Six of the seven undefeated teams entering Week 4 remain that way, with five of the six winning on Sunday. Only the Arizona Cardinals dropped from the ranks of the unbeaten while the New England Patriots had a bye, the only team at 3-0.
Perhaps the most surprising element of the six undefeated teams is that two of them reside in the NFC South, the division that didn’t produce a winning team in 2014. This year, however, both the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons are 4-0, the Falcons are doing it with a new coaching staff and an explosive offense that ranks fifth in the NFL. The Carolina Panthers are doing it with the 10th-ranked defense and fifth-ranked running game.
Only two other times over the last 10 years have two teams from the same division started a season 4-0, according to Elias Sports Bureau – Detroit and Green Bay in 2011, and Denver and Kansas City in 2013.
There are so many different ways to win in the NFL and the undefeated teams are showing it.
The Patriots have the top-ranked offense and top-ranked passing game.
The Green Bay Packers appear to be able to do whatever is needed on that particular game day. Their defense is now ranked eighth, ahead of their 10th-ranked offense and – surprise of all surprises – they have the third-ranked running game as defenses try to do whatever they can to stop Aaron Rodgers’ passing game.
The Cincinnati Bengals are top 10 in three main offensive categories – total offense (2nd), rushing offense (8th) and passing offense (4th).
You would expect the Denver Broncos are feasting off the passing prowess of Peyton Manning in their 4-0 start, but it’s been much more about an attacking defense that already has 18 sacks through four games on their way to the top-ranked overall defense and pass defense while their passing offense is ranked only 25th.
But the NFL hype machine lives off individual performances and accomplishments. Here are the best of those from Sunday, several of them from the undefeated teams:
- Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman is the only player in NFL history to rush for three touchdowns in each of his first two career starts, and he’s the first players to rush for at least seven touchdowns in his team’s first four games since LaDainian Tomlinson had eight in 2005.
- The Bengals got to 4-0 with QB Andy Dalton passing for 321 yards and a 127.1 passer rating. That brought his 2015 passer rating to 123, the highest of any Bengals QB in the first four games of a season.
- The Panthers got to 4-0 in part because of CB Josh Norman’s two interceptions. He returned one for a 46-yard touchdown, the second interception return for a touchdown he has this year, making him the first cornerback with two interception returns for touchdowns in his team’s first four games of a season since Charles Woodson in 2008.
- Sunday wasn’t just about undefeated teams. Drew Brees kept the New Orleans Saints from being winless with an 80-yard touchdown pass 13 seconds into overtime, the fastest overtime score in an NFL regular-season game. It was the 400th touchdown pass of Brees’ career, putting him in elite company with Manning (536), Favre (508), Dan Marino (420) and Tom Brady (401). He now has 48 consecutive home games with a touchdown pass, breaking Tom Brady’s record, according to Elias.
- Manning’s win against the Minnesota Vikings was his 100th win at home as a starter, as he joins Brett Favre (113) as the only two quarterbacks in that club. It was the seventh time a Peyton Manning-led team started the season 4-0, the most of any quarterback in NFL history.
- Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte helped get his team its first win of the season en route to becoming the second-fastest player in NFL history to reach 8,000 rushing yards and 3,500 receiving yards. He did it in his 111th career game, bested only by Marshall Faulk, who did it in 107 games.
- The Indianapolis Colts didn’t have Andrew Luck, but they continue to feast off their divisional opponents, getting their 15th consecutive divisional win in the AFC South, tying the 1972-73 Miami Dolphins for consecutive divisional wins. Kicker Adam Vinatieri hit the game-winning field goal in overtime and scored 10 points to put him over 1,000 points in his Colts career. He became the first player in NFL history to score at least 1,000 points with two different teams, having amassed 1,158 points with the Patriots before joining the Colts in 2006.
- The Colts got their overtime win with Matt Hasselbeck completing 30 of 47 passes, making it the third-most passes a quarterback in his 40s without an interception.
- Rex Ryan’s teams have a history of penalties. The Buffalo Bills were penalized 17 times Sunday against the New York Giants, producing 135 penalty yards and a whopping seven first downs via penalty. Over the past 10 years, only one other team was penalized at least 17 times with seven or more first downs and it was Ryan’s 2013 New York Jets who were penalized 20 times for eight first downs – and that game came against the Bills team he now coaches. As Elias points out, Ryan also had a 2005 game that produced the same rarity when he was the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens.
- Kirk Cousins pulled out a 23-20 win for the Washington Redskins with a 4-yard touchdown pass with 26 seconds left against the Philadelphia Eagles. Per Elias, it was Washington’s first game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute of the fourth quarter since Joe Theismann did it in 1983.