2017 NFL Week 4 Power Rankings

Week 4 Game Balls

Offense — Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams. Gained 121 rushing yards and 94 receiving yards, including a 53-yard touchdown. Gurley looks like he did as a rookie: fast, powerful, and dynamic.

Defense — Cameron Heyward, DL, Pittsburgh Steelers. Two sacks, a forced fumble, and the recovery, setting up a short field and a Pittsburgh touchdown.

Special Teams — Greg Zuerlein, K, Los Angeles Rams. Nine-for-nine, including 7 field goals, four of them at least 43 yards.

Rookie — Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans. Passed for 4 touchdowns and ran for another, with over 300 total yards.

Honorable Mentions — QB Jameis Winston, LB Bobby Wagner, K Stephen Hauschka

Congratulations also to the September Players of the Month: Kareem Hunt, Melvin Ingram, Ryan Succop (AFC), and Todd Gurley, DeMarcus Lawrence, Matt Prater (NFC).

Five Quick Hits

* It seems like the media never talks about why players are protesting before and during the national anthem. The way some people talk about it, you'd think they're going out of their way to disrespect the country. But that's not it: they're protesting racial injustice, especially deadly police shootings of unarmed civilians, young black men and women in particular.

* If the protesters want public support, they need the media to start telling people the full story.

* If you're not sure why players are protesting, I'd encourage you to read the letter sent to Commissioner Goodell by current and former players, including 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner Anquan Boldin.

* Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel does some excellent work, but at a time when the NFL is confronting issues of privilege, their fawning interview with the oblivious McDonough family, born on third base and sure they hit a triple, was uncritical, tone-deaf, inappropriate, and frankly mystifying.

* Flashback to the 1990s NBA: did you catch Jim Nantz, on Thursday night, accidentally referring to Bears' running back Jordan Howard as 1996 NBA All-Star Juwan Howard?

Unacceptable Officiating

I hope, for your sake, that you didn't bother tuning in for the Saints/Dolphins game in Wembley Stadium on Sunday morning. It was one of the least entertaining, most frustrating games I have ever seen, the type that — the last few years — make me question whether I still love football.

Miami looked unfocused, and the Saints were about as unimpressive as you can be winning 20-0, but the central problem was the rogue officiating, perpetrated by Ed Hochuli's self-important crew of titanic jackasses. Frequent, often ticky-tack, penalties completely disrupted the flow of the game. Kevin Burkhardt sarcastically remarked that it "would be nice if we could go two plays without a penalty," later fuming, "Another flag, and this is getting ridiculous." Even Mike Pereira criticized Hochuli and his crew for "another needless stop" in the action.

This happens way too often in today's NFL, and it's hurting the game. Good officials understand that the game is fundamentally about the players, and they're just there to keep order. Hochuli's crew acted as though the game was fundamentally about themselves, treating the players like overbearing parents treat children. It's inappropriate, and it's not good entertainment. If the league wants to reinforce European criticisms that American football is boring, keep sending Ed Hochuli and his band of zealots overseas to officiate the games. A couple more like this, and Wembley will be as empty as the L.A. Coliseum.

In Baltimore, meanwhile, it became apparent that someone has kidnapped Alberto Riveron, the NFL's Senior Vice President of Officiating. In the first two or three weeks of the season, Riveron restored replay reviews to their original "clear and obvious" intent, fixing obvious mistakes that officials had missed. In Week 4, especially in Baltimore, Riveron's restraint was absent.

Early in the third quarter, Antonio Brown's catch, which he fumbled after hitting the ground, was reversed to an interception. I've been watching football for decades, basically all my life. That wasn't an interception. Any rule that says it was an interception is a bad rule, an imbecilic perversion of the rules of American football. To not only call that play an interception, but clearly and obviously so, is asinine and defies credibility.

Later in the third quarter, during a replay review of Terrance West's rush for a two-point conversion, CBS's Dan Fouts joked, "You know, this might be ruled an interception," referencing the bizarre decision earlier. When referee Walt Anderson announced that West's score had been overturned, Fouts' partner Ian Eagle remarked, "If you're scoring at home, the broadcast booth is 0-for-2" on replay reviews. That simply isn't supposed to happen. If a reversal surprises the announcers, it shouldn't have been reversed. Somebody needs to tell Riveron (or whoever kidnapped him) that he had it right the first couple weeks of the season: the game is not about you; quit messing around with it.

On Sunday night, another baffling replay moved the ball about half a yard from a spot that looked right to begin with. NBC's Cris Collinsworth complained: "That's about as unscientific as you can possibly get." All of this is absurd, it wastes time, and it's bad for the game: it's bad entertainment, and it damages the sanctity and credibility of the results. Untenable officiating is a much greater threat to the NFL than any flag boycott. Get your act together, NFL.

This doesn't even address "normal" bad calls like the critical taunting penalty on Paul Posluszny. Now, on to the Week 4 NFL Power Rankings. Brackets indicate previous rank.

1. Kansas City Chiefs [1] — Unimpressive on Monday night, but they're the only undefeated team, and they've beaten three opponents who seem pretty good (Patriots, Eagles, Washington).

2. Green Bay Packers [3] — Lost Ty Montgomery to a rib injury and Davante Adams to a concussion, but still scored 35 points against the Bears — the most Chicago has allowed all season — and won by 3 touchdowns.

3. Atlanta Falcons [2] — Let's not overreact and panic about their loss to the Bills.

(1) The Bills seem pretty good, and the game was close.

(2) Atlanta has wins over the Packers and Lions, who are a combined 6-0 against everyone else.

(3) The Falcons have a bye in Week 5 and they host the Dolphins in Week 6. By the time they rematch Super Bowl LI in Week 7, they should have Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and maybe Vic Beasley back in the lineup.

NFL MVP Matt Ryan has committed three turnovers in back-to-back weeks, and that's obviously a fluke more than a trend. Take care of the ball, keep Julio healthy, and they can beat anyone.

4. Denver Broncos [5] — Haven't played well in the fourth quarter, especially with the lead. It seems like they get complacent. They've been outscored 30-7 in the fourth quarter, compared to a 91-44 advantage in all other quarters. That's fixable, but if the Broncos aren't more careful, they're going to lose a game they deserve to win.

5. Buffalo Bills [18] — We all know about Denver's "No-Fly Zone" and Seattle's "Legion of Boom", but pretty soon the Bills' secondary is going to need a cool nickname. Micah Hyde is tied for the NFL lead with 3 interceptions. Jordan Poyer has an interception and two sacks. E.J. Gaines has been money in coverage, and he already has 2 forced fumbles. LSU rookie Tre'Davious White leads the NFL in pass deflections, and he scored a 52-yard fumble return touchdown against Atlanta. All four are Pro Bowl contenders.

6. Detroit Lions [9] — Plus-9 turnover differential. No other team is better than +6.

7. Pittsburgh Steelers [10] — Second in the NFL in fewest points allowed and fewest yards allowed, but they haven't faced anyone with a winning record; their opponents are a combined 5-11.

8. New England Patriots [4] — They're 1-2 at home, for the first time since Tom Brady threw his first pass in the NFL. They've allowed 33 points — at home — in back-to-back weeks, against a Texans team that had scored 20 in its last two games combined, and against the Panthers, who had 22 in their previous two games combined. Apparently, there's no recipe for getting your offense right like coming to Foxboro.

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [12] — You already know Jameis Winston had a huge game, but in a last-second victory where every yard counted, how about some love for punter Brian Anger? He netted 199 yards on four punts (49.8 net avg), allowed no returns, and pinned the Giants at the 3-yard line, setting up a three-and-out that led to the Bucs' first TD.

10. Philadelphia Eagles [13] — Beat-up defense struggled against Philip Rivers, but Jordan Hicks and Rodney McLeod are still getting healthy, and Fletcher Cox should be back soon, with Ronald Darby also likely to rejoin the team toward the end of this month.

The Eagles are my survivor pool pick for Week 5, at home against the Cardinals.

11. Oakland Raiders [6] — It's a good thing EJ Manuel played well on Sunday, because it looks like he's going to be the quarterback for a while. Contrary to claims that Derek Carr was having back spasms and would return next week, Carr suffered a transverse process fracture in his back, which typically has a 2-6 week recovery period. In 2014, Tony Romo suffered the same injury and only missed one game, but that's the best-case scenario for Oakland.

12. Seattle Seahawks [14] — Successfully challenged that Russell Wilson reached the end zone on his third quarter scramble, giving Seattle an 18-15 lead after the two-point conversion. But I don't believe that's a smart challenge. Here's why:

1. Without the challenge, you've got 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard line. If you can't gain one yard in four tries, you deserve to lose.

2. Running plays at the goal line tires the opponent's defense and gives yours a chance to rest. You'd never do it on purpose, but in a way, scoring on third down is better than scoring right away.

3. It's your last challenge, and there are 25 minutes left. That didn't come back to bite the Seahawks, but it could have.

13. New Orleans Saints [19] — Shut out the Dolphins, and the defense obviously deserves credit for that — it's never easy to shut out an NFL team. But the announcers went more than a little overboard, with Charles Davis calling the defense "playoff level, and maybe better." What's better than playoff level? Was Davis implying that the Saints, who rank 28th in total defense and second-to-last in third down percentage allowed, have a Super Bowl-caliber defense? Davis' partner Kevin Burkhardt compared the New Orleans defense to a pitcher with 25 strikeouts in a game. The all-time record is 20, so Burkhardt was implying that the Saints are 20% better than the greatest defense of all time.

14. Minnesota Vikings [11] — As feared, Dalvin Cook tore his ACL and is out for the season. Cook had been averaging 96 rushing yards per game and 4.8 per carry, compared to the Vikings' 75 per game (for the whole team) and 3.2 per carry last year.

15. Washington [17] — Led 10-0 before injuries, including Josh Norman, decimated their defense. Jon Gruden lamented, "I've never seen so many injuries on a defense." Early indications are that Norman, arguably the best cornerback in the league, will miss a couple weeks.

16. Tennessee Titans [7] — Marcus Mariota, who left the game at halftime, is day to day with a hamstring injury. The final stats from their loss to Houston are just brutal:

Score: 57-14
First downs: 33-9
Offensive yardage: 445-195
Time of possession: 39:41 - 20:19

17. Dallas Cowboys [8] — Terry Bradshaw called their loss to the Rams "pretty much the shock of the day." Apparently Terry didn't notice that the 1-2 Panthers beat the Patriots in New England, the Bills beat the Falcons in Atlanta, the Saints pitched a shutout, and the Texans scored 57.

I really hope you don't use my column for betting advice, but I think it's nuts that the Cowboys are 2-point favorites to beat Green Bay, even at home. I like the Packers straight up.

18. Carolina Panthers [22] — 37-year-old Julius Peppers sacked Tom Brady twice this weekend, his second multi-sack game of the season. The only other players with two or more official multi-sack games after turning 37 were Hall of Famers Kevin Greene, Chris Doleman, and Bruce Smith, plus Clay Matthews II.

19. Houston Texans [21] — Got Will Fuller back and scored a franchise-record 57 points. Their +43 margin of victory was the largest in the NFL since 2014 (Rams 52, Raiders 0).

20. Los Angeles Rams [23] — Sean McVay is making an early case as Coach of the Year.

21. Cincinnati Bengals [24] — After scoring a combined 9 points in their first two games, they have 55 in the last two weeks.

22. Jacksonville Jaguars [16] — Allowed three rushes of more than 30 yards, including two longer than 60 yards. The Jets had five plays gain more yardage than Jacksonville's longest play. NBC reported that Blake Bortles is 3-21 in road games. That's .125, equivalent to a 2-14 season.

23. New York Jets [30] — Two straight wins, and they play the Browns next!

24. Miami Dolphins [15] — They look awful, and they're averaging 8 points a game, but I'm not sure it's entirely their fault. The unconscionable officiating in London disrupted the rhythm of the game, and it seemed to affect the Dolphins more than the Saints. But in particular, look at Miami's travel schedule:

Week 1: Instead of a home game, they have to evacuate because of Hurricane Irma

Week 2: Travel to play in Los Angeles

Week 3: Travel to play in New York

Week 4: Travel to play in London

Obviously I'm not going to blame the NFL for climate change and hurricanes, but I absolutely do blame the league for making London the Dolphins' third travel week in a row. That's unfair. They must be exhausted from the travel alone, never mind the initial stress of evacuating their homes in response to the most destructive hurricane in recorded history.

25. Baltimore Ravens [20] — Got the ball at their own 25-yard line, down 26-7, with 2:26 to play. The Ravens have scored 16 points in the previous 118 minutes, so scoring 19 in the next two is completely unrealistic. Three scores in 2:26 is unrealistic for a good offense, and the Ravens might have the worst offense in the NFL. But John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco chose to drag things out as long as possible.

Fast-forward a little: there's 1:08 left, and the Ravens have moved the ball all of 22 yards. If a comeback was unrealistic before, it's clearly impossible now. Run out the clock and don't get anyone hurt. Instead, the Ravens ran nine more plays — without scoring — including two timeouts and a spike to stop the clock. Flacco spiked the ball, losing by 19, with :13 left. That's disrespectful. It's a waste of time, and you shouldn't want anyone to get hurt on meaningless plays in garbage time. In 2006, the Hall of Fame coach and legendary broadcaster John Madden criticized such tactics: "In this situation it's silly to run plays. I mean, what are you going to do? Do you have a play that scores 20 points?"

It's not something a considerate person would do, but Harbaugh and Flacco aren't considerate, or sportsmanlike, people.

26. Chicago Bears [25] — Good for the NFL for suspending Danny Trevathan for his head-hunting hit on Davante Adams. It's long past due for the league to take these incidents seriously; let's hope this one represents the beginning of a new trend rather than an isolated reaction. Rookie Mitch Trubisky will start against the Vikings on Monday Night Football in Week 5.

27. New York Giants [26] — After four games, their leading rusher this season has 61 yards, total. The Giants have allowed three times as many rushing first downs (33) as they have gained (11).

28. Los Angeles Chargers [27] — Three straight home games, four straight losses.

29. Arizona Cardinals [28] — As if they needed more problems, last year's leading sacker, Markus Golden (12.5) has a torn ACL, and will miss the rest of the season.

30. Indianapolis Colts [29] — Rank 31st in yards gained and yards allowed, so 30th is a generous rank. Two of their four opponents have scored 46 points against them.

31. San Francisco 49ers [32] — Allowed the game's only touchdown in overtime, losing a contest in which the teams combined for nine field goals and no extra points. They had five straight three-and-outs in the fourth quarter, producing -6 yards.

32. Cleveland Browns [31] — Through four games, DeShone Kizer has 3 TD, 8 INT, and a 50.9 passer rating. He's not ready to play, and the Browns aren't doing him any favors by keeping him on the field.

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