Rams, Titans at risk of establishing ‘300 club’
There aren’t just a lot of bad teams in the NFL this year. The league is well on its way to reaching historic levels this year.
Although the season is only seven weeks old, five teams (St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns) have already been outscored by at least 100 points, putting them on pace to be outscored by 200 by season’s end. Two other teams (Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions) are each a lopsided loss from reaching the century mark and the Carolina Panthers are currently on pace to surpass 100 as well.
While there were eight teams to be outscored by 100 points in 2007, only two teams have been outscored by 200 points (Arizona Cardinals in ’03 and Lions in ’08) since the NFL expanded to 32 teams in 2002.
In other words, the season isn’t even half over and there are already enough wretched teams to fill a complete season.
Moreover, both St. Louis, which has been outscored by 151 points already, and Tennessee, which has been outscored by 114 points in only six games, are on pace to be outscored by at least 300 points. That has never happened in NFL history. Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, the most any team has ever been outscored in that time is 274 points (Baltimore Colts in 1981).
Sadly, this season goes way beyond the norm and it’s not likely to change anytime soon. Sure, Tennessee fans can say that the 59-0 beatdown they suffered at the hands of New England two Sundays ago has skewed the numbers, but the reality is that scores like 31-3, 35-7 and even 42-6 (they all happened Sunday) are becoming the norm this season.
And that’s not good for the NFL, a league that has prided itself for years on balanced competition. The notion that most games are decided by a touchdown (if not a field goal) or less has been a badge of honor (not to mention a serious boost for TV ratings) for the league. Lopsided games are the stuff of the college game, where top teams like Florida regularly face a fair share of Troy States and Coastal Carolinas each season.
Or as New England coach Bill Belichick put it two weeks ago (before his team beat Tennessee and Tampa Bay by a combined 94-7 the past two games): “The [NFL] system is built for everybody to be about the same. To be really good or really bad, you have to work at it.”
Well, some of the aforementioned teams are putting in overtime right now in an effort to be wretched. Don’t believe that? Just ask the true experts on football, the guys who take bets on it for a living.
“I can’t remember an NFL season with this many bad teams,” Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Sunday. Kornegay has been in the business for 22 years. “No doubt, it was the worst day ever for the books. … We can’t attract money on these poor teams. We keep losing on the same teams. They are not even close to covering.”
Not that anybody is crying tears over a sports book taking a hit, but guys like Kornegay have perspective.
According to former NFL personnel executive Mike Lombardi, who writes for NationalFootballPost.com, the problem revolves around the people who are making the day-to-day decisions. Personnel men and head coaches are simply too inexperienced or, worse, they have no background in football.
“It used to be that you had to have 20 years of experience before you ran a team, before you made a decision on how to structure the front office or the coaching staff,” Lombardi said. “Now, a coach can make two first-down calls and he’s a head-coaching candidate or you sit in one draft room and you know how to pick players.”
To wit, there has been a growing emphasis in the past few years on getting less-experienced coaches who will work for cheap. In some cases it works, such as Josh McDaniels in Denver (so far) and Mike Smith(notes) in Atlanta. Too often, there is a struggle as coaches either have to learn hard lessons (Jim Zorn with the Washington Redskins and Raheem Morris in Tampa Bay) or are too hard-headed to figure out their own shortcomings (Eric Mangini in Cleveland).
Combine that with lack of football knowledge among some owners (Dan Snyder in Washington and Randy Lerner in Cleveland) and you have a recipe for failure. Furthermore, as NFL teams become more about turning a profit, owners with an eye on their investments turn to people who understand money, not necessarily talent. In Buffalo, general manager Russ Brandon calls most of the shots for the football team. Brandon’s background was in marketing before he got the GM job.
“There are guys getting jobs to run a company they aren’t trained to run,” Lombardi said. “That’s the honest, straightforward answer. Experience is being pushed out the door by guys who have the ear of the owner in a lot of places.”
As for the future, don’t expect this to change much when 2010 becomes uncapped, as it is currently scheduled. Because of rules in an uncapped year, there will be even less free-agent movement than in the past. The NFL draft will be the only quick infusion of talent for teams that are already thin, such as Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Kansas City.
Stupid play of the week: Give Miami coach Tony Sparano credit for owning up to this mistake, but it’s a mistake nonetheless. After a replay at the end of the first half wiped out a touchdown pass by the Saints, New Orleans was set to go for a field goal. The Saints, down 24-3 at the time, were also out of timeouts to consider their options with five seconds left. However, Sparano called a timeout, whereupon Saints quarterback Drew Brees(notes) convinced coach Sean Payton to go for the touchdown. Brees snuck in for the score, a play that helped the Saints get momentum in their comeback win.
1. New Orleans Saints (6-0): Depending on the pass will hurt them eventually, but not now.
2. Indianapolis Colts (6-0): Drew Brees for MVP? Sorry, Peyton Manning(notes) leads the way.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2): They are a missed FG and an INT away from being undefeated.
4. Denver Broncos (6-0): I still don’t trust them long term, but I’ll buy-in for now.
5. Minnesota Vikings (6-1): Really outplayed the Steelers in that loss.
28. Kansas City Chiefs (1-6): Raiders charging hard to displace the Chiefs.
29. Cleveland Browns (1-6): No surprise, the media is calling for Mangini to be fired already.
30. Tennessee Titans (0-6): Dear Jeff Fisher, don’t fight your owner on Vince Young(notes).
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7): Josh Freeman(notes) is here. Whether he stays for long is the question.
32. St. Louis Rams (0-7): Did Will Witherspoon(notes) make a deal with the devil to get traded?
This and that
• If Chiefs running back Larry Johnson(notes) were getting in trouble or mouthing off for the first time, I’d probably be more forgiving of his insensitive comments toward both readers of his Twitter page and the Kansas City media. But considering he has been arrested four times (pleading guilty twice) and missed four games last year as a result of team and league-mandated suspensions, Johnson’s latest outburst (including ripping coach Todd Haley and using a homosexual slur twice) is enough. It’s time for the Chiefs to cut Johnson and for the NFL to suspend him for at least one game.
• A good friend and Ben Roethlisberger(notes) fan has been hammering me with emails and text messages about how Roethlisberger gets overlooked in the MVP discussion. He has a point. When people try to boil the discussion down to Brees and Manning, Roethlisberger has some compelling numbers. Right now, he’s completing an astounding 70.4 percent of his passes and averaging an excellent 8.8 yards per pass attempt. Those numbers are better than Brees’ and Roethlisberger splits those categories with Manning. Oddly, ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer(notes) said recently that Kyle Orton(notes), Aaron Rodgers(notes) and Brett Favre(notes) have all outplayed Roethlisberger this year. Sorry, I’m just not buying that.
• Speaking of Favre, he gets the lion’s share of blame for that last interception against Pittsburgh which led to the Steelers’ game-clinching return for a touchdown. While the ball did hit running back Chester Taylor(notes) in the hands, it hit him above the hands. Good quarterbacks will tell you that if you throw a ball high and hard to a running back coming out of the backfield, you’re looking for trouble. Specifically, that throw should have been at Taylor’s chest or lower, not higher. That’s because if that pass does get tipped, there are plenty of defenders in the area to get the easy carom. That’s exactly what happened. Further, that’s another example of the danger of Favre joining the Vikes so late in the preseason. Not only was the pass a little off, it was to a player not used to playing with Favre.
• The decision by the Dallas Cowboys to give linebacker DeMarcus Ware(notes) a new $78 million contract can be read as an interesting sign of the future. Not necessarily that the NFL will reach an agreement on an extension of the collective bargaining agreement before 2010 (that’s highly unlikely). Rather, even though Ware would have been only a restricted free agent this offseason, the Cowboys still likely would have had to make him a franchise player to keep other teams from bidding on him. More important, there are some people around the league who are concerned that the franchise tag could be severely impacted in the future after negotiations are done, likely in 2011. Thus, the Cowboys might have been able to keep Ware for cheap for one more year, but they might have been forced to either pay even more in 2011 or risk losing him in free agency.
• The aforementioned high number of bad teams in the league this season overshadows the fact that there are still three undefeated teams remaining. That’s the most there have ever been this late in a season.
• Miami wide receiver Ted Ginn had his latest horrible game as he dropped two passes in the loss to New Orleans. Worse, one of the drops was tipped, intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Saints safety Darren Sharper(notes). Ginn’s role in the offense has already been reduced as the season has gone on. Although he had a big catch in the win over the New York Jets, this latest game and his drop at the end against Indianapolis have become his signature plays. Don’t expect Ginn to survive the offseason with Miami, if he even makes it through the rest of this season. Not good for a former No. 9 overall selection.