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Quarter pole NFL power rankings: NFL's best still to be determined

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Losses in Weeks 2 and 3 began to worry Bengals fans, but a nice win against the Dolphins has the Bengals back in the mix in our quarter-season power ranking.

Miami Dolphins v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

We're already through four weeks of the 2016 NFL season -- where has the time gone? At the quarter pole, the NFL is looking very interesting, with some dark horse contenders emerging and preseason favorites dropping gimme wins and, as a result, dropping down the rankings. I've gone ahead to rank each of the 32 teams heading into Week 5 of the season. Keep in mind, these rankings are based on my opinion.

Contenders

I fully expect these teams to make serious playoff pushes, barring an unforeseen collapse or catastrophic string of injuries.

Rank Team Record Blurb
1 New England Patriots 3-1 Pats fans were insistent that the team would go 4-0 or 3-1 without Tom Brady, but did anyone actually believe it? New England is 3-1, and its two best players haven’t even made an impact on the field through four weeks.
2 Denver Broncos 4-0 Most people, myself included, expected the Broncos to fall off due to the question marks at the quarterback position. Now, it appears as though Denver might have two capable players at quarterback. Credit Gary Kubiak, who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his abilities as a head coach.
3 Green Bay Packers 2-1 Yeah they lost to the Vikings in Week 2, but I’m willing to write that loss off. As soon as people start to doubt Aaron Rodgers, he turns it on, as evidenced by his monster outing in Green Bay’s Week 3 victory. It's also nice to see Jordy Nelson back making plays.
4 Pittsburgh Steelers 3-1 What a response to a disappointing Week 3 loss. 300 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions for Ben Roethlisberger, whose receivers tormented the Chiefs’ secondary all night long. Pittsburgh’s run defense has been good too, allowing just 78.2 rushing yards per game — good for fifth in the league.
5 Cincinnati Bengals 2-2 Cincinnati’s win-loss record doesn’t tell the tale of how good this team truly is. Playing without an elite red zone threat in Tyler Eifert and without the glue of the team’s defense in Vontaze Burfict for three games, the Bengals are 2-2 after facing the most difficult four-game stretch of the schedule. With Burfict back, Eifert appearing close to ready, a dominant defense and an offense which finally looks to be getting its motor started, things are looking good in Cincinnati.
6 Seattle Seahawks 3-1 Seahawks fans will call the Rams "Seattle’s Achilles heel", but that still doesn’t excuse the fact that Seattle lost to St. Louis yet again. This team should be 4-0 right now after facing the easiest part of its schedule. After a Week 5 bye, the Seahawks will face a very difficult schedule, including matchups with the Falcons, Patriots, Cardinals (twice), Panthers and Packers.
7 Atlanta Falcons 3-1 Who in the world expected Atlanta to have the best offense in the NFL through four weeks? The Falcons offense has been otherworldly -- in fact, it is averaging nearly 500 yards per game. Atlanta's defense will need to improve for this team to make a serious push at the playoffs, but count me a believer as of now. This team is loaded, and the Falcons' coaching staff has done a terrific job of turning this team around in the post-Mike Smith era.
8 Minnesota Vikings 4-0 Despite its success, it's still hard for me to believe in the Vikings' offense, but Minnesota's defense looks scary good. Mike Zimmer has done an incredible job taking a team that's down its starting running back and quarterback and transforming it into a formidable opponent for any squad. The Vikes' defense is too good to ignore, and Sam Bradford has surpassed all expectations. It's hard to imagine Minnesota won't at least end up with a Wild Card berth, as of now.

Over-achievers

I have to give these teams respect, but it's hard not to feel at least somewhat skeptical.

Rank Team Record Blurb
9 Philadelphia Eagles 3-0 I'm still not ready to call the Eagles contenders, given the personnel on offense, but Philly is looking really good. People told me I was completely wrong — claiming every analyst was calling Jared Goff the most pro-ready of the bunch — when I cited Andy Benoit, who called Carson Wentz the most pro-ready quarterback in this year’s draft class, but four weeks into the season, it looks like he was right after all.
10 Oakland Raiders 3-1 Like the Falcons, the Raiders have a high-powered offense and a terrible defense. Reggie Nelson helped Oakland knock off the Ravens in Week 4, but aside from a few plays, the team’s secondary has been downright awful. Can Derek Carr, who has been one of the league’s best quarterbacks through four weeks, continue his success? If so, the Raiders should be ecstatic. With four winnable games in the next four weeks, Oakland has a legitimate chance at finally making a playoff run for the first time since it lost the Super Bowl following the 2002 season.
11

Baltimore Ravens

3-1 On the bright side in Baltimore, Joe Flacco, Terrance West, Mike Wallace and Steve Smith have surpassed expectations. Unfortunately, the results for this team have been three narrow wins and a near-loss, all to teams which were out of contention by late in the season last year. Let's wait a few weeks before saying Baltimore is "back."
12 Dallas Cowboys 3-1 Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have been an exciting duo of playmaking rookies, but the duo has yet to face what I'd consider a legitimate defense. Facing a huge test against the Bengals in the Jerry Dome on Sunday, here's the Cowboys' chance to prove me wrong about them. Hopefully, they don't.
13 Los Angeles Rams 3-1 I don't even think Jeff Fisher could've seen a 3-1 start, and I'm not sure if he even knows how it happened. Nonetheless, the Los Angeles Rams are in first place in the NFC West after huge victories over the Seahawks and Cardinals. Take them seriously until they do something Rams-esque, which might not take long.
14 Houston Texans 3-1 The Texans are one of the most irritating teams in the NFL to me, because they're able to feast on terrible competition year after year. The AFC South is a joke, and this is evidenced by Houston's negative point differential (after getting wiped out by a third-string quarterback) coupled with a 3-1 record. No team in the NFL has scored fewer offensive touchdown than the Texans' six. So much for the Brock Osweiler/Lamar Miller hype.

In the mix

These teams might've gotten to somewhat rocky starts, but there's still plenty of time for a turnaround left in the season.

Rank Team Record Blurb
15 Kansas City Chiefs 2-2 With the Chiefs' massive winning streak last season, it's reasonable to expect this team is capable of a similar feat in 2016, especially considering the massive home field advantage Arrowhead Stadium provides. Plus, Jamaal Charles is making his way back, which should be huge.
16 Carolina Panthers 1-3 Carolina can argue it had a very difficult four-game stretch to open the season, but with a 1-3 record, it's near panic time for Panthers fans. No matter how much easier the rest of the schedule will be -- and it won't be a cakewalk -- Riverboat Ron Rivera and company are already two games behind the Falcons. That's a major hole to climb out of in what should be a very competitive NFC.
17 Buffalo Bills 2-2 It was a great win against New England for Rex Ryan, whose teams always play great when their backs are against the wall. The problem for Ryan and company is ensuring players play as though their backs are against the wall on a week-to-week basis.
18 Washington Redskins 2-2 Two weeks ago, the Redskins looked like one of the worst teams in the NFL. It hasn't been pretty, but Jay Gruden's team has pulled off back-to-back wins to get right back into the mix. Now let's see if Matt Jones' huge Week 4 performance was a preview of what's to come or just a flash in the pan against a bottom-of-the-pack Browns team.
19 New York Giants 2-2 When your offense completely revolves around a player as streaky as Odell Beckham, you'd better hope he can keep his emotions in check. The ultra-talented wideout isn't lacking in ability, but his opponents have been able to get in his head early on in the season. If no one else steps up on offense, it will be a long season in the Meadowlands.
20 New Orleans Saints 1-3 It took two Chargers fumbles, but the Saints finally have a win on the board. New Orleans has an offense which is absolutely loaded, which is a huge testament to how terribly the defense has played this year. Drew Brees can only win so many games singlehandedly.
21 San Diego Chargers 1-3 It's hard to not feel bad for San Diego. By the end of Week 3, 15 Chargers players had landed on Injured Reserve. Two consecutive losses on late-game errors have made San Diego a laughingstock, which is really unfortunate, because the Chargers looked like a potential candidate to go from worst-to-first in the AFC West.
22 Arizona Cardinals 1-3 Even before Carson Palmer exited from action in Week 4 with a concussion, I had serious concerns about this Cardinals team. How many excuses will be made about the team's three losses to the Brady-less Patriots, Bills and Rams? Arizona has great personnel, but something is clearly wrong in the desert.

Longshots

It would take a 2015 Chiefs-like turnaround for any of these teams to emerge.

Rank Team Record Blurb
23 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1-3 Why the Buccaneers could contend: Jameis Winston, Doug Martin and Mike Evans are exciting playmakers. Why the Bucs probably won't contend: the defense could use some serious work and the offensive line still presents issues.
24 New York Jets 1-3 Why the Jets could contend: It's hard to imagine Ryan Fitzpatrick will play as poorly as he's played throughout the past two weeks for the rest of the season. Why the Jets probably won't contend: Are we really so sure Fitzpatrick won't throw 20 more picks this year?
25 Jacksonville Jaguars 1-3 Why the Jaguars could contend: Jacksonville has exciting personnel on both sides of the ball, a quarterback who people can get behind and the excitement of being an up-and-coming team. Why the Jags probably won't contend: They're the Jags.
26 Indianapolis Colts 1-3 Why the Colts could contend: Andrew Luck isn't terrible. Why the Colts probably won't contend: Aside from T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Vontae Davis -- all of whom who have had trouble staying healthy -- the Colts have virtually zero playmakers on either side of the ball.

Bury the ball

These teams should start losing now and hope the next great quarterback falls to them with the first overall pick of the 2017 Draft, or something like that.

Rank Team Record Blurb
27 Chicago Bears 1-3 Players who I know aren't terrible: Alshon Jeffery, Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman, Kyle Fuller. To me, it's hard to find a more boring team than the Bears, though the Titans make a compelling case.
28 Detroit Lions 1-3 Players who I know aren't terrible: Matthew Stafford, Marvin Jones, Ezekiel Ansah (injured), DeAndre Levy (injured), Darius Slay, Glover Quin. Detroit has some exciting personnel, but no one can stay healthy. I love me some Jim Bob Cooter, but his offense won't be effective without a run game -- which currently doesn't exist.
29 San Francisco 49ers 1-3 Players who I know aren't terrible: Carlos Hyde, NaVorro Bowman (injured), Aaron Lynch (fresh off suspension). How Chip Kelly has gotten a win out of this team I have no idea, but I'm excited to see Hyde run for the first two drives of each game before Blaine Gabbert and/or Colin Kaepernick start airing out passes to no-name receivers.
30 Miami Dolphins 1-3 Players who I know aren't terrible: Branden Albert (injured), Ndamukong Suh, Reshad Jones. I think Jarvis Landry is the most overrated player in the NFL (hence his not being on the list), and I don't know why Ryan Tannehill is still a starting NFL quarterback. Something needs to change in Miami and soon, particularly on offense.
31 Cleveland Browns 0-4 Players who I know aren't terrible: Isaiah Crowell, Corey Coleman (injured), Terrelle Pryor, Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, Carl Nassib (injured), Joe Haden (injured). Don't look now, but the Browns actually have a pretty nice roster. Crowell is looking like an explosive runner on tape, and the team's young pass-catchers are a blast to watch. Now if Cleveland can just make it through the season without firing Hue Jackson...
32 Tennessee Titans 1-3 Players who I know aren't terrible: DeMarco Murray, Delanie Walker (injured), Jurrell Casey. I really don't know what to make of this team. Who is Marcus Mariota and is he actually a good quarterback? Murray is great, but how many more carries can he handle before his body implodes?