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SPF T.I. Poll (Week 2): Consistency, Both Good and Bad

1.  Dallas Cowboys -  Our recent SPF review of Jeff Pearlman's book on the Cowboys of the 1990's called Boys Will Be Boys shows how this latest era in Cowboys history might possibly be even bigger that that one which generated three Super Bowl wins and several Hall of Famers.  Players and coaches like Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, Qade Phillips, and Jason Garrett perfectly mix the wildness of the 90's Cowboys with the respect of the Tom Landry era.

To fit our theme of consistency, it was never a question of "if" but "when" that team would implode.  This newer version of Jerry Jones and his Cowboys seem to have found a sense of consistency amidst personnel and coaching changes that are the norm in today's NFL.

All they need to do is win a Super Bowl, which is always easier said than done.

This year's NFC East is a battle royale and the Cowboys are leading the pack.  Randy Galloway says last Monday's game home win shootout against Philly upped everything a few notches.  Everyone hates the Cowboys, and they aren't too fond of their division mates either.

2.  Washington Redskins - Speaking of teams that hate the Cowboys, the Skins stole a game from the Saints and stole their #2 spot in the TI Poll.   Thomas Boswell points out the magnitude of this win.  It showed that Jim Zorn can coach, Jason Campbell can play QB when it counts, and that the Redskins can win big home games against good teams.  The fact that the Skins are considered the worst team in the NFC East is a sign of how good this division is.

Of course, that's why they play the games.  After years of mismanagement under Daniel Snyder, this year's team most closely reflects the vision of Snyder.  He remains hands-on, but he likes his coach and his players.  If he finally gets the mix right, the Redskins will remain towards the top of our poll.

In other words, our word of the week - consistency - remains Snyder's only challenge.

3.  Indianapolis Colts - The Colts aren't the same team as they have been in the past few years, but Peyton Manning's still good.  

This year's Colts is starting to remind us of the post-SB Favre era in Green Bay.  Having a great QB keeps your team in the race.  Favre would will that team into the playoff picture year after year.  Manning has begun to have that same effect on the Colts.

When Manning retires, he will have (a) made pro football meaningful in basketball country, (b) won a Super Bowl, and (c) likely broken every NFL passing record. 

Not a bad resume, huh?

4.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Is Brian Griese finally home?  Jon Gruden's best days with the Raiders were with a former journeyman at QB, Rich Gannon.  Although the supposed right way of doing thing in the NFL has teams picking young QBs and developing them, Gruden seems to prefer finding battle-tested QBs whose experience gives them an edge.  Has he found another gem with Griese?

The reality is that Gruden is blessed with an amazing defense in Tampa.  This Tampa Tribune article shows what kind of defensive machine they run in Tampa, from the scouting to the coaches.  The consistency of this team lies in its D. 

Bucs DC Monte Kiffin Confers with his Long-Tenured Defensive Leader, Derrick Brooks

If Gruden can ever find that same consistency on offense, the Bucs will be a tough team to beat.  The fans have been skeptical of Gruden since his expertise is offense, but the results have still been good.  Considering how many lackluster coaches roam the sidelines, it amazes us that Gruden continues to operate under scrutiny, even with a Super Bowl on his resume.

The growing relationship between Gruden and Griese is one to watch.  If these two can keep their magic going, the Bucs might just have another run in them - right to a hometown Super Bowl in early 2009.

5.  Tennessee Titans - The Titans are 2-0 and Kerry Collins is managing the game for their incredible defense.  This team will stay below the radar all season, but they are very, very good.  Fisher likes it that way.  The recent Vince Young controversy did nothing to phase them, just like Pacman Jones never hurt them.

Jeff Fisher's brilliance lies in his consistency.  His demeanor, his approach, his strategies never waver.  Fisher has even brought consistency to owner Bud Adams who used to be defined by quick coaching hooks.   For those that have followed Adams over the years, the fact that Jeff Fisher is the NFL's longest tenured coach is nothing short of miraculous and speaks volumes about his abilities.

This year's Titan team has a real shot to make some noise in the AFC.  The Colts and the Patriots have come back to the pack.  They already have a win over the Jags, continuing to have that team's number.

If Phil Fulmer and the Vols keep struggling, a good Titan season could make even further inroads around the state of Tennessee.

6.  New Orleans Saints - Here's our first victim of bad or in-consistency:  our lovable Saints.  After watching Reggie Bush score on a punt return, the Saints slowly but surely let the Redskins take them game from them.  While we can't bury the Saints for losing on the road to a solid Washington squad, that result makes it hard for SPF to believe that the Saints are Super Bowl ready.

Maybe they need to run Deuce McAllister more.  They definitely need to be able to hold a lead like they had last week.   That usually starts with running the ball and playing good defense.

As the NFC South continues to improve, the Saints can't sleep and give away games to anyone.  They did it last year and were never able to get out of that early season hole. 

LSU pulled out a fine win in Auburn last night.  They should be the Saints focus - build and feed your fan base like LSU does with theirs.  If the Saints can do that, we expect them to rise in our Poll.

7.  Carolina Panthers - Steve Smith clears the air, and John Fox wins his team back.  This piece of early season news makes Carolina's NFC South foes shiver.  Fox's brand of football at its best reminded Panther fans of the Joe Gibbs era Redskin teams that they were weened on meaning that they beat people in the trenches, grind up down, then throw over the top when your opponent least expects it.

With Bill Cowher sitting over in Raleigh not doing a thing to prevent rumors from flying about his interest in the Panther job, John Fox knew that 2008 was a huge year for him.

The consistency that great line play brings seems to have returned... just in time.

8.  Miami Dolphins - SPF believes that the Dolphins are on the right road, but they are miles from their ultimate destination - winning.  The Wayne Huizenga years suffered from a revolving door for coaches and personnel.  Bill Parcells will make a difference, but all the 2008 Dolphins are showing is how indicative their 1-15 record last year really was.

The Dolphins absolutely must find their next star.  If he resides on their roster now (perhaps Chad Henne?), make it a priority that he begin to emerge.  All the biggest names most recently associated with the Dolphins are off in greener pastures (Jimmy Johnson and Dan Marino on TV while Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor play on other SPF contenders).

With even Parcells comfortably tucked away in a luxury boxes rather than on the sidelines, this franchise needs to find its new face. 

(No, it can't be Ricky Williams no matter how well he plays.)

Future Dolphin Star??

9.  Atlanta Falcons - Ok, the Falcons came back to earth.  They still have a ways to go.  The NFC South will hand them 5 more losses.  As long as they compete and Matt Ryan improves each week, their 2008 mission will be accomplished.

10.  Houston Texans - Playing with roof open for the rest of the season after Hurricane Ike ripped its way through H-Town.  Maybe this team needs a little real adversity.  It's good group, but there is no fire in the belly.

We can't kick a team when their down.  We are hopeful that in Ike's wake the Texans will find themselves.


The Post-Ike Roof at Reliant

11.  Jacksonvile Jaguars - 0-2 with a loss to Tennessee.  The Jaguars have let two games slip away.  The NFL doesn't have room for do-overs.  It is time for David Garrard, Jack Del RIo and his staff, and this entire organization to start winning games they are supposed to win.

The Falcons should take note that their lightly regarded hire of Mike Smith might be even better than advertised.  This year's Jag D doesn't look nearly as ferocious under the supposed genius tandem of Del Rio and DC Gregg Williams.  Despite all of the attention on O-line injuries, the Jags' D let both the Titans and the Bills (neither are offensive juggernauts) move the ball at critically bad times that lost each respective game.

Remember, Jack - pre-season love does not a contender make.  Just take warning from the team that follows you this week.

(BTW, is it time to admit that Wayne Weaver should have never fired Tom Coughlin?)

12.  Cincinnati Bengals - Marvin Lewis!  Carson Palmer!  The Bengals are back!

The Bengals have become the NFL's latest cautionary tale.  Built on sand (bad defense and too many mercurial offensive stars), the Bengals have fallen to the bottom rung of the NFL once again.

Mike Brown's consistent incompetence running the Bengals stands out in a league where strong and effective ownership has become the norm.

Marvin Lewis must and will go by season's end.  The only problem is that Lewis remain Mike Brown's best hire in his long track record of selecting Bengals' coaches.

The only hope would be turning this team over to Bill Cowher right now.  Fire Lewis.  Hire Cowher as a consultant.  This seems over the top, but the money Brown will spend on Cowher will seem cheap over the long haul.

Too bad Brown would never make such an intelligent decision.

13.  St Louis Rams - The question for the 2008 Rams is not whether the season or Scott Linehan's job can be saved.  The question has become whether NFL football in St Louis can be saved.

If the NFL still believes that LA should have a team, the Rams are the perfect candidate.  Ownership is in flux.  A new stadium is needed.  St Louis has never been an NFL town.

The eerie silence in St Louis bodes poorly for the Rams' future there.  This season of consistent awfulness appears to be etched in stone.  Any Rams' fans left in St Louis will be twisting in the wind.

If ever there was a perfect storm for a move, this team is it.

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Mercenary Territory,
Southern Pro Football,
New Orleans,
North Carolina,

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