Seven teams that entered this past NFL weekend of action either tied for a division lead or leading one outright -- the Vikings, Patriots, Texans, Chargers, Eagles, Cardinals and 49ers -- all lost. The only undefeated team, Atlanta, needed a 55-yard field goal in the closing seconds to win a home game over Atlanta Oakland.


Perhaps this is just the time of the year when hot starts get self-corrected. The Vikings are improved, but they were on pace to win between 12 and 13 games. The Texans are solid all-around, but they faced a desperate and still-talented Packers squad. Not many of us believe in the Cardinals or Eagles right now.

But still: the NFL is hard to predict -- even harder than usual -- this year. The wacky week culminated Monday night, with the Chargers blowing a 24-point halftime lead at home and losing to the Broncos.

We've talked about NFL parody for a long time, but this is downright craziness. You simply do not know what a team is going to look like at any given time. Writer Jason Whitlock thinks it's the lighter practice rules that are causing the shift.

There could be something to it; for us, however, the reason is game-focused. Players are so big and so fast. Coaches have broken down so much tape. And the games follow a certain kind of script -- almost like they are on a video game simulation -- with the exception of 8-10 key plays each game. These are the five or so game-defining third down (or fourth down) plays and the three or so turnovers. You win those, and you have a great chance of winning what is otherwise a very formulaic game. Half of this past week's games were decided by three or fewer points, including two in OT.

Those have always been huge plays in football. But in 2012, they are even bigger. They define games, and they underscore the reason why it's impossible to predict what will happen any more in the NFL.

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