“And that’s the end of the 1st quarter, Ladies and Gents!” As we quickly approach week 5, this season is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing, confusing, predictable and unpredictable seasons in recent memory. Between the resurgence of NFC South residents Carolina and Atlanta, the myriad of injuries throughout the league, and the predictable firing of Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin this season is off to a great start! Many perennial contenders are off to slow starts, but it’s not always about how you jump out the gate. This isn’t a time to panic over a small sampling of the season unless you’re a Dolfan! With week 5 starting tonight with a divisional matchup between my Colts and the Houston Texans, it’s about time to review my “predictions” in the preview. A few changes here and there are in order, but it shouldn’t be as hard as Jason Pierre-Paul changing his stance after blowing his fingers off on Independence Day. Yeah, let’s get started…

AFC Playoff Picture
Cincinatti Bengals (4-0)
New England Patriots (4-0)
Denver Broncos (4-0)
Indianapolis Colts (2-2)

Wild Card
New York Jets (3-1)
Buffalo Bills (2-2)

If the Playoffs started today, what a train wreck the preseason predictions would be. Luckily, there is an entire winter left to go in the season. The predicted champion Indianapolis Colts are off to a terrible start this season and are “LUCK-y” to even be 2-2 at this point. The Colts also got off to the exact same start last year, but something just feels different this time around! Andre Johnson has been a total disappointment (only 7 catches thus far), Frank Gore has as many goal line fumbles as touchdowns (2), and Andrew Luck has been a turnover machine(8)! Luck is apparently hurt because the offensive line hasn’t protected him, but he’s stuck it out and led them to a comeback from behind win vs. Tennessee last week. Indianapolis fans can’t help but to sit through 4 games down worried about the Colts. Although it’s early and they’re in the thick of things, it’s still a tad bit scary!

The “Not-so surprising” team in the AFC has been the Cincinnati Bengals! It’s not surprising simply because Marvin Lewis has lead his teams to 3 consecutive 10 win seasons, only to still be thirsting for their 1st playoff win in over 20 years. Andy Dalton is playing superb football at this point, and most likely having a completely healthy A.J. Green is the main reason why. One can’t discredit their defense, which’s been playing lights out with the return of All- Pro DT Geno Atkins. Hopefully, they can put it all together when it really counts this season.

Literally 30 minutes into the season, Peyton Manning and the Broncos were done! Due to the lack of a running game, new offensive play calling with the arrival of Gary Kubiak, and the obvious loss of arm strength in Manning himself one couldn’t have agreed more. Then, it happened. Lead by their veteran-laden defense, the Broncos have surged right back into the thick of things in the AFC, even winning that 1st game without a touchdown from Manning and the offense. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris are one the best cornerback tandems in the NFL and the same can be said for their pass rushing duo of Demarcus Ware and Von Miller! Although a prediction of a Super Bowl can not be quite thought of yet, this defense is good enough to overcome an aging Manning.

In New England, the Patriots are on a vengeful onslaught of the league after #DeflateGate. Averaging over 30 points per game, the Patriots look similar to the Patriots fresh off of the #SpyGate debacle. Tom Brady, the latest winner in cases vs. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, is tearing opposing secondaries apart boasting 1112 passing yards, 9 touchdowns, and zero turnovers.  The defense has been shockingly good this season, and don’t seem to miss corners Darelle Revis and Brandon Browner as much as one may have thought. While they more than likely won’t go 16-0 this time around, the Patriots are looking like defending Super Bowl Champs early this season.

Holding down the wild card spots are two teams that reside in the AFC East: the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets. Both teams look night/day compared to last season. In New York, Ryan Fitzpatrick and that Pro Bowl talent littered defense has led the Jets to a shocking 3-1 start this season.  Buster Skrine and Revis has been more worth the money spent on the secondary this offseason and Todd Bowles has made this team a believer again. Meanwhile, in western New York, the Buffalo Bills teased everyone in week 1 by romping by predicted Super Bowl champion Colts 27-14. Since then, Rex Ryan’s gang has been 1-2, and his defense has underwhelmed allowing 78 points in the 3 games since. One can only hope that Rex isn’t losing this team already like he did with the Jets the last several years.

NFC Playoff Picture
Green Bay Packers (4-0)
Atlanta Falcons (4-0)
Arizona Cardinals (3-1)
Dallas Cowboys (2-2)

Wild Card
Carolina Panthers (4-0)
Seattle Seahawks (2-2)

In the NFC, Official’s preseason prediction doesn’t look so bad. Outside of Chip Kelly’s semi-failed experiment in Philly, things are rather on point. Aaron Rodgers is flawlessly leading his Green Bay Packers to an impressive 4-0 record thus far, and without injured Pro Bowl receiver Jordy Nelson. In the NFL, one man’s injury is another man’s opportunity. In Green Bay, Randall Cobb and former Packer James Jones have seized the opportunity to pick up the slack Nelson’s injury produced. The duo has combined for 42 catches, 606 yards and 8 touchdowns through 4 games.  Much could be attributed to the greatness that is Aaron Rodgers, but the Packers are in prime position for consecutive NFC Championship appearances.

The team previously predicted to face-off with the Packers in the NFC Championship was and still is the Seattle Seahawks. With star strong safety Kam Chancellor holding out over his contract, the ‘Hawks stumbled out of the gate to a 0-2 start. Watching his fellow teammates go through these troubled times must’ve been the last straw, because Kam ended his holdout and returned to help his brethren. Since returning, the Seahawks are a completely different team, especially on defense! His worth was on display in prime time on Monday night as he made big play after big play and big hit after big hit! Chancellor Even made the most pivotal play of the game as he punched the ball out of the Lion’s Calvin Johnson’s hand as he nearly scored a touchdown. Ultimately, forcing a controversial safety and ending any chances of a Lion’s comeback. With Chancellor back in the fray, everyone should expect Seattle to continue trending upward.

One of the biggest surprises of this fresh season would be the resurgence of the red hot Dirty Birds of Atlanta. First year Head Coach Dan Quinn has brought a confidence over from Seattle, and has this Falcons squad right back in the mix in the NFC after several down years. Matt Ryan is playing lights out, and Julio Jones has been a one man army amassing an incredible league leading 38 catches, 478 yards and 4 touchdowns. He’s been the best receiver in the NFL thus far, and is single-handedly exposing defensive backfields all over the league. Running back Devanta Freeman has been a revelation in the backfield since gaining the starting job, and is giving the Falcons a more balanced attack. The defense is vastly improved under the tutelage of Quinn and improved pass rush featuring rookie Vic Beasley. Only 3 seasons removed from a 13-3 record, the Falcons look primed to retake the NFC South crown this season.

In Dallas, the Cowboys are dealing with the “injury bug” that’s more like an “injury infestation” in Jerry Land! After jumping out to a 2-0 start, the ‘Boys were hit hard when they lost both Pro Bowl QB Tony Romo and All-Pro WR Dez Bryant to serious injuries in consecutive weeks. One would only expect the Cowboys to drop off a tad with Brandon Weeden and Terrance Williams having Shaq sized sneakers to fill, and they’ve done just that! Since the more notable injuries, Dallas has slid to a 2-2 record with a killer stretch of games in sight. Early reports say that Bryant can come back as early as the Cowboy’s week 7 division game vs. the Giants (who are looking like the best team in the division at the moment), and Romo aiming to return in week 11. If the Cowboys somehow weather the storm of injuries, Romo & Bryant’s talent could be enough to at least compete in an underwhelming NFC East.

The last 2 playoff spots currently belong to the shockingly undefeated Carolina Panthers and the impressive Arizona Cardinals. Cam “Superman” Newton may not be “old enough” to warrant a late-hit penalty from NFL referee Ed Hochuli, but he’s proving that he’s a grown man in leading his overachieving Panthers team to a perfect 4-0 record. It gets even more amazing once we realize that Ted Ginn is his leading receiver! In the desert, the Cards are up to their usual shenanigans since Bruce Arians took the reins 3 years ago: WINNING! Carson Palmer is back at the helm after missing the latter part of last season with an ACL injury, and has his team flying high in the ultra-competitive NFC West!  Larry Fitzgerald is leading the league in receiving touchdowns, and is looking like he did when he took the league by storm as a rookie. The defense hasn’t fell off as much with the departure of Todd Bowles, and the Cardinals are on pace to win the division.

AFC Championship: New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts
It would be exaggerating to count the Colts out this early in the season. The Colts are 2-2 and are still predicted to win the AFC South… The Colts started off slow against two defensively talented teams in the Bills and the Jets. They bounced back to win 2 straight division games versus Tennessee and at Jacksonville, and if they can keep Luck healthy the sky is the limit. The Patriots are looking better than anticipated and are on pace to secure their spot in the AFC Championship for the third consecutive year.

NFC Championship: Green Bay Packers vs. Seattle Seahawks
It’s “garbage truck coming through the hood” early, but it’s looking like they’re headed for another rematch in the NFC Championship this season. Before Kam Chancellor’s return, a prediction probably would’ve changed here. Kam Chancellor has proven to be the literal heart and soul of the Seahawks team by simply showing up! Since ending his holdout after watching his teammates get off to a 0-2 start, Kam has the Seahawks playing with passion again. Leading by example as he almost took Megatron out of the game with big hits on Monday Night Football, even forcing a fumble in the end zone in the waning minutes of the contest. It’s no wonder they’ve won both games since his return and are back in the mix for an appearance. The Cheese Heads of Green Bay are undefeated and well on their way to another NFC Championship appearance. Nothing to report there!

Super bowl Teams: Indianapolis Colts vs. Seattle Seahawks
It it best to take the easy way out here, and just wait until more games have been played to work with to change this prediction. The Patriots and Seahawks both started off 2-2 through 4 games last season, and ended up representing their respective conferences in last year’s Super Bowl. While neither of this year’s predicted matchup is playing at a particular high level, they still have plenty of time to get on track.

Offensive MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Packers (Previously: Andrew Luck, Colts)
The reigning MVP is picking up where he left off last season, and obliterating defenses Scandal’s B6-13 took out that bus load of jurors on last season’s finale. Rodgers leads the NFL in passer rating (125.9) and touchdown-to-interception ratio with an astonishing 11:0… One shouldn’t even mention that his no. 1 option Jordy Nelson will/has missed the entire season! Cray!

Defensive MVP: Josh Norman, Panthers (Previously: J.J. Watt, Texans)
Everyone knows that J.J. Watt is the best defensive player this past decade, but nobody is playing better than 4th year cornerback Josh Norman. No, he hasn’t yet reached “elite” status, but he damn sure could be the next to join if he keeps up this level of play. Norman leads the league in interceptions (4) and pick-6’s (2), and his Carolina Panthers are sitting at 4-0. Keep an eye out for this youngster.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Marcus Mariota, Titans (Previously: Amari Cooper, Raiders)
Don’t get it twisted! Amari Cooper will have a great rookie season for the Oakland Raiders. 24 catches for 339 and 2 touchdowns thus far isn’t shabby at all! But after watching Marcus Mariota light up the Colts in a tightly contested week 3 contest, one must be hopping, skipping, and jumping onto the “Super Mario” bandwagon. Mariota went 27-44 for 367 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions (both at key moments in the game; one returned for a score), but those are his only interceptions of this very young season. Through 4 games, Mariota has amassed 833 passing yards, 8 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions, and boasts an incredible 109.2 passer rating! At 1-2, Mariota has his work cut out for him, but it does look much better and more comfortable than the No. 1 overall selection Jameis Winston thus far.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marcus Peters, Chiefs (Previously: Leonard Williams, Jets)
Despite being dismissed from the University of Washington and slightly “falling” in this year’s draft, Marcus Peters has shown the talent that scouts drooled over during his brief tenure as a Husky. Peters has looked like almost like a seasoned veteran for a Chiefs team in desperate need of an upgrade over Sean Smith. Peters has accepted the challenge of covering the opposing team’s best wide receiver, and has taken the usual lumps that come with the territory, but has made some good plays as well. Ask Peyton Manning about that out route Peters jumped and returned 55 yards for a touchdown.