What do we know about the NFL four weeks into the 2022 season? It might seem early to draw many conclusions -- unless, like me, you're writing a column explaining why five overreactions through Week 4 could have legs.
Before we dive in, I'd like to shout out the following researchers at the NFL for their help: Jack Andrade (@RealJackAndrade), Dante Koplowitz-Fleming (@DanteKopFlem) and Matt Okada (@MattOkada).
And now, without further ado, here are five overreactions to consider from the first quarter of the 2022 campaign:
When Prescott fractured his thumb in the Cowboys' opening-week loss to the Buccaneers, the team turned to Rush, who'd attempted 50 career passes since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2017. Since then, Rush has won three straight games, meaning (when you factor in his Week 7 win last season) he won all four of his first career starts. That's something no other Cowboys quarterback had ever done before -- not Roger Staubach, not Troy Aikman, not Tony Romo and not Prescott.
Rush has twice as many passing touchdowns in his first four starts (six) as Prescott did while filling in for Romo as a rookie in 2016 (three), while the former's passer rating (97.6) is only slightly lower than the latter's (98.5) in that span. Rush's presence has also been felt by CeeDee Lamb. Lamb has averaged 6.8 receptions with 92.3 yards per game in Rush's four starts and 4.6 receptions with 64 yards per game in Prescott's 18 starts (including playoffs) since 2021.
OK, so it is extremely unlikely that Rush will actually supplant Prescott, for a multitude of reasons, including Prescott's long track record of high-level production and, well, the fact that owner Jerry Jones and coach Mike McCarthy have made clear it isn't happening. But Rush's numbers -- and the team's success during his stint as QB1 -- are noteworthy. After all, few expected Prescott, as a fourth-rounder relegated to backup duty, to permanently replace Romo, the franchise's all-time passing leader, back in 2016. The parallels between what Prescott did then and what Rush is doing now are striking -- and, for the purposes of this piece, irresistible.
These two quarterbacking legends have shattered age-related norms. Rodgers, 38, won the two most recent MVP awards, and Brady, 45, led the NFL in passing yards (5,316) and passing touchdowns (43) last season. But have the two oldest players to throw a pass this season finally begun to reveal signs that they are yielding to Father Time?
Yes, Rodgers threw his 500th career touchdown pass in Week 4 -- but he needed overtime to pull out a victory over the one-win Patriots and their third-string quarterback, rookie Bailey Zappe. Rodgers somehow has Green Bay at 3-1, even with the Packers averaging their fewest points per game (18.8) since 2006, when Rodgers was a second-year pro holding a clipboard for Brett Favre. Rodgers has thrown fewer than 10 picks in an NFL-record 12 straight seasons (minimum 100 pass attempts), and he hasn't thrown more than five in a season since 2017, when he had six. But with three picks on his ledger already this season, he's on pace for 12, one less than his career high of 13, set in his first season as a starter, in 2008.
Brady threw as many passing scores in Week 4 (three) as he had in Weeks 1-3 combined. The Buccaneers scored a season-high 31 points to bring their season average up to 20.5, but that's still the lowest per-game mark by any team with Brady as the starting quarterback. Brady's sack percentage (4.3) is as high as it's been since 2017 (5.7), and his touchdown percentage (3.9) matches his career low in a full season as a starter (matched in 2019). He's also dealing with what NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported is a rotator cuff injury. Tampa Bay scrapped its way to 2-1 on the backs of a defense allowing 27 points through 3 games. Then Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs dropped 41 on them on Sunday Night Football in Week 4.
Fans and opponents alike are waiting to see if these wily veterans will show their mortality over the final three quarters of 2022.
When the Seahawks traded the best quarterback in team history to the Broncos for three players (Drew Lock, Noah Fant and Shelby Harris) and five draft picks (including first- and-second-rounders in 2022 and 2023) in March, it seemed they would try to find their next franchise quarterback in the draft. However, Seattle's solution may have been waiting in the wings all along: 31-year-old journeyman Geno Smith.
Smith, who's been with Seattle since 2019, signed a one-year deal to stay with the Seahawks in April and won the QB1 job. Pro Football Focus' highest-graded quarterbacks in 2022 are as follows: Smith, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts. The only players with a higher passer rating than Smith (108.0) are Tua Tagovailoa and Mahomes. Smith leads the NFL with a 77.3 completion percentage this season.
Here's some further historical context. Only one player in the Super Bowl era has a higher completion percentage through four games than Smith's mark of 77.3: Tom Brady, who posted a mark of 79.2 for the 2007 Patriots. Brady won his first NFL MVP award that season, leading the team to an 18-0 record before falling to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
Not only are the Seahawks outpacing their per-game marks in average points (23.8), yards (361) and passing yards (246.3) from last season (23.3, 323.9 and 201.9), they're also topping Wilson's Broncos in those categories this season (16.5, 335.8., 226.3). Wilson's completion rate (61.1 percent), meanwhile, ranks 23rd among 32 qualified passers.
Wilson's career and physical talent are clearly better than Smith in a vacuum. But the disparity between the two through the first quarter of 2022 is impossible to ignore.
Lamar Jackson leads the NFL with 13 offensive touchdowns this season. Jackson has more passing touchdowns (11) than Josh Allen (10) and more rushing yards (316) and touchdowns (two) than Christian McCaffrey (270 rushing yards, one TD). He has more rushing yards than the rest of the Ravens combined (252), and he's on pace to join Randall Cunningham as the only QBs to lead a team in rushing in four straight seasons.
The fact that Cunningham's Eagles went 0-3 in the playoffs over that span (1987-1990) provides a segue to discuss the team issues that could hold the Ravens back this season, despite Jackson's individual brilliance. First, consider that the Ravens are on course to field the NFL's worst pass defense for a second consecutive season. They've also allowed twice as many points in the second half of games (16.8) as in the first half (8.3) in 2022. The defense's one saving grace has been its knack for securing takeaways; with 10, Baltimore is tied (with the Eagles) for the most in the NFL.
Against the Bills in Week 4, Jackson's otherwise magical season was tainted by Baltimore's inability to hold a lead of 17 point or better for the second time in the past three weeks. Ominously, the only teams in NFL history to lose three such games in a given season are the 2003 Falcons and 2020 Chargers, both sub-.500 squads that missed the playoffs.
In other words, it is conceivable that Jackson puts together a season that surpasses what he did in his 2019 MVP campaign, and the Ravens still end up on the outside looking in when the postseason rolls around.
5) The NFC East is the BEST division in football
Based on the previous five seasons, the NFC East deserved to be called the NFC Least. From 2017 to 2021, the division's combined winning percentage (.440) was the lowest of any division in the NFL.
Through four weeks in 2022, however, the NFC East is flipping that reputation on its head, going 11-5 overall as the only division in football with a combined 10 wins.
The revival has been led by defense. The Eagles, Cowboys, Giants and Commanders are allowing an average of 19.4 points and 322.4 yards per game, the lowest of any division in the NFL. Philadelphia (16.0) and Dallas (15.0) rank in the top two in the NFL in sacks this season; they are the only teams with three players to have notched three-plus sacks. Individual stars are shining, as well. Dallas' Micah Parsons is tied for fifth in the NFL with 4.0 sacks. In the secondary, the Cowboys' Trevon Diggs and the Eagles' James Bradberry and Darius Slay each have two interceptions, tying them for the fifth-most in the NFL. On the other side of the ball, Jalen Hurts is looking like an early MVP candidate, while Saquon Barkley leads the NFL in rushing yards with 463.
The Eagles are atop the division entering Week 5, and a Week 6 matchup against the Cowboys looms. Dallas has won eight straight intra-division games dating back to last season. We'll see how far the turnaround goes in 2022, but for now, this is the only division containing three teams with at least three wins. As of this moment, the records say the NFC Beast is the best division in football.