Miami might be better than expected; Minnesota might be worse. And if Indianapolis can play defense the way it did it in Baltimore on Sunday night, who knows where the Colts could go.

Still, as Jake Plummer put it after he and the Broncos lost 34-10 in Miami: “It’s one game. We’re all running out of here mad, but there are 15 more games.”

That’s the best lesson to take from opening Sunday, which featured upset victories by San Francisco and Miami, who were Nos. 1-2 in last year’s draft and seemed odds-on to be in the same position again this season. Give it a few more weeks before trends develop.

A few snapshots from Week 1:


• New Orleans: Maybe the Saints will revert to their maddening form of the past few seasons under Jim Haslett – three or four straight wins followed by three or four straight losses, ending in a record somewhere around .500. Still, the 23-20 win in Carolina gave a devastated region something positive to savor for a day or so. “It won’t last for people living on cots, but at least it gave them something,” said Joe Horn, who has buried the negative image he carried since his cell phone stunt two years ago.

• Miami: The Dolphins’ win was no fluke. When they went 4-12 last season, it was their first losing season since 1988. Nick Saban is clearly a coaching upgrade and Gus Frerotte is experienced enough not to make too many mistakes – like hitting his head against a wall after a TD, as he did in Washington eight years ago. Remember last year’s troubles began with Ricky Williams’ no-show. Now Ronnie Brown is there and Williams will be back from suspension after three more games.

• San Francisco: OK, there’s not much talent. But Mike Nolan had his team fired up, while the Rams clearly came in complacent. So the 49ers won 28-25 and might not have the dilemma many people predicted: the first pick in the draft again the year after they took a QB No. 1. So Matt Leinart (or Vince Young) could end up in … Tennessee?

• Indianapolis: If the defense plays as it did in the 24-7 victory over Baltimore, this team could be scary. With Corey Simon still playing his way into shape, Jamal Lewis (48 yards on 16 carries) should have been able to run better against an undersized front. With the offense a given, good defense gives the Colts a real shot at home-dome advantage in the AFC and no January trips to Foxborough.


• Minnesota: Maybe the Vikings have decided that winning early and losing late doesn’t work. So they lost 24-13 to Tampa Bay. On the other hand, maybe Daunte Culpepper isn’t really Daunte without Randy Moss. He had problems when Moss was hurt last season, and three interceptions Sunday against a Bucs defense showing its pre-Gruden form isn’t very encouraging, especially at home. Still, the Vikes might win the NFC North at 8-8.

• Denver: Mike Shanahan hasn’t won a playoff game since John Elway retired after the 1998 season and Plummer’s form in Denver has been much like his form in Arizona. Bringing in Cleveland rejects for the defensive line should have been a tipoff.

• Jets (See above): Chad Pennington (six fumbles) is coming off rotator cuff surgery and is still learning the offense installed by new coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. Suddenly, next Sunday’s home opener against Miami is no sure win.

• St. Louis: Mike Martz has a great eye for QBs. But he was badly outcoached by Bill Belichick in a Super Bowl he should have won easily and his team played in San Francisco like it would win by showing up. With Seattle and Arizona also losing, maybe the NFC West will end up with four teams tied at 6-10.

– Carolina: Starting like it did last season. Not only did it lose to the Saints, but it lost Kris Jenkins for the season with a torn ACL.

By the way, Julius Peppers was invisible Sunday against a rookie right tackle, Jammal Brown, playing his first NFL game.

– Arizona: One sign of a bad team: the Cardinals used all three timeouts in the first 10 minutes of the second half in their 42-19 loss to the Giants. Because they were gone, Dennis Green couldn’t challenge a TD catch on which Plaxico Burress might have been out of the end zone. This is a “sleeper” contender? The Cards have been losers for almost 60 years, and until proven otherwise, they still are.

– Green Bay: Not really a surprise that the Packers lost 17-3 in Detroit because Brett Favre never plays well indoors. But this is a weak team with a bad offensive line, and Javon Walker was lost for the season with a torn ACL.

– San Diego: The 28-24 loss to Dallas wasn’t a huge upset. But it might have been avoided if the front office hadn’t played hardball with Antonio Gates and placed him on the suspended list. He surely could have been a factor when the Chargers had four cracks at the end zone from the Dallas 7 in the final minute.

– Oakland: The upside was Kerry Collins’ strong arm getting the ball deep to Moss against the Patriots. The downside is Collins’ propensity for turnovers under pressure. That’s what happened in the opening night loss to New England – he simply should have taken a sack on the game-turning play.

AP-ES-09-12-05 1711EDT

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