A play on the title of the seminal football film—that may have ignited a feud between costars LL Cool J and Jamie Foxx—underscores the volatile nature of football supremacy. The only thing predictable in football is that seismic changes will occur from season to season. Divisions, teams, and even players have all failed to live up to expectations through the first quarter of this season, making it one of the more unpredictable seasons in recent history. The NFC East which historically has the swagger of a pitbull, currently has the bite a Chihuahua. One of the NFL’s toughest divisions stands at a weak cumulative record of 4-12 after 16 games and those 4 wins all came against an 0-4 team and 3 teams that are 1-3. Looking at this season, few could have predicted that things would have played out the way that they have over the first 4 games. The topsy-turvy fun doesn’t stop with the division-wide problems with the NFC East:
-Perennial contenders, the Giants and Steelers are both 0-4 and reeling, matching the futility of dysfunctional organizations like the Bucs and the Jaguars. At the same token, the Packers are 1-2, after 3 games and a BYE. Most predicted the Pack would be 3-0 and at worst, 2-1 by this point.
-2014 Super Bowl favorites San Francisco sits at 2-2 at this point with glaring flaws. After being perplexed by Kaepernick, it should be interesting to see how NFL coaches gameplan against him in light of his 2 losses. Another West Coast team has surprised the world by going 2-2 in the AFC: the supposedly woeful San Diego Chargers. The 49ers are supposed to be the class of the league and the Chargers the antithesis, yet here they both stand with the same record. It’s early but Philip Rivers may be comeback player of the year.
-Speaking of records, no one is surprised that the Broncos and Patriots are among the league’s undefeated teams, but the Saints and Chiefs have shocked the collective football community by also ascending to the ranks of the unbeaten. All four teams stand at 4-0. Andy Reid’s done a phenomenal job changing the culture in KC, while Sean Payton has reinvigorated the Saints.
-The Jets are 2-2 after dire season predictions with a rookie QB starting for the franchise. The oft-ridiculed Jets have found ways to squeak out wins and at 2-2, the Jets have the same record as the Houston Texans, and as the two teams that played in the Super Bowl, the Ravens and 49ers. They also have better records than the Giants, Steelers, Packers, and Falcons, all marquee NFL franchises.
-Two teams that have underwhelmed so far: the Falcons and the Texans. At 1-3 and 2-2 respectively, both teams were supposed to have grabbed this season by the throat and ascended to the upper echelon of the league after having been good teams that couldn’t get to the SuperBowl in the past. Injuries and tough opponents haven’t allowed the Falcons to live up to formidable expectations, while bad QB play and an inability to stop the run (23rd in opponents rushing yards) has plagued Houston.
-The Raiders, Rams, Vikings, and Panthers are all teams with one win, so are Washington, the Eagles, the Falcons, and the Packers. Downtrodden teams and high-profile franchises share the same win-loss record at this point in the season. With 25% of the season done, this fact is alarming for those high-profile teams. Some fans will still say it’s early, but as Yogi Berra said, “It get’s late early out there.”
-Cleveland traded away their first round pick from the 2012 draft in a move that the league regarded as the white flag for the rest of the season, and yet they’re 3-2, which makes them 1st in the AFC North. It may be temporary, but this is world’s away from what prognosticators thought would occur in the wake of the Trent Richardson trade. They are 3-2 for the first time since 2001. I must say it again, the Cleveland Browns are 3-2 and the best team in the AFC North. Head coach Rob Chudzinski and the most ardent Browns fans couldn’t have seen this coming at the outset of the season.
-Tennessee, with the fantasy world’s most hated runningback, and Miami are both 3-1. Yes, the Bears and Lions are both 3-1 teams, as well, but this start can be explained away through the fact that those two teams have had good seasons recently. The Titans and Dolphins? Not so much.
This relative unpredictability is jolting and disorienting, but also exciting and compelling. Teams that were in the SuperBowl last year are .500, while Kansas City has already doubled their win total from last year and Cleveland fans are giddy because–as no one predicted–the Browns are in first place with the momentum of a 3 game winning streak. (Negating the sting of the Indians not advancing in the playoffs.) No, we are not in the Twilight Zone; the NFL is simply unpredictable.
It’s through this instability that the NFL produces stories that no one could have anticipated, and that’s what makes the NFL so alluring. That’s what makes us watch. Everyone has a chance to sink or swim, break down under the odds or live up to them, and accept gloomy predictions or fly in the face of negativity. Fans of the Steelers, Falcons, Giants, and even Packers are all bewildered, wondering when the doldrums will end, while fans of the Dolphins, Chiefs, Titans, and even Browns have playoff visions in mind. This unpredictable nature of the NFL is what draws fans to the NFL and makes them stay, because the prospects of any given season can be wholly unexpected, magical, and overwhelming.