GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: All the unbeatens are for real

GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: All the unbeatens are for real

GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: All the unbeatens are for real
September 24, 2007

It will happen as sure as there are 24-hour sports television networks.

Some time this week, a voice will intone dramatically: ``Stay tuned to find out why the Patriots-Cowboys game next month is a preview of the Super Bowl.''

Best idea? Tune out.

Yes, New England and Dallas have emerged as the NFL's two best teams over the first three weeks and are likely to be 5-0 when they meet at Texas Stadium on Oct. 14. It may even be hard for the Patriots to keep in under 38 points a game. Their next two are with Cleveland and Cincinnati, who may not be able to hold them down that much.

But the other three unbeaten teams - Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and, yes, Green Bay - have a chance to be in Arizona, too.

After three weeks, this has turned into a different kind of year, one where the salary-cap imposed parity of the last 15 seasons seems to have been reversed. There is a distinct upper class in the NFL, much like there was through the 1980s and early '90s.

Try to think of legitimate contenders beyond the top five and you come up with some lukewarm possibilities that are quite likely to make the playoffs, but less likely to really contend for a championship.

They include talented San Diego, if its players ever get on the same page; Chicago if it somehow manages to find a way around its negative quarterback situation; Baltimore if it stops letting teams back in games late; Tampa Bay, whose defense seems to be returning to its form of five years ago; and perhaps Seattle. And maybe Philadelphia if it plays up to Sunday's win over Detroit, hopefully in less outlandish uniforms.

But here's why those top five are the top five:

-Green Bay. Brett Favre is playing like he did in his prime. No, better than he did in his prime, when he was a gunslinger who often made Mike Holmgren, then his coach, cringe as he threw the ball into traffic. The Packers have now won seven in a row over two seasons and lead the Bears by two games in the NFC North.

Favre, much more judicious at 37 than he was at 27, said in training camp this was the best young team he had been with. ``I try to tell people I'm always right, and no one wants to listen,'' he said after the Packers' win Sunday over San Diego, the third straight 2006 playoff team Green Bay has beaten.

Believe. Favre and the defense give Green Bay a shot.

-Pittsburgh. These guys won the Super Bowl two seasons ago. They slipped to 8-8 last year for a variety of reasons: Ben Roethlisberger's injuries and ailments; post Super Bowl malaise; a coach, Bill Cowher, who may have subconsciously been looking ahead to his current sabbatical.

But remember the Steelers went 6-2 in the second half of 2006. The talent is still there, Mike Tomlin has the energy that Cowher may not have had last year, and they've outscored the opposition 97-26 in three games. OK, that opposition wasn't the best available, but it's still the NFL.

-Indianapolis. You don't write off the defending champions because a few people leave or are injured. The only ones they didn't want to lose were defensive tackle Anthony McFarland, hurt during training camp, and offensive left tackle Tarik Glenn, who retired. If they didn't dominate Tennessee and Houston, both improved, they beat them on the road, something they didn't do last season, when they won the Super Bowl anyway.

Oh yeah: Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Dallas Clark, Tony Dungy. And Bill Polian, who always drafts replacements like Marlin Jackson, Kelvin Hayden, Antoine Bethea and Anthony Gonzalez, who will soon make fans forget Brandon Stokley.

-Dallas. Wade Phillips and Tony Romo.

Owner Jerry Jones seems to have lucked into Phillips as head coach after going after Norv Turner (see San Diego's troubles). His easygoing demeanor fits this team better than the comportment of the temperamental superstar coach who preceded him. Hey, even Terrell Owens seems happy.

Jones also lucked into Romo, who idolized Favre as a youngster in Wisconsin and seems to have all the qualities that made his hero a superstar. The other three QBs in the NFC East - Donovan McNabb, Eli Manning and Jason Campbell - were all first-round draft choices. Romo, an undrafted free agent, is better right now than all three.

Give Jones some credit. He hired Jason Garrett as offensive coordinator (and potential head coach) before he hired Phillips. Garrett may not be around long. If Tom Coughlin is fired by the Giants, Garrett, a New Jersey native, a Princeton grad and a backup QB in the Meadowlands not too long ago, makes the short list to succeed him; the team tried to hire him as an assistant last year.

-New England. Tom Brady, the defense and the coach have always been near or at the top, with or without illegal tapes.

Consider the Patriots were one drive away from going to the Super Bowl last season with Reche Caldwell, since released, as their leading receiver. Now add Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth. Moss and Welker between them have 42 catches for 624 yards and six touchdowns (five by Moss) in three games. Brady has never had anyone like Moss before. Nor has Moss had a Brady, who makes sure he always plays hard.

``He's a mismatch every time he's out there,'' Brady says of his new playmate.

``My job's easy. I've just got to throw it up there.''

It's scary to think what happens when Rodney Harrison and Richard Seymour come back to defense. They might not even win back their jobs.

Of the four 0-3 teams, Atlanta is the most unsurprising. The absence of Michael Vick in an offense specifically designed for his talents explains a lot. Bobby Petrino almost surely wishes he was back coaching at Louisville, waiting for the next opportunity. And Louisville could use him.

St. Louis may be the most puzzling, a team that figured to be competitive in a division where no one really stood out. Scott Linehan's lines are the standard for losing coaches: ``Missed opportunities again. I know it sounds like a broken record, the idea is not to miss them, and we're working at it.''

The other two without victories are in the AFC East.

Miami has given up too many points (84) for a team that depends on defense, perhaps because that defense is aging. Buffalo has to have been traumatized by the Kevin Everett injury and now will go for a while with rookie Trent Edwards at QB, depending on the severity of J.P. Losman's knee injury. And a prize rookie, linebacker Paul Posluszny, went down Sunday. A sad situation.

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