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Unquestionably the toughest job in today’s wide-open, throw-it-all-over-the-lot NFL is cover cornerback and safety. Outstanding so far have been Joe Haden in Cleveland, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas in Seattle, Alterraun Verner in Tennessee, Antonio Cromartie with the Jets, Aqib Talib in New England, rookie Eric Reid in San Francisco, and Mike Mitchell in Carolina.

BAD

Start with 2012 playoff qualifiers who have flopped, several of them spectacularly: Atlanta, Houston and Minnesota. Maybe the Vikings wouldn’t have made many Super Bowl lists, but the Falcons _ so close last January _ and Texans would have.

Now, they are in the mix for top-10 draft picks.

Baltimore was projected to take a step back from its Super Bowl form with so many defections on the field and leadership-wise. It’s been more like a pratfall.

Pittsburgh’s once-proud defense is, well, nothing to be proud of, a Steel Curtain torn asunder. The Giants lost their first six games _ yet still are a quasi-contender (more below) _ as Eli Manning turned into a turnover machine and the defense became a sieve.

Past top performers struggling this season range from Ravens QB Joe Flacco and New York’s Manning to running backs Ray Rice in Baltimore and Rashard Mendenhall in Arizona to receivers Mike Wallace in Miami, Hakeem Nicks with the Giants and Dwayne Bowe in Kansas City.

Even Adrian Peterson, last season’s MVP, has been mediocre, but he’s surrounded by _ what’s worse than mediocre?

UGLY

Saved this category for the 0-fers, the Buccaneers and Jaguars.

At least Jacksonville doesn’t seem dysfunctional like its Florida neighbor, even with WR Justin Blackmon’s recent suspension. It’s simply a lack of talent throughout the roster plaguing the Jags.

As for the Bucs, they were seconds away from winning their opener before a ludicrous penalty handed the Jets a win. They were up by three touchdowns against Seattle in Game 8 and blew it. There is turmoil in Tampa, with coach Greg Schiano’s job security virtually nonexistent.

The race is on for homeliest teams. First one to 16 losses, uh, wins.

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AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org