Grades for each NFL team's performance at the quarter mark

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By MIKE BATISTA
The Sports Daily

After featuring many shocking and exciting moments, the first quarter of the 2014 NFL season is now in the books.

The league's two unbeaten teams-the Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals-had Week 4 off. No team that has had to play all four weeks is perfect.

It can be debated for hours who the best team in the NFL is through four games, but when it comes to the league's doormats, the Raiders and Jaguars have separated themselves from the pack.

In between, there have been plenty of surprises. It turns out the Cowboys defense isn't the train wreck we thought they were. The Saints defense, on the other hand, just might be.

It's time to break out the red pen and fill out some report cards. Here is each NFL team's grade at the quarter-mark of the season.

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NFL grades for quarter-season mark
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Grades for each NFL team's performance at the quarter mark

Arizona Cardinals (3-0)

This is a resilient Cardinals team. Despite being without Carson Palmer for two of their three games, Arizona is one of two unbeaten teams remaining in the NFL and the only unbeaten left in the NFC. The Cardinals trailed in the fourth quarter of their first two games, an 18-17 win over the Chargers and a 25-14 win at the Giants. They trailed in the third quarter before rallying to beat the 49ers 23-14 at home. Drew Stanton has barely completed half of his passes (32 of 62), but he’s thrown for two touchdowns and no interceptions as a game manager. Defensively, the Cardinals have allowed 15 points per game, tied for second in the NFL.

Grade: A

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Cincinnati Bengals (3-0)

The Bengals won’t really prove anything, of course, until they win a playoff game. But for now, they are off to their best start since 2006. They squandered a 15-0 lead and recovered to beat the Ravens in the season opener at Baltimore, but they haven’t really been challenged since. They beat the Atlanta Falcons 24-10 and the Tennessee Titans 33-7 at home. They are tied for the league lead with a plus-6 turnover ratio and Andy Dalton hasn’t been sacked. The Bengals’ leading tackler is Emmanuel Lamur, an undrafted linebacker who missed last season with a shoulder injury.

Grade: A

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

San Diego Chargers (3-1)

The Chargers are a point away from being unbeaten. Their only loss came in the opener, 18-17, at unbeaten Arizona. In Week 2 they put a feather in their hat by beating the defending-champion Seahawks 30-21 in San Diego. Philip Rivers has thrown for nine touchdowns and one interception. His 114.5 passer rating is best among the league’s starting quarterbacks. Rivers’ elite performance is not a luxury, because they’re down to Donald Brown as their starting running back because of injuries to Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. The Chargers are next to last with 69.5 rushing yards gained per game. The only team worse is the Raiders.

Grade: A-

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Seattle Seahawks (2-1)

The Seahawks are off to a solid start and are the defending champions until proven otherwise, but any dynasty talk is on hold for now. Seattle ranks sixth in the NFL defensively, but has allowed third-down conversions 49 percent of the time. Only three teams rank lower than that. After leading the NFL with a plus-20 turnover ratio last season, the Seahawks are even in that category this year. They’ve been tested early in the season with a tough schedule. Their one loss came at San Diego, and they’ve beaten the Packers and Broncos at home. They stifled Peyton Manning for three quarters before pulling out the win in overtime.

Grade: A-

(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Baltimore Ravens (3-1)

Defending your home turf and winning road division games any way you can is a sound formula for success. Since losing their season opener to the unbeaten Bengals, the Ravens have dominated the Steelers and Panthers in Baltimore and scratched out a two-point win at Cleveland. Ray Rice is so out-of-sight, out-of-mind in Baltimore that he might as well have played for the Colts–the Baltimore Colts. Even without Bernard Pierce for the last two games, the Ravens are eighth in the NFL with 134.5 rushing yards per game. Justin Forsett is ninth in the league with 255 rushing yards.

Grade: A-

(Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

Dallas Cowboys (3-1)

It looked like the Eagles would be the first team ever to clinch a division title in the preseason. No one else in the NFC East was given a chance. Now, at the quarter-mark of the regular season, the Cowboys are tied with the Eagles atop the division after beating the Saints 38-17 Sunday night in Dallas. This isn’t exactly the Doomsday Defense, but it’s not the laughingstock everyone thought it would be. Dallas has allowed 379.8 yards per game, 24th in the league, but they’re tied for second with eight takeaways. DeMarco Murray leads NFL running backs in both rushing yards (534, 156 more than No. 2 Le’Veon Bell) and touchdowns (five).

Grade: B+

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Denver Broncos (2-1)

This isn’t 2013. Nothing is coming easy this year for the Broncos. Instead of offensive fireworks, the Broncos are winning with grit. They’ve fought off fourth-quarter rallies at home to beat the Colts and the Chiefs, then rallied in the fourth quarter themselves to force overtime in a loss at Seattle. Peyton Manning has thrown eight touchdowns and only one interception. His defense helped the Broncos rally to tie the game in Seattle. Overall, however, the Broncos aren’t getting much return for all the money they spent in free agency. They’re 28th in the NFL with 390.7 yards allowed per game.

Grade: B+

(Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Detroit Lions (3-1)

Finally, the Lions are putting the “D” in Detroit. They lead the NFL with 267.2 yards allowed per game and held the Packers to their lowest point total since 2010 in a 19-7 home victory in Week 3. Detroit’s first road win of the year came Sunday against the Jets. The Lions prevailed, 24-17, even though Calvin Johnson was hobbled with an ankle injury. Golden Tate caught eight passes for 116 yards, and leads the Lions this season with 24 receptions. Kicker Nate Freese was waived after going 3 for 7 on field goals. Alex Henery made a 51-yard field goal against the Jets and missed a 52-yarder.

Grade: B+

(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Green Bay Packers (2-2)

Drawing the Thursday night season-opener at the home of the Super Bowl champion is like drawing a two and a nine in Texas Hold ‘Em. Fold and wait until the next hand. That absolves the Packers of their loss in Seattle. Regarding their loss at Detroit, you’re going to lose division games on the road every now and then in the NFL. You have to win some of those, and the Packers did by out-gunning the Bears 38-17 Sunday at Chicago to even their record. Also on their resume is a 31-24 home win over the Jets after falling behind 21-3. Aaron Rodgers is third in the NFL (second if you throw out Derek Anderson) with a 109.1 passer rating.

Grade: B

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Houston Texans (3-1)

So far this season, J.J. Watt has two sacks, one fumble recovery, a blocked extra point, a receiving touchdown and an interception. His 80-yard pick-six gave the Texans a 14-10 lead Sunday against Buffalo. The Texans went on to win, 23-17. As the leader of a defense that has allowed third-down conversions a league-best 29 percent of the time, Watt gets an A-plus. The rest of the team? Well, the three teams the Texans have beaten have a combined record of 3-9. Houston can’t rely on Arian Foster to stay healthy. He returned from a hamstring injury Sunday and ran for six yards, although he did catch seven passes.

Grade: B

(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Indianapolis Colts (2-2)

The Colts make short work of inferior competition. Since their 0-2 start, they’ve disposed of the Jaguars 44-17 on the road and the Titans 41-17 at home. Now the Colts just have to figure out a way to beat a decent team. They gave the Broncos all they could handle after falling behind 24-0 at Denver, eventually losing, 31-24. They led the Eagles 20-6 in the second half, but no lead is safe against Philly. The Colts still led 27-20 and had a chance to close it out, but Andrew Luck threw an interception. Luck leads the NFL in passing yards (1,305) and touchdown passes (13), but he has four interceptions. Only five quarterbacks have thrown more.

Grade: B

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Kansas City Chiefs (2-2)

The Chiefs are taking a step forward every week. After losing their opener, 26-10, to Tennessee at home, they gave the Broncos all they could handle in Denver, losing, 24-17. Their first win came in Week 3 on the road without Jamaal Charles when they beat the Dolphins, 34-15. Then they pounded the Patriots, 41-14, in prime time. Sure, the Patriots are struggling, but it’s still a signature win for the Chiefs. Alex Smith has been sacked 13 times. Only the Jaguars’ Chad Henne has been sacked more. But Knile Davis, Charles’ backup, is fourth in the league with 321 rushing yards. So the offensive line can open holes no matter who’s running the ball.

Grade: B

(Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

New York Giants (2-2)

Raise your hand if you had heard of Larry Donnell before the season. Undrafted out of Grambling State last year, the 6’6″, 265-pound tight end is tied for seventh in the league with 25 receptions and he’s caught four touchdowns. He’s part of the Giants’ resurgence from an 0-2 start. Their losses at Detroit and at home against unbeaten Arizona don’t seem so bad now. They broke into the win column at home against the Houston Texans and became the first road team to win on Thursday night this season with a 45-14 thumping of the Washington Redskins.

Grade: B

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)

The Eagles keep getting better and better in the first half. In Week 1, they trailed the Jaguars, 17-0, at halftime at home. In Week 2, they trailed 17-6 at halftime at Indianapolis. In Week 3, they led the visiting Redskins, 21-20, at the break. On Sunday, they led, 21-13, at halftime in San Francisco. But those 21 points came on a blocked punt, an interception return and a punt return. Injuries have ravaged the Eagles’ offensive line, and LeSean McCoy has averaged just 2.7 yards per carry this year. The Eagles’ turnover ratio is minus-4. Still, they’re 3-1 and had a chance to win at San Francisco without any points from their offense.

Grade: B

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Chicago Bears (2-2)

In March, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel explored the possibility of expanding Soldier Field, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Bears probably wouldn’t mind if they renovated during the season and forced them to play on the road the whole year. They’re 0-2 at home and 2-0 on the road. Jay Cutler had 10 touchdown passes and two interceptions entering the second half of Sunday’s game against the Packers, but going nose-to-nose with Aaron Rodgers, he blinked and threw two third-quarter interceptions. The Packers turned a 21-17 halftime lead into a 38-17 win. Not a good start against NFC North foes for the Bears.

Grade: B-

(Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)

Cleveland Browns (1-2)

Despite being 1-2, the Browns seem to be turning a corner. All three games have been decided by three points or less. The Browns have gone to the wire in every game despite being without Josh Gordon, their top receiver last season. Ben Tate, a free-agent signing who was supposed to be their top running back this season, hasn’t been back since hurting his knee in Week 1. For now, it seems the Browns have the luxury of waiting until Johnny Manziel is good and ready before he takes over at quarterback. Brian Hoyer has thrown for three touchdowns and no interceptions thus far.

Grade: B-

(Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

Minnesota Vikings (2-2)

The Vikings have been without Adrian Peterson for all but the first game, but have managed to stay afloat. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has helped. He made his first career start in Sunday’s 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons. He hurt his foot in the fourth quarter, but stayed in the game to hand off to Matt Asiata for the go-ahead touchdown and throw a two-point conversion to give the Vikings a 35-28 lead. Bridgewater has averaged 9.3 yards per attempt, tops among all quarterbacks with at least 50 passes. He said he’ll start Thursday night at Green Bay, according to NFL.com, as the Vikings begin their NFC North stretch of the schedule.

Grade: B-

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

San Francisco 49ers (2-2)

The 49ers won one for the zipper on Sunday, their first victory at Levi’s Stadium. The 26-21 win was the first loss this season for the Eagles. If it wasn’t for special teams gaffes, the 49ers would have won a lot more easily. All the Eagles points came on return yards. Brad Smith recovered a blocked punt in the end zone and Darren Sproles returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown. The 49ers blew leads of 17-0 and 20-7 in a 28-20 home loss to the Bears in Week 2. Their other loss came against unbeaten Arizona. San Francisco is second in the league defensively, allowing 287.2 yards per game, and second in rush defense at 69.8 yards per game.

Grade: B-

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Atlanta Falcons (2-2)

The Falcons are a prototypical .500 team. They’re tied with the Indianapolis Colts for the league lead with 444 yards of offense per game. On defense, they’ve allowed 429.8 yards per game. Only the Jaguars are worse. The Falcons have a 56-14 thrashing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to crow about, but strange things happen on Thursday nights in the NFL. They needed overtime for their other victory over a struggling Saints team in Week 1. Matt Ryan is second in the league with 1,263 passing yards, but he’s tied for worst in the league with five interceptions.

Grade: C+

(Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Buffalo Bills (2-2)

The first quarterback picked in the 2013 NFL draft has lost his starting job. Bills coach Doug Marrone announced Monday that Kyle Orton will replace E.J. Manuel, according to NFL.com. Manuel has five touchdown passes, three interceptions and a modest 80.3 passer rating. The 31-year-old Orton’s career rating is 79.9. Manuel completed just 21 of 44 passes in Sunday’s 23-17 loss at Houston. He threw a pick-six to J.J. Watt and and Darryl Morris picked him off with 1:14 left to seal the win for the Texans. After stunning the Bears 23-20 at Chicago in the season opener and starting 2-0, the Bills have crashed to .500.

Grade: C+

(Photo by Jerome Davis/Getty Images)

Carolina Panthers (2-2)

After beating Tampa Bay and Detroit, the Panthers fell on their face against AFC competition. They lost to the Steelers at home (37-19) and at Baltimore (38-10). Steve Smith caught seven passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns for the Ravens Sunday even though the Panthers have known for months how motivated he’d be in his first game against them. Carolina has been hampered by the absence of Greg Hardy and injuries at running back. DeAngelo Williams is their only 100-yard rusher, and those 106 yards didn’t come in one game. That’s his total for the season. He missed two games and left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury.

Grade: C+

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Miami Dolphins (2-2)

The Dolphins got back to .500 with Sunday’s 38-14 win over the Raiders in London. But a win over a team that just fired its coach doesn’t do much to improve Miami’s grade. And now it looks like the Dolphins’ 33-20, Week 1 win at home over the Patriots isn’t much of a resume builder, either. In between those “meh” victories, the Dolphins lost to the Bills on the road and the Chiefs at home, both by 19 points. Unlike Dennis Allen, it looks like Ryan Tannehill will be keeping his job. He had his best game of the season Sunday. Now let’s see how he and the Dolphins can do against a guys that resemble a football team and not a foosball team.

Grade: C

(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

New England Patriots (2-2)

The Patriots needed 59 minutes to put away the hapless Raiders at home in Week 3. That should have been a warning sign. The Patriots plummeted to .500 with a 41-14 loss at Kansas City on Monday Night Football. It was the Patriots’ biggest margin of defeat in nine years. Tom Brady has looked like a 37-year-old quarterback at times this season, but he threw no interceptions until the Chiefs picked him off twice, returning one for a touchdown. Brady has thrown just four touchdown passes. Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis combined for 199 yards Monday, exposing the Patriots’ 23rd-ranked run defense. This team looks slow on both sides of the ball and it’s really hindering their play on the field.

Grade: C

(Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

New Orleans Saints (1-3)

The Saints lost their first two games, both on the road, by a combined five points. They broke into the win column by beating the Vikings, 20-9,  at home in Week 3. But on Sunday night, they lost, 31-17 at Dallas, trailing 31-3 at one point. Drew Brees is third in the league with 1,203 passing yards. Jimmy Graham is second with 32 receptions. However, running back Mark Ingram has missed the last two games with a hand injury. He had been averaging six yards a carry. The Saints defense isn’t helping. Opponents have gained 396 yards per game, 29th in the league, and the Saints have forced a league-low one turnover.

Grade: C

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2)

All the Steelers have to hang their hat on is their 37-19 win at Carolina in Week 3. Their other victory was a hollow one. They blew a 24-point lead to the Browns at home in Week 1 before winning on a last-season field goal. They played with matches again against a seemingly inferior opponent at home Sunday, and this time they got burned. The Steelers hit the snooze button, falling behind the winless Buccaneers, 10-0, in the first five minutes. They had a 24-17 lead entering the fourth quarter, but made Mike Glennon look like Peyton Manning and lost, 27-24. The Steelers have allowed 42 fourth-quarter points. Only Jacksonville has allowed more.

Grade: C

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

St. Louis Rams (1-2)

The Rams were doomed from the start when Sam Bradford was lost for the season. But what’s really missing is their pass rush since Chris Long went down in the season opener. The Rams were third in the NFL last season with 53 sacks. This year, they have one. Long complemented Robert Quinn’s 19 sacks in 2013 with 8.5 of his own. But he’s on injured reserve/designated to return list with an ankle injury and Quinn has no sacks since signing a four-year, $66 million contract extension through 2019. St. Louis won a game with third-string quarterback Austin Davis, but couldn’t protect a 21-0 lead at home against the Cowboys.

Grade: C

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

New York Jets (1-3)

In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately NFL, when your only win came in Week 1 against the woeful Raiders, your grade won’t be very high. The Jets had a 21-3 lead at Green Bay in Week 2, but it’s been all downhill from there. Geno Smith has thrown four touchdowns and is tied for a league-worst five interceptions. He’s also lost two fumbles and is largely responsible for the Jets’ minus-6 turnover ratio, which is tied with the Saints for worst in the league. The Jets defense ranks third overall and leads the league with 63.2 rushing yards allowed per game, but for now it’s all in vain.

Grade: C-

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3)

The Buccaneers were well on their way to flunking out of first grade with this report card after the Falcons hung 56 points on them in Week 3. But they got off to a better start Sunday at Pittsburgh, jumping out to a 10-0 lead. They squandered that lead, but backup quarterback Mike Glennon engineered a fourth-quarter comeback, and the Bucs won in the final seconds, 27-24. Tampa Bay started the season with a 20-14 loss to Carolina and a 19-17 loss to St. Louis, both at home, before the debacle at Atlanta. The injury bug bit the Bucs hard, but Michael Johnson and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy returned to the starting lineup at Pittsburgh.

Grade: C-

(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Tennessee Titans (1-3)

There aren’t many bright spots this season for the Titans, but they are a shining example of how little Week 1 can mean in the NFL. They seemed to be a franchise on the rise when they won, 26-10, at Kansas City in Week 1. Then they gave back all the stock they gained by losing by the same margin at home to Dallas in Week 2. Since then, they’ve been out-scored by a combined 74-24 margin at Cincinnati and Indianapolis. The Titans have converted 25.5 percent of their third downs this season, by far the worst in the league. The winless Raiders are No. 31 at 33.3 percent.

Grade: C-

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Washington Redskins (1-3)

Big news out of our nation’s capital: Kirk Cousins is human. Robert Griffin III might get his starting job back after all. Cousins threw four interceptions in the second half of the Redskins’ 45-14 home loss to the Giants on Thursday night. The Redskins’ only win this season is a 41-10 decision at home against winless Jacksonville. That won’t boost their grade. Washington ranks eighth in the NFL with 324.2 yards allowed per game, but 26th with 27.2 points allowed per game. The latter is more telling. After allowing 148 yards against the Jaguars, the Redskins allowed 379 yards at Philadelphia and 449 yards against the Giants.

Grade: D

(Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4)

The Blake Bortles Era essentially began in Week 3, and the rookie quarterback already has thrown four interceptions in six quarters. He completed 29 of 37 passes Sunday at San Diego, however. The Jaguars have the worst point differential in the league, and it’s not even close. They’re at minus-94, and the Raiders are next at minus-52. At least they rank higher than their winless brethren on offense. The Jags are 31st with 279.2 yards per game. They have no one to look down to defensively. They’re last with 451.2 yards allowed per game. Jacksonville jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first half at Philadelphia, but hasn’t led in a second half since.

Grade: F

(Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Oakland Raiders (0-4)

The Raiders front office handed out a report card of sorts Monday night, and head coach Dennis Allen flunked out. The Raiders fired Allen after two-plus seasons. The last straw was Sunday’s 38-14 loss to a mediocre Dolphins team in London. The Raiders gave the Patriots a game in Week 3 at New England, losing, 16-9. But that respectable effort was sandwiched between a game in which Charles Woodson admitted the Raiders “suck” (a 30-14 home loss to Houston) and Sunday’s game when fullback Marcel Reese described the team’s performance as “embarrassing.”

Grade: F

(Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
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