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2012 NFL Grades, Week 4: Vikings the new biggest surprise in NFL?

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

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The week-to-week fluctuation in the NFL is just crazy. Bury a team one week, praise them the next. Look at the Chargers and 49ers for example. Sure they beat up on bad teams in Week 4, but winning the games you're supposed to win is a hard thing to do in the NFL.

Of course, it's not like things are calm at even a quarter-to-quarter pace in this league. The Bills looked like they were handing the Patriots a whipping and if you left to use the bathroom, you might've walked back in to the Patriots leading by 20 points. That's a reminder, by the way, of what New England is capable of doing. Worry about the defense all you want, but they're going to put up points and they're going to put them up quickly if they get rolling.

The biggest-surprise-of-the-season title moves quickly too: no one would've taken anyone other than New Orleans at 0-3 or Arizona at 3-0 before this week. But we have to start talking about what the Vikings are doing in the NFC North. How can this team be the same one that needed overtime to beat the Jags and then lost to the Colts late? It's like they turned on some switch to become disturbingly physical and beat up on the 49ers and Lions over the last two weeks. Adrian Peterson is getting strong and Christian Ponder is improving all the while too. If they keep this up, the NFC North is going to get real weird and real interesting really quickly.

TeamGradeAnalysis
Ravens 23, Browns 16
BCut 'em some slack for playing four games in 18 days and still winning. Joe Flacco continues to go down the field and Torrey Smith is just dangerous. The defenses struggles should be a major concern, however. They're getting lit up by just about everyone.
B-Strong road effort from Brandon Weeden, the "Hail Mary" throw aside. He needs some weapons in the worst way. Would've liked to see more of Trent Richardson. This defense will only get better when Joe Haden returns. All's not lost, Cleveland, even at 0-4.
49ers 34, Jets 0
AWhen the game was in hand (24-0, 10 to go in the fourth), the Jets had 137 total yards. 24 points with their defense is going to beat the Jets 10 out of 10 times. Jim Harbaugh trolling Rex Ryan/Tony Sparano by successfully running the wildcat with Colin Kaepernick locks them in for an A this week.
FAnother bad non-contact injury for the Jets, this time to Santonio Holmes. The chants for Tim Tebow are fun and all, but it wasn't going to matter against San Francisco's defense. Fortunately for Rex Ryan, injuries are going to mask what might've been a bad season regardless.
Chargers 37, Chiefs 20
B+Given how badly the Chargers looked last week, this was an impressive bounceback on the road against a division rival. Four forced fumbles and three picks, plus five turnovers at halftime from Bolts defense. Offense will get rolling fullsteam eventually, so this is a good sign from San Diego.
D-Is Matt Cassel the worst starting quarterback in the NFL? Jamaal Charles flashed some but fumbled twice, and most of Dwayne Bowe's yards were in garbage time. This is a franchise reeling.
Falcons 30, Panthers 28
C+Tempted to fail Carolina for that mind-boggling decision not to end the game by going for it on fourth down late. But Charles Johnson and the pass rush showed up, they shut down Julio Jones (at the expense of Roddy White blowing up) and the Panthers offense was very impressive for most of the game. Brutal loss. How can you not go for the first?
B+Best-case scenario has them three games up in the division. Defense wasn't spectacular, but Michael Turner looked fresh (the Panthers have a way of doing that) and what a job by Matt Ryan to engineer that last-second drive. Not unhappy with picking them to win the Super Bowl at the moment.
Texans 38, Titans 14
APeople are going to preach about the schedule, but Houston's the best team in the NFL right now by a large margin. They can run, they can pass, they can stop the run and they can stop the pass. Just an efficient killing machine right now.
D+The good news: Chris Johnson got over 100 yards rushing against a tough defense. The bad news: Tennessee got eviscerated by Houston. Jake Locker getting hurt early isn't an excuse, even if Matt Hasselbeck threw a pair of pick sixes. They were just overmatched.
Rams 19, Seahawks 13
BGreg Zuerlein is a freaking BEAST. Sweet fake on the field goal, with Seattle never seeing Danny Amendola in the end zone. Rushing defense is a little concerning and Rams got lucky on the three picks by Russell Wilson, but a big-time effort to get to 2-2.
CDefense keeps doing a good enough job to keep Seattle in games. Beast Mode ran well, but the passing game is a major, major concern. Two of Wilson's three picks were wide receiver mistakes and they won't take shots down the field. Why not?
Patriots 52, Bills 28
C-What an awkward, embarrassing collapse for Buffalo, who was on the verge of taking over the AFC East and potentially turning the tides on this season. They played really well for a stretch in the middle of the game, so I don't really feel like it's worth of failing them. But they got shredded by Tom Brady late and just melted down.
B+The defense looked terrible early, Rob Gronkowski was dropping balls and Tom Brady couldn't find his rhythm. Down 14 to 7 at the half, they went HAM in the second half, putting up 31 points in the fourth quarter. Two 100-yard rushers and two 100-yard receivers for just the second time in NFL history.
Vikings 20, Lions 13
ADetroit's not great, but Minnesota's shattering expectations right now at 3-1. The last two weeks have been a revelation, with the Vikings playing a hard-nosed brand of defensive football and Adrian Peterson really getting things going. Percy Harvin is disgusting. If you saw this coming, you're a liar.
D+Kept it close for the second week in a row and still lost. The defense looks lost and Matthew Stafford is probably the most hated guy in your fantasy league right now. No running game to speak of still and if Calvin Johnson is hurt, goodnight. Playoffs aren't an issue, it's staying out of the NFC North basement that should be the concern.
Cardinals 24, Dolphins 21
B-Arizona's not going to win a lot of blowouts, and this is a big victory. But when a rookie shreds them for 400-plus passing yards that's a major concern when the Cardinals success is predicated on defense. Kevin Kolb's late goal-line pick, pass interference on Larry Fitzgerald aside, was mind-boggingly stupid and should've cost them this game.
B+Ryan Tannehill went for 431 yards (245 of them to Brian Hartline!) and Fins lost a crippler in overtime. Gotta kind of feel good about the direction they're going in all things considered though right? There are worse losses against undefeated teams, but this one still stings.
Broncos 37, Raiders 6
ABeat. Down. Statement game from Peyton Manning (30-for-38, 338 yards, 3 TDs) after a week where everyone wanted to know about his arm strength. Denver defense shut down the Raiders on all front as well.
FOakland couldn't harnass any momentum after a stunner against Steelers. Offense was lethargic, Darren McFadden did nothing, Carson Palmer was ineffective. Defense was even worse and got shredded all day long.
Bengals 27, Jaguars 10
DGame started well and Jaguars fell apart after a fake punt from Cincy. Where's the rushing game? Nice effort from Justin Blackmon, but that's low expectations and against a banged-up secondary for the Bengals.
B3-1 for Cincinnati now and they're beating up on the teams they should. Schedule looks good for them and the Ravens loss is distant in the mirror at this point. A.J. Green might be at top-five wideout right now. BenJarvus Green-Ellis fumbles are a bit odd and concerning. Defense is still a problem, Jags just couldn't do much.
Packers 28, Saints 27
BNearly got hosed by the refs again this week, but managed to squeak out a victory. Turning of the tides after Aaron Rodgers' eye poke was weird, but it tells you a lot about this team. Defense battled Saints best effort to date, but they've got to be better.
BTheir best game of the season is still a loss, just like this season now that they're 0-4. At least they showed signs of being potent offensively during this one, and, um, they can stop Graham Harrell?
Redskins 24, Buccaneers 22
BSure seemed like Tampa Bay should've been put away earlier than they were. But a win's a win. Nice job by Robert Griffin III to lead them down. Better job by Billy Cundiff to get out of town with his head intact. Very flawed defense still, but the offense is what keeps you coming back
C+Dug themselves a big hole before they realized how much they paid Vincent Jackson and actually used him. Does Greg Schiano know he doesn't need to be conservative all the time? Tough loss given the way they took the lead late, but a good start might've saved them the pain.
Eagles 19, Giants 17
B-Killer red-zone pick by Eli Manning hurt them, as did some questionable play-calling on the final drive. Defense couldn't do much and surprisingly only sacked Vick twice. Rushing game needs to get rejuvenated and they need Hakeem Nicks healthy.
B+Turnover-free effort from the offense was a refreshing change and Michael Vick looked good passing the ball and running. LeSean McCoy almost always needs more touches. Defense limited Giants on the ground too, but Philly was lucky to get out with a win anyway.
Cowboys vs. Bears
DFive picks for Tony Romo isn't acceptable on Monday night at home. The defense got shredded by Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. Dez Bryant caught eight balls for 105 yards but he dropped some big passes and cost Romo at least one pick. Embarrassing effort in prime time for Dallas.
B+Bears opportunistic defense took advantage of a couple terrible Romo throws, but that's what they do and shouldn't be faulted for it, especially when they picked him five times. Good Jay Cutler shined big time with a very efficient and nice game. Brandon Marshall whipped up on Brandon Carr most of the game.
 
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