October 6, 2013

NFL's first four weeks: So much to like, in some places

The Pats and Broncos are near the top of the NFL, but then there's Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.

By Barry Wilner
The Associated Press

From Jags, Giants and Steelers to Peyton, Pats and Chiefs, here's the good, bad and ugly through four weeks of the NFL.


Make that great, as in Peyton Manning and the Broncos; the coaching of Andy Reid, Sean Payton, Mike Munchak and Bill Belichick; the work of sackmasters, who have the NFL on a near-record pace; superb field- goal accuracy; and the breathtaking performances of Patrick Peterson, Adrian Peterson and Trindon Holliday.

A fully healthy Manning clearly has been the star and the story of the first four weeks with his unprecedented -- and unbelievable -- 16 touchdown passes and no interceptions.

The ease with which he connects with his receivers (10 already), the margins by which the Broncos are winning (179-91 overall) and the balance of the offense has stamped them as early front-runners for the Super Bowl.

"I think we just continue to get better," Coach John Fox said before delivering a scary warning. "It's still early in the season and I expect us to get better. People look at me funny when I say that, but there are still a lot of areas we need to improve at and can improve at."

Kansas City's improvement is the most dramatic and notable, although New Orleans was 0-4 at this point in 2012 with Payton suspended for the season for his role in the bounty scandal. Reid, a consistent winner for most of his 14 years in Philadelphia, has brought stability to the Chiefs, and a renewed confidence.

Their defense is particularly formidable with a monster pass rush. The Chiefs have led the surge of sacks throughout the league with 18.

With the Petersons and Holliday, the adage about every time someone touches the ball he could score absolutely applies. Holliday, the NFL's shortest player at 5-foot-5, has 12 kickoff returns for 296 yards and two scores. Arizona's Peterson has played his usual cornerback slot, worked as a receiver and is one of the league's most dangerous kick returners.

As for the 2012 MVP, Adrian Peterson, the Vikings' running back has "only" 421 yards rushing and five touchdowns, a pace that would get him near 1,700 yards on the ground and 20 scores. Not quite what he managed last year, but remember that Peterson was unstoppable in the second half last season.

Also notable through four weeks:

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham ranking second in yards receiving to Atlanta's Julio Jones, unheard of territory for a tight end. Graham also has six TDs, tied with Peterson and Denver's Wes Welker for the league lead.

Colts defensive end Robert Mathis, supposedly on the other side of his prime, tied with Kansas City's Justin Houston for the NFL lead with 7½ sacks.

Five 4-0 teams, tied for the most in any season.


It's far too early to panic, yet the folks in Atlanta, Minnesota, Washington, Houston, Green Bay, Cincinnati and Baltimore -- all 2012 playoff teams -- should be concerned about the first month of the schedule. None has shown any of the consistency and clutch performances they displayed last year.

Most worrisome are the Falcons, Vikings and Redskins.

The Falcons can't run the ball, can't stop the pass and tend to come up just short in tight games, as losses to the Saints, Dolphins and Patriots proved. At least they've been pretty competitive, but so have the Vikings despite a surprisingly problematic defense, worst in the league against the pass.

But the Redskins needed a rally at Oakland to beat the woeful Raiders for their first win, and quarterback Robert Griffin III, still healing from a postseason knee injury, has been anything but the sensational top rookie of 2012. The defense has been a sieve.

(Continued on page 2)

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