The NFL is about winning but there are several parties in virtual no-win trick bags heading into the 2009 season. It isn't that they can't win in terms of victories. It's just perception has a nasty habit of becoming reality and the perception is they have been handed the keys to a Ferrari. If they win the race, it's the car. If they lose, it's their fault.
Is it fair? What's "fair" got to do with it?
Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis Colts head coach
Follow the logic: If the Colts win the Super Bowl, the credit goes to Peyton Manning and by extension to Tony Dungy, who set the bar by winning one three seasons ago. If they don't, it's Caldwell's fault.
George Seifert was smart enough in his year one in San Francisco to win a Super Bowl with Joe Montana to slow the Bill Walsh comparisons. If the Colts fail to win 12 games for a seventh straight season or, unthinkably, miss double-digit wins for only the second time in 11 years, the firestorm will start over whether Caldwell is another in the unfortunate history of assistants who weren't cut out to be the top man.
The Colts have had 7-0, 9-0 and 13-0 starts in recent seasons. If they open 3-4 under Caldwell, the grumbling will start, never mind that they started that way last season.
Complicating this a bit is that too often the first to put out their side of a sticky situation gains the high ground, whether intended or not. Manning was perceived and quoted as being concerned about communication and organizational direction in the wake of procedural departures of assistants Tom Moore and Howard Mudd. Caldwell and the Colts immediately had some explaining to do.
Team owner Jim Irsay subsequently told Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star that both offensive coordinator Moore and line coach Mudd, fixtures throughout the Manning years, will indeed return in 2009 after an awkward leave-oops-comeback because of pension matters.
So there it is: Caldwell has the staff after all that Manning and the organization want. Caldwell has Manning. He has the No. 1 pick that President Bill Polian invested in a running back (Donald Brown). He hired new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer. And the Washington Redskins were kind enough to take defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth out of the AFC South altogether.
So, if he doesn't win, where does the blame fall first?
Ron Turner, Chicago Bears offensive coordinator
The Bears sent two No. 1's, a No. 3 and Kyle Orton to the Denver Broncos in April. What they got in return was Jay Cutler and a civic case of Mile High that stopped just short of queuing up for Super Bowl tickets, playoff ducats being a foregone conclusion.
After all, the NFL's charter franchise already had a franchise running back in Matt Forte (NFL's No. 3 in total yards) via the 2008 draft and now a franchise quarterback was de-planing at O'Hare. Never mind the questions inherent in no current Bears wide receiver having more than 74 career catches; the answer to all questions is Cutler, so if the Bears win, it's because of Cutler.
"I don't need the credit," Turner said. "Let Jay and the players have it. That's fine with me."
A complicating factor for Turner, and others like Caldwell, is that significant NFL forces are always at play that are beyond the control of the no-win'ers. Turner's 1994 Chicago offense ranked 23rd but the Bears reached the playoffs. The Bears even won a road wild-card game as Turner guided an offense with afterthought Steve Walsh when the marquee QB signing, Erik Kramer, flopped. The following year the Bears again went 9-7, with Turner's offense setting franchise records behind Kramer. But they missed the playoffs when the pass defense collapsed from fifth to 27th during a stretch of eight of nine games allowing no fewer than 24 points.
When Rex Grossman went down in the 2005 preseason, Turner's steady hand kept the offense controlled under Orton in an 11-5 playoff season. The next year the Bears went to the Super Bowl with Grossman. Two years later both Orton and Grossman are gone, the defense ranked 21st in yardage and 16th in points allowed.
Coach Lovie Smith is taking over as the de facto defensive coordinator. But if the Bears miss the postseason for a third straight year, all eyes will turn to Turner.
"That's just the nature of the business," Turner said. "All you can do is focus on what you can control and not worry when they say good things or bad things."
Brett Favre, quarterback at large
If Favre becomes a Minnesota Viking, he will be drifting into his own private no-win situation and taking the Vikings with him.
Actually, Favre's no-win'ers are on two levels. If he doesn't come back, his career ended with him playing one year too long. If he does return at 39, he likely makes that two years.
But if the Vikings with Favre succeed, the reason will be Adrian Peterson, not Favre. Peterson led the NFL in total yards last season and the Vikings won the NFC North in 2008 with Gus Frerotte giving AP the ball.
If the Vikings do not repeat as division winners (a distinct possibility with the arrival of Cutler and the development of Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay), the fault will be Favre's, not Peterson's.
The Vikings won four of their final five by giving the ball to Peterson 120 times. Favre's Jets lost four of their final five, and a playoff berth, when Favre gave a disgruntled Thomas Jones the ball 73 times.
The Vikings won the division with more running than pass plays. Only once (2003) in Favre's 16 Green Bay seasons did the Packers run more than he passed, and the 2008 Jets' pass plays outnumbered runs by more than 100. Does Minnesota sound like a Favre fit?
Is Favre better than Tarvaris Jackson? "Better" doesn't matter; winning does, and the 2007 Vikings were 2-0 against the Bears with Jackson starting. Jackson had as many wins against Lovie Smith's Bears in one year as Favre did (2-6) in four. If Matthew Stafford becomes the Detroit equivalent of Matt Ryan, Favre will finish the season as the fourth-best quarterback in the division.
For both player and team, Favre in Minnesota is a no-winner.