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SPF T.I. Poll (Week Eleven)

Posted: Nov 15, 2007

Week Ten was a very weird football weekend.  Many of the SPF teams lost games.  Few had important wins.  It just seems like this was a week to stumble.

Desperation might be the biggest factor in any NFL game.  The teams that are desperate have an edge that you really can't evaluate or gauge until the whistle blows.

Sooner or later, a blind squirrel will find a nut.  SPF looks at Week Eleven with the "desperation" lens on.

Here's a quick look at last week's "Team Identity" Poll:

1. Dallas Cowboys
2. Indianapolis Colts
3. Tennessee Titans
4. Washington Redskins
5. New Orleans Saints
6. Tampa Bay Bucs
7. Miami Dolphins
8. Carolina Panthers
9. Jacksonville Jaguars
10. Atlanta Falcons
11. Cincinnati Bengals
12. Houston Texans
13. St Louis Rams

Now on to this week's:

1. Dallas Cowboys - The Cowboys keep rolling.  They have pole position in the NFC right now with a season sweep of the Giants.  Tony Romo is growing by leaps and bounds.  The funny thing now is that it seems like people are now looking for chinks in the armor.  Randy Galloway's recent column focuses on Wade Phillips as the anti-Parcells.  He writes about critics of Wade's who believe that the Cowboys might ultimately be undone by his relaxed approach. 

SPF isn't buying this theory at all.  The Giants were the deperate team who needed this game to draw even with the Cowboys in the loss column.  Watching the Cowboys go into Giants Stadium and playing loose shows SPF that Wade Phillips knows what he is doing.

2. Indianapolis Colts - The Colts lost for the second week in a row!  Peyton Manning threw 6 ints!  Dwight Freeney is out for the season!  Injuries are mounting! 

It's okay, Colts fans.  Things will be fine.  The Colts were in position to win against San Diego, but they lost on a missed FG at the end of the game.

This team is resilient.  So what if no one believes they can repeat as SB champs.  No one believed they could before the season began.  Bob Kravitz points out that anyone can see the pride this team has even in a loss.

The desperation factor was higher for the Chargers who had just lost to the hapless Vikings, giving up an NFL record rushing day to Adrian Peterson.  The Colts have the desperation factor now which should get things turned around.

3. Tennessee Titans - The Titans lost a game that they should have won.  Beating the Jags in Nashville would have put the Titans in a tie for the division with the Colts, and it would have swept the season series with Jacksonville.  Maybe it was all a little too much for such a youg team to grasp.

Reading the post game stories, the Titans realized they were outworked.  Both the Titans and Jags play the same kind of game.  To win, these team must win the battle of the trenches.  If the Titans already understand that Jax wanted it more, then they know why they lost already.

The good news is that Vince Young threw for the most yards this season and finally threw a TD.  Fisher doesn't sound worried at all.  He is supporting his QB.  Denver on Monday night will be a key test, but SPF still believes the Titans have the goods to play with anyone in the NFL.

Simply put, the Titans lost their edge, and the Jags made them pay.

4. Miami Dolphins - What?  The Dolphins at #4.  Ok, we'll admit we're giving them a favorable boost, but Dolfans can finally see a little light.  John Beck has been named the starting QB for the rest of the season.  Cam Cameron has picked up the phone to welcome back the recently reinstated Ricky Williams.  These are signs that real change is coming in Miami.  The Miami Herald may call it Cameron "adapting" his principles, but the writing is on the wall.  His stay as Miami's head coach may be brief.

Last Sunday, SPF spoke of the "Ravens Ball" issue that had hurt the NFL so deeply.  The Dolphins drank from this false elixir once too often.  There have been several articles about the horrible personnel moves that have gotten the Dolphins into the mess they are in.

All of these moves were a result of buying into "Ravens Ball."  The Dolphins did assemble a great to dominant defense during the Jimmy Johnson years, so they believed that a decent offense was all that was needed for a Super Bowl run.

They didn't want to waste time finding a real successor to Marino because that would take too much time.  They didn't want to draft any offensive players because of the time it would take to develop them.  The team instead chose to trade for or acquire veteran offensive players.

This is why SPF has moved them to #4.  Will Beck be Marino's successor?  Who knows?  One thing is for sure - no one will know if he sits on the bench.  He's a 26 year old rookie so he can face a little heat.  Knowing that potential franchise QBs will be sitting there for Miami in the 2008 NFL Draft, the team must decide now on Beck.

Ricky Williams will likely not be wearing a Dolphins uniform next season, but he has value if he can come back and show something in the second half of the season.  Even if he gets the Dolphins a 3rd or 4th round pick, that will still help.

Further, Beck and Williams will put the Cameron-Mueller team to the test.  Can Cam develop a young QB?  Can he showcase Ricky Williams?  So far, this is the best judge of this braintrust's collective ability.

No matter what happens, the Dolphins will be better off as an organization.  If Beck fails, Williams stumbles again, and/or Cameron can't make an difference, at least the team knows that they must start over in 2008.

The band-aid approach is done in South Florida.  That deserves kudos.  As Greg Cote writes - the Dolphins are finally interesting again.

5. Tampa Bay Bucs - The Bucs are a tough one.  They've really hung on this season and played through a lot of adversity.  However, they feel like the Miami Dolphins under Dave Wannstedt right now.  Fans respect their effort, and it reminds them of glory days past.  However, they are on a downward slope to nowhere right now. 

Today's NFL is all about QB development.  Jeff Garcia is a stop gap, no matter how well he is playing.  Behind him, there is nothing, and Jon Gruden does not have a good reputation of developing or working with young QBs.

Similarly, the rest of the offense is either manned by veterans (Joey Galloway) or castoffs (Earnest Graham).  Barring a few exceptions, they aren't any young up and coming offensive players on this current Bucs roster.

The Bucs may win the NFC South in an extremely down year.  That might but Gruden another year, but....

This team is on the decline.  SPF is amazed that Gruden can't figure it out.  His adherence to the WCO has blinded him from pursuing yong players because the system is just too complex for them.

Although the Bucs remain loved and admired by their fans (and subsequently remain near the top of the T.I Poll), bad times may lay ahead.  Smoke and mirrors will only get a team so far.

6. New Orleans Saints - DE Will Smith says it best:  "We've learned to put losses behind us."  If there is any team that can overcome a devastating loss, it is the 2007 Saints.  Losing at home to the Rams is a problem, but the Saints are still only a game out of first place in the NFC South.

The Saints, like many teams this week, got comfortable for the first time.  Getting back to .500 was a huge feat for this team.  Now they just need to get back on track.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars - SPF congratulates the Jags on a great win in Tennessee.  The problem for the Jags is that it still doesn't matter unless they can win the AFC South.  Right now, the Jags are a game behind the Colts in a week where there starting QB returns to the lineup.  Knowing that the Jags just beat the Titans in Nashville and that the Colts are still ahead on the schedule with that team having injury issues, it seems that the Jags could finally make a run at an AFC South crown and a Super Bowl run.

Does anyone believe this will happen?  No!

The Jags can always pull a tough and unexpected win out of the hat, but their problem has been sustained winning.  It is nice that the blackout was finally lifted in Jax for this week's game against the Chargers, but the Jags must win this game or else last week's victory in Nashville means nothing.

Until SPF sees 13-3, we along with the football fans of Jacksonville can't jump on the Jags bandwagon.

8. Atlanta Falcons - We love the Atlanta media.  They have been burned by pro sports to often.  They are the ultimate naysayers.  That's fine, but SPF needs to point out that they've lost perspective.

The big news of the week is that Bobby Petrino has put Byron Leftwich back in as starting QB assuming he remains healthy this week during practice.  Why? Because he said he would back when Leftwich healed up.

The Atlanta media can cry with Joey Harrington, but he is not the future in Atlanta.  He's not even the present.  The Falcons are winning because Petrino has taken the team over and made them work to his level of expectations.  Petrino has never liked Harrington's on the field play which is why he sought out Leftwich.

Unlike the Bucs who are holding on, Petrino and the Falcons know that despite their surprising current position in the NFC South, this team need serious re-tooling in the off season.  The only thing that might change that is the emergence of Byron Leftwich.

If Leftwich can show that he can win in Petrino's system, that gives the Falcons many more options for 2008.  That is why he must play.

Kudos to the Falcons management for letting Petrino make the tough calls.  The Atlanta sports media doesn't know because they've never really seen a winner.  The Falcons aren't one yet, but Petrino gives them the best chance of getting there.

9. Cincinnati Bengals - One of SPF's worst teams this season went out and embarrassed the original "Raven's Ball" team, the Ravens.  Yes, the Bengals defense played better, but let's not get carried away.  The Ravens have a horrible offense.

Bad boy Chris Henry came back and made a huge impact.  SPF isn't so sure that's a good thing.  Take a look at the Dolphins.  Ricky Williams can make an impact as well, but you can't have unstable guys in key positions on your football team.

The Bengals are still a bit of a mystery right now.  They have a lot of good pieces in place, but there is something missing.

10. Houston Texans - The fact that Richard Justice chose to write about the Rockets and the Astros in recent weeks rather than the Texans is telling.  This team continues to fail to capture the imagination of the Houston sports market.

They have a chance to win a key home game against New Orleans on Sunday.  If so, they will be 5-5.  Why does this team feel more like 2-7 than 4-5? 

Andre Johnson is back at WR.  Let's see if this makes any difference in the Texans' lackluster offensive output of late.

Will the bye week help Kubiak recpature the magic that had this team and the town excited.  It's still not too late even though it feels like it is.  How will playing the desperation card work for this team?

11. St Louis Rams - Good for the Rams!  They finally won a game (and they won it in pretty convincing fashion).  Make no mistake, the Rams offense finally showed up.  Somehow, the communication issues between Scott Linehan and his veteran offense were resolved for at least a week.

The NFC West is so bad that it is not inconceivable that they could finish the season at 8-8.  Except for Green Bay and Pittsburgh, every game left on the Rams schedule could be won.

Is too little too late?  Let's see how the season plays itself out.  Linehan needs to build on this trust he has regained.

12. Carolina Panthers - Ugh!  John Fox may have seen the bottom fall out of his coaching career in Carolina.  SPF predicted it to a large extent.  The Falcons weren't going to lie down for the Panthers.  They ended up winning.

How much of a pass will Fox get?  He lost his starting QB, and that has caused his offense to fall apart.  If life were fair, he'd get another season, but life isn't fair.

There seems to be a growing feeling that Fox's window has passed.  The Panthers still have talent, but they aren't playing up to their ability.  There has to be fears that the players have tuned him out.

Like Tampa, Fox's situation is also complicated by the fact that he can't seem to develop any offensive talent.  The best teams in the NFL now have multiple targets with strong armed QBs spreading the wealth.

At this point, the Panthers don't feel right.  They lose way too often at home which doesn't help things either.

They are just one of those teams that you can make a case for, but your gut tells you that something is deeply wrong and in need of change.

13. Washington Redskins - That holds especially true for the last team in this week's T.I. Poll.  Tom Boswell has fired the last shot into a dying carcass.  Joe Gibbs Mark II is over.  SPF could see it a little earlier than the Redskins faithful.  If you read Boswell's column he knows that he's ahead of the curve in DC as well.  Most Redskin fans don't want to believe that Gibbs isn't the same coach that led them to 3 Super Bowl wins.  Wake up - he isn't.

The Redskins are last because they are in total and complete confusion as a franchise.  Joe Gibbs has cast a shadow over the Redskins in the same way that Bear Bryant did in Alabama.  They must break from the past as Alabama learned in hiring Saban (or as Jerry Jones inherently knew when he fired Tom Landry upon purchasing the Cowboys).

The Redskins hold critically valuable assets.  They have fine assistant coaches, one of which could be the head coach (Gregg Williams).  They also have a nice roster of veterans and young players.

The problem with the Redskins right now is that fans must choose between Daniel Synder and Joe Gibbs.  On the face of things, fans will always go with Gibbs.  However, Snyder has to step in and hand the reigns to Williams.

The Redskins are going nowhere right now.  That is the worst place to be.  With a road game in Dallas on tap for Sunday, a free fall could ensue with a bad loss to the Cowboys.

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