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Biggest winners and losers from NFL’s first quarter

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Sean McDermott has his Buffalo Bills defense playing elite football through the first quarter of the season. Speaking of elite, Patrick Mahomes can already be handed his second consecutive NFL MVP.

Out west, the San Francisco 49ers are one of three remaining undefeated teams. Meanwhile, Rams quarterback Jared Goff has struggled big time through the first four weeks.

We look at all of this and more in giving you our biggest winners and losers at the quarter point of the NFL season.

Winner: Sean McDermott

The Buffalo Bills’ Week 4 loss to the New England Patriots confirmed a couple things. Josh Allen and the team’s offense still has ways to go. However, their defense is already among the best in the entire NFL. This unit held Tom Brady to 150 yards on 18-of-39 passing in a 16-10 loss. It’s just the latest example of a defensive-minded coach in McDermott showing out.

Buffalo finishes the first quarter of its schedule ranked No. 2 in total defense, fifth in points allowed and is yielding a minuscule 64.3 passer rating. This has the young team in obvious playoff contention at 3-1 on the season. McDermott and the Bills’ defense is to thank for this.

Loser: Cardinals Air Raid Offense

We must preface this by mentonining that it was always going to be a rather large learning curve for first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury and rookie quarterback Kyler Murray. Implementing a college-based Air Raid attack with two relative unknowns was never going to take flight out of the gate. Statistically, Murray has been decent. He finishes up the quarter point of the season on pace to throw for nearly 4,300 yards.

At issue here is an overall offense that’s just been brutal. Arizona ranks 24th in the NFL in scoring at under 19 points per game. Former Pro Bowl running back David Johnson is averaging 3.7 yards per attempt. Their red-zone efficiancy ranks 31st in the NFL, just ahead of the Miami Dolphins. It will take time. But for now, early returns from the desert are not great.

Winner: Patrick Mahomes

Can we give this dude his second consecutive NFL MVP already? It’s looking like much of the same for a player in Mahomes, who is putting up numbers we’ve never seen in the history of the league. The third-year quarterback is on pace to throw for over 6,000 yards with 40 touchdowns and zero interceptions. That’s not a typo.

What’s amazing about this is that Mahomes has done most of his damage for the undefeated Chiefs with star receiver Tyreek Hill out. Once Hill returns, Kansas City will be even more unstoppable. In fact, Mahomes has already made sweet music with youngsters Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman. It really is something to behold.

Loser: John Elway

Here’s a front office head that should be firmly on the hot seat. A lot has been made about Elway’s inability to find the Broncos a quarterback. He attempted the same old approach this past offseason, trading for a washed Joe Flacco and selecting that prototypical quarterback in Drew Lock in the second round of April’s draft. Elway then went out and added a veteran assistant coach in Vic Fangio who had never been a head man in the NFL.

The results have been disastrous. Denver is 0-4 for the first time since 1999, the year following Elway’s retirement. The defense has struggled getting to the quarterback. Flacco is a shell of his former self. Lock looked nothing like an NFL quarterback during the preseason. It’s led to a downward spiral we have not seen in the Mile High City since the horrible teams of the 1960s. And Elway is to blame.

Winner: New Orleans Saints

Taking out 2018 playoff teams in that of the Seahawks and Cowboys in consecutive weeks without Drew Brees altered New Orleans’ season in a big way. They rely more on a potentially dominant defense and stud running back Alvin Kamara than an offense that had in the past thrown the ball around the Bayou.

At 3-1 on the season, these Saints have to be seen as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. They’ll get Brees back in short order. Their defense has stepped up in the quarterback’s absence. It’s only going to get better from here on out. It’s also amazing given that people were ready to write the Saints off when Brees went down to injury in a Week 2 loss to the Rams.

Loser: Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh earned its first win of the season Monday night against a bad Cincinnati Bengals squad. It was a much-needed victory after falling to New England, Seattle and San Francisco to open the season. However, we’re not ready to say Mike Tomlin’s squad is ready to inch back into the playoff race.

The biggest story here is the season-ending injury to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. That hurts. It sets the Steelers back in a big way. We’re also concerned that others are not fully prepared to step up after the departures of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Add in a questionable defense, and the first quarter of Pittsburgh’s season was among the worst we’ve seen during the Tomlin era.

Winner: New England Patriots defense

Even with his team at 4-0, Tom Brady likely won’t be in the MVP conversation. That’s not a knock on the greatest of all-time. Rather, it’s all about just how dominant a relatively unknown Patriots defense has been under Bill Belichick. Remember, he’s now calling the plays after Brian Flores exited for the Miami Dolphins. The results have been smashing.

New England finishes up the first quarter of its slate giving up less than seven points per game. It also ranks No. 1 in total defense, second against the pass, second against the run and is yielding a 41.0 passer rating. Those are just some absurd numbers. And they have New England as odds-on favorites to repeat as champs.

Loser: Jared Goff

Dating back to last season, Goff has thrown 13 touchdowns and accounted for 20 turnovers over his past 12 starts. Those are bottom-end starting quarterback numbers for a Rams team with aspirations to repeat as NFC champs. The former No. 1 pick is also coming off a Week 4 outing that saw him turn it over four times in an embarrassing 55-40 home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

There’s no real margin for error here. The 49ers and Seahawks are real threats in the NFC West. The NFC North boasts four teams that are .500 or better. The Saints, Cowboys and Panthers are also vastly improved from a season ago. Simply put, these Rams need Goff to step up. It just has not happened through four weeks.

Winner: Shaquil Barrett

There’s little doubt that this unknown commodity is the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year through the first quarter of the season. Signed to a mere one-year, $4 million contract during the spring, Barrett has already racked up 10 quarterback hits, nine sacks, seven tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and an interception. In four games.

Barrett’s strip sack of Jared Goff in Week 4 led directly to a game-clinching touchdown for the Buccaneers to move their record to 2-2 on the season. He’s been a major difference-maker with Jason Pierre-Paul sidelined to injury. Very few invisioned this former undrafted free agent being such an elite pass rusher. All he needed was an opportunity after a solid part-time performance in Denver over the past five seasons.

Loser: NFL coaches on the hot seat

When looking at the dysfunction in the nation’s capital, we normally place the blame on owner Daniel Snyder. That really can’t be the case for the Redskins this season. Simply put, the team has stopped playing for head coach Jay Gruden. At 0-4 and proving themselves to lack competitive fire, the Skins have been a major loser. Gruden tops the list in D.C.

We can pretty much say the same thing about Dan Quinn in Atlanta. Falcons owner Arthur Blank is different than his counterpart in Washington. But he’s not going to remain patient forever. Atlanta sits at 1-3 after a brutal start to the season. Quinn has to be firmly on the hot seat. These are the two coaches we expect to get walking papers in relatively short order should things not turn around stat.

Winner: San Francisco 49ers

If you had the 49ers, Chiefs and Patriots as the only remaining undefeated teams heading into Week 5, can this one scribe host you in Vegas for a weekend? It’s insane to realize that San Franciso sits at 3-0 and has been pretty much dominant through the first four weeks.

Here’s a team that ranks third in scoring, fourh in total offense and third in rushing offense. Even more surprisingly, the 49ers are in the top five in total defense, points allowed and rushing defense. The level of competition has obviously been questionable. San Francisco will be tested over the next two weeks against the Browns and Rams. But if Kyle Shanahan’s squad were to even split that two-game set, we’d be looking at a legitimate force in the NFC moving forward. Everything seems to be coming together for the 49ers this season.

Loser: Miami Dolphins fans

We do feel bad for remaining members of this laughable team. But they are professionals. It’s in this that being outscored 163-25 through four games is not acceptable. Have some pride, Fins.

Instead, we have to look at fans in South Beach. The Dolphins’ brass has already given up on this season. Trading your left tackle mere days before Week 1 proved that to a T. Owner Stephen Ross is among the worst at his position in pro sports. The Dolphins might end up as the worst team in the history of the NFL this season. It’s now time for Dolphins fans in Miami to ignore this product and enjoy their weekends. We’re sure there’s a lot to do in South Beach.