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Move over Lions, these teams might be worse

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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

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The NFL's version of Cash for Clunkers officially ended in the Motor City. The Detroit Lions traded in their 19-game losing streak for a fresh start last Sunday by defeating Washington. A different franchise will now move to the bottom of the league scrapheap. There are plenty of contenders with seven teams still winless. Three 2008 playoff teams (Tennessee, Miami and Carolina) are talented enough to eventually get off the schneid. That leaves four candidates with a bona fide shot at doing what was once the unthinkable: Finishing the regular season at 0-16 like the 2008 Lions.
Those franchises — St. Louis, Cleveland, Kansas City and Tampa Bay — all have new head coaches. The Bucs, Chiefs and Browns also have first-time general managers, while Billy Devaney assumed the reins in St. Louis at the end of 2008. The rebuilding process for those four clubs isn't going nearly as smoothly as it did last year for Miami and Atlanta, two teams that jumped from the NFL basement to the playoffs in just one season. The road to respectability for the Rams, Browns, Chiefs and Buccaneers will be much longer. Here's a ranking of which 0-3 teams have the best chance of finishing as the NFL's worst for 2009.

St. Louis

Summary: The Rams rank first on this list because they now have the NFL's longest losing streak at 13 games — a fact that isn't lost on Devaney or his team. "We're starving for a win," Devaney told FOXSports.com in a Wednesday telephone interview. "As soon as we get the first one, there will be relief, joy and all of those things." Devaney admits the Rams are "pressing" because of their recent futility. "It's good in a way because I know what the character of this team is," Devaney said. "They want to win so badly. But it probably cost us in Seattle (a 28-0 loss in the season-opener) because our emotions were too high and we let the game get away from us." Team maturity isn't the only thing Devaney and first-year head coach Steve Spagnuolo must nurture. RB Steven Jackson is playing at a high level but QB Marc Bulger led just one touchdown drive in the first nine quarters this season before suffering a shoulder injury in last Sunday's 36-17 loss to Green Bay. QB Kyle Boller did a solid job in relief, but the defense was picked apart by Green Bay's deep passing game. The previous game, the offense was a liability in a 9-7 road loss at Washington. "We're frustrated," Devaney said. "A couple of games we thought we could have won. Because of the schedule and changes we've made, we thought the early part of the season would be tough for us. "The thing that's encouraging is that we're playing well in segments right now. We just need to place the whole thing together. We're getting closer." But so far, not close enough. Bright spot: 2009 second-round pick MLB James Laurinaitis already has become the centerpiece of the team's defense. His 25 credited tackles by the NFL are the second-highest rookie total behind Houston LB Brian Cushing (26). First win? The Rams travel to Jacksonville and Detroit before a Nov. 8 bye. The schedule resumes with three consecutive home games against New Orleans, Arizona and Seattle. If the Rams are 0-5 in that stretch, a victory this season could be tough to come by.

Cleveland

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Summary: New Browns coach Eric Mangini has reversed course, benching Brady Quinn and telling Derek Anderson he will start in Sunday's home game against Cincinnati. Does it really matter? Both players have struggled in the NFL's lowest-rated offense, but it's not completely their fault. The Browns sorely lack a decent rushing attack and receiving options besides wideout Braylon Edwards. Dating back to last season, Cleveland has produced just one offensive touchdown in its last nine games. Quinn directed that score in garbage time of a 34-20 season-opening loss to Minnesota. That was one of the few bright moments for Quinn, who was benched at halftime of last Sunday's 34-3 loss at Baltimore. Anderson fared just as poorly, getting intercepted three times while trying to rally Cleveland from a 20-0 deficit. The offensive problems have placed far too much strain on a defense lacking blue-chip talent besides NT Shaun Rogers. Like during his ill-fated stint with the New York Jets, Mangini risks losing the faith of Browns players because of his insistence on running a tighter ship than Captain Bligh. Bright spot: WR Josh Cribbs leads the AFC in punt return average (16.7 yards), is a scoring threat on kickoffs and can run the Wildcat. He also has outplayed a contract that pays him $620,000 in base salary for 2009. First win? Cincinnati could be primed for a letdown Sunday in Cleveland after its upset of Pittsburgh. Buffalo (Oct. 11), Detroit (Nov. 22) and Kansas City (Dec. 20) are the most winnable road games. The Browns end their season at home against teams (Oakland and Jacksonville) that traditionally struggle in cold weather.

Kansas City

Summary: General manager Scott Pioli knew he wasn't inheriting the same talent level he had in New England, but the mess left behind by the previous front office was even worse than expected. Free agency provided little help with stopgap veterans on the decline (RG Mike Goff and WR Bobby Engram are two of them) or ones who are already gone like LBs Zach Thomas and Monty Biesel. New starting QB Matt Cassel has no shot behind what is arguably the NFL's worst offensive line and Kansas City's dearth of talent at the skill positions. Losses to Baltimore and Philadelphia were defensive nightmares. Bright spot: I still believe Pioli's offseason trade with New England for Cassel and LB Mike Vrabel was a good one. Although first-year head coach Todd Haley's commitment to Cassel has come into question, there's no shot of a benching any time soon. Cassel is receiving good marks internally with his play under difficult circumstances. With four tackles (including one for a loss) and two passes defensed, Vrabel was one of the few bright spots in last Sunday's 34-14 drubbing at Philadelphia. First win? There are some tomato cans like Washington, Jacksonville and Oakland on the schedule in the next two months. Kansas City also should win one of at least three consecutive December home games against Denver, Buffalo and Cleveland. If the Chiefs haven't notched a "W" by then, it probably won't happen in season-ending road games at Cincinnati and Denver.

Tampa Bay

Summary: After going 9-7 last season, the Bucs were admittedly in rebuilding mode after firing coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen and bringing in unproven replacements Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik. That doesn't make this overhaul any less painful to watch — especially knowing that Tampa Bay has an NFL-high $30 million available in salary cap room that tight-fisted ownership refuses to spend. The Bucs didn't add enough personnel in the offseason to aid defensive coordinator Jim Bates in the switch from a cover-two scheme to a more traditional 4-3 attack. DE Gaines Adams is an especially big disappointment. The fourth overall pick in the 2007 draft, Adams has no sacks and ranks last among Bucs defensive starters in tackles with eight. MLB Barrett Ruud (32 tackles) can't be expected to make every play. Offensively, the quarterback carousel continues to spin. Including the preseason and 2008 campaign, Josh Johnson will become the sixth different starter in Tampa Bay's last 11 games. Such instability was further heightened when the Bucs fired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski late in the preseason. Tampa Bay mustered only 86 total yards and five first downs in a 24-0 home loss to the New York Giants. That triggered the demotion of QB Byron Leftwich for Sunday's game at Washington. Bright spot: All of these problems still haven't ruined QB Josh Freeman — yet. The Bucs wisely aren't rushing their 2009 first-round pick onto the field when his odds for success are so low. Morris, though, may decide to pull the trigger at some point soon if Johnson isn't ready for his first NFL starting opportunity. First win? The Bucs picked a bad year to exhume creamsicle throwback jerseys. This team has a legitimate shot at a winless season, just like the inaugural squad that finished 0-14 in 1976. The reason is a harsh schedule outside the NFC South. On paper, the most winnable non-division games are on the road at Washington (Sunday), Miami (Nov. 15) and Seattle (Dec. 20).
Tagged: Browns, Lions, Chiefs, Buccaneers, Bobby Engram, Mike Goff, Shaun Rogers, Zach Thomas, Mike Vrabel, Byron Leftwich, Barrett Ruud, Braylon Edwards, Derek Anderson, Matt Cassel, Gaines Adams, Brady Quinn, Josh Johnson, Josh Freeman

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