Mediocrity abounds in the young season; plus more Snap Judgments
Twenty one of the league's 32 teams (65.6 percent) are sitting at .500 or worse
While kick-return TDs are definitely up, it only seems like there are more sacks
New England's Gnat Patrol ate the Dolphins alive Monday night in South Florida
As the guy responsible for SI.com's NFL Power Rankings, someone asked me Monday afternoon what constitutes the NFL's elite class this season. As I gave it some thought, I realized Week 4 was when it started to dawn on us that we don't really have one of those yet in the 2010 NFL season.
Consider the following:
When Miami fell with a thud to .500 in the wake of that 41-14 demolition by New England on Monday night, it meant that 21 of the league's 32 teams (65.6 percent) were sitting at .500 or worse at the season's first quarter pole. That's 11 of 16 NFC teams with at least two losses, and 10 of 16 AFC teams at 2-2 or worse. Can't anybody here play this game?
Of the six playoffs from 2009 in the NFC, only two (New Orleans and Green Bay, both 3-1) have winning records through four weeks, and neither have been anything approaching dominant. As a six-team field, the Cowboys, Eagles, Saints, Vikings, Packers and Cardinals are a very mediocre 12-10. The story is a bit better in the AFC, where last year's six playoff teams have started 15-9, with three winning teams (Jets, Patriots and Ravens) and three at .500 (Colts, Bengals and Chargers).
Three different divisions feature a three-team jumble of 2-2 teams, with the NFC East and West being led by those break-even clubs, and the AFC South having Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Tennessee clumped just a game back of division-leading Houston (3-1).
Lastly, with both Pittsburgh and Chicago losing in Week 4, Kansas City (3-0), remarkably enough, remains the league's only undefeated team. The last time we were down to just one of those this early in the season was the year before realignment, in 2001, when Mike Martz's Rams got off to a 4-0 start while everyone else took at least one loss in the first month of the schedule. Since the 1970 merger, the earliest point in a season in which there were no undefeated teams was after Week 4 in 1970.
But it's not just the hard, cold win-loss records alone that tell the story of teams' struggles so far in 2010. It's Indy's difficulties to win in the division, stop the run and play on the road. It's the Saints not being able to get their high-octane offense going or play a game without it being close (four games decided by a total of 13 points). It's the Cowboys and Vikings looking like a shell of themselves so far, and the Chargers, Cardinals, Bengals and Titans all riding the up-one-week, down-the-next rollercoaster.
It's the Bears being almost completely unable to protect the quarterback (18 sacks allowed), Denver's inability to field even the threat of a running game (55.0 yards per game), Houston's woeful pass defense (337.8), and four NFC teams being tied for first place in their respective divisions despite being outscored (the 2-2 Redskins, Giants, Cardinals and Seahawks are all in that boat, with Arizona having fashioned an amazing 60-point deficit at 58-118).
But hey, maybe the most pertinent question is who needs an elite class in early October? The NFL's TV ratings continue to climb like late-'90s tech stocks and even the 0-4 49ers can sit here with a straight face and tell us they're still very much alive in the NFC West playoff hunt. In the NFL this season, almost everyone looks a little flawed so far. But perhaps the beauty of it is, when everyone has problems, no one's problems really stand out.
Maybe now everyone will stop telling us what a great young quarterback Miami has in Chad Henne. The third-year veteran is not there yet, and those back-to-back home-field losses to the division rival Jets and Patriots illustrated it vividly.
Henne threw for a combined 665 yards in his past two games, but big deal. The Dolphins lost by eight points to New York and 27 points to New England. Henne only had 296 combined passing yards in season-opening road wins over Buffalo and Minnesota, but he didn't throw an interception either. He's had four the past two weeks, and they've been killers for a Dolphins offense that doesn't remotely have that kind of a margin for error.
Can we let Henne, 25, win a big game for once before someone tries to convince us of how bright his NFL future is? He just went head-to-head at home with his division's two best quarterbacks, Mark Sanchez and Tom Brady, and he didn't measure up.