We're at the quarter pole of the NFL season, which means we know ... well, I'd be lying if I said we knew everything about every team in the league. We don't. We do know that there are, as always, teams that are surprising (the Cardinals, the Vikings, the Chargers even) and teams that are disappointing (the Saints, the Panthers, the Lions, the Steelers even).
There are many more games to be played, and there is a very good chance that when we do this again in four weeks many teams will have a drastically different outlook on the season. But we certainly can assign a grade to each team a quarter of the way into the season.
When deciding on these grades, I actually did not simply think "What letter will make the fan base of these teams angry?" and then jot down some notes. Instead, I took into account schedule, performance and expectations. Yes, expectations count, too, in my book. The Dolphins, simply based on their record and one head-to-head matchup, are "worse" than the Jets. But Rex Ryan didn't pencil the Dolphins in for a February trip to New Orleans. In fact, no one did and instead they've been competitive and darn close to being 3-1.
Anyway, onto the grades. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll probably get angry, and you're more than welcome to leave the grade you think your team deserves in the comments. Or just send me your electronic hate mail on Twitter @willbrinson.
2-2 isn't ideal, but two losses are against Ravens and Cards with 7-1 record. Secondary needs to shape up, in particular Devin McCourty. Seeing the offensive line dominant Buffalo's high-priced defensive front as Patriots established a running game was impressive. If/when Aaron Hernandez gets back, the offense should only become more dangerous, which is a scary thought.
|C-||All the money spent by the Bills this offseason looks like an early waste. Mario Williams is a strong candidate for LVP through four games. Ryan Fitzpatrick remains inconsistent. Buffalo got lucky injuries to Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller weren't worse, or else they could be in a lot of trouble. Tough two-game stretch for a team that hasn't shown it can handle the big stage.|
|D+||Debilitating injuries to Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes aren't reasons for a bad grade, but lack of performance on both sides of the ball will be going forward. The offense blew up in Week 1 and has looked like the preseason rendition since. Bilal Powell needs to provide a spark. 21st overall defense and 31st in rushing defense. We're all blatantly staring at Tim Tebow Time.|
|C+||At 1-3, the Dolphins have the worst record in the AFC East. That's not good, obviously. But it also exceeds expectations, especially when you consider how close they were to upsetting the Jets and Cardinals. Ryan Tannehill's been much better than expected, with no weapons whatsoever. Cameron Wake's been a standout through four games, especially impressive given the defensive scheme shift.|
|B+||Tempted to give Norv Turner an A+ just for getting out of September with a winning record. But the schedule is concerning: Tennessee, Oakland and KC are cupcakes. Atlanta exposed the Chargers pass protection. Defense looks improved and this is a scary front seven. Ryan Mathews has to produce. Philip Rivers completion percentage (69) is there, but so are picks (four) and his yards per attempt (7.1) is way down right now.|
|B||Is Peyton Manning Old Peyton Manning or New Peyton Manning? Or are we just overblowing the whole thing? Probably the latter. Their only two losses are to the best two teams in the NFL. Fourth-highest point differential in the NFL. Two beatdowns and two near comebacks. People should be more bullish on the Broncos.|
|D+||If not for the comeback against the Steelers, the Raiders are a total trainwreck. Their defense, purged in the offseason, can't stop anyone. Carson Palmer non-yards numbers are pedestrian. Darren McFadden's taking time to adjust to Greg Knapp's zone-blocking scheme.|
|F||Only a Drew Brees-led Saints collapse keeps Kansas City from being winless. Jamaal Charles has been electric at times but has a few fumbles and one sub-10-yard outing. Matt Cassel clearly isn't the answer at quarterback. There is so much invested on the defensive side of the ball for this team and so far not too much in terms of return in 2012.|
|B+||Baltimore looks like a Super Bowl contender, but the defense is concern. The loss to the Eagles proved exactly that, when the Ravens' D fell apart in the second half. Joe Flacco's making big strides but still making big mistakes. 3-1 over the span of 18 days is damn impressive. Torrey Smith's emerging as a legit No. 1. They need Terrell Suggs back to make the defense truly effective.|
|B||Another AFC North defense that isn't living up to the billing. Geno Atkins is having a strong year, but the cornerbacks are always hurt. Andy Dalton's proving all the doubters wrong. A.J. Green might be a top-five wideout right now. BenJarvus Green-Ellis' fumbling is random and concerning. Andrew Hawkins could be "the next Victor Cruz." Need to see the Bengals perform well against Baltimore and Pittsburgh before they get the "+" on the grade.|
|C-||Only three games for the Steelers, but limping into their bye after blowing a big lead against Oakland is embarrassing. Mike Wallace didn't skip a beat because of his holdout. Ben Roethlisberger is quietly having his best season ever. The defense needs to get healthy. Let's see how they do with James Harrison and Troy Polamalu back. Pittsburgh can't afford too many slip-ups in what will be a competitive divisional race.|
|D+||0-4 is terrible, obviously. But the Browns are showing some life. (Hence the plus!) Brandon Weeden was impressive on the road in a close game against the Ravens. Their biggest problem is a lack of weapons for the young quarterback: His top target, Greg Little, has to stop dropping balls. The defense will get better quickly with the return of Joe Haden. Trent Richardson needs to get the rock more often in both running and passing situations.|
|A||The only argument against the Texans is the schedule -- the Broncos and three patsies aren't exactly Murderer's Row. But a plus-70 point differential four weeks in is stout. J.J. Watt's the quarter-way-in Defensive Player of the Year, hands down. Arian Foster continues to run well. They might not have played their best football, and they could clinch the division by December. Or earlier.|
|C+||Indy was one Cecil Shorts touchdown away from a winning record before the bye. They'll get handled by better teams but Andrew Luck showed why he was the No. 1 pick. The defense is simply stripped down and in transition. Chuck Pagano's absence is necessary (of course), but might hurt this team as it continues to try and build.|
|C-||Jaguars defense was a top-10 unit last year. They're not this season, and that's why they're 1-3 in 2012. There are winnable games coming soon, but at some point Mike Mularkey needs to loosen the reigns on Blaine Gabbert a little. Maurice Jones-Drew looks to be back, but it might not matter with Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson both busting out (in the bad way) early on this year.|
|D+||Chris Johnson had one good game but otherwise is a bust. The offensive line can't block, which is weird with Mike Munchak as the coach. Defense can't really stop anyone -- they've given up the most points in the NFL so far this season. Maybe Matt Hasselbeck can turn it around?|
|B+||Eagles are 3-1 by the skin of their teeth, and that's being generous. Four points separate them from the top of the division and Philadelphia riots. They're going to be dangerous if Michael Vick keeps avoiding turnovers. LeSean McCoy needs the rock more. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are playing well, but it's not clear if they're meeting their market value just yet. This defense is much improved over last year's unit though.|
|B||Technically last in the division, the Giants actually have the best point differential (+27) in the NFC East. They've been hit or miss this year, though, which is pretty Giants-esque. The secondary still needs work. And if Jason Pierre-Paul & Co. aren't getting after the quarterback, you can score on New York. David Wilson and Andre Brown need to keep stepping up to relieve Ahmad Bradshaw. The passing game is fine no matter what as long as Eli Manning's under center.|
|C-||Could there be a bigger rollercoaster team in the NFL? Whip the Giants in the opener on the road. Lose in Seattle. Handle your biz against Tampa Bay. Egg at home on prime time against Chicago. It's consistently baffling. Monday was the first time the secondary got beat, and they should be fine. Dez Bryant needs to get it together. Four of the next five are on the road. Tony Romo's team can't vacillate all season and expect the Cowboys to make the playoffs.|
|B-||Big-time injuries to Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker really sunk the Redskins hopes for being a playoff sleeper. Robert Griffin III is as advertised and must-see television. Redskins can't cover anyone these days, and that's going to make for some shootouts (sup, Baylor?). Pierre Garcon needs to come back for RG3's sake. Alfred Morris is the next totally random back to storm out of Mike Shanahan's stable, apparently.|
|A-||We saw cracks in the Cardinals' armor when they squeaked their way to 4-0 with an overtime victory against Miami. How can you let Ryan Tannehill throw for 431 yards? It's totally possible Arizona will regress, but they've beaten good teams too. If Kevin Kolb plays mistake-free football, they'll challenge the Niners in this division. Getting Ryan Williams going -- or getting Beanie Wells back? -- would help a lot as well. The offensive line is still a mess. Minny's trying to steal their thunder, but the Cardinals are still the surprise of the season.|
|B+||The loss in Minnesota looks less and less "WTH"-ish with the Vikes winning in Week 4, but seeing the 49ers out-physicaled was weird. They bounced back though and still haven't lost back-to-back games under Jim Harbaugh. That's really impressive. Also impressive is their 3-1 record with three games on the road already. San Francisco's simply doing what it did last year: run the ball well, let Alex Smith make a few throws and play great defense. So much for falling off a cliff.|
|C-||Seattle's technically 2-2 but got an early Christmas present from the replacement refs. Don't expect Pete Carroll to try to return it. This is one of the better defenses in the NFL, particularly in the secondary. They're vulnerable sometimes because they play so much man coverage, but Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are a fantastic combo. Russell Wilson's been better than people want to think, but fans won't like Matt Flynn rotting on the bench forever. Big Week 5 for the rookie.|
|C+||Adding Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan to this secondary did wonders for Jeff Fisher's defense. Sam Bradford looks much more comfortable than he did a year ago, although the offensive line still struggles to protect him. Wins against Arizona and Miami would go a long way toward keeping them in the hunt, with a tough schedule on the horizon. Like the rest of this division, they don't always look pretty winning.|
|B+||Minnesota at 3-1 might be the biggest stunner of the season. Adrian Peterson looks fully recovered from his late-season injury in 2011. Christian Ponder is making big strides as a quarterback and is avoiding critical mistakes he made last season. The defense is shockingly physical and seemed to find an "on" switch in Week 3. The Vikings still needed OT to beat Jacksonville and lost to Indy, so let's not go shoving our chips all-in on them to win the NFC North quite yet.|
|B||Pretty good start to the season at 3-1 for the Bears, but the Thursday night clunker in Green Bay, like stale cheese, still kind of lingers. But if Chicago protects "Good" Jay Cutler like they did in Dallas during Week 4, this will be a hard team to stop. Bears secretly have the fourth-highest point differential in football. The defense remains, as always, impressive on many fronts. Brian Urlacher coming back doesn't get enough pub. Brandon Marshall's addition obviously changes the dynamic of the offense.|
|C+||Say what you want about the referees and the Packers being 2-2, but the reality is Green Bay put themselves in positions that weren't conducive to winning games. Aaron Rodgers and the offense aren't in sync like 2011 just yet. The defense was spectacular against the Bears but isn't consistent, especially given the talent Dom Capers has on that side of the ball. Clay Matthews is a close second for DPOY honors right now however.|
|F||Detroit's defense has turned into a disaster and, at 1-3, they might be the worst team in the NFC North. (Or, simply, are the worst team in the division.) The vaunted defensive line doesn't get much pressure and because Matthew Stafford and the offense aren't clicking like last season, they're losing games. Special teams for the Lions are also a serious, serious issue.|
|A||The Falcons were dangerously close to losing their first game in Week 4 and instead got to show why they're so dangerous: Matt Ryan, the clubhouse leader for MVP at the quarter mark. Roddy White is having a fantastic season and actually outperforming Julio Jones. (Sigh.) Michael Turner's usage is much more appropriate and he has looked much more fresh with Jacquizz Rodgers getting to run as well. Mike Nolan has drastically improved this defense. With wins over Peyton Manning in prime time and a short-week, long-trip beatdown of San Diego, their resume is impressive.|
|D-||How Carolina no-showed its season opener and Cam Newton's first prime-time game is beyond me. The defense was supposed to be improved, but it isn't. Their draft retention over the past few years is showing up on that side of the ball. Offensively, the Panthers looked great against the Saints and very good against the Falcons. The fourth-and-one decision in Week 4 is almost enough for an automatic failing grade. That's a season derailer if I've ever seen one.|
|C-||Greg Schiano has the Buccaneers' defense playing at a much higher level than 2011, even if the kneel-down factor is angry-fist-shake worthy and the secondary isn't ideal. Their conservative offense isn't getting the proper value out of Vincent Jackson, and Josh Freeman isn't making the rebound he was supposed to just quite yet. Tampa Bay isn't getting blown out by anyone like last season and has some winnable games coming up on the schedule.|
|F||There's little chance the Saints' start, at 0-4, could've gone more wrong. (Although on the bright side, Sean Payton's coming to the Superdome!) Drew Brees has put up numbers, but he has also pressed things and made bad turnovers. The running game isn't rolling along like it should be. The defense is an abject disaster.|