- Associated Press - Thursday, December 2, 2010

First it was the Cowboys and Vikings, followed by the Bengals and Titans. Now, the Broncos and Cardinals have joined the NFL’s list of imploding teams.

As the folks in NASCAR like to say when a car’s engine fails: “They blowed up.”

While the race to the Super Bowl couldn’t be much more wide-open, the stuff happening at the other end of the standings has been just as compelling.

Coach firings in the recent past, or imminent for the near future. Quarterback controversies, tantrums and scandals. Dissension and discord.

And Randy Moss.

Except for the Broncos, all of those teams were expected to contend for titles. Dallas, Minnesota, Cincinnati and Arizona were defending division winners entering 2010.

All they’ve contended for this year is who can be the most dysfunctional.

_DALLAS: Even as Jerry Jones dreamed about his team playing in a Super Bowl it was hosting, the Cowboys were falling apart. Wade Phillips’ nice guy approach didn’t work with the fat cats Jones created by loading them up with big contracts and high praise. The offensive line was shaky and leaky, then quarterback Tony Romo got hurt because his teammates couldn’t protect him.

The secondary couldn’t cover, well, Phillips and Jones if they suited up and ran patterns.

But the owner stood by his man until successive humiliations against Jacksonville and Green Bay.

Things have gotten better with Jason Garrett elevated to head coach, although the damage for this season already was done.

_MINNESOTA: If you think it was ugly in Big D, try this. The Vikings were one successful play from the Super Bowl last winter. Hoping to take it at least a step farther, they persuaded 100-year-old Brett Favre to try it one more time despite his achy limbs, even dispatching three players to Mississippi to bring him north.

When the passing game stagnated because of Favre’s reluctance to commit and the lack of a deep threat with Sidney Rice hurt, they traded a third-round pick to New England for former Minnesota standout Moss. He lasted all of a month, enough time to disparage a team caterer before being released in a move that split the team even more.

Like Dallas, when Minnesota fell in lopsided losses to Chicago and Green Bay, the coach was canned. There was no bon-voyage party from the players for Brad Childress when he left, either.

To add a little spice to the recipe, Favre was cited in a Deadspin story as having sent lewd photos and inappropriate text messages to a game hostess in 2008 when both were with the Jets. The NFL’s investigation seems to have lasted as long as Favre’s career.

_CINCINNATI: When Marvin Lewis took over the Bengals in 2003, he was given more leeway and power than most previous coaches in Cincinnati. He didn’t get enough, and although he’s been as successful as just about anyone who has worked for owner Mike Brown, he apparently has had enough.

Lewis didn’t accept a contract extension before the season. He did accept the addition of Terrell Owens because the defending AFC North champs seemed on the verge of something special.

What they’ve gotten instead is an eight-game slide, a 2-9 record and a couple of dissatisfied diva receivers.

_TENNESSEE: So which was more puzzling, Vince Young throwing equipment into the stands after breaking his thumb and yielding to a rookie third-string quarterback, or his feuding openly before the team with coach Jeff Fisher?

At least the Titans are showing some combativeness, even if it landed Young on IR _ and perhaps on his way out of Nashville _ and got cornerback Cortland Finnegan fined $25,000 for goading Texans receiver Andre Johnson into a fight for which both were ejected last Sunday.

_DENVER: Spygate II, the latest drama in Josh McDaniels’ 27-game reign, has diminished the way this once-proud franchise is looked at around the league. Maybe Chiefs coach Todd Haley knew all about the Broncos’ videotaping a 49ers walkthrough in London last month when he refused to shake McDaniels’ hands after a game two weeks later.

Broncos owner Pat Bowlen is standing by his hand-chosen coach who has gotten virtually nothing from first-round draftees Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas and has gone 5-16 since starting his tenure with six straight victories.

_ARIZONA: The Cardinals blew their chances long before QB Derek Anderson blew his top after a terrible outing against San Francisco on Monday night. Sure, it’s difficult to replace a Kurt Warner, and Arizona has failed miserably. But the Cardinals’ meltdown began when they allowed too many other key players to leave, including linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Antrel Rolle. On-field leadership has been an issue just as much as on-field performance.

You can bet Warner wouldn’t have been called out or needed to apologize for his sideline demeanor.

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