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There is nothing quite like an 0-2 start in the NFL to knock a team back down to earth. I know. It happened to the best team in football last year.

The thing that hurts a talented team that starts 0-2 is that during the course of the season, they're going to sustain injuries that will cost them games. That happened to Dallas in Atlanta and, to some extent, against Miami. The 0-2 start really reduces the margin for error late in the season.But what worked in the Cowboys' favor was the knowledge that no team had ever won the Super Bowl after an 0-2 start. It gave them more determination to be totally prepared each week. Even more important, they had a reason, or excuse -whatever you choose to call it - for being 0-2: Dallas didn't have Emmitt Smith. When he signed a contract in time for their third game, it gave the Cowboys a lift that none of this week's 0-2 teams will be able to enjoy.

As for the teams that aren't of championship caliber, an 0-2 start completely wrecks any off-season gains in confidence. It creates a mindset of "here we go again."

This week, seven teams are coping with 0-2 starts. Some still have playoff hopes. For others, it's only going to get worse.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos have been a good team that last few years, but not a championship team. So they're fighting an uphill battle and an even bigger battle because of their poor defense. All of their off-season moves were made to improve their offense, and that was a mistake. I think they would be marginal as far as their chances to rebound and make the playoffs.

Los Angeles Raiders

A team I picked to get to the Super Bowl, and a team picked by a lot of others as well, has had an awful start. I feel like the Raiders still will make the playoffs, but their defense is not as strong as people perceived. In the defensive line, Howie Long's retirement, Scott Davis' departure and Greg Townsend's escape to Philadelphia have taken a toll.

Their lack of a running game has kept them from having anything to fall back on if they're not hitting the big pass plays. At this early stage, the loser of the Raiders-Broncos game on Sunday will be facing odds they may not be able to overcome.

Houston Oilers

The Oilers' biggest problem is that they have major questions at quarterback. Their best chance to remain a playoff team was with a quarterback who's now in Minnesota. Cody Carlson is not only suspect, but injury-prone. Although Bucky Richardson is a team favorite and a scrapper, he doesn't have the talent to be a starter in this league.

The Oilers may make the playoffs, but only because they play in the NFL's worst division.

Cincinatti Bengals

The Bengals were a bad team when they started the season. They will be a bad team at midseason. In all probability, they will be a bad team when the season is over.

New England Patriots

I felt like the Patriots would make significant improvements this year. I still think that will be the case. The surprise is that their defense has kept them from winning despite a No. 1-ranked offense that has scored 70 points in two games. Drew Bledsoe is an outstanding young quarterback, and a team coached by Bill Parcells will not be poor on defense for long.

New Orleans Saints

I thought the Saints would be better this year because Jim Mora is a quality coach. Apparently, their losses of linebackers Ricky Jackson and Vaughn Johnson, and others, have dropped them below the quality-team level.

One interesting point about the Saints is that part of their past defensive success came from a conservative, ball-control offense that has frequently been criticized. Opening up the offense for Jim Everett has had a negative effect on the defense, because the Saints rank only 27th in time of possession.

Arizona Cardinals

I said before the season that Buddy Ryan's Cardinals will be a major disappointment early, but will be a force once the transition is made and everyone is on Buddy's page. By midseason, they'll be one of the better teams in the league. But the division they play in may prevent them from overcoming this disappointing start and from reaching the playoffs.