Scouting the AFC Playoff teams

[Ed: The analysis of the teams was done before the week 1 games. I tried not to take into account the results when completing the write-up.]

AFC Playoff teams:

New England – New England lost a lot of good players in the off-season – like they do seemingly every year. But with Brady aging and the OL being hit hard, this seems like their window may be closing. Brady looked extremely poor at the beginning of last year; it is quite possible that the deflating of footballs led to his dramatic turnaround mid-season. They have another SB to go along with their previous 3. How hungry are they now? More particularly, how much does Brady have left in the tank? We saw Peyton go over a cliff mid-season last year; is this the year that Brady hits that precipice? Of course, how many times have we said that about the Brady-Belicheck era?
Prediction: Way down

Baltimore – Baltimore made it into the playoffs and was 2 touchdowns up on NE with 2 street free-agents in their defensive backfield. Now Jimmy Smith and Ladarious Webb are back plus they’ve added Kyle Arrington and S Kendrick Lewis. Safety Will Hill has now had an entire offseason to absorb the defense – and he looked pretty good even before that. This is essentially the same team that beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs and took NE to the mat, but with their hole at CB repaired. NFL better look out. One big difference is OC Gary Kubiak moving on to Denver. Marc Trestman is a good OC and they’re keeping the same offense that Kubiak installed, but this may or may not be a major downgrade.
Prediction: Even better than last year.

Bengals – Last year was the first without DC Mike Zimmer. The second year may see the defense continue to erode. But they have some very good play-makers. Of course it all comes down to how QB Andy Daulton plays in the playoffs.
Prediction: Serviceable 😉 – May win the AFC North again this year.

Colts – Everybody loved them picking up fast WR Dorsett in the first round of the draft, but that’s just flash. They did nothing to address a horrible O-Line and a suspect defense. However, Andrew Luck keeps them alive for the Play-offs. HC Chuck Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson are early candidates for the Hot Seat.

Steelers – A markedly worse defense, losing starting Center, and an aging Ben Rothlisberger make this team the biggest loser this year. No matter how good this offense is (and Antonio Brown may be the best WR in football), it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to stop anyone on D.

Broncos – Almost as bad a situation as the Steelers, but the defense keeps them alive. They now have Wade Phillips back as DC (the DC analog to Norv Turner’s OC – i.e. Great coordinators who make terrible head coaches). And with their defensive personnel they’ll be monsters. However, on Offense they have 39-year old Peyton Manning having to learn a new offense for the first time in his career. An offense that is gear towards the mobility of the QB of which there is little left. And they start 4 unproven players (now down to 3) on the OL. Bad combo.

Baltimore and the Bengals are the only ones guaranteed to make it back to the play-offs (Yes, you read that right). Who might replace the others? Miami and Buffalo will both be markedly improved. New York Jets might be as well as Todd Bowles tightens that ship.
Now that Philip Rivers has signed a contract extension, San Diego will again compete for a playoff spot and might actually make it this year. With Maclin back in Andy Reid’s offense, the Chiefs will again make a strong push for the playoffs.
Houston has a Bill Belichek disciple (I’ll believe it when I see it) and no QB. Tennessee has a winner in Marcus Mariotto, but they are not going anywhere. Jacksonville may be alright now that Bortles has a year under his belt.
Cleveland will be up and down. Pettine showed a strong hand last year, but Kyle Shanahan has bolted to the Falcons and they will be suffering a Johnny Football hangover for the foreseeable future.
Oakland should be better. But how much?

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Scouting the NFC Playoff Teams

[Ed: Although not published until after week 1 games, this post was written entirely before the games with the exception of an expanded analysis of Seattle and some editorial corrections.]

Seattle Seahawks: As with all Super Bowl teams, the Seahawks will not be as good in the coming year. I don’t think that they were as good this year as their press made them out to be.

Reasons for Concern:

  • They have now lost 2 DC’s in the last 3 years. Their latest “man up” is Kris Richards. That will be hard to overcome.
  • Kam Chancelor is holding out. He is the leader of that defensive backfield.
  • They traded their starting center to New Orleans for TE Jimmy Graham. As the Ravens found out after their SB win in 2014, a starting center is the difference between a dominating Offensive line (2014 play-offs) and the worst running game in the league (2013)
  • Also, I think that Graham was exposed last year and that other teams will know how to neutralize him.
  • Russell Wilson is buying into the star syndrome.

Prediction: They are due for a major fall.

Green Bay: Green Bay should have gone to the SB last year Or maybe not as they were almost beaten by the Cowboys in the playoffs (Some say they were beaten, except for the refs.). They have kept the team together, so there would have been no reason for them to be just as good this year except for aging players. However the Jordy Nelson injury puts a major roadblock in their path. I don’t think that that is insurmountable, but that remains to be seen.
Prediction: I believe that they will still perform at a high level.

Dallas: How much is a good running back worth when you also have a dominating O-Line? That is the question in Dallas this year. After losing the best running back in the league in the offseason, they have replaced him with a broken-down Darren McFadden and several other unknown running backs. There is no reason that one of those backs may turn into something special. However, DeMarco Murray was always a special back for the Cowboys, he just kept getting hurt. I think they will miss him a lot more than they think. Their defense has also been problematic and it’s filled with Felons and abusers on top of that. I question whether that chemistry will gel this year. Also, people say that the Cowboys tend not to build on their success, so they are due for a comedown from that as well.
Prediction: They should take a step back this year.

Detroit Lions: Year 2 of Jim Caldwell. I am not a big believer in Caldwell. The first year a new coach can come in and establish discipline and improve a team just from that. The second year becomes a test as other teams now know what the coaching schemes are and can gameplan for them better. They also lost both the DT’s Ndomukong Suh AND Nick Fairly. A late career Haloti Ngata will not fill that gap, especially when he gets busted for PED’s again.
Prediction: They will take a step backwards this year

Carolina Panthers: They were lucky to get into the play-offs last year and will not have that this year. Cam Newton has continued to show that his is only effective when he is a running QB. Lucky for them, that he is big enough to take the hits. However, losing Kelvin Benjamin for the year has left the WR pantry empty and they will not recover.
Prediction: Out of the Playoffs

Arizona Cardinals: People are forgetting that the Cardinals where dominating the league last year before Carson Palmer got hurt. Additionally, Drew Stanton provided a serviceable back-up. It was only when he went down and they were left with Ryan Lindley and rookie Logan Thomas at QB that they fell out of contention (even though they did make the play-offs)
Prediction: There is no reason why that they won’t be dominant again this year.

So with only Arizona and Green Bay guaranteed to return to the playoffs (OK and Seattle, too), who will replace the others? The easy answer is Philadelphia. I also think that both Atlanta and New Orleans will be back in. The other team that is almost guaranteed to make the playoffs are the Minnesota Vikings.

Other NFC Teams: Chicago should be much improved. If Fox and Gase can keep from offending Cutler they may be a lot better than anyone expects. Tampa Bay is loaded at the skill positions on offense, however their O-line is terrible and they have a rookie QB not named Dan Marino or Tom Brady. Washington should be better with a stable QB situation with Kurt Cousins. They have quality skill position players, but again a bad O-line. The Giants will be monsters with Bob McAdoo’s offense if the end of last year is any indication. However, their defense is questionable. They brought back Spagnola, but his schemes are too complex and take away players’ instinctiveness. If they can improve their defense, they may challenge for the play-offs again. The 49er’s will suck. The Rams are a total question-mark. But having to play Seattle and the Cardinals twice will make things difficult for them.

Week 14 – 2014 Season

Things are really starting to heat up early this year. Lots of coaches are feeling more than a little warm under their bottoms.

Fired:

  • Dennis Allen (0-4) –The Raiders fired Head Coach Dennis Allen after an 0-4 start and replaced him with former Miami Dolphin Head Coach Tony Sparano as Interim Head Coach. No evidence that Coach Sparano will do any better than his predecessor with the players he has. Will the GM Reggie McKensie survive?
  • Tony Sparano (1-7) – So Sparano gets a second chance to prove that he can be an NFL head coach. A 12-game audition. Good luck with that with this team!

Hot Seat:

  • Ron Rivera (3-8-1) – Another coach who’s suffering due to the absolute incompetence of his GM. Unless Jerry Richardson decides to stick with Rivera over Gettleman, he’s gone.
  • Rex Ryan (2-10) – The Jets finally won another game. The fans are getting really fired up about firing GM John Idzik. Whether this will do anything to help Rex’s position is questionable. The play of Mark Sanchez in Philadelphia this year may have some bearing on this. With Randy Lerner no longer on the scene, Woody Johnson may reclaim his previous position as the worst owner in the NFL.
  • Jim Harbaugh (7-5) – Although a loss this past weekend would’ve made a 4th consecutive playoff appearance unlikely, nothing appears to be changing the direction of the 49er’s and Harbaugh parting at the end of the season.
  • Tom Coughlin (retires) (3-9) – Another strong game from Eli Manning and the New York Football Giants. This looks like Coughlin will go out a winner after all. But I still think he retires this year.
  • Lovie Smith (2-10) – Lovie continues to make Greg Schiano a happy man. His in-game coaching is suspect and his total mismanagement of the offense (as in his tenure in Chicago) makes it increasingly likely that he joins the ranks of Rich Kotite and Cam Cleveland. However, with the GM also being a first year, they may suffere through ONE miserable season.

Warm-up Deck:

  • Mike Smith (5-7) – Atlanta has not returned to the form of the team that went to the NFCC two years ago. They don’t appear to have the ability to win road games anymore – regardless of the opponent. Additionally, Mike Smith’s game management has been particularly poor this season, directly causing at least 2 games. But they still might win the NFC South. LOL
  • Gus Bradley (2-10) – With the continuing poor play of the Jaguars, Coach Bradley is starting to really feel the heat. Bortles is not progressing and the team appears to have regressed from last year in every meaningful way.
  • Marc Trestman (5-7) – Last week, the Bears beat the 49er’s and were leading the division. This week they lose to GB (against who Cutler is 1-10) and there’s no way they’re even in the play-off discussion. God, I love sports pundits!

Stable Position:

  • Doug Marone (7-5) – Buffalo is looking much better than anyone outside of Buffalo expected. Breaking news is that Marone has now benched EJ Manuel in favor of Kyle Orton. He might be correct in thinking that this team is playing well enough in all other phases that Manuel is dragging them down. This doesn’t change the toxic relationship between him and the front office, and with new ownership set to takeover, something will be changing.
  • Sean Payton (5-7) – Even with the team below .500, they are still in first place in the NFC South and Payton’s previous success will insulate him from another bad year or two.
  • Jeff Fisher (5-7) – I have no idea what is going to go on in Saint Louis. They’re as hard to figure out as any team in the league.
  • Joe Philbin (7-5) – So what was that with Philbin NOT endorsing Tannenhill as the starting QB going forward. After starting off with a bang against the Patriots, Philbin is starting to pick up where things were at the end of last season. Things are not looking good in Miami.
  • Mike McCoy (8-4) – It’s amazing how bad QB’s start to perform when one of the best OC’s of all time (Norv Turner) becomes the head coach. Two years ago, under Norv, Phillip Rivers was being thought of as done. Now he’s the best ever.
  • Mike Tomlin (7-5) – Wow. You’re not supposed to lose to (arguably) the worst team in the league if you’re the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tomlin is downgraded from safe again this year.
  • Jason Garrett (8-4) – With the improved O-Line (There it is again!) and having a real coach as a DC (Rod Marinelli as opposed to the retired 187-year old Monte Kiffin), Dallas is really looking like a serious football team. Meanwhile, Manziel is still on the Cleveland bench. Maybe Stephen Jones knows a lot more about the personnel side of NFL football than his old man, Jerry.
  • Andy Reid (7-5) –
  • Marvin Lewis (8-3-1) – From looking like the best team in the AFC at one point, to getting blown out at home by Cleveland, this team is having a slow, painful implosion. Marvin Lewis has been with the team for so long it’s hard to believe that he’s had so little success. Unless they do something dramatically different, he could be in jeopardy.
  • Chuck Pagano (8-4) –
  • Chip Kelly (9-3) – This again points out the necessity of good Offensive Line play. A recurrent theme this week.
  • Mike McCarthy (9-3) – With no D-Line to speak of, Rodgers had all day to sit in the pocket spotting receivers. Not as if that was all that hard to start with.

Definitely Safe:

  • Bruce Arians (9-3) – The runaway winner of the Coach of the Year for a second time. Why did Pittsburgh not want him again?
  • John Fox (9-3) – Super Bowl Runner-up. Ho, Hum. Wake me up when it’s January. Fox’s only problems are medical, and if he didn’t quit after last year, I doubt that he will this one either.
  • John Harbaugh (7-5) – Super Bowl Winner in 2012. It would take a much worse year than last year’s 8-8 for Harbaugh to be jettisoned.
  • Pete Carroll (8-4) – Super Bowl Winner
  • Bill Belicheck (9-3) – After a horrible September, Belicheck again proves his genius as one of the two most dominant teams in the league. If they can keep at this level through the playoffs, he might finally get that last ring.

First-Year Head Coaches (Generally safe):

With the exception of Detroit and – most notably – Cleveland, this year’s head coaching class is not having much success, especially when compared to last year’s stellar results. Lovie Smith should be gone. Will Wisenhunt, Zimmer or Gruden be far behind?

  • Ken Wisenhunt (2-10) – Wisenhunt’s Titans start the year blowing out a playoff team from last year, but now have three straight bad losses.
  • Jay Gruden (3-9) – After 2 stellar outings Kirk Cousins lays an egg and suddenly everybody is saying “OK, we were wrong, he can’t play.” Huh? Besides, the Giants always beat up the ‘skins.
  • Mike Zimmer (5-7) – A tumultuous time for the Vikings: Losing the best offensive player in the league (Adrian Peterson) for domestic abuse preceded a bad loss to the Patriots; losing Matt Cassell to injury has now issued in the Teddy Bridgewater era – for now; TB played well enough to win in his first start, against the up-and-down Falcons. Let’s see how long it takes for the league’s D. Coordinators to get the amount of tape on him that they need.
  • Bill O’Brien (6-6) – I’m not on the Houston Texans bandwagon. Their wins have been shaky against mediocre teams. Although they do get to play in the AFC South and have a last place schedule, they can’t keep up with the “big boys”.
  • Mike Pettine (7-5) – Amazing comeback from 25 points down. Brian Hoyer continues to befuddle the analysts. I just realized that one possible reason for his production (despite being “only a journeyman QB”) could be that he had Norv Turner as his OC last year. Norv is the Best OC/Worst Head Coach in the NFL. OK, only the most mediocre Head Coach. The point is that he’s been possibly the best OC in the league while stinking things up in 3 head Coaching stints.
  • Jim Caldwell (8-4) – The Lions are looking like world-beaters again. Caldwell seems to have tamed Stafford to limit his gun-slinging until critical moments in the Q4. So far the gambling has paid off.

 

Changes this week:

  • Moved Belicheck ahead of every other coach.
  • Moved Mike Smith and Gus Bradley from the hot seat back to the warm-up deck.
  • Bumped Marvin Lewis back up to the middle of the stable group.
  • Added caveat to Lovie Smith also having a first-year GM.

 

 

Fewer Coaching Changes Coming This Year?

Ed:This post was originally written around Week 12 of the 2014 season.

It seemed last about half the coaches in the league were on the hot seat a few weeks ago. Now we’re down to 3 or 4. It appears that teams are starting to figure out that sticking with a coach through a few (or more!) bad seasons is worth it in the long run. That’s the way the Steelers have  always run. The Cowboys have turned a lot of heads with their season even after Jason Garret has been on the hot seat for several years.

Of course, there are always a couple of surprises every year.

Jim Harbaugh has been gone ever since the 49er’s leaked the information that they were ready to trade him to the Cleveland Browns last year. Michigan is making a MAJOR push to get him to come coach there. It would probably the best situation for him, because college players are more amenable to dictatorial style coaches. However, that would be a huge ego-burst to him as he thinks he is a super-bowl winning coach in the NFL. If he had actually won the SB against the Ravens, it would make it a lot easier. I hope but don’t expect him to take the wiser course.

Everybody is expecting Rex Ryan to be fired, but I’m not positive that he will be. I AM positive that the GM John Idzik will be gone, but Woody Johnson has always liked having Rex as his coach. After people from iaround the league proclaimed how great of a job he did last year guiding the Jets to 8-8, he was kept to most other people’s surprise. This past off-season was even worse than most for the Jets and this year’s team is even worse. Johnson could see that and blame the GM. Probably not, but I wouldn’t be shocked.

The other coach who everyone has being gone is Marc Trestman in Chicago. It seems like either him or Jay Cutler are leaving, but it’s likely that the McCaskey’s clean house with GM Emery going too. It’s too expensive to get rid of Cutler right now and who are they going to replace him with? NFL starting quality QB’s are pretty rare about now with at least four teams in desperate need (Buffalo, Houston, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Tennessee, at the least)

I have no idea what Tom Coughlin‘s fate in New York will be. The team finally starting executing Offensive Coordinator Bob McAdoo’s offense, so maybe Coughlin will feel like he can retire having left the team in good stead. Then again, maybe the Giants will want him to stay so that they can keep McAdoo’s offense (Seems like there should be another way of doing that).

Wannabes:

Mike Smith – Atlanta Falcons          Both of these coaches were gone a few weeks ago. Now the

Ron Rivera – Carolina Panthers      winner of their week 17 match-up wins the division.  Will the other one get fired? Will the one who wins the division get fired.

Sean Payton – Things have gone slightly differently in New Orleans than people thought. Don’t be surprised to see a major shake-up

Joe Philbin – Miami. Who knows? Owner Stephen Ross has announced that Philbin will return

As for the rookie coaches:

Pettine in Cleveland has been a real find. B+

Caldwell in Detroit has stabilized that team. We’ll see a) how the do in the play-offs and b) how much more undisciplined they are next year. A-

O’Brian has also done a good job despite losing 3 QB’s. B

Lovie Smith has stunk things up in TB. I’ve never been a fan of Lovie as a head coach D+

Wisenhunt hasn’t done well. Why did he choose Tennessee over Detroit again? C-

Mike Zimmer didn’t start well, but his team has been getting better. B-

Jay Gruden in DC has been a mess – as is to be expected with the worst owner in the NFL. I don’t expect him to get fired after this year, but things have got to get better. Right?

2nd Years

Chip Kelley – QB issues. missed playoffs

Gus Bradley – Forced to start raw rookie QB. Bottom 5 team

Bruce Arians – Coach of the Year despite losing several starting QB’s

Mike McCoy – On the cusp of the playoffs again

Chuck Pagano – Won their division again with Luck.

Doug Marone – A dominating defense let done by an ordinary offense led by a retread QB. Missed playoffs, but there conflict between the coach and the GM and a new owner.

Andy Reid – Can still make the playoffs, but need alot of help.

And the (current) best coaches:

Bill Belichick

John Harbaugh

Mike Tomlin

Jason Garrett

Mike McCarthy

Marvin Lewis

Pete Carroll

Jeff Fisher

Jason Garret