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SPF T.I. Poll (Week 1): Overcoming Adversity

Starting last Thursday, the NFL season began another year which means that SPF is back with our weekly "Team Identity" Poll.

To recap, SPF rates teams not on how good they are, but how well they relate to the fans in the Footprint.  Pro sports isn't as relevant down in our area as it is in other parts of the country, due college football's dominance and pro sports' late arrival on the scene, so teams have to work a little harder to find a connection.

Here at SPF, we believe there is much to admire at the pro level.  The men who play and coach this game have to work extremely hard to beat their opponents when talent remains close to even on both sidelines as oppsoed to the disparity in talent that often exists at the college level.

The weekly effort to overcome this type of adversity makes the pro game compelling.

Let's begin!

1.  Dallas Cowboys - This team will remain at or near the top for the forseeable future.  Texas might be the strongest football state across the board, and the Cowboys are a Cadillac franchise with Super Bowls and a state of the art stadium coming next season.  This year's team has stars all around, and they look poised to go a long way into the playoffs.  Their win against Cleveland was decisive.

2.  New Orleans Saints - Yes, it was only the first game of the season, but the Saints proved a lot in week one.  First, they beat last year's NFC South winner, the Bucs.  Second, Reggie Bush, one of their franchise players, was back as a factor on the field.

Most importantly, the game was a sell out even though many fans had to overcome the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav.  The Saints are becoming the Chicago Cubs of the NFL.

3.  Washington Redskins - A loser in the Thursday night opener, the Redskins are in the number #3 position more due to reputation off the field than production on it.  This team and the Cowboys shared most of the Footprint fans for many years before expansion.  That should make them a fixture in the top two every week.

Unfortunately, the Redskins have been under the reigns of owner Daniel Snyder who tries to be Jerry Jones, but he ends up looking like Dr. Evil.  He has what appears to be Maxi, er, Mini-Me (Vinny Cerrato) running his personnel and now Jim Zorn serves as his "number two," coaching the team and trying to make sense of the jumble of a roster he's been handed.

The fan base is strong for the Redskins, but the questions abound regarding this regime.  When the Washington Post questions their current identity, the Poll starts to trends downward.

4.  Indianapolis Colts - No team has had a stronger run to the top of our poll than the Colts.  It helps to have a star QB from the SEC (Peyton Manning) and a coach (Tony Dungy) that most agree is one of the NFL's class acts.  This team recently won a Super Bowl and opened their new stadium, Lucas Oil Stadium, Sunday night.

Unfortunately, the Colts stunk up their new joint losing big to the Bears.  Manning has been out all preseason and showed signs of rust.  Let's hope they can get on track in a hurry in what should be a wide open AFC this year.

5.  Tennessee Titans - Every year, the Titans are overlooked by NFL prognosticators.  Most of the time, they show up, play hard, and compete for the playoffs.  This season, like the last, they handed division rival Jacksonville an early season loss. 

The defense looks fierce, and the offense has playmakers.  This team remains in Jeff Fisher's image.

The one down point might be Vince Young.  His play was poor up until he was knocked out of the game by injury.  Young seems troubled.  Although his effective veteran backup (Kerry Collins) supports him, Young's recent behavior on and off the field have the Titans concerned about his mental stability.  Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle writes about how far Vince Young has fallen from his days at Texas.

By today, Jeff Fisher admirably supported Young and put out a reasonable explanation of events that quiets any talk of Young as suicidal.  However, Fisher acknowledged that Collins will remain the starter and that Young will learn from him.

Although the Titans have less depending on him, SPF hope that Young's potential career path of star to has been will not be Vick-like.  Many have opined that the NFL's dose of adversity might be too large for the delicate egos of former college stars who can no longer prevail behind sheer athletic dominance.  We hope that Young truly learns from Collins who knows what it means to overcome adversity.

6.  Miami Dolphins - This team has taken some serious hits in the last decade, but their long and storied history (something few teams in the Footprint have) puts them in the upper half of our Poll.

The season ushers in the Bill Parcells era as he runs the team operations placing hand picked people in the GM chair and the coaching staff.

They lost week one, but they kept it competitive against the Brett Favre-injected Jets.  The lack of talent due to poor drafting was on display, but fans should expect the Dolphins to play better as the season wears on. 

The players believe in the new regime.  The fans will as well.

7.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Bucs lost, and Jon Gruden benched QB Jeff Garcia.  Garcia should have been ready for this move.  Gruden gave him a shot last year, and Garcia thanked him by holding out, and then missing most of the pre-season due to nagging injuries. 

Gruden doesn't get a lot of sympathy from the press.  His gruff demeanor leaves many a little cold.  However, he doesn't apologize for his actions.

Brian Griese played effective ball under Gruden a few seasons ago before an injury ended his season.  Gruden has confidence in Griese, perhaps more than he has in Garcia.

Garcia may win the sympathy war, but Gruden knows his team needs to win.  He saw a QB that had a chance to win an important division road game.  That QB couldn't get it done. 

Next in line!

Jon Gruden and Jeff Garcia in (ahem) happier times

8.  Carolina Panthers - SPF watched the Panthers struggle all last year.  The team had slowly gone away from being strong in the trenches in favor of trying to win through the Jake Delhomme/Steve Smith connection.  When Delhomme went down with a season-ending elbow injury, the Panthers were done.

This year, John Fox and his GM Marty Hurney got back to basics by picking up lineman and RBs.  The team rewarded them by winning on the road in San Diego.  This team looks to be a factor in the NFC South.

9.  Atlanta Falcons - Speaking of the NFC South, the Falcons might be the NFL's biggest surprise.  Suffering from the ultra-tragic Michael Vick debacle of a season ago, the Falcons saddled the city of Atlanta with an owner quickly becoming a poor man's Daniel Snyder - interfering, but even less effective, in a city where the Falcons play a distant second fiddle to the college game.

When the Falcons showed up and throttled the Detroit Lions in their home opener, visions of a promising future could actually be imagined.  This Furman Bisher column explains it all.  The Falcons traded in the flash (or flash in the pan) of the Vick era for a workmanlike team led by tough-minded people at all levels (GM, coach, QB).

SPF seriously doubted the Falcons' off season moves.  Considering that each level of the organization were being handed to a rookie, Arthur Blank's decisions seemed based on trying to eradicate the sour taste of the Vick era rather than wise decision-making.

One game does not a season make, but the Falcons appear poised to at least enter into the realm of Georgia sports relevance for the first time in a long time.

Seated L to R (QB Matt Ryan, GM Thomas Dimitroff, Coach Mike Smith, and owner Arthur Blank).  Can these men rescue the Falcons from Atlanta's sports wasteland?

10.  Jacksonville Jaguars - Ouch!  The Jags came up empty again in an early season tussle against the Titans.  Nothing looked right on either side of the ball.

We know the Jags will turn it around, but expectations have never been higher.  They have a wounded fan base who needs reassuring.  This team needs consistent winning to keep their football hungry market interested.

No team has more to gain or lose than the Jaguars in the 2008 season.

11.  Cincinnati Bengals - Last season, SPF bought into the Bengals based upon their amazing season two years ago that ended with the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers knocking out the Bengals after knocking out QB Carson Palmer with an ACL injury.

Since then, the Bengals have slid into oblivion.

Losing to the Ravens the way that they did tells us that it is time to end the Marvin Lewis regime.  The players don't like each other.   It's ridiculous.  Lewis initial ability to command the respect of his player and to bring that respect to his team league-wide has diminished.

Most NFL teams lose due to injuries or youth.  Only a select few win because they have a toxic roster.  Put the Bengals firmly in that camp.

Their fans deserve better football than this group can deliver.

12.  Houston Texans - SPF worried openly last year about the loss of Asst Head Coach Mike Sherman as he took the Texas A&M job.  We think the whole thing ended up backwards.  A&M probably should have Gary Kubiak and Mike Sherman should be coaching the Texans.

We are actually not joking, although it is too late to play musical chairs.  College football coaches need to recruit and Kubiak has the right personality and youth to do it well in Texas.  The NFL requires experience.  Sherman has that in spades.

Now leading Texas A&M, Mike Sheman's no longer around to give Coach Kubiak experienced help

The Texans played like chumps losing big to the Bills.  Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle notes that Texans' fans have seen it before

In a division with two other physical teams and one other recent Super Bowl champ, The Texans seem far from the playoffs.  Add that to a strong Cowboys team, a good Texas Longhorns squad, and a potential Astro playoff push, will the Texans ever be relevant?

With Hurricane Ike's devastation still in effect (damage to Reliant Stadium, moving this week's game, causing understandable personal concerns for players and coaches), the season will bear out how Kubiak and his team handle adversity.

13.  St Louis Rams - Scott Linehan is not NFL head coach material.  Period.

Last year was blamed on injuries.  Sometimes this is a valid explanation.  The NFC West remains as the NFL's worst division, but the Rams don't look anywhere near competitive even with that advantage.

Since Linehan's arrival, the Rams look like a group that are easily pushed around by opponents showing little physical or mental toughness.

The Rams are also last because this team could be in danger of leaving St Louis.  No one is talking much about it, but the stadium isn't great and the market is better for baseball than football.

SPF could easily see this team end up back in LA.  Maybe that's the goal of the current owners.  Maybe that's why Linehan is still around as coach.

Despair abounds for Rams' fan in St Louis.  The Bengals and Texans may be as bad as the Rams, but at least their fans know they aren't in danger of leaving town.

related tags

Mercenary Territory,
Southern Pro Football,
New Orleans,
North Carolina,

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