Browns, Bucs look like decent fits for glass slippers By Hub Arkush (firstname.lastname@example.org) Aug. 20, 2007 http://www.profootballweekly.com/PFW/Commentary/Columns/2007/harkush2208.htm Why is it such a given in pro football today that each season is going to treat us to a Cinderella or two? Probably because of the last 58 division titles since 1999, no fewer than 14 have been claimed by clubs that finished last, or tied for last, in their division the prior season. In fact, in six of the past eight NFL seasons, at least two division titles have been won by clubs going from worst to first, with 2000, when only one team accomplished the feat, and ’02, when no team was able to turn the trick, being the exceptions. In 1999, the Colts went from 3-13 in ’98 to 13-3, and the Rams became the “Greatest Show on Turf,” coming from 4-12 to go 13-3 and win a Super Bowl. In 2000, the Saints were the lone team to make the jump, going from 3-13 to 10-6. In 2001, it was Chicago jumping from 5-11 to 13-3 and the Patriots climbing from 5-11 to 11-5 and a Super Bowl victory. After the ’02 hiatus, 2003 saw the Panthers jump from 7-9 to 11-5 and the Chiefs making a move from 8-8 to 13-3. In ’04, the Falcons improved from 5-11 to 11-5, and San Diego went from 4-12 to 12-4. In ’05, it was the Bears again jumping from 5-11 to 11-5 and Tampa Bay enjoying identical improvement. Last year, the Ravens (who tied the Browns for last in the AFC North in ’05, although technically third due to the tiebreaker) went from 6-10 to 13-3, the Eagles went from 6-10 to 10-6 and, in one of the biggest surprises of all, the Saints climbed from 3-13 to 10-6. All these turnarounds seem to make the odds very significant that, from the ’06 season’s group of cellar dwellers — Miami, Cleveland, Houston, Oakland, Washington, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Arizona — at least two are going to win their divisions. The question is: Which two? Let’s start by eliminating Oakland and Miami. It would seem the minimum requirement for the kind of improvement we’re talking about is to accomplish more good than bad during the offseason. Lane Kiffin may eventually be a great coach in the NFL. In fact, the early reviews I’ve heard are promising. But the bungling of the Raiders’ coaching search, combined with any barely reasonable learning curve for Kiffin and the inability to get even close to signing first-round draft pick JaMarcus Russell as of this writing, leaves the Raiders, at the very least, a year away. In Miami, I have very serious reservations about the résumés of Randy Mueller and Cam Cameron as the guys to craft the Dolphins’ resurrection. Leaving Brady Quinn on the board to claim Ted Ginn Jr. was less than awe-inspiring to me. More importantly, worrying about wide receiver when the offensive line has been a disaster area for years should have eliminated any hope for Fish fans, at least until 2008. There are those of you who have jumped on the Lions’ bandwagon ever since Jon Kitna and Mike Furrey each promised between 10 and 12 wins, and I can see where hope could spring from. George Foster and Edwin Mulitalo are nice upgrades on the offensive line, Calvin Johnson is for real and the Lions have got some good-looking kids on defense. But, of all the defending division champs, is any less likely to falter than the Bears? I think the Redskins face a similar problem. The Eagles certainly could falter if Donovan McNabb goes down again. But while I am not among them, there are many who believe the Cowboys are the club to beat, and the Giants were a playoff club last year, as well. The Redskins will need a ton of skill and luck to leapfrog all three of those teams. The Texans intrigue me, and I can make a case for the Colts taking a few big hits, considering they’ve already lost their Pro Bowl left tackle and the heart of their defensive line. But I’ll take Matt Schaub over Peyton Manning the next time “Dubya” wins an election. And while Seattle is anything but a lock in the NFC West, the Cardinals are, well, the Cardinals. So, let’s go with the Browns to win the AFC North because Eric Steinbach was a great pickup, and when Kellen Winslow Jr. and Braylon Edwards live up to their potential, Brady Quinn will have all the security blankets he needs to become the team’s QB of the future. The Ravens could be great again or could flip right back to 6-10, the Bengals continue to have a greater need for parole officers than celebration-party planners, and Mike Tomlin is going to have to find out Pittsburgh isn’t preschool before he’s ready to win. And the Bucs will win the NFC South because they weren’t nearly as bad as their 4-12 record last year, compiled mostly with a sixth-round draft choice from Toledo at quarterback; they’re much faster and younger on defense this year; and Jon “Chucky” Gruden is still actually a pretty good football coach. I like Carolina, but after last year, don’t you really have to wonder if the team’s Super Bowl window has closed? The Saints were a great story in ’06, but are they a great team? And does anyone believe the Falcons aren’t a disaster waiting to happen?