The NFL quarterly report
David Skarupski, Sports Editor
With the first quarter of the season officially in the books, the top teams in the NFL are beginning to reveal themselves, while creating separation from the rest of the league.
With season-opening jitters and insanely early burials and coronations out of the way, the eight division leaders are, for the most part, teams that are exactly where they are supposed to be based-off of preseason predicitions and talent evaluations.
In the AFC, the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs were expected to dominate their competition, and to this point the expectations are ringing true, as the teams hold the remaining undefeated records in their conference. The perennial powerhouse and defending Super Bowl champion Pats are 4-0 after holding off AFC East rivals 16-10 on Sunday. The team leads the entire NFL in point differential at +95. The incredible point differential can be attributed to their defense, which has allowed a league-low 27 points.
The 4-0 Chiefs, led by reigning-MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, are thriving on the offensive side of the ball, dialing-up a co-league leading 135 points through four games. The squad holds a two-game advantage in the AFC West. A week 14 matchup between these two teams is likely to decide home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs if business continues as usual.
The remaining two divisions in the AFC are more clustered. The Cleveland Browns have ascended to the top of the AFC North after a 40-25 drubbing of the previously division-leading Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. While the Browns seem to be harnessing the awesome potential of their extremely-talented roster, only one game currently separates top-from-bottom in their ultra-competitive division; one bad game could legitimately cost Cleveland a division title and potential playoff trip.
As convoluted as the AFC North is, the AFC South is even more muddled at this point in the season, as tiebreakers are the only thing separating the first-place Houston Texans from the fourth-place Tennessee Titans. With every team in the division deadlocked at 2-2, the AFC South has the most even division in football; it also has the smallest room for error for its current division leader.
Similar to its AFC counterparts, three of the four teams at the top of their divisions in the NFC at this point were trendy preseason picks. The outliers are the San Francisco 49ers, who moved into first-place by the virtue of a Los Angeles Rams loss on Sunday. The 49ers are exceeding expectations as they sit at a record of 3-0, but the team seems to be the most suspect of the remaining undefeated teams in the league. The Niners are coming off of an ugly win against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 3 in which their offense committed five turnovers. Additionally, the Bay Area squad must fend-off the NFC-champion Rams and annual contender Seattle Seahawks, who both sit a half-game behind in the division.
The NFC South still belongs to the Saints, as the team keeps on winning despite the temporary absence of future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. Relying heavily on their defense and the rushing production of Pro Bowl running back Alvin Kamara, the Saints sit at 3-1 and are in an excellent position to make a deep postseason run if they can maintain their momentum until Brees is cleared to play.
Despite a low-scoring 12-10 loss against the Saints on Sunday Night Football, the Dallas Cowboys remain on top in the NFC East with a record of 3-1. The defending division champs have a top-four defense, as the team has given up 56 points through four games, which puts the Cowboys in a good position to hold onto the division crown this year. However, the offense will need to pick-up the slack, as a talented Philadelphia Eagles squad sits only one game behind Dallas in the win-loss column.
In a division dominated by defense, the Green Bay Packers have added some much-needed defensive mettle to complement their perennial offensive power. While the Packers still live and die by the play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the 3-1 squad are one of only seven teams that have allowed less than 70 points through their first four games. Fortunately for Green Bay, they hold an important tiebreaker over the Chicago Bears, by virtue of a 7-3 victory in week one, as the Bears have a slightly-stingier defense to go along with a 3-1 record that is identical to the Packers.