PITTSBURGH (AP) — James Harrison expected his body to be sore while working his way back into football shape following a nine-month break.
Let’s be serious for a moment here. And I have to kick the really over-the-top crazy Dallas Cowboys fans out of the room now so we can have a real conversation. OK, good. Now … what in the heck is going on in Dallas? Look, you didn’t see this coming, I didn’t see this coming, nobody did. But now there’s no getting around it: The Dallas Cowboys look good. They look great. Had Tony Romo not made some big Week 1 mistakes against the 49ers, they might be 4-0 with some quality wins. I just don’t know how we got here. The Cowboys didn’t add much in the offseason, and the defense lost Jason Hatcher, DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee. Romo was coming off back surgery. They’ve been the epitome of mediocre for years. All of a sudden, they’re good. Logically, it makes little sense. Sunday night’s dominant win over the Saints was their statement that they’re for real. Now, “for real” comes and goes in the NFL in 2014 as quickly as Jon Gruden compliments a mundane play on “Monday Night Football.” Teams look great one week and incompetent seven days later. Nothing is permanent. But right now, the Cowboys deserve a huge bump up the rankings. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli would be my coach of the year vote at this point. He has been that good. The Cowboys’ offense have reinvented itself by building around DeMarco Murray and a great run-blocking offensive line. They deserve all the credit you can give them. I guess that’s the beauty of the NFL. Things that are completely unforeseen can actually happen. We’re seeing it in Dallas. Here are the post-Week 4 power rankings: 32. Oakland Raiders (0-4, LW: 31) Head coach Dennis Allen got fired, and general manager Reggie McKenzie can’t be far behind. Remember, they have the oldest roster in the NFL. Bad, bad, bad. 31. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4, LW: 30) No one player is going to totally turn this team around, not even a huge upgrade at quarterback. They’re just not good at all. But they’re also very young and you’d assume they’ll improve as this season goes on. 30. Washington Redskins (1-3, LW: 28) Or maybe I was right to be skeptical of Kirk Cousins. 29. Tennessee Titans (1-3, LW: 23) How in the world did they look so good at Kansas City in Week 1? That’s the weirdest result of the NFL season so far, right?
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Antonio Brown was giddy. Le’Veon Bell was fired up. Cam Heyward was offering a pointed critique.
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Four games does not a proper sample size make. That said, we’re left to grasp at straws at what’s going on in the NFC South. Right now, it’s a morass. The two 2-2 teams, the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers, are coming off losses of 13 and 28 points. One 1-3 team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, used a backup quarterback to beat up on the Steelers in Pittsburgh; the other 1-3 team, the New Orleans Saints, couldn’t prevent getting housed by the Dallas Cowboys (a team they beat by 32 points) despite having one of the best quarterbacks in the game. So who ya got? Let’s try to make a case for any of these teams — because one most certainly will — winning the division. The Falcons are the one team in the division to outscore their opponents, at plus-18, but the 56-14 blowout of the Bucs had a little something to do with that. The other three teams are a combined minus-85 in point differential. With Matt Ryan and two great receivers, you like the Falcons’ chances to score points. That’s a good thing. But they finished the loss to the Minnesota Vikings with Levine Toilolo (a tight end, you guys) playing right tackle. Their line is decimated. And their defense, which was supposed to move up in class, is allowing 429.8 yards per game (31st in the NFL) and 28.3 points (29th). Last season, those numbers were 379.4 and 27.7. Still, what helps most at this point: Their 2-0 record in the division. That looks massive at this point. The Saints can fall back on the fact that they have seven more games at the Superdome, where they were 8-0 in 2013 and have won nine straight. Is that enough? Are we expecting a 1-7 road, 8-0 home type of season? Or are the Saints this year’s 2013 Falcons? There’s still that sense that all three losses came down to a handful of plays — yes, even Sunday night’s 21-point loss to the Cowboys — cost them those games. Had Kenny Stills hauled in a high sideline pass from Drew Brees, down 14 with 8 minutes left, maybe the game turns. After that, the creaky wheels came completely off the axles. But there’s no debate: They’ve been far too sloppy, far too giving, with not enough killer instinct. They deserve to be 1-3 right now. The Panthers started 2-0 with two gut-check wins (one without Cam Newton, the other without Greg Hardy) and have been smoked, especially on defense, the past two. If the Panthers can’t stop the run, and right now they are not (64 rushes, 391 yards allowed past two weeks), they are in deep trouble. Newton is back, but he’s not getting good pass protection, he’s having to dial in on one receiver (Kelvin Benjamin) and there’s no run game to lean back on. With Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert chewed up and likely unavailable for the time being, the Panthers might be leaning on two undrafted rookies — Tauren Poole and Darrin Reaves — for the time being. The Bucs saved their season Sunday with a game performance at Pittsburgh, and the game appeared to prove what the rest of the nont-Lovie Smith world was saying since March: Why not Mike Glennon? He was clearly off in the first half but quite gutsy in the second half. Didn’t we see this same player last season when Glennon played as brave a game as you can at Seattle (17-of-23 passing, two TDs, zero turnovers) and finished the season with a 19-9 TD-INT ratio? Oh, there’s plenty to hate about the Buccaneers. The offensive line is still a piece of work, and the defense still plays too much soft coverage and has too many holes, even with a few notable standouts. Does one big win get them kick-started? Or does the fear of Smith bringing Josh McCown throw icy water on that little fire that was started Sunday? The Falcons right now appear to be the least volatile. Beyond that, we can’t tell you much more. If you have more answers than we do, please let us know. – – – – – – – Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm