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It's getting late early for 0-2 teams

Can Drew Brees and the 0-2 New Orleans Saints pull it together and salvage their 2012 season? (Photo: Parker Waters)Can Drew Brees and the 0-2 New Orleans Saints pull it together and salvage their 2012 season? (Photo: Parker Waters)

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It may be really early in the NFL season, but it starts to feel like it's getting late when you're staring at an 0-2 record through the first two weeks.

Historically, only one of every eight teams that open the year 0-2 will make it to the playoffs.

Six teams find themselves 0-2 heading into Week 3. Will any of them bounce back from slow starts and qualify for the postseason?

Let's look at their prospects:

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: This is unquestionably the most talented team sitting at 0-2, following losses to Washington and Carolina. Amazingly, though, the Saints are the NFC's only winless team.

With mostly the same roster as they have this season, New Orleans qualified for the playoffs in each of the past three years. With Drew Brees still around, throwing to the likes of Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston, there's no doubt the Saints will again have one of league's highest-scoring offenses.

The rest of the schedule won't be easy, with road games against Green Bay, Denver, the New York Giants and Dallas, and home contests against San Diego, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Then there are the two meetings with Atlanta, which might be considered the favorite to win the NFC South. And Tampa Bay, which closed last season with 10 consecutive losses, hardly looks like a pushover this year.

The Saints' biggest obstacle toward a fourth consecutive season in the playoffs will likely be the year-long suspension of head coach Sean Payton. In a league in which there really isn't much separating good teams from mediocre ones, having to replace a solid head coach like Payton, who was the team's primary play-caller, has to be worth a couple of games in the standings.

Both of the Saints' losses have been by eight points; changing the outcome of one or two plays here or there in either game could have reversed the result. When so many NFL games are decided by one touchdown or less, the absence of Payton could easily drop the Saints from "good" to "mediocre."

The best guess? The Saints look like a 9-7 type of team, which would put them squarely on the playoff bubble.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Last year, the Chiefs started off 0-3 before bouncing back to finish 7-9.

Kansas City had plenty of excuses for the subpar record in 2011. Safety Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles missed virtually all of the season, and quarterback Matt Cassel missed almost half of it.

With those guys back healthy, Kansas City came into the season as at least a dark horse to win the AFC West title. Sunday's one-sided loss to Buffalo - the Chiefs trailed 35-3 before two garbage-time touchdowns that made the score look somewhat respectable - was a head-scratcher. Now it's tough to take the Chiefs' division title hopes seriously, given what we've seen from perennial contender San Diego and Peyton Manning-led Denver.

It doesn't get much easier for Kansas City this weekend. It's tough to imagine the Chiefs' offense being able to keep pace on the road against the Saints. Then they are home against San Diego and Baltimore, respectively, the next two weeks before an Oct. 14 visit to Tampa Bay.

If the Chiefs don't adequately fix some of their problems, they could be looking at a 1-5 record heading into their Week 7 bye. They'd never be able to climb out of that hole, even though the second-half schedule doesn't look too imposing.

This shouldn't be that bad a team, so the Chiefs could rebound and finish with seven or eight wins. That would keep them home for the playoffs, though.

TENNESSEE TITANS: If strength of schedule was not a factor, the Titans would arguably look like the league's worst team on paper. They lost the opener by 21 points against New England, then dropped a 28-point verdict Sunday at San Diego.

Tennessee's early season schedule is brutal. The next two weeks, respectively, bring a home game against Detroit and a road game against Houston. The odds of reaching the playoffs after an 0-4 start are astronomical, so the Titans probably have to find a way to win one of those games.

There's a lot to like about Tennessee. Jake Locker is a promising young quarterback, and Chris Johnson is just three years removed from a 2,006-yard rushing season. Johnson, however, has been incredibly disappointing this season, rushing for just 21 yards on 19 carries through two games.

If you think Johnson's fantasy owners are upset, imagine how the Titans' front office, which gave him a six-year, $55.26 million contract following last year's preseason holdout, feels.

After a difficult September, the schedule gets considerably easier for the Titans. The rest of their road schedule, for instance, includes winnable games against Minnesota, Buffalo, Miami, Jacksonville and Indianapolis.

If Tennessee can win even one of its next two games, a nine- or 10-win season would still be within reach. Eight or nine wins is the more likely scenario, and nine victories would only put the Titans on the playoff bubble.

OAKLAND RAIDERS: Special teams - specifically, an injury to long snapper Jon Condo - cost the Raiders a chance to win their season opener against San Diego. In Sunday's loss to Miami, Oakland could not run the ball effectively (Darren McFadden had just 22 yards on 11 carries), nor could it stop the run (Reggie Bush gained 172 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 26 carries).

Through the two game, the whole hasn't equaled the sum of the parts. Carson Palmer has thrown for 670 yards through two games, yet the Raiders have only scored a combined 27 points.

The schedule gets tougher over the next month. Oakland hosts Pittsburgh on Sunday, then visits Denver on Sept. 30. Following a Week 5 bye, Oakland travels to Atlanta.

It's going to be hard to win any of those games. However, despite the Raiders' disappointing results, they have a fairly talented roster. Perhaps it's going to take a while for the team to learn the new systems of a new coaching staff.

It's going to have to happen soon, though, or the Raiders will be staring at either a 1-4 or 0-5 record. And that would pretty much ensure a 10th consecutive non-playoff season.

CLEVELAND BROWNS: The Browns lack elite talent, particularly at wide receiver. Also, rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden had one of the worst NFL debuts ever in the opener against Philadelphia.

Cleveland is unlikely to be a playoff participant, with the AFC North being as rugged as it is. The 0-2 start merely confirms the Browns will probably be home for the postseason. Still, this team seems headed in the right direction.

After a subpar opener against the Eagles, top draft pick Trent Richardson looked every bit like the franchise back the Browns hope he will be against Cincinnati on Sunday. He ran for 109 yards and a touchdown and caught four passes for 36 yards and another score.

Even more encouraging was Weeden's performance against the Bengals. He completed 26-of-37 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns.

Weeden is not the typical NFL rookie quarterback; he turns 29 on Oct. 14, so it's not like the Browns can be as patient with him as, say, the Dolphins can be with Ryan Tannehill. However, it's not as though Cleveland can judge Weeden completely on wins and losses this year. With a tough schedule, the Browns' ceiling is probably six wins.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: It's no surprise the Jaguars are 0-2, as they were not expected to contend for a playoff berth. This is a rebuilding season, with the main goal being the development of second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

After a promising opener against Minnesota, Gabbert took a step back Sunday against the tough Houston defense. He managed just 53 passing yards before leaving in the fourth quarter with toe and hamstring injuries.

How well Gabbert progresses will determine the course of the Jaguars' future, since they would appear to be a contender for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

One of the other big disappointments through the first two games has been the production of top draft pick Justin Blackmon. After catching just three passes for 24 yards against Minnesota, the wide receiver was shut out against Houston. He needs to become a big factor in order for Gabbert to succeed.

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Jeff Saukaitis is a former Sports Network writer/editor who has been a professional sportswriter since 1985.

 

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