Four head-scratchers at quarter-mark of NFL season

We’re about a quarter of the way through the 2017-18 NFL season, and everything is going exactly according to plan.

Not.

The business of pre-season predictions is a tough one, and nowhere is that more evident than in the NFL’s standings right now.

Here are a few of football’s biggest head-scratchers at the one-quarter mark of the season.

The Patriots aren’t perfect
New England claimed a historic Super Bowl victory last February and then went out and got even better in the months that followed, leading many to wonder aloud about the possibility of a perfect season.

Kansas City, of course, scrapped that prediction in Week 1 and kept it for themselves—the Chiefs remain the league’s only undefeated team through four weeks—while exposing New England’s weakness on defence, particularly in the secondary.

“It’s bad. We’re letting the team down,” safety Devin McCourty told ESPN’s Mike Reiss on Sunday.

Now sitting 2-2 after losing to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, the Patriots have allowed 33 or more points in three of four games, and have the league’s worst-ranked D. (In contrast, Tom Brady’s offence is still operating at the top of the league.)

The biggest culprit here is Stephon Gilmore, the $65-million man brought in on a five-year deal back in March, who took a costly penalty on Sunday and was the obvious weak link on a missed coverage of wide open Panthers receiver Fozzy Whittaker.

“It’s frustrating when it’s communication, it’s not really ability,” he told ESPN. “I have to get better at the communication part. It’s my fault on the communication.”

We’ll chalk this one up to a bad start and not a bad season, because … it’s the Patriots.

So we’ll cool our jets for now, but it’s certainly a situation worth watching.

The AFC East standings are upside-down
It’s not just the Patriots’ 2-2 record that’s giving the division standings an odd look—the whole thing is defying expectations after four weeks of play.

Sitting at the top are the Buffalo Bills—yes, those Bills—and it doesn’t appear to be a fluke. After a somewhat predictable win over the Jets to start the season (more on them later), the club has defeated the Broncos (Week 3) and Falcons (Week 4) on the way to a 3-1 record (they lost to the Panthers in a low-scoring Week 2 matchup).

This season was supposed to be a rebuilding one, especially considering off-season moves to ship receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby out of town and let the aforementioned Stephone Gilmore sign with the Patriots, but defence-minded rookie head coach Sean McDermott has made quick work of putting his stamp on this team.

That defensive mindset showed up big time in Atlanta to hand Matt Ryan & Co. their first loss of the season, and should have an even better showing against the Bengals in Week 5 to stay atop the division and look to maintain their title of NFL’s top scoring defence.

Right behind Buffalo are the Jets, who no one expected to leave their place in the division’s basement. Yet here they are, with the same record as the Patriots, and likely to make it 3-2 next week (sorry, Browns) thanks to some decent defensive plays and a run game that’s actually pretty fun to watch. It might just end up being the Giants, not the Jets, with New York’s No. 1 draft pick next spring.

Their competition hasn’t been as stiff as the Bills’ (the Jets defeated the Dolphins and Jaguars, while losing to the Bills and Raiders), so unlike the Bills, we’re betting this ship rights itself once some tougher competition (read: the Patriots, Chiefs, Broncos…) comes along.

Rams have the league’s top offence
The Rams went from being the league’s lowest-scoring squad in 2016 to the highest this year, marking a turnaround like we haven’t seen in decades (since the 1954 New York Giants, to be exact).

That impressive offence was on full display in a dramatic comeback win against the Cowboys on Sunday, with running back Todd Gurley as the headliner.

Before we trip over ourselves singing the praises of this exciting squad, we’ll note that these L.A. Rams have been here before: just last season, the club started the year 3-1 before finishing it with a 4-12 record. But a lot can change in a year, and the Rams now have some killer offensive weapons (we see you, Sammy Watkins) and a sophomore quarterback who’s looking more and more confident—and living up to the No. 1 billing under offensive-minded coach Sean McVay.

Up next, they’ll take on the Seahawks, and depending on which Seahawks show up, this is a chance to make another statement in L.A.

Seattle comes out cool

After showing up on a number of Super Bowl picks, the Seahawks have stumbled out of the gates to the tune of 2-2 while showing some weak spots on both sides of the ball—particularly on the offensive line.

Seattle’s defence has been consistently excellent over the past few seasons, but they’ve struggled to hit their stride at times through the first four weeks of this year.

They decimated the Colts in the second half of Sunday night’s win, reminding everyone exactly why they were popular pre-season picks. We know what happens when the Seahawks get hot, so we’ll give ’em a bit more time before we call for too much concern in Seattle.