I finished last week’s piece by embracing the crazy the NFL had become. Maybe it was Stockholm syndrome. There was a calm once the 70 years of officiating NFL officiating experience took over Thursday’s Ravens-Browns game, half comforting and half Stepford Wives levels of unsettling. That the game transpired without a challenge or even a truly controversial call felt wrong. However, more importantly, it proved to be an exciting game, down to an almost-comeback by the Browns. Sunday brought more action that removed any slight psychotic admiration I had for the replacement refs.
With the first three weeks featuring such unprecedented results, those of Week Four gave a certain legitimacy to some teams that otherwise seemed they might be a fluke. The Arizona Cardinals showed some offensive fortitude in a fourth quarter comeback to force overtime, and win, against the Dolphins. While their defense is unquestionably strong (currently ranked 3rd in the league), their offense needs improving. A late comeback is likely to inspire some confidence. Still there are a handful of teams better than the Cardinals in addition to the other 4-0 Texans and Falcons, who rallied an even more convincing comeback. The Packers and 49ers are both better than their records indicate. Green Bay’s offensive line needs to close the holes in order to keep Rodgers healthy. Currently the most sacked QB in the league, a major injury would remove the Pack from any serious contention. The Ravens, who could easily be 4-0, are also one of the best teams of the league.
The middle of the pack is more muddled, with a lot of mediocre teams who could potentially rise to the top. The Broncos at 2-2 might seem disappointing but they have also have the toughest strength of schedule so far, with their two loses coming against the best two teams in the league right now, Atlanta and Houston. Their tough schedule continues at New England next week, but now that Manning and his coaching staff are better acclimated to one another, I foresee a close game. Denver’s division rivals, the San Diego Chargers (3-1), fared much worse against the Falcons and though their defense is ranked sixth overall, they are just one of just seven teams to allow 100 passing completions already. When they face a passing powerhouse in New Orleans next week, expect that number to rise much higher and don’t be surprised if the Saints get their first win. The Eagles have gotten their three victories by an average of 1.33 points.
Unless Andy Reid starts to give LeSean McCoy more carries, which would balance his offense and reduce the risk of injury to Vick, there isn’t a lot of longevity to their winning record. The Giants, who gave Philly their third win, are one of the only teams looking entirely familiar. Eli Manning is the best procrastinator in all of sports. He plays like a dope for the first two or three quarters, then gets this in this panicking, jittery mode and starts making improbable passes work. Next week, the G-Men have an easy home game against the Browns while the Eagles travel to the tougher Steelers. Other teams potentially on the rise: the Rams, Vikings, Bears and Panthers.
Finally, the terrible of the league, and there is plenty of it. The New York Jets have begun their implosion. As if losing Darrelle Revis (and now Santonio Holmes!) for the entire season wasn’t enough, Mark Sanchez is completing a league worst 49.5% of his passes, making Tebow seem like a viable experiment. Monday marked the second time Tony Romo had thrown a 5-INT game on MNF, something only he has, uh, accomplished. The Jaguars and Chiefs have little to be hopeful for. I’m actually excluding the Browns from this despite their 0-4 record because Brandon Weeden looked great during certain moments against the Ravens. Unfortunately, they are still plagued by dropped balls. I’m not saying they can make the playoffs, but they certainly can turn things around.
Week four was certainly the most normal of the season so far and I’m sure that will continue. While we may not have the absurd theatrics anymore, there will still be all the things that make the game enjoyable. Plus, this season already feels fresher than any in recent memory with three unforeseen unbeatens and a roughly 10 other teams who might be nearly as good.- Farsideoff