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SPF T.I. Poll (Week 3): Who Are You?

In any season, there is a moment where teams begin to show who they are.  After three games, our SPF teams are showing just that.

1.  Dallas Cowboys - The Cowboys took care of business on Sunday night against the Packers.  The Cowboys as a franchise had never won in Green Bay.  Check that one off the list.

You know things are good in the Cowboy's world when the Ft Worth paper is asking whether or not they can go undefeated.  Jerry Jones knows they should keep their eye on next week's opponent.

2.  Washington Redskins - The Redskins have begun to click in all areas.  Jim Zorn seems to fit nicely into the Snyder/Cerrato Redskins world.  The most important thing has been Zorn's effect on QB Jason Campbell.  Blowing a first round pick on a QB can set a franchise back for 3 to 5 years.  Zorn's specialty was QB development before he became the Skins' head coach.

After reading this Mike Wise piece on Zorn in the Washington Post, you can see how Redskin nation is warming up to the guy.

If Zorn can keep Snyder happy and keep winning, the Redskins will continue to sit towards the top.

3.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Bucs are our big movers.  SPF is on their bandwagon.  This team, from its defense to its QB to its mix of old and young, reflects Jon Gruden perfectly.

They can run when they need to run.  They can pass when they need to pass.  They always play above-average to great defense.  Gruden likes having options.  This team gives him that.

Brian Griese and RB Earnest Graham also give the Bucs to great "local" stories.  Griese's name is part of Florida football lore because of his father's time leading the Dolphins during their glory years.  Earnest Graham is a former Gator who worked his way up and plays with heart.

This team lies below most NFL radar screens, but SPF believes they will be competing for a Super Bowl berth in January 2009.

4.  Tennessee Titans - Compare last year's Falcons to this year's Titans.  Both had meltdowns at the QB position that cost them their starters.  The Titans are undefeated.  We all know what happened to the Falcons.

In no way are we comparing the circumstances of the Vince Young situation to Michael Vick's actions, but when teams lose key players of a high caliber things usually go wrong, very wrong.  Reading this David Climer column, the Titans have forged a thoughtful and effective approach to handling Vince Young, supporting him without undermining the team.

Chris Simms and Vince Young, Texas Longhorns and now Tennessee Titans Together

The beauty of Jeff Fisher's Titans is their ability to continue to move forward and play with intensity and emotion.  Like the Bucs, this team reflects their coach. 

In a year where the AFC has undergone a transition, the Titans appear to be a sleeper to make a Super Bowl run.  Their defense will keep them in any game, and their offense has enough playmakers to produce a consistent attack.

5.  Indianapolis Colts - The Colts aren't the same team they have been.  I guess everyone should give Peyton Manning a break.  For the first time in his career, off season surgery kept Manning from working with his offensive unit.  Combine that with the fact that several players are getting older (Marvin Harrison), and no one should be surprised that the Colts' offense is struggling.

The Colts are still a huge team for their region.  They have a new stadium with future Hall of Famers on the sidelines and under center.  However, this is also a team in transition.  They need to be making sure that they retool so that the second half of Manning's career isn't wasted.

6.  Miami Dolphins - Wow!  That's all the Dolphin faithful were looking for - signs of life.  This team has been left in the hands of coaches and players that appeared disinterested.  That is not an option for a team with the Dolphins' long track record of excellence.

Bringing in Bill Parcells was the first step.  The Big Tuna's ability to turn teams around remains rock solid.  There had to be an instant trust.

Beating the Pats on the field, becoming the team responsible for the bookend regular season losses of the Pats, brings a hint of Dolphins glory back.

Greg Cote comments that the Dolphins' offensive creativity gives fans a reason to cheer.  He's right.

These signs of life = hope.

7.  New Orleans Saints - Another game, another offensive barrage ending in a loss.  The Saints fall not only for their loss but due to the growing Deuce McAllister controversy.

It seems that McAlister isn't playing although he is technically active.  As reported here, Deuce might be one of the Saints most popular players ever because of his roots in the region.

Lost in all of this has to be the fantastic season that Drew Brees has been having.  Brees has been a credit to this team and its fans since his arrival.

Remember that the T.I. Poll bases itself on the value of each team's identity in the minds of their fans, their region, and the world at large.  Saints fans want to see one of their favorite players on the field.  The coach says he's not ready yet because of last season's injury.

So far, Deuce on the bench and two close losses are building into frustration.

8.  Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars (tie) - These two teams have the same problem.  They both have the potential to be Super Bowl contenders, but both have also been teasing their fans by stumbling in games they should win.

Nothing is more frustrating to fans than watching talent that appears to be mismanaged.  No one faults a coach when losses pile up due to a lack of talent.  It is very different when talent sputters and begins to fade.

These teams sit at a crossroads.  John Fox brought his team to a Super Bowl and has yet to come close to sniffing that glory again.  Jack Del Rio has consistently made a career of failing to meet expectations.

Fox's failure to field a consistent defensive attack seems to rise and fall with his initial draft choice, Julius Peppers.  The local UNC product came into the NFL like a ball of fire, but his production on the field in the last two years has people wondering if he has flamed out.

Del Rio inherited cornerstone defensive players and then saw his front office draft offensive talent again and again.  None of these players are his stars.  Is it Del Rio's fault or his GM's?

At least the Jags won last week against the Colts.  They had to. 

The Panthers couldn't seal the deal on the road versus the Vikes.

The bottom line with both teams is that their fans don't know what they have.  The fans do suspect that it should be more than what their seeing.

Uncertainty and disappointment are two attributes to stay away from in the fan building business.

10.  Atlanta Falcons - The Falcons remain a feel good story in 2008 reversing their utterly disasterous 2007 campaign.  If not for the years of ill will between their fan base and the team, the Falcons would be higher.

There is an understanding that the team is in good hands both in the front office, on the sideline, and under center.  That, my friends, is a foundation for future success.

The Falcons may never get to the upper half of the Poll in 2008, but 2009 could be a breakthrough year for the Falcons.

"Psst.. I Do Actually Know What I'm Doing, Matt.. AND I Call The Shots"

11.  Cincinnati Bengals - The Bengals finally showed a little something taking the Giants to overtime before losing.  Talk about underachieving.  This Bengals team has that and what appears to be a toxic mix in the locker room.

The Bengals were good in the 80's and part of the 90's, and then they were just plain bad.  Bad coaching, bad drafts, no talent.  This Bengals team seemed to revive themselves led by Marvin Lewis and Carson Palmer.  The fact that the core of this group is still intact and the Bengals are still sliding is incomprehensible.

They head into their twice a season battle with in state Cleveland on Sunday.  That's always something for their fans to hang their hat on.

12.  Houston Texans -  John McClain lays it out.  The Texans haven't captured the interest or the loyalty of old Oiler fans.  The new sheen of the Texans has long worn out, and Houstonians and Texans at large are left with a profitable product that engenders little emotion from a great potential base.  Here are a sample of the comments to McClain's story:

They're trying to market the loyalty that the Oilers earned but you can't buy it. That's a big turn off for many people including me like a fake smile of someone pretending to like you.

Thank you for laying the truth out on the table about the the lack of passion that many of us feel about the Texans....  Only way I see loyalty and passion for this team is by paying Bud Adams whatever it will take to purchase the powder blue uniforms and Oilers logo. And, it doesn't matter if VY turns out to be a bust or not. Picking him was always about creating passion, not just about Football. This franchise lacks personality- or I should say it has a terribly boring personality. I've hated the Cowgirls my entire life, but at least they are interesting.

We've (as the tax base) have given them along with the rodeo a stadium. We buy all their nfl licensed gear. We have over & over how "this will be a breakout year" "the Texans are poised to compete for the playoffs"', etc... It never fails, the Houston Texans end up stinking. We are worse than the Falcons!!! Sure, Bob McNair put up close to 800 million to bring us a NFL franchise, but since that day he has been banking big time. Forbes put the value of the Texans at more than a billion dollars. Why are we getting gouged with the parking, the concessions, the tickets, the tax breaks, the merchandice while being force fed a inferior product? It's time to tell Mr McNair & Co, no more, put up or shut up, we are tired of providing a lavish environment for losers.

The Houston Oilers had personality; they were real guys who made us love them even when they lost. It is that intangible something, which the Texans will never have. They are a corporate team.

Thanks, Houston sports fans.  You made SPF's point better than we could have.  To sum up, the fans have no passion for the team that has never had a winning season, yet the team is one of the most valuable in sports. 

Count the Texans as example #1 of why pro sports struggle in the Footprint.  The priorities (making money) are often contrary to the reason people watch sports (having a team that reflects the fans image of themselves).

13.  St. Louis Rams - The Rams are the only team that could keep the Texans out of the bottom spot.  However, the Rams might not even lie in the Footprint much longer.

This week marked the end of the Matt Millen regime in Detroit which was, quite simply, the worst tenure of any GM in the history of sports.  The amazing part about it was its longevity. 

However, it is important to realize that the Lions have been under one of the most ineffective owners in sports history.  This team has won only one playoff game since William Clay Ford bought the team in 1964.

Things brings into question everything about what is going on with the Rams.  Incompetent owners breed incompetent managers, but the Rams were one of the NFL's best teams until recently.  Just as the Rams were building an identity that made them part of the rich fabric of St Louis sports, ownership allowed Jay Zygmunt to start running the organization.

Since then, Zygmunt has run off a successful coach, overseen horrible drafts, and hired a coach clearly out of his league.  Bryan Burwell lays it all out in black and white as he and many others expect coach Scott Linehan's head on a platter before season's end.

Maybe it is just a case of the previous owner, the late Georgia Frontiere, allowing things to slip as he health did the same.  However, we suspect something more.

SPF continues to believe that the Rams ownership has a plan to move the Rams back to Los Angeles.  Once the Arizona Cardinals got a new stadium, no other team makes more sense than the Rams.  They came from LA barely a decade ago.

Jay Zygmunt has worked for the Rams since 1982.  He's started as their general council since he is a lawyer and accountant by trade.  How exactly was this man allowed to run a successful coach out of town and a good player-personal man (Charley Armey) into retirement?  Again, Zygmunt is a lawyer by trade.  He's paid to act on the wishes of his client.

The NFL needs to show revenue growth right now.  Moving the Rams back to LA into a brand new stadium is the best way to do that.  Their TV deals have kickers that increase fees if a team is in LA.

Remember that the St Louis lease only runs through 2012.

It's sad to see an organization do this to fans as good as the ones in St Louis, but we cannot believe this is happening by accident.

Scott Linehan, The Fall Guy In This Hustle


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