Chaos Theory: Welcome to the NFL’s new era of parity

Super Bowl Betting

(AP Photo/John Locher)

Picking NFL games used to be easier.

Upsets are a part of the game. The “any given Sunday” caveat always applies. Still, it used to be that you went to bed on Saturday night, feeling solid about your picks. NFL Sundays held a certain modicum of predictability.

That is because the good teams usually won. And, the bad teams, well, they were perfect fodder for survivor pools or weekly pick ‘em games. Analysis was as simple was looking up the teams’ respective records, or checking to see which teams were playing at home.

Not anymore. We’re a quarter of the way through the 2016 season and the NFL is rank with parity. Just look at how the favorites have fared, thus far.

Through four weeks, favored teams are 33-28 against the spread – a mere, 54% winning percentage. Last weekend was a perfect example: favorites finished 8-7.

Leading the pack are Pittsburgh and Houston (both are 3-1 in reality and against the spread). Their seasons have been a yo-yoing roller coaster, as well.

Last week, the Steelers were drubbed by the Eagles, 34-3. Sunday, they reversed course and hung 43 points on a good Chiefs team. Kansas City itself was coming off a dominating, week 3 victory over the New York Jets.

Houston escaped week 4 with a 27-20 over the Titans – a week after being shut out in an embarrassing showing against the New England Patriots. And, what did those Patriots do, this week? They went out and got thoroughly-trounced, 16-0, by Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills – who themselves were written off after a 0 and 2 start.

Confused? You aren’t the only one. Arizona Cardinals fans must be experiencing the same feeling. A year-removed from the NFC Championship game (a 49-15 loss to Carolina), their team sits in last place in the NFC West at 1-3. Quarterback Carson Palmer looked washed-up, before leaving last week’s game with a concussion.

Incidentally, the Carolina Panthers are also 1-3, still in search of their dominant, 2015 form. Ironically, their quarterback, Cam Newton, is also in the league’s concussion protocol, after taking a big hit in Sunday’s game.

In the AFC, Jacksonville was a popular, dark horse candidate. With another year of seasoning for quarterback, Blake Bortles, and the return of defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., the Jaguars looked to improve on both sides of the ball.

Instead, Bortles has been inconsistent, and the defense has been terrible. A week four, London win over the Colts will keep Gus Bradley and his staff off of the proverbial hot seat – for now.

Cincinatti appears to be missing the talents of former offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, who left to become the Browns’ head coach. Cleveland, who lost their starting quarterback and number one wide receiver, still looks plucky on offense. Meanwhile, the Bengals rank in the AFC basement for points scored, despite all their talent.

Instead, it is Minnesota, Denver and Philadelphia who have gotten off to fast starts. All three are undefeated (the Eagles were on bye, this week). Much is made about the necessity of having a great signal-caller, but the quarterbacks for those teams are Sam Bradford, Trevor Siemian/Paxton Lynch and Carson Wentz, respectively.

The quartet has been solid, thus far, but remains untested in big spots. We’ll have to see how they react, when their teams need a late scoring drive, with time running out.

It won’t always be complete chaos. Inevitably, bookmakers will adjust, and the betting numbers will revert closer to the norm, by the end of the season.

Still, you won’t really feel good placing them.

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