If you feel like this has been one of the most unpredictable seasons so far, you’re right:
Pete Rozelle dreamed of a parity-filled league in which any team could win on a given Sunday. If alive today, the former N.F.L. commissioner would surely smile at how the 2012 season has started. Half of the league’s 32 teams have 2-3, 3-3 or 3-2 records, just the third time since 1970 that the league was so tightly packed after six weeks.
Only in 2001 — the year New England became one of the unlikeliest Super Bowl champions — were more teams (17) within a half-game of .500 after six weeks. The last two seasons, roughly two-thirds of the teams had at least two more wins than losses or losses than wins. But the first third of the 2012 season has been among the most unpredictable stretches in modern N.F.L. history. Consider: Underdogs are 57-32-2 against the spread this year, the second-highest rate after six weeks in 35 seasons.
Since 1978, underdogs have won just over 50 percent of games against the spread during the first six weeks of a season, and only in 1999 did underdogs fare better than they have this year. Underdogs are 40-51 in games this season, the first time in N.F.L. history that after six weeks, 40 underdogs have won games outright.
In the A.F.C., as noted last week, parity is just a euphemism for mediocrity.
In August, the New England Patriots were the favorites to win the Super Bowl; in mid-October, they’re a 3-3 team with a pass defense that is allowing 7.5 net yards per pass attempt and a pass offense that’s averaging only 6.9 NY/A. The Patriots were everyone’s choice to win the A.F.C. East, and there was similar unanimity that Miami would occupy the division’s cellar. Right now, all four teams in the division are 3-3, with Miami having the longest winning streak — at two games.
The Pittsburgh Steelers won 12 games and led the league in points allowed in three of the last four seasons before 2012. This year, Pittsburgh is 2-3 and ranks in the bottom half of the league in points allowed, as an aging defense has been the team’s Achilles’ heel.
Last year’s surprise team in the conference was the Cincinnati Bengals, who built on that success by starting this year 3-1… before promptly losing consecutive games as favorites in Weeks 5 (Miami) and 6 (Cleveland).
The Tennessee Titans looked to be one of the worst teams in the league entering Week 6 but emerged with an upset win over Pittsburgh.
The Indianapolis Colts appeared to have “arrived” following a come-from-behind victory over Green Bay, only to have been pronounced dead on arrival by halftime in their game against the previously hapless Jets.
A few days ago, the Houston Texans were considered the best team in the league at 5-0, but on Sunday, the Texans lost to… the Packers, who couldn’t even beat the Colts last week, who couldn’t beat the Jets this week, who couldn’t beat… Houston last week.
The Kansas City Chiefs lost a nailbiter, 9-6, to the Ravens last week, but were blown out by Tampa Bay, 38-10, on Sunday.
The Oakland Raiders had been outscored by 15 points per game entering a Week 6 date in Atlanta, home of the only undefeated team in the league. Shockingly — or in 2012 parlance, as expected — Oakland led most of the game, losing only in the final seconds on a 55-yard field goal.
On Monday Night, the 3-2 San Diego Chargers hosted the 2-3 Broncos, so obviously Denver won after San Diego raced out to a 24-0 halftime lead. The Broncos became the first team to trail by 24 or more points at halftime and win by double digits.
The N.F.C. may have the more talented teams, but it is not immune from the parity virus.
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