Photo By: Thomas Park from Unsplash

As we reach the quarter-way mark of the NFL’s 2021 season, we are starting to get a sense of who the legitimate playoff contenders might be this year. Here are four of the notable games from week four of the NFL season. 

A division championship in the Cards?

The NFL’s only 4-0 team (as of Sunday night), is none other than the Arizona Cardinals. While some may have expected QB Kyler Murray to take a leap in his third NFL season, there were certainly some questions surrounding the rest of the Cardinals’ team coming into September. Through the first four weeks, the Cards have simply overpowered opposing defenses, putting up over 30 points in each of their games. 

This week’s would-be marquee matchup against the division rival Los Angeles Rams saw the Cardinals make use of the ground game, behind a combined 210 rushing yards from RBs Chase Edmonds and James Conner, as well as Murray himself. The Rams offense was quieted by the Cardinals defense as well, as they were held to just one touchdown after the first quarter en route to a 37-20 thrashing by the Cardinals. If Arizona can keep this up, they aim to be a contender not just to come out of the NFC West, but out of the conference as a whole. 

Brady’s return to Foxborough

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers headed north to take on the New England Patriots this week, as Tom Brady returned to the stadium where he played for 19 seasons for the first time as a member of his new team. Predictably, Bill Belichick turned this game into a grind-it-out, muck-it-up affair, as the Pats defense held the high flying Bucs offense to just 19 points. 

Tampa Bay turned to RB Leonard Fournette for his biggest performance of the season, giving him 20 carries for over 90 rushing yards. For the Patriots, it was quite the opposite. Rookie QB Mac Jones aired it out for 275 passing yards and two touchdowns to his new tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. Jones led the Patriots offense down the field to set up a 56-yard field goal attempt for Nick Folk, who promptly doinked it off the left upright to secure the win for Tampa Bay. The Patriots dropped to 1-3 on the year, while Tampa Bay improved to 3-1. 

Titans or Titanics?

The Tennessee Titans put up the most disappointing performance of the week in week four, dropping a game to the lowly New York Jets in a 27-24 overtime loss. The Titans offense looked fine, especially considering they were without their top two receivers — A.J. Brown and Julio Jones — due to injuries. Head coach Mike Vrabel turned to running back/human freight train Derrick Henry for 33 carries and 157 yards, and spread passing targets around to a combination of some of their low-end receivers. 

It was the Titans defense however which plagued them on their way to the disappointing loss. Allowing 27 points to the Jets, the same team that got shutout by the Denver Broncos last week, is pretty much inexcusable. Jets WR Corey Davis had a big revenge game against his former team, putting up 111 receiving yards on just four catches with one touchdown. The Jets picked up their first win of the season, while the Titans dropped to a disappointing 2-2. 

Things won’t be getting easier for the Titans either, as they’ll see the Chiefs and Bills after Jacksonville next week. That defense will have to get sorted out before the ship really starts to sink. 

The AFC’s not-so-sleeper Super Bowl contender

The Cleveland Browns, who admittedly haven’t gotten enough love in this column over the first few weeks, picked up their third win of the season this week with a low-scoring 14-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings. The Browns are a team who knows exactly who they are; a team that doesn’t want to put QB Baker Mayfield in any super high leverage passing situations. They will run the ball on you until you fall asleep. 

Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 35 carries and 170 rushing yards today in classic Browns fashion. This, coupled with their suffocating defense makes the Browns a worthy adversary for anyone with long-term playoff expectations. 

Today’s defensive performance allowed only one touchdown to the Vikings (at times) explosive offense, and limited Dalvin Cook to just 34 rushing yards (to be fair, he is dealing with an injury). The Browns improved to 3-1 with just the one loss to the Chiefs, while the Vikings dropped to 1-3.