Checking in through the first quarter of 2011

A few months ago, the idea of even having an NFL season seemed in jeopardy.

Now it’s already a quarter of the way over.

With Tampa Bay’s win over Indianapolis on Monday night, Week 4 was officially in the books, and things are starting to take shape in the standings. The good teams are starting to emerge and those squads who caught lucky breaks in the early weeks are beginning to show their true colors.

For the Ravens, it’s been a good start to the 2011 campaign. Baltimore sits at 3-1 and alone atop the AFC North. They’ve put up at least 30 points in three of their four games (all three wins) while that aging defense is still going strong.

Quarterback Joe Flacco is still not quite playing at an elite status, but with games against Houston, Jacksonville and Arizona coming up, there are plenty of chances for the fourth-year quarterback to get into a nice rhythm with the offense.

As for the rest of the league, here are some news and notes through the first quarter of the season ...

* Fifteen quarterbacks have already eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark, with Tom Brady leading the list at 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns. If he continues at this pace, Brady will finish with 6,212 yards, well more than the single-season record of 5,084 set by Dan Marino, and 52 touchdowns, two better than the single-season mark of 50, set by - guess who? - Brady himself.

* It looks like Eric Dickerson’s rushing record is safe for another year. Rushing numbers are down, particularly in the fantasy categories. Atop the list isn’t Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster or Chris Johnson. It’s actually Oakland’s Darren McFadden. In four games, McFadden has accumulated 468 yards. Meanwhile, Beanie Wells leads in the touchdown category with just five rushing scores. Foster, last year’s top rusher, has just 188 yards on the year.

* I suppose the new kickoff rule is taking its toll in the statistics category but, to be honest, I haven’t really had a problem with the difference. There have been just four kickoffs run back for touchdowns, trailing last year’s pace of about 1.5 per week. Yet does anyone still feel that strongly about this new policy?

* Where have all the defenses gone? It’s becoming a little scary, to say the least. Passing numbers are way up through the first month and 18 teams are averaging at least 350 yards per game, compared to just 11 in 2010.

Most surprising team so far:

It’s easy to say the Detroit Lions, who have jumped out to their first 4-0 start since the Civil War era, but a lot of experts and amateurs thought this could be the year they put it all together. They’ve got a star receiver in Calvin Johnson, a fierce pass rush led by Ndamukong Suh and an above-average quarterback in Matt Stafford. The real surprise is out West, where the San Francisco 49ers are 3-1 and leading the NFC West. Yes, it’s a weak division, but the 49ers have played just one divisional game to this point. With a tight win over the Bengals - who are better than people expected - and a comeback win over Philadelphia, it’ll be interesting to see if this team can keep the momentum going.

Most disappointing team so far:

Speaking of Philadelphia, look no further than the Eagles for most disappointing team. This was supposed to be the squad that finally brought the City of Brotherly Love its first Super Bowl, the “Dream Team.” Well, it’s quickly turning into a nightmare. At 1-3, Michael Vick is getting beat up under center, while the defense is letting teams hang around too long. It’s hard to believe Andy Reid could be finished, but at this rate, he won’t make it to 2012.

Best five teams right now:

1. Green Bay
2. Baltimore
3. Detroit
4. Houston
5. New Orleans

Worst five teams right now:

28. Denver
29. Indianapolis
30. Miami
31. St. Louis
32. Minnesota