On a Sunday on which a number of teams were able to awaken from their nightmarish early season, the St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints continued to hit the snooze button.

The Chicago Bears kept from falling further behind in the NFC North by handing the Green Bay Packers their first loss of the season on Sunday night, and San Diego handed Denver its worst home loss of the last 40 years, a 41-3 drubbing that got the Chargers back on a winning track.

The Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals all climbed above .500 to keep them close to their division rivals.

The Rams and Saints, preseason playoff picks, had chances to get their first victories of the season on Sunday but fell yet again, this time late in close contests that have to make their winless starts even more painful.

Now, fans of those preseason playoff picks – and the Miami Dolphins (0-5) – have to be wondering whether a slow September will slide all the way into November, and whether the playoffs are already out of reach.

The Rams’ loss was their third at home already and came at the hands of one of the city’s football heroes: Cardinals backup QB Kurt Warner, who led the Rams to a Super Bowl victory.

Warner tossed three touchdown passes after starter Matt Leinart was injured in a game that featured six lead changes. Arizona held on for a 34-31 victory.

Rams QB Marc Bulger, RB Steven Jackson and WR Issac Bruce all missed the game, and might not play in upcoming weeks against the Ravens and Seattle Seahawks either.

The Saints’ loss seemed especially cruel. They collected more yards passing and rushing than the Carolina Panthers, but bad luck and bad ball protection cost them their first victory.

Drew Brees had two touchdown passes called back by the referees (one for a holding penalty, the other on a Panthers’ challenge) and added two to his interception total. For the year, he has had nine intercepted against only one touchdown pass.

Despite that the Saints still had a shot to win, but missed a 54-yard field goal with two minutes left and surrendered the game-winning 52-yarder a few moments later.

The Dolphins lost in similar fashion. QB Trent Green was knocked out in the first quarter, and Houston’s Kris Brown kicked three 50-yards-plus field goals, including a 57-yarder as time expired.

Next week the Dolphins face the Cleveland Browns, perhaps their best chance to get a victory before November. The following weeks feature games against the still-undefeated New England Patriots and resurgent New York Giants before an off week.

The Rams will get the Browns too, but not until after games against the Ravens and Seahawks. The Saints have the easiest upcoming schedule of the three winless squads, with games against the Atlanta Falcons in two weeks and the San Francisco 49ers the following Sunday, but with their inability to score, even those look like tough matchups.

At least both of the NFC’s winless teams have one winnable game in early November to look forward to: The Rams and Saints play Nov. 11 in the Superdome. Whoever drops that game might have to start looking forward to the No. 1 draft pick in April.

[CALENDAR]Looking ahead:[/CALENDAR] It’s only early October, but next weekend’s games already have major implications for January’s playoffs.

The headline game for Sunday is the Patriots-Cowboys contest in Dallas, a pairing of the AFC’s best against the NFC’s top squad. Both teams are averaging more than 30 points a game, and neither looks like it has faced a real test so far this season.

The surprising Packers (4-1) square off against the surprising Washington Redskins (3-1) in a game to decide which was overachieving and which has an early lead for a playoff berth. Both the Packers’ offense and Redskins’ defense have been impressive, as expected, but the Washington offense and Green Bay defense so far have been key to their respective records.

The Oakland Raiders travel to San Diego with the AFC West lead, even though their 2-2 record hardly puts them among the league’s elite. Still, the Chargers need to win just to climb to .500 on the season, and a loss would give the Raiders an early edge for their first playoff berth since 2002.

For AFN’s schedule of replays from last Sunday’s games and plans for next Sunday’s NFL action, visit the fantasy football blog on each Tuesday.

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