By Drew Markol, TSN Contributor - Archive - Email
Nobody asked me, but...
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The connotation sounds like a good one.

Your favorite NFL team is considered a surprise in the early going.

Cool, you're thinking. My team is 3-0 and everything is looking up.

Ah, but there's always a flip side. Your team, the one you thought was headed to the Super Bowl, is, instead, in big trouble at 0-3. Say it ain't so.

But let's start with the positive and look at the teams that are getting it done in the early going. In this age of parity, there aren't many. In fact, there's really only one.

The Arizona Cardinals are one of just three teams in football undefeated along with the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans.

The Cardinals are the only true surprise team in a good way because the Falcons have been good for a while (though they continually underachieve in the playoffs) and the Texans were the chic pick by many to be the best in the AFC, and they're well on their way.

But Arizona? Playing with a quarterback, Kevin Kolb, who was traded away by Philadelphia and who is a backup to the immortal John Skelton from Fordham?

Yes, Arizona has done it with Kolb, Larry Fitzgerald and a ferocious defense.

And if you looked a little deeper, you'd have seen the Cardinals were 9-2 in their last 11 games heading into last Sunday's tilt against the Eagles. And they looked like a team that should be 9-2 (10-2 now) after they smacked the Birds around, handing them their first loss.

So, maybe surprise is the wrong word. Perhaps unnoticed fits better.

At the opposite end, we have those struggling. The 0-3 folks and a bunch of 1-2s trying to swing things around. But they better hurry because time is running out.

If a team starts 0-4, statisticians say their chances of making the playoffs basically are zippo. Yes, that's the word stat geeks and actuaries really use. OK, maybe not, but you get the idea. Go 0-4 in September and start scouting the college games because your team is going to have a high draft pick.

But parity, there's that word again, even limits the losers. Only two teams, Cleveland and New Orleans have yet to win.

The Browns are 0-3 because, well, they're the Browns. That's what they do. They have shown a pulse in their three losses, but until they get some big bodies to block for Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, the losses are going to continue to pile up.

But what of the Saints? Who dat? Who dat can't play defense. Yes, they had the whole Bountygate deal (which was of their own doing) and it cost them their coach for the season, but this team has talent. Or at least it looked that way.

Two of their losses have been at home and blowing that lead against the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday surely took a lot out of them. Can they turn it around and get back to the playoffs? You'd have to say, yes, but it's getting harder and harder to do so.

Now, the 1-2s. The NFL has 15 of them and some of the biggest names are among them.

The Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions are all stuck in neutral.

We'll give the Packers a huge break because they got the short end big time with the game-ending call against the Seattle Seahawks. For their sake, it would be fitting if they recovered and that one game didn't haunt them later.

But New England? Pittsburgh? Denver? These teams are NFL royalty. They don't struggle, they win at least 10 games a year and constantly think Super Bowl.

Today, they're thinking they'd better just win Sunday (Pittsburgh can't because it has a bye).

And what of the Lions? A playoff team last year. A team many picked to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Their franchise quarterback, Matt Stafford, is banged up and their defense is giving up over 30 points a game.

That's no way to win and they're proving just that.

It's just another reason why the NFL can drive you crazy. Good is bad. Up is down. We'll revisit this topic down the road, but for now, enjoy the carnival and the carnage.

Drew Markol has been a sportswriter and columnist for several newspapers in the Philadelphia area for more than 25 years.

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