Four weeks into the season, 23 of the league’s 32 teams are either leading their division or within a game of first place.
That fact is lauded as an accomplishment by the NFL in one of its previews this week, a historic high point in terms of contention.
But that also might be a low point in terms of quality, because a good chunk of those 23 teams aren’t clustered toward the top of the standings so much as stuck in the middle.
There are two divisions that don’t have a single team with a winning record.
There’s only one team in the league that’s still unbeaten, and that’s the Kansas City Chiefs, who just so happen to be one of the two largest underdogs in the NFL this weekend for their game at Indianapolis. And while the Colts are a perennial contender, they’re at .500 and were just beaten on a last-second field goal in Jacksonville by a Jaguars team no one thinks is very good.
Never has the league been closer to realizing its goal of having everyone finish 8-8.
It’s exciting, to be sure. The Saints — the defending Super Bowl champs — pulled out a two-point victory over Carolina last week, but New Orleans has yet to score more than 25 points in any of its four games. Compare that to last year when the Saints scored 25 or more in 12 of their first 13 games on their way to a 13-0 start.
There were five NFL teams unbeaten after four weeks last season. This year there is one. At least one team has remained unbeaten through nine games in each of the previous five seasons, and the league has had at least one team reach 4-0 every year going back to the 2000 season.
Welcome to the NFL circa 2010, where no one may be any good, but no one is really out of it. Well, no one except the Raiders, who are dressing like they’re still an NFL team but aren’t fooling anyone about the quality of product.
Whether that’s good or bad doesn’t really matter. It’s just the reality of this NFL season, and what might seem hopeless is actually hopeful.
The Seahawks haven’t scored a point in the first quarter; haven’t reached the opponent’s end zone for six quarters and counting; and didn’t make it past midfield in the second half of last week’s loss at St. Louis.
Yet Seattle is tied for first place in the NFC West.
The 49ers are 0-4; they’ve fired their offensive coordinator; and coach Mike Singletary is so out of sorts that he didn’t shake the hand of Atlanta coach Mike Smith after last week’s loss. But San Francisco is just two games out of first place in a division where the reigning two-time champ will start an undrafted rookie at quarterback, as Arizona turns to Max Hall.
And sure, it’s the NFC West, and yes, everyone likes to joke about just how awful that division is. But the NFC East also doesn’t have a team with a winning record, and that’s not because those teams are so good, they just keep beating up on each other.
Washington is 2-2 even though it has scored exactly 13 points in the second half, which is the fewest in the NFL.
Yet Washington is there, tied for first place atop a division that includes the league’s two most valuable franchises. Three of the Redskins’ four games have been decided by six points or fewer, so maybe that’s exactly what the league is striving for: close and exciting where everyone has a chance and no one is all that good.