Analysis of the NFL Disappointments

The NFL is enjoying a year of unparalleled parity, on the heels of the success of teams such as the Chiefs, Raiders and Buccaneers. But at the same time, several teams picked to shape the landscape of the playoffs have faltered. The Cowboys and Vikings, two teams that enjoyed deep playoff runs in 2009, and the 49ers, who finished 8-8 in the weak NFC West, were considered lead pipe locks to make the playoffs. As we hit Week 10, those three teams are a combined 6-18, with popular Super Bowl pick Dallas floundering at 1-7 and coming off their coach being fired. Let’s take a look at what’s gone wrong for these three teams, and if they have any chance of turning it around.

The Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East in 2009 with an 11-5 record, and went on to win their first playoff game since 1996. Entering the 2010 season, the only major change they made was replacing much maligned free safety Ken Hamlin and adding rookie phenom Dez Bryant. The Cowboys were a popular pick to make the Super Bowl, to be played in their home, Jerry World. However, the team now sits at 1-7, with head coach Wade Phillips fired. The Cowboys will now be led by former offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. The Cowboys are missing their Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo, but even with him, were only 1-5. The Cowboys’ chances of succeeding this season are now practically zero. Playing in possibly the toughest division in football, their defense, one of the top units in 2009, has been completely incapable of stopping anyone. Since their Week 4 bye, the Cowboys have let up at least 24 points in every game, including a 45-7 shellacking at the hands of the Packers last week. The dismal defense, combined with an offense now missing their leader and best player, make a turnaround unlikely. Garrett was once considered the hottest coaching candidate in the NFL, but has shown in the last few years a very predictable play calling. Look for the Cowboys to struggle to 3 or 4 wins, grab a talent with their high draft pick, and make a splash with a big name coach.
The Vikings made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game last year, on the back of Brett Favre. After much deliberation, Favre returned for a 20th season, and immediately made the Vikings contenders. Or so it was thought. Instead, Favre has shown an inconsistency no one could have predicted, even with his advanced age. Without top receiver Sidney Rice, lost for the first 10 weeks to a hip injury, Favre’s gunslinging style has turned reckless. The 50-50 balls Favre has made a living off of have become 75-25 balls for the defense. A midseason acquisition of Randy Moss backfired, as Moss and coach Brad Childress clashed, and Moss was released, against the front office and locker room’s wishes. To compound the passing game’s problems, Childress has criminally under-used all-world running back Adrian Peterson. All this said, the Vikings may have the best chance at turning around their season. The Vikings have a very favorable schedule from here on out, especially with Rice expected to return soon. At 3-5, the Vikings are not completely out of the playoff picture in a surprisingly weak NFC, and may have gained a lot of confidence with a 27-24 comeback victory against the Arizona Cardinals last week. Childress called his best game of the season play-wise. If the Vikes can get back to .500 in the next two weeks, they’ll be squarely in the race to win the NFC North and the wild card chase.
The San Francisco 49ers finished 2009 at 8-8, their first non-losing season since 2002. They had some of the stability the franchise lacked during the losing years, with offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye returning, as well as having a set starting quarterback heading into training camp in former number 1 overall pick Alex Smith. On top of that, the two-time defending NFC West Champion Arizona Cardinals lost their heart and soul in future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, and defensive standouts Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle. This led many to believe it was the 49ers’ division to lose. Instead, the 49ers have struggled to a 2-6 record, including being the only victim of the hapless Carolina Panthers. Along the way, the 49ers have let up game winning drives, fumbled away game-sealing interceptions, and cycled through quarterbacks. Raye was fired after the team struggled to get plays off on time, and calling quite possibly the most brutal few games ever witnessed. Alex Smith, who was expected to finally live up to expectations, has instead appeared unable to read defenses and lead an offense. The team is now led by former Heisman winner Troy Smith. Even with all these disasters, the 49ers are not entirely out of the playoff picture. The NFC West is the weakest division possibly in NFL history. It is currently led by the 4-4 St. Louis Rams, who are only a few months off of making the first selection in the NFL Draft. After a confidence building win against Denver in London and a bye, the Niners will face the Rams. If they win, they will immediately be in the race for division, only one game out of the lead. They are a contender to make the playoffs still simply because this division is so bad it could be won with an 8-8, or even 7-9, record.

Cowboys’ Rookie Hazing Demonstrates Everything Wrong With the NFL

Dallas Cowboys’ rookie WR Dez Bryant has shown promise on the field this year, catching for at least 50 yards in all three of Dallas’ games this year. Bryant, taken 24th overall in the draft this year, was a superstar at Oklahoma State, whose only controversy was a misguided conversation with former NFL star Deion Sanders which unfortunately landed him a season long suspension.

But since entering the NFL, Bryant has made headlines off the field. Not necessarily for his own behavior, but rather for being the target of the man he’ll likely replace on the Cowboys, Roy E. Williams. It started in August, when Bryant refused to carry Williams’ pads after practice. A simple “right of passage” that Bryant probably should have done, but harmless in the fact that he didn’t.
But Williams did not stop there. It came out last week that Williams invited the entire Cowboys offense out to an expensive steak dinner, then left the tab with Bryant. The bill? $55,000. There are reports that players were walking out of the restaurant with bottles of wine.
The dinner showcases everything that is wrong with the NFL today. As we approach a potential labor stoppage in 2011, NFL players’ main issue appears to be compensation and pension. Players complain that owners are not fairly sharing the money from what is by far and away America’s most profitable sports enterprise. Players also point to statistics that overwhelmingly show that players are going broke after leaving the NFL due to little job training and lack of pension.
These are all valid points, but it’s hard to garner sympathy when things like this come out. When you’re teaching 21 year old rookies like Bryant that you can stick teammates with a dinner tab worth more than most people make in one year, you’re highlighting that these problems are more due to players’ financial irresponsibility than owner greed. How are we supposed to be feeling sorry for players going broke when they’re wasting ungodly amounts of money on steak dinners, and raining down hundred dollar bills at strip clubs in Las Vegas?
When players are routinely spending more in one night than the average American yearly income, the problem is clearly not how much they are being paid, or a lack of pension. As we move towards a potential labor stoppage, look for owners to increasingly point towards public displays of players blowing cash. Also look for no one to point towards the real solution: financial planning. If Williams had been taught Bryant to put that $55,000 into something more valuable than dinner and booze for 20 or so multimillionaires, perhaps it could mature into something that could sustain him after his body gives in and he can no longer play football. Of course, that would make entirely too much sense, now wouldn’t it?

Call Me a Pessimist…

But here’s why each team in the NFL WON’T win the Super Bowl this year.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills: There are NCAA teams that could beat the Bills. They don’t have a QB and their defense couldn’t stop offenses if they knew what play was coming. At least they have decent running back depth. Too bad their offensive line can’t block for them.

Miami Dolphins: Even with the addition of Brandon Marshall, the Dolphins still don’t have a proven passing game. Chad Henne is the guy who helmed the Michigan Wolverines against Appalachian State.

New England Patriots: Age is beginning to catch up with Patriots.Tom Brady didn’t look quite the same after a knee injury. Laurence Maroney just might be the worst starting running back in the league.They aren’t allowed to film other team’s plays anymore.

New York Jets: The Jets are the trendy preseason pick. That’s never a good sign. They cut their starting running back and replaced him with a way over the hill LaDainian Tomlinson. Mark Sanchez led the conference in interceptions last year. Who knows if Rex Ryan will be the same when he’s hungry.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco no longer has any excuses to not produce at a high level. The Ravens defense qualifies for the AARP.

Cincinnati Bengals: Since when have the Bengals been known to repeat a successful performance? Can Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco’s egos fit in the same room until February? Can Carson Palmer stay healthy?

Cleveland Browns: Why won’t the Browns win the Super Bowl? Is that a serious question?

Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashard Mendenhall is a decent but not great running back. Ben Roethlisberger will spend the toughest part of the Steelers’ schedule on the bench for “indiscretions”. Their defense is no longer good enough to carry them.

AFC South

Houston Texans: They were below average in pass coverage last year and lost their best corner. You have to do better than 8-8 to win the Super Bowl.

Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning is a great player but he’s not known for postseason heroics. Their defense is also pretty terrible.

Jacksonville Jaguars: When people are talking more about the chances your team will move to London than how they will do this year, you’re probably not headed for a very successful season.

Tennessee Titans: Because you have to have something resembling a passing game to win in the playoffs. And a running back coming off a 350 carry season generally sees a drop in production.

AFC West
Denver Broncos: In the past two offseasons, the Broncos have: fired their best coach ever, traded their best quarterback since John Elway, traded a wide receiver coming off a third consecutive 100 catch 1000 yard season, and drafted a quarterback best known for loving Jesus.

Kansas City Chiefs: There’s always a chance the Chiefs could win it this year. There’s always a chance that Shakira will divorce her husband for me, as well.

Oakland Raiders: If you need me to tell you why the Raiders won’t win the Super Bowl, you’re beyond help.

San Diego Chargers: I’ll take teams known for choking in the playoffs for 500, Alex.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: This is the Cowboys year, seriously! (We were just kidding in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009)

New York Giants: The Giants have a decent team. But you don’t win Super Bowls with decent teams, you win it with great ones.

Philadelphia Eagles: Who knows, the Eagles could finally win it this year. Donovan McNabb is bound to win it even- what’s that? They traded him? To a division rival? And they’re going to start a completely unproven player in his place? What the…

Washington Redskins: Because if Donovan McNabb gets hurt (and you know it’s going to happen at some point with that offensive line) their quarterback is Rex Grossman.

NFC North

Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler doesn’t always throw interceptions, but when he does, he prefers to throw them in the red zone.

Detroit Lions: The Lions won’t win the Super Bowl this year because pigs still can’t fly.

Green Bay Packers: Who knows how great of a quarterback Aaron Rodgers could be if his offensive line gave him time to throw the ball.

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings may make the Super Bowl, but they won’t win it. It’s karma for Brett Favre.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons: If the Falcons’ defense steps up and improves this year they have a chance at making the playoffs. That’s a long way from winning the Super Bowl.

Carolina Panthers: They have a great running game, and… absolutely no passing game to speak of. This team will miss Julius Peppers more than you think.

New Orleans Saints: I’ll believe the days of the Aints are over when I see it.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This team’s offense has more power outages than Enron.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals will have to choose between Derek Anderson and Matt Leinart as their quarterback. Is there a neither option?

St. Louis Rams: lol

San Francisco 49ers: Their quarterback is Alex Smith, and if you think a team from the NFC West will win the Super Bowl, I’ve got some lovely riverside property in Brooklyn to sell you.

Seattle Seahawks: Now that all of his players are getting paid instead of just the best ones, will Pete Carroll be able to have the same success?