I’ve been struggling coming to terms with the bizarre nature of the first four weeks of the NFL season. Of the 32 teams in the league, only one remains unbeaten. That squad? The Kansas City Chiefs, a team that’s averaged 3.3 wins over the past three seasons. Kyle Orton — he of legendary neck beards and wounded duck passes — leads the NFL in passing, two players from one team are currently ranked first and second in the league receptions and the Rams — a franchise that’s gone 6-42 over the past three seasons — are comfortably perched atop the NFC West, tied for first place.
There’s been more kickoff returns for touchdowns through four weeks this year than any other season in NFL history, Arian Foster — a one-time undrafted free agent — is one of just three running backs ever to total more than 500 rushing yards and 100 receiving yards through four weeks and LaDainian Tomlinson and Terrell Owens (remember them?) are currently two of the most sought-after players in fantasy football. Furthermore, the only two rookies in the league with the name Morgan — Tennessee defensive end Derrick Morgan and Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett — were each lost for the season with injuries last week.
Hey, I’m sure the boys at Football Outsiders are crunching the numbers somewhere, and I’m almost certain a talking head on one of ESPN’s seven networks has explanations for all of these oddities. I’ll listen to it all. But in the end, I’m probably going to just go with an easier explanation: S*#t has hit the fan.
Randomness is certainly at play this season. And man, it sure is fun.
What can we expect in Week 5? Let’s go to the picks.
Week 4 Record: 7-7 Overall 2010 Record: 33-29
Sunday 1 p.m. ET games
St. Louis at Detroit: Coming into the 2010 season, the Rams and Lions had combined for just five wins over the past two years. One of those victories came when the winless Rams topped the 1-5 Lions in Week 8 last season. This was supposed to be The Toilet Bowl game of the 2010 campaign. Alas, the Rams have notched two straight victories and the Lions have been competitive in all four of their outings despite zero wins thus far. I’m actually a little bit excited to check this one out. The winless Lions will get over the hump and notch their first W on Sunday. The Pick: Lions 24, Rams 17
Green Bay at Washington: To the untrained football eye, the Green Bay Packers would appear to be sitting rather pretty at 3-1 with big victories over the Bills and Eagles, a nail-biter win last weekend over a division rival and a tough last-second defeat on a wacky Monday night in Chicago. But the numbers tell another story, the story of a team that’s looked anything but Super Bowl-bound in 2010. Green Bay is ranked 18th in the league in total offense, 15th in scoring defense and 29th in net punting average, and its quarterback has thrown just two fewer interceptions (five) in four games than he tossed in 16 games all of last season (seven). The Packers defense is already all banged up, and the special teams have been horrendous. Give me a breakout day from Ryan Torain and the Redskins on Sunday, leading the masses to start reconsidering their preseason Super Bowl picks next week. The Pick: Redskins 34, Packers 20
Jacksonville at Buffalo: The Trent Edwards Bowl! Well, not quite. For the time being, Edwards isn’t seeing any time under center. Maybe his signing, though, was just what the doctor ordered for Jacksonville starter David Garrard. Who was that guy in Garrard’s jersey rolling out and throwing precise passes over the middle in Sunday’s shocker over the Colts? Who was that guy running the option like he was an old-school Nebraska Cornhusker? Who was that guy recording his first interception-free and sack-free game of the year? Garrard looked like the quarterback who won in Pittsburgh on a frigid Saturday night in the playoffs back in ’08 and the guy who earned Pro Bowl alternate honors last year. Trent Edwards will have to wait. For now. And so, of course, will Bills fans for a victory. The Pick: Jaguars 24, Bills 20
Chicago at Carolina: So, yeah, about the Bears on Sunday night. Hmm. I don’t know what to say, really. Chicago gave up an NFL-record nine sacks in the first half, the offense totaled just 110 yards on the night and Chicago went 0-for-13 on third downs. Left tackle Chris Williams isn’t expected back on Sunday, right guard Lance Louis appears doubtful and Roberto Garza looked like a shell of his former self against the Giants. Whether it’s Cutler or Collins or Hanie under center, I see the Panthers getting the best of the Bears in Julius Peppers’ much-awaited homecoming game in Carolina on Sunday. And yes, that is even with a rookie quarterback and two rookie wide-outs all in the Panthers’ starting lineup. The Pick: Panthers 23, Bears 10
Atlanta at Cleveland: In Sunday’s win over Cincinnati, Peyton Hillis became the first Browns running back to score a touchdown in four consecutive games since Greg Pruitt did it in 1975. The third option in a college backfield that also included Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, Hillis has pretty much thrown the Browns offense on his back through four weeks and given the city a bit of hope about its football team. But the Browns don’t stand a chance against Atlanta if Eric Wright — a guy who’s been victimized and victimized badly by Anquan Boldin and Terrell Owens in back-to-back weeks — is expected to cover Roddy White one-on-one. Give me the Falcons in a close one here and give me rookie Joe Haden covering the opponents’ No. 1 wide-out from here on out. The Pick: Falcons 24, Browns 20
Tampa Bay at Cincinnati: Don’t underestimate the Buccaneers scouting department in this one. With two weeks to prepare for the Bengals, look for Tampa to come out swinging and to keep this game close. In the end, though, the Bengals prove to be just too talented and too savvy for the Baby Bucs to win this tough one on the road. It’d make for a heck of a story if Tampa could sweep the league’s two Ohio teams in Ohio, but I just don’t see it happening. The Pick: Bengals 27, Buccaneers 17
Kansas City at Indianapolis: I vividly remember last season around this time when I poked my head inside the Denver Broncos media bandwagon. It was sweaty. It was packed to the gills with middle-aged sportswriters typing away furiously on Twitter, there was no room whatsoever for overhead luggage and there were TV talking heads climbing on top of one another in the aisles, each one crouched and ready to bow to the throne of Josh McDaniels. It was a heinous sight, and I never got aboard. Sure enough, the Broncos went 8-8, missed the playoffs and nobody was talking about brown and yellow socks in January. The same thing is happening with the Kansas City Chiefs now, as everyone is all juiced up about Romeo and Charlie getting the band back together and the emergence of rookie playmakers like Tony Moeaki and Dexter McCluster. Hey, the Chiefs are 3-0, and that’s great for their loyal fans. But let’s not overlook the fact their opponents are a combined 3-9 and they’ve got Indy and Houston up ahead on the schedule. Let me know if that bandwagon is still full heading into Week 6. I’d be shocked if it is. The Pick: Colts 34, Chiefs 13
Denver at Baltimore: My favorite stat of the week? Kyle Orton’s — yes, that same Kyle Orton — 1,419 passing yards are the second-highest passing yardage total in NFL history through four games. Orton has been arguably the NFL’s best quarterback, but he hasn’t faced a defense like the Ravens’ yet. Everyone’s jazzed up about the Jets this week, but I defy you to find a team that’s had a more impressive pair of road victories (at New York Jets, at Pittsburgh) than the Ravens. They return home on Sunday where they rarely lose and will be the first team to slow down the guy who once backed up Rex Grossman and Brian Griese in Chicago. The Broncos need to get at least something from their running game this season. I’m just not sure they will. The Pick: Ravens 30, Broncos 16
New York Giants at Houston: Talk all you want about the Steelers going 3-1 without Ben Roethlisberger, it’s worth noting the Texans have managed to jump out of the gates with a 3-1 record despite being without the services of Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Cushing for the first four games, starting left tackle Duane Brown for the past two and Andre Johnson for one. Jacoby Jones, Johnson’s replacement at wide-out and the team’s top punt returner, strained a calf in Week 4 and left the game early, as well. Houston’s defense is giving up a league-worst 408 yards per game, but it gets Cushing back on Sunday. The Giants D looked rejuvenated, and I’m fairly sure Leonard Marshall and Jim Burt even recorded sacks against the Bears last Sunday evening, but I just can’t see Big Blue’s offense keeping up with Houston’s down at Reliant this Sunday. The Pick: Texans 30, Giants 20
4 p.m. ET games
New Orleans at Arizona: Asked on Monday if he’d made a decision about who’d be his starting quarterback this weekend — floundering veteran Derek Anderson or undrafted rookie free agent Max Hall — Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt joked, “I think we’re going to go without one this week.” Anderson or Hall? Hall or Anderson? Based on what we’ve seen from the two quarterbacks thus far, that’s like choosing between gruel and dog food for dinner. Going through the list of the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals quarterbacks of recent years, Anderson and Hall rank somewhere in the Shawn Halloran/Stan Gelbaugh/Stoney Case section, about seven notches below Neil Lomax and Kurt Warner. Ah, Lomax and Warner. Lomax is 61 and has been out of football since 1989. Warner, meanwhile, is retired and currently dancing for a living, but will be in the FOX booth on Sunday afternoon. Think either would be down for taking a few snaps for old times’ sake in this blowout? Man, if only Arizona had a top 10 draft pick it had been grooming for years on the roster. Imagine that. The Pick: Saints 38, Cardinals 14
Tennessee at Dallas: What’s with adults giving the middle finger down in Tennessee? First, owner Bud Adams maddeningly flips off everyone in sight on national television in 2009, and now Chuck Cecil gives one to an official on Sunday. I haven’t used the middle finger since I was in the sixth grade. I don’t know anyone who’s given one in a non-driving situation since high school. Video of Cecil’s stupid gesture was up on YouTube by the second quarter of Sunday’s 26-20 loss to the Broncos. This comes a year after Cecil reportedly accused officials of betting on the outcome of the San Diego game last season. I don’t know, it just seems a bit over the top. Give me a team that’s low-key and understated in Sunday’s game. You know, the squad where $55,000 dinner bills and $1,000-apiece shots of liquor are just part of the gig. The Pick: Cowboys 33, Titans 28
San Diego at Oakland: It’s not too early to say Oakland’s season is on the line this Sunday. I’ve got a finely grilled crow on my plate and I’m about to start eating, as my preseason sleeper pick out of the AFC sits alone at the bottom of the AFC West with a 1-3 record through four weeks of the season. The Raiders offense — long the black eye of the silver and black’s on-the-field product — has put up more than 20 points in each of Bruce Gradkowski’s two starts and has gained more yards after four games than it had since their Super Bowl trip in 2002. But the run defense has been laughable, and despite a pair of close losses, 1-3 is still 1-3. Call me crazy, but I can see the Raiders somehow knocking off the Chargers for the first time in 14 tries on Sunday. And if they don’t? Well, then it might be time for me jump ship and start eating that crow. How does crow even taste? Can I put Frank’s Red Hot sauce on it? I may find out on Sunday. The Pick: Raiders 34, Chargers 31 (OT)
Philadelphia at San Francisco: I’m not giving up on the Niners just yet. Have you watched the NFC West this year? As I stated in my preseason predictions piece, a team is going to win that division with a sub-.500 record. In an ugly 0-4 hole, San Francisco is just two games behind the division-leading Rams, Seahawks and Cardinals. The Niners have two straight home games at Candlestick Park, a trip to lowly Carolina and then the Broncos in London on Oct. 31, followed by the bye week. They’ve then got five remaining games against their woeful division rivals after that. Mark it down now — the Niners will find a way to win on Sunday night and then be in the thick of the NFC West race by mid-November. The Pick: 49ers 24, Eagles 23
Minnesota at New York Jets: The Jets are playing in a primetime nationally televised game for the third time in five weeks. This time, they’ll go up against that Brett Favre fellow. New York’s offense has been night and day since its opening weekend dud against the Ravens. Expect a lot of Fireman Ed doing whatever Fireman Ed does, a lot of Jon Gruden compliments for every single player and coach involved in the game and a lot of flashbacks of Favre in Jets green on Monday night. Also, expect another Jets win. Fun stat regarding Randy Moss — including Week 4 of the preseason and Week 14’s bout with the Giants in Minnesota, Moss will be going up against both New York teams TWICE in the same NFL season. I’ve got to imagine he’s the first player to ever "accomplish" that feat.
The Pick: Jets 27, Vikings 16
Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week: Through four games, Kyle Orton has the second-most passing yards in NFL history. Who had the most?
Reader E-mail of the Week:
Though you probably don’t care, I have quick fantasy football sob story for you that I wanted to share with you and your readers. I am told it’s good to talk things out when you’re grieving, so I’m hoping your column will serve as my shoulder to cry on. I had Terrell Owens, Aaron Rodgers and Arian Foster this week, and still lost! My opponent — a guy you wouldn’t want to have a beer with if he was the last guy on Earth — had Kyle Orton, Antonio Gates and just about every other NFL player that had big days. After I had Brandon Marshall score a touchdown in the fourth quarter, I was up exactly 2 points with just him having BenJarvus Green-Ellis left on his roster. Sure enough, Tyler Thigpen throws a pick and the Pats get the ball back with about four minutes left on the clock. I’m hoping Brady comes out and just takes a knee. I’m praying they put Sammy Morris in. Nope, like getting teeth pulled at the dentist or having to listen to a Justin Beiber CD on loop, I have to watch as the Patriots painstakingly run the ball with Green-Ellis one short play after another — 4 yards, 7 yards, 4 yards, 3 yards… At around the two-minute warning mark, the guy needs just 4 yards from Green-Ellis for the victory. The next play? Handoff to Green-Ellis for … 7 yards. The Pats didn’t run another play from scrimmage. I lost by .3 points and had the second-highest scoring week of any team this season. Thanks for nothing, team. FML!
You lost me when you started the paragraph with “Though you probably don’t care …” You’re right. I don’t care about your fantasy football team. And using “FML” is about three times worse than using “LOL”. You’re better than that, my man. C’mon now!
Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer of the Week: In 2000, reigning league and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner had 1,557 yards through the first four games.