Can I get a playoff spot for Christmas?

December 25, 2009

Well, here we go.

This season is ending a bit different than I would have anticipated. The prospect that both Jacksonville and Miami could make the playoffs this year is a pleasant surprise – and a way to help make up for the disappointment of the worst Bucs season in 18 years.

The reality, however, is that it will take a bit of a Christmas miracle for both teams to find a way into the playoffs.

Both are two of six AFC teams with identical 7-7 records fighting for the wild card spots that right now belong to the 8-6 Broncos and 8-6 Ravens.

There is an opening there for either one of the Florida teams, but it will take a lot of doing, including taking care of business down the final stretch of the season. And that’s where I have guarded optimism.

Jacksonville’s next two games are on the road against New England and Cleveland. Ouch. How about that land of Sunshine team? Two straight games in very cold and hostile locations. New England has yet to clinch a playoff spot so the Jaguars won’t get any favors from the Patriots who are undefeated at home so far this year. Even the hometown newspaper concedes it may be a tough feat for the Jags to win this game. Key point – If Peyton Manning torched the Jaguars for four touchdowns last week, how well will Tom Brady fare? The Browns are obviously a bit of an easier opponent to worry about, but Cleveland has actually been playing better in the last couple of games.

Miami’s final stretch isn’t much better, although the team gets both of its final games at home in Land Shark Stadium. The Dolphins square off this weekend against a Houston Texans team trying hard to save head coach Gary Kubiak’s job and get a playoff berth. Then the Dolphins close out the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the 2009 Super Bowl champs. The only thing going with the Fins in that game is if the Steelers lose this weekend to the Ravens then their season is probably over and they will have little to play for in the final week of the regular season.

Of course neither game will be a gimme for the Fins. I’m not sure the Fins offense can keep up with the Texans offense, while Pittsburgh has actually turned into a passing team that features a tough good quarterback.

So how about it Santa? How about a playoff berth for one of the Florida teams? You don’t even have to put it under the tree.


Pro Bowl choices are few this year

November 14, 2009

(UPDATE – The news that Ronnie Brown is out for the rest of the season alters this list tremendously.)

The NFL has opened up its 2010 Pro Bowl voting, but unfortunately it looks like there probably won’t be a lot of players attending the contest in Miami who hail from Florida teams.

When two of your three NFL teams stumble through the season it’s hard to expect that they will beat out the talents of other 29 teams in the league.

But here’s some players who I believe deserve serious Pro Bowl consideration.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Ok, so I was sort of wrong about Mojo. He has had a great season stats wise as the feature running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He leads the league with 11 rushing TDs and is third in the AFC in rushing yards. This may not be surprising since Mojo is basically the only good thing going on with the Jags offense. But while I was wrong about whether or not Mojo could handle a full-time load – I also predicted that he couldn’t turn around the fortunes of the Jaguars. And that has turned out to be dead on.

Ronnie Brown: If the Miami Dolphins make the playoffs again this season it will of course be due primarily to Brown. He is the heart and soul of the Dolphins offense whether he’s running the Wildcat or taking the handoff from Chad Henne. He is 7th in the AFC in rushing, but that’s because he is dividing his rushes with Ricky Williams (who is also having a pretty decent season).

Jason Taylor: After a one-year exile with the Redskins, Taylor has been a welcome addition to the Dolphins defense. The 35-year-old veteran has already has 5 and a half sacks for the season and has forced two fumbles.

Aqib Talib: Talib has been one of the few bright spots in a dismal season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has five interceptions on the year, which ties him for third in the entire NFL.

Beyond these four players, there are a handful of others who I think you could make an argument for, including Jaguars wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker. Sims-Walker, a 2nd year pro, has helped out the Jags much more than their acquisition of Torry Holt. Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud has had a solid season as well and ranks 8th in the league with 68 tackles. Ruud also has an interception. Ted Ginn Jr. deserves some consideration because of his kick-returning skills, but we’ll have to see whether or not his 2 tds against the N.Y. Jets was a one-week wonder. Right now he’s not even on the Pro Bowl ballot as a returner.


Bad start for Jags and Bucs is so predictable

October 12, 2009

In the wake of yet another debilitating loss, the rah-rahs for new coach Raheem Morris and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have just about faded away completely.

Instead we now have columnists wondering if Morris is up to the job as head coach.

Psst. It’s a bit too late to ask this question.

This train wreck of a season was set in motion months ago and back in April I warned that both the Jaguars and Bucs were heading in the wrong direction.

The decision to rebuild the Bucs and jettison everyone associated with past success made no sense earlier this year. And it’s being shown out on the football field on Sunday.

Let’s just face facts here.

1. Morris was rushed into this job with no proof that he was ready. It doesn’t mean he can’t be a good coach, but there was no evidence that he deserved it.

2. In the NFL there is one position that matters the most. It’s called quarterback. If you don’t have a half-way decent quarterback, you will lose most weeks. Only if you have a ferocious defense can you afford to have a mediocre player. Just look at the Tennessee Titans. If their defense isn’t playing the way they did last year, Kerry Collins isn’t good enough to bail them out. The Bucs had opportunities to go after and bring in a good quarterback and they didn’t do it. They went through the preseason insisting that they had two guys who could handle the job. Of course neither of them is playing now.

3. If you can’t evaluate personnel and talent, you are also doomed. Why bring in a new kicker, or hire a new offensive coordinator if just a few months later you are forced to discard both of them? That’s yet another sign that no one knows how to run an organization.

By contrast, we know that the Jaguars have a good coach in the past with Jack Del Rio.

But the continued off-field problems – such as the need to suspend leading receiver Mike Sims-Walker – reprise questions from last season about whether Del Rio has control of the team anymore. The Seahawks 41-o drubbing on Sunday has to go down as one of the most embarrassing losses in team history.

And there’s still the problem that the team lacks the offensive firepower to win consistently. When a team shuts down running back Maurice Jones-Drew, then there’s got to be someone else who can help. It shouldn’t take the suspension of one player to derail the entire aerial attack of a team.

So two more predictions: Del Rio and Morris will find their coaching careers in the NFL come to a crashing end in the next few weeks unless something miraculous occurs between now and then.

Let’s see whether I am wrong about this one.


Bucs meltdown just keeps getting worse and worse

September 6, 2009

A few months ago I warned that all the danger signs were there for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Maybe I was too nice.

The latest decision to trade Luke McCown to the Jacksonville Jaguars just caps off a spectacularly disastrous preseason.

Alienate and drop a good kicker? Check. Fire your offensive coordinator and then publicly admit that you didn’t know until a week to go that he’s not qualified? Check. Trade your No. 2 quarterback to the team that already made it clear that they think you’re No. 1 quarterback isn’t a starter? Check. Have no clear idea of who’s going to run the ball? Check. Drag out the decision on who your starting quarterback is until just days before your season opener? Check. Have one of your top defensive players get arrested and your standout safety suspended for four games? Check.

And that’s what just happened in the last month. Leading up to this wonderful preseason we got Kellen Winslow – who has the potential to ruin your team chemistry at any time – tapped as the primary offensive weapon. The Bucs cut the heart and soul of their defense, Derrick Brooks, and paid good money for running back Derrick Ward only to suggest now that Cadillac Williams has returned from injury and should be good to go this season.

Wow. I think only the Oakland Raiders can match this for a series of disastrous moves.

It just makes the bottom line that much apparent. As much as people may have hated Jon Gruden, last season is going to seem like an eternity ago. The Bucs are going to be at the bottom of the NFC South and they will be lucky if they manage to win four games. The Bucs better just hope that the Detroit Lions remain as inept as ever, if only because it will take some of the pressure off from being the No. 1 laughingstock in the NFL.

Yes, I’m serious. It’s going to be that bad.


Draft Day 1: Fins surprise, Jags solid and the Bucs still don’t get it

April 26, 2009

After the first day of the NFL draft I think the verdict is this:

* Bill Parcells and the crew at Miami made a couple of expected picks, such as strengthening the defense with Illinois CB Vontae Davis and Utah CB Sean Smith. There was a little bit of concern expressed by the draftniks that Davis could have an attitude problem. But there is agreement that Davis could be a great addition to the defense.

More surprising was the selection of West Virginia QB Pat White in the second round. White is tremendously gifted, but after watching him it’s clear that he is a longshot to be an everyday quarterback. But he could obviously run the Wildcat offense effectively and could give defenses fits since he can throw the ball a bit better than Ronnie Brown. My only other thought, however, is I wonder whether he would have slipped down the board another round. They may have taken White too high.

Grade for the Dolphins: B-

* Jacksonville had really done very little to help itself during the off-season coming into the draft. They signed a deal with Maurice Jones-Drew that I still think they will come to regret and they brought in Torry Holt, who has been a great receiver but is now 32 years old and you wonder how much he’s got left in him.

But on the first day of the draft the Jaguars did exactly what they needed to do: Get help on the offensive line. There was no way that Jones-Drew can even hope to succeed if the Jags did not address that critical need. They got two big bodies in OT Eugene Monroe from Virginia and OT Eben Britton from Arizona. Solid picks, good decisions.

Grade for the Jaguars: A

* Do the people running the Bucs now even understand how the NFL works? After acting as if their quarterback situation was acceptable (which it’s not) – they signed Byron Leftwich as a backup and on draft day they TRADE UP to get QB Josh Freeman from Kansas State.

This is yet another sign that this franchise has no interest in trying to win this upcoming season. Freeman could be a great talent – and new coach Raheem Morris knows him well – but everyone admits he’s not ready to start. What the heck is the point of that? Tampa Bay now has a parcel of quarterbacks and yet none of them is capable of making the Bucs a winner.

The Bucs refuse to ante up to go after Jay Cutler yet they tacitly admit through their acquisitions of Leftwich and now Freeman that they need a QB.

Bucs fans it’s going be a long, long 2009 season. This team just keeps headed in the wrong direction.

Grade for the Bucs: D


Drastic steps may not help Bucs

January 18, 2009
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Ok, everyone seems to be very, very impressed with Raheem Morris. In a matter of hours on Friday, Morris was elevated to head coach to take the place of Jon Gruden as the new head coach as the Bucs and the reviews are already glowing for the 32-year-old phenom who was a contender for other head coaching jobs in the league. He was introduced officially to the media on Saturday.

On the plus side, the Glazer family clear had a plan. They just didn’t jettison Gruden and go chasing after shadows, much like their ill-fated pursuit of Bill Parcells after they sent Tony Dungy packing.

But this drastic series of steps – which also included firing General Manager Bruce Allen – still may do nothing to improve the Bucs on the football field.

Let’s leave aside the fact that Morris – who a few weeks ago was an assistant coach – is green and relatively untested even as a coordinator. Buccaneeers co-chairman Joel Glazer on Saturday insisted that Morris would be able to relate with “today’s younger players” and help put the Bucs back on a winning path. (This is apparently a subtle swipe at Gruden, who some players say would quickly turn on players.)

In his initial comments, Morris made it sound as if he did not have any major plans to change some of the things that the Bucs are doing. Morris even went out of his way to praise Gruden and say that he had learned from his previous boss.

I’m not sure that’s going to work. A kinder, gentler version of Chucky is not going to create a miracle in Tampa. The problems with the Bucs are systemic – an aging defense, an unsteady situation at quarterback, a rushing attack in a constant state of flux due to injuries, a lack of big playmakers outside of Antonio Bryant.

Now the Glazers have tried to address the team’s personnel problems by bringing in a new general manager who will be given a chance to retool this franchise. Plus, the team is reportedly $46 million below the salary cap giving the ability to chase after free agents.

But it seems to me that this huge overhaul may actually create a step backwards. The Bucs were a game away from going to playoffs this past season. By cleaning house in such a dramatic fashion, this could be a sign that the Bucs plan to spend the offseason revamping the franchise.

I hope I’m wrong, but if I were Bucs fans I wouldn’t expect more than six to eight wins next year.


Firing Gruden and Del Rio won’t fix problems

December 29, 2008
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Now that the NFL regular season is over, the hand-wringing, speculation and rumors over the fates of Bucs coach Jon Gruden and Jags coach Jack Del Rio will go into overdrive.

But let’s hope the owners of both teams take a deep breath before they do anything rash.

More often than not jettisoning a head coach doesn’t fix a team’s problems. Sometimes it just makes it worse as the team transitions to a new offense, new defense, etc. etc.

Let’s just put two names in the mix: Tom Coughlin and Tony Dungy. Coughlin and Dungy have won the last Super Bowls for their current teams. But both coaches were unceremoniously forced out the door at Jacksonville and Tampa Bay despite their record of success for the two teams.

You would think that the Glazer family and Wayne Weaver would remember their own bit of history before they start down the same path this time.

It could be argued that Dungy was too nice to get his Bucs players to take that extra step, but I think his record with the Colts disproves that. The Bucs won with defense, while the Colts win with offense. Dungy has shown that he can win regardless of the talent level around him. Coughlin, by contrast, likes to do things a certain way. But his undoing in Jacksonville had more to do with a disastrous series of personnel moves that put the team up against the salary cap.

Gruden, of course, lacks charm but he was able to lead the Bucs to a Super Bowl title back in 2003. That has been forgotten, however, as Tampa Bay continues to suffer meltdowns in December. On Sunday, the team had a shot for the playoffs but somehow managed to lose to the lowly Oakland Raiders. The Bucs lost the last four games of the season to end 9-7.

One of the arguments being used against Gruden is his constant quarterback shuffling.

Any sportswriter, however, who makes that point just isn’t watching enough NFL games. MOST teams in the league lack a true, bonafide, consistent quarterback. Anyone who thinks that the Bucs could have won 9 or 10 games with Chris Sims or some other cast-off is fooling themselves.

Jeff Garcia the last two years has made a difference. There’s a reason that the Tennessee Titans handed the ball this season to Kerry Collins. Their young quarterback Vince Young just couldn’t get the job done. Gruden’s complex offense needs a smart poised quarterback in order for it to succeed.

Jacksonville’s problems this season aren’t all Del Rio’s fault. Losing two offensive lineman at the start of the season was a killer blow. And a series of once again questionable moves, like signing Jerry Porter, also contributed to the team’s demise. The Jaguars have already announced that the team’s vice president of player personnel James “Shack” Harris has resigned. The departure of Harris may be a sign that Del Rio will get one more season to turn things around.

The one thing, however, that could be used against Del Rio is his handling of the team this year, including a now-infamous blow-up with one of his star linebacker. If Del Rio has lost control of the team then it may be time to close this chapter of the Jaguars franchise.

But at the end of the day it comes down to the players, not the coaches. It was the aging Bucs defense that got ripped for nearly a thousand yards rushing in the closing month of the season. It was the Jags offense that lacked playmakers who could stretch opposing defenses.

And changing coaches will do little to fix that problem.