Atlanta was 5-11 last season and allowed 452 points, most in the NFL. They've allowed 49 in four games this year, and are 4-0. Yes, Michael Vick's return to health after last year's broken right leg obviously helps, but ...
"People understand that Mike is a great player," Warrick Dunn said after the Falcons' 27-10 win Sunday at NFC champion Carolina. "He's the quarterback. He's going to get all the attention. But it takes a team to win a football game."
These days, there are always surprises. After four weeks, the pleasant ones are the Falcons, Giants, Jaguars and Jets. The Packers, Titans, Bucs and Chiefs are the unpleasant ones.
And the Redskins are just as dismal under Joe Gibbs as under Steve Spurrier and Marty Schottenheimer.
Patrick Kerney has seven sacks; he had 61/2 all of last season. That's a measure of the defense coach Jim Mora installed. Yes, the Falcons made the playoffs two years ago, then plummeted when Vick missed the first 11 games last season, but the defense was always a weak link. Vick has rushed for 222 yards, second on the team to Warrick Dunn's 299.
NEW YORK GIANTS (3-1)
A playoff team two years ago, they were done in last season by a horrible offensive line, injuries and attitude -- the team quit in the second half of the season. That's why rigid disciplinarian Tom Coughlin was hired to replace Jim Fassel.
The offensive line is improved, and Kurt Warner, supposedly a stopgap while Eli Manning learns how to play in the NFL, has been outstanding. But they're winning because they lead the league with a plus-10 turnover margin a year after tying for last at minus-16.
The Jaguars played the Colts even until the final minutes Sunday and controlled Peyton Manning. The biggest failing is at wide receiver, where Jimmy Smith is too old and Troy Edwards very average.
The defense can't be faulted for allowing 24 points against the NFL's top offense. Manning's 220 yards passing were 79 below his average entering the game.
NEW YORK JETS (3-0)
Chad Pennington is healthy, and usually slow-starting Curtis Martin is off to his best start after getting more work in preseason. The defense gave up points and yards to Cincinnati and San Diego, but the added speed, especially at linebacker with Victor Hobson and Jonathan Vilma, made for an upgrade.
GREEN BAY (1-3)
After barely missing last year's NFC title game, then winning at Carolina in Week 1, the Packers looked like a serious contender. But losses to the Bears and Giants at home hurt.
Sunday's loss to the Giants demonstrated the effect of injuries to Grady Jackson, the 350-pound run-stopper in the middle, and center Mike Flanagan. New York ran for 245 yards through the undersized defensive line, and Brett Favre's concussion came on a hit by William Joseph, who plays over center.
It's not wise to write off the Titans. They started 1-4 in 2002 and made it to the AFC title game by winning 10 of 11. The difference this year is that the AFC South might be the strongest division.
TAMPA BAY (0-4)
Jon Gruden won a title two seasons ago with a team assembled primarily by Rich McKay. But he ran off McKay, who landed in Atlanta in time to hire Mora.
The Bucs began the season with nine starters on offense 30 or older. Two older guys Gruden let go, John Lynch and Warren Sapp, were important defensive leaders.
KANSAS CITY (1-3)
The defense was bad last year and isn't any better. But the offense has regressed -- it went into Monday night's game in Baltimore averaging 20 points, 10 fewer than last season. The Chiefs beat the Ravens, 27-24.
The Redskins were ecstatic when they beat Tampa Bay in the opener. It turns out the Bucs are bad -- and the Redskins are not much better.