1. Houston (4-0). "The great thing about our team now,'' Matt Schaub told me Sunday, post-rout of Titans, "is we can win a game any way. If we're struggling, the defense picks us up. It hasn't always been that way, with both units being capable of winning every week.'' Week 5 should be interesting: Texans at desperado, stinking-it-up Jets next Monday.
2. Atlanta (4-0). I watch Matt Ryan now, and I see a calmness with tremendous confidence down the stretch.
3. San Francisco (3-1). Niners 34, Jets 0: Most dominant game by any team in the first four weeks of the season.
4. Baltimore (3-1). Ravens average points per game in 2011: 23.6. Ravens average points per game through the first four games this year: 30.3.
5. Arizona (4-0). I hate to drop the Cards down here. It's probably not fair. I just don't think they could beat the Niners or Ravens on a neutral field right now. Too generous to the Miami passing game. But it's admirable that the Cards had enough left to win game that was tougher than it should have been in overtime Sunday.
6. New England (2-2). Forty-five points in the last 25 minutes at Buffalo. Vince Wilfork told me there were no inspirational speeches at halftime, the Pats down to Buffalo 14-7. There was, however, Tom Brady, who is pretty good.
7. Green Bay (2-2). I have to think Roger Goodell was holding his breath down the stretch, just praying the Packers didn't get jobbed for the second time in seven days by an official's call late in the fourth quarter. Crisis averted -- for now.
8. New York Giants (2-2). I'm not buying the Eagles being better just yet. These games come down to the slimmest of margins -- a field goal being two yards short, in this case -- and if the two teams played again this week in New Brunswick, I'd like the Giants.
9. Philadelphia (3-1). Mike Vick: Nine turnovers in the first three games, all shaky; no turnovers Sunday night. See how smooth the game can go when you're not careless?
10. San Diego (3-1). The Chargers played well, of course, at Kansas City, but six Chiefs turnovers helped. This is a logical league: The Chargers lose at home to Atlanta by 24, win at K.C. by 17.
11. Minnesota (3-1). Every coach's mantra for the last two generations: Three phases of the game determine the winner of every game -- offense, defense, special teams. The Vikings weren't sharp on offense against the desperate Lions, but the special teams provided two touchdowns on returns.
12. Cincinnati (3-1). Three-game winning streak now, with some signs the defense is coming around. The Bengals held the Jags to 212 yards, and Jacksonville was never close to being in it.
13. Dallas (2-1). One of the big reasons Dallas faces a very big game tonight against the Bears: After the Week 5 bye, here are the next five Cowboys games: at Baltimore, at Carolina, vs. Giants, at Atlanta, at Philadelphia.
14. Chicago (2-1). With the good secondary Jay Cutler's going to be facing tonight in Dallas, it'd be a good idea if the Bears running game gave him a break. Chicago's averaging 3.5 yards per rush.
15. Denver (2-2). Saw Peyton Manning's postgame press conference. Looked like he was already thinking of the trip to New England. Manning-Brady XIII, late Sunday afternoon in Foxboro. I just hope it's not their last meeting. According to the 2013 schedule rubric, the Broncos face only one AFC East team next year, and that's the team that finishes in the same spot as the Broncos. So, if Denver and New England don't meet in the playoffs this year ... let's just say the Broncos are probably going to have to win the AFC West for Manning-Brady to have meeting No. 14 next year.
Offensive Players of the Week
Kevin Kolb, QB, Arizona. For dealing with the adversity of an eight-sack afternoon, for coming from 13 points down, for going 29 of 48 for 324 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions, and for getting the Cards to 4-0. The play I liked most: With Arizona down 21-14 with 29 seconds left in the fourth quarter, on 4th-and-10 from the Miami 15, Kolb zipped a pass to the right for Andre Roberts, who toe-tapped inside the pylon for his second touchdown of the quarter, forcing overtime. A Jay Feely field goal won it in overtime.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami. After the crushing 24-21 overtime loss to the Cards, Tannehill was obsessing about his overtime interception that led to the winning points for Arizona. Good for him. He should be miffed, but when he looks at the tape today back in South Florida, he'll see many more good things than bad in his 26-of-41, 431-yard performance. So many big throws, the biggest being the well-thrown 80-yard catch-and-run by Brian Hartline. But consecutive plays in overtime of throwing behind Hartline, and then throwing while being smashed by linebacker Paris Lenon, leading to the fluttering interception that cost Miami the game, were two mistakes he'll have to live with.
Defensive Players of the Week
J.J. Watt, defensive end, Houston. He's spent the first quarter of the season building a resume as the best 3-4 defensive end in football, and he hasn't had a week off yet. In the rout of Tennessee, Watt had two more sacks (leading the league with 7.5 sacks at the quarter pole), another tackle for loss, five tackles and a fumble recovery.
Cameron Wake, defensive end, Miami. The Dolphins had eight sacks of quarterback Kevin Kolb, and Wake had a career-high 4.5 of them. Tough transition -- NOT -- for Wake going from outside linebacker to defensive end this season under the Dolphins' new coaching staff.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Greg Zuerlein, K, St. Louis. Kicked field goals of 58, 48, 60 and 24 -- the first player in NFL history to kick two field goals of at least 58 yards in one game -- and had four touchbacks in five kickoffs as St. Louis upset Seattle.
Percy Harvin, KR/WR, Minnesota. One of the most dangerous players with the ball in his hands in the league did it again on the first play of the game at Detroit Sunday. He took the ball five yards deep in the end zone and was never touched, sprinting 105 yards up the middle and then up the right side for a touchdown that set the tone on a special-teams-winning day for the Vikings at Detroit.
Andy Lee, P, San Francisco. He not only is one of the most feared deep punters in football, but also one of the best placement punters in football, with the consistent ability to make the ball die inside the 10-yard line. Or 5-. His first two punts against the Jets landed at the 3- and 3-yard lines (the first was batted into the end zone on a poor play by a member of his own punt team). Later, he had one downed at the 2-. For the day, Lee booted four punts for 46 yards per punt, remarkable considering two were plunked down inside the 5- and a third should have been.
Dr. Z Unsung Men in the Trenches of the Week
The award for the offensive lineman who was the biggest factor for his team in the weekend's games, named for my friend Paul Zimmerman, the long-time SI football writer struggling in New Jersey to recover from three strokes in November 2008. Zim, a former collegiate offensive lineman himself, loved watching offensive line play.
Wayne Hunter, left tackle; Barry Richardson, right tackle, St. Louis. On Monday night against Green Bay, Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin had six sacks of Aaron Rodgers. On Sunday in St. Louis, Hunter and Richardson held Clemons and Irvin to zero sacks, zero quarterback hits and one tackle.
Coach of the Week
Vic Fangio, defensive coordinator, San Francisco. This is what a smart coach does: On Friday, before the team's final practice of the week in Youngstown, Ohio, Fangio recalled that Tim Tebow used to throw jump passes on fake runs near the line of scrimmage at Florida. Tebow hadn't done it in the pros, but Fangio figured his defense should be prepared for it anyway.
"I didn't tell the defense before practice,'' he told me Sunday. "I wanted to see how they'd react.'' So he told Colin Kaepernick, the scout team quarterback, to run toward the line, stop, and throw a pass while jumping near the line. The Niner defense broke it up. "Impressive,'' Fangio thought. As was the Niners' performance against the Jets Sunday. San Francisco held the Jets to 145 yards and zero points -- and forced a fumble on the only Tebow jump pass of the game. Fangio has this defense playing aggressive and smart.
Goat of the Week
Darren Sproles, RB/KR, New Orleans. 3rd-and-4, Saints ball at the Green Bay 25, 3:02 left, fourth quarter, Saints down 28-27. No timeouts left for Green Bay. If the Saints convert here, it's likely they can run the clock down to about a minute to go, even without another first down before trying a potential game-winning field goal. Sproles gets a step on the Packer cover man, and Drew Brees makes a perfect throw, and it goes right through Sproles' hands.
That would have given the Saints a first down at about the Green Bay 17. Three running plays -- let's say -- would have put the ball in position for a 30-yard field goal attempt by Garrett Hartley. Instead, this drop and a penalty made Harley attempt a 48-yard field goal, which was wide. Never would have happened if Sproles had caught an easy ball from Brees.
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