So what do we know about the NFL right now, almost a quarter of the way through the season?
We know that the Manning boys are all right. Peyton's led his Colts to 4-0 through the air, while getting scant support from a running game that averages under 70 yards a game; Eli's been buoyed by the Giants' potent ground attack, yet to gain fewer than 97 yards in a game, but the G-Men relied on his calm execution in Dallas to spoil the Cowboys' home opener and keep their mark unblemished in the only game they've won by single digits.
We know that the Saints are in the conversation about the best team in the league. Wins over Detroit and Buffalo aren't impressive, but the defense's ability to create turnovers (13 in four games) helped them beat down a Donovan McNabb-less Eagles squad and a maybe-Mark-Sanchez-isn't-a-Hall-of-Famer-just-yet Jets team. Drew Brees won't need to set passing records to get New Orleans to its first Super Bowl if that level of play is sustained.
We know that Tom Brady may not be fully back from his knee injury, but that might not be a bad thing. Instead of blowing by teams, the Patriots are resembling the grind-it-out Pats of earlier this decade, when they won Super Bowls instead of just getting there. Back-to-back wins over game Falcons and Ravens teams will do that for a team's reputation, and its confidence.
And we know that there are some really rancid teams in this league. St. Louis is terrible, Cleveland bad, Tampa Bay woeful, Kansas City miserable, and Oakland so awful that people are joking about Darrius Heyward-Bey having more names than catches and forgetting that JaMarcus Russell was once the first pick in the NFL Draft. (Really. I'm serious.)
But we also know, for example, that Denver is an unbeaten cipher. Is this a team whose defense is propped up by games against offensively unbalanced teams, or a team whose defense causes offensive imbalance? Will the Broncos be as good against the Pats, Chargers, Ravens, and Steelers in their next four games as they were in their first four?
Further down everyone's power rankings, past the undefeated teams, questions abound. Is the Ravens' offense really good or fattened by bad defenses? Are the Jets going to be able to thrive with a still-skittish rookie at quarterback? Is there one great team in the NFC North, or are there just a couple of good ones? Can the 49ers continue winning with an anonymous offense? Are the Chargers and Steelers shadows of their former selves? Is Tony Romo ever going to become a decent quarterback?
It's a long, long season (some college football team will be halfway through their slates next Saturday) and there's a lot of time to sort out the answers to these questions, but the sure things seem like sure things: The Saints, Giants, and Colts are quite good, and the Rams, Chiefs, and Raiders quite bad. Everything in between is an enigma, and it's clear the big picture of this season is going to have haze in the middle of the frame no matter how many games are played.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.