As the 2009 season matriculates down the field, it's time to change the parameters for the Desperation Index. Gone are the teams who are what we thought they were (Lions, Rams, Browns) and those hopefuls whose horrible starts have taken them out of the picture (Titans, Buccaneers). Now, it's about teams in the middle of the pack, clawing for some kind of positioning in division races. Note: Since nothing short of winning out will keep the Cowboys and Redskins off the Desperation list in many different ways, we'll just assume their presence on this list, at a constant 10.0, until they transcend their limitations or become engulfed by them.
Desperation Index: 10
Carolina Panthers (1-3) -- Only a comeback win over the aforementioned 'Skins kept the Panthers from a trip to Bolivion. Now, the Panthers travel to Tampa Bay for what used to be a smashmouth NFC South go-to and is now a sad-sack back-and-forth. Last time these two teams met, the Panthers put up a team-record 299 rushing yards up on what was thought to be a great Tampa Bay defense, and the Bucs haven't won since. If the Panthers lose this game, you won't see them on this list again -- they'll be out of the picture.
Desperation Index: 9.0
Seattle Seahawks (2-3) -- If the Seahawks beat the Cardinals at home, they'll go into their bye week at .500, tight in the NFC West, and ready to welcome linebacker Leroy Hill(notes) and Marcus Trufant(notes) back from injury. If they lose, they'll need the kind of uphill climb several Seattle execs and Seahawks front office types had with Roger Goodell in July.
San Diego Chargers (2-2) -- Nobody expected the Denver Broncos to start the season 5-0, least of all the Chargers. There will be no 8-8 AFC West winner as there was last season, and if the Bolts drop this game, they won't be there at the end in any case.
Jacksonville Jaguars/Houston Texans (2-3 each) -- Two AFC South teams coming off frustrating losses to NFC West teams -- the Texans couldn't get in the end zone late against Arizona, and the Jags were destroyed by the Seahawks. This week, the Texans travel to Cincinnati to take on the resurgent Bengals, and the Jags welcome the St. Louis Slumpbusters to Jacksonville Muni. The team losing this week's game will be three games back of the dominant (and bye-rested) Colts, which is not the place to be right now.
Desperation Index: 8.0
New York Jets/Baltimore Ravens (3-2 each) -- What a difference Rex Ryan makes? Well, maybe. The two most recent defenses coached by Buddy's #1 Son have lost two straight and are showing uncharacteristic vulnerabilities: The Ravens' pass defense has holes where there haven't been before, and the Saints and Dolphins have shown that the one way to beat Ryan's complex blitzes is to run right at them. The Bills come to Giants Stadium, and the Ravens have to deal with a Minnesota team, at home, firing on all cylinders.