses Monday night: a close game in Kansas City and cornerback Josh Norman to a rib injury. At least their record has a chance to get a little healthier with a home game against the 49ers coming up.
11. New England Patriots (2-2, last week: 3): Remember when people were picking the Pats to go 16-0? They lost at home to the Panthers, albeit by just three points. They have the best offense in football, but the worst defense. Bill Belichick is still the head coach, right?>
(Photo: The Associated Press)
10. Los Angeles Rams (3-1, last week: 22): No, not a misprint. The Rams may be an even bigger surprise than the Lions. They got a nice road win at Dallas, get to add WR Mike Thomas from the suspension list, and will host Seattle to show the world whether they're for real or not.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (3-1, last week: 13): We go from the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft in Jared Goff to the No. 2 pick and Carson Wentz. They have the No. 3 offense in the league, and already have two road wins this season.
8. Buffalo Bills (3-1, last week: 18): Among the bigger jumps of the week and count us as a believer (for now, remember, it's just four games). But consecutive wins over the Broncos and Falcons aren't accidents. Be careful, though: they have the No. 29 offense in the NFL.>
5. Packers (5): With his running backs and line severely battered, Aaron Rodgers (sacked 15 times) can't be pumped to face NFL sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence. (Photo: Jeff Hanisch, USA TODAY Sports)
7. Green Bay Packers (3-1, last week: 8): Did just about what they were expected to do last Thursday, have no problem with the Bears. They still have a lot of injuries they're dealing with and their next four weeks (at Dallas, at Minnesota, vs. New Orleans, vs. Detroit) seem a bit daunting.
6. Detroit Lions (3-1, last week: 7): So, the answer to this week's headline is no. But, another impressive win, this time at Minnesota. The schedule doesn't get easier with the Panthers coming to town next.
5. Carolina Panthers (3-1, last week: 15): When you roll into the Super Bowl champions' stadium and leave with a victory, you're gonna get a boost in the rankings. They won 12 games in 2013, then 15 in 2015. So what will they do in 2017?
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1, last week: 4): It looks like the Steel Curtain has returned. It's the No. 2 defense in the NFL carrying the likes of Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell. But, they are a nice insurance policy. Interesting matchup against Jacksonville coming up.
3. Atlanta Falcons (3-1, last week: 3): A home loss to the Bills, but with the other moving parts, no change this week. Now, we know they aren't known for their defense, but they've allowed at least 23 points in their last three games. Their offense keeps backing up breakout (No. 3 in NFL).
2. Denver Broncos (3-1, last week: 5): We get it, no one's really a big fan of their offense. But Trevor Siemian just keeps winning. They have the No. 13 offense to go with the best defense in the league. Now they get the Giants and Chargers before a matchup with the Chiefs on Halloween Eve.>
Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker (7) celebrates with long snapper James Winchester (41) after kicking a field goal against the Washington Redskins in the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. (Photo: Jay Biggerstaff, USA TODAY Sports)
1. Kansas City Chiefs (4-0, last week: 1): Hard to argue with winning. And as the league's lone undefeated, they stay atop the mountain. But their next five games: at Houston, vs. Pittsburgh, at Oakland, vs. Denver and at Dallas.