Week 4 is in the books and now a quarter of the season has been played for everyone outside of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins. Not much in the NFL looks like what we expected it to at the quarter pole of the season, but we keep learning new things each week.
Are There Any Good Teams?
The 2017 NFL season has been weird. While we thought there might be a chance at a 16-0 and 0-16 team in the same division, those two teams are both 2-2 after four weeks. And with the New England Patriots coming in well below preseason expectations, it’s pretty clear the top tier of NFL teams is not a crowded one a quarter of the way through the season.
There’s the Kansas City Chiefs, who entered the week as the No. 1 team in DVOA per Football Outsiders, and the only team that’s really showed any dominance week after week. Behind the Chiefs are teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles, and Los Angeles Rams, who all have a good record (3-1), but flaws that keep them from being considered great.
Twenty-four teams right now are at or above .500. Last year, that number was 18. There’s only one undefeated team remaining -- pending the result of Monday Night Football -- while three were unbeaten after four weeks last season.
This could mean a few things. One option is the Chiefs are the type of dominant we thought the Patriots might be and they’ll be a clear favorite all season up to the Super Bowl. Or it could mean there’s a chance out there for just about any team that can get close enough to good long enough to make a run to the playoffs. There’s still a lot of season left and teams could continue to emerge, but right now there appears to be one team at the top and a crowd beneath them.
Bottom Of The Barrel
While almost all the league is enjoying being at least .500, there’s a handful of teams still searching for an elusive first win, including the team you read about daily on this site. The league’s other 0-4 teams include the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and Los Angeles Chargers. Not all 0-4’s are created equally, though.
By Pythagorean Expectation -- conducting an approximate win-loss record based on point differential -- three of the four teams should have a win by now. The Chargers, who underperformed their Pythagorean expectation by at least two wins in each of the past two season, are on their way to another mathematically improbable year. By point differential, Los Angeles has been expected to win 1.9 already, which just one of their four games decided by more than one score.
Then there’s the San Francisco 49ers at 1.2 wins. San Francisco has lost the past three games -- all against NFC West opponents -- by a combined eight points. The Niners are in the first year under head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. They made a flurry of moves during the offseason to shape the roster in their image while taking a holdover quarterback in Brian Hoyer. With a better quarterback they could have been more competitive this season, which bodes well for the future.
The Giants have a Pythagorean record of 1-3 and there will be many more discussions about 0-4 in many more posts on this site.
Cleveland is the only 0-4 team to have less than one Pythagorean win -- 0.9. Now a Week 5 matchup with the New York Jets that looked to be a meeting between two of the league’s worst teams at the start of the season should favor the Jets. The Browns handed the reigns to rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer with the hope enough was built around him -- from the offensive line and wide receivers -- that it would be close to an ideal situation to grow. That hasn’t been the case as the supporting cast has played well below expectations and Kizer has statistically been one of the league’s worst quarterbacks. Now the Browns must figure out if his struggles can be fixed with more pieces around him or if he’s the piece that needs to be replaced for future seasons.
Football is a violent sport, but that doesn't make injuries any more tolerable when they happen. Sunday brought quite a few and ones that could have major impacts playoff races if they're serious. Here’s a quick roundup of some of the day’s injuries:
- Dalvin Cook: The rookie running back for the Minnesota Vikings went down with a non-contact injury in the third quarter of the game against the Detroit Lions. The injury has already been diagnosed as a torn ACL, which will end his season. Through four weeks, Cook has the third-most rushing yards and fifth-most attempts among running backs. With Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon as backups, Cook’s absence would be a huge shot to the Minnesota offense, especially if Sam Bradford continues to be out.
- Chris Carson: Another rookie running back, Chris Carson of the Seattle Seahawks, went down late Sunday night and needed to be carted off the field. After the game, Pete Carroll called the injury “significant.” Carson, a seventh-round pick, leads the Seahawks in carries -- almost double that of Russell Wilson (49-25) and three times as many as the next running back, Eddie Lacy (16). Seattle has a long line of running backs on the roster, but Carson had easily been the most consistent, which is why he had taken the lead role so far.
- Marcus Mariota: If a 57-14 loss wasn’t bad enough, the Tennessee Titans potentially lost Marcus Mariota to a hamstring injury. The injury caused him to miss the second half of the game, which resulted in no further points for the Tennessee offense. Mariota had rushed for two touchdowns before the injury, but the Matt Cassel-led offense was bad. Cassel went just 4-of-10 for 21 yards with two interceptions. Mariota will get an MRI this week to determine the status of his hamstring, and in turn, the status of Tennessee’s hopes to have a competent offense.
- Derek Carr: Carr had to hand the Oakland Raiders offense over to E.J. Manuel after suffering a back injury in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos. Carr’s injury was called “back spasms” after the game, but he’ll see a doctor this week for a followup to confirm the extent of the injury. Even if Carr is ok, there is a concern about the amount of hits he’s taken so far this year. Oakland’s game plan has always been to create deep, clean pockets for the quarterback -- and they’ve invested a lot of money in the offensive line to do so -- but this season he’s already been sacked on 6.8 percent of his drop backs, which is a four percent increase from last year.
Is Deshaun Watson For Real?
DeShaun Watson did not begin the season as the starting quarterback for the Houston Texans. It only took him a half to get there, but it looks like that half was a mistake. Since taking over as the starter in Houston, Watson has improved every week. His Adjusted Yards per Attempt, which factor in touchdowns and interceptions, has gone from 3.35 to 5.21 to 7.61 to 9.35 in his four games this season.
He’s slinging the ball down the field and he’s starting to see success. He currently has the fifth-highest touchdown rate in the league (6.1 percent). There’s still some growing pains -- he has the sixth-highest interception rate among 32 qualified quarterbacks -- but there’s been progress every time he’s stepped on the field.
Watson has also gotten the benefit of some bad defenses so far. His last two games have come against the Patriots and the Titans, who ranked 32nd and 23rd in defensive DVOA through three weeks. In the next three weeks, Watson will face the Chiefs and Seahawks with a game against the Browns in between. Those two games will certainly be a test, but so far Watson has only gotten better and that’s a great sign.