UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
More Sports

Winning teams that won't make playoffs; losing teams that will

Top-of-the-head hunches as we stare down Week 4...

• If I were forced to pick three teams that have winning records after three weeks but will still miss the playoffs, I'd go with:

1. Washington (2-1): The Redskins might very well match last year's 9-7 record and still wind up in last place in the rugged NFC East. With Washington at Dallas and at Philadelphia the next two games, we're going to know precisely where the Redskins fit into the division landscape by the close of Week 5.

2. San Francisco (2-1): Somebody's got to win the mild, mild NFC West, so why not the 49ers, who have put an impressive 64 points on the scoreboard during their two-game winning streak? Here's why: San Francisco's next four games are at New Orleans, home against New England and Philadelphia, and at the Giants. Can you say 2-5?

3. Baltimore (2-0): The rebuilding Ravens have proven they can do more than just compete in the AFC North, they can win on their home field, holding serve against the likes of the Bengals and Browns. But that Week 2 Hurricane Ike postponement in Houston now forces Baltimore to play six of its next eight games away from home. That will be too tough a road to travel to keep playoff dreams alive.

• If I were forced to pick three teams that have losing records after three weeks but will still make the playoffs, I'd go with:

1. San Diego (1-2): What, you think I'm bailing on my Super Bowl pick when they're an Ed Hochuli blunder away from a winning record, and two plays away from undefeated? The Broncos are going to make the Chargers work for it in the AFC West, but that Week 17 Denver at San Diego showdown will wind up deciding the division title, and both are going to the playoffs.

2. New Orleans (1-2): OK, I'll grant you that my preseason premise that the Saints defense would be vastly improved has yet to look sage. New Orleans is giving up 27.7 points per game, and that's a ticket to 7-9. But the bleeding stops here. The Saints are about to go on a three-game winning streak, all at home, against the 49ers, Vikings and Raiders. Book it.

3. Seattle (1-2): Not for one second do I think it's going to pretty this season in Seahawks-land. It's going to be one step forward, two steps back all year long. But I can see a route to 9-7 -- barely -- and that will be good enough to squeak out a fifth consecutive division title, and a sixth-straight trip to the playoffs. It's up to the Cardinals or 49ers to convince me otherwise.

• There's a side of me that keeps hoping Matt Millen comes out and says he just didn't see it coming.

But seriously, here's all you need to know about the Millen reign of error in Detroit:

In the seven-plus years he was in charge of the Lions (115 games), Detroit went 31-84 (.270), with no playoff trips, no winning seasons, and six double-digit loss records.

The rest of the Lions division over that same 115-game span, from 2001 to now?

-- Green Bay was 68-47 (.591), with five playoff trips, five winning seasons and just one double-digit loss records.

-- Chicago was 61-54 (.530), with three playoff trips, three winning seasons and two double-digit loss records.

-- Minnesota was 52-63 (.452), with one playoff trip, two winning seasons and three double-digit loss records.

-- For one year, in 2001, Tampa Bay and Millen's Lions were both in the NFC Central. The Bucs went 9-7 that season and made the playoffs.

All told, Detroit's divisional opponents during the Millen regime combined to make 10 playoff trips (going 6-10 in the postseason), with 11 winning seasons and six double-digit loss records. The Lions matched that last number all by themselves, and were a whopping 21 games worse than the Vikings, the next-worst division team, during that 115-game span.

So, yes, Matt, it was time to go.

• The four teams from the states of Ohio and Missouri have combined to go 0-12 this season, which accounts for more than one-fourth (25.5 percent) of the 47 losses that have occurred in 2008.

But something's gotta give this week because the Browns are at the Bengals, and barring a tie (wouldn't that be something?), somebody's going home a winner. As for the Chiefs and Rams, they don't play this year, so theoretically, they could both go 0-16. With another month or so of losing in Kansas City and St. Louis, I reserve the right to drop the theoretical element of that premise.

• You get the feeling the NFL might very well believe Ravens running back Willis McGahee was deliberately poked in the eye by some Browns defenders last week, but that upon further review, the replays didn't provide indisputable evidence that such misdeeds went on.

In other words, what goes on at the bottom of the pile in the NFL, stays at the bottom of the pile in the NFL.

• So much for the notion Pittsburgh has corrected its problems on the offensive line, which was the mantra when I visited Steelers camp in Latrobe, Pa., this summer. After that eight-sack beating that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took at Philadelphia last week -- and he was hit another half-dozen times besides the sacks -- Roethlisberger is averaging four sacks per game this season.

At that pace he would finish with 64 sacks this season. Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times in 2006, and 47 more last year, the highest two-year total in franchise history

• Anybody in Dallas still complaining about the Cowboys taking a complementary back like Felix Jones in the first round of the draft this year? Jones is the first Cowboy in team history to score a touchdown in each of this first three games. If he's a luxury item with Marion Barber already around, I believe in luxury.

• I covered the 2002 NFL draft from the Lions' team headquarters in suburban Detroit, and well remember the Joey Harrington first-round pick that Millen made that day. In many ways, he and the Lions never recovered from that mistake.

So it was a bit ironic to see the Saints, Harrington's fourth NFL team, release him on Wednesday, the same day the Lions finally put Millen out of his misery.

• Don't know how Plaxico Burress' attempts to have his suspension shortened or overturned might play out, but I do know it was a relatively low-risk way for Giants coach Tom Coughlin to make a show of disciplining the, at times, unreliable and self-centered Burress.

With New York on a bye, Burress misses just next week's very winnable game against Seattle, and there's no position that the Giants are deeper at than receiver. They haven't even been able to get rookie Mario Manningham active this season.

• I already like one move the Lions have made in the post-Millen era: elevating assistant general manager Martin Mayhew to the GM role, at least while they begin their due diligence for an all-out search for Millen's successor. I covered Mayhew for three of his four seasons as a Bucs cornerback in the mid-90s, and he was as smart an NFL player as I've ever encountered. I don't know if his ties working under Millen in Detroit since 2001 will necessarily help his candidacy for the full-time job -- he was one of Millen's first hires -- but Mayhew is well-respected within the league for his front-office experience and intelligence.

Troy Brown finally retired Thursday with much fanfare from the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. That's as it should be. He was the quintessential team-first Patriot, and I still think his willingness to switch from receiver to part-time nickel cornerback in 2004 -- his 12th season in the NFL -- when New England's injury-riddled secondary needed bodies, was one of the most selfless feats in recent NFL history.

I believe 98.7 percent of the rest of the league's players would have balked at Bill Belichick's request to make such a move. Then again, maybe only about four percent of the NFL's 1,700 or so players could have handled such a tricky midseason assignment.

• Life is always good in the NFL when you're three games into the season and still unbeaten, but some teams will invariably handle early success better than others. I don't have any concerns about the Titans keeping their perspective at 3-0 after talking with Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz this week.

"Maybe if you don't expect to win, maybe it's that way, where you're on a cloud,'' Schwartz said. "But we have a real veteran team now. We've transformed this team. A couple years ago we were the youngest team in the NFL. I just don't know if there's as much euphoria about being 3-0 when guys expect to win.

"We have a real level-headed bunch of guys, and they're not going to get real high if they win or real low if they lose. By Wednesday, whether we won or lost the last game, it's gone. It was like we were 0-3 at practice [Wednesday]. We've been doing this long enough to realize 3-0 isn't a guarantee of anything. All it means is you got off to a good start. We're not reveling in anything.''

SI.com

Drag this icon to your bookmark bar.
Then delete your old SI.com bookmark.

SI.com

Click the share icon to bookmark us.