For all the examples we've seen of "competitive balance" in the NFL, I think it's fair to say this is the ultimate:
The teams with the first five picks of the 2007 draft -- Oakland, Detroit, Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Arizona -- were a combined 5-0 in Week 4 ... and they outscored their opponents by 62 points.
And Week 4 wasn't that big of a fluke. After four weeks, these teams have a combined record of 12-8 (.600). In 2006, they had a combined mark of 18-62 (.225). I'll guarantee you that we've never seen the five worst teams from the previous year all win on one Sunday, and in such convincing fashion, to boot.
We've certainly seen a good share of pleasant surprises after four weeks of the season. The success of those five teams is not entirely a fluke, and other teams have exceeded expectations as well. Let's take a quick look at a few of them:
» Tampa Bay is winning with a good defense and a veteran quarterback who does not make mistakes.
» Detroit, as we knew going into the season, has an explosive offense. But the defensive front seven has quietly looked good -- they had six sacks against Chicago.
» Green Bay did not have one of the worst records last season, because they finished strong -- and they've continued to be hot this season. They're winning with a Hall of Fame quarterback who is playing as well as he has in years, and with a talented young defense playing with great enthusiasm.
Among the league's early surprises, I think those three teams have the best chance to get into the playoffs, but that is based largely on the conference in which they play. I would put Tennessee, Jacksonville and Cleveland right up there among the most improved teams -- those teams, however, have it a little tougher in the AFC.
Second-half scoring machine
The Dallas Cowboys, in their first four games of the season, have scored more points in the second half of games than 14 of the other 15 NFC teams have scored all season. Their second-half scoring output is also more than the combined scoring of 11 AFC teams.
The Cowboys have scored 30-plus in five straight games, dating to the last regular-season game of the 2006 season against Detroit. Dallas' four-game total for this season is 151 points. Only three teams since 1970 have scored more than that in the first four games:
» The Buffalo Bills scored 153 points in the first four games of the 1992 season. They lost in the Super Bowl that year.
» The St. Louis Rams scored 160 points in 2000. They lost in the wild-card playoffs.
» The Oakland Raiders scored 162 points in 2002. They lost in the Super Bowl.
All three of those teams started 4-0 -- and two of the three teams lost in Week 5. Dallas plays at Buffalo on Monday night.
For starters, they're playing a more wide-open style of offense. The offense was good last year, but Bill Parcells played it closer to the vest. This is a high-risk/high-reward unit, and so far the results have been very rewarding.
New offensive coordinator Jason Garrett deserves a good deal of credit. He's doing a terrific job, and it's safe to say he'll make an excellent head coach in the NFL. Another reason for the success is free-agent pickup Leonard Davis. Dallas was criticized for paying the tackle a lot of money this offseason, but he's quietly been worth every penny so far.
Lastly, the defense deserves some credit. It's hard to play a wide-open, high-risk style if the team is not confident in its defense. That is not the case here.
Fourth-quarter scoring machine
For just over 45 minutes, the Detroit Lions mustered just three points against the Bears on Sunday. In the next 14-plus minutes, they scored 34 points -- a fourth-quarter NFL record. The previous mark was 31, held by three teams. The last team to do it was Atlanta vs. Green Bay in 1981. The five fourth-quarter touchdowns tied a record held by five teams. It was last done by the Rams vs. the Packers in 1980.
One side note: The fifth Detroit TD was scored by Casey FitzSimmons, a fifth-year tight end from Helena, Mont., who played eight-man football in high school in a town called Chester. Population: 811.
In our matchups column last week, we told you to watch Giants LT David Diehl against Eagles right DE Trent Cole. Well, it certainly was true that the battle between LT and RE was the key matchup of the game -- but we should have reversed the teams.
Diehl did get the better of Cole, and that was a factor in the Giants' 16-3 victory. But it was Eagles LT Winston Justice vs. Giants DE Osi Umenyiora that symbolized the contest. Umenyiora had six sacks, one short of the NFL single-game record. Five of those sacks came against Justice, the second-year player out of USC. The other sack came when Umenyiora lined up inside and rushed over the center.
QB is still king
You'll hear some people say that analysts shouldn't make too big of a deal about the quarterback. True, football is the ultimate team sport, but let's not lose sight of the fact that quarterback remains the most important differentiator between success and failure in the NFL.
In their loss to Detroit, the Bears made their 31st starting quarterback change since the eighth game of the 1999 season. Around the league, there have been 127 different starting quarterbacks in that time. Meanwhile, Indianapolis and Green Bay have each had the same starting QB during that period. And it's no surprise that the four remaining undefeated teams in the NFL -- Green Bay, Dallas, New England and Indianapolis -- all have Pro Bowl quarterbacks.
» The "one-step-ahead" award goes to the Vikings' front office. It was a very nice move on their part to get the Dan Marino congratulatory video that aired on the Metrodome scoreboard when Brett Favre broke Marino's all-time record for TD passes. They also did a nice job getting front-row seats for Favre's wife and daughter.
» Since baseball likes to make a big deal of identifying the pitcher who gives up a historic home run, let it be noted that Vikings rookie Marcus McCauley was the defensive back who allowed Favre's 421st TD pass.
» Morten Andersen kicked four field goals for Atlanta, including a 47-yarder. Eighteen of his current Falcons teammates were not born yet when Andersen began his career in 1982.
» Denver QB Jay Cutler did not fare as well yesterday as he did the last time he played in the RCA Dome. In his previous appearance there, he caught the game-winning touchdown on a flea flicker in a high school playoff game.
» At halftime of their respective games, both Adrian Peterson and LaDainian Tomlinson had more than 100 yards rushing, yet neither got many carries in the second half. And both teams lost.