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Still too soon to tell

By Troy Aikman

Special to NFL.com


(Sept. 21, 2004) -- One of the few certainties of the NFL is that each game provides fans the opportunity to definitively determine, without hesitation, how good or bad their team is and why they will or won't win another game. Every Monday morning, NFL fans across the country know exactly, at least in their minds, where their team is headed by season's end. And then a week later ... it changes again.

After one week, Washington Redskins fans were ready to book their rooms -- provided there are any rooms, which I understand there are not -- in Jacksonville for the Super Bowl. Seven turnovers later, the Redskins are 1-1 and their fans are left wondering if they can even make the playoffs. Redskins fans are not alone. No one knows what will happen from week to week in the NFL, and that's what makes it so exciting.

After two weeks of the season, we're still left trying to determine which teams are the game's elite. Every season is different. After losing to the Giants, where do the Redskins stand? Hard to say, but I believe they'll prove to be a pretty good team.

And the Giants? They weren't too impressive in Week 1, but rebounded nicely in Week 2 to stand at 1-1. Can they regain their confidence and have a successful season? Sure, and that's true for all teams.

I've talked in the past about how all 32 teams are optimistic coming into the season. After two games, there's no reason why all 32 teams shouldn't still feel that way -- whether they are 2-0 or 0-2.

In 1993, our Cowboys team started 0-2 and all we heard was that no team had ever started 0-2 and won the Super Bowl. Well, we did it. And the Patriots did the same thing in 2001. Philadelphia was 0-2 last year and reached the NFC title game. This is a different game today than what was played in 1980. You can't go by historical data -- you can really only apply what's happened in the last six or seven years.

Therefore, there is still reason for optimism for 0-2 teams.

The Kansas City Chiefs are certainly disappointed to be 0-2. But don't lose sight of the fact they are one game out of first place in the AFC West.

I don't believe any team has reason to adjust the expectations that they had coming into the season. Can teams be frustrated in the way that they've played? Absolutely. But there are too many things in this league that can happen, and we've all seen it.

And for those teams that are 2-0? There aren't any guarantees with them either. History suggests that those teams will likely make postseason play. But as mentioned above, history doesn't apply to today's NFL.

Four teams that didn't make the playoffs last year -- the Jets, Jaguars, Lions and Falcons -- are 2-0 right now. Does that mean all four will make the playoffs? Keep this in mind: The Redskins, Vikings and Bills were all 2-0 at this time last year. None of them made the playoffs.

I'm really not surprised by Detroit's 2-0 start. Among the potential sleeper teams heading into the season, I really thought the Lions had a chance to do something. Whether they can keep it going is anybody's guess. But I felt that if Joey Harrington came in and played the way he's capable of playing -- being the quarterback they envisioned when they picked him third overall in the 2002 draft -- then this team could be pretty good. And you would expect Harrington to play well now that he's in his third season. Generally speaking, that's when things start coming together for a quarterback. So the Lions haven't surprised me.

Jacksonville is 2-0 after holding on to win two very close games. You might say, "Sure, but they could just as easily be 0-2." Yeah, and so could every other team in the NFL. Each weekend's success is dependent on who is able to win the close games. Heck, all the games are close these days. How do you think Carolina made it to the Super Bowl last year? They were 7-0 in games decided by three points or less. How about Tampa Bay? Care to know why it failed to make the playoffs a year ago? The Bucs were 0-5 in games decided by three points or less. If you're going to win in this league period, you must win your share of the close games.

The Jets have been impressive in beating the Bengals at home and the Chargers on the road. The cynics would point to the schedule and not be very impressed. I balk at the notion. It is no longer possible to look at any team's schedule and summarize anything. This is a league of constant fluctuation. Determining absolutes from one year to the next, even one week to the next is impossible.

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