Here's a nugget that will smack you right between the eyes.
Since 1990, 201 NFL teams have started the season with a 2-2 record. Of those, 71 went on to make the playoffs (about 35 percent).
There are currently 10 teams in the NFL marching to the mediocre drum. One of those teams is the Dallas Cowboys, who are coming off Monday night's embarrassment against the Chicago Bears. Tony Romo was bad. Dez Bryant and the rest of the Cowboys were worse. I'm pretty sure no Rob Ryan-coached defense has ever actually done anything. I picked them to finish 7-9 and still feel the same way.
So the Cowboys won't be making the playoffs. Of the other nine 2-2 teams, who will? In the latest edition of The Schein Nine, let's take stock and predict their fates for the remainder of the season. The teams are ranked according to my confidence in them.
1. Green Bay Packers
The replacement refs robbed Green Bay in historic fashion. The real refs tried to do the same by not ruling Darren Sproles' fumble as a turnover. But you just can't hold down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Does anyone think this is an average team? Last week, Packers coach Mike McCarthy confessed to us on our SiriusXM radio show that Green Bay's passing attack wasn't living up to the incredible standards it had previously established. In Week 4, Rodgers finally broke loose, putting up the kinds of numbers and showing the pinpoint accuracy we're accustomed to seeing. Yes, the defense gave up a lot of yards and points. But you can see coordinator Dom Capers' unit is better in its pass rush and on the back end with a healthy Tramon Williams.
Bottom line:The Packers will make the playoffs. They should be 3-1 right now. I won't lower the bar on my expectations.
2. New England Patriots
The Patriots actually trailed the Buffalo Bills, 21-7, before Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski started playing pitch-and-catch. It was an old-fashioned bashing. What made it truly telling was how the Patriots ran the ball down Buffalo's throat, and the way the Pats defense created turnovers and cranked up the heat. The Houston Texans are the better and more well-rounded AFC powerhouse, but the Patriots will be in the mix because of Brady and coach Bill Belichick.
Bottom line:The Patriots are winning the AFC East. While their offensive line scares me, the play of the run game and the defense is uplifting.
3. New York Giants
The Giants' strategy and play selection at the end of their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was curious. They needed a field goal. Taking the chuck-and-duck approach without Hakeem Nicks was baffling. Run the ball and put Lawrence Tynes in a position to succeed. But as I wrote in this space last Tuesday, the Giants still are the cream of the NFC East crop.
4. Denver Broncos
Denver's pasting of the Oakland Raiders on Sunday was noteworthy. It was clearly the Broncos' most complete game of the year. Willis McGahee got going. The Denver defense looked like the difference-making unit it was last season. And Peyton Manning's arm strength and accuracy looked like they did when he was playing for the Indianapolis Colts. I think Denver is good, but not elite. Conventional wisdom says Manning will get stronger and more acclimated to his receivers, and thus become more consistent, but I think the schedule is very tough.
Bottom line:Denver goes 9-7. I have to pay attention to the 35 percent nugget I listed above and draw the line after three playoff teams.
5. Buffalo Bills
Paging Mario Williams. Paging Mr. Mario Williams to lovely Western New York. The high-priced defensive end has been totally invisible in the Bills' 2-2 start. I picked the Bills as a playoff team, but something's been missing. They didn't show up in Week 1 against the New York Jets. They blew a 21-7 lead and got pounded last week against New England. The Fred Jackson-C.J. Spiller running-back combination has a chance to be special. But at this stage, I think I grossly overvalued the Bills defensive line, which I thought could be elite. And Ryan Fitzpatrick's turnover festival against the Patriots was a glimpse of his true colors in a big spot.
6. Seattle Seahawks
I think the Seahawks have .500 written all over them. They're just not consistent enough. The defense and the physical, Marshawn Lynch-powered run game will give them the ability to win at home, like they did against Dallas. When they play a team with a superior defense, like the Arizona Cardinals, the Seahawks will lose a nail-biter. When the young quarterback turns the ball over, they will lose, like they did on the road to the St. Louis Rams. And, sadly for Seattle, the replacement refs are back to high school or the Lingerie Bowl.
7. New York Jets
Darrelle Revis' season-ending injury changed New York's fate. The Jets are 2-2 but it feels worse. The Jets defense has been gashed against the run. The pass rush is nowhere to be found. Rex Ryan's defense is awful. Mark Sanchez has regressed. Tight end Dustin Keller has been injured. Now receiver Santonio Holmes is out. It's tough to feel confident about this squad, which lacks depth at receiver and on the line. The ground and pound approach isn't working, because running back Shonn Greene is stuck in the mud. I'm floored the Jets haven't run the Wildcat with Tim Tebow. They should be a running, Wildcat team with offensive coordinator Tony Sparano coaching them. You don't have to bench Sanchez. You have to play Tebow.
Bottom line:This team is a mess and won't make the playoffs.
8. Washington Redskins
I love Robert Griffin III. Running back Alfred Morris told us on Monday's SiriusXM show that he views himself as the ideal fit for Mike Shanahan's one-cut-and-go system. He's right. But did you see Washington nearly blow that game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before Billy Cundiff's kick? You can't trust the defense, or Cundiff, for that matter. I think RG3 will keep the 'Skins in a lot of games, and Washington will win some you don't expect it to. But the defense keeps this team from getting to .500.
9. St. Louis Rams
I don't like to throw around the word "great" haphazardly. But Jeff Fisher is a great coach. The Rams already have matched their win total from all of last season. St. Louis will win some games you'd expect them to lose. And they will win more when the new brass beefs up the talent at receiver and on the line next offseason. But ...