There are losers, and then there are the hopeless, hapless, possibly even historic losers.
Through nearly half of the NFL season, three teams are threatening to run the table _ in the wrong direction. The problems of the Dolphins, Colts and Rams are overshadowing the ineptitude in Arizona, Minnesota, Seattle and Denver.
First, a look at the guys who can’t find a win anywhere, anyhow.
Already, there are debates at stadiums, in bars and chat rooms about which of the 0-fers will remain winless and ensure itself the first pick in next spring’s draft, unofficially called the Andrew Luck Derby. Some side with the Dolphins because they aren’t a good home team, taking away one supposed edge; are down to second-string quarterback (Matt Moore) who appears in over his head; and they find unique ways to lose regardless of the circumstances _ ask anyone who watched them fold to a previously incompetent Tim Tebow and the Broncos in the final minutes last Sunday.
All good arguments, along with a minus-7 turnover margin (only four takeaways), an underachieving offensive line, inefficiency in the red zone, and overly conservative coaching.
“This game isn’t about could’ves or should’ves,” coach Tony Sparano said. “We’re where we are right now and we’re the only ones that can get ourselves out of where we are right now so that part of it has been the most difficult, but the guys are upbeat… `’
Others point to the Rams, who were supposed to contend in the weak NFC West after nearly winning it in 2010. Instead, the 49ers are the ascendant team and the injury-ravaged Rams can’t score _ their 56 points are 34 fewer than the wretched Dolphins have managed, also in six games _ and can’t stop anyone from scoring. Through six games, they have yielded more points than 10 teams have through seven.
“It’s frustrating,” said A.J. Feeley, the starting quarterback while franchise QB Sam Bradford heals from a high left ankle sprain. “But then again you can’t get too down on yourselves because we’ve got a lot of games left.”
And a lot of losses left.
As for the Colts, well, as former coach Tony Dungy joked (we think), Peyton Manning should sweep the NFL’s Most Valuable Player voting. Without him, Indy has become IndiaNOplace, or IndiaNOwins, or IndiaNohope.
The Colts seemed to be making some progress with a string of close losses and a semblance of an offense _ though nothing like what Manning can run _ before the 62-7 debacle in New Orleans last Sunday night. On national TV, no less.
Colts President Bill Polian lamented the demise of the defense after that one, but there is no statistical category in which his team has performed well.
Even worse, and unlike the Dolphins and Rams, the Colts appear almost numb to all the losing. They are in a place unimaginable to them when Manning was around for the last dozen years, and perhaps they don’t know how to escape it.
“There are mental errors, there are breakdowns, there are coverage miscues,” Polian said. “So I don’t know what to tell you other than what the results are. So the question is how do we change that and we have to take a hard look at that.”
Which of these three teams will wind up the worst and win the Luck Derby? It might take a replicate of the Lions’ 2008 fiasco to earn that pick, and Miami could have the edge there with no games in which it will be favored now that it handed Denver last week’s win. The Rams still have two games with Arizona and two with Seattle, plus Cleveland on the schedule. Indy has home games with Jacksonville and Carolina, and finishes at the Jaguars.
The three-team race of disgrace has obscured how poorly the Cardinals, Vikings, Seahawks and Broncos have performed. Their level of losing isn’t quite so epic _ Seattle did beat the Giants in the Meadowlands; Minnesota had a shot at undefeated Green Bay in the dying minutes last Sunday in rookie QB Christian Ponder’s first start _ but it shouldn’t be ignored.
Most disappointing for Arizona has been the lack of production on offense after the big trade last summer to get QB Kevin Kolb. Certainly the adjustment period has been longer than expected, but with coach Ken Whisenhunt’s track record, he surely deserves more time to fix things.
“I don’t think anybody can take too much heat when your record is where it is,” Whisenhunt said. “Our expectations are not to be where we are as a team. We are disappointed. It hurts. We hurt all the time, because we want to be good.”
Like the Cardinals, the Vikings, Seahawks and Broncos have made quarterbacking changes this season. All of their defenses have flopped, ranking anywhere from 19th to 29th in yards allowed in the air. None has had a particularly effective offensive line.
What they all have, though, are victories. And even one win might be too many to get “Lucky” in April.
AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., and Michael Marot in Indianapolis contributed to this story.