Patriots Could Finish Behind Jets If Weird NFL Season Continues

The NFL in 2017 is really, really odd.

Not in a stylish, avant-garde, fashionable kind of way, though: The league this year is wild, messy, scruffy and unkempt. There's a lot of very poor football and a glut of very average teams. And that is making it tremendous fun to watch.

Take Week 4, for example. The Los Angeles Rams at best were expected to show flashes of promise this season under rookie head coach Sean McVay, but they went into AT&T Stadium on Sunday, withstood a first-half onslaught from Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, and then munched the clock—and the Dallas defense—led by Todd Gurley and the surprisingly effective Jared Goff. The Rams are now 3-1, a game ahead of the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.

So far, so odd, and the strangeness kept coming. The Buffalo Bills somehow pulled out a road win in Atlanta to end the Falcons' undefeated streak. The Bills got just enough offense from Tyrod Taylor and a huge defensive effort to shut down Matt Ryan. They too sit at a surprising 3-1, and lead the AFC East by a game.

Oh, and the Patriots lost for the second time this season—in Foxborough. Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers jump-started a hitherto sluggish offense, exploiting what is now the NFL's worst defense through four weeks. Bill Belichick's team conceded 42 points on Week 1 to the Kansas City Chiefs, 20 points to the Saints, 33 to the Texans and now 33 to the Panthers., in a fairly brutal takedown, pointed to a chronic lack of pass-rush and confusion in the secondary. Arguably as important, the same article noted, is the pressure the failing defense and lack of receiving threats is putting on Tom Brady. His brilliance got the Patriots out of trouble against the Texans last week, but he cannot be asked to pull off fourth-quarter miracles every game. Brady was hit seven times and sacked three more, which is going to happen when you have no rushing attack to speak of. Brady is 40, and the Patriots can't afford to have him hit this much.

All of this early-season oddness has given a psychedelic look to the AFC East standings. There are the Bills at the top, followed by the New York Jets and then the Patriots. Weirdness of weirdness, the Jets haven't been the 1-15 team even sage people were predicting. At least the Browns look set to be as bad as, if not a bit worse than, everyone thought.

It might not be fun to watch, exactly—the Jaguars-Jets overtime game was best viewed through fingers and with frequent breaks for fresh air. But it has been fun so far, and that's not something you can always say about the NFL.