Just like every NFL season, the first 4 weeks have brought us many surprises. The action packed season always seems to feature teams who start hot, but falter. Here are some of those over performing teams, and my opinion on whether they can continue to be contenders, or are merely pretenders.
Matt Rhule, Joe Brady, and the rest of the Panthers coaching staff have completely rejuvenated Sam Darnold. The former number two overall pick has been giving his best Lamar Jackson impression so far this season, leading the league in rushing touchdowns. He has quickly formed a connection with DJ Moore, and this offense has showed it can produce even without Christian McCaffrey. This team was really put to the test this week in Dallas and came up short. Even with a lot of injuries to key players, they still showed good fight against an objectively better team. These Panthers are scrappy, and I expect them to continue surprising people, making them contenders.
The Broncos are a team I was high on throughout the preseason. They opened the year 3-0, but that was against teams with a combined record of 0-9. Sadly, they were exposed on Sunday. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens came in and threw all over them. To make matters worse, Teddy Bridgewater went down with an injury, and Drew Lock’s play was uninspiring, to say the least. Their offensive line continues to give up tons of pressure, which is scary for a team with average quarterback play. I really wanna say I still believe in this team, but with the strength of their division, and inability to play from behind, I have to call them pretenders.
Las Vegas Raiders
Sticking with the AFC West, the Raiders are one of two remaining undefeated teams (they’re playing as I’m writing this article). Derek Carr’s right arm has fueled this team to three electric wins. He has made a legitimate MVP case through the first 3 weeks of the season, the question is if he can sustain this level of play. Defensively, the play of Maxx Crosby and Carl Nassib coming off the edge has helped the Raiders close out some close games. Jon Gruden has done a great job getting his team wins no matter what, and has a contender this year.
This is probably the easiest choice on this list. Kyler Murray and the Cardinals are playing out of their minds and show no signs of stopping. They have scored over 30 points every single game, and the defense put on a masterpiece against the Rams. This team was the afterthought of a stacked NFC West throughout the offseason, but has not only been the best team in that division so far, but the best team in the league. They are looking like legit Super Bowl contenders.
The Bengals are probably the most surprising 3-1 team in the league. Ja’Marr Chase went from a laughingstock of the draft to OROY favorite real quick. Logan Wilson and Jessie Bates III are leading a formidable defense. To top it all off, Joe Burrow and has been able to stay off the ground and has looked good all year. But, this team has yet to have a convincing win, and their schedule gets tough quick, making the Bengals pretenders.