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What to Look for Early in the NFL Season

   by Al McMordie - 08/27/2006

We are three weeks into the NFL exhibition season and starters won’t play much in Week 4. We can get a good idea about some of the strengths and weaknesses of several teams. Here are some pointers to keep in mind when the games count for real after next week.

Saints: The Saints had a great offseason. They got a new coach cut from the Bill Parcells cloth in former Dallas assistant Sean Payton. They won the Drew Brees sweepstakes, getting an upper-echelon NFL quarterback, and then had RB Reggie Bush drop into their laps. This was already a team with talent on offense at the skill positions, so on paper they appear to have one of the more talented offenses in the NFC.

However, the preseason has been a disaster. In the three outings when it’s been starters against starters, the Saints have been outscored 44-6.The Saints' first-teamers continue to struggle against the opponents’ first unit and were outscored 17-0 for the second consecutive game. The Saints had five turnovers Saturday, including four on offense, and the defense again failed to get off the field as the Colt offense controlled the ball for nearly 20 minutes in the first half piling up 18 first downs. Brees served up two interceptions and rookie running back Reggie Bush lost a fumble.

We knew the Saints' defense was going to be bad, but this offense looks poor as it is struggling to learn a new system. Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie had a rough time against Colts All-Pro wide receiver Marvin Harrison. McKenzie was flagged three times for pass interference, costing the Saints 45 yards and three first downs, in less than 11 minutes of clock. If they ever get their offense going, the Saints could be a team to look at 'over' the total because this defense isn’t going to stop anybody.

Redskins: As bad as the Saints have looked, the Redskins (a playoff team last fall) have looked worse. Washington has a new offensive coordinator in Al Saunders, who ran the Chiefs offense the last two years. The Chiefs were No. 1 in total offense in 2004 and ‘05. But it’s obvious a coordinator needs talented tools on the field and Washington doesn’t have it. QB Mark Brunell and the first-team offense have yet to score in the preseason and the whole team looked lost in a 41-0 defeat at New England. Brunell said his grasp of the offense is an "ongoing process." His quarterback rating in the preseason is 48.1. After a 27-14 loss to the Jets, the players said they looked forward to playing the Patriots because of all preseason games, the third game is the most crucial. The Redskins had 59 total yards and were 2 for 8 on third down in the first half. Washington is 0-3 SU/ATS in preseason, and has been outscored 87-17.

Titans: Tennessee is in a rebuilding mode, and cut expensive defensive players, and also let QB Steve McNair walk. In the past two preseason games, the first-team offense has managed just three field goals and the Titans have been outscored 45-9. Said LB Keith Bulluck, “This losing (expletive) is not cool.''

Bills: Buffalo jettisoned some of its best players (Lawyer Milloy, Sam Adams, Eric Moulds) and is also rebuilding. J.P. Losman has won the starting job, it appears, mainly because QB Kelly Holcomb has been worse. The last game, Losman threw an interception trying to force a third-down throw, fumbled a snap from center, and let the clock wind down for a delay of game penalty. And it was his BEST performance of the preseason!

Cowboys: The Cowboys, Seahawks and Panthers appear to be the teams to beat in the NFC. Seattle and Carolina played in the NFC Championship game in January, so it’s no surprise. But Dallas appears ready to make a run to the elite. Bill Parcells rebuilt the defense a year ago and now has key pieces on a veteran offense in place, including a rebuilt offensive line, which was needed. Dallas is 3-0 in preseason, flattened the Saints on the road last week, and just dominated the 49ers with an edge in yards 489-197. Forget about the 17 points they only scored, they rolled up 489 yards! And Terrell Owens has yet to play. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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