With all three Florida NFL franchises completing a less than stellar exhibition season and opening day looming, here’s our snapshot of what to expect.
The Florida teams are all firmly mired in mediocrity. Their days of glory (and relevance) are long gone. For the most part these franchises are devoid of much (any) major talent, have solid but largely untested head coaches, and are in one stage or another of rebuilding (whether they admit to it or not).
We will be quite surprised if any of the three make it to the postseason.
• Mike Mularkey at Jacksonville has the only head coaching experience (Bills) which was hardly Lombardiesque.
• Joe Philbin at Miami successfully piloted the Aaron Rodgers express as OC for the Packers. His taciturn, boy scout profile has been well documented to the nation at large on HBO’s Hard Knocks,
• Greg Schiano comes to the Bay from Rutgers via the Jimmy Johnson pipeline of the glory days of the Miami Hurricanes (also long gone). He is a buttoned down, detail oriented coach who astonishingly made Rutgers relevant. He could do same given time at Tampa.
All three coaches are well grounded, no nonsense, with mainly new and excellent staffs, and are not looking back. As usual though, their collective opponents are difficult – as is customary for the mediocre teams in the league. All three will need to vastly overachieve, have more than average luck, and rely on three young and upcoming QB’s.
The Jags probably have the easiest schedule on paper. Nevertheless, they have Bills, Pats, Texans and Pack (in GB) on the schedule. The team performed poorly in the third preseason game vs. Baltimore with Joe Flacco completing passes long and short effortlessly. Blaine Gabbert in 2½ quarters accumulated a grand total of three points. Maurice Jones Drew’s absence is huge.
The Jags hope to take advantage of Peyton Manning’s departure from the division and sneak into the postseason crowd. Doubtful. Also rumored to be the next Los Angeles NFL franchise, the team has committed to the NFL to play season games for the next four years in London. Hello?
The Bucs have a daunting out of conference schedule including the Giants, Eagles and Falcons. Miami always has the Jets, Pats and Bills in division, but gets a slightly easier out of division schedule – still facing the 49ers and Texans.
The first round draft picks of all three Florida NFL teams must produce early and often for any of the teams to rise above 500. Dolphins QB Brian Tannehill has a rifle arm and is an immediate locker room favorite. He appears cool and calm in the pocket and knows OC Mike Sherman’s (Texas A&M) playbook backwards and forwards.
Tannehill’s Marinoesque pocket savvy and quick release may help make up for the astonishing lack of talent as 85 (Chad Johnson) and Brandon Marshall are gone. Reggie Bush had an excellent 2011. Whether or not Philbin and Sherman capitalize on his considerable talent remains to be seen.
The strong O-line is a major plus. If Bush goes down, there’s little else in the running game. The Dolphins defense and special teams were above average last year but the defense appears to be floundering in the exhibition season.
Tampa rookie Doug Martin should fit well with Schiano’s bull- in-a-china-shop running game; Saban-schooled safety Mark Barron will shore up the weak Bucs defensive backfield. QB Josh Freeman has a year under his belt and has a bit more fire power than last year with Vincent Jackson at WR in from the Chargers.
Rookie Lavont David is expected to help greatly improve the D-line. Schiano is going the draft route to rebuild. He knows talent and is considered an excellent game day coach.
With all three teams hunting and pecking through their nebulous talent bases, there’s diminished optimism among the three fan bases. To say the least all three metro areas are first and foremost NFL football towns. The slings and arrows of the Dolphins, Jags and Bucs dominate local airwaves and ink. Talk show hosts are fending callers’ venom daily.
Sports talk radio in the northern part of the state has developed more positive chatter about the Gators and Noles while the southern tier Dolphins fans remain passionate and tepidly optimistic. New owner Steven Ross inherited a weakening fan and season ticket base and has done little to bolster either.
Miami is and always has been a Dolphins town but with the Lebrons (Heat) sneaking up fast in fan passion the once sacrosanct Dolphins brand is tarnished.
Ross’s marketing approach seems to center on attracting celebs like Gloria Estefan, JLo, Marc Anthony, Serena and Venus Williams who are trotted out on a red carpet prior to each home game. Whatever Ross’s reasoning this charade has turned off the (Shula era) faithful.
With little else to sell, perhaps he and his brain trust are looking to separate the current product from the glory of the past. If that is the goal, it is working.
Our Predictions: Bucs 5-11, Jags 6-10, Fins 5-11
Baird Thompson and William Hutchinson bring a combined 80 years of gaming marketing and administration experience to Gaming Today. They consult with sports, gambling and entertainment companies on a variety of issues. Contact them at [email protected]