Of the teams widely presumed to be contenders before the season, seven already find themselves in a hole.
A loss in the season-opener is far from devastating, especially for a club that seemingly has what it takes to make the playoffs and perhaps even win the Super Bowl. But the sobering reality for all seven teams is that 0-1 could very easily become 0-2.
Take, for instance, the Cincinnati Bengals. In what safety Chris Crocker described as "just an ugly day," they fell behind, 31-3, on the way to a 38-24 road loss to the New England Patriots. The question now is if the Bengals' season will get even uglier? On Sunday, they face AFC North rival Baltimore at Paul Brown Stadium. The Ravens, widely viewed as the best team in the division, opened the season by knocking off another presumptive contender, the New York Jets, 10-9 on Monday night.
Given that they have the NFL's toughest schedule (based on 2009 results) and that they are on the road for three of their next five games, the need for a quick rebound is urgent.
Six other 0-1 clubs expected to be in the postseason hunt share that sentiment. Like the Bengals, they face 1-0 clubs at home. A closer look at the challenges they face to avoid going 0-2 follows:
Dallas (vs. Chicago)
The Cowboys were a holding penalty away from likely winning at Washington, as Alex Barron's infraction wiped out Tony Romo's touchdown pass to Roy Williams on the final play of a 13-7 loss. Their 12 penalties and punchless offense have caused some doubts to surface about their status as a popular favorite to win the NFC East and end up in the Super Bowl that will be played in their stadium. Despite new coordinator Mike Martz, the Bears' offense didn't look much better in a 19-14 win over Detroit. But their defense, led by new end Julius Peppers, could create some problems for Romo.
Minnesota (vs. Miami)
The Vikings lost a surprisingly dull opener, 14-9, to the defending Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints. An even larger surprise was that the Saints, while hardly spectacular on the ground (or in the air, for that matter), were able to control the ball late in the game with an effective rushing attack against arguably the best run-stuffing defense in the NFL. The Dolphins' talented backfield combination of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, which combined for 127 yards on 31 carries in a season-opening win at Buffalo, will try and dictate a similar tempo from the start.
N.Y. Jets (vs. New England)
The Jets are still reeling from an opener in which they lost standout nose tackle Kris Jenkins to a season-ending knee injury, committed 14 penalties, and second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez looked like he regressed with a performance that made a one-point margin look like 100. Suddenly, brash-talking coach Rex Ryan isn't talking so tough anymore.
"This team that we're going up against, obviously ... we've got to find a way," Ryan said. "Because that team right there is going to score and we have to be able to score, obviously."
San Diego (vs. Jacksonville)
Some major mistakes, mostly on special teams, cost the Chargers dearly in their stunning loss at Kansas City. Philip Rivers and the rest of the Chargers' offense were out of sync for most of the game. Some of that could have been because they were missing a pair of holdouts, receiver Vincent Jackson and tackle Marcus McNeill, but Rivers in particular did not look sharp despite finishing with solid numbers, and his frustration boiled over on multiple occasions.
Indianapolis (vs. N.Y. Giants)
The Colts lost to the Houston Texans, 34-24, because they couldn't stop running back Arian Foster, who ran for 231 yards and three touchdowns. Their ability to stop, or even slow down, any other rushing attacks seemingly has been compromised now that safety Bob Sanders is out indefinitely after undergoing biceps surgery.
Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs will look to pick up where Foster left off. And Eli Manning, who threw for three touchdowns against Carolina, is eager to try and out-duel his big brother, Peyton.
San Francisco (vs. New Orleans)
Quarterback Alex Smith complained about poor communication of plays from offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. Coach Mike Singletary expressed particular dissatisfaction with the performances of Smith and wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and went to the extreme of actually thanking Seahawks coach Pete Carroll for the thorough beating his team gave the 49ers because it would serve as a learning experience about what not do the rest of the way.
Then, after the game, Singletary took the additional step of having a team meeting so his players could better understand the comments he made to the media and to "make sure we stay together as coaches and players." So many issues after only one game doesn't bode well, especially with the defending Super Bowl champs coming to town.
The main message that all seven teams are hearing this week is: Don't panic.
"It's kind of like last year," Bengals nose tackle Domata Peko said. "We started out 0-1, but then after that we put our big boy pads on (and) we picked it up. We've got a lot of good players and good leaders on this team. We've got (quarterback) Carson (Palmer) and Whitworth and (offensive guard) Bobbie (Williams), myself, and (linebacker) Dhani (Jones). We've got to drag people with us and get our team going, and I think we'll be fine."
Provided, that is, that 0-1 doesn't become 0-2.