Yet none of the dark-horse hopefuls can do much more in September than hang on tightly and try to squeeze out early wins. "People say it's time for the Houston Texans to win," says Billick. "Well, it is time, but that doesn't mean they will. With that offense New Orleans should be a lot better than .500, but it might not be. There's no silver bullet."
On Sunday afternoon Saints fans lingered on exit catwalks, trying to catch a glimpse as players walked from the locker room below to a postgame reception. A palpable euphoria filled the hulking Superdome, as it did many other stadiums around the league. For half the teams in the NFL, anything was still possible. Evans voiced reason. "Nice win," he said, "but this thing is a marathon."
They run, they survive, they hope to get hot at Christmas.
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Peter King previews the hot story lines of Week 2 in the Game Plan, at SI.com/bonus