The NFL is at the end of the first quarter of the season and it is really the first time we can take a look at the results and make some determination about how this season is shaping up.
Taking stock of 4-0 teams
Congrats to the Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals and the Atlanta Falcons who all pushed their record to 4-0. Last year only two teams got to 4-0, and in 2010 not one team achieved it, so it is impressive -- but it is not a lock that the future is bright. Since 2008, 10 teams have made it to the 4-0 mark, but only seven of those teams made it to the postseason. The 2009 Broncos and Giants finished up at 8-8, as well as the 2008 Bills who fell all the way to 7-9. There's a lot of football left to play and as great as the 4-0 start is, all three teams probably have to go 6-6 at a minimum the rest of the way. I think all three have a good shot, but history suggests one of them may not make it.
Scoring still on record pace
In the first three weeks of the season, the NFL was on a record pace for scoring at 47.6 points a game. I came into Week 4 thinking the defenses would start catching up with the offenses because they had three game tapes to break down. The 49ers recorded the first shutout of the year over the Jets, and the Eagles-Giants game only generated 35 points, but I was wrong about the overall scoring. Before Monday night's game (14 games of Week 4) there were 647 points scored this weekend for pace of 46.2 points a game. And the four week total is still at an all-time high pace of 47.3 points a game.
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I took a look at the scoring to date and compared it with the past three years. There are 97 rushing touchdowns with a game to go this week, which is on pace to finish the year close to 400 rushing touchdowns. The three year average is 409.
Miscellaneous touchdowns come from returns, interceptions, and fumble recoveries, and we already have 32, which projects to 128 for the year and slightly ahead of the three-year average of 114.
Field goals are running a little high with 222 already made, which projects to more than 850 for the season. The three-year average is 794. The big difference is in passing touchdowns. We witnessed 40 passing touchdowns in 14 games this weekend and there have been 188 passing touchdowns in four weeks. The NFL is on pace for 780 touchdown passes. The three-year average is 735. Add up all the ways scoring happens and it's easy to see where the extra scoring is coming from this year. I do expect the defenses to slow down some of the scoring, or maybe they simply can't slow down points going up on the board. The new definition of a low-scoring game is any time the game point total is under 45.
Goodbye, three-hour games
The replacement officials got blamed for everything that could and did go wrong on the field. Let's face it: they were in over their heads, and were in an impossible situation. Among other things, they were blamed for long games. The 2011 games averaged three hours and seven minutes. The replacement officials pushed the length of the game close to 3:14 and after one week of games the average time of a game went right back down to 3:08, excluding the overtime game. There were five games played under three hours, but those are getting tougher to find as time goes by. There were also six games that went over 3:14. In fact, after discussing the length of games with former head of officials, Mike Pereira, it's safe to say the number of incompletions, penalties, and reviews we have today basically ended the three-hour game for good. So, don't make dinner plans on a Sunday unless you give yourself well over three hours to watch your favorite team.
Texans are NFL's best
When I rank the NFL teams from 1-32 this week the Texans will be on top. Their defense has only given up 47 points. Their third-down defense is the toughest to crack in the league, and they run the ball. What I wonder about and will not be able to observe is how Matt Schaub will handle playing from behind. In four games this season, Schaub has only thrown 13 passes in the fourth quarters he has played, completing nine. He averages just more than three pass attempts in the fourth quarter. That is a charmed life.
When it comes to looking at his passing game when the Texans are behind it's even tougher to find a lot. Schaub has only thrown seven passes when his team has been behind, completing four. Compare that to his 66-for-96 when his team has the lead. Matt Schaub is a fine football player, but he has never played in a postseason game and may not really be tested until the postseason the way he and his teammates are playing right now.
49ers bounce back like usual
Jim Harbaugh has done a remarkable job with the 49ers since he arrived in 2011. His team is so mentally tough and so invested in physically dominating their opponent it's easy to understand why San Francisco is 16-4 in the regular season since Harbaugh got there. I went back and looked at how his team performed last year after a loss in hopes of finding clues about how they might play the Jets after their first loss of 2012 last week. The Niners never lost two games in a row last year and I didn't expect it again this week. The most impressive thing about their ability to rebound from a loss is their defense. After the three losses last year the defense gave up a combined 33 points, or 11 per game. Now add the first shutout of the year in the NFL and the Niners have given up 33 points after four loses, or 8 points a game. The domination of the Jets was highlighted by the Jets' average of 2.6 yards a carry, and a long run of 5 yards. Zero touchdown passes by either Jets QB, and a fumble return for a touchdown by a defensive player. Oh and a better Wildcat package on offense than the Jets had with Tebow.