The quarter mark of the NFL season is too early to designate contenders and award winners.

But plenty of teams, players and trends have diverged wildly from preseason expectations — for better or worse. Here are a look at five surprises and five disappointments through the first four weeks of the season:

SURPRISES

Chiefs QB Alex Smith

A 33-year-old quarterback knocked for his conservative approach is no one's idea of a potential breakout player. Yet here Smith stands, leading the NFL's last undefeated team while touting a league-best 124.2 passer rating. His approach still centers on efficiency rather than big plays, but Smith is now propelling Kansas City's offense rather than restricting it. - Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz

Rams' offense

Sean McVay might have been the offseason’s most controversial hire given his age and inexperience, but so far the move looks like a brilliant decision by the Rams’ front office. McVay has accelerated the development of 2016 No. 1 pick Jared Goff at a surprising rate, and after four games only Alex Smith and Tom Brady have a better passer rating (among quarterbacks who have made more than one start) than the second-year QB. The Rams look like a serious contender in the NFC, and likely no one outside of Los Angeles saw that coming this quickly. - Lindsay H. Jones

Rookie RBs

With young running backs taking on starring roles last season, the arrival of Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey signaled the latest step forward for the position after its longtime devaluation throughout the league. While Fournette and McCaffrey have impressed in stretches, the less highly touted ball carriers have made this a rookie class to remember. Kareem Hunt has been the Chiefs' breakout star with 508 rushing yards and 157 receiving yards. The third-round pick is on pace to not only break Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record (1,808 yards) but also Chris Johnson's all-time mark for yards from scrimmage (2,509). If not for serious injuries on Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings' Dalvin Cook (ranked third with 354 rushing yards) and the Seattle Seahawks' Chris Carson could have made this bunch a historic group in its first year. - MMS

Bills defense

Who would've guessed the Buffalo Bills would own the NFL’s stingiest defense, allowing just 54 points through four games? Yes, new head coach Sean McDermott fielded impressive units during his years as a coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers. But his instant success in upstate New York is noteworthy given his 4-3 scheme shares little philosophical similarity to predecessor Rex Ryan's operation; the Bills parted with starting corners Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby in the offseason; and DT Marcell Dareus has been virtually invisible so far. Nevertheless, the Bills have put the clamps on three teams (Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons) that have had outbursts of 30-plus points against other competition this season. New S Micah Hyde has contributed three interceptions to a team with an AFC-best plus-6 turnover differential while leading a new-look secondary that has permitted just one TD pass. - Nate Davis

Jets passing the Giants

Few people would have been surprised to hear there was a winless team in New York after four games. But almost anyone would be lying if they said they knew it would be the Giants. The Jets, currently 2-2 and tied with the New England Patriots in the AFC East, are doing tanking all wrong. They better be careful or it’ll be the Giants who end up with the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft – not the quarterback-needy team in Florham Park. — LHJ


DISAPPOINTMENTS

Patriots' defense

The dream of an undefeated season ended for the New England Patriots on opening night. But the biggest disappointment for the defending Super Bowl champs has been the defensive drop-off, from the league’s top scoring defense last year to a group that’s allowing 32 points a game, more than all but one other team. The pass rush has been particularly disappointing, though not entirely unexpected, given an accumulation of detraction that began in recent years with the trades of Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins. — LHJ

Chargers

So much for a fresh start. Embarking on their first season in Los Angeles, the Chargers were a trendy pick by many (yours truly included) for a big turnaround after suffering through injuries and close losses last year. But just like their fan base, the 0-4 Bolts haven't shown up when it counts, with three of their defeats coming by a combined seven points. Melvin Gordon (3.1 yards a carry) has been problematic for the suddenly stalled ground game, and the defense has been gashed for the second-most rushing yards (163.5 a game) of any team. — MMS

Titans

The Tennessee Titans fell a tiebreaker short of reaching the playoffs a year ago. A team blessed with an exciting young quarterback, dominant offensive line, scary running back tandem and a defense loaded with talent seemed poised to take over the imminently winnable AFC South. But not so fast. Marcus Mariota's slow start may grind to a halt entirely if a hamstring injury forces him to miss time. Though RBs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry are still amassing yards at a decent clip, Tennessee's offense still seems too predictable. Of course, all those concerns pale next to a defense that just got bulldozed for 57 points by quarterback Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans, who was making just his third NFL start. The team that seemed a year away may still be years away. — ND

Raiders offensive line

The Oakland Raiders offensive line was supposed to rival the Dallas Cowboys for the unofficial title of league's best front five. There's probably no better interior trio than center Rodney Hudson and guards Gabe Jackson and Kelechi Osemele, and the front office thought enough of veteran left tackle Donald Penn to reward him with a two-year, $21 million extension despite this summer's training camp holdout. Yet despite all the talent, and the resources invested into it, the Raiders have been manhandled up front the past two weeks, haven't gotten Marshawn Lynch on track and, worst of all, have once again left franchise quarterback Derek Carr splayed on the turf with a serious injury. — ND

Dolphins QB Jay Cutler

In retrospect, it was unfair to expect a veteran to hop out of retirement in August and make a seamless transition into a starting role. But Miami's plan to replace Ryan Tannehill has fallen flat. Cutler has done little to lift the league's worst scoring offense (8.3 points a game). Coach Adam Gase says the blame doesn't rest with his quarterback — a dubious claim given Cutler's repeated lapses with his accuracy. — MMS