Cowboys, Colts headline ‘most to prove’ list

Jul 25, 2006 1:19 AM

Frustration and failure can prove excellent motivating factors in sports.

We see quality teams get beaten badly all the time, then bounce back the next game with a terrific performance that often results in an easy win and cover. This can also take place with teams off disappointing seasons.

Back in 2004, the Jaguars suffered a late season loss to Houston, 21-0 (at home), that ruined any playoff hopes. Last season, Jacksonville was a very motivated team, going 12-4 and made the postseason.

A year ago in this column, I pointed out that Carolina had gone from NFC champion in 2003-04 to a sputtering 7-9 in 2004-05 and might be primed for a focused, bounce-back effort. In fact, Jon Fox’s Panthers returned to the NFC title game despite many injuries. When channeled properly, frustration can be focused into positive energy.

Here are some NFL teams with something to prove in 2006-07.

COWBOYS: Bill Parcells has a history of bouncing back after a bad season. After a 3-12-1 campaign in his first season as head coach with the Giants in 1983, his team was in the playoffs the next year, upsetting the Rams as a +5 dog. After a 6-10 season in 1995 in New England, Parcells’ Patriots were in the Super Bowl the next year. Dallas is balanced with an interesting blend of veterans and kids.

Parcells rebuilt the defense a year ago and Dallas ranked 10th. Offensive tackle Jason Fabini was a key offseason free agent prize, providing help for veteran QB Drew Bledsoe, WR Terry Glenn, young TE Jason Witten and RB Julius Jones. And Dallas brings in (gulp), WR Terrell Owens! T.O. is usually happy for one season before he implodes in a sea of self-importance. That bodes well. It will be fun watching Parcells, a master psychologist, deal with the childish Owens.

COLTS: If any team could feel terrible after a 14-3 season, it’s Indy. Finally gaining home field advantage for the playoffs, the Colts still choked in a stunning 21-18 home loss to the eventual Super Bowl champ Pittsburgh. Mike Vanderjagt’s FG attempt 500-yards wide right only added to the misery after Jerome Bettis’ fumble nearly handed the game to Indy.

Dumping Vanderjagt was a good move and Indy was delighted to scoop up New England’s free agent kicker Adam Vinatieri and his three Super Bowl rings. Top RB Edgerrin James is gone, so rookie Joseph Addai (LSU) is counted on to provide some backfield punch. With Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney, this is still a talented team capable of beating anyone. Indy was 7-1 SU, 6-1-1 ATS on the road last fall.

BRONCOS: You don’t often see the heat on a two-time Super Bowl winning coach, but that’s the case in Denver with Mike Shanahan. A shutdown corner was top priority after Denver was wiped out 41-10 by the Colts in the 2004 playoffs. So, Clinton Portis was dealt to Washington for premier CB Champ Bailey. Despite great stats, Denver fell to the Colts again in the playoffs, 49-24.

Last year, more of the same: Great stats, hosting the AFC Championship game, only to watch jittery Jake Plummer fall apart in a sea of turnovers against the Steelers’ high pressure defense. Over the last five seasons the Broncos are 6-13 SU and 8-10-1 ATS as an underdog.

DOLPHINS: Pittsburgh (7) and Miami (6) come into the new season with the top winning streaks. It was also a fascinating offseason for Miami, which went 4-2 ATS during that six-game run. The big story was the trade (or steal) for Vikings star QB Daunte Culpepper, a three-time Pro Bowler with Minnesota and college standout at Central Florida.

Culpepper had a terrible 2005-06 campaign with a season-ending knee injury. Miami took a shot with Culpepper, who is just 29 and in 2004 passed for 4,717 yards, 39 TDs and just 11 INTs! Ricky "Up in Smoke" Williams rushed off to the CFL, so young workhorse Ronnie Brown anchors the backfield. Defensively, the Fish allowed 3.7 yards per carry (No. 7 in the NFL).

PACKERS: Last round-up for the old man? QB Brett Favre will turn 37 before the second half of the season. Favre threw for 3,881 yards last season, though erratic with 20 TDs and a whopping 29 INTs. It was an injury-plagued season for Green Bay, though finishing seventh in total defense.

New coach Mike McCarthy comes over from San Francisco, where he was offensive coordinator for a 49ers unit that was last in total offense. This might make Cheeseheads say, "We hired who?" McCarthy was also Green Bay’s QBs coach in 1999. Favre struggled in his only year with McCarthy, throwing 23 interceptions to 22 TDs. Sports bettors take note: The Packers have been overvalued in Lambeau Field the past two seasons (7-10 SU, 4-12-1 ATS).