The Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions find themselves in similar situations entering their game today in Rich Stadium.
Both have spent the early part of the season trying to develop a new identity while walking a very fine line between being a genuine playoff contender and an also-ran.
Both also see a chance to grab a victory before facing the top team in their respective divisions on the road next week -- 4-0 New England for the Bills, 5-0 Tampa Bay for the Lions.
"You could consider those first four games a growing stage," defensive end Phil Hansen said of Buffalo's 2-2 start. "If we're going to be there come the playoffs, we've got to mature and we've got to keep moving forward as a team. We're not where we need to be yet."
The Bills had a bye to help them digest their wild 37-35 victory over Indianapolis on Sept. 21. Although they were pleased with the outcome, they continue to be concerned with how poorly they played in digging themselves a 26-0 hole in the first half. The season-long trend of slow starts has resulted in the Bills' being outscored in the first quarter, 23-0.
The 3-2 Lions -- with their many offensive weapons and a defense that has produced big plays -- aren't likely to surrender a big lead as easily as the winless Colts did.
"We have to play with the same type of intensity at the beginning of the game as we do at the end," defensive end Bruce Smith said. "The first half (against the Colts), we didn't do a thing right. Thank God it didn't cost us a loss."
The Lions are coming off their most impressive performance of the season in beating the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, 26-15, last Sunday. They are hoping to use the win to launch them into the thick of the NFC Central race while avoiding the same type of collapse they suffered three years ago when, after upsetting the then-Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys, they suffered three straight losses.
New Lions coach Bobby Ross told his players they are in a "crap shoot" that will determine the rest of their season.
"Right now Tampa Bay is 5-0 and the next three teams in our division are all 3-2," Ross said. "And you don't start talking about races this early unless you're in it and you've got a chance. And we are."
The Bills Saturday waived rookie wide receiver Mitchell Galloway and activated wideout Jerry Reese from their practice squad. They also added tight end Tony Cline to their inactive list.