In a galaxy far, far away from the chase for the Super Bowl live such creatures as Jaguars and Panthers, Eagles and Raiders, Chiefs and Browns. The worst of the worst in the NFL.
A season marked by offensive theatrics pretty much has not included those six teams. Members of this dirty half-dozen have either regressed badly — Philadelphia, Oakland, Kansas City and Carolina belong in that group — or are in the midst of rebuilding projects whose foundations at times have been shakier than their blocking and tackling.
What is especially disappointing for most of these teams, with the exceptions of Jacksonville and Cleveland, who were not expected to contend for anything special in 2012, is how wide-open the conference races are. Wild-card spots are out there for the taking, but these guys have taken the wrong path from the outset.
And, this nonexclusive club could soon have more members, because the Jets, Cardinals, Lions, Rams and Chargers are eminently qualified to plummet toward the bottom, too.
Not surprisingly the coaches of the NFL's worst teams have tenuous job security, with perhaps the exception of Oakland's first-year boss, Dennis Allen. Then again, Mike Mularkey is in his first season in charge of the Jaguars and there might not be a second. So who knows with Allen?
A primer on the failures of these underachievers:
This is the most puzzling case of all because there seems to be plenty of talent, and the Eagles certainly are paying top dollar to the likes of Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Babin, DeMeco Ryans and Nnamdi Asomugha.
In Andy Reid, they have the most successful coach in Eagles history, with his 14-year tenure marked by six division titles, five trips to the NFC championship game and a Super Bowl loss.
But it hasn't worked the past two seasons, and every unit on the team has faltered, with the secondary the most egregious — and expensive — flop. The offensive line can't block, so Vick can't stay healthy and hasn't fit Reid's offensive scheme — though Reid has tinkered with it.
And the passion appears gone in Philly.
"My leadership right now isn't good enough," Reid said. "I think I have good players, so that's why I take full responsibility for it. I've got to do a better job of getting the guys to play better and make sure I'm putting them in the right position to do so."
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The Eagles' opponent this week — on prime-time TV, no less — the Panthers were eager to begin 2012 with Cam Newton behind center. But the top offensive rookie of last season has regressed, making the offense stagnate. Carolina can't run the ball as efficiently as it has in the past, its defense has few playmakers other than rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly, and the Panthers can't hold onto leads.
Ron Rivera's second year as coach could be his final one, which means he would follow already-fired general manager Marty Hurney out the door.
"We have people looking and putting it on coaches, but it's us," Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis said. "We're doing it as players. We've got to go out and we've got to finish these games."
As always, the Raiders are in transition, with Allen being the first post-Al Davis coach. Coming off an 8-8 season and with a solid quarterback in Carson Palmer, an outstanding running back in Darren McFadden and some dependable defensive players led by Richard Seymour, a revival in the Black Hole wasn't farfetched.
But with few recent high draft choices, in part due to the Palmer deal, a mediocre pass rush and weak performances in the red zone on both sides of the ball, Oakland has floundered in a weak division. McFadden's inability to stay healthy has been a huge problem.
KANSAS CITY (1-9)
Another contender in the AFC West last year that has collapsed, endangering the entire front office — fans have been so livid with GM Scott Pioli that they've flown banners asking for him to be fired. Kansas City's woes begin with awful play at quarterback in a division with Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Palmer. Weak drafts have been a killer, with such high picks as tackle Branden Albert, Jon Baldwin, Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson not panning out.
Some ill-advised decisions in free agency also have hurt, and Arrowhead Stadium has lost any home-field edge for the Chiefs, who are winless there.
The youth movement in Cleveland has been in full force, but with Mike Holmgren out as team president, will coach Pat Shurmur be given the opportunity to see it through under new owner Jimmy Haslam?
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More than any of the other dregs of the NFL, the Browns have a promising base. Their recent drafts have been impressive enough, they play hard for Shurmur, if not well in key situations, and there are some cornerstones in tackle Joe Thomas, rookie RB Trent Richardson, LB D'Qwell Jackson and CB Joe Haden.
Still, with three division opponents who are far better, there needs to be patience in Cleveland. Will Haslam show any?
Don't be misled by the way the Jaguars pushed Houston to the limit before losing last Sunday. This is the least-talented roster in the NFL, and the best player, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, has been sidelined for a month with a left foot problem.
Rookie Justin Blackmon only recently has started making plays at wide receiver, and second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert showed little or no progress before getting hurt last week and going on injured reserve. Mularkey made his reputation as an offensive coach, but there's been no such wizardry here.
Perhaps worst of all, Jacksonville has not proven to be a pro football hotbed. As fans stay away from the NFL in northern Florida, owner Shad Khan could look west to Los Angeles — some even think he might look east to London — for relocation.
And that's one of the odd things about the NFL's popularity: There will be suitors for the product, even if it's the worst of the worst.
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