A wild week 1 in the NFL

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 10, 2003

We are just one week into the 2003 NFL season, and the prognosticators are already scratching their heads.

Upsets and shockers dominated week one. Here are a few of my observations:

The AFC East -- considered by many to be the most competitive division in the NFL -- may, in fact, be one of the weakest. The Miami Dolphins suffered a humiliating 21-20 loss to the second-year Houston Texans. The New England Patriots -- picked by

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many to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl -- suffered the worst opening-day loss in the franchise's 44-year history, a 31-0 shellacking by the Bills. The New York Jets

are putting the first half of the season in the hands of a 40-year-old quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, hoping to come up with enough wins to be in contention when Chad Pennington returns from a broken wrist.

The only bright spot in the division, so far, is Buffalo.

The Bills added Patriot castoff Lawyer Milloy, former Bengal Takeo Spikes, Sam Adams and Jeff Posey to fix a sub-par defense. Coupled with Drew Bledsoe's explosive offensive capabilities, Buffalo is in a good position to make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time in a decade.

The Rams may be more pretenders than contenders. The New York Giants had little trouble with St. Louis, shutting down the Rams' high-powered offense in a 23-13 win. The Giants also likely put Kurt Warner on the shelf for this week with a concussion.

St. Louis has the talent to challenge for the NFC title again, but coach Mike Martz needs to call a better game. Marshall Faulk got the ball only nine times, far too few touches for a running back of his caliber. If the Rams are going to contend, they need a healthy Warner, a healthy dose of Faulk and a game plan that gets both of them involved in the offense.

If Sunday's game between the Packers and Vikings is a showcase of what's to come this season, look for Green Bay's Brett Favre to retire after the season and Minnesota's Randy Moss to challenge for the league's MVP. Favre looked pathetic, throwing four interceptions, while Moss hauled in 9 catches for 150 yards and a score.

Staying in the NFC North, how about those Lions? New coach Steve Mariucci guided his team to a convincing 42-24 thrashing of the Arizona Cardinals. Yes, it was the Cardinals, but it appears Detroit is back on the upswing after a couple of seasons in the cellar. Given the parity in the NFC North, it is not out of question that the Lions can claw their way back into the playoffs.

Butch Davis needs to rethink his decision on his starting quarterback. Kelly Holcomb threw for just 182 yards as an anemic offensive struggled in moving the ball against the Colts, and lost 9-6 loss on a last-second field goal. Sure, Holcomb threw for more than 400 yards in a playoff loss to the Steelers last year, but Tim Couch is the more polished of the Browns' two quarterbacks. The offense needs to score if Cleveland is to make it back to the playoffs, and Couch gives them the best opportunity to put points on the board.

The Bengals in the Marvin Lewis era are still, well, the Bengals. The first-year coach has said in the past it is going to take some time to build a winner, and he is right. Don't look for too much of a change this year. Cincinnati will hover at the bottom of the AFC North all season long. They might win 2, 3, 4 or 5 games at the most.

When Corey Dillon struggles -- he gained only 34 yards on 14 carries Sunday -- it doesn't help. If the Bengals are going to be in a game, Dillon needs at least 20 touches and probably at least 100 yards.

The arm of Jon Kitna is not going to win any football games. Look for Carson Palmer to be thrown to the wolves early this year, much like Joey Harrington was in Detroit last year. He'll take his lumps, but the Bengals need some returns on their investment.

Tampa Bay's defense is the real deal. After Monday night's blanking of Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles, the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers picked up right where they left off. If the defense continues to play like that, look for the Bucs to have a cakewalk through the NFC and into the Super Bowl again.

Shawn Doyle is managing editor of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached by calling (740) 532-1445, ext 19 or by e-mail (shawn. doyle@irontontribune.com)