These six 'contending' teams trying to dig out of deep holes

They came into the season with sky-high expectations, a roster built for immediate success, and a do-some-damage-in-the-playoffs-or-bust mentality.

After two weeks, some are winless (Cowboys, Vikings and 49ers) and others (Ravens, Giants and Titans) are coming off disappointing losses and find themselves at .500, questioning themselves as much as the 0-2 teams are.

We asked our bloggers at Blog Blitz to give us reasons why fans of these teams should be optimistic that things can turn around, and why they might not.

Cowboys: Players mad about maddening play

A charming thought for Jerry Jones: His iconic team plays in the first Super Bowl hosted at his landmark stadium. That's a Jones-type dream if there ever was one. The reality is his Cowboys are 0-2. They have looked fine at times but absolutely clueless as well. The offense mustered 36 yards rushing in the home opener against the Bears, while the heralded defense has yet to force a turnover. All the preseason hype has dissipated in an embarrassing string of penalties, fumbles and missed field goals.


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Reasons for pessimism: Sure, it's early, but that doesn't mean the Cowboys only need more time. Maybe this team simply looks better on paper than on the field. Stockpiling big names isn't always the best way to build a roster. The much-hyped explosive offense, which has two touchdowns in two games, looks exactly like it did during the preseason. The Cowboys were thoroughly dominated by the Texans in the fourth preseason game despite playing their starters for three quarters. And guess who gets the next shot at America's Team? The Cowboys visit the 2-0 Texans on Sunday before their bye week. Then it's the Titans, Vikings and Giants. The Packers, Colts and Saints loom later. That bye week might be the highlight of the season.

Reasons for optimism: It's not like the giant HD screen is crumbling down on the midfield star. The Cowboys are one game out of first place in the NFC East, the weakest strong division in the league. The Eagles, Redskins and Giants have looked bad already, too. Every team has issues, but not every team has this amount of talent. As bad as the Cowboys looked in their first two games, they almost won them. Gentlemanly Jason Witten almost blew a fuse trying to convince medical staff to let him play after a mild concussion. Terence Newman called a players-only meeting to ratchet up the intensity. These guys are mad, and they have the firepower on both sides of the ball to do something about it.


Vikings: Offense is offensive

The Vikings used a high-powered offense to get within a game of the Super Bowl last season. Now they are struggling to score two touchdowns in a game. The offense is anemic and giving some of the worst performances in recent team history. Brett Favre has turned it over five times already this season. Pro Bowl receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin are injured, and Bernard Berrian has been invisible.


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Reasons for pessimism: The scariest thing is how so much talent can be struggling all at once. This is a veteran-laden, Super Bowl-ready team, yet it is scuffling among the bottom-feeders. Despite great defense and a recharged Adrian Peterson, dumb decisions and poor execution has cost this offense dearly. Favre's throwing interceptions with regularity (four in two games, compared to one TD), something he limited last year. The difference for the Vikings between 2-0 and 0-2 is very small on paper, but on the field they looked decidedly worse than both of their opponents.

Reasons for optimism: Few teams survive 0-2 starts, but the Vikings can overcome it if they start playing to their talent level. Peterson is running like a beast. He's not ripping off 30-yard runs, but he puts the Vikings in manageable third-down situations. There is no question he's still a home-run threat and opponents need to tailor their game plans around him. Three years ago, TE Visanthe Shiancoe drew the fans ire for his tendency to drop passes but now he's considered one of the best receiving tight ends in football. As awful as the offense has been, the defense has been awfully good, despite missing key players in the secondary. Three touchdowns allowed in two games is a dream ratio. Should the Vikings orchestrate a turnaround, the continued stellar play from Leslie Frazier's crew will be the reason.


49ers: Still best in NFC West?

They were considered by most to be the favorite in the NFC West, but have started out 0-2. The losses came in polar opposite fashions. In the opening week, they looked dazed and confused in a 31-6 loss at Seattle. In Week 2, they took the defending Super Bowl champion Saintsto the final gun.


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Reasons for pessimism: Each loss is costly, and with road games against Kansas City (2-0) and Atlanta (1-1) on deck, the Niners could easily start the season 0-4. The pressure will build, and every game will become closer to a "must-win" as the season progresses.

Reasons for optimism: The NFC West is horrible. The Cardinals have serious issues at quarterback, and the Rams and Seahawks are in rebuilding mode. San Francisco can start 0-4 and still will likely be close to the division lead. An 8-8 record could win the division, and that means the Niners would still only have to finish the year on an 8-4 run, if indeed they go winless in their first four.


Ravens: Schedule gets easier

The Ravens earned pre-season accolades for upgrading their offense, and according to scores of media pundits , they should be title contenders this season. But it sure doesn't feel that way after a 15-10 loss at Cincinnati in which Joe Flacco threw four interceptions.


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Reasons for pessimism: The offense struggled in the season opener -- a 10-9 victory vs. the Jets. But that was not unexpected since the game was played on the road and against a team many considered to have the best defense in the league. The Ravens couldn't mount much of a running attack and Flacco at times looked uneven and unsure, but again, it was written off as par for that particular course (plus, they won, which kept the criticism at bay.) But then they looked even worse in losing to the Bengals, getting smothered in the process. Flacco appeared lost -- lofting passes, throwing off the wrong foot, and showing a lack of presence -- and so, too, for the moment are the high expectations for this team.

Reasons for optimism: Many people were singing the offense's praises just a few weeks ago, and for good reason. There is a lot of talent on that side of the ball, and sometimes it takes a little while for new components to jell. (Plus, if you don't judge Flacco by his best game, why should you judge him by his worst?) But really, haven't we been here before? The defense looks fierce and fully capable of carrying this team. So once the offense clicks, things should get pretty interesting. That moment could start on Sunday, when the Ravens play their first home game of the season, against the Browns. And to quote The Band, "Look out, Cleveland, the storm is comin' through."


Giants: Tough road ahead

The Giants entered training camp with an optimism stemming from the belief -- hope? -- that their poor showing in 2009, especially on defense, was an aberration. Giants fans hoped they could chalk up one of the highest point totals yielded in team history to a new, and lousy, defensive coordinator. They thought Brandon Jacobs could return to form in 2010 with surgically repaired knees. Preseason games mean little, but they were worrisome, because the Giants seemed deficient in all the same areas they were a year ago. Jacobs has become a distraction, not a comeback story. Now, the Giants enter Week 3 with a win over a Carolina team that could be one of the worst in the league and an embarrassing loss to the Colts in which they failed to compete. The fact that such a thorough humiliation came in Indianapolis, where anyone can lose, is no comfort. The Giants have a lot to prove against Tennessee on Sunday.


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Reasons for pessimism: The schedule is very tough, and two opponents who were thought of as tomato cans -- Chicago and Detroit -- have improved. The Giants loaded their roster with pass rushers against the Colts, dressing two defensive tackles, and still hurried Peyton Manning only three times. Their offensive tackles got embarrassed by Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. Fine, those are great players, but this line is not getting any younger. When will someone challenge for one of those spots? Too many recent draft picks have yet to show they can play (Clint Sintim, Linval Joseph, Will Beatty, Phillip Dillard, Aaron Ross).

Reasons for optimism:Eli Manning and his primary receivers are terrific. The Giants, if they can keep their quarterback upright, have a passing attack to be reckoned with for the next several years. Also, while the Giants' schedule is difficult, their division is not. Washington and Philadelphia are not that good, and the Cowboys have problems. If Jay Cutler can rack up 277 yards and three touchdowns against Dallas, Manning should have a field day. The Giants could win this division at 9-7, maybe 8-8. And, though Jacobs is entitled to his opinions, Ahmad Bradshaw, at 4.5 yards per carry, looks like a revelation.


Titans: They still have CJ2K

With the 8-2 finish to last season and a dominant Week 1 performance against the Oakland Raiders, the playoffs looked like a strong possibility for the Titans. But after a devastating loss to the Steelers on Sunday, there are plenty of available seats on the bandwagon.


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Reasons for pessimism: Quarterback Vince Young looked overmatched against the Steelers' defense. Chris Johnson couldn't buy a yard at a yard sale, and the coaches couldn't come up with a plan to overcome Pittsburgh. Opponents can study that game film as a primer on how to beat the Titans.

Reason for optimism: Can you say No. 1 defense? The "No-name D" has only given up one touchdown in two games, and leads the league in fewest passing and rushing yards allowed. Sure, the offense stalled last week, but Pittsburgh was the best defense the Titans will see all year. Nobody else is going to keep CJ under 50 yards -- he has a lot of ground to make up now in his quest for 2,500 yards, but don't bet against him.


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