As a writer, you never know when inspiration might strike. That light-bulb moment could happen anywhere, whether it’s in the shower or the drive-through line at Dunkin’. It could even come while creeping on your next-door neighbor who, for whatever reason, felt that 9 AM on Monday morning was an appropriate time to rip a tree out of the earth.
I don’t know about you, but when I see a tree fall at the hands of a Chevy Silverado, my mind immediately conjures up an image of a crestfallen Tom Brady, confetti falling from the rafters, watching in anguish while the Eagles celebrate their Super Bowl win. And I think to myself, is this how it ends? Was that the Patriots’ last gasp, the closest they’ll ever come to another Super Bowl under Bill Belichick? Is this the year the almighty, unflinching Patriots finally meet their fiery demise, slamming to the pavement as unceremoniously as a toppled tree?
We’ve seen this vanishing act before from New England. The last time we wrote the Patriots’ obituary was after a disheartening loss to Kansas City in 2014. The lasting soundbite from that defeat was Belichick’s defiantly dismissive “We’re on to Cincinnati,” which later became the Patriots’ battle cry en route to another Super Bowl. And if you have a really good memory, you’ll recall in 2003 when New England opened its season with a 31-0 loss to the Bills, who were quarterbacked at that time by former Patriots great Drew Bledsoe. All they did after that was go 14-2 and hoist another Lombardi Trophy in the famous Wardrobe Malfunction Super Bowl.
The Brady Era Patriots are more than just a dynasty—they’re cockroaches, the NFL’s unrelenting, ceaseless insect overlords, a species immune to extermination. The Patriots thrive off doubt in such a way that the phrase “Never count out Touchdown Tom” (first coined by Jon Bois of Breaking Madden and Lunch Judgment fame), has become a part of the sports lexicon. Age, injuries, the growing hubris of their maniacal, high-five-snubbing head coach—none of these obstacles have ever posed much of a serious threat to New England’s supreme greatness. Until now.
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The Patriots have been on the ropes more than a few times, but somehow their latest setback, an embarrassing Sunday night loss to Detroit, feels different. Sure the Patriots were undermanned, playing without Julian Edelman and the recently-arrived Josh Gordon. But how often does a Bill Belichick team get outfoxed? What makes it even worse is that the team they lost to employs a former Belichick assistant, Matt Patricia, as its head coach. The Lions played keep-away from New England for the better part of four quarters but the Pats never caught on.
Surely the cerebral Patriots would never make a clock management mistake—those kinds of bone-headed blunders are for other, lesser teams. But on Sunday, the impossible happened. The bright-minded, ahead-of-the-curve Patriots looked nothing like the ironclad football superpower they’ve been portrayed as for the past 15-plus years. Establishing the run with Sony Michel … down by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter? Targeting James White a mere three times out of the backfield? Failing to look for any receiver not named Rob Gronkowski, even with Gronk getting mobbed by two and three defenders on every play? When speaking about New England’s dynasty, we often make reference to the Patriot Way. Well on Sunday night, the Patriot Way looked pretty stale and unimaginative.
We knew New England’s run wouldn’t last forever, but is this really how it has to end for one of the greatest teams of our lifetime, a decades-long marvel of winning and professionalism reduced to fallen tree status? Or is this just the precursor to New England’s greatest comeback yet? That’s for the Patriots to decide.
Now for your Week 4 Power Rankings …
1. Los Angeles Rams
Last Week: 1
The Rams like to torture fantasy owners by making every week a guessing game at wide receiver. Sunday was Robert Woods’ turn to blow up as the USC alum spouted off for 104 yards and two touchdowns on 10 receptions. The Rams’ offense is firing on all fronts but the defense is looking a bit weary, especially in the secondary with injuries to All-Pros Marcus Peters (calf) and Aqib Talib (ankle).
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 3
If the season ended today, there’s no doubt who the NFL MVP would be. That discussion begins and ends with Patrick Mahomes, who has throttled his opponents to the tune of 13 touchdowns, an NFL record for the first three games. Coming from Texas Tech, Mahomes must feel right at home in Kansas City, where every matchup is a Big 12 shootout. KC didn’t play a lick of defense their first two games and that trend continued in Week 3 when the Chiefs yielded over 400 yards of offense and 27 points to the visiting 49ers. This is Kansas City’s third 3-0 start under Andy Reid.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 5
Carson Wentz played reasonably well in his return from ACL surgery but Philly’s defense deserves most of the credit for putting the clamps on Andrew Luck in Sunday’s win. With Jay Ajayi (back) and Darren Sproles (hamstring) unavailable, the Eagles split up backfield work between Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood. Clement won the touch battle 19-13, though Smallwood outgained him by 16 yards and also contributed a go-ahead touchdown with 3:02 remaining in the fourth quarter. Jordan Matthews logged two catches in his first game back with Philadelphia following brief stints in Buffalo and New England.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 2
Leonard Fournette practiced all last week, but still couldn’t get the green light to suit up on Sunday. What is this tomfoolery—are the Jags saving him for the playoffs or something? After slaughtering the Patriots in Week 2, Blake Bortles couldn’t even lead a touchdown drive against the Titans in Week 3. Donte Moncrief, who signed for an outrageous $9.6 million this offseason, has reeled in just seven-of-17 targets for 64 yards with two drops and a lost fumble through three games. Way to earn your commission, Donte.
5. New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 12
Drew Brees had his fingerprints all over the Saints’ Week 3 victory, notching five touchdowns including a walk-off winner to beat the Falcons. The 39-year-old passed Brett Favre to become the NFL’s all-time completion leader in Sunday’s win and is closing in on Peyton Manning’s record for most career passing yards. Michael Thomas also made history on Sunday, setting the NFL mark for most receptions in the first three games (38). Only two players—Thomas and Adam Thielen—have caught more balls than Alvin Kamara this year.
6. Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 11
Christian McCaffrey is a glorified wide receiver, they said. He’s too small to be an NFL workhorse, they said. Erroneous on both counts! C-Mac went ballistic in Week 3, slicing and dicing his way to 184 yards on a career-high 28 carries. No Greg Olsen? No problem for Cam Newton, who has quietly thrown for five touchdowns against one interception over his last two outings. C.J. Anderson chipped in with his first Panthers touchdown on Sunday, scoring in a win over Cincinnati.
7. Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 4
Talk about laying an egg. Sunday should have been a layup but instead the Vikes fell flat in an ugly home loss to Buffalo. Latavius Murray torpedoed every fantasy lineup he was in, amassing just one yard on two carries while filling in for an injured Dalvin Cook. Adam Thielen has quickly emerged as Kirk Cousins’ go-to target in Minnesota, drawing a league-high 44 targets. His streak of three straight 100-yard receiving games is the longest of his career.
8. Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 17
Miami is 3-0 for the first time since 2013. The Dolphins wouldn’t be where they are without Xavien Howard, who has quietly emerged as one of football’s top cornerbacks. Howard erased Amari Cooper in a Week 3 win over Oakland while upping his league-leading interception total to three. The NFL’s new roughing the passer rules were supposed to improve player safety, but instead they’re having the opposite effect. Last week William Hayes suffered a season-ending injury in an effort to avoid hitting Derek Carr, which could have triggered a 15-yard personal foul.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 14
Ben Roethlisberger’s lopsided home/road splits are well-documented but on Monday night that narrative didn’t hold up as the 36-year-old rolled to an impressive 353 yards in a Week 3 victory over Tampa Bay. One of Roethlisberger’s three touchdowns went to Vance McDonald, who obliterated Chris Conte with one of the fiercest stiff arms you’ll ever see. It’s only fitting that the inventors of the Terrible Towel lead the league in penalty flags with 37.
10. Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 8
Atlanta’s secondary is toast with starting safeties Keanu Neal (torn ACL) and Ricardo Allen (torn Achilles) both out for the season. The Falcons’ beat-up defense could lead to more shootouts, which would actually be a good thing for fantasy owners. Matt Ryan bottomed out in a loss to Philadelphia in Week 1 but he’s been much better since, completing 77.8 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and only one interception over his last two outings. For the #NeverJulio crowd—rookie Calvin Ridley has more touchdowns in his last two games (four) than Julio Jones had all of last season (three).
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 9
Ryan Fitzpatrick had a few hiccups in the first half against Pittsburgh on Monday night but he still had a productive fantasy week, eclipsing 400 yards passing for the third time in as many games. FitzMagic had gone over the 400-yard hump just once in his career prior to this season. Even with Jameis Winston eligible to return from suspension, don’t be surprised if Fitzpatrick gets another look in Week 4. Among tight ends, only Jared Cook and Travis Kelce have gone for more yards than 2017 first-rounder O.J. Howard this year.
12. Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 6
Another week, another soft Clay Matthews roughing the passer call. I get the frustration but at the same time, you have to admit, it was a little rude of Matthews not to offer Alex Smith a pillow when he sacked him. Aaron Jones returned to action last week after being suspended for Weeks 1 and 2. He and Jamaal Williams each saw seven touches in the loss to Washington. With Davon House headed for I.R. and Kevin King working back from a groin injury, the cornerback-needy Packers took a flyer on Bashaud Breeland, who started 58 games during his four-year tenure with the Redskins.
13. New England Patriots
Last Week: 7
The reeling Patriots are off to their worst start since 2012. The 10 points the Patriots logged in last week’s loss to Detroit were their fewest since Week 4 of 2016 (they lost 16-0 to Buffalo in the final game of Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension). Blake Bortles, Sam Darnold, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning and Ryan Tannehill—what do all these quarterbacks have in common? For the moment, all of them are averaging more passing yards per game than Tom Brady. Chris Hogan has also been a big-time flop, managing just seven catches over three outings this year.
14. Los Angeles Chargers
Last Week: 10
Sunday’s Battle of Los Angeles (the football game, not the Rage Against the Machine album) didn’t go the Chargers’ way, but at least it was a good showcase for Mike Williams, who broke out for 81 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He’s visited the end zone three times with Travis Benjamin sidelined the past two weeks. Derwin James recorded his first career interception in Week 3, picking off Jared Goff in the end zone. So far, the standout rookie holds PFF’s No. 4 safety grade out of 83 qualifiers.
15. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 13
Tyler Boyd, who famously spoiled the Ravens’ playoff chances with this dagger last year, has quickly graduated from “anonymous DFS punt play” to a legitimate fantasy starter. Boyd has been bubbling hot over his last two games, racking up 223 yards and a pair of touchdowns during that span. With A.J. Green slowed by a groin injury, Boyd should have a chance to do damage against Atlanta in Week 4. Andy Dalton followed up his four-touchdown blow-up against the Ravens with a poor showing in Week 3, tossing four interceptions in a loss to Carolina.
16. Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 18
Coming off a pair of injury-ruined seasons in Arizona, John Brown is looking to make up for lost time The 28-year-old has meshed well with Joe Flacco in the early going, averaging 74 yards with two touchdowns in his first three games. Javorius Allen hasn’t moved the needle much as a ball-carrier this year (2.0 yards per attempt) or as a pass-catcher (5.4 yards per reception), but he’s made up for those shortcomings by landing in the end zone four times already. That’s worth something but let’s pump the brakes on this “top-level player” narrative that John Harbaugh keeps pushing. I know a vulture when I see one.
17. Chicago Bears
Last Week: 15
The Bears went for the home run last year by drafting Mitchell Trubisky ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson but so far that gamble hasn’t paid off. The former UNC Tar Heel has averaged a puny 192.4 passing yards with three touchdowns and six interceptions over his last five outings going back to last season. Meanwhile Khalil Mack is tied for the league-lead with four sacks and is also tops in forced fumbles with three.
18. Washington Redskins
Last Week: 21
Adrian Peterson put Green Bay in the blender on Sunday, beating them for 120 yards and two touchdowns in a Redskins victory. AD sprained his ankle in that contest but will have the bye week to heal up. Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams is also hoping for a speedy recovery after undergoing minor knee surgery on Tuesday. Washington’s top three receivers have combined for just 258 yards through three games. Fourteen receivers in the league have more than that by themselves.
19. Denver Broncos
Last Week: 16
Phillip Lindsay was shaping up as a decent fantasy play last week … until he went and punched a guy. That opened the door for fellow rookie Royce Freeman, who compiled 53 rushing yards while also scoring his second touchdown in as many games. Case Keenum’s lethargic start continued Sunday as the 30-year-old struggled to just 192 yards in a loss to Baltimore. Keenum is tied for the league-lead with five interceptions.
20. Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 23
The Titans registered a meager 83 passing yards in Week 3 but still escaped with a 9-6 win over Jacksonville (the AFC South: where field goals happen). Mariota is still feeling the effects of a pinched nerve in his throwing elbow (hence the Titans’ non-existent passing game) but his other body parts seem to be doing just fine, as evidenced by the 51 rushing yards he scrambled for in Week 3. Has there been a bigger disappointment in fantasy this year than Derrick Henry? Probably, but he’s still been a huge bust, averaging a sluggish 3.0 yards per carry with no touchdowns.
21. Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 26
Victorious at last. All it took was an insane second-half comeback by first overall pick and newly minted starter Baker Mayfield. Unlike last year when Tyrod Taylor inexplicably lost his starting job to Nathan Peterman (predictably, the move backfired immediately), he deserved this benching after posting a miserable 63.7 quarterback rating over his first three outings. I guarantee you’ve never had a day like the one Carlos Hyde had last Thursday when he led the Browns to victory with two touchdowns, then jetted to the hospital to be with his girlfriend, who gave birth to the couple’s first son. Oh, and I should also mention it was his birthday.
22. Detroit Lions
Last Week: 30
How perfect is it that Matt Patricia’s first win as a head coach came against his long-time mentor Bill Belichick? Kerryon Johnson pressed all the right buttons in Week 3, steamrolling his way to a career-high 101 rushing yards, the most by a Lion since 2013. The rookie is still splitting work with LeGarrette Blount—both logged 18 touches in the victory over New England—but it should be only a matter of time before Johnson emerges as the lead ball-carrier. Detroit nearly doubled the Patriots’ time of possession in Week 3, maintaining the ball for over 39 minutes.
23. Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 27
The Seahawks have never started 0-3 under Pete Carroll, a streak that continued with a Week 3 win over Dallas. Chris Carson grinded out 102 rushing yards in the victory while out-touching Rashaad Penny by a convincing 34-3 margin. That was the first 100-yard rushing game by a Seahawk since 2016 when Thomas Rawls went for 161 yards in a playoff win over Detroit. Tyler Lockett’s three receiving touchdowns this year are more than he had all of last season (two).
24. Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 22
Post-shoulder-surgery Andrew Luck has been conservative, mostly settling for short and intermediate throws rather than attacking downfield. That may explain why Luck ranks near the bottom of the league in yards per attempt (5.34). Eric Ebron drew a team-high 11 targets while filling in for an injured Jack Doyle last week but couldn’t make the most of his opportunity, managing a mere five catches for 33 yards in a loss to Philadelphia. Adam Vinatieri’s next made field goal will be the 566th of his career, which would break a tie with Morten Andersen for the most in NFL history.
25. New York Giants
Last Week: 28
A week after nabbing 14 catches against the Cowboys, Saquon Barkley balled out again, this time gashing the Texans for 117 yards (82 rushing, 35 receiving) and a touchdown. New York’s first win of the season (and of the Pat Shurmur Era) was a costly one as tight end Evan Engram will miss the next several weeks with a sprained MCL. Odell Beckham hasn’t scored a touchdown yet this year but he’ll have a good chance to get rid of that goose egg Sunday against the Saints’ struggling secondary.
26. Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 20
Earl Thomas aced his Cowboys audition on Sunday, intercepting two passes against his future employer (by the way, how is this not tampering?). Ezekiel Elliott surged to a season-high 127 rushing yards in that game, but shot the Cowboys in the foot with a pair of costly mistakes including a back-breaking fumble at the end of a 27-yard run. Sean Lee came into Week 3 with a hamstring injury, only to hurt his other hamstring because well, it’s just been that kind of year for Dallas.
27. San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 19
It’s been a brutal injury year for the Niners, who have already lost Jerick McKinnon and Jimmy Garoppolo to ACL tears. With Garoppolo shelved, San Francisco will now turn to 2017 third-rounder C.J. Beathard at quarterback. Matt Breida has been out-touched by teammate Alfred Morris the past two weeks, but is still tied for the league-lead with 274 rushing yards. Go figure. Raise your hand if you thought George Kittle would have more receiving yards (191) than Rob Gronkowski (189) through three weeks. Okay, liar.
28. New York Jets
Last Week: 24
Isaiah Crowell continued his recent scoring binge by making a pair of end-zone visits against the Browns (his former team) on Thursday Night Football. He’s now tied with Carlos Hyde (his replacement in Cleveland) and Todd Gurley for the league-lead with four rushing touchdowns. Robby Anderson’s nightmare start continued with another clunker in Week 3, finishing the night with two catches for 22 yards and a lost fumble. New York has committed a league-high eight turnovers this year with three coming in last week’s loss.
29. Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 32
After getting absolutely rocked in Weeks 1 and 2, the Bills pulled a rabbit out of their hat in Week 3, stunning the Vikings on their home turf. And they did it without the help of star running back LeSean McCoy, who was held out with a rib injury. We all know about Josh Allen’s cannon arm but on Sunday, he beat the Vikes with his feet, gliding his way to 39 yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns. Chris Ivory’s 55-yard reception on Sunday was the longest of his nine-year career.
30. Houston Texans
Last Week: 25
Remember a few seasons ago when Blake Bortles was the king of garbage time, continually piling on meaningless fourth-quarter stats to the delight of fantasy owners? Well now that crown belongs to Deshaun Watson. Four of his five touchdown passes this year have come in the game’s final period. J.J. Watt ended his eight-game sack drought in a big way, recording three takedowns against Giants quarterback Eli Manning in Week 3. It’s been 311 days since Houston’s last victory, which came against the Cardinals in Week 11 of last season.
31. Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 29
The Raiders have been a good first-half team this year, outscoring their opponents 35-17 over the first 30 minutes. Unfortunately their point differential in the second half is -47 including a miserable -34 in the fourth quarter. With Amari Cooper getting shadow treatment from Xavien Howard, Jordy Nelson went off for 173 yards on six catches in a Week 3 loss to Miami. That marked Nelson’s first 100-yard game since Week 10 of 2016. Marshawn Lynch will take a three-game touchdown streak into Sunday’s home battle against Cleveland.
32. Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 31
This isn’t hard, guys. Just give David Johnson the ball. After registering a single catch in Week 2, DJ was only marginally more involved against Chicago, tallying four catches for 30 yards in a Week 3 loss. Sam Bradford fared somewhat better in that game, at least compared to his previous efforts, but he didn’t show enough to keep his job as Arizona will turn it over to rookie Josh Rosen in Week 4. After being invisible in the Cardinals’ first two games, second-rounder Christian Kirk announced himself to the fantasy community with a workable 7-for-90 line on eight targets.
Biggest Jump: Dolphins
Biggest Drop: 49ers