Friday December 21st, 2007

With a win secured at long last, and the latest savior of their football fortunes now on the scene, the bedraggled Dolphins have finally had a good week. And while their good roll may end Sunday when they face unbeaten New England in Foxboro, there is a way they can generate a big win over the Patriots no matter the outcome of this game.

Now that Bill Parcells is the Dolphins new football czar, what scenario makes more sense than him going all out to hire his son-in-law Scott Pioli away from New England to be Miami's new general manager?

In one fell swoop, he'd dramatically strengthen the Dolphins' personnel-decision making with someone who has intimate knowledge of not only the five-time defending AFC East champion Patriots, but also the rest of the division. In the process, he'd also strike a blow to weaken New England's stranglehold on the AFC East, breaking up the Belichick-Pioli tandem that has kept the Patriots on top for so long.

In landing Pioli, Parcells would also be putting in place someone who could out-last his new four-year contract with the Dolphins, assuring Miami of continuity for the future. Pioli would be Parcells' successor, but with a front-row seat from day one of the Dolphins' rebuilding program.

But before we ask will it happen, the more appropriate question is can it? There are several major road blocks that could prevent Pioli from ever making it to Miami.

The most obvious issue is whether Patriots owner Bob Kraft would allow Pioli out of his contract as the Patriots vice president of player personnel? Family ties or no family ties, don't be surprised if Kraft contends to the NFL that Pioli wouldn't have final authority over personnel decisions in Miami with Parcells above him, thus making it, under league rules, a blockable lateral move rather than a promotion.

While Parcells is said to be viewing his vice president of football operations job with the Dolphins as an over-seeing role, acting more as a guidance counselor for his general manager and head coach, he might have a difficult time making the case given that Miami is paying him $3 million a year. In terms of authority level, would Pioli working for his father-in-law really be that much different than his situation in New England, where Belichick holds ultimate personnel power? In reality, probably not much.

If there is a battle waged over Pioli's fate, the delicious side story to all this, of course, would be the renewal of the Kraft-Parcells feud, with its long history dating to when Parcells coached the Patriots and is believed to have spent part of the team's week at Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans landing the Jets coaching job for 1997. The idea of Parcells having to seek permission from Kraft for anything is rich in irony.

On another fascinating front, stealing Pioli away from the Patriots would signal the start of a whole new chapter in the complicated Parcells-Belichick relationship, especially given that the former protégé (Belichick) has surpassed his mentor (Parcells) in terms of Super Bowl rings (three to two) and coaching glory. Just having Parcells and Belichick back in the same division does that to some extent, but the added fuel of Pioli changing teams within the AFC East would really reignite the fires of competition that burn between the two men.

Of course, it bears mentioning that Pioli could put the kibosh on all this potential intrigue. It's entirely possible that he wouldn't want to be put into the position of working for his father-in-law, which could be viewed as something of a no-win situation, akin to the risky proposition of doing business with a family member. Just too much potential for disaster.

If and when he does finally leave New England for his first general manager job, Pioli also might want it to be anywhere but in the AFC East, where he knows exactly what he's up against -- the detail-driven Belichick and the incomparable quarterbacking talents of Tom Brady. Maybe that makes Miami one of the few places Pioli wants no part of. Maybe Parcells already knows all of this and won't even have Pioli on his radar screen.

But if he does, and he makes a bid to pry Pioli away from the Patriots, wouldn't we have fun watching that unfold? Kraft versus the Tuna, again. Bill versus Bill, part 5 or 6? And who knows, the Patriots versus Dolphins might even be meaningful once more.

• It's official now. Parcells is working his way through the entire AFC East. Someone alert the appropriate officials in Buffalo that he'll eventually be on hand. New England, check. The Jets, check. Miami, check.

I wonder if it'll affect his decision if the Bills eventually wind up in Toronto?

• One more thing to remember about Parcells: I know the Dolphins and their fans are excited now, but let's take a breath and remember that the Tuna hasn't exactly had the magic touch of late. He hasn't been connected to a Super Bowl winner in 17 years, and his last playoff win came with the 1998 Jets. In his four seasons in Dallas (2003-06), his Cowboys were a mediocre 34-32, making the playoffs twice but losing their opener both times. According him savior status at this point in his stellar career -- in any role -- is arguably a tad overstated. It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, this NFL.

• Here's a mind-boggling piece of perspective: In the past five years, the Patriots have lost 14 regular-season games, going 64-14 since the start of the 2003 season (excluding playoffs). New England's opponent this week, Miami, is in line to lose its 14th regular season game of the year.

• I don't see the final two weeks of regular season portending a string of surprises in the wild-card races, but if there's a contender that the rest of the conference doesn't want to see make it to January it would be the 7-7 Saints in the NFC.

If New Orleans does squeak past either the Giants or the Vikings for a wild-card berth, it would have in Drew Brees a quarterback who is playing better at the moment than any other passer in the NFC, Tony Romo and Brett Favre included. That would make the Saints a team to not take lightly, even though Sean Payton's defense continues to surrender way too much real estate.

• If the Giants lose out to finish 9-7 but still wind up making the playoffs, which could easily happen, it could once again put Tom Coughlin's job in serious jeopardy. It would be three consecutive playoff trips for Coughlin in New York, but the most recent two of those would both have a disappointing feel to them, given the Giants' second-half swoons.

New York is 3-2 after getting to the break at 6-2, but I have the G-Men losing both at Buffalo this week and at home next Saturday night against the perfect Patriots. Barring a first-round playoff victory, I don't think a 9-7 record inspires Giants management to bring Coughlin back for more of the same in 2008.

• With the loss of Willie Parker to a broken leg on Thursday night in St. Louis, the Steelers are even more of a playoff pretender than they were going into the Rams game. The thing that concerns me the most about Pittsburgh is its shoddy line play. The Steelers offensive line can't protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was sacked four more times by the Rams. And defensively, I still can't get over the way Jacksonville's offensive line manhandled the Steelers up front last week in that Jaguars' upset at Heinz Field.

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