Week 4 of the NFL is in the books and the season is beginning to take shape.  Although there is plenty of football to be played, there are some trends emerging and several teams have flexed their muscles as the first quarter of the season is now in the books.

In my opinion; generating a power ranking any earlier than Week 4 is an exercise in futility.  No different than estimating the enjoyment a round of golf will provide after the first or second hole; determining the best NFL teams after one or two contests is fruitless.

That being said, we have to start somewhere, right?  Following is a top ten ranking of the NFL’s best at the quarter-pole and one or two teams on the outside looking in.

Rankings are based not solely on record, but rather stats produced and the ever debatable “eye-test.”

Just Missed:  Green Bay Packers & New England Patriots

Both these teams got the shaft from the Pee-Wee refs in Week 3 and both responded with wins to even up their records.  With Rodgers and Brady back to lighting up the scoreboard, Cheddar Nation and Minutemen will be headed back up the charts.

10.  Minnesota Vikings (3-1)

Probably one of the biggest surprises this year, the Purple & Gold knocked of the 49ers and took advantage of Detroit’s “special” teams to share the lead in the NFC North with Chicago.  There’s no sophomore slump for Christian Ponder and a healthy Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin certainly helps.

9.  Chicago Bears (3-1)

Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall have been reunited in Chicago and like Peaches and Herb said “it feels so good.”  Well, as long as they’re not in Green Bay where Cutler is more philanthropic than Bill Gates.  The tandem is not what they were in Denver (although they looked like it on MNF), but Chicago is playing Bears defense with more than a dozen turnovers and three interceptions returned for touchdowns.

8.  San Diego Chargers (3-1)

The Bolts were supposed to be on their way down, but Norv Turner has them off to their best start in years.  They were punked at home by Atlanta, but they’ve won twice on the road in their division.  If they can go down to the Bayou next week and beat a desperate Saints squad, the Chargers will contend for the division.

7.  Cincinnati Bengals (3-1)

The Bengals have back-to-back road kills and have one of the most productive WRs in A.J. Green and Andy Dalton ranks 7th in league with 1,117 yards passing.  Marvin Lewis must be going crazy with his defense though, as the tiger-striped helmets have given up on average 28 points/game, the most of any one-loss team.  If Cinci wants to stay on this list, they’ll have to tighten up the D.

6.  Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)

The Eagles have beat the Ravens and the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants already this season.  Even with Michael Vick opening up a bakery and serving up pork turnovers, 6 picks & 5 fumbles, they are winning games.  If Vick can squeeze the ball, they’ll become that much more dangerous.

5.  Arizona Cardinals (4-0)

Without question, the shocker of the year thus far is the perfect record of the Arizona Cardinals.  The defense is playing fast and aggressive, allowing only 15 points/game. Kevin Kolb has not squelched the QB controversy in the desert, but Whisenhunt might just stick with the overpriced Kolb until they lose.  Even though they’re undefeated, their QB dilemma pushes them down the list.

4.  Baltimore Ravens (3-1)

Four games in 17 days for the Ravens and they are only a couple plays away from being undefeated.  Cam Cameron has taken the choker leash off Joe Flacco in a contract year and Joe Linta, Flacco’s agent, couldn’t be happier.  The Ravens defense is not the intimidator it once was, but with the offense clicking, Ray Lewis and his teammates have enough in the tank to make some noise this year.

3.  San Francisco 49ers (3-1)

The 49ers started the season with a win at Green Bay and shutout the Jets on Sunday while showing Tim Tebow how to run the Wildcat.    They exemplify the personality of their head coach Jim Harbaugh and have made smash mouth football popular in the Bay Area.  They are the most fundamentally sound team in the NFL and have spent three of the four weeks east of the Mississippi.  They looked primed to go deep into the playoffs again.

2.  Atlanta Falcons (4-0)

Matt Ryan is playing the best football of his career.  He’s thrown at least two touchdown passes in each game and is the highest rated QB in the league.  The offense now runs through him and he has a superior compliment of receivers to distribute the ball to.  The up-tempo offense combined with a defense giving up less than 20 points/game has made the NFC South into a boat race.  The Falcons envision the road to the Super Bowl going through Hotlanta.

1.  Houston Texans (4-0)

The Texans got their first taste of playoff football last year and have continued to build on that success.  The most balance offensive attack in football, Houston can run it between the tackles or throw it over the top.  On the defensive side, the loss of Mario Williams was as devastating as Derek Jeter losing a girlfriend.  Wade Phillips’ group is playing some of the best D in the league sans Super Mario.

Disagree with the list?  Let me know.

James Van Etten is a syndicated sports columnist previously featured or linked on forbes.com, mlive.com, usatoday.com & yahoo.com

Follow him on Twitter @jbvanetten