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Rick Gosselin's Week 4 NFL rankings

The NFL now belongs to the birds...rather, the Cardinals

Editor's note: Rick Gosselin is in his 49th season reporting on the NFL in 2021. He has covered the Lions, Giants, Chiefs, and Cowboys in his career plus 38 Super Bowls. He has served on the Hall of Fame selection committee and is a member of both the senior and contributor sub-committees. Gosselin also is one of the 12 voters for the AP 32, the weekly ranking of NFL teams conducted by the Associated Press. Here is his fourth-week ballot:

1. Arizona. Losses suffered by the Rams, Panthers, Broncos, and Raiders last weekend have left the Cardinals the last of the NFL’s unbeatens at 4-0. The last time Arizona started 4-0 was 2012 – and they went on to lose their next nine games, costing coach Ken Whisenhunt his job. The Cardinals finished 5-11 that season. But these 2021 Cardinals are the highest-scoring team in the NFL. Last week: 3

2. LA Rams. How much does QB Matthew Stafford like throwing to Cooper Kupp in their first season together with the Rams? Kupp is the only receiver in the NFL who has been targeted with passes in double figures each of his team’s first four games. Stafford targeted Kupp 10 times in the opener against Chicago, then 11 times against Indianapolis, 12 times against Tampa Bay, and 13 times against Arizona. Kupp ranks first in the NFL in TD receptions (5), second in receptions (30) and third in yards (431). Last week: 1

3. Tampa Bay. The talented receiving corps of Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Rob Gronkowski combined to catch nine touchdown passes from Tom Brady in the first two games of the season at home. But that foursome has not caught a single touchdown pass in the last two games on the road. Last week: 2

4. Cleveland. Back in the 1960s, during the height of the AFL-NFL war, the AFL threw the ball and the NFL ran it. The AFL played a wide-open style of football that featured Hall of Fame passers George Blanda, Len Dawson, and Joe Namath. The NFL featured a ground-and-pound style that featured Hall of Fame runners Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, and Jim Taylor. Those identities have been flipped of late. Of the top five rushing attacks in the NFL this season, four of them are in the AFC – Cleveland, Baltimore, Tennessee, and Buffalo. The Browns lead the NFL in rushing with 177 yards per game. Last week: 4

5. Buffalo. The Bills have shut out two of their first four opponents in a 3-1 start to the season, blanking both Miami and Houston. The last time the Bills recorded two shutouts in a season was 1990 on the way to their first of four consecutive AFC championships. Hall of Famer Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett were the mainstays on that unit. Last week: 5

6. Dallas. Ezekiel Elliott is once again resembling the back who won NFL rushing titles in two of his first three seasons. Elliott, still only 26, has rushed for four touchdowns in his last three games and turned in his first 100-yard game of the season last weekend, pounding Carolina and the NFL’s top-ranked run defense for 143 yards. His workload has increased each of the last four weeks from 11 carries in the opener against Tampa to 16 against the Chargers, 17 against the Eagles, and 20 against the Panthers. Last week: 7

7. Baltimore. The Ravens are off to a 3-1 start despite playing three of their first four games on the road. The schedule turns friendly at this point -- the Ravens won’t leave home for the next five weeks. Their next road game isn’t until Nov. 11. In the meantime, Baltimore will have consecutive home games against the Colts, Chargers, and Bengals, then a bye, then another home game against the Vikings. Last week: 8

8. LA Chargers. The Chargers have played two “home” games at SoFi Stadium but the crowds were overwhelming in favor of the road team as both Dallas and Las Vegas visited. Despite that lack of love at home or on the road, the Chargers are 3-1 with the one loss coming on a 56-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein at the gun against Dallas. Last week: 10

9. Green Bay. There have been 23 quarterbacks who have passed for 300 yards in a game this NFL season. Surprisingly, Aaron Rodgers is not one of them. He ranks seventh all-time with 73 300-yard games but his high game this season has only been 261 yards against the 49ers. But he still has eight TD passes for the 3-1 Packers. Last week: 9

10. Las Vegas. In a year Cliff Branch is nominated for the Pro Bowl Hall of Fame, Henry Ruggs is mimicking his deep strike capabilities with the 2021 Raiders. Through the first month of the season, Ruggs is averaging 21.2 yards per catch. He has a touchdown catch of 61 yards and non-scoring grabs of 51, 37, and 30 yards. Last week: 6

11. Kansas City. The NFL is still waiting on its first 200-yard receiving game of the 2021 season. But there have been three games of 185 yards or more – and Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs has two of them. He had a 197-yard game in the season opener against Cleveland and 186 last weekend against Philadelphia. Deebo Samuel of the 49ers has the other high game, a 189-yard effort against the Lions. Last week: 11

12. Cincinnati. The Bengals will close out the NFC portion of their schedule the next two weeks with games against Green Bay and Detroit. The Bengals have already played Minnesota and Chicago, beating the Vikings and losing to the Bears. They host the Packers this weekend and then visit Detroit. Cincinnati will be the first NFL team to close out the non-conference portion of the schedule. There have been 20 crossover games played thus far and the NFC holds an 11-9 edge. Last week: 17

13. Carolina. D.J. Moore is in his fourth NFL season and Sam Darnold is his fourth starting quarterback. Moore caught passes from Cam Newton as a rookie in 2018, Kyle Allen in 2019, and Teddy Bridgewater in 2020. Darnold could be the quarterback Moore has been waiting for. Back-to-back 100-yard receiving games against Texas foes Houston and Dallas have propelled Moore to second in the NFL in receptions (30) and fourth in yards (398). He’s on pace to catch 126 passes for 1,692 yards, easily his career highs. Last week: 12

14. Tennessee. A 2-2 start by the Titans has been disappointing -- but not as disappointing as Tennessee’s pass protection. QB Ryan Tannehill has been sacked a league-high 17 times this season. Thirteen of the sacks came in the two losses. He was thrown to the turf six times by the Cardinals in the season opener and seven times by the Jets last weekend. Last week: 13

15. Denver. The Broncos have lost QB Teddy Bridgewater with a concussion, turning the position back over to Drew Lock. Bridgewater was signed in free agency because he takes care of the football – this after Lock led the NFL with 15 interceptions last season. Bridgewater did not commit a turnover in his four games, helping the Broncos to a 3-1 start. But he left last weekend’s game against Baltimore at halftime with a concussion. Lock came in and threw the club’s first interception of the season and the Broncos suffered their first defeat of the season. Last week: 14

16. Seattle. No surprise here – Seahawks inside linebacker Bobby Wagner leads the NFL in tackles with 54. He has topped 100 tackles all nine of his NFL seasons and has led the league twice. Wagner has gone to the Pro Bowl each of the last seven years and has been voted first-team all-pro each of the last five years. The Seahawks may be scuffling along at 2-2 but there’s no scuffling in Wagner’s game. He had 10 tackles in last weekend’s road upset of the 49ers. Last week: 19

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17. New Orleans. Jameis Winston has yet to be sacked in two home games this season. But he’s been sacked seven times in his two road games. Winston has six TD passes and no interceptions at home but only two TDs with two interceptions on the road. The Saints are on the road this weekend at Washington. Last week: 16

18. Washington. Washington won the East last season in large part because of its No. 2 ranked defense. It was a ballhawking unit that intercepted 16 passes and finished seventh in the NFL with 23 takeaways. But a lack of takeaways has contributed to Washington’s slow 2-2 start. Washington has only two – one interception and one fumble recovery. Only two teams have fewer takeaways, the 49ers, and Jaguars. Last week: 22

19. San Francisco. With the calf injury suffered by Jimmy Garoppolo last weekend, rookie QB Trey Lance is in line for his first NFL start against the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals. He will become the sixth rookie QB to make his NFL starting debut this season. His predecessors went 0-5. Lance, the third overall pick of the 2021 draft, has thrown three TD passes and rushed for another coming off the bench thus far. Last week: 15

20. Minnesota. There have been only 21 individual 100-yard rushing games this season and the Vikings have two of them – by two different backs. Dalvin Cook rushed for 131 yards against Arizona in the second week of the season but when he sat out the third game with an ankle injury, Alexander Mattison stepped in and rushed for 112 yards against the Seahawks. Dallas is the only other team with two different 100-yard rushers this season (Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard). Last week: 18

21. Philadelphia. The 1-3 Eagles are the most penalized team in the NFL with 45 for 291 yards. Philadelphia was penalized 14 times in the opener at Atlanta and 13 more in their other road game at Dallas. In comparison, the 3-1 Rams have only been penalized 12 times all season -- that’s the league-low – for 91 yards. Last week: 21

22. New England. Despite catching 92 passes in his senior season at North Carolina State in 2018, Jakobi Meyers went undrafted by the NFL. He signed as a free agent with the Patriots and spent his first two seasons as a part-time starter catching passes from past NFL MVPs Tom Brady and Cam Newton. But Meyers has emerged as the go-to guy of the 2021 New England offense with rookie quarterback Mac Jones. His 27 receptions rank seventh in the NFL for the 1-3 Patriots. A former high school quarterback, Meyers has also thrown a TD pass this season and now has three in his career. Last week: 23

23. Indianapolis. A month into the season and Colts WR Ashton Dulin has emerged as the front-runner for the AFC special-teams spot in the Pro Bowl. Dulin scooped up a fumble by Johnny Hekker on a botched punt attempt by the Rams in Week 2 and returned it for a touchdown, then recovered a fumble by Miami return-specialist Jakeem Grant last week. Special-teams coverage aces do more than just tackle. Last week: 24

24. Pittsburgh. Najee Harris rushed for 13 career 100-yard games at Alabama, including six in each of his last two seasons. His 46 rushing touchdowns and average of 6.0 yards per career carry earned him first-round selection by the Steelers last April. But it took Harris four games to rush for his first NFL touchdown and he’s still looking for that first 100-yard game for the 1-3 Steelers. Last week: 20

25. Chicago. Rookie QB Justin Fields came off the bench in the second week for the injured Andy Dalton and has steered the Bears to both of their victories this season. But Fields, the 11th overall pick of the 2021 draft, is still looking for his first touchdown pass. He’s thrown 52 NFL passes thus far without finding the end zone. Fields threw 63 TD passes in 22 games in his two years as a starter at Ohio State. Last week: 29

26. Atlanta. The NFL returns overseas this weekend after a year’s Covid-related absence. The Falcons and Jets will play the first of two games scheduled for London this month. Miami and Jacksonville will play the other game next weekend. It’s the 38th game the NFL will play in England. This will be the second appearance in London for both the Falcons and Jets. Atlanta is 0-1, the Jets 1-0. Last week: 27

27. NY Giants. Daniel Jones has thrown only four touchdown passes this season but scores high in degree of difficulty. His shortest TD pass was 33 yards. He also has scoring tosses of 37, 52, and 54 yards. Carson Wentz of the Colts has five TD passes but his longest has been only 11 yards. Josh Allen has nine TD passes for the Bills and none have covered 30 yards. Aaron Rodgers has eight TD passes for the Packers and none have covered 25 yards. Last week: 31

28. NY Jets. Fall Sundays don’t come much more glorious than they did for the Big Apple last weekend. The Jets and Giants both won and the Yankees clinched a playoff berth. Both the Jets and Giants needed overtime to win their first games of the season. The Yankees and Jets both won at home and the Giants won in New Orleans. Last week: 32

29. Miami. The Dolphins have thrown only three touchdown passes this season and not a one has traveled more than three yards. There is both a blessing and a curse awaiting the Dolphins this weekend. The curse is they travel to Tampa to play the defending Super Bowl champions. The blessing is that the Buccaneers have the most porous pass defense in the NFL, allowing a league-leading 11 TD passes. Last week: 25

30. Detroit. There were seven head coaching hires this season and all but two have recorded their first NFL victory. Dan Campbell of the Lions and Urban Meyer of the Jaguars are still looking for that elusive first victory. Detroit’s next four games are against the Vikings, Bengals, Rams, and Eagles. Last week: 26

31. Houston. As mentioned earlier, there have been five rookie quarterbacks to start NFL games this season. They have combined to start 16 games and have posted a 3-13 record with 15 TD passes and 26 interceptions. Houston’s Davis Mills has contributed two losses and five interceptions to that stat line. Those five rookie QBs have been sacked a combined 52 times. Last week: 28

32. Jacksonville. Urban Meyer recruited four All-America defensive backs during his seven seasons as head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes. He could use a few of those ballhawks these days in Jacksonville. The Jaguars have allowed three 300-yard passers and a league-high five 100-yard receivers in Meyer’s first four games as an NFL head coach. Little wonder Jacksonville is winless in a pass-happy league. Last week: 30

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