It's starting to get late around the NFL. The best teams are strutting their stuff, the pretenders are becoming fairly obvious to detect on a weekly basis by now, and with one head coach already dismissed, several owners are already starting to mull their next move.
There are going to be at least six head-coaching changes in my estimation and, if you made me set an over-under right now, I'd place it at seven or eight by the time the playoffs have begun. There remains time for some of these regimes to turn it around and stave off an overhaul, but for others, well, it's become inevitable that their next job will be elsewhere. It's a tough racket, but with upwards of a quarter of the league about to be conducting a search, and such a limited pool of candidates to go around, at least one or two more owners could release their current coach in-season to get a jumpstart in the process.
Here are the six teams I believe will most likely be in the head coaching market next year:
Gregg Williams will have a chance to show what he can do. Owners have a way of gravitating to him and Jimmy Haslam has proven routinely to consider varied options when it comes to hiring. But there will be a thorough job search with developing Baker Mayfield paramount and one would expect the Browns to hire an offensive-minded guy.
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Vance Joseph was nearly let go after last season, he remains under the microscope both in the organization and by the fanbase and media, and he faces a brutal schedule to navigate. This team needs to find a QB of the future above all else and it remains to be seen if Joseph finishes the season. It's difficult to concoct any scenario where he is back in 2019.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Jameis Winston thing has gone horribly wrong, there is some locker-room strife, having to go back to Ryan Fitzpatrick multiple times in two months is less-than-ideal, and playing in the toughest division in the NFL all adds up to a situation where massive change is coming. As I always point out, any team that comes as close to firing its coach at the end of the previous season is almost guaranteed to do just that the following year.
New York Jets
Like the Browns, they have a rookie QB just picked in the top three of the draft, they have been without a competent young starter seemingly forever and it's all about Sam Darnold. If there was some way to keep Todd Bowles as the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach, I figure the Jets would exhaust it, but that's not how it works by and large. I would expect them to be in the market for someone as close to a Kyle Shanahan or a Sean McVay as possible (of course, that's far easier said than done).
Another case where ownership has publicly mulled the fate of its coach after the past two seasons. And the Ravens, 44-45 since their Super Bowl win in 2012, are once again the same team, stuck around .500 (4-5). John Harbaugh is an excellent, Super Bowl winning coach who will have his pick of other jobs once these sides inevitably decide to go in a different direction. But everything comes to an end, and the Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era is in its final weeks. No one one-year extensions. The Ravens have to find someone to turn Lamar Jackson into a winning QB.
Green Bay Packers
Same as what I wrote above. Doing another one-year extension for Mike McCarthy makes no sense, and Super Bowl-winning coaches – like him and Harbaugh – don't coach out their lame-duck years (2019 for both). Aaron Rodgers is pining for new offensive concepts and ideas, and this regime as well seems to have run its course. They, like the Ravens, have already made ample assistant coaching changes in recent years to middling results. And they, like Baltimore, recently promoted a young GM to that role who has very different ideas than his predecessor. The similarities between these two situations remain striking (and it was at this time a year ago I proposed the teams essentially trading coaching staffs).
There will be other changes, for sure, depending on how teams like the Cowboys, Jaguars and Dolphins finish the season. Could things get so bad in Arizona or with the Giants that they start over after just one season? We'll find out over the next two months
Packers cultivating WRs under David Raih
The Packers' offense has been under intense scrutiny since before the season began, but it's not all doom and gloom. They are cultivating an impressive group of young receivers, and doing it with guys who weren't thought of as anything close to sure things coming out of the draft. Very impressive work by McCarthy assistant coach David Raih, who has been without Jordy Nelson and with the team getting almost nothing out of aging tight end Jimmy Graham, and with Randall Cobb banged up most weeks and not nearly the explosive player he once was.
Raih, in his first year coaching the receivers but with the Packers since 2014, has a blossoming position group. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, a fifth-round rookie out of South Florida, looks like an emerging star. He looks more polished and assertive by the week, is averaging a ridiculous 21.1 yards per catch and is earning the respect of Rodgers. Rookie Equanimeous St. Brown, a sixth-round pick, began flashing in this offense when injuries wiped out most of the veteran starters, and he has the potential to make an impact down the road as well.
Raih has already worked with the offensive line, and he's a perimeter passing game assistant under McCarthy and is well thought of within that organization. He's become more integral in game planning as well, and his work is not going unnoticed.
- Remember when I mentioned teams separating from the pack? Well, the Rams finally lost, but that 8-0 start cemented the division for them. The Saints have won six in a row to pull away as at least a wild card team and the Panthers are within shouting distance of them with three straight wins. The NFC East and NFC North should be interesting viewing (I suspect the Eagles and Vikings pull away), but in the AFC you can go ahead and starting printing playoff tickets. New England (six straight wins), Pittsburgh (four in a row), Kansas City (three in a row and eight of nine), Houston (six in a row) and the Chargers (five in a row) are going to the postseason. Baltimore, Cincy, Miami and Tennessee will hang around the second wild card; if the Bengals sweep the Ravens pencil them in …
- I know it's a throwing league and all of that, but take a look at the eight best teams in the NFL against the run -- the top 25 percent of the league vs. the run. New Orleans, Philly, Chicago, Miami, Washington, Pittsburgh, Houston and Carolina – all but the Eagles are over .500 and they have a combined record of 43-21-2. Still not a bad starting point for a good football team … Aaron Donald should run away with the Defensive MVP award. Ten sacks in nine games already, playing inside against constant doubles without an outside pass rushing threat to compliment him? That's bonkers. He also leads the NFL, by far, in combined QB hits and hurries, with 48.5. Dee Ford, a speed rusher who plays on the outside, is next with 43. Donald is ridiculous …
- Credit to Bill O'Brien for sticking with the run as Deshaun Watson was getting back to speed. Houston is running the ball over 30 times a game, staying balanced. Watson still takes too many big hits with that offensive line a concern, but the Texans are making an effort not to have him drop back 50 times a game … The Bucs really should have been sellers with Winston benched before the trade deadline. Heck, I wonder what they could have got for Fitzmagic? I would have been shopping DeSean Jackson and Gerald McCoy and anyone else other teams wanted. The Saints, Panthers and Falcons have combined for 10 straight wins with their collective win streaks and there is no road to the postseason for Tampa. It won't even be close … The Bills are managing 10 points scored by their offense per game through half a season. There is nowhere to go but up on that side of the ball in 2019. Yikes.