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Top Five: Disappointing Teams Halfway Through The NFL Season

Five teams -- five huge disappointments. A look at the biggest underachievers, so far, of 2010

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For every good there is usually a bad, for every plus, there is a minus, and for every surprising team in the NFL, there is one that is a major disappointment.

As I took a look at five major surprises last week, this week I will look at five major disappointments. Not disappointing to yours truly, of course, but to their fans and to the expectations, no doubt, of the teams themselves.

I'll bet -- to validate my picks in your minds -- that you can probably guess four of them off the top of your head. I guess we will just have to see.

Here, then, is my look at five teams who will not be making the playoffs this year, unless there is some miraculous turnaround...five teams who no doubt had aspirations of playing deep into January, at least.

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#5 -- Arizona Cardinals (3-5, third place, NFC West)

It is hard to say that a team only one game out of first place is a disappointment, but I think that the Cardinals would have to qualify, after going 10-6 last year and winning their division.

Arizona actually got off to a good start this year, winning three of their first five, but are now mired in a three-game losing streak that finds them trailing surprising St.Louis and Seattle.

A victory over the Rams to start the season was followed by a blowout loss to Atlanta. A one-point win over the Raiders was next, before another blowout loss, this time to San Diego. But things must have looked brighter after a win over New Orleans.

Unfortunately, a loss at Seattle and then two narrow defeats -- one at home to Tampa Bay and another a heartbreaker last weekend in Minnesota -- have their season hanging on a precipice.

Being only one loss shy of their total from last year qualifies the Cardinals as worthy of inclusion on my list.

#4 -- San Francisco 49ers (2-6, fourth place, NFC West)

Right behind the Cardinals are the 49ers, who swept through the exhibition season and looked to be perhaps the class of their division, coming off of an 8-8 record in 2009, and who have instead stumbled, although the 'Niners are showing signs of snapping out of it, and have a coach in Mike Singletary who still thinks his team can win their division.

Perhaps, trailing two teams by two games at mid-season, they can.

San Francisco opened by being trounced on the road in Seattle, before losing again, this time at home and narrowly, to New Orleans.

Any hopeful sign a close loss to the Super Bowl champs might have implied was dashed in Week 3 when another blowout loss occurred, this time in Kansas City. A narrow loss followed at Atlanta, and yet another at home to Philadelphia, leaving the 'Niners at 0-5 heading into a Battle of the Bay against Oakland -- which was won by San Francisco, the beginning of what might have been a turnaround...

...if they had not then lost in Carolina for the Panthers only win of the season so far.

A win in their last game against Denver might be a catalyst, but that remains to be seen. For now, San Francisco can only be seen as a major disappointment.

#3 -- Denver Broncos (2-6, fourth place, AFC West)

Perhaps the Broncos should not be considered "disappointing" -- perhaps their season so far is only a logical continuation of the swoon that befell them in the second half last year.

Even so, to me, this is a very disappointing team. Not just for the losses, but for the nature of a couple of those defeats. It has been hard for me to let go of the mystique surrounding Denver, a mystique which, of course, had its birth in the '80s. But I have to say the mystique is gone.

Denver began its season fresh off of an 8-8 finish last year, and immediately stumbled in Jacksonville, losing its opener before coming home in week two and beating Seattle. A home loss to Indianapolis followed -- no shame in losing to the Colts -- and when the Broncos followed that up with a win in Tennessee, they were looking pretty solid for a 2-2 team.

But then the bottom dropped out.

A loss in Baltimore was followed by a loss in Denver to the Jets. Then came what may have been the most embarrassing game in the history of the franchise -- a 59-14 loss at home to the Raiders. Then the Broncos went to one-win San Francisco and lost for the fourth time in a row.

Can Denver recapture the mystique and make a playoff run? I just don't see it happening this year.

#2 -- Cincinnati Bengals (2-6, fourth place, AFC North)

Ah, the Bengals, always so hard to figure out. A terrific season in 2009, sweeping the division with two wins each against the Steelers, the Ravens and the Browns, on their way to a division championship at 10-6.

And then, this season, a return to the kind of play that has some calling them "The Bungles" again.

Cincinnati opened with a loss in New England, and one could hardly call that an upset. Then the Bengals kept their divisional magic alive with a win at home against Baltimore. Another win followed in Carolina and Cincinnati was looking good at 2-1.

But then, in Cleveland, the Bengals lost to the Browns, and -- much like the Steelers last year after a loss to Cleveland -- the season spun out of control from there. A home loss to Tampa Bay and then a good effort in a shootout loss in Atlanta was followed by two more home losses, one to Miami and then, last night, to Pittsburgh to extend their losing streak to five and drop them firmly into the cellar of the AFC North.

What will the second half of the season bring for Cincinnati? If the past is any indicator or predictor, once adversity hits the Bengals the bottom usually falls out big-time. Don't be surprised if that holds true to form in the rest of 2010.

#1 -- Dallas Cowboys (1-7, fourth place, NFC East)

After an 11-5 record and a divisional championship last year, big things -- as usual -- were expected of the Cowboys this year.

Their demise -- which cost coach Wade Phillips his job yesterday -- has been, to put it mildly...shocking.

Yes, it is hard when you lose a Tony Romo. But the 'Boys were in trouble before he went down.

Dallas opened the season with a narrow loss to their bitterest rival, the Washington Redskins, before laying an egg in their home opener against the Bears.

Their first -- and thus far, only -- win of the season came in Week 3 at Houston. Nice job, in-state game, fired up road crowd -- nice win.

And then, the once and future dynasty nosedived in their next five games.

The first three losses in the losing streak were at least close. A seven-point loss at home to Tennessee was followed by a three-point loss on the road in Minnesota before a six-point loss in a shootout with the Giants left the Cowboys at 1-5...shocking enough.

Then came two flat-out embarrassing defeats which led to a coaching change and major uncertainty for "America's Team".

First Jacksonville came into Dallas and laid an 18-point whooping on the 'Boys, and then, on Sunday night, the Green Bay Packers made Dallas look -- frankly -- silly, listless and defeated from the get-go. The Packers prevailed by 38 points in one of the worst Dallas losses ever.

Disappointing? Yes, Dallas, you win this "Top Five" list hands down.

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And there we have it. If you can think of a bigger disappointment, one that I did not include on my list here, then please, by all means, feel free to comment and offer your choice.

Photographs by spatulated, Triple Tri, and chrischappelear used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.