Identities. This is the "Team Identity" Poll after all. We are far enough into the season to get a sense of where teams are. Some have done an amazing job. Others are teetering, losing their connection to their fans and cities.
1. Washington Redskins - The lovefest continues in the Capitol. The Skins wear the crown of #1 very nicely. All the pieces have come together for the first time in the Snyder era. He has found his coach and his QB. Both were his decisions despite both appearing to be reaches at the time.
Now, Snyder can bask in the glory of those decisions as his team wins.
For the first time in his ownership tenure, a sense of trust is building between fans and the owner.
2. Tennessee Titans - This team is a steamroller. In a time when UT football struggles in Knoxville, the Titans have a chance to set the standard for football excellence in the state of Tennessee.
Seasons like this are what can bring pro football to the forefront as opposed to an afterthought in the Footprint. We've seen how the Cowboys took the footbal crown away from Texas' once mighty slew of great college programs of the 1950's and 1960's. It isn't a stretch to believe that the Titans can become the dominant force in the Tennessee football culture.
With Coach Fisher Behind Him, Kerry Collins Looks Poised to Lead the Titans to New Heights
3. Dallas Cowboys - The Boys won, but they didn't look so good. In a way, these ranking don't matter for the Cowboys. This team is expected to be playing in the Super Bowl by season's end. Anything less would be a colossal disappointment.
The reason for the Cowboys slide has more to do with the teams over them than their own performance. The Skins are the Cowboys main rival. Their win in Dallas two weeks ago creates the gap. The Titans' season long run allows them to step into that gap.
The Pacman Jones incident doesn't help either. This is a team that has a volatile locker room to begin with.
The bigger issue for the Cowboys right now is their deteriorating relationship with the Dallas area press. The Pacman incident felt like a cover-up to many. That's never a good thing.
4. Indianapolis Colts - Their come from behind miracle in Houston solidified the kind of team the Colts will be in 2008. Gone are the days of meticulous disposals of opponents. Each week will be a wild ride.
SPF says good for the Colts! We are happier watching Peyton Manning lead his eam back to victory week after week. Winning close games and having to come from behind builds football character that helps teams come playoff time.
5. Miami Dolphins - Their back to back wins against the upper echelon of the AFC has this once proud franchise back thumping their chests just a bit. They are even using terms like tough and smart to define their own identity.
This team has already turned the corner. When attitude change leads to wins on the field, the biggest step towards going from loser to winner has been taken.
The Men Leading the Dolphins Out of the Abyss, GM Jeff Ireland and HC Tony Sparano
6. Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The two NFC South rivals face off this week. We'll keep them tied unti this week's result is complete. Both teams have been to the top of the mountain in recent years, and both have been in the valley of tears.
Their respective coaches have systems that appear to be Super Bowl-level at times and lost at others. They know each other well.
Is the Panthers' power football the way to go? Is the Bucs offensive game planning and smart defense the best system? These questions need to be answered.
Both of these teams have the potential to grab the football imaginations of their home market and beyond. The 2008 season will go a long way to defining that long term.
As of now, the jury is still out. After Sunday, we will know a whole lot more.
The Old Rivals are Tied in the Poll and Face Off to Break the Tie on Sunday
8. New Orleans Saints - The Saints have to start getting out of their own way. What is it about this team. They can't keep blowing games they should win. As of now, this team can make a fantastic case that they should be undefeated.
SPF has long made the case that the Saints biggest issue remains inconsistency. That's what leaves them behind Carolina and Tampa, both of which run specific systems that rely on consistency.
The Saints have the talent to grind you down, dink and dunk, or stretch the field. Sometimes it becomes overwhelming to have so much choice.
The Saints still capture the imagination of the Gulf Coast football culture.
9. Atlanta Falcons - This AJC article that checks in with former Falcons QB Steve Bartkowski. In the process, it reminds SPF about the glory days of Falcons football.
In the late 70's and early 80's, the Falcons were an emerging franchise. Led by QB Steve Bartkowski and coach Leeman Bennett, the Falcons challenged the NFC's power structure. Ultimately, this team fell to the mighty Cowboys in the playoffs and never regained their footing after the strike shortened season of 1982.
Bartkowski remains the Falcons greatest QB and Bennett is the only Falcons coach to have had a winning career record in Atlanta.
This year's Falcons seem to mirror that past era. They have a first round QB. They have a solid coach. If there ever was an identity to follow, it is the Bartkowski era Falcons with their "Grits Blitz" defense and effective offense.
Like the Dolphins, the Falcons have laid a foundation in 2008. Good things should be coming.
Steve Bartkowski and Matt Ryan, Mirror Images?
10. Cincinnati Bengals - How can this 0-5 team lie above a potential playoff team? Because the Bengals have found themselves. Yes, they haven't won a game, but this is who they are. They have the talent to reel off wins against the league's best teams.
This season feels like a throat clearing for the franchise. We're never going to get too excited because the team is run by Mike Brown. However, they still have the talent to challenge the AFC, if not this year then next.
In the mean time, they are fun to watch and unpredictable.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars - The Jags have problems starting at the top with coach Jack Del Rio. Losing Mike Smith to the Falcons appears to have had a big effect on his team. The Falcons look like a team on the rise while the Jaguars have lost their identity.
Losing to the Steelers isn't a small loss. It was a national Sunday night showcase against a team that the Jags have to beat to enter the discussion as one of the AFC's elite teams.
The problem with Del Rio remains his inability to articulate an identity for his Jags either on the field or off. When the Jags traded 5 picks to secure two rookie pass rushers, everyone expected this to be the final piece to an already fierce defense. Today, Del Rio explains away the problems with these rookies as part of the deal of playing rookies.
Why would the Jags spend picks on players that can't help them in 2008 when the team was widely considered a Super Bowl caliber team? This continues Del Rio's issues with high draft picks. He can't seem to utilize their talents.
Del Rio and the Jags can deny it all they want, but expectations were Super Bowl level before the season. The fact that the three teams considered above the Jags in 2007 are now struggling (Pats, Colts, and Chargers) make their chances even better.
Instead, the Jags have allowed other AFC teams to hop past them like Tennessee. Further, the Jags lag behind the other NFL team in Florida.
Simply put, the Jags have underachieved with Jack Del Rio as coach. He's very good with the media which gives him cover. He constantly changes the expectations which allows him to escape criticism.
Del Rio must admit that the Jags have Super Bowl expectations. He must take this burden on so that the team can step up.
Until he quits running away from expectations, the Jags will suffer.
12. Houston Texans - This team has found their identity - perpetual losers. When you claim to fame is losing close games, you need to reassess your franchise goals.
We are not buying into the idea that the Texans are close to turning the corner. The mix is bad - end of story.
The press has begun to hold the franchise accountable. Things will only get worse if the losses continue to pile up.
Sometimes it's too easy to throw everything on the coach. Other times, the coach gets too much of a pass.
Gary Kubiak has done nothing to show he deserves another season if he can't get the 2008 Texans to start winning.
"No, I have no idea how I'm still coaching this team. What does a guy have to do to get fired around here?"
13. St Louis Rams - It's hard to watch this team drag this fine sports city down. The city that once dominated as the nation's best sports town has fallen to #40.
The Rams are the main drag coefficient.
Some teams play tough while others talk tough. New coach Jim Haslett is doing a lot of the latter. Notice how Miami and Atlanta changed their culture without a lot of chest thumping in the press.
The tough year in St Louis continues....