The first four weeks of the National Football League’s regular season have been completed. Before some teams head to bye weeks and others play their fifth games, a look back at the first quarter of the season is worthwhile. I have organized my comments according to divisions.
American Football Conference
AFC East: Buffalo’s first loss in a nail-biter at Cincinnati on last Sunday should not detract from the Bills’ incredible start. The Patriots remain on the heels of Buffalo should the Bills’ fast start begin to fade. The Jets must end their two game skid in the next two weeks in divisional games. Otherwise, they will be scrambling for a wildcard spot for the third straight year. In Miami, fans are hoping for a resolution the NBA’s labor dispute for the Heat to provide a distraction from Dolphins’ woes.
AFC North: This perennially two-team division appears to have been widened. The Steelers, the most successful franchise of the four during the past twelve years, technically find themselves in last place based on tiebreakers used to determine playoff positions. A consolation for Pittsburgh is that the first place Ravens only have a one game lead for the divisional title. Both Cincinnati and Cleveland will have opportunities to prove their credibility with three of their next four games on the road.
AFC South: Houston has opened its quest for the first playoff berth in franchise history by winning all three conference games so far. Four more of those follow, including two within the division, to build toward that goal. Despite Jacksonville’s inexplicable win over Tennessee, the Jaguars’ anemic offense will eventually cost Jack Del Rio his job. Colts’ fans are experiencing the foreshadowing of life after Peyton Manning’s inevitable retirement.
AFC West: San Diego appears on its way to claiming yet another AFC West title. The question is whether the Raiders can continue their success within the division from last season to end the Chargers’ dominance. Of course, Oakland would have to include some wins outside of the division in order for that winning streak to matter. The Chiefs’ surprising playoff appearance last season seems like the distant past. The only interest left in the Broncos’ season lies in seeing when will Tim Tebow start under center.
National Football Conference
NFC East: The Redskins might actually be headed toward the level of success which Daniel Snyder has been demanding since he purchased the franchise. The Giants have the next three games at home with a bye week mixed in to leap over the Redskins or at least stay within a game of them. If the Cowboys’ string of games decided by four points or less continues, they appear to be on pace for an 8-8 season. The moniker “Dream Team” for Philadelphia seems like hilarious irony for the Eagles based on the first four weeks.
NFC North: The chances that the only two undefeated teams remaining in the league would be situated in the same division seem improbable. The likelihood of the defending Super Bowl champion Packers being 4-0 at this point seems plausible. The chances of the list of unbeaten teams including the Lions would have seemed laughably impossible before Labor Day. With three straight home games followed by a trip to woeful Denver, an 8-0 start is not outside the realm of possibility for Detroit. Green Bay’s slate of three of its next four on the road is not as daunting as Cheeseheads might fear. One game is at currently winless Minnesota then a week off before travelling to San Diego. Chicago has divisional games in the next two weeks so the Bears can jump into serious contention for the divisional title by sweeping those. As for Vikings’ fans, hockey season starts in less than a month!
NFC South: Tampa Bay and New Orleans are currently tied for first place with Atlanta one game behind both. The Saints have two consecutive games within the NFC South, which would put them in the driver’s seat by winning both. Atlanta faces the daunting task of playing the last two undefeated teams in the next three weeks. The Falcons are in jeopardy of falling too far behind the divisional leaders to compete for the title. Cam Newton has given Panthers’ fans a reason to hope for the future. However, one player cannot will an entire team to the playoffs, no matter how talented he is.
NFC West: Are the Forty-Niners on the verge of returning to the glory years of the Eighties and Nineties? Is their success fools’ gold made of three wins over teams with losing records and a loss to a 2-2 team? Since the next two opponents are a combined 7-1, we will see which possibility is closer to the truth. The rest of the division is living down to the moniker “NFC Worst” with only one win among the three teams versus someone outside the division.
COPYRIGHT BY CHARLES KASTRIOT OCTOBER 2011