When San Francisco coach Mike Nolan said several times over the summer that he felt the 49ers could win the NFC West, he had to be taken with a grain of salt.
After all, even in taking over a 2-14 team with severe personnel deficiencies, no coach can enter a season writing off his team's playoff chances. And outside of the 49ers and perhaps a small handful of other teams, nearly everyone enters the 2005 season with a legitimate shot to be a postseason contender in the parity-driven NFL.
Another new coach trying to instill a new attitude in his team is Nick Saban in Miami. In an AFC East division that contains two-time reigning Super Bowl champion New England, the Super Bowl hopeful New York Jets and a young, talented Buffalo team, the Dolphins figure to face an uphill battle this season.
"I don't believe we're a 4-12 team," said Saban of the Dolphins, which finished with that record in 2004. "I believe we're a lot better than that. But we have to do some things to go out and prove it."
Five of the 12 playoff teams last season did not reach the postseason the previous year, and three of the past five Super Bowl champions didn't make the playoffs the year before.
Much of that trend can be attributed to parity. When teams rise up from the depths, they typically do it against a weaker schedule. Then the following season, when expectations have grown, life can be much more difficult against a playoff schedule.
San Diego went from worst to first in the AFC West last year, but was 1-5 against playoff teams and 2-5 against winning teams. This year's schedule appears much more difficult, but coach Marty Schottenheimer is still looking forward with high expectations.
"I like our football team," Schottenheimer said. "I like the makeup of it, the personality that the players have."
Of course, 31 teams are trying to chase down one dominant franchise. While New England has won three of the past four Super Bowls, coach Bill Belichick doesn't want to hear about a Patriots "dynasty."
"I'll leave the comparisons and historical perspectives to everyone else," said Belichick. "We'll start the season at the bottom of the heap with everyone else -- same record and all trying to get to the same point."
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Around the League - Monday, Sept. 5, 2005
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