After the first quarter of the National Football League season has been completed, fans can step back and review the early results. I have noticed some developing trends. The following are my observations, broken down by division.
American Football Conference, Eastern Division: Before the quarterback Mark Sanchez finally played like a rookie, Jets' fans were dreaming of a "Subway Super Bowl" against their cross-town nemeses. Regardless of that loss, the Jets still hold a slight advantage over New England, thanks to their win in the second week. As of it appears now, both team are headed to the playoffs.
American Football Conference, Northern Division:No clear front-runner has emerged yet. Baltimore and Cincinnati are tied at 3-1, followed by 2-2 Pittsburgh. One has to wonder if the Bengals can sustain early-season success in view of recent years of failure. Also, are the Steelers simply feeling lingering effects of a Super Bowl hangover and will recover in time to compete for the divisional title? Will the Ravens' offense play consistently enough to support their continuance of defensive domination? This muddled picture needs more time to clarify.
American Football Conference, Southern Division: At first glance, Indianapolis appears to be Boise State and the rest of the division is imitating the rest of the Western Athletic Conference. Granted the Colts are bolting to the head of the AFC, yet Jacksonville is still within striking distance, thanks to its 2-1 record in divisional games. If the Colts stumble down the stretch while Jaguars go on a winning streak, the match-up between these two on the seventeenth of December could decide the divisional title. The Titans' 10-0 start in 2008 seems like ancient history considering their 0-4 start.
American Football Conference, Western Division:At this point, Denver would have to totally collapse to not win the division. Both Oakland and Kansas City are testing their fans' patience and season ticket holders' sanity with their continued putrid performances; neither seems ready to improve on recent years of ineptitude.
National Football Conference, Eastern Division: New York is out front early in this race. Assuming the Giants can avoid choking at home versus Oakland, the Week Six showdown with undefeated New Orleans would likely give the winner the tie-breaker for one of the top two playoff seeds. Philadelphia is danger of losing ground during Donovan McNabb's injury. We will find out if their gamble on Michael Vick or their drafting of Kevin Kolb will pay off for the Eagles. Fortunately for the Eagles, they have easily winnable games in the next two weeks. The Cowboys and Redskins can still sneak back into the race since they are only two games behind the Giants. However, they are both plagued by meddlesome owners and harsh scrutiny of their huge and impatient fan bases.
National Football Conference, Northern Division: Minnesota appears to be on the verge of pulling away from the pack despite only one game ahead of the second-place Bears. Two wins within the division already further their cause. However, Chicago and Green Bay have the talent to make this a photo-finish. I suspect this race will be tight with the division not wrapped up until the last week of the season.
National Football Conference, Southern Division: After only four weeks, half of this division is already looking forward to the draft. New Orleans and Atlanta will duke it out for the title. New Orleans' offense revved in high gear in the first two games as it has since Drew Brees arrived in 2006. The reason behind their 4-0 start is found in the defense which no longer acts as a brake on their momentum. Surprisingly, the Saints' defense allowed no points in Buffalo and outscored their offensive unit versus the Jets. The Falcons find themselves a game and a half behind the Saints but do have one advantage over the Saints at this point: a win within the division.
National Football Conference, Western Division: The Forty-Niners have awakened the fans in San Francisco from their decade-long nightmare of irrelevance. Arizona is slipping back to its perennial loser status after last season’s miraculous run to the Super Bowl. Seattle's performances have appeared nearly as ugly as the fluorescent green jerseys that the Seahawks wore versus Chicago. Saint Louis should petition the Canadian Football League for membership then let the Grey Cup winner take the Rams' place in this division. San Francisco will win the NFC West by default.
Of course, the projections are subject to change due to injuries to and arrests of players.