The Next Decade Is Almost Upon Us...Who Will Be in the NFL Elite?

Deb LagardeCorrespondent IJuly 25, 2009

A new decade of the 2010s is almost upon us, with the old decade ending after the coming post-season. Most Super Bowl predictions involve the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, with perhaps the New York Giants or the Minnesota Vikings being the NFC foil.

And while this may transpire, I'm going to look at what teams, based on tried and true formulas for elite team building used in the past (the 2000s Patriots are a classic example, in fact) should be ready to "take over" the NFL beginning with the 2010 regular season.

I am particularly interested in this because I think my team, the Dolphins, will be part of this trend because it appears the new regime, "the Trifecta," is doing everything right at this point.

But, so are the Falcons, Eagles, and Chiefs.

This would mean the Pats, Steelers, Colts, and Giants, the elite teams of now, will just have to make room for them or go through a lengthy rebuilding process, because these might well be the teams of yesterday.

My prediction for the Steelers seems ridiculous...Big Ben is young still, Holmes and the other receivers are still in their prime and so is much of the defense. Still, Big Ben appears to have a problem off the field.

The defense is fine but I expect their master, Dick LeBeau, will retire soon. The Steelers had been bad for 40 years (up until 1972), were great or good for about 40 years, and who knows starting in 2011 may be a doormat again. For one thing, they aren't drafting the way they used to.

My prediction for the Pats is based more on reality. Tom Brady has been shown to be all too human, and the fact that the Pats OL let him get injured in the first place shows maybe that unit isn't as good as many think it is.

Everyone knows their defense is aging as well, and, statistically speaking, the Pats, too, are not drafting the way they used to. In fact, most of their "dynasty" players came BEFORE Belichick.

The Giants should have a good defense for the next several years. It's their offense that should concern some. Earth, Wind and Fire has been broken up, and for some reason they don't have the receiver corps they used to.

The Colts? Well, most of my prediction for them to lose elite status is based on the fact that the Titans, as well as the Texans and maybe even the Jags, have or will catch up to them in the AFC South, a division (like the AFC East) in a state of flux.

In fact, the whole AFC is in a state of flux. Even in the West...I expect the Chargers to hold out a couple more years until the Chiefs finish rebuilding.

Further, the Broncos have made themselves such a mess that it'll take years to iron that out! And Al Davis is, unfortunately, still Al Davis.

We all know what the Dolphins under the Trifecta accomplished last year with the greatest single season turnaround in NFL history. They cleaned house, had a great draft, got some key players in trade and free agency...especially the way Chad Pennington fell into their laps (again, thank you, Jets!).

Sparano and company brought a winning attitude and tough love (the way Shula did in 1970). As with the 80s Niners and other great teams, the '08 Fins covered up a weakness using an innovative tactic called the Wildcat.

They signed key players in the off-season and are working on re-signing others like Ronnie Brown and Matt Roth to keep them beyond 2009.

And, as I said, their division is in a state of flux. With the Patriots going down, the team most equipped to take over is Miami. Neither the Jets nor the Bills have followed the tried and true formula.

What makes a "perennial powerhouse" in the NFL? Looking at NFL history, the same recurring events keep on happening on teams that go from outhouse to the penthouse, usually fairly quickly.

With the Packers of Lombardi, it was building through the draft and trades in the previous administration, and then a great head coach comes in (Lombardi) and puts all the puzzle pieces together.

The same can be said about what Don Shula did in Miami (because he had nothing to do with the Warfield trade or that great 1970 draft).

That great 70s Steeler teams? Chuck Noll had been there for a while, but in 1972, when the Steelers came over the radar, they had gotten Franco Harris, and in 1974, when the dynasty began, they had the greatest single season draft in NFL history: four HOFers and other outstanding players.

The Niners in the 80s? They invented the "West Coast offense" that was used so effectively to win four Super Bowls in that decade behind Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Roger Craig, who seemed eminently skilled to use it.

It can also be argued that the Steelers revolutionized how defense was played, being the first team to use the 3-4 consistently (though it may have been an offshoot of Miami's "53" defense).

Now what did all of these teams, as well as the Cowboys of the 90s, the Pats of this decade, as well as some "not quite dynasty" teams like the Broncos of the 90s, Colts, and Giants of today--who are still elite teams until proven otherwise--do to put themselves in this lofty position?

All of these teams, one way or another, used the following tactics and strategies to build consistently outstanding teams:

1. They more or less cleaned house of what had made them losers

2. They had several good drafts in a row, but added one or two "lynchpin-to-glory" players either through free agency, trade, or draft that meant the difference to elite status

3. They all had budding stars that somehow had gone under the radar by opponents

4. They had teams, not prima donnas, selfish players, or a me-first attitude and wouldn't tolerate such attitudes, which helps transform an elite team into a dynasty (in other words, players don't get jaded by winning all the time)

4. They all have a winning plan and stick to it--nothing happens by accident or "luck"

5. They are all more or less innovative, at first out of necessity, but then out of strength

6. They are at the "right place" at the "right time," when their divisions or conferences are in states of flux and a "changing of the guard" is slated to happen

7. They sign all their key players so that free agency does not become a problem


The Falcons? Their GM Dimitroff is doing a lot of what Parcells and Co. are doing in Miami, and have completely cleaned house: new administration, new coaches, new starting QB...and Matt Ryan should become one of the great ones.

They also brought in a couple of very key players: Michael Turner last year, Tony Gonzales this year.

Like Miami, they had a very good draft last year and this year's looks good as well, filling holes. They have quite a few budding stars, particularly Roddy White who is already one of the best in the NFL. No prima donnas either (that one alone disqualifies the Bills!)

Dimitroff and Mike Smith have a plan. Because the NFC South has been in such flux for several years (the first place team becomes the last place team and the last place team becomes the first place team) with the Panthers and Saints being so wishy-washy the last few years, I say the Falcons should get this division to settle down. They are in the right place at the right time.

The Eagles? They have been a good team pretty much throughout the 2000s, but they appear to be a team that while not cleaning house is managing to rebuild and still win, with younger players in the draft and younger free agents.

Letting Brian Dawkins go was seen to be a bad move but these things must happen to assure the youngsters need for an elite team get put in.

Coach Andy Reid was right to threaten McNabb's job last year; McNabb apparently got the memo. They did let some great players leave during free agency, but they also brought some fine players in (such as Jason Peters). Also they don't have prima donnas.

And they, too, with the Giants static pretty much, the Cowboys heading down and the Redskins already there, are in the right place at the right time.

The Chiefs have also cleaned house with bringing in Pats architect Scott Pioli and former Cards OC Todd Haley and new staffs. Their lynchpin player should be Matt Cassel, and they too had good drafts last year and this year.

In fact, the Chiefs were the youngest team in the league in 2008 so they will have another year under their belts. Plus, Tyler Thigpen played fairly well last year in poor circumstances.

Dwayne Bowe is an up-and-coming WR and Jamal Charles played very well the last few games (torching the Dolphins, for one thing). If Larry Johnson continues to play prima donna, I'm sure they will do fine without him.

And, they, too, are in the right division at the right time. The Broncos, who self-inflicted more damage than even Al Davis could have, will not be a factor for a while, and the Raiders will still be the Raiders (I can't believe they let Wilson and Grove go to Miami for so cheap!).

The Chargers will be good for another year or two, and then who replaces LT? Sproules is good, but he's not LT! Norv Turner has been on the hot seat for a few years now.

What do you think?


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