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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Grading each NFL team at the quarter mark of the season

Khalil Mack Bears

The first four weeks of the NFL’s regular season are in the books, and parity seems to be the name of the game. Only two teams remain unbeaten (Chiefs and Rams), while only one remains winless (Cardinals). Some teams are performing above expectations, while others are falling short. There is still plenty of time for things to change, but here’s a look at each NFL team’s grade through the quarter mark of the season.

Arizona Cardinals — D

There’s not much to say here. The Cardinals were expected to be bad and have been downright terrible. They’ve actually been decent defensively, which saves them from an F, but they’ve scored a miserable 37 points in four games, comfortably the worst mark in the NFL. Perhaps moving from Sam Bradford to Josh Rosen will help the offense a tiny bit — they nearly beat the Seahawks at home on Sunday — but it’s going to be a long season in the desert either way.

Atlanta Falcons — D+

The Atlanta offense really only had problems in their season opener against the Eagles, when they struggled in the red zone and lost. Since then, the offense has done fine, but the injury-hit defense has struggled to hold teams at bay, giving up 122 points, good for third-worst in the league. It’s also helped Matt Ryan set a rather unwanted record. This is a playoff-caliber team, and injuries or not, seeing them at 1-3 isn’t acceptable.

Baltimore Ravens — A

One disappointing loss to the Bengals aside, the Ravens have been great. Joe Flacco looks revitalized under center now that Lamar Jackson is actually a threat to his starting job and he’s past his back injury. The defense has been stingy as well, as you would expect from a Baltimore Ravens defensive unit. At this point in the season, the Ravens actually look very well-poised to top the AFC North, which is a bit of a surprise. With the Steelers floundering and the Bengals yet to test their staying power, though, they have a real shot.

Buffalo Bills — D+

The Bills were expected to fade this year after a surprising playoff appearance last year, and they have certainly done that. There’s an argument to be made that they’ve been even worse than expected, though a very surprising win over the Minnesota Vikings has earned them some extra points. This is going to be a year with a lot of growing pains for the Bills, who are trying to groom Josh Allen for the future and dealing with a lot of inconsistency at the position.

Carolina Panthers — B+

Not great, but not bad for the Panthers, who sit 2-1 with their bye week already behind them. They’ve been excellent defensively, but the Cam Newton-led offense has yet to fire on all cylinders, which means there should still be room to grow for the Panthers here. It’s quite encouraging, in fact, that the Panthers are this well-positioned even without Newton performing at his best. This is a team to watch going forward.

Chicago Bears — A

The acquisition of Khalil Mack has changed the atmosphere around the Bears, who suddenly look like a very legitimate playoff contender. Mack has led the way on defense, but Mitchell Trubisky’s growth has been key for the offense, and he’s coming off a six-touchdown game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They have weapons on offense in Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Allen Robinson, and Taylor Gabriel to help him. Through four games, they’ve been nothing but an unqualified success.

Cincinnati Bengals — A

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis went from nearly losing his job to leading one of the NFL’s surprise outfits of the season. They’ve won at Atlanta, which is no small feat, and also knocked off the Baltimore Ravens, which could prove to be a key win in the AFC North race. Andy Dalton looks great at quarterback, which is the most significant shift for the Bengals. The only downside is the season-ending injury to Tyler Eifert, and we have yet to see how much staying power the team has. For now, however, it’s high marks all around in Cincinnati.

Cleveland Browns — B-

There is no doubt that the Browns are better than they were last year. Much better, in fact, and their defense has real talent and potential on it. Switching to Baker Mayfield at quarterback has done a lot for the offense as well. The team appears to have talent, but their execution remains a work in progress. Sometimes they’re sloppy, and there are signs that they’re still not quite as well-coached as they could be, but this is clearly a team on the rise.

Dallas Cowboys — C

The Cowboys look decent defensively and Ezekiel Elliott remains one of the league’s best running backs. However, their play at the quarterback position seems to be holding the Cowboys back. Dallas is 30th in the league in both points scored and passing yardage, and it’s a credit to Elliott and the defense that they’re still 2-2 and in the thick of the NFC East race. For them to be anything better than mediocre, the passing game must improve quickly. They might not have the weapons — or quarterback — to make that happen.

Denver Broncos — B-

It’s been a good, but not great start to Vance Joseph’s second season in charge of the Broncos. Case Keenum isn’t the All-Pro quarterback Denver would have really liked, but he is an obvious upgrade over everyone they threw out at the position in 2017, and the running game has been able to bolster the offense. The defense isn’t quite where it used to be when they won the Super Bowl, but it’s been good enough to keep them at .500. On the whole, the returns are good but not great. They’ve been unable to beat either of the two best teams they’ve faced in Baltimore and Kansas City, although they played the Chiefs close.

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