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Trying — and failing — to find a great NFL team so far this season

Nobody is dominant, and everybody is vulnerable. Where’s the fun in that?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Washington Football Team
Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady is helped up after being hit and failing to convert on a third down against the Washington Football Team on Sunday.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

We come to the NFL for all sorts of reasons. Some people come for gambling, some for fantasy football, some for the enjoyment of supporting a team, some for the side benefit of despising another team or teams. Or maybe that last part is the main benefit.

Some are in need of diversion from the more serious issues in life. Some are congenital face-painters. Some think that they should be head coaches and that only Bill Belichick’s refusal to respond to their job-request letters and a judge’s subsequent restraining orders have kept them from their dreams.

Some, like me, come looking for greatness, which might be why I feel so empty these days. There aren’t any great teams. None. Zero. Halfway through the schedule, all we have is a conga line of false Messiahs. We might see a great performance from a team one week but are wondering two weeks later whether it had been a hallucination.

The Buccaneers come immediately to mind. They’re the defending Super Bowl champions. They started the season 6-1, and we saw no reason to remove the Tony the Tiger extolment we had stamped on their foreheads: They’re grrrrreat! Tom Brady still was defying age, the offense was humming and where could one go to place a Super Bowl bet on these fine men who probably shut down puppy mills in their spare time?

But now the Bucs have lost consecutive games. Brady threw two interceptions in each of those games, and I’m thinking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration might want to look into the diet and lifestyle he’s hawking.

I worry about our new NFL fans. I worry they don’t know what greatness is. I worry that they watched the winless Lions and the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers play to a 16-16 tie Sunday. I worry that they think this is football.

If you tell me the Cowboys are great because they blew out a very average Falcons team Sunday and are now 7-2, I would say you apparently haven’t been paying attention to them for the last 25 years. They will disappoint you because they always do, no matter how much oxygen ESPN devotes to them in daily chatter.

You say the Chiefs are back because they dropped 41 points Sunday on the Raiders? I’m supposed to forget their ordinariness the previous nine games? I should pay no attention to the quarterback who, until Sunday, had been doing a lounge-act interpretation of Patrick Mahomes? Sorry, no, can’t do it. I’ll need more proof than one game.

The Chargers? Preseason hype had them on the road to greatness, but they took a left and have lost three of their last five.

Wait, the 8-2 Titans, winners of six in a row, aren’t great? On general principle, no. I see their uniforms and think of about five other teams from defunct leagues I can’t recall that had the same look. So I can’t crown them. A shallow opinion? Shallower than a 1-foot-deep grave. OK, how about this for substance: One of the Titans’ losses was to the Jets. You can’t be great if you lose to the Jets. It’s in the U.S. Constitution. Look it up.

The Cardinals started the season 7-0 but have lost two of their last three games. You rightly will point out that star quarterback Kyler Murray missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, to which I’ll respond, EXACTLY. You don’t think this guy, at 5-10, is an injury waiting to happen? The Cardinals lost 34-10 on Sunday to the middling Panthers, who had to exhume Cam Newton because their top two quarterbacks were P.J. Walker and Matt Barkley. Shouldn’t a team as good at third-down defense as the Cardinals are be able to beat that crew? The Panthers were 7-for-15 on third-down conversions Sunday.

Heading into their game Monday against the 49ers, the Rams’ only losses were to the Cardinals and Titans, which speaks of excellence. They have an excellent offense and Aaron Donald on defense. They were headed toward great, but they just signed me-first/I-second Odell Beckham Jr. The whole thing eventually will devolve into a telenovela. So, yeah, the Rams are dismissed.

I’ll duck immediately after finishing the next sentence, Bears fans: Are the hated Packers the best team in the NFL?

Perhaps. But are they great? No. Or at least not yet. And several starters, including running back Aaron Jones (sprained medial collateral ligament) and linebacker Rashan Gary (hyperextended elbow), were injured in a victory Sunday against the Seahawks, who used to be somebody.

In this discussion of would-be-but-aren’t great teams, I’m probably forgetting somebody. Probably because they’re forgettable.

The 2021 NFL: On Any Given Sunday, you can lose.

Unless you have a bye week, as the Bears, losers of four in a row, did Sunday.