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(Sept. 22, 2005) -- Three weeks into the NFL season and only four teams have yet to suffer a loss -- the Colts, Bengals, Buccaneers and Redskins.

Indy's success is no surprise, having won the AFC South the past two years. But none of the other three made the playoffs in either of the past two seasons, posting a combined record of 19-29 in 2004.

So will these fast starts translate into playoff appearances? There's still a lot of football left between now and the end of the regular season, but our panel of experts debate which surprise unbeaten team could keep playing deep into January.


"The Buccaneers have the defense and running game to be considered as solid a playoff contender as there can be after only three games. Their greatest strength is the ability to stop the run, thanks to a consistently dominant front four that has one of the NFL's better tackle tandems in Anthony McFarland and Chris Hovan. Cadillac Williams is a rookie who runs like a veteran, with great vision, initial burst, surprising power for his smallish frame and plenty of moves to avoid a clean hit. Brian Griese complements both areas with efficient quarterbacking. The Bucs' biggest question mark is an offensive line with three first-year starters, but Jon Gruden is helping them in pass protection -- while also putting additional muscle into his ground attack -- with liberal use of two-tight end sets."


"The Cincinnati Bengals, because they are the real deal on offense with Carson Palmer poised to make his first Pro Bowl appearance this season. The Bengals offense can play with anybody. Palmer is the best quarterback in the AFC North and the Bengals defense has been designed to create turnovers. Barring any injuries to Palmer, the Bengals have all the ingredients to make a legitimate run at the playoffs."


"Of the three teams, Cincinnati, Washington and Tampa Bay all perched on top of their respective divisions with unblemished records, one stands out more than the other two teams. The Redskins only have two wins with a bye last week and a miraculous win over the Cowboys two weeks ago. They will have problems down the road if the offense doesn't get some balance and consistency. The Bengals have been building up the franchise for close to five years now and has talent at just about every offensive position. The Bengals defense is under the watchful eye of head coach Marvin Lewis and is steadily improving. I expect Cincinnati to make the playoffs this season and the Redskins to struggle to get in to the postseason. The team that has surprised me the most is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. No one thought Brian Griese was a quarterback to build an offense around. No one thought the defense had any gas left in its tank. And for sure, no one believed Cadillac Williams was going to be leading the league in rushing behind the Tampa Bay offensive line after three weeks. Cadillac, with his 434 yards on the ground at 4.9 yards per clip, two rushing touchdowns and five runs of 20 yards or more, is the catalyst for the 3-0 Buccaneers. I believe Tampa Bay was the team that most believed had no defense left on the field after 2004, an offense that would break down and a coach up against it with his fan base. None of those preseason presumptions meant a thing to the Bucs players and coaches as they have forged an unblemished record and significant growth in an offense to match their defense. I believe the Bucs are the biggest surprise undefeated team. No one predicted the Tampa Bay team would finish higher than last in the conference while the Bengals and Redskins have some self-induced pressure on them."


"Right away, when considering this question, the Bengals and Bucs leaped out ahead of the Redskins, mostly due to Washington's ongoing inconsistency on offense. Then you have to take into consideration strength of schedule and the strength of the rest of the division. Pittsburgh and Atlanta, respectively, remain the class of their divisions. However, Carson Palmer is quickly emerging as a star quarterback. He has an added advantage over Brian Griese because he has already learned how to utilize all his weapons. The Bengals have demonstrated offensive balance that will serve them well the entire season. As long as the defense plays on a high level, making plays and forcing turnovers, they will continue to provide the offense with a short field and scoring opportunities. I also still wonder if the Bucs will have enough steam to get through a highly competitive South."


"My team is Cincinnati. Historically, people say offense excites people but defense wins games. Last year, however, of the top 10-rated offensive teams, nine were in the playoffs. The only one that missed was Kansas City, which was the No. 1 ranked offense. Of the top 10 defenses, only five made the playoffs. With saying that, I like Cincinnati because it has a lot of offense, seems to have a good defense and the Bengals have what I like to call a pair and a spare -- a good starting quarterback and a solid backup in Jon Kitna. And they have Rudi Johnson at running back with Chris Perry backing him up, and they have good wide receivers and good backups. Their schedule is relatively favorable, too. Coming in at a close second would be Tampa Bay. The only difference I see right now is Tampa Bay is not as good on offense but better on defense, which probably evens things out. But the Buccaneers have the dreaded three road games in a row in December, the last one being a short week in which they have to go to New England. I think Washington has the defense but I'm not sure the Redskins have enough offense to get into the playoffs."


"Tampa Bay is awfully tough with the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Cadillac Williams, and a Super Bowl-caliber defense. But the NFC South division they play in, with Atlanta and Carolina, is tougher than Cincinnati's. Plus, how could anyone not be enamored with the former Bungles now? They are 3-0, with each of their victories coming by at least 13 points. They're now aiming for their first 4-0 start since their magical 1988 season, the last year Cincinnati advanced to the Super Bowl. And in previous seasons, Cincinnati's biggest problem has been its slow starts. But the Bengals already have taken care of that. Now, if they have another one of their patented fast finishes, the Bengals are playoff bound."


"Washington is only 2-0 so it's too soon to tell there. Cincinnati is playing well, but its Halloween costume uniforms look so ridiculous, the football gods are unlikely to smile upon this team. That seems to leave Tampa, which has impact players, determination and a coach who finally looks like an adult. Whatever else you think of Jon Gruden, his teams usually win."

5/7 for the bengals

VIC CARUCCI = brown homer so no lovin

GREGG EASTERBROOK=total jack ass idiot moron

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