The third quarter of the NFL season is over and all the clubs make the turn for home with four games left. Assistant coaches are already being fired. Head coaches on the 'hot seat' have a month to convince ownership they deserve more time. Teams are clinching playoff spots, and as Bill Parcells always said, "you are what your record says you are."
1. The real record
There is a fairly clear picture of the good teams and the bad teams at this point in the season, and I like to look into the team records and see how all the teams have really done against the teams sitting in a projected playoff berth at this time.
If the playoffs started today the 12 playoff teams would be Houston, New England, Baltimore, Denver, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh in the AFC. Over in the NFC the teams would be Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago, Giants, Green Bay and Seattle.
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How have NFL teams done against these 12 teams is the record inside the record? You might be surprised at some team's 'real record' at this point of the season:
AFC East: New England 2-2, Miami 1-3, NY Jets 1-6, Buffalo 0-5 (The Jets played a lot of the 12 playoff contenders, which might explain some of their problems.)
AFC North: Baltimore 2-2, Pittsburgh 2-2, Cincinnati 1-3, Cleveland 1-4.
AFC South: Houston 3-1, Indianapolis 1-2, Tennessee 1-5, Jacksonville 1-5.
AFC West: Denver 1-3, San Diego 0-4, Oakland 1-3, Kansas City 0-4 (The whole West Division has two wins against playoff teams.)
NFC East: NY Giants 2-1, Washington 0-3 (Giants tonight), Dallas 1-5, Philadelphia 2-2 (not bad for the Eagles considering all their struggles).
NFC North: Chicago 1-4, Green Bay 2-4, Minnesota 1-4, Detroit 1-5.
NFC South: Atlanta 1-0, Tampa Bay 0-3, New Orleans 1-4, Carolina 0-5 (Atlanta only team in the NFL with one game against playoff contenders.)
NFC West: San Francisco 3-1, Seattle 3-1, St Louis 2-3-1, Arizona 2-3 (This division has 10 wins over playoff contenders.)
2. It just wasn't their day
There's a decent chance the Harbaugh brothers could meet in the Super Bowl. John Harbaugh's Ravens made it to the AFC championship game last year and look like a better team this year. Jim Harbaugh's 49ers also made it to the championship game last year and look like a better team this year. Sunday we had not only an unusual situation when both Harbaughs lost a game but we had a first of its kind this season. This is the first weekend this year both brothers lost on the same weekend. Neither coach has lost two games in a row this year so I don't expect it to happen again next week or for any of the remaining four weeks.
Every week the games produce some 'why?' questions. It's not second guessing, no one should pretend they would do it better or respond better under pressure. But Week 13 did bring the why question to the forefront on a number of situations. I get e-mails all day Sunday, and these were the big WHY questions I attempted to answer, but of course there's no right answer unless you are down on the field with a full understanding of what was going on.
* Why is Greg Shiano still insistent on his charging the victory formation?
* Why did Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders try and switch the ball to the other hand in the open field with no one around him and wind up fumbling?
* Why did the Cardinals go for it on 4th and 1 at the Jets 17 in the first quarter in a game they eventually lost 7-6?
* Why did Kansas City even play the game?
* Why didn't Detroit challenge the Donnie Avery catch at 12:55 in the third quarter?
* Why did San Francisco attempt a 51-yard field goal in overtime instead of taking a delay of game and punting the ball?
* Why didn't Arizona put Skelton in at half time when Lindley was 6 for 20 and 48 yards?
4. Quarterback issues
It's a little late in the season for quarterback issues to still be on the table, but the truth is they still exist. The Jets opened up a can of worms when they benched Mark Sanchez and put in third stringer Greg McElroy, who promptly went out and won the game. Now there are more questions than answers in New York, but Sanchez's contract still says he's the starter in 2013.
The 49ers world was all excited over the past few weeks with Colin Kaepernick, but he led the Niners to a loss over the Rams, and the next few opponents are gathering more and more information about Kaepernick's game. In two weeks he leads his team into Foxboro to face Bill Belichick's defense. Then we will see how good the plan to bench Alex Smith was.
Again still more questions than answers. Jake Locker is going through the growing pains of a starting QB but his Titans offensive coordinator was fired this week because some thought it was Chris Palmer's fault. Locker was sacked six times and threw three interceptions in the loss to Houston this week. More questions than answers about Jake Locker!
The Eagles might as well play Nick Foles the rest of the season and let Michael Vick sit it out. The club needs to find out what they have in Foles, and last night the team played hard with him and Vick appears done in Philly.
Arizona just needs to win a game, and Ryan Lindley doesn't appear to be the answer. The Cardinals tell me Kevin Kolb is getting close and they need to see him for a month to know what they have in him.
5. Young coaches need time
I had a good discussion with Bill Cowher this week about head coaches in the NFL and what to do about all the impending terminations. We have seen two seasons in recent NFL history with 11 coaching changes, most of which were terminations, but did all that coach changing do any real good?
I agree with Cowher that when an owner hires a young head coach he needs three full seasons to build up his roster, learn how to be a head coach and grow into the job. Clubs will do more harm than good if they continue to dump young head coaches after two seasons because they want to make changes. I worked for four head coaches in five seasons, and the upheaval of the roster, coordinator changes, salary cap issues and general distrust of the program makes it a big mistake.
As Cowher said, if your coach has been around for six or seven years or he has been to a number of teams as a head coach and the club wants to make a change, so be it. Just give the young guys the time they need to do the job.
That being said I think it is going to be a terrible mistake if the Browns release Pat Shurmur, the Panthers do the same to Ron Rivera or the Titans or Cowboys consider a change.
It's easy to say fire the coach, but remember that's what the Browns said about Bill Belichick, the Raiders said about Mike Shanahan and the Jets said about Pete Carroll.
Be careful what you wish for!