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Starkey: NFL bottoms out

| Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009

Why is the NFL so dreadfully bad at the bottom?

Check the top.

It always starts at the top.

Clueless, cockeyed ownership is the main reason so many franchises are mired in the muck. Look around, Steelers fans, and be grateful. There but for the Rooneys go you.

A lot of coaches wish they could say what Mike Tomlin was saying Monday, when asked about his bosses.

"The stability, the vision, the singular focus, it's easy to come to work here," Tomlin said. "A good place to be is Pittsburgh, P-A."

A bad place to be is Detroit, Mich., or Oakland, Calif., or Cleveland, Ohio. And it's not just bad down there, in the land of the Lions, Raiders and Browns. It's comically bad.

It's historically bad.

It has a chance to the worst year ever for bottom feeders.

I see eight teams — Washington, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Oakland, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Tennessee — with a legitimate chance to finish 3-13 or worse. I wouldn't count out Buffalo, either.

If six teams manage three or fewer wins, it'll be a modern-day record; if five manage three or fewer, it'll be a record in the 16-game-schedule era.

Since the NFL went to 16 games in 1978, there has been only one season — excluding the strike year of 1982 — in which more than three teams finished 3-13 or worse. That was 1991, when four teams did.

Even dating to the 1970 merger, there never was a year in which more than five teams posted three or fewer wins.

This does not appear to be a one-year aberration, either.

Hopelessness abounds in places such as Washington, D.C., where Daniel Snyder's new play-caller (Sherman Smith) was calling bingo games at a senior center three weeks ago, and Kansas City, Mo., where the (ex-)starting running back ripped his head coach on Twitter.

William Clay Ford's Lions are 1-23 in their past 24 games.

Randy Lerner's Browns have scored five offensive touchdowns in their past 15 games.

Ralph Wilson's Bills haven't won a playoff game since 1995.

Malcolm Glazer's Buccaneers have a very real chance to go 0-16.

Al Davis' once-proud Raiders are a punch line, pun very much intended in regards to hot-headed coach Tom Cable.

Rush Limbaugh's Rams — OK, Rush won't get the team, but it is for sale — have been outscored by 144 points and have beaten only the lowly Lions.

Those seven teams (Tennessee doesn't deserve to be dragged into this portion of the discussion) have been through 40 head coaches since 2000.

The Steelers have had three since 1969.

Only the Vegas casinos are losing more than the Lions these days, because they can't make the lines lopsided enough to entice anyone to bet the dogs.

All of this has Major League Baseball apologists downright giddy, of course. They love that the ultimate parity league has no parity whatsoever at the moment. But they're missing the point.

No league can legislate equality, only equal opportunity. The NFL offers equal opportunity. MLB does not.

That's what makes the NFL's current state so amazing — the fact that the league is designed to pull teams from the muck as quickly as possible. The salary cap, the unbalanced schedule and the worst-to-first draft all make it hard to stay down for long.

But not too hard for the likes of your Cleve Brownies. They are the classic case of how incompetence, mixed with impatience, can keep a franchise floundering.

Apparently, Lerner hasn't learned much from sharing a division with the Steelers.

Two years ago, after the Browns went 10-6, GM Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel were given multi-year extensions. When the team toppled to 4-12 last season, both were canned.

Contrast that to what the Steelers did in the summer of 2001, after Bill Cowher went three consecutive years without making the playoffs.

They extended his contract.

"It's a very stable organization," Cowher said then, "and it starts at the top."

It always does, for better or worse.

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