- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 14, 2004

Five weeks into the season, it seems home field doesn’t matter much. Green Bay, Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Tennessee were as good as any teams at home the past seven years, compiling a collective 165-59 record. This year those same four teams are 0-9 at home. All told, home teams are just 38-36.

“This year is a strange year in a lot of ways,” said Chicago coach Lovie Smith, whose Bears are 0-2 at home but won at Green Bay for just the third time in 12 years. “But most of the good teams still win at home.”

Tell that to NFC West leader Seattle, which blew a late 27-10 lead and lost to visiting St. Louis last week. Or the Rams, who lost at home to New Orleans.

Kansas City, winless after losing at home to lightly regarded Houston, went to Baltimore and won. Atlanta won at Carolina but lost at home to Detroit, which had dropped a record 24 in a row on the road before this season. Naturally, the Lions are 2-0 on the road but 1-1 at home.

“I’m not sure it’s anything more than happenstance,” said Tennessee general manager Floyd Reese, whose Titans lost at home to Jacksonville but pounded the Packers on the road. “Early in the season, bad teams don’t know they’re bad yet, so these kind of things have a better chance of happening. I think this will all work itself out.”

Tampa Bay GM Bruce Allen agreed, saying road teams start losing when travel becomes more of a burden late in the season.

Perhaps, but when the Lions are perfect on the road and the Packers can’t win at Lambeau Field, something screwy is happening.

Whither parity? — All these road upsets are happening in a season when the NFL’s prized parity may not be what it once was. After five weeks in 1999, only eventual champion St. Louis was unbeaten and only the expansion Cleveland Browns were winless. Now three teams (defending champion New England, NFC runner-up Philadelphia and the New York Jets) are perfect and two (AFC East lightweights Miami and Buffalo, who meet Sunday) are winless.

This is the second straight season in which five teams have had zero victories or losses at this point.

It should be noted that the unheralded Jets are on the verge of the first 5-0 start in the franchise’s 45 seasons thanks to a schedule worthy of John Thompson: Cincinnati, Buffalo and San Francisco at home and San Diego and Miami on the road — with an off week to rest thrown in for good measure.

While the Jets stumbled to a 9-7 finish and missed the playoffs after their only other 4-0 start in 2000, this year should be different. The Jets should be favored in five of their next seven games after Sunday’s date with the 1-4 Niners. The only exceptions are next week’s rigorous test at New England and a visit to Baltimore on Nov.14.

New York’s final month (at Pittsburgh and Seattle and visits by Seattle and New England) is challenging, but by then the Jets could have wrapped up a playoff berth.

Quarterback Chad Pennington said the Jets weren’t as bad as their 6-10 record last year and are for real this season, but coach Herman Edwards doesn’t want his team to get too high about being unbeaten after Columbus Day.

“They’re not walking around here thinking that we’re some highly celebrated team,” Edwards said. “They know we have a lot of work still to do. But we’re not going to feel sorry about being 4-0. We’re not going to give any of them back.”

Deadline deals? — The NFL’s greatest all-time receiver, Jerry Rice, wants out of Oakland where he’s considered washed up at 42. Keenan McCardell, who has 724 catches in 12 seasons, is holding out in Tampa Bay. Baltimore, which lost out on Terrell Owens during the offseason, and Detroit, which lost wideout Charlie Rogers to a season-ending injury, need veteran receivers.

Rice’s former San Francisco coach, Steve Mariucci, now coaches the Lions. McCardell caught 78 passes for 903 yards in 12 games against the Ravens while with Jacksonville. Sounds like two trades that should be made before Tuesday’s deadline.

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