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 Hard to tell teams from year to next 
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Post Hard to tell teams from year to next
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Hard to tell teams from year to next

PUBLISHED: September 16, 2005

By Keith Langlois
Journal Register News Service

Week 1 was weird, but then all first weeks are weird. Give it a month, look back and it won't seem such a stretch. Maybe Nick Saban is worth 10 points every Sunday. Maybe the Jets have deeper issues than flubbing the center snap. Maybe the Steelers could turn Matt Millen into a 1,000-yard rusher.
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When you consider the upheaval football teams go through every year, then consider how fine the line is between winning and losing, why are we surprised that every season somebody comes from nowhere to put up 10 wins and somebody else that looks like a playoff lock wins a game a month instead?

Teams typically turn over one-third of their rosters every year. A quarter of the league swaps out coaches some years. Injuries knock another quarter out of contention. The NFL is a minefield, and we've just started tiptoeing through the maze.

Here's a look at Week 2:

Pace cars

The top four after the first leg of the race along the Road to Super Bowl XL.

NFC

1. Philadelphia -- Monday meant everything to Atlanta, and still a wobbly Donovan McNabb was a last-minute drive short.

2. Atlanta -- If you trust what you saw from the Falcons' defense in the win over Philly, then this is a solid No. 2.

3. Dallas -- The NFC is like the Old West: There's opportunity for anyone with the right mix of courage and enterprise.

4. New Orleans -- Maybe they rode an emotional wave, maybe Katrina's devastation keeps them mentally locked in all season.

AFC

1. New England -- For all the hand-wringing about losing both coordinators, it sure looked like business as usual.

2. Indianapolis -- Good news: Cory Simon's addition completes the defense. Bad news: Are teams figuring out Tom Moore's offense?

3. Pittsburgh -- The sign of a terrific organization: Third-string tailback runs for 161 yards. Willie Parker?

4. Kansas City -- Last year, they figured coordinator Gunther Cunningham would fix a bad D. This year, they got him some players.

Road tests

The 3 playoff contenders looking at the week's toughest road games


1. Minnesota at Cincinnati -- We're tempted to call this a must-win game after the Vikes imploded against Tampa Bay. Then we remember they play in the ultraforgiving NFC North.

2. New England at Carolina -- The Panthers can't afford consecutive home losses, so they'll empty both the playbook and their gas tank in an all-out assault on the reigning champs.

3. Jacksonville at Indianapolis -- The Jags would be right there with Atlanta behind Philly in the NFC, but they're on the bubble in the rugged AFC. Every win now helps come December.
Crossroads

The game most likely to propel teams in opposite directions


St. Louis at Arizona -- Both teams were colossal flops in openers. Like the North, the West gives NFC teams a chance to recover. But whichever team loses here is going to have a bad case of bruised psyche.
Yellow flags

The 3 playoff contenders who must approach the weekend with caution


1. Detroit -- The bubble bursts big time if the Lions follow up the opener with a loss in Chicago. Expect Mariucci to go ultraconservative. Two touchdowns trump an impotent Bears offense.

2. Kansas City -- Winning at home is one thing. Winning at archrival Oakland on Monday night, when the gentlemanly fans with bones through noses might have ingested a few items beyond the FDA's recommended list, is another.

3. New York Jets -- The magnitude of last week's defeat was the alarming thing, not the fact they lost at K.C. The home opener with Miami appeared a gimme. Not so much anymore.
Speed bumps

The 3 most troubling developments for NFL teams in Week 1


1. Great special teams and a workmanlike offense, but it was on the strength of its defense insiders were looking hard at CAROLINA. That was before KRIS JENKINS, an elite tackle, tore an ACL.

2. Talk about insult atop injury: On the play JAVON WALKER blew out a knee, they also flagged him for a phantom pass interference. GREEN BAY already had problems. Now it's a train wreck.

3. If the NFC North isn't the league's worst, it's the AFC West. So DENVER still has a shot. But it can't afford a home loss to San Diego. That makes the loss of CHAMP BAILEY to a dislocated shoulder all the more crippling.


Amber alert

Please be on the lookout for ...


1. Jeremiah Trotter's brains

2. Chad Pennington's fastball

3. The little voice in Larry Johnson's head

4. Joe Gibbs' magic touch

5. An available hammy for Jason Hanson
Recall


The team most in danger of overhaul with another loss


SEATTLE -- Time is running out on Mike Holmgren, which means time is running out for everybody on his roster. It's a big game for Atlanta, too. After Monday's emotional crescendo, the Falcons go cross-country on a short week to face a talented, if underachieving, team.
Pit stop

The one game guaranteed to make you pull over for coffee


Baltimore at Tennessee -- The resistible force meets the movable object. What's the over-under -- 4 1/2?
Exit ramp

The first team we declare officially out of Super Bowl contention


CLEVELAND -- Perhaps they can petition the NFL to return to their roots and leave the AFC for the NFC. In the NFC North, the Browns would be in the thick of it. In the AFC North, well ... once Matt Leinart gets a look at the Browns, he'll petition the NCAA for another year of eligibility. This year ballroom dancing, next year Native American pottery.


September 17th, 2005, 11:03 am
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