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The NFL season is four weeks old, which means that most teams—thank you very much, unnecessarily early bye weeks—have reached the quarter mark of a year that feels like it's already flying by.

Let's look at the best and worst of the early part of the season, then, shall we?

Rather than break down everyone from the best punter to the worst safety, I'm focusing on the positions with the most compelling storylines

 

Quarterbacks

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The term "elite" quarterback has become somewhat of a joke in NFL circles. Nobody ever talks about Peyton Manning or Tom Brady as an "elite" quarterback because the simple fact of saying their name in a football context infers their status as elite.

For my money, there aren't too many other starting quarterbacks who deserve to be in that category right now. Aaron Rodgers. Drew Brees. That's about it.

This isn't a question of who you would build a franchise around, nor is it a question of who the best fantasy quarterbacks will be this season. It's a little more basic than that.

If you had to win one game—hell, if you had to orchestrate one drive to win that one game—how many quarterbacks in the league would you really want under center? 

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Can there be such a thing as too much football?

Even writing that line seems ridiculous. The NFL is the most popular sport in America by leaps and bounds, with college football firmly in place as the second-most popular sport, based on television ratings, via Sports Media Watch.

Simply put, we love our football.

But we really love good football, and there is a growing sentiment amongst fans, media and those inside the game that Thursday Night Football is not, frankly, good.

I posed the question on Twitter last week after noticing a series of rolling complaints from those I follow—both media personnel who cover the sport as well as fans. Does anyone like Thursday night games, or do we tolerate them because it's football and we love football?

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The calendar hasn't even reached October, and already the nascent football campaign appears ruined for a host of NFL franchises. There is a world of difference between a record of 1-2—just one game away from .500 and, in some cases, the division lead—and 0-3, a mark that seems completely insurmountable for once-aspiring playoff teams.

There are six teams stuck at 0-3, trapped in the NFL equivalent of an underground cellar with—for most of them—little hope of escaping fate.

Some of the league's 0-3 teams have broken. All of them are bad.

 

It's Curtains for the Steelers

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Andy Reid is coming back to Philadelphia for a Thursday Night Football tilt against his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, and their new head coach, Chip Kelly. To suggest this is a big event in Reid's former stomping grounds might be the understatement of the year. 

Exactly how big is Reid's return? Cue the orchestral music and John Facenda voiceover

In the chilling bite of a fleeting summer's night, a once-triumphant coach makes his long-awaited return to a city that, after 14 up-and-down campaigns, feels more relative anguish than Brotherly Love. Big Red is bringing his new family to town to face his former one, looking never redder, in a game…never bigger.

It's that big.

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We're just two weeks into the NFL season, and already there is a groundswell of purported football "fans" in northern Florida connecting the dots on how to fix the moribund Jacksonville Jaguars and coming up with the smiling visage of…Tim Tebow

The Jaguars are horrible, with few signs of getting better this season or any time soon. Through two games, the Jags have scored 11 points, while gaining just 426 yards against two teams—the Chiefs and Raiders—that combined to win six games last season. 

The official Jaguars depth chart lists Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne, Ricky Stanzi and Denard Robinson, who is a wide receiver, as their four available quarterbacks on the active roster, with rookie Matt Scott from Arizona listed on the team's practice squad.

Without question, first-year head coach Gus Bradley has the hardest job in the NFL, most notably due to the abominable situation at quarterback.

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There are eight new head coaches in the NFL in 2013, each entering his new job this season with a completely different set of expectations. Some coaches took over playoff contenders. Others took over complete rebuilding projects. After two weeks, it's unfair to look at the standings and point to which new coaches are doing the best job. It's more telling, perhaps, to look at their words.

Chip Kelly came into the NFL with more fanfare than any coach in recent memory. Many suggested before the season that Kelly's lightning-fast offense was going to revolutionize the professional game, and after a Week 1 victory over the Washington Redskins, people all over the league were starting to buy in.

But what about the defense?

Despite a pedestrian first half on both sides of the ball, the Eagles stayed with San Diego—thanks in part to two first-half turnovers by the Chargers—with the Birds managing to grab a fourth-quarter lead after a brilliant 10-play, 76-yard drive capped by a Michael Vick touchdown run with just over seven minutes to play.

That's when the reality check for Philadelphia hit.

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In the last few weeks, Yahoo! Sports published an investigation alleging that five SEC football players—including a member of the 2011 and 2012 Alabama Crimson Tide national championship teams now in the NFL—accepted money and gifts from agents.

Sports Illustrated produced a five-part series about impropriety involving payment and academic fraud at Oklahoma State University. Time, meanwhile, distributed an article framed around Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel and his alleged autograph business called, "It's Time to Pay College Athletes."

Paying players has never been a hotter topic. There are a few really simple ways it can be done. First, we have to break the NCAA. The rest is easy.

This slideshow is an attempt to explain and simplify the issues. It finishes with five payment plans for athletes, not all of which I believe in. You can skip ahead to those if you're solution-focused.

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Immediately after the Philadelphia Eagles put forth an incredibly dynamic offensive performance in Week 1 that had everyone in the NFL buzzing, football pundits, analysts and television attention seekers tried to figure out something that will go wrong.

Some sharp, hard-working pundits took to the game tape to study how new head coach Chip Kelly managed to systematically dismantle the Washington Redskins defense in the first half of Monday night's contest.

Others charted the speed of Kelly's offense, wondering if the pace of snapping the ball with only half the play clock gone will be hard to sustain for an entire season and asking if it puts too much pressure on the Eagles defense whenever a drive stalls.

Still, there were some who decided to pick at the low-hanging fruit. What could go wrong with Kelly's offense after just one game? The quarterback will get hurt, as noted by Charley Casserly on NFL Network, via NFL.com:

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Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA's new targeting rule is either going to save football or ruin it entirely. The right answer may depend on which fans you ask.

With seconds remaining in the third quarter of Auburn's blowout victory over Arkansas State on September 7, Tigers linebacker Kris Frost was flagged with a roughing-the-passer penalty and ejected. Frost did not go helmet-to-helmet, but he did leave his feet to hit quarterback Adam Kennedy up high, a violation that falls under the new "targeting" rules this year.

The fans booed the flag and the ejection. (To be fair, it's hard to know entirely if the Auburn fans were booing the call or Frost's stupidity.) The penalty was dumb, but the hit was innocuous at best. Frost was kicked out of the game and, since the penalty took place in the second half, will miss the first half of Auburn's SEC opener against Mississippi State next week.

Frost's ejection was one of more than 10 punishments for targeting to be given out over the first two weeks of the college football season—admittedly, that number did decrease over the second weekend of the season after a rash of calls in Week 1.