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SPF T.I. Poll (Week Fifteen)

Posted: Dec 13, 2007

SPF will say it - this has been a very tough year for pro football in the Swampland Footprint.  Of our 13 teams, more than half of them have been in serious disarray.  At best only 5 or 6 teams will have a clear direction heading into 2008.  Most will be going back to the drawing board.

This is the challenge of pro football in the South.  Franchises must create an identity that lasts through the ups and downs of winning and losing. 

Here's last week's "Team Identity" Poll.

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

 On to this week's....


1. Dallas Cowboys - The superlatives have all been written, but Randy Galloway points out the one down side of the Cowboys great season - what if the Cowboys don't make it to the Super Bowl?  OC Jason Garrett will be a hot commodity for head coaching jobs.  Since the offense is winning games for the Cowboys (while the defense has been pedestrian), should Wade Phillips keep his job since his background is defense?

It's an interesting thought.  Cowboys fans are used to the worst happening to them since they haven't won a playoff game in 11 years.  SPF thinks that the feeling is too good in Dallas.

Besides, Jason Garrett probably won't go anywhere.  Garrett has to be looking around at how tough it is to turn bad teams around.  He won't walk into another team with the offensive personnel he has with the Cowboys.  Plus, Jerry Jones will pay him a boatload to stay.

You're #1.  Don't start dwelling on the negative.

2. Indianapolis Colts - Bob Kravitz has it down.  The Colt are right where they want to be.  The Pats quest to finish undefeated has them off the radar screen and sitting strongly at 11-2.  They are healthy now to boot.

Remember, the Colts are still the defending champs.


3. Tampa Bay Bucs - The Bucs lost, but they have the NFC South in their sights.  Plus, Jon Gruden is about to enter some elite coaching company if he wins another division. 

Things are good with this franchise, but Gruden wants more than division titles.  It will likely come down to Jeff Garcia's health as it has all season for the Bucs.  Unfortunately, this has been Gruden's problem as a coach.  His system is so complex is demands QBs that have been schooled in the WCO for many years.  There just aren't that many of them out there any more.

Using a Star Wars analogy, Gruden is like Obi-wan to Bill Walsh's Yoda.  Like the Jedi, WCO QBs schooled by Walsh or his direct descendents (Mike Holmgren,  Andy Reid, Mike Shanahan,  Gary Kubiak, and Gruden) are a dying breed.   Luke "Skywalker" McCown will never get the same training that guys like Steve Young did in the pre-salary cap days when a QB could sit on the bench while making a starters salary.

Gruden's biggest dilemma will be altering his system to allow for a young QB to be developed that will be allowed to make mistakes.  Until Gruden alters his system so that it doesn't require veteran savvy to run it properly, he will likely never get the Bucs back to the Super Bowl.

4. Tennessee Titans - The Titans lost a close game that they should have won to a playoff team (Chargers) that they are likely superior to on a night-in, night-out basis.  Still, Titans fans can't lose sight that this was not their season to compete for a Super Bowl.  This is a season that is supposed to build on last season's emergence of QB Vince Young.

So far, that has happened.  The Titans are in the playoff hunt, and Young is still helping them win, even though he has struggled at times.  Young has had to learn on the fly so far, and that can't be held against him. 

Beyond Young, the defense looks good to great and LenDale White looks like the real deal as a feature back.

Next year is the year to expect the quantum leap, even if Fisher loses Norm Chow.

5. Houston Texans - Congratulations to the Texans!  They made the leap from incompetent to average!  SPF put the following list in front of them at the beginning of the season..  Mario Williams had to emerge (check).  Matt Schaub had to show that he could execute Gary Kubiak's system better than David Carr (check).  The Texans had to finish 8-8 (looking good at 7-7).

Kubiak had a great week.  He out WCOed both Jon Gruden and his old mentor Mike Shanahan.  Plus, Kubiak did it with Sage Rosenfels as his QB.  This column by Richard Justice shows how the Texans seem to be finally putting it all together.

Houston finishes the season at Indy and hosting Jacksonville.  Winning either one of them will be a landmark achievement for this franchise.


6. New Orleans Saints - The Saints are sitting at 6-7.  They won't be going back to the NFC Championship Game this year.  They probably aren't even going to the playoffs.  However, they can still finish at 8-8 or above, and that is important for the Saints going into 2008.

The NFC South is a very weak division.  The Bucs are likely going to win it with a 9-7 record.  They have a very old QB playing a critical role on their team.

The Saints have been through injuries and upheaval this season.  If they can keep it steady going into next year, they can regroup and win the division.

All they need to do is finish strong

7. Cincinnati Bengals -
The Bengals have been a disappointment, but they can finish at 8-8.  They certainly should with two games against inept teams (Miami and San Fran), and a home game against rival Cleveland.

Lonnie Wheeler writes that the Bengals' D is finally showing a little teeth.  Marvin Lewis is a defensive coach, so SPF expected him to make adjustments.

The Bengals, like the Saints, need to finish strong to enter 2008 with some steam.  If they do, this team can get back into playoff contention.  The offense has as much firepower as any of this season's big boys (Dallas, NE, and the Colts).  All it will take is good health and improved defensive depth.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars -
SPF has beaten up the Jags all season.  They get a lot of love elsewhere.  We've read some sportswriters calling for Jack Del Rio to win Coach of the Year.  Are you kidding?  This must be because most sportswriters treat Jacksonville as an afterthought and are surprised when they see their record or David Garrard's QB rating.

Unfortunately, the Jags draw from a base of football fans that are used to excellence at both the college level and the high school level.  Maybe those in Big Media think that the Jax area should be happy with mediocrity, but they aren't.  Those blackouts and tarped-over seat tell the real story.

The simple fact is that Jacksonville has had too many chances to win meaningful games all season, and they have fallen short.  They lost twice to Indy when either win would have announced their arrival into the Super Bowl conversation.

Jacksonville, unlike division mates in Tennessee and Houston, is not a young team.  This is a veteran team, one that doesn't always play up to its ability.  There has been some progress of late with the WRs, and maybe David Garrard will be an elite QB by next season.  Still, it seems like the Jags are the perpetual wild card team waiting to be run by the best AFC teams.

They finish with two tough road games (Pittsburgh and Houston) that sandwich a cakewalk at home (Oakland).  They might be a lock for the playoffs, but 12-4 is much different than 9-7.

With Tennessee and Houston making strides this year, Jacksonville needs to start beating the Colts.  Otherwise, they might be looking up at two or three teams in their division come 2008.


9. Washington Redskins - The Washington Post still wants to focus on Sean Taylor, but that city's storied franchise is on seriously hard times.  Maybe the playoffs aren't out of the question yet, but it doesn't matter anyway.

This team needs a new coach.  Joe Gibbs (part 2) has been a failure.  Too many games have been lost by his poor clock management, vanilla game playcalling, lack of communication between offensive and defensive staffs, and undisciplined players.  The Redskins have a great roster of talent, but it hasn't been utilized.  Fans of the Cowboys have seen what it looks like to let your talent show itself instead of being harnessed by a coach's conservative playbook.

Even the emergence of QB Jason Campbell was short-lived.  His season-ending injury raises questions about the direction of the Redskins for 2008.  Who will replace Gibbs?  DC Gregg Williams?  Will OC Al Saunders remain?

Trying to bring this team back with the coaching staff intact will be a mistake.  Shifting to Williams might be as well.  Bringing in an outsider might retard all the progress Campbell made in 2007 before his injury.

Tough decisions await this team.  Having Dan Synder at the wheel doesn't give SPF any confidence that they will choose wisely.

10. Carolina Panthers - The John Fox-era Panthers are yesterday's NFL.  That was a time when good defense and adequate QB play could get you into the playoffs, and then a few good bounces good get you to a conference championship or a Super Bowl.

Fox did indeed get the Panthers to two NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl.  He is the winningest coach in Panthers' history.  His starting QB was lost in game 3.  Doesn't he deserve to return in 2008?

Nope.  Fox has lost the fans.  His style of football is boring.  He loses at home too much.  He has overseen poor personnel moves (David Carr).  He hasn't developed enough young, offensive talent.

The players sound lost.  Fox sounds gone.  Malaise has set in.  Thank goodness that the Carolinas' traditional team (the Redskins) hasn't been good either this season.

The question for the Panthers is how does this team make a step back into contention.  The NFC South is weak.  The Panthers still have talent.  Who will coach them to the next level?

Bill Cowher gets a mention because he is living in NC right now, but that seems unlikely.  Like the Redskins, it just seems like there aren't a lot of easy answers.

The Panthers current dilemma proves what SPF has been saying all along.  It isn't always about winning and losing.  Teams need to be compelling and interesting as well.  That is John Fox's biggest crime.  He is boring.

11. St Louis Rams - The Rams are 3-2 since the break and have had all kinds of injuries.  However, the Rams are still on seriously shaky ground in St Louis.  They have had blackouts and apathy. 

This is a baseball town.  The ownership still keeps offices in LA.

The sad thing for potential Rams' fans in St Louis is that both head coach Scott Linehan and owner Georgia Frontiere appear ready to return in 2008.  That's too bad.  Neither inspire much confidence.

Sometimes it is better to be bad than just mediocre.  The Panthers are one example.  The Rams are another.

12. Miami Dolphins - Lemon is back at the helm!  Yippee!

All we can say at SPF is Cam Cameron must go.  0-16 is unacceptable at any level.  The Dolphins must and will start fresh.

The problem for the Dolphins is the damage this season has done to the franchise.  In one season the Dolphins may well see their undefeated mark replaced by the Patriots while setting the record for incompetence by finishing 0-16.

There's nowhere to go but up from here, and that's a good thing.  Too bad 1-15 might be considered progress.

Marketing, corporate sponsors, and shiny stadiums are the icing on the cake.  The cake is still the product on the field.  Owner Wayne Huizenga forgot about that, and he and the Dolfans are paying a big price.

13. Atlanta Falcons - The Falcons have been written about ad nauseum so we will keep it short.  They are the hands down, last place, lock down winner for this week's Poll.

Owner Arthur Blank needs to take a hard look in the mirror.  He has acted with a marketer's touch when a strong ownership hand was needed.  His franchise is in ruins now.

This AJC piece compares Blank's struggles to former Braves' owner Ted Turner.  Unfortunately, Blank seems hell bent on staying overly involved in his team's operations rather than following Turner's successful decision to leave team decisions to qualified people.

With his track record so far - Vick's big contract, Jim Mora, Rich McKay, Bobby Petrino, etc - Falcons' fans can't be every excited.

In the end, Blank wanted to take Atlanta by storm.  So far, all his tenure as owner has proven is that college football still dominates the NFL in Atlanta.

related tags

Southern Pro Football,
New Orleans,
North Carolina,

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