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SPF T.I. Poll (Week 8): Halfway Home

1.  Dallas Cowboys - They pulled off a critical victory against the Bucs last Sunday.  It was ugly, but that's how it goes sometimes.  A win is a win.  The Cowboys can't afford to be worried about style points right now.

They continue to entertainment and amaze with their sheer interest value.  Only the Cowboys could turn the Brad Johnson/Brooks Bollinger debate into front page headlines around the NFL.  Everywhere else it would rightfully be seen as a choice between the rubber chicken and the mystery meat stew on a cross country airline trip.

With the Giants looming, each week is critical for the Cowboys.  The flash is gone right now.  People are waiting to see if there is any substance underneath the glitz.


"I told Wade.  It's not about age.  It's about still having the moves!  Bring on Brooks!"

2.  Tennessee Titans - The Titans are reaching new heights in the T.I. Poll and just about any measurement of greatness.  Jeff Fisher's second squad, the first being the Super Bowl team that came up short against the Rams, looks to be his best ever.  The scheme is the same (great defense, bruising offense), but the talent is deeper.

The Titans appear to have the AFC South well in hand after their MNF win against the Colts.  Each week at this point becomes their case that they are amongst the NFL's best teams.

One would think that being the only undefeated team would already make that case, but there are many non-believers out there.  Let's not forget that ESPN's Sal "Blowhard" Paolantonio named Jeff Fisher the most overrated coach in the NFL.

3.  Washington Redskins - Jim Zorn continues to be a revelation as head coach.  Unlike so many WCO coaches, he adapted his scheme to fit the Joe Gibbs, smash mouth personnel and identity of the Redskins.

The only knock on the Redskins now is that they've yet to show that they can be an elite team.  Their style makes for close games (like the Titans), but they've also dropped a couple of games they shouldn't have (unlike the Titans).

4.  Miami Dolphins - This franchise has to be thanking its lucky stars to have netted Bill Parcells as team guru.  Wayne Huizenga's best moves as owner of the Dolphins may be his last moves - hiring Parcells and selling out to Stephen Ross.

Parcells' genius remains his ability to find effective players.  The signing of Chad Pennington was a stroke of brilliance.  Pennington is a great team guy who knows how to win.

This team is ahead of schedule.  That's something to be excited about after years of mediocrity.

A picture is indeed worth a thousand words.  The fading mediocrity of Wayne Huizenga's ownership has been replaced by Stephen Ross.

5.  Carolina Panthers - We've been reticent to move the Panthers up this high, but they've earned it.  The team has returned to the John Fox glory days that had them in a Super Bowl by winning with tough defense and a good running game.  The team is also winning at home.

The second half of the season lines up well for the Panthers.  They are in the driver's seat in the NFC South.  This at least guarantees them a chance to create their own destiny without needing other teams to stumble down the stretch.

6.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Unfortunately for the Bucs, their critical loss to the Cowboys puts them in a razor thin situation.  They still have a slight advantage against the Panthers because they hold a win against them with another game to play.  However, that assumes they will win out, something that doesn't seem likely.

The Bucs are still playing very well.  Losing close road games to good teams seems reasonable.  It's too bad that reasonable doesn't usually equate with dominant.

7.  Indianapolis Colts - The Colts are at a crossroads.  The alliance between Peyton Manning's offense and Tony Dungy's defense has fallen apart.  These two sides don't seem in sync any more.  Looking at the numbers, the run defense has improved

However, the Colts were built on Manning's brlliance.  As long as the offense sputters, this is a .500 team. 

It's too easy to pick on Peyton.  He needs help.  He needs to be the focus.  Dungy's defense still struggles in getting the opposition off the field faster.  Manning needs opportunities, and he isn't getting them.

8.  New Orleans Saints - The Saints find themselves at 4-4 for the second straight year.  In 2008 as in 2007, the team dug an early hole and then righted themselves.  Last year, they killed their chances by losing their next two falling to 4-6.

This year's team is still in the thick of the NFC South, perhaps the NFL's most competitive division.  The formula is simple - win at home, win on the road against non-division opponents.  That should be enough to keep playoff hopes alive putting the Saints at 10-6.  However, that also means they can't throw away games like they did in Denver and Washington earlier this year.

This is an offensive-minded team in a division of defensive-minded teams.  Drew Brees might be the NFL's best QB right now.  Let him throw, throw, throw.  That's the only plan that has a chance.

Like Peyton Manning in Indy, Drew Brees IS the Saints team right now.

9.  Atlanta Falcons -  The Falcons are a huge surprise sitting right in the middle of the NFC South race lying a half game between the Bucs and the Saints and 1 1/2 games behind the Panthers.

Like the Dolphins, the Falcons must remain competitive all season.  They have all three of their home division games left.  If they only one those three games and today's game against hapless Oakland, they can ensure 8-8 - a huge accomplishment.

The Falcons have their future in front of them.  The second half will tell the tail.

10.  St. Louis Rams - No team has done more to dig out of a hole than the Rams.  Under Haslett, the Rams are 2-1 with their only loss coming ina close one on the road in New England.  The wins were at Washington and at home against Dallas.

Because of the perpetual pathetic quality of the NFC West, the Rams are in the thick of the playoff hunt.  For this team, it is a blessing.

Ownership issues remain a cloud over this franchise, but they have hope now - something that seemed impossible a month previous.

11.  Houston Texans - The wait continues.  The wait we speak of is the quest for releavance on the ever-crowded Texas football landscape.  The Texans remain a team with no accomplishments, no history, no football soul. 

John McClain's article about the old Oilers currently running NFL teams makes SPF wonder about Bob McNair's choice of Gary Kubiak.  Kubiak does have Texas ties, but his connection really goes to the Denver Broncos where he played second fiddle on the field to John Elway and second fiddle off the field to Mike Shanahan.

The Texans sit at 3-4 as we expected considering their lackluster opponents the last two weeks.  We see improvement, but much was also expected of the 2008 team after last year's 8-8 campaign.

Outside of the Titans, the AFC South is a mess.  Can the Texans step into the void?  They simply must to save the heretofor unaccomplished Kubiak regime.

12.  Jacksonville Jaguars - The Jaguars find themselves squarely back in the SPF doghouse.  Losing to the Browns at home is inexcusable.  The Jags lack any creativity on offense or defense. 

Nothing has been as advertised before the season.  The efficient offense of last season seems stale.  The ferocious defenses that Del Rio prides himself on have been average at best.

SPF won't let them off the hook.  This was a Super Bowl caliber team.  Playoffs should be expected.  In order to do that now, the Jags must win at least 7 of their remaining 9 games.  After last week's loss, why should anyone expect that to happen?

Owner Wayne Weaver has some big decisions to make this off season assuming the Jags continue their stumbling ways.  Like the Texans, the Jaguars are fighting for relevance in a crowded Florida football market.

SPF is sure that many in the Jacksonville area watched the Gators chomp on the Bulldogs yesterday and wondered - why am I even bothering to watch the Jags?

Like his leather vs Bill Belichick's cut off sweats, Del Rio's coaching favors style over substance.  Leather may "look tougher" than cotton, but Del Rio's team has been paper thing all year.  Will Wayne Weaver wake up and realize this before his team becomes a total afterthought?

13.  Cincinnati Bengals - Cheap tickets in Cincy!  Anybody?  Bueller?

The Cincy Enquirer's Paul Daugherty has had enough of owner Mike Brown.  Good for him, says SPF!

There remains little difference between Al Davis in Oakland, Wlliam Clay Ford in Detroit, and Mike Brown in Cincinnati.  All three of these men put their own agendas ahead of their team's. 

As Daugherty's column points out, giving Mike Brown his stadium only secured the Bengals in Cincinnati for the long term.  It did nothing to convince Brown to spend more money on an organization trapped in a 20 year old model.

 Mike Brown is laughing all the way to the bank, and there is nothing that anyone can do.

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