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Strange NFL season not going nearly as expected

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The National Football League's regular season just passed the halfway point, and nothing is going the way it was supposed to.

The whole thing has gone off script.

The can't-miss teams are missing.

The can't-win teams are winning.

There's only one remaining unbeaten team, and it's — huh? — the Titans.

The ne'er-do-well Cardinals are doing well. They're in first place in their division — by four games.

And hell will freeze over.

The Cardinals have had one winning season in the last 20 years. How have they managed a 6-3 record? Well, it helps that the other three teams in their sad division are all 2-7.

This was supposed to be the year of the Cowboys and Chargers. The Cowboys are in last place in their division with a 5-4 record; the Chargers are 4-5.

Makes you wonder what Marty Schottenheimer is thinking. The Chargers have never been the same since firing him after a 14-2 season two years ago.

Young guns/former No. 1 draft picks Matt Leinart, Vince Young and Alex Smith are on the sidelines; old guys Kurt Warner, Kerry Collins, Gus Frerotte and Brett Favre have led their teams to at least a share of first place.

Tom Brady is out; Matt Cassell, who hadn't started a game since high school, has put the Patriots back in first place, tied with the New York Jets.

Do you think they're sweating this out in Green Bay, which, after producing a 13-3 record under Favre last year, is now 4-5?

It's out with the new, in with the old. Warner is 37 and ranks second in the league in passing yards. He beat out party boy and Heisman winner Leinart for the starting job.

Jeff Fisher, the most underrated coach in the league, had the guts to replace the much (prematurely) celebrated Young with the 35-year-old Collins, and all he has done is supervised the Titans' 9-0 start, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Both Warner and Collins had been relegated to backup roles after reaching Super Bowls earlier in their careers, and now they've enjoying late-career encores.

Under the 39-year-old Favre, the Jets have gone from 4-12 last year to 6-3, and Minnesota made the 37-year-old Frerotte the starter over the young Tavaris Jackson and is now tied for first in the division race.

Seeing all this from his armchair, 40-year-old Jeff George wondered aloud the other day why no one has signed him. Still no word yet from Bart Starr or Joe Montana.

But we did hear from Daunte Culpepper, who came out of retirement last week and started for the desperate and winless Detroit Lions. He completed 5-of-10 passes for 104 yards, one interception and two sacks in a 38-14 loss to Jacksonville. Which proves that sitting on the couch at home is not the same as training camp.

The Miami Dolphins, who won one game last season, are 5-4 with a team that Bill Parcells completely overhauled, bringing in nearly 30 new players.

We should probably expect this from Parcells by now. The Cowboys were 6-10 the year before he took over as coach; he was 10-6 in his first year. The Jets went from 1-15 before Parcells to 9-7 in his first season as coach, followed by a berth in the AFC championship game in his second season. The Patriots went from 2-14 before Parcells arrived to 5-11 in Parcells' first season and 10-6 in his second season. He took them to the Super Bowl in his fourth season. Parcells also guided the Giants, 4-5 when he arrived, to the Super Bowl in his fourth season.

After their franchise quarterback, Mike Vick, was taken to jail, the Falcons figured to have a long rebuilding process. Instead, after a 4-12 season a year ago, they're 6-3 and better than they ever were with Vick in the lineup. Their new quarterback: rookie Matt Ryan.

How weird has this season been so far? After utterly botching the preparation of former No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith, the Niners have started two former NFL Europe players, J.T. O'Sullivan and Shaun Hill, at football's most crucial position. Somehow, they have won two games.

Stay tuned for the rest of the season.

E-mail: drob@desnews.com