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For 11/19/2004

At the beginning of the season, I made an off-hand comment about two coaches who I felt were on the hot seat: Jim Haslett and Dave Wannstedt. At the time, I felt that Haslett was on a hotter seat because he had fewer excuses to explain why his team was underperforming.

After I made the comment, I spent a lot of time thinking about which team is the worst team in the NFL. I even invested a good deal of time trying to back up my analysis with some quantitative research. But when my son decided that he wanted to watch the Red Sox win the pennant and the World Series with his dad and arrived two and a half weeks early, all of the work I put into my analysis went down the drain as more than four weeks passed before I could revisit my work and the landscape of the NFL had changed dramatically.

Of course, now it's a lot easier to tell you that the worst team in the NFL is one of three teams: the Carolina Panthers, the Miami Dolphins, or the San Francisco 49ers.

What kind of genius did I invoke to deduce such insight? I looked at the records. At the halfway point of the season, all of these teams have exactly 1 win and every other team has at least 3.

Before I get into which of these teams is the worst, I want to say that I agree with Bill Parcells who is fond of saying "you are what you are" to describe his teams. I don't subscribe to the "we're the best 1-4 team in the league" philosophy that a lot of the talking heads on TV like to espouse. The bottom line is that the history books only keep track of number of games you did win, not the number of games that you should have won. However, it's human nature to try and compare apples and oranges, even if for no other purpose than it's fun. So, with that in mind, let's get into a discussion of who the worst team is.

I'll start with the San Francisco 49ers, who I don't believe are the WORST team in the NFL this year.

Why? Well, the 49ers get a mulligan because they are in the first season of a rebuilding effort -- one that started with the departures of guys like Terrell Owens, Jeff Garcia, Garrison Hearst, Derrick Deese and Ron Stone for salary cap reasons. To put it plainly, they didn't expect to make a playoff run this season, they simply hoped not to embarrass themselves (too badly).

This leaves us with the Panthers and the Dolphins, arguably the two most disappointing teams in the NFL this year. Last year, these teams combined to post a regular-season record of 21-11 and the Panthers were the Super Bowl runner-up. But both of these teams have already exceeded their loss total from last year by two games each and have all but mathematically eliminated themselves from the playoff hunt.

What's somewhat humorous about these two teams is the fact that they both seem to have followed the same path to get into their current situation - they each completely dismantled their offensive line during the offseason.

I'll start with Carolina, my runner-up for worst team in the league honors.

The Panthers have struggled mightily because their offense, which was built to run the ball between the tackles, has been forced throw the ball more this year due to injuries to their top two running backs. Carolina has also been the victim of a huge defensive letdown, especially up front where an injury to Kris Jenkins has prevented them from putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and decimated their ability to stop the run.

But, as I see it, the Dolphins are by far the worst team in the league.

Things have been absolutely horrific for Miami this year, possibly best described by ABC's Al Michaels as a "train-wreck." The offense, which was built to feature RB Ricky Williams, has been non-existent in Williams' absence. The defense, which is a small, quick unit built to play for no more than 28 minutes a game, has been mauled by opposing offensive lines who have taken advantage of the absence of the two 320 lbs DTs and simply run it over. In fact, between the time I started writing this and now, Dave Wannstedt, the head coach, resigned. If that's not a damning indictment, then I don't know what is.

Really, the only things that are left to discuss about the Dolphins are:

  1. Can they win another game this year?
  2. Who'll be the next head coach?
  3. Will the overhaul of the front office include a new GM too?
  4. What will they do with the first pick in the draft?

Possibly the most daunting aspect of Miami's situation is the very real prospect that the team's problems cannot be resolved through a one-year rebuilding effort. As I see it, this team is in desperate need of an overhaul across all phases of the game. Unfortunately, years of building teams that were supposed to "win it all this year" has left them without sufficient football capital (i.e., draft picks) which they can use for their reconstruction.

Over the past 10 seasons, the Patriots are 4-6 in season openers. They made the playoffs in only 1 of the 4 seasons which they began with a win but reached the postseason in 5 of the 6 times they started the season with a loss.

20 of the NFL's 32 teams have a coach on staff who has the title "Assistant Head Coach". In fact, the Redskins actually have two guys with that title. But what I thought was quite telling is that, of those 21 assistant head coaches, 6 of them are also responsible for the offensive line.

I spend a lot of time harping about how important offensive linemen are to a team. In fact, I think that a team's left tackle is more important to its performance than the QB. However, here's a nugget of information that just goes to prove my point.

Before the start of the 2002 season, the Kansas City Chiefs acquired LT Willie Roaf from the New Orleans Saints. And since then, Priest Holmes has become a fantasy football phenomenon.

How much of an impact has Roaf made on Holmes' game? Since the start of the 2002 season, Priest Holmes has suited up for 38 games and rushed for over 3900 yards, added another 1550 receiving yards, and scored 66 TDs.

66 TDs! Just the number alone is more than most guys have in a career and he's scored that many in two and a half seasons. In fact, that's on a pace to score 28 TDs per 16-game season.

Now, you might be wondering "how does Willie Roaf factor into this?". Well, Priest Holmes scored a combined total of 21 TDs in the four seasons prior to 2002.

That's why a left tackles are important.

More coaching trivia: 6 of the 32 head coaches in the NFL are named Mike. There are also 3 Bills, 2 Dennises, and 2 Jims.

A friend of mine sent along this quote from Michael Holley's new book on the Patriots: "One of the captains was Bryan Cox, the inimitable linebacker who always carried an extra opinion just in case you didn't have one of your own."

Starting in January, the NFL's annual coaching carousel picks up as teams make decisions to "go in a different direction" (usually, known as a winning one).

With already one job open, here's what I think will transpire as January approaches.

It's my belief that the Dolphins will make a very serious run at hiring Scott Pioli to be the team's new President (replacing Eddie Jones, who announced his retirement, effective next April, last spring). If they can hire Pioli, I think that he'll interview a host of candidates for the head coaching job but will ultimately settle on New England's offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis.

I think that Jim Haslett's tenure in New Orleans comes to a close as well. Haslett's team has looked flat and lifeless for most of the season, which is simply a continuation of a trend that started back in 2002. In fact, I think that the only reason why Haslett still has a job is because he was responsible for the franchise's only playoff victory and he has the owner's sympathy. At this point, I don't have an idea as who would most likely replace him but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Saints go with Viking's offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

As I believe I mentioned before the season started, Dick Vermeil's time in Kansas City could be over too. Vermeil, who's approaching 70, said that he'd coach for 3 more seasons when he returned from retirement to take over the Chiefs before the 2001 season. During his regime, the Chiefs have won as many playoff games as the Arizona Cardinals and have played a matador-style defense. I see Romeo Crennel being Kansas City's guy here because they need a guy who can stop the bleeding on defense.

From the "Wow, I didn't expect that" category, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Rams part ways with Mike Martz. Martz is an offensive genius, but his ability to get his team ready to play and keep their heads in the game leaves something to be desired. If this is the case, I think that the Rams would go after a relatively unknown, like Iowa's Kirk Ferentz or California's Jeff Tedford.

And, finally, I think that the last guy who'll get the axe come the new year will be Butch Davis from Cleveland. After being very high on Davis when he came into the league, I've soured on him more and more each year. Davis, the latest of the Jimmy Johnson disciples to become a head coach, keeps trying to run his NFL franchise like it's a premier college program (much like Johnson did in Dallas). However, the realities of professional football (minor things like salary caps and free agency) keep getting in the way. Despite having assumed almost complete control of the Browns' football operations, I think Davis wears out his welcome and gets replaced in a major housecleaning maneuver.