We know quite a bit about our SPF teams by now. The only thing left to determine is which teams are playoff bound and which teams have Super Bowl potential. At least half of our 13 teams will be at home and that number could continue to rise.
We can also call at least 6 of our 13 as out of the playoffs. We don't see miracles coming for New Orleans, Atlanta, or Jax and Houston, Cincy, and St Louis are pretty much mathmatically gone already.
The final seven will produce two sure division winners (NFC South and AFC South) with at least two more NFC wild card teams out of these four - Tampa/Carolina (whoever doesn't win the division and Dallas/Washington (whoever closes the season the best). The AFC could provide another division winner (Miami in the AFC East) and one or two wild card teams (Indy and/or Miami if they fall short of the division.
So, we are looking at six playoff teams at best and two at worst if all goes wrong.
1. Tennessee Titans - The Titans remain a dominant force in the NFL. Undefeated still, they give no quarter to any team. They've already faced off with some good ones. Although they rarely blow anyone out, their combination of strong defense, good running, and smart QB play courtesy of Kerry Collins has put them on the winning end of all their games.
This continues to be a huge season for Titan football, a brand of football that is quickly becoming the dominant choice of football around the Volunteer State.
The Titans are rolling behind Jeff Fisher's quiet brilliance
2. Miami Dolphins - The Dolphins keep winning by the skin of their teeth. It is a strange year to witness because the Dolphins are clearly lacking in overall talent. Like the Titans, the Dolphins' system gives them an edge. Other teams talk about winning, but the Dolphins do it. If they hadn't lost in a controversial way to the Texans a few weeks back, they'd be second in the AFC behind the Titans.
3. Indianapolis Colts - The great QB play of Peyton Manning has the Colts right back in the mix. The team has done this playing good AFC teams as well. There is little reason to believe that the Colts can't make the playoffs yet again.
4. Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - These two NFC South teams are on a collision course. It seems that their other division mates are a step behind, the Falcons being too young and the Saints being poorly balanced between offense and defense.
Both the Panthers and the Bucs have many question marks. Neither have offenses that will scare anyone. However, it still seems certain that their Monday Night showdown in Charlotte in two weeks will determine the division winner.
Both the Panthers and the Bucs will be playoff-tested - whichever wins the division.
It's John vs. Jon on Monday Night in two weeks for the NFC South crown
6. Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins - The Cowboys won round two beating the Redskins last week, but these two teams are essentially in the same boat. They are two veteran teams that seem to be a step behind the truly elite NFL teams. Neither are as good as the league's best, one of which leads their division.
It is hard when two noted columnists, Randy Galloway and Tom Boswell, both have the same take on their respective teams - the reality is that neither are that great. In a year when both are coming off of playoff years, these teams expected to be getting better, not worse. Unfortunately, other teams have passed them by.
These teams have fans that expect a lot. In Dallas especially, this was a year of Super Bowl or bust. In Washington, expectations started early in the season, but they have tapered off.
SPF joins the chorus of other who wonder whether active owners like Jerry Jones and Daniel Synder can ever build Super Bowl champs. They are at least building playoff level teams, but their fans want more.
When both team have made it crystal clear that neither are Super Bowl caliber, their fans are left with a sad feeling. Realism isn't what either owner wants to sell. It's hope that is short supply with both of these teams.
8. Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints - The rest of the NFC South also remains bonded. Both of these teams are still a step away from elite. The Falcons are a little younger than the Saints, but the Saints still have youth in their lineup. Their challenges may be different, but their present is similar.
The NFC South remains the most competitive division in the NFL. The Bucs and the Panthers won't be giving up their place at the top. The Falcons and the Saints will have to take it from them. Neither the Falcons nor the Saints as currently constituted seem ready to step past them.
The key pieces are in place for both Atlanta and New Orleans, but how each franchise tweaks their other shortcomings will determine success in 2009.
13. Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, St Louis Rams - This foul foursome takes up the rear as a group for the second straight week. They stand together in awfulness, but they are really two groups of two kinds of awful.
Houston and Jax are two teams that a pretty good in a league that rewards great. They have "decent" players everywhere. That is actually worse than having bad players. Let's explain.
These teams are QB by Matt Schaub and David Garrard. Both of these guys are pretty good. In fact, there are other playoff-bound teams that have QBs not much better than either - teams like New England with Matt Cassell and Miami with Chad Pennington to name two. However, one would be hard-pressed to call either Schaub or Garrard difference makers like Peyton Manning.
That creates a huge dilemma. Changing QBs for either team could lead to disaster. Decent QB is better than bad QB play. So both of these teams stay the course keeping them a solid step below the Titans and the Colts.
Simply put, the best of the Jags and the Texans just isn't at the level of the teams above them in the AFC South.
As far as the Bengals and the Rams go, these are two veteran teams with talent that can't see a light at the end of the tunnel. If either team had a Parcells-like leader, they would be fine. Parcells would immediately know which vets to release and which to keep. His brilliance is in creating team clarity.
Unfortunately, the leadership of both of these teams cannot do this kind of selective purge. Neither owner seems to understand how to empower coaches and GMs to do the kind of job they need to do. This lack of focus at the ownership level plagues the NFL's worst teams. Put the Bengals and Rams in that camp.
The one thing that bonds all four of these teams is hope, and the lack of any of it. There is no future to see but a series of near misses, embarrassing losses, and we'll get 'em next years.
It's Groundhog Day for these four, and we're tired of watching reruns.