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Thursday, September 23, 2010
Updated: September 26, 9:47 AM ET
Doomed, desperate, dominant in the NFL

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

Wade Phillips, Maurice Jones-Drew & Clay Matthews
Verdicts: Wade Phillips, Doomed; Maurice Jones-Drew, Desperate; Clay Matthews, Dominant.

The NFL is so predictable. Seriously, who couldn't have seen the Philadelphia Eagles trading their Pro Bowl quarterback to a division rival, handing the job to his franchise-groomed backup and then ditching the detailed succession plan essentially after the first two quarters of the season opener? I mean, duhhhh.

And, like many of you, I had the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with two more wins than the combined victory totals of the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Carolina Panthers, St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills. So, so obvious.

Rookie Jimmy Clausen starting for Carolina by Sept. 26? Had it. Vince Young sent to the Tennessee Titans' bench? A no-brainer. Houston's Arian Foster leading the league in rushing? You mean, you had Chris Johnson? Ha!

Up is down. Snelling is Turner. Forte is Faulk. The Buffalo Bills are ... well, sadly, they're still the Bills.

But as Week 3 approaches, you can already sense a shift in the league's balance of power. Our little 2010 NFL baby is growing up so fast.

Anyway, it's never too soon to break down the league into three distinct early season categories: The Doomed ... The Desperate ... The Dominant.

The Doomed

Cowboys -- Deader than Don Draper's secretary. Team Disarray won't be playing a Super Bowl in its home stadium this coming February. Wade Phillips rules with a Jell-O fist, his team had as many rushing first downs as penalties last week (six) and an 0-3 start is a distinct possibility, what with Sunday's road game against unbeaten Houston. The only good news for JerryWorld: Since 1990, 22 teams have started 0-2 and still reached the playoffs. Three of the 22 won a Super Bowl.

Bills -- I think it's safe to say the Bills won't be No. 23 on the list of teams to recover from 0-2 starts. The Bills are worse than buffalo wings cooked in shaving cream. Wherever Awful is on your NFL chart, go down a flight or two of stairs and that's where you'll find the Bills. They're the only team not to have scored at least 20 total points. The Green Bay Packers fall out of bed with 20 points on the board.

Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick
That's Ryan Fitzpatrick on the left and Trent Edwards on the right. Does it matter which Bills QB starts?

Rams -- The Rams aren't going to win many games, but at least rookie QB Sam Bradford looks like a keeper.

Panthers -- John Fox is respected by his coaching peers, but it looks like he's going to need some cardboard boxes, Styrofoam bubbles and packing tape soon. A team with Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart scored seven points against Tampa Bay last week.

Lions -- Doomed, but in a nice way. They ought to be 1-1 (Calvin Johnson caught the damn ball!), but the Lions' days of football unwatchability are finished.

Browns -- Jim Brown is sticking needles in his Mike Holmgren doll. And it's working.

Raiders -- Oakland's PR department doctored some of coach Tom Cable's postgame quotes last Sunday. Just think if they had lost the game.

Titans -- The AFC South is a two-team race and the Titans aren't one of the two teams.

The Desperate

49ers -- I'm with Mr. Eyes-Bulging-From-Their-Sockets, Mike Singletary: the Niners are still going to win this division. The turnaround begins Sunday at Kansas City.

Vikings -- Brett Favre already has four interceptions in two games. Any chance the Vikes could run the same offense he runs in those Wrangler ads? Favre completes passes in those TV games. And, oh: Get well soon, Sidney Rice.

Antrel Rolle
Antrel Rolle bared his thoughts about the Giants' leadership, just like he bared his midriff in this preseason game.

Jaguars -- Tens of fans expected for Sunday's game against Philly? Still no vintage Maurice Jones-Drew sighting, by the way.

Giants -- Antrel Rolle, who's been a Giant for about 20 minutes, is already popping off about the stifling, control-freak nature of coach Tom Coughlin. Coughlin's no-nonsense rule is a surprise how? Rolle is chirping. Brandon Jacobs is heaving helmets. And the Titans' Chris Johnson comes to town Sunday.

Patriots -- I believe it was Tom Brady who so eloquently described the Pats' recent performance against the New York Jets: "We just sucked." The Patriots will figure out a way to avoid being pulled under by the riptide of injuries and general suckiness. Thank goodness for the Bills in Week 3.

Jets -- I know they beat the Patriots, but they go to Miami without Revis Island, without knucklehead Braylon Edwards in the starting lineup and without a good reason to think they won't be 1-2.

Broncos -- No franchise deserves to go to this many memorial services. They'll play hard for teammate Kenny McKinley, who committed suicide earlier this week.

Buccaneers -- The Bucs can't afford to act as if they've arrived. After all, it's only their first 2-0 start in the past five years. Stay thirsty, my friends.

Falcons -- There's a lot to like about the Falcons. There will more to like if they beat the New Orleans Saints in the Who Dat Dome.

Ravens -- Anytime Joe Flacco wants to start playing like Joe Flacco, it'll be fine with the Ravens. Two crummy games in a row for Flacco.

Kevin Kolb
If you blinked, you missed the Kevin-Kolb-as-starter era in Philadelphia.

Chiefs -- (See Buccaneers comments.)

Eagles -- Crash Davis said it best in "Bull Durham": Never mess with a streak. Michael Vick is looking good these days, so why not ride the streak into Jacksonville? Andy Reid's job is to win games, not put a smiley face on former starter Kevin Kolb. That said, QB controversies are never a good thing.

Seahawks -- Is the Matt Hasselbeck era winding down? He's one of my faves, but those three interceptions against Denver left a bruise mark.

Cardinals -- Couldn't convert a third-down play last week. Could barely stop one, either.

Bengals -- Sorry, still not a believer. I'll give them credit for their three-game win streak against the Ravens, but they stunk it up in the red zone against Baltimore.

The Dominant

Redskins -- Yeah, I know. They just blew a fourth-quarter lead at home and the running game is on a skim milk carton. So maybe dominant isn't the right word. But the more I see of the Cowboys, the Giants and Donovan McNabb, the more I like the Redskins' chances to win the division or get a wild-card spot.

Texans -- If chucker Matt Schaub can avoid injury, Houston will be in the playoffs. Statement game coming up against the in-state Cowboys.

Brian Urlacher
Bad news for the rest of the NFC North: Brian Urlacher is back.

Chargers -- Rookie RB Ryan Mathews isn't going to fumble every game, is he? Key stat last week for the Chargers: They forced six turnovers.

Bears -- Whatever they're paying Mike Tice to coach that offensive line, it's not enough. Whatever they're paying Jay Cutler to play behind it, it's not enough. But Cutler is thriving in Mike Martz's offense; and the Bears' defense, especially linebacker Brian Urlacher, is becoming a force again.

Steelers -- Terry Bradshaw could come back and play quarterback and the Steelers would still find a way to win. The Big Ben alarm clock rings in two more games.

Packers -- Make your list of the five most dominant defensive players this season. Clay Matthews better be on it. And who said regular-season games don't matter in the NFL? Pack at Soldier Field on Monday night.

Dolphins -- I knew I should have picked them to win the division. I wussed out.

Colts -- Did you see Peyton Manning perform surgery on the Giants? He removed their heart on national television.

Saints -- Niners running back Frank Gore was right: San Francisco whupped the Saints up and down the field. And yet the Saints still found a way to win. In Drew Brees, I always trust.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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