Five Weeks Into the NFL Season, We Still Don’t Have a Super Bowl Champion

Every team in the NFL has lost at least one game this year. Most divisions don’t have a clear favorite. Judy Battista of the New York Times is puzzled by “the 2010 version of parity” :

But why? Several rebuilding teams — Tampa Bay (3-1) and the Chiefs (3-1) most notably — are farther along than expected thanks to an infusion of young talent, suggesting that recent draft classes might have been more talented and better prepared than we knew.

But there must be something beyond Super Bowl hangovers (the Saints) and quarterback controversies (how does Arizona’s undrafted rookie quarterback Max Hall beat the Saints after replacing Derek Anderson as the starter?) to explain why so many teams are regressing and rising toward the mean.

Battista asked eternal NFL analyst Gil Brandt about it, and he suggested that the lack of any breakout teams could be due to structural changes in the way game plans are made—better coaching, instantaneous computer-assisted video breakdowns of opponents, more sophisticated players coming out of college.

Brandt and Battista do not, however, explain how these structural changes were able to rearrange the sport in less than 10 months . Last year, the Colts started off 14-0 , the Saints started 13-0 , and the Vikings started 10-1. The question then was how that batch of elite teams could have left the rest of the league so far behind.

Here’s the reason for the huge difference between last season and the current partial season: dumb luck. Dumb luck by way of small sample size.

No NFL team has played more than 5 games so far. Nobody’s undefeated, but with tonight’s Jets game still to go, there are 8 teams that have only lost 1 game each. If they play 10 more games and still nobody has broken away from the pack, then it might be time to write a story. Even then, the story should be, “What a weird year this has been,” not “What could possibly have transformed the sport of football?”