Season of change

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

Washington Redskins safety Troy Vincent is in his 15th season, playing for a 4-8 team that's starting a quarterback who was in the fourth grade when Vincent began his career.

On top of that, Vincent has been dealing with hamstring issues all season long and was inactive during Sunday's loss to the Falcons. Through that quagmire of circumstances, Vincent retains one overwhelming quality: Hope.

"Things change fast in this league," said Vincent, who doubles as the president of the NFL Players Association. From that vantage point, Vincent understands that parity has helped make the league and its players rich. The salary cap has nearly tripled during Vincent's career, going from $34.6 million in 1994 to $102.5 million this year. As for the owners, their teams are worth billions now.

Still, hope can't be measured in dollars. Rather, it's the ultimate drug for competitive people.

"It keeps everybody going: the fans, the players and the coaches. It keeps our stadiums full and keeps people watching," Vincent said. "But it's not just that. As a player or a coach, you come to work every day thinking about some way to get back in the hunt. You can talk about playing for pride when you're out of it, but that only goes so far.

"The beauty of our game is that you can be on top for a couple of weeks, then you get an injury or two or something else happens and it all changes. … Hey, we could be this year's Steelers."

OK, Vincent is taking some liberties with the fact that the Steelers were 7-5 last year before they began their run to the Super Bowl. But the overall point remains.

The old twist on the initials NFL meaning Not For Long should be amended to Not For Longer Than A Few Weeks. Take a look at the top of the NFC. For the first half of the season, the Chicago Bears looked like they were going to shuffle their way into the Super Bowl. Now, the Bears are still the top seed in the conference, but they're almost scared to play offense with quarterback Rex Grossman.

Some people strongly believed that the New York Giants were the team to beat four weeks ago. Now, the Giants look about as organized as a night out with Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears.

The Dallas Cowboys seemed to be on life support when they changed quarterbacks prior to their Week 8 game against the Carolina Panthers. New starter Tony Romo has since become one of the league's hottest players and even been rumored to be dating Jessica Simpson.

The New Orleans Saints were considered a feel-good story early in the season. Now, they look like they are just plain good. The Seattle Seahawks are healthy and are coming off a nice road win in Denver.

"You look at the NFC right now and it's crazy. How many 6-6 teams are there right now?" Vincent said.

Four, Vincent is told.

"Some team is probably going to make it at 8-8," he said. "All you have to do is make it in and see what happens."

Some people might scoff at Vincent's Pollyanna approach, but it's hard to say he's completely wrong. The NFC – and the NFL, in general – has never had a season where picking a favorite is so hard.

That's because every team is flawed in some significant way. While so much attention has been paid to how poorly Grossman has played over the past seven games (18 turnovers), Romo had two interceptions and a fumble in the first half of Sunday's win over the Giants. Romo is a talented player with a seemingly great grasp of the game and his role, but lots of people were saying the same thing about Grossman in September.

New Orleans has done wonderful things on offense with quarterback Drew Brees. But the Saints have also taken advantage of a very weak schedule. They don't have a win against a team that currently has a winning record. Nor did they play particularly well against the AFC North teams, losing badly to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore.

As for Seattle, well, it has some intriguing players on offense. However, it has also had to pull out four games in the final minute with field goals by Josh Brown. Teams that live on a tightrope tend to fall.

And that's just a look at the top of the NFC. Picking apart the positives and negatives from the four 6-6 teams (Carolina, Philadelphia, the Giants and Atlanta) would be a good master's thesis.

Moreover, the AFC has been a rollercoaster as well. At different times, analysts have said that Indianapolis, San Diego, New England, Denver and Baltimore were the team to beat.

Vincent summarized it pretty well just talking about Carolina, which two weeks ago was tied for the NFC South lead at 6-4 and seemed poised to make a run. The Panthers had won two straight and had allowed a total of 10 points in those two games.

"Carolina came to our place two weeks ago and they were supposed to be a top team ready to make a Super Bowl run. Then they lost to us and then they lost [Monday night] in Philadelphia." Vincent said. "How do you know? To me, teams change so much that you can't really tell until the midpoint of the season who is going to make a run.

"Once you get there, it's the teams that can run that have a chance. If you can run the ball and control the clock in December and January, you have a chance."

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