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First the bad news: When your team lost its opener this weekend, its run to the playoffs got a lot harder.

Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, teams that won their first game of the season have been twice as likely to make the playoffs as teams that lost. In the past 29 years, 69 percent of the playoff teams started 1-0.

In 2006, only three squads — the Giants, Cowboys and Chiefs — didn’t win their opener but made the playoffs. And none of them managed to make it past the first round.

Now the good news: Now that your team is 0-1, there’s a mere 93 percent of the season left for them to get it right.

While this weekend was the first time in seven months the games counted, they really didn’t count for much. Sure, the Lions beat up on the Raiders, but that one contest doesn’t promise 15 more successful ones. And the Cowboys probably won’t average 45 points a game this season, no matter how good they looked Sunday night.

Still, the first spate of games did give fans a few early hints of things this year to look forward to ... or start worrying about:

The NFC is still behind the AFC: The conferences split the four nonconference openers, but the Lions’ victory over the Raiders and Redskins winning at home against the Dolphins weren’t the ones contested between contenders.

On Thursday, the defending champion Colts dismantled the high-scoring Saints, holding the team that played in the NFC championship game last season without an offensive touchdown. And on Sunday the Chargers topped the Bears, scoring two late TDs to upend the NFC champs and their floundering offense.

Last season, AFC teams posted a 40-24 record in games against NFC opponents, and the Colts beat the Bears in the Super Bowl: the sixth AFC champion in seven years. So far, there’s no sign that trend is going to end.

New England looks really good: And you can add the Patriots to the list of AFC teams that look clearly better than anything the NFC has to offer.

Everyone expected impressive work from New England’s revamped offense and reinforced defense. So when the Patriots’ special teams surprised the Jets with an NFL-record 108-yard kickoff return at the start of the second half on Sunday, the team’s embarrassment of riches seemed even more lopsided.

Wideout Randy Moss shined in his debut, catching nine passes for 183 yards and a touchdown, and Tom Brady posted a near-perfect 147.5 quarterback rating leading the offense. On defense, the Patriots not only collected five sacks but also knocked Jets QB Chad Pennington out of the game in the third quarter.

If the team plays that well against San Diego on Sunday night, the rest of the AFC East might already be sizing up the wild-card competition and conceding another division title to the defending champs.

The Falcons could be in real trouble: Joey Harrington threw two touchdown passes on Sunday in his debut replacing Michael Vick. Unfortunately, both were to Vikings defenders.

The team’s opener, a 24-3 drubbing in Minnesota, didn’t look much better to Atlanta fans than the soap opera offseason they endured following Vick’s involvement with dogfighting.

The Falcons never got close to the end zone, scoring their only points on a 45-yard fourth-quarter field goal (just a few minutes after missing another three-point attempt.) The normally potent running game failed to reach 100 total yards, something that happened only once all of last year, and Harrington’s 61.8 QB rating hardly made up the difference.

Of the Falcons next six games, five are against teams who posted .550 or better records of .500 or above nextlast year. Heading into their Week 8 bye without a victory doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch.

New Fantasy blog

The NFL games have just started, but for fantasy football owners the season is already in full swing.

How does your fantasy team look this year? Need advice on who to start or who to trade? Send your questions to football@stripes.osd.mil and we’ll feature them on Stripes’ new fantasy football blog so your fellow military fantasy buffs can help you get to the top of your league.

And be sure to visit the fourm at http://blogs.stripes.com/blogs/football for tips and tricks each week during the season.

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