Feist Facts by Jim Feist | Frustration and failure can prove excellent motivating factors in sports.
It may seem a distant memory now, but the Bears ended the 2005 season with a blowout loss at the Vikings (34-10) then a home setback to the Panthers in the playoffs, 29-21. The next season, the Bears were a very motivated team, going 15-3 while winning the NFC. They were on a mission all year.
A year ago in this column I pointed out, "The spotlight is on NY Giants coach Tom Coughlin. He was a cinch to be fired after the team went 2-7 SU, 3-5-1 ATS in 2006. They were sloppy, undisciplined and fractured after a 6-2 start. There are plenty of big-names with something to prove."
The Giants proved it, all right, rolling to a surprising Super Bowl title. When channeled properly, frustration can be focused into positive energy. Here are some NFL teams that may have something to prove in 2007:
Ravens: From 13-3 and a Super Bowl contender in 2006, the Ravens embarrassed themselves with a disastrous 5-11 SU, 3-13 ATS season. They were sloppy and undisciplined under Brian Billick, who was fired. The list of humiliations was long: A 44-20 home loss to the Colts, totally packing it in, to a 22-16 OT loss to Miami, the Dolphins’ only win.
The same talented defense (sixth in the NFL) is back, but a new coaching staff will try to provide stability and discipline. John Harbaugh is the new head coach, the former Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach. The offense adds 6-foot-6 rookie QB Joe Flacco (Delaware) with the No. 18 overall pick along with new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Note that Baltimore is 28-5 SU/20-11-2 ATS as a home favorite since 2003.
Panthers: Carolina was expected to be very good, but injuries decimated their 2007 season. QB Jake Delhomme was having a great season with 8 TDs, 1 INT before being lost, with David Carr, Vinny Testaverde and undrafted rookie QB Matt Moore all seeing time behind center.
This is the second-year with zone blocking under OC Jeff Davidson, and the offense adds RB Jonathon Stewart (Oregon), taken with the 13th overall pick and Utah tackle Jeff Otah with the No. 19 pick to upgrade the line. The passing game still has do-it-all WR Steve Smith (1,002 yards). Did you know that Panthers bark loudly as a dog? Carolina is 24-10 ATS its last 34 games as an underdog.
Bears: Lovie Smith is under the gun, going from NFC champs to 7-9 last season. Trading away RB Thomas Jones was as big a disaster as thinking RB Cedric Benson was ready to carry the load. Now Benson is gone, cut loose, so rookie RB Joseph Forte (Tulane) steps in. He’s a power back who excelled in college under Coach Bob Toledo.
Unfortunately, erratic QB Rex Grossman is still behind center and they revamped the receiving corps with a lot of unproven players. A defense that was banged up with injuries is going to have to lead the way if the Bears want to get back to the playoffs. Chicago is 19-8 SU, 16-11 ATS at home the last three years.
Saints: New Orleans might be at the top of the list of NFC teams that underachieved, after reaching the NFC Championship game the previous season. The key on offense is to stay healthy, as they are so much better when RB Deuce McAllister (knee injury) carries the ball while RB Reggie Bush is used as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Bush averaged just 3.7 YPC.
Just as big a concern is improving a defense that ranked 26th overall and struggled badly in the secondary, ranking 30th against the pass. They moved up in the draft to take USC nose tackle Sedrick Ellis with the 7th pick, along with DT DeMario Pressley (5th round, NC State) to beef up the D-line. CB Tracy Porter (Indians, second round) was plucked to improve this terrible secondary. New Orleans is 19-11 over the total its last 30 games.
Seahawks: Despite a playoff appearance, it was an unfulfilling season for the Seahawks, failing to step up against good teams and squeaking by too many bad teams. The final indignity was blowing a 14-0 lead at Green Bay in the playoffs in a 42-20 defeat. Mike Holmgren will coach the 2008 season and then retire, with Jim Mora, Jr., taking over in 2009.
Holmgren prefers a balanced offense, but they let RB Shaun Alexander walk. They might continue the pass-first attack they used late last season behind QB Matt Hasselbeck (28 TDs, 12 INTs). Seattle is 23-4 SU, 18-8 ATS at home the last three years. Win one for Mike?