Every NFL team has now played four games, so as we enter Week 5 we can safely say the first quarter of the season has been contended. Only two teams remain undefeated, both in the NFC North: the Green Bay Packers (no surprise there, they are the defending champs) and the Detroit Lions (a bigger surprise, given that in 2008 they went 0-16). But our teams are the Chicago Bears, the New England Patriots, and the New York Giants (sorry, Phil).
The Chicago Bears were many people’s pick (including mine) to finish in the NFC North basement, but, with a 2-2 record and with the Minnesota Vikings winless and swooning, they instead look poised to put together a respectable enough season. Their wins have come against a good team (the Atlanta Falcons) and a kinda-okay one (the Carolina Panthers, Sunday); their losses have come to the Packers and at New Orleans, neither of which anyone could blame them for. They are a team that wins with big plays on defense and even bigger plays on special teams (on Sunday, Devin Hester became the all-time leader in punts returned for touchdowns). This is exactly how they won the North and a first-round bye last year. The difference this year is that they won’t be nearly so lucky, and they will probably go 0-4 instead of 3-1 against the Packers and the Lions, which is a huge swing in a 16-game season. The sadder news is that starting Jewish rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi went down in the New Orleans game with a dislocated right kneecap and is expected to be out for another couple weeks. Next four games: at Detroit, versus (that is, at home against) Minnesota, at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at the Philadelphia Eagles. They should be pleased if they come away with another two wins, and very happy with three.
The New England Patriots’ Tom Brady is technically having an utterly historic season. At his current pace, he would throw for 52 touchdowns this year, breaking his own all-time record of 50, and a mind-boggling 6,000-plus yards, which would shatter Dan Marino’s record by a grand or so. Yet part of the reason Brady is throwing so much is because the Pats’ defense is so weak, forcing them into shootouts—shootouts that force Brady also to throw interceptions (five so far, one more than he had all of last season) and shootouts that, as in the case of their Week 3 contest at the Buffalo Bills, they can lose. The defense can stay as-is and Brady will have his record season. Or the defense can improve, Brady’s numbers can slow, and the Pats can actually be a Super Bowl contender. Brady is just the kind of mensch who would prefer the latter. Their next four games are typically high-profile: versus the division-rival New York Jets, versus the Dallas Cowboys, at the Pittsburgh Steelers, and versus the Giants. They should win all four.
The New York Giants were decisively defeated by the Washington Redskins on opening day, but then went on to win their next three despite a severely injury-depleted starting lineup, particularly on defense. Least-impressive was Sunday’s barely-a-win at Arizona; most was the Week 3 victory at Philadelphia. Quarterback Eli Manning is quietly putting together a great season despite the loss of security blanket/possession receiver Steve Smith: he’s on pace for a 4,000-yard, 30-plus touchdown year, and has thrown only two interceptions which is like (negative-four for most QBs); his QB rating is 105.6, third-highest in the league. If they keep this up, and if the 1-3 Eagles turn out not to be nearly as good as everyone assume they be, they could be a sleeper wild card or even division winner. Next four games are versus the Seattle Seahawks, versus the Buffalo Bills, versus the Miami Dolphins, and at New England; throw in the bye week, and that’s a month of home games against two crappy teams and one pretty-good one. A playoff-bound team wins all three.
Overall record: 8-4
Earlier: A New Season, a New Team