— For the teams that lost in Week 1, there was no reason for panic. For those that also fell in Week 3, hope was still not lost. But the franchises now sitting at 0-3 have plenty of reasons to worry.
Sure, 13 games remain. Recent history, however, tells us that 10 wins might be needed to get into the playoffs, especially in the top-heavy AFC. Last year, for example, an 11-5 mark from the Patriots wasn't enough to secure a playoff spot.
Though it remains to be seen whether a similar cluster of quality teams logjams the wild-card field in the AFC this time around, the winless teams in the conference (Dolphins, Titans, Browns, Chiefs) could generate 11-2 records over the remainder of the season — and still stay home.
So let's look at the teams (winless and otherwise) that could be panicking, and then consider whether they should.
1. Tennessee Titans (0-3)
Since starting last season 13-2, the Titans have now lost five games in a row.
The best shot at breaking the streak comes Sunday at Jacksonville, but even with a blowout win it's hard to imagine the Titans engineering the kind of turnaround necessary to secure a playoff berth.
The real question is whether the Titans put the ball back in Vince Young's hands in an effort to determine whether he should remain on the roster in 2010.
The time for asking that question could be coming sooner than anyone realizes.
So, yes, the Titans should be panicking; both at the prospect of not making the playoffs, and at the possibility of Young playing again.
2. Miami Dolphins (0-3)
Unlike the Titans, Miami already has commenced the 2010 pre-preseason. Chad Henne is the future at quarterback, and the balance of 2009 will be used to get him ready.
The good news arising from the nightmarish start to the season is that expectations have once again plummeted, allowing the team to go about its business without the weight of South Florida on its shoulders.
The 2008 Dolphins grossly overachieved, and now they're experiencing a correction.
The Dolphins, then, should not be panicking. It's already over for them.
3. Cleveland Browns (0-3)
The panic in Cleveland is coming from the coaching staff, where Eric Mangini could end up being one-and-done, if he even makes it to the end of the year.
There's no reason for the Browns to panic, since they weren't expected to do anything, other than lose games.
There's no way this team will make it to the playoffs, unless Mangini goes sooner rather than later and his replacement finds a way to get more out of the roster than the sum of its parts would suggest.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (0-3)
There's no reason to panic because this team is going nowhere fast, especially with the Giants and Cowboys coming to town the next two weeks.
This isn't the 2004 season. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the schedule doesn't soften up until November.
By then, there won't be anyone at their home games to notice if they happen to win.
5. Carolina Panthers (0-3)
The Panthers have a week off to prepare for their best chance to date to get a win — a Week 5 visit from the Redskins.
Even with a win, it's likely too late to get this thing back on the right track. The rest of the season would be a great opportunity to develop a young quarterback with potential.
If only they had one.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3)
In Tampa, the prevailing sense isn't panic. It's resignation.
There's a chance that, one year after the Lions managed to trump Tampa's "accomplishment" from 1976, the Bucs could be on the road to matching the Lions' "feat."
Indeed, based on the Buccaneers' remaining schedule, there isn't a single game in which they'll be favored.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2)
The year after winning Super Bowl 40, the Steelers won the opening-night game at home, and then lost three in a row.
Then they won another game. And then lost three more in a row.
This time around, they won the opener and now have dropped two. Sunday night's game against the Chargers is critical.
Win, and the Steelers are right back in the thick of things at 2-2. Lose, and it might be very hard to keep pace with the Ravens and the Bengals with a 1-3 record.
While it's not yet time to panic, the clock might strike 12 for the Steelers right about the time the clock strikes 12 Sunday night.
8. Washington Redskins (1-2)
Regardless of whether they should or shouldn't panic, their fans already are in full-blown fret-and-sweat mode. And the team should be panicking, too.
They're already in the basement of the best division in the league, staring up at the 3-0 Giants and the 2-1 Eagles and Cowboys.
The good news? The Redskins have a chance to rack up some wins and build some confidence over the next three weeks, with games against teams that are a combined 0-9 (Bucs, Panthers, Chiefs).
Win them all, and there might be hope. Lose two or more, and it's over.
9. Arizona Cardinals (1-2)
It's not a surprise the Cardinals are struggling. Last year, they were 3-7 in games played outside the NFC West. With the 49ers improving, it'll be an uphill climb to win the division again.
Meanwhile, it appears that teams have figured out how to cover the wideouts long enough to prevent aging-before-our-eyes quarterback Kurt Warner from getting rid of the ball quickly.
So, yes, the Cardinals have fallen. And they won't be getting up.
10. Seattle Seahawks (1-2)
Last year, the Seahawks arguably would have contended for the NFC West crown had a rash of injuries not gotten in the way.
This year, the Seahawks' efforts to contend for the division crown are being impeded by another rash of injuries.
Seattle started strong, with a shutout of the Rams. Since then, they've moved in the other direction. And with a trip to Indy on the docket for Sunday, 1-3 is in the team's immediate future.
The season could come down to the final two games before the bye: home games against the Jaguars and the Cardinals.
Win both, and there's hope. Lose both, and it's over.
Lose one, and it's likely over, too.