NFL: Notoriously Flailing Losers

Jordan Plaut

Even with all of the preseason predictions and speculations about contenders and pretenders, nothing is set in stone until someone hoists the Lombardi Trophy on Super Bowl Sunday. So far, this NFL season has been a stern reminder of why every game needs to be played, regardless of what the experts say.

The supposed top-three NFC teams, the Saints, Packers and Cowboys, are a combined 7-7 and none are leading their respective divisions. The champion Saints have been felled by injuries and missed opportunities. The Packers and Cowboys have been slowed by a combination of injuries and too many careless penalties. The NFC is effectively up for grabs, and you know there’s a problem when the 0-5 San Francisco 49ers still have a legitimate shot at winning their division.

In the AFC, the favorite situation is not much better. The Jets have been fairly strong, losing only their opener to a good Baltimore Ravens team by a point and beating the New England Patriots convincingly at home. Their other two victories have been on the road and solid, though against pretty awful teams in the Dolphins and Bills.

The way their schedule shapes up, the Jets are looking like the team to beat in the AFC, at least for now. What about everyone else?

The Ravens look like a good bet until you dig a bit deeper. Their one loss came against Cincinnati, which has not looked all that great. They barely beat a bad Browns team, edged out the Roethlisberger-less Steelers and got by the Denver Broncos who honestly suck.

The Texans looked great through the first two weeks after beating the Colts and Redskins to become favorites in the AFC South. The past three weeks have been incredibly disappointing for them, however, after a blowout at the hands of the Cowboys, a narrow defeat of the Raiders and a crushing by the New York Giants.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ loss on Sunday left the NFL without an undefeated team through four games for the first time since 1970. While this bit of information is strikingly odd for the NFL, it is definitely more alarming that the last undefeated team was the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS. This is the same Chiefs team that went 4-12 last year and lost seven of its first eight games. Where are the Indianapolis Colts who always start out with 10-plus wins in a row or the “fun with Favre” Vikings? Nowhere to be found, that’s where. Peyton Manning has, dare I say it, struggled. Favre has been inconsistent at best.

Twenty-three teams entered the weekend within one game of first place. That is the most ever through the first four weeks of an NFL season. That statistic barely changed on Sunday, with 24 teams remaining within 1.5 games of first place. The entire AFC South is tied for first place (and last place, for that matter) at a very mediocre 3-2. The Oakland Raiders’ defeat of the San Diego Chargers left the teams tied with Denver at 2-3 for second place behind the 3-1 Chiefs. The Chargers, who have now lost two AFC West games after a Week 1 defeat in Kansas City, are losing in spite of the superhuman, 400-plus yard passing efforts of Philip Rivers.

There are three 4-1 teams that sit atop the NFL, at least in the standings, but the Bears, Ravens and Falcons are not running away with anything. None of those squads has stepped forward as a potential overpowering threat in their division. For example, the Bears turned the ball over four times in beating the winless Panthers. Their earlier wins against Detroit, Green Bay and Dallas are looking less impressive as those teams fall in the standings. Likewise, the Falcons struggled to put away the one-win Browns and would have lost to the 49ers if not for a stupid fumble by Nate Clements on an interception return that would have iced the game if he had just fallen down (as part of the San Francisco faithful, I’m a tad bitter if you couldn’t tell). Their other wins against Arizona and New Orleans are less impressive considering they barely beat the Super Bowl winners and crushed the Cards, who in turn crushed the Saints. Every team is essentially on the same level of mediocrity.

Hopefully, someone will step up soon and claim the title of favorite. Without the favorites, there cannot be underdogs and come Super Bowl time, the fans without a team to care about won’t be able to pick sides. We as fans need to have a favorite to cheer or loathe. After all, what’s the fun in watching sports if you can’t choose a side to root against?