By John Lopez
September 29, 2009

The sky is falling in Tennessee, they're on suicide watch in Pittsburgh and dogs and cats are living together in Buffalo.

And that doesn't even begin to describe the angst and worry gripping fans in biblical proportions in Houston, Arizona, Washington and other NFL locales. Three weeks into the 2009 season, early trends have some teams that were expected to do big things flopping, badly.

Some teams with 1-2 or 0-3 records won't recover and everyone knows it. But others just might turn things around. Let's look at the chances of that happening.

(Don Banks breaks down the 16 NFL teams with a winning record here.)

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) -- It's more than just All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu's absence that is haunting the defending Super Bowl champs. There are other deficiencies cropping up, including flat-out busts in the making in first- and second-round 2008 draft picks Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed. Blowing your top two picks in any draft is going to impact any team, even the Steelers. Mendenhall's work ethic, or lack thereof, has cost him touches. And Sweed's drops have been crucial.

In other ways, as much as the Steelers collectively vowed not to fall victim to a Super Bowl hangover, it very much looks like this team could use a couple of Advil and several strong cups of coffee. The dominant Steelers defense is having trouble creating turnovers and making crucial stops.

If coach Mike Tomlin can shake the doldrums and Polamalu returns 100 percent, the schedule gets easy enough over the middle portion of the year that the Steelers should be able to regain form.

Arizona Cardinals (1-2) -- You're not just being paranoid, Cardinals fans. The rest of the football world does, in fact, think the 2008 Super Bowl run was a fluke. Your team is even playing like it.

There is no doubting the talent in key spots on this team, beginning with quarterback Kurt Warner, receiver Larry Fitzgerald and extraordinarily gifted safety Adrian Wilson. But holes are getting exposed on the offensive line, at cornerback and the running game. Tackling and fundamental blocking assignments have been exposed.

In Sunday night's nationally televised game against the Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning shredded the defending NFC champs, while Dwight Freeney pitched a tent in the Cardinals backfield, harassing Warner and running backs all night. The Cardinals have gotten virtually nothing from Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells, ranking last in the league in rushing offense. That's no way to get back to the playoffs, much less make another big run.

But alas, there is hope. Arizona has a bye week, which could not have come at a better time. Ken Whisenhunt will work heavy on fundamentals while making some serious personnel decisions. And of course, the Cards do play in the soft NFC West and catch a few breaks in the schedule, too.

Besides two games against the lowly Rams, the Cards also will face the Lions and come off the bye week at home against the Texans, who have the league's worst run defense. Don't panic just yet. Arizona still could get there from here.

Buffalo Bills (1-2) -- Make no mistake, this team has severe issues defensively that likely will cost them at important moments all season long. Worse, it is a defense already hit with big injuries, most recently secondary starters Leodis McKelvin (leg) and Donte Whitner (hand).

But when you step back and look at just how well the Bills have played in spurts, the soft upcoming schedule and the likelihood of key missing elements returning big, I'd bet on the Bills making a run before their division rival Dolphins, or even the 2-1 but struggling Patriots. Keep in mind, the Bills had the Pats flat-out beat before an ill-conceived kick return and fumble by McKelvin.

And look here: Their only other loss was to the sizzling New Orleans Saints. Also, rest assured that Dick Jauron is going to make sure free-agent splash Terrell Owens doesn't go another game without getting a touch. There also is the return this week of leading rusher Marshawn Lynch, who was suspended the first three games for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

As for the schedule, the Dolphins' misfortune of losing quarterback Chad Pennington to injury is to the Bills' advantage as they head to Miami for Sunday's division game. And including Sunday's game, five of the Bills' next six opponents are a combined 1-14. Tighten up the defense and, sure, this could be a big year for a Bills resurgence.

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) -- The Jaguars knew the only chance they had to make any kind of big step forward was to follow the knee-pumping little steps of Maurice Jones-Drew. The Jags did that in a must-win victory over the Texans on Sunday, pouncing on an end zone fumble in the final moments.

And all of a sudden the Jaguars look a lot smarter and better than they did after season-opening losses to the Super Bowl-contending Colts and defending NFC champion Cardinals.

Besides Jones-Drew stepping into the featured-back role in a big way with a 61-yard touchdown blast in Houston, quarterback David Garrard is fitting into the game-management role nicely and has found a pair of reliable receivers in Mike Sims-Walker and free-agent acquisition Torry Holt.

After a few early burps, the defense also is finding a comfort zone in its switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. They have found a gem at defensive tackle in third-round pick Terrance Knighton, who's a perfect complement to the veteran John Henderson.

The Jags may play in football's toughest division, but clearly are on the rise, while the Titans are winless and the 1-2 Texans have one of the league's worst defenses. Jacksonville still will be looking up at the Colts by season's end, but there is a definite opportunity to make a run.

Tennessee Titans (0-3) -- Other than the offense, defense and special teams, the Titans appear to be in fine shape. Seriously, all three key facets of the game have alternately let down the Titans and the issues run much deeper than Kerry Collins suddenly playing like the aging quarterback he is, turning over the ball and failing to make enough plays with his arm.

There are more pressing personnel issues than quarterback, although don't be surprised if coach Jeff Fisher tries something different soon, considering not a single 0-3 team has made the playoffs since 1998. And don't be surprised if that change involves Patrick Ramsey and not Vince Young, who was inactive in Sunday's loss to the Jets.

Remember how the Titans figured it would be easy replacing Albert Haynesworth since they were so deep along the offensive line? Not happening. The defensive front is being pushed around, giving up 335 yards and nearly 24 points per game.

Remember how the Titans were groovin' to a 10-0 start to the 2008 season? They have gone 3-7 since. That's a trend.

And don't look now, but the Titans' next three games are at Jacksonville, at home against the as-of-now undefeated Colts and at New England. Don't bet on a return to the playoffs. The road is too tough and the odds stacked against them.

Houston Texans (1-2) -- Seemingly everyone's darkhorse pick to give Houston its first taste of playoff football since 1993, the Texans yet again look more like nags headed to the barn for a mercy killing. OK, so maybe that's only half right, but it's the important half. The Texans offense actually is playing acceptable, even playoff-caliber football the past two weeks. But the defense is atrocious, ranking last in the NFL against the run, 31st in total defense and consistently failing in big moments.

Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2007 draft, is on the verge of full-fledged bust. He can't fill a gap, create a pile or make a tackle. Every other defensive tackle on the roster is nearly as ineffective, including big-splash free agent acquisition Antonio Smith. In the secondary, the pouting Dunta Robinson has under-achieved, and missed tackles have been rampant and bad schemes have led to giving up too many big plays.

The Texans pulled off an impressive win at Tennessee in Week 2, but that was more because of the offense and quarterback Matt Schaub. The defense was shredded by Chris Johnson. If things don't get shored up, and fast, this Texans team won't even get to .500.

The schedule gets tougher after Sunday's home game against the Raiders, too. And considering Houston's horrible run defense, even the Raiders must be salivating with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush leading the way.

Playoffs? Don't count on it, Texans fans.

Washington Redskins (1-2) -- You're kidding, right? You don't already know the answer to whether the Redskins can rise from a 1-2 record and make a playoff run? You probably also believe in Jim Zorn and the Arbor Day Fairy.

Like Zorn, it's all over but the exit interview for this team. Turmoil rules the day, there is a severe disconnect between players and Zorn, who clearly is in over his head. At its core, this team has severe personnel and talent issues.

This was supposed to be a breakthrough year. Instead, this team was the Detroit Lions' slump-buster on Sunday afternoon. The Redskins' only win was over the horrible St. Louis Rams and that came without scoring a touchdown. No team has given up more third-down conversions than the Redskins, which is an indictment of defensive play-calling.

Quarterback Jason Campbell has thrown just three TD passes. The offensive line is a patchwork, overmatched group. And the two big-ticket items, defensive tackle Haynesworth and cornerback DeAngelo Hall, have not nearly brought the return expected on $64 million worth of guaranteed money.

From where the Redskins are now, it would take the most miraculous comeback since Mount Calvary for this team to make the playoffs.

Sorry, Dolphins, Raiders, Chiefs, Browns, Lions, Rams, Panthers, Seahawks and Buccaneers. You'll be playing for draft position the rest of the way.

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