Early signals point to haves, have-nots 11 unbeaten, 11 winless, but race has just begun

September 20, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Through quirk of schedule, quarterback injury, splintered special teams or dominant defense, there are 11 unbeaten teams in the NFL after two weeks. And 11 winless teams.

Some teams already have been exposed, a few have panicked, and several are just getting serious.

Based on sheer offense, the San Francisco 49ers (averaging 40.5 points) ought to meet the Denver Broncos (averaging 34.5) in Super Bowl XXXIII.

Based on raw defense, it could be the Atlanta Falcons (13 points per game) against the Seattle Seahawks (seven per game).

But don't bet on it.

In a race too early to call, these are some telling early signs.

Most surprising teams

Seattle (2-0): With 16 sacks and three interceptions returned for touchdowns, the Seahawks are doing it with defense. But keep in mind they've picked on young quarterbacks Bobby Hoying and Jake Plummer. After a gimme against Washington, the Seahawks play at Pittsburgh, at Kansas City and against Denver. Then we'll know.

San Diego (2-0): Hotshot quarterback Ryan Leaf has four fewer interceptions than Peyton Manning and a better defense. Who have the Chargers beaten? Buffalo and Tennessee. Still, there are enough soft touches on this schedule to get seven wins.

Atlanta (2-0): If they can keep quarterback Chris Chandler healthy -- Steve DeBerg waits in the wings -- the Falcons could contend for a wild-card spot in the mild, mild NFC West.

New Orleans (2-0): Rag-armed Danny Wuerffel at quarterback? Prepare for a lot of eight-man fronts.

Most disappointing teams

New York Jets (0-2): Bill Parcells banked on quarterback Glenn Foley staying healthy (he hasn't), and will have to roll the dice with Vinny Testaverde. He traded his best pass rusher and the Jets have two sacks. He brought in Curtis Martin and Martin can't score from the 1.

Washington (0-2): The Red- skins quit in the second half against San Francisco. They've got Trent Green playing quarterback ahead of Gus Frerotte and Jeff Hostetler. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Arizona (0-2): Plummer is no Joe Montana, no matter what Bill Walsh says. Plummer may not even be Kent Graham if the pass protection doesn't improve.

Hitting the panic button

Norv Turner in Washington: He benched Frerotte after Week 1, and cut his kicker after Week 2. When does he address the real problems, like discipline and defense?

Bobby Ross in Detroit: Granted, Scott Mitchell wasn't much. But does rookie quarterback Charlie Batch represent a white flag in Week 3? And how many carries can Barry Sanders handle?

It's only an illusion

Tampa Bay (0-2): If Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott don't run better -- they're averaging a combined 2.8 yards a carry -- the offense will implode. Still, the Buccaneers' defense is too good to let them fall far.

Minnesota (2-0): Can Randy Moss play defense? The defense always wears down in the second half of the season. The Vikings lost five of their last six regular-season games last year, and six of the last 10 in 1996.

Playoff hopeful

Seattle (2-0): The Seahawks' free-agent investments are finally paying off. At 41, quarterback Warren Moon has a magic elixir.

Ravens (1-1): The Ravens have interchangeable parts on offense and one of the best young defenses in the league. Today's game at Jacksonville will tell how far they've come and how far they have to go.

Playoff teams that can't lose their starting quarterbacks

Miami: Try as he might to downplay the role of Dan Marino, Jimmy Johnson cannot afford to lose him. That's because the Dolphins have second-year free agent Damon Huard and gimpy-armed Craig Erickson as backups.

Green Bay: Fortunately for the Packers, Brett Favre is the toughest quarterback in the league. With Doug Pederson and Rick Mirer in reserve, and Dorsey Levens shelved with a broken leg, Favre better be.

Jacksonville: After Mark Brunell, the Jaguars turn to Jamie Martin and Jonathan Quinn. Either would effectively extinguish their Super Bowl dream.

Contenders for second pick in the draft behind Cleveland

Chicago: After two near-misses, who knows when the Bears will get a shot at another victory? They need a quarterback.

Philadelphia: If it weren't for playing in the NFC East, the Eagles might not win a game this year. They need help everywhere.

Indianapolis: Manning has had two interceptions returned for touchdowns already. He needed a fourth year of college to do that? The Colts need help all along their defensive front.

Send in your coaching resume

Arizona: Vince Tobin is 11-23, facing a must-win game against the Eagles tonight.

Philadelphia: Draft guru Tom Modrak arrived too late to save Ray Rhodes.

Washington: Turner has lost control.

Chicago: Dave Wannstedt's Waterloo was Rick Mirer.

St. Louis: Dick Vermeil didn't allow any mutiny when he coached in Philadelphia.

Pub Date: 9/20/98

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