Enjoying the NFL madness
My, oh my, is the National Football League giving fans a wild ride thus far in 2007. It’s one big, enigmatic mess.The only thing you can count on week to week is the Patriots somehow finding a way to cleat an opposing team’s jugular, and that almost didn’t happen in Sunday night’s Week 12 showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles. New England looked mortal against a very average team going to battle with journeyman backup quarterback A.J. Feeley.Still thinkin’ the Pats will run the table on the season in their chase for NFL mortality? I’m not convinced. I just don’t see them sustaining the awe-inspiring intensity they’ve used to get them this far. We saw them let their guard down just a little last night, and do you really think they can continue trotting Tom Brady out there four quarters a game as the playoffs near and they have home-field advantage wrapped up? I say we see an unexpected defeat – or two – down the stretch.
What’s crazier than the Pats’ flirtation with NFL history is what’s happening elsewhere in the NFL. The parity – and unpredictability – is astounding.Look no farther than the AFC West for the most sickening display of inconsistency. Philip Rivers and the Chargers look unbeatable some weeks and putrid others. The Denver Broncos are no different, adept at coughing up sure wins (i.e. Chicago on Sunday) and then sneaking out of town with wins they have absolutely no business winning (Buffalo in Week 1 and Oakland in Week 2). And then they throw in the occasional blowout loss (San Diego in Week 5 and Detroit in Week 9). Week to week, you have no idea what you’ll get.It’s absolutely conceivable that the AFC West could be won by a team that’s 8-8, and that’s just wrong.
But there’s plenty of mediocrity and inconsistency to go around in this league. Outside of the Pats, Colts, Jaguars, Steelers and the Cleveland Browns (yes, the Cleveland Browns), there is little to impress in the AFC landscape. Five teams are either 6-5 or 5-6.It’s the same story in the NFC. You have two dominant teams – the Packers and Cowboys – and that’s pretty much it. You have three mildly intriguing but wildly erratic 7-4 teams – the Giants, Seahawks and Buccaneers – and seven teams sitting at 6-5 or 5-6. A Wild Card playoff spot could easily be awarded to an 8-8 team? That kind of thing just didn’t happen back in the day.Injuries may be playing a role in some of this. The quarterback carousel is spinning wildly for many teams, my 49ers included. We’ve seen a number of devastating injuries to the league’s top running backs. What’s oddest about the injury outbreak is the rise of talented backups. Earnest Graham is making a killing in Tampa, Andre Hall and Selvin Young look mighty good for Denver, and Kolby Smith has been a beast in Kansas City’s backfield, to cite a few examples.
Could we simply have reached an unprecedented level of parity as far as talent is concerned? Is it just the nature of the modern-day athlete?I’m not sure what exactly is going on in the NFL, but it sure makes for some turbulent Sundays and delivers hope to even the weakest of teams. And maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.Contact Jeff Caspersen: firstname.lastname@example.org
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They came. They skated. They conquered.