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Chip and charge: NFL teams with grudges

Jul 22, 2003 4:11 AM

Many people carry a grudge at some point in their lives. Maybe a job interview didn’t go as planned or a poor entrance exam cost a shot at attending your preferred college. This frustration or anger, if channeled correctly, can be focused into a positive, productive output.

This is especially true in athletics. We’ve all witnessed a club that sees its undefeated streak end in an embarrassing upset, only to bounce back the next week and hammer some poor opponent.

Not all teams focus that negative energy properly. Last season, Nebraska’s first loss was a humiliating 40-7 defeat at Penn State. The next week, the Huskers were a favorite at Iowa State and lost 36-14!

In the first week of the 2002 NFL season, the Lions lost 49-21 at Miami, then were smashed 31-7 at Carolina. Here’s a look at some pro teams that may have something to prove.

COLTS: As advertised, Tony Dungy improved the Colts defense last season, his first in Indy. The Colts went from 29th in total defense in 2001 to eighth last year. Dungy took a 10-loss club and turned it into 10 wins, but no team ended the season with more humiliation than Indy after a 41-0 thrashing at the hands of the Jets in the playoffs. Indy looked unfocused from start to finish and appeared to give up.

On top of that, kicker Mike Vanderjagt publicly criticized QB Peyton Manning’s leadership skills (nice team spirit, Mike). Will pride help Indy roll through September like gangbusters? Before you lay your money on the Colts, remember they went 6-11 against the spread under the conservative Dungy. If they get off to a good start, there could be a media-circus on Oct. 6 when the Colts travel to Tampa Bay as Dungy faces his old team.

DOLPHINS: On paper, Miami was one of the best teams in the NFL in 2002, with the No. 1 rushing offense and the No. 3 overall defense (5th vs run, 9th vs pass). RB Ricky Williams enjoyed a monster-season (1,853 yards and 16 TD) and the defense was terrific. Miami continued its home dominance (7-1 SU/ATS), and has gone 20-6 SU and 19-6-1 ATS at home since 2000.

On the other hand, what a flop of a finish! The Dolphins were in command of their destiny in December, yet lost their final two games, 20-17 at Minnesota and 27-24 in overtime at New England. The final loss kept them out of the playoffs and was devastating, as the Dolphins led 24-13 with three minutes left. If the coaches don’t remind Miami about the way they finished 2002, local fans and sports writers will.

GIANTS: "Roller-coaster!" That was the slogan for the 2002 season and coach Jim Fassel likely doesn’t want a repeat performance. They suffered a 21-7 loss to the Cardinals, a 16-14 loss to the expansion Texans and an excruciating 32-29 collapse against Tennessee.

This team has plenty of offensive talent, which was showcased late in the year when Fassel took over the play-calling. The Giants went 4-0 SU/ATS ”” winning three times as a dog ”” to end the regular season. Overall, New York went 6-1 ATS as an underdog but, after that impressive run, the Giants had a collapse for the ages in the Wild Card game, losing 39-38 to San Francisco after blowing a 38-14 second-half lead. Which team will show up in September?

EAGLES: Philadelphia fans have to be wondering: What is it with this bunch? The Eagles have been one of the dominant teams in pro football the last two years, getting one step from the Super Bowl each year. Philly lost 29-24 to the Rams in the NFC Championship game two seasons ago (as a +10 dog) and seemed primed to take the reigns from the Rams last season with the No. 11 offense and the No. 4 defense.

As a 4-point favorite in January’s NFC title game, the Eagles came up short again in a stunning 27-10 home defeat to Tampa Bay. It must have been even more frustrating for players and coaches to watch the Bucs roll over the Raiders in the Super Bowl. Is this a team on the edge of greatness like the 1971 Cowboys and ’73 Steelers or one that can’t stand the heat in the big game?

RAMS: After being the dominant team in pro football from 1999-2001, the Rams fell apart because of injuries last fall, finishing 7-9. They were 30th in the NFL in rushing the football and a miserable 4-12 ATS. Has father time spun this group into mediocrity?

Certainly health will be the key. Notice the roller-coaster spread record of the Rams the last five years: 5-11 ATS (1998), 14-4-1 ATS (1999), 6-10-1 ATS (2000), 10-8-1 ATS (2001), 4-12 ATS (2002). Defensive coordinator Lovie Smith had the "D" playing well in 2002 despite injuries (13th overall, 11th vs pass). The passing offense was second in the NFL, so there’s a chance for another bounce-back year.