QUOTE: “The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” — Voltaire
Week 8 in the NFL. We enter my favorite month of the football season — November, when every game carries some form of playoff significance. November football is different than football at any other time of the season because every game impacts another, and even a meaningless game has importance because of the playoff qualifiers.
So which teams are really competing for the playoffs and which teams are working for next year? And by working for next year, I don’t mean that it’s necessarily a bad thing – there’s much to gain from learning how to prepare to win. It fits into the theme of going from good to great; there have to be gradual steps. The bottom half of the teams in the NFL must show their fan base and the rest of the league that they have a plan and are making progress toward fulfilling that plan. Playing hard in November makes everyone stand up and take notice.
Wednesday, on “Inside the NFL” on Showtime, we had a segment called “Bulldoze or Band-Aid,” asking which teams need to start over and which ones need minor repairs. These teams will have an impact on the playoffs because if they beat a team that’s contending, it will crush them, and their strength of schedule will factor into the equation.
This morning, I thought I would continue that theme and examine the six bottom-dwelling clubs.
St. Louis: Steve Spagnuolo knows he’s facing a long rebuilding process, and watching him work on the sideline last Sunday showed he has not lost his enthusiasm for his team. He’s not blaming the players for the mess in St. Louis. He knows it’s not their fault — they just lack talent. No need to blame the players as long as they’re trying to compete. The last three high picks — Adam Carriker (injured reserve), Chris Long and Jason Smith — have not made significant contributions, so this rebuilding project is going to take a long time. It will start with a quarterback in the 2010 draft, and hopefully, Spagnuolo has learned the Giants’ player procurement plan. He will need to model this team after the Giants’ way. The Rams are a long way from being competitive, whether the franchise is sold this year or next. They might only win when they play a bottom half team, but never when they play a top one.
Kansas City: The bulldozer has been out already, and clearly the Chiefs’ plan is to acquire draft picks and completely redo the team. Team owner Clark Hunt has given general manager Scott Pioli the keys to the store to run the team, and he must hope the events of the past six months have not done anything to make him feel delusional about that decision. There are many unhappy people in Kansas City, on and off the field, and I’m not convinced that the changes in K.C. are over. Someone I respect greatly in the league told me that the Chiefs are actually easier to play this year than they were last year. Ouch. I bet Clark Hunt wouldn’t want to hear that.
Tampa Bay: The Glazer family made the decision to fire Jon “Love You Bro” Gruden because they wanted to build their team with a young quarterback that the fan base could identify with. Everyone in the league knows this team would not be winless if Gruden was coaching it. It’s not a winless team in terms of talent, especially on offense, but it lacks the defensive players to run the current scheme. The Bucs hired a very young coach, who clearly is learning on the job — and still has a lot to learn. They need to put a band-aid on some of the problems, but their lack of universal experience in the building and their committee concepts of running a team make me believe that, in their present state, they will not be able to identify the right problems to fix.
Tennessee: I have great respect for Jeff Fisher as a coach, but his team is caught in a very difficult spot. Its older players are not playing as well as they did before, and its younger players are not consistent enough. The Titans obviously need to decide what to do with quarterback Vince Young, and not playing him is not going to help them make that decision. If I were Fisher, I would let Young play and show the world what you know — even if you keep losing games. Once they get the quarterback fixed, this team is a Band-Aid away from being able to compete.
Detroit: The Lions need to keep improving their talent base, and drafting a quarterback who appears to be a very good player has started the massive rebuilding process. They’re ahead of the Rams only because they admitted they needed a quarterback, while the Rams kept burying their heads in the sand. This week, the two teams play each other, so we might be able to determine which one is actually farther along.
Cleveland: I’m going to make this prediction right here and now: This time next year, the Browns will not be any better, and owner Randy Lerner will finally realize what everyone I talk to in the NFL seems to know now — that he’s given control of his team to the wrong man. Take all the time you need to reach this decision, but you will eventually come to the same conclusion.
Washington: They are an added bonus this morning because I read that GM Vinny Cerrato has said he gave coach Jim Zorn a playoff-caliber team. Which makes me think of a William F. Buckley Jr. quote: “I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said to be true.” But I would insult Vinny — he’s out of touch with reality.
What are your thoughts?
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