Taking a spin around the NFL to get you ready for Week 5:
The big questions
Can the Cowboys get right against Green Bay?
So, this would be a good time for the Dallas Cowboys to get it together. They host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, right before their bye week. You remember what happened the last time they met, right? When Aaron Rodgers made up a play and completed an insane throw to set up the winning field goal? Yeah, of course you do. Well, they meet again. This time with the Packers (3-1) still very much injured and the Cowboys (2-2) now a bit weary.
The Cowboys, a popular Super Bowl pick when the season began, rank 15th in offensive DVOA and 24th in defensive DVOA through the first four weeks. Dak Prescott sports the NFL's fifth-highest Total QBR (65.8), but Ezekiel Elliott is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry (28th among 48 players with enough of a workload to qualify), and Dez Bryant has been held below 100 receiving yards in each of his last 11 regular-season games.
Since the start of the season, the Cowboys' chances of making the playoffs have fallen from 56 percent to 31 percent, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. Now they'll host a team they've beaten only once in their past five tries. Two of those losses, in January 2016 and January 2014, came in the divisional round of the playoffs.
"We're taking a little bit longer to progress this year," Elliott said. "I really don't think it's a bad thing. You ought to be hitting your stride mid- to late season [rather] than peaking early. As long as you hit your peak, it really doesn't matter how long it takes you. We could lose six games in this league and still go to the playoffs, and as long as you're hitting your stride at the right time, then you're good. There's no panic in this locker room at all."
3-1 Bills or 3-1 Rams?
They've each guided their teams to 3-1 records that very few saw coming.
The Rams are doing it, shockingly, with offense. A team that finished last in yards each of the past two years led the NFL in points through the season's first quarter. Jared Goff almost looks like a different person in his second year as a professional quarterback, thanks to a better offensive line, a more talented group of receivers, a rejuvenated Todd Gurley and, thanks to McVay, a far more innovative scheme than the one he operated last season. The Rams topped 30 points for the third time this season in Sunday's win against the Cowboys, and that's something they did only three times over the past two seasons.
The Bills are doing it largely with McDermott's expertise on defense. They've allowed an NFL-low 13.5 points per game and only one passing touchdown, thanks to a rebuilt secondary led by standout rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White. But quarterback Tyrod Taylor is also thriving, even though his former top two receivers, Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, now play for the Rams. Taylor has gone 32-of-46 for 395 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions in wins against the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons the past two weeks. Next up, the Bills travel to face the struggling Cincinnati Bengals.
The Rams host the division-rival Seattle Seahawks in one of the week's more appealing games.
Can the Raiders keep up without Carr?
Derek Carr, signed to a $125 million extension this summer, has a transverse process fracture in his back that is expected to keep him out anywhere from two to six weeks. In his place will be EJ Manuel, the No. 16 overall pick in 2013 who didn't quite pan out for the Bills. The Oakland Raiders, seemingly primed for a deep playoff run when the season began, are 2-2, coming off a loss to the division-rival Broncos and suddenly trying to find themselves in a loaded AFC West that also includes the 4-0 Kansas City Chiefs.
It isn't just their quarterback situation that is a concern. Marshawn Lynch, who sat out the 2016 season, has rushed for only 75 yards on 27 carries over the past three weeks. Amari Cooper, meanwhile, has hauled in only 12 of his 28 targets, giving him the fifth-lowest reception percentage in the NFL, according to ESPN's internal statistics. And Oakland's defense, which was never expected to be this team's strength, ranks 27th in DVOA.
Now the Raiders host a Baltimore Ravens team that has been outscored by 54 points over the past two weeks. After that are two division games, against the winless Los Angeles Chargers and the undefeated Chiefs.
One major positive: Carr practiced on a limited basis Thursday and Friday.
"He'll bounce back," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. "I told him that the team will take care of business while he's healing."
Numbers that matter
5: This marks the fifth time in the Super Bowl era that the Chiefs have been among the last unbeaten teams, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In the four previous instances (2013, 2010, 2003, 1996), they did not win a playoff game. There were 24 teams with at least two wins entering Week 5, the most such teams in a single year in the Super Bowl era. In each of the previous two years, a 5-0 team failed to make the playoffs (2015 Falcons, 2016 Minnesota Vikings).
47: That's the number of points off turnovers generated by the Detroit Lions' defense this season. That's 19 more points than their defense produced all of last year, in 25 percent of the games. Their plus-nine turnover differential stands as the best in the NFL. Detroit's defense, which faces a tough test against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, has gone from second worst to second best in efficiency.
31: The San Francisco 49ers' percentage chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. That's second best in the NFL, behind the 0-4 Cleveland Browns at 40 percent. The 1-3 Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco's opponent this week, have a 9 percent chance. The 49ers (also 0-4) are the ones who desperately need a quarterback to build around. If things keep going this way, Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen will be there eventually.
72: Rodgers' completion percentage after halftime this season, 12 points higher than his first-half completion percentage. In the first half, the Packers quarterback has 3 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 12 sacks and a 32.1 Total QBR. In the second half, Rodgers has thrown seven touchdowns with zero interceptions, taking only three sacks and posting an 85.0 Total QBR.
8: The combined losses of the Chargers and the New York Giants, who meet at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. (The other teams in their home cities, the Rams and Jets, are a combined 5-3.) It'll be the first game between teams 0-4 or worse since 2004, when the 0-4 Bills beat the 0-5 Miami Dolphins in Week 6. None of the previous 108 teams to start 0-5 in the Super Bowl era have made the playoffs.
What we'll be talking about after Week 5
All about the rookies
Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, makes his debut against the Jets after sitting out the first four games with a high ankle sprain. Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky, taken second overall, will debut against the Vikings after watching Mike Glennon take all the snaps in the season's first four games. Trubisky will become the first quarterback to make his first career start on Monday Night Football since Shaun King in 1999, according to research from the Elias Sports Bureau. Together, Garrett and Trubisky bring more intrigue to a rookie class that has been slowed by injuries at receiver and running back.
Fly, Eagles, fly
Maybe it's really time to take the Philadelphia Eagles seriously. They're 3-1, in first place in the NFC East, and they've put a lot of really good pieces around second-year quarterback Carson Wentz. It isn't just Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, a major upgrade over the receivers they had last year. It's LeGarrette Blount, who is averaging 5.9 yards per carry. And it's Zach Ertz, who has been the NFL's most productive tight end this season. Wentz is seventh in the NFL with a 62.5 Total QBR, but he hasn't had to do a whole lot. On Sunday, in a home game against the Arizona Cardinals, he can watch his talented front seven beat up on a bad offensive line.
No heavy lifting for Big Ben
The Steelers' offensive line has been stout -- allowing pressure on an NFL-low 15 percent of dropbacks -- but Ben Roethlisberger hasn't really been getting it done. He ranks 17th among 32 quarterbacks in Total QBR (54.9), hasn't thrown a touchdown pass on any of his 32 throws traveling 15-plus yards downfield and has had a hard time connecting with his top two receivers, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. On Sunday, he'll face a tough task against a Jacksonville Jaguars defense that has allowed the NFL's fewest passing yards this season. The Steelers are 19-5 when Le'Veon Bell touches the ball at least 25 times. It's his offense now, not Big Ben's.