At the quarter pole of the NFL season, some early winners and losers, and a few surprises along the way:
Most Valuable Player
Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers. Off to the best start of his career with 9 TDs and only 1 INTs. Has the 3-1 Chargers in early contention in the AFC West.
Offensive player of the year
DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys. With 534 rushing yards, on an early pace to surpass 2,000 yards.
Defensive player of the year
J.J. Watt, Texans. Playing up to the monster contract he signed before the start of the season. Only team that had an answer for Watt was the Giants.
Offensive rookie of the year
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers. Leads all rookie receivers with 21 catches for 379 yards and three TDs.
Defensive rookie of the year
Kyle Fuller, CB, Bears. Chicago needed to get young at the position, and it looks like they've found the right guy in Fuller, who is already in the starting lineup.
Comeback player of the year
Eli Manning, QB, Giants. Coming off a career-high 27 interceptions, Manning's offense has scored a combined 75 points the last two games.
Rod Marinelli, defensive coordinator, Cowboys. Guess the Cowboys' defense won't be so bad after all.
Cowboys. Already 3-1 and answering the critics - including me.
Jets. A 1-3 start has Rex Ryan on the hot seat.
Coach of the year
Bruce Arians, Cardinals. He's 3-0 with backup Drew Stanton starting two games in place of Carson Palmer.
If the 2011 draft offers a lesson, it is this: No matter how great your need is at quarterback, don't make a reach pick at the position. The top three quarterbacks that year: Jake Locker to the Titans at No. 8 overall, Blaine Gabbert to the Jaguars at No. 10 and Christian Ponder to the Vikings at No. 12. Locker is barely holding on as the Titans' starter, Gabbert is now a backup in San Francisco, and Ponder came into the season as the Vikings' third-stringer behind Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater.
Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick? The 49ers chose Kaepernick as their quarterback of the future in 2012, dealing former first-rounder Alex Smith to the Chiefs in 2013 for two second-round picks. Looks like both teams - and both quarterbacks - benefited from the move. Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012 and the NFC Championship Game last year, while Smith helped Kansas City get to the playoffs in 2013 after the team bottomed out at 2-14 the year before. The two will play one another for the first time on Sunday, as the Chiefs visit the 49ers in a huge game for both 2-2 teams. Both quarterbacks are off to good starts, with Smith featuring a 94.2 rating and Kaepernick at 91.2.
Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. has 429 receiving yards, the most in NFL history by a player 35 years or older through the first four games of the season.
Kyle Orton was the odd man out when the Broncos went with former first-round quarterback Tim Tebow in 2011. Now it's Orton replacing former first-rounder E.J. Manuel in Buffalo, where the Bills have lost patience with Manuel's inability to protect the ball. J.J. Watt's 80-yard interception return off a short pass by Manuel was enough for coach Doug Marrone to make the change. Interesting that Marrone once argued with general manager Doug Whaley that Orton's signing would undermine Manuel's confidence.