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NFC doesn't have a clear favorite

The Cowboys picked a good year to stumble out of the gates. Four weeks into the season, there doesn’t appear to be a clear favorite in the NFC.

Conventional preseason wisdom was that there were four legitimate contenders: the Saints, Vikings, Packers and Cowboys. None of those teams flashed championship form during the season’s first quarter.

The defending Super Bowl champion Saints are an ugly 3-1. Their wins came by a combined 10 points over three sub-.500 teams. An offense that led the league in scoring last season has been middle of the pack, averaging 19.8 points, a drop of more than a dozen.

The Packers are also 3-1. “Doesn't feel like it, does it?” coach Mike McCarthy told reporters after Green Bay had to hang on for dear life in a 28-26 win over the Lions. This came on the heels of the Packers committing 18 penalties to gift-wrap a game for the Bears.

The 1-2 Vikings, whose lone win came over the Lions, are the biggest mess of the bunch. Brett Favre’s passer rating (60.4) is stunningly close to his age with six interceptions so far, one shy of last season’s career-low total.

The Cowboys stubbed their toe in the first two games, figuring out ways to lose to the Redskins and Bears, but they went into the bye on a high. Dallas’ convincing road win over the Houston Texans provided evidence that the Cowboys can perform like an elite team.

Maybe the Falcons deserve to be taken seriously as NFC contenders. Atlanta is 3-1 with its lone loss coming in overtime at Pittsburgh. But the Falcons sure didn’t earn any style points by needing a last-second field goal at home Sunday to beat the winless 49ers.

Chicago, the other 3-1 team in the NFC, has wins over the Packers and Cowboys. But it’s pretty much impossible to believe in the Bears after watching turnover-prone Jay Cutler take nine sacks in the first half of Sunday night’s loss to the Giants before leaving with a concussion.

The Cowboys are at the bottom of the NFC East standings behind three 2-2 teams, but it’s tough not to like their odds of winning the division for the third time in four seasons.

We promised not to bring up the Super Bowl until the Cowboys at least crack .500. But anything is possible with the NFC mired in a muck of mediocrity.