These were the pretty teams, not odds-on favorites for the Super Bowl, but the kind of clubs you mentioned with a wink and a nod. Just watch 'em this year; they're ready to make their move.
Indianapolis—finally a defense to go with that high-octane offense.
Tampa Bay—ah, a quarterback at last. Now, with that great D....
Denver—brought in a million free agents, mostly on defense. Everything else is in place.
Then there were the solid teams. If one of them doesn't go all the way, you figured, the other one will.
Baltimore—Elvis Grbac is the new quarterback, Pro Bowler Leon Searcy is the new right tackle, and almost everybody on that vaunted defense is back. Who's gonna stop the defending Super Bowl champions?
Tennessee—Had the Ravens on the ropes in their playoff game last season. It'll be a revenge thing for the Titans this year.
Guess what? Not one of these teams has a winning record. O.K., the season is young, and any one of them is capable of stringing together a bunch of victories. Still, maybe the problems go deeper; maybe teams like the Bears, the Browns and the Steelers, the new breed, will elbow them out of their place in line.
The Colts got hammered by the Patriots, not once but twice. The Broncos are having trouble moving the ball. Is quarterback Brian Griese's shoulder right? Also, what's happened to Denver's great offensive line and running game? The book on the Ravens is that if you spread 'em out and work the perimeters, they can be had. But that's what people thought they could do to stop Baltimore last year, too. Could something deeper be plaguing them, such as a fat-cat syndrome? The Titans are simply struggling in all phases.
As for the Bucs, now that's an interesting situation. Every year they get more offensive firepower, and every year the attack gets worse. The offense came crashing down to the tune of 10 sacks by Pittsburgh on Sunday, but that wasn't the worst part of it. The Tampa Bay defense got pounded repeatedly, and that wasn't the first time it happened. Where are the All-Pros? Warren Sapp has one sack and hasn't been a factor against the run. Outside linebacker Derrick Brooks and strong safety John Lynch must be playing hurt; otherwise, how could they be missing so many tackles?