The NFL has done it again. Just when the prognosticators thought they had the Super Bowl contenders narrowed down to three or four teams, the NFL displayed the characteristic that makes it the most exciting league in all of professional sports: parity. The Titans, just two years removed from the Super Bowl, are 0-3. The Vikings, last season’s NFC runner-up, are 1-3. The Browns, now 3-1, have as many wins in the four games they’ve played this season as they did all of last season. Of course, San Diego blows that out of the water; despite losing to the aforementioned Browns on Sunday, the 3-1 Chargers have tripled their win total from 2000. I’m not going to discuss how the NFL has been able to keep its league in this state of parity: that would take three columns. Suffice it to say, the NFL has made all the right moves in establishing a league in which, in just a few seasons, a team can go from pathetic to a powerhouse. Giants vs. Ravens — need I say more?

Week 4 Highlights

San Diego at Cleveland: What a difference a coach makes. What Butch Davis has done for the Browns’ defense is obvious. They had seven interceptions off the Lions’ Ty Detmer and held the Jaguars and Chargers to less than 20 points each. What he’s done for the offense, however, is perhaps more impressive. He’s given Tim Couch the confidence that Cleveland’s defense will hold up its end of the bargain, keeping the Browns in the game so that Couch and the offense have a chance to win it. That’s exactly how it played out for the Browns on Sunday, as Couch hit Kevin Johnson in the end zone with 1:15 left to give the men in brown and orange the 20-16 victory. The Charger team they beat is no fluke at 3-1, as running back LaDanian Tomlinson looks like the early favorite for Rookie of the Year honors.

Tennessee at Baltimore: The world champions aren’t going anywhere. The Titans may have been 0-2 coming into the game, but you know Ray Lewis and the Ravens’ fearsome defenders still always get revved up when the Titans are around. Not only was the defense in championship form, holding the Titans to just seven points, but the Baltimore offense continued to show that it’s for real. Elvis Grbac threw for 259 yards and a touchdown, while Terry Allen rushed for 108 yards and a score. If the Ravens’ offense continues to perform like it did against the Titans and the Broncos, this team could repeat with ease. Last year, the Ravens would have won this game 9-7 on three field goals, or perhaps a defensive touchdown and a safety.

Green Bay at Tampa Bay: Somehow the battle of the Bays always makes for a great football game. This one was no exception: a hard-fought, low-scoring affair. In other words, Mike Alstott’s kind of ballgame. The A-train proved he’s back, and eager to help the Tampa Bay fans forget Warrick Dunn, by pounding out 77 yards on 15 carries, including a 39-yard touchdown run with 6:45 to go. Of course, half of Tampa Bay’s 14 points came from their always formidable defense, as Shelton Quarles returned what looked to be a Green Bay touchdown pass 98 yards for a score. Brett Favre was, well, Brett Favre-ian, driving his team downfield in the game’s waning seconds to give his team a chance to win. His fourth-down pass on the last play of the game was batted down, however, giving the Bucs a well-earned 14-10 victory. Perhaps the temperature curse works both ways; the heat on the field at game time neared 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Random Thoughts

Chicago 31, Atlanta 3 — Monsters of the Midway II; With a Vengeance.

Miami 30, New England 10 — Big Green Grad Fiedler mirrors Dartmouth’s success.

New Orleans 28, Minnesota 15 — Wherefore art thou Robert (Smith)?

N.Y. Giants 23, Washington 9 — Too many Schottenheimers makes for an unhappy family.

Arizona 21, Philadelphia 20 — The Cards down a bigger bird with a bite from the Snake.

Pittsburgh 16, Cincinnati 7 — Fields named after condiments sure are inspiring.

Denver 20, Kansas City 6 — Dick Vermeil, please don’t cry —

Seattle 24, Jacksonville 15 — Shaun Alexander: remember him?

N.Y. Jets 42, Buffalo 36 — Flutie Flakes sure look good right about now.

Oakland 28, Dallas 21 — Gannon and his geriatrics beat up the baby ‘Boys.

Monday Night Preview

What were they thinking? This game should be called right now — it’s like matching up Pop Warner kids against a Texas high school team. Then again, the Lions did beat the Rams in their Super Bowl run of 1999. The Verdict: Kurt Warner throws five touchdowns, three of them to Marshall Faulk. Ty Detmer tries to break the single-game interception record again, but comes up short with a mere five. Rams roll, 42-10.