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Unpredictability is NFL's surest bet

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Brian Billick

Brian Billick served as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2007, winning Super Bowl XXXV. He has also authored books, including More Than A Game: The Glorious Present and Uncertain Future of the NFL. Follow him on Twitter.

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Entering the weekend, the Bears, Broncos, Chiefs, Dolphins, Patriots, Saints and Seahawks all maintained an undefeated record. With the Bears' loss, and the Monday Night Football game between the Saints and the Dolphins, there will be five 4-0 teams. Of those five, the Patriots, Broncos and the Seahawks were playoff teams last year.

Historically, teams that start the season with four straight wins go on to make the playoffs 81.8 percent of the time and go on to win the Super Bowl 13.6 percent of the time.

On the flip side, there were six teams entering Sunday winless on the season. Two of those six teams had reached the playoffs in 2012. Those two -- the Vikings and the Redskins -- ended their losing skids Sunday with wins over the Steelers and the Raiders, respectively.

But it’s not all roses for the Vikings and Redskins as none of the 12 playoff teams from a season ago started with a 1-3 record or 0-4 for that matter. In fact, 1-3 teams have made the playoffs just 13.9 percent of the time while winning the Super Bowl just 0.6 percent of the time. The prospect for a still-winless team – the Jaguars, Giants, Steelers and Buccaneers – making the playoffs is just
1.3 percent and a team to start the season with four straight losses has yet to win a Super Bowl.

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This is amazing turnover, even for a league that already prides itself on competitive balance. Based on the numbers above, we will most assuredly see at least one-third of the playoff field new from last year. That doesn’t even take into consideration the 3-1 teams like the Bears, Lions, Titans and the loser of the Dolphins-Saints game. All four of these 3-1 teams failed to reach the playoffs last season, but now have a 64.6 percent likelihood of qualifying for the postseason this year. That would account for nearly half of the playoff field in 2013 to be different than what we saw in 2012.

The turnover of the best 12 teams is just another example of why nothing in the NFL is a sure bet. But if you need further evidence, all you have to do is look further at Sunday’s games.

The once 0-2 Browns, fresh off trading their best player, have now won two straight with a quarterback that started just his third game in his already six-year career. Yesterday, Brian Hoyer, against one of the NFL’s best defenses, threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns without any blemishes on his stat line. The Browns have a legitimate shot to be above .500 after the first five games since the 2001 season. All they have to do is beat Buffalo next Sunday ... though that brings me to my next point.

The Bills beat the defending Super Bowl champions. Yes, the same Buffalo Bills that squeaked by with a one-point over the Panthers in Week 2 and lost to the Jets in Week 3. The Bills, in another anomaly this season, rushed the ball 55 times on the day -- the most rushing attempts for the franchise since 1996 when Darick Homes and Thurman Thomas split 56 carries.

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On the contrary, the Ravens, facing the league’s third-worst rushing defense (138 yards per game), finished with just nine rushing attempts, the fewest in franchise history. Instead, Joe Flacco thew five interceptions into a depleted Bills secondary that was without its three best players.

Because of the unexpected twists and turns, the constant drama and the weekly cliffhangers, the NFL is the best reality show on television. You just never know what to expect -- before you know it, the Chiefs will have doubled their win total from a season ago after just four weeks, Philip Rivers will have the second-best passer rating in the entire NFL, and two of the most successful franchises in the history of the NFL, the Steelers and the Giants, will be a combined 0-8 on the season.

In the NFL, nothing is what it seems, and that is why we tune in every week to find out what’s in store next.

Tagged: Browns, Bills, Bears, Dolphins, Saints, Steelers

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