The greatest bye week ever

A bunch of the NFL's most intriguing teams -- Patriots, Giants, Dolphins, Colts -- are sitting out Week 4. Plus: Is it the NFC's turn?

Published September 26, 2008 11:00AM (EDT)

This might be the most exciting bye week in NFL history. Look at who's on the sidelines in this first mass off day of the season.

The Detroit Lions just fired general manager Matt Millen, giving new, probably false, hope to Lions fans and heralding the start of a new era. Which begins with an off day.

The Miami Dolphins pulled off a huge upset in Foxboro last week, knocking off the New England Patriots, ending a 21-game regular season winning streak for the Pats that dated to Dec. 10, 2006, when the Dolphins beat them in Miami. The last time the Patriots lost to someone other than the Dolphins, and the last time they lost at home, was on Nov. 12, 2006, when the New York Jets beat them.

So what's it mean? Are the Dolphins showing genuine signs of life? Are the Tom Brady-less Patriots not even a good, never mind great team? Eh, see you both next week.

The AFC's other twin tower of recent years is wobbling too. The Indianapolis Colts lost their opener to the Bears, lost at home to the Jaguars last week on a field goal at the gun, can't stop the run and just sort of don't look like themselves lately. And look at the rest of their division: Jacksonville was supposed to be tough and hadn't been before beating Indy, but how about Tennessee? Who saw the Titans threatening to run away with the division? Can the Colts get back on track?

We won't find out Sunday. We also won't learn anything about the enigmatic Super Bowl champion New York Giants, who escaped with an overtime victory over winless Cincinnati.

Nor about the Seattle Seahawks, though let's face it, that one we won't miss so much.

What will we learn? Maybe we'll get some clues about the balance of power between the conferences. The NFC finally ended the AFC's run of dominance last year by earning a split in the 64 interconference games. The NFC hasn't won more interconference games than the AFC since 1995.

The AFC's run has included a 44-20 record in 2004 and a 40-24 mark in 2006. Last year was only the third time since '95 that the NFC managed to win half of the interconference games. The others were in 2000 and 2001.

This year the NFC is off to a 7-3 start against the AFC.

Interconference games aren't necessarily a great way to measure the conferences against each other because the games aren't distributed around. Divisions square off against each other, all four members of the AFC East, say, playing all four members of the NFC West in a given year. The matchups rotate, so this year's schedule looks like the one from 2004.

A strong division matching up against a weak one can skew the interconference standings, as happened in 2003, when the AFC won the season series 34-30 because the AFC South beat up on the NFC South, winning 11 of 16. The rest of the AFC only went 23-25 against the NFC.

On the other hand, it's the best quick-and-dirty comparison method we have.

There's a long way to go, 54 interconference games to be played, including three this week: Arizona at the Jets, Minnesota at Tennessee and Buffalo at St. Louis. But the Patriots, Colts and Chargers are all struggling and the Steelers have just been slugged in the mouth by the Eagles. And the 3-0 teams in the NFC, Dallas and the Giants, look more legit than the 3-0 teams in the AFC, Denver, Buffalo and Tennessee.

It's too early to declare that the balance of power has shifted, but it's not too early to say it might be shifting. What do you have to say about that, Patriots, Colts and Giants?

Oh, right. See you next week.

Week 4 picks are here.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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