This will be my last rankings column while the season is still active. I will be out next week but will return the week after that for a wrap-up and playoff prediction.
Before we get to the rankings, let’s talk coaching. This has been an extremely active year as three coaches were fired mid-season. If things go completely batshit insane in the off season there could be as many as fifteen changes when you figure retirements into the picture.
One has to figure that the hiring blueprint will tilt towards low key assistants with minimal head coaching jobs after the quick turnaround in Baltimore (John Harbaugh), Atlanta (Mike Smith), Miami (Tony Sporano), and hell, even the last few weeks in San Francisco (Mike Singletary).
Here are the coaches that could be joining America’s ever increasing longer unemployment lines.
Gone For Sure:
Mike Holmgren (Seattle): His retirement was decided before the season started, after about a few weeks it appears he stayed one year too long. The question is will there be some question as to whether Jim Mora, the groomed heir apparent, is truly the man for the job.
Rod Marinelli (Detroit): Like the 2007 Miami Dolphins who ended with a 1-15 record, the Lions are playing hard and have a few good quality players (most notably Calvin Johnson) to build a nucleus around in the future, but like the Dolphins, the Lions are looking for a new General Manager and President and whoever that is won’t want to start his career with a coach who led his team to an 0-14 start, and a probable 0-16 or 1-15 record.
Romeo Crennel (Cleveland): Led team to improbable 10-6 record last season causing high expectations that were dashed early with a 0-3 record. Crennel probably stuck with ineffective starting quarterback Derek Anderson too long before giving fan favorite Brady Quinn a shot. GM Phil Savage is pretty much throwing him under the bus and Cleveland fans have dreams of Marty Schottenheimer, Bill Cowher or both dancing in their heads.
Tom Cable (interim/Oakland): If there is one thing Al Davis loves to do, it’s hiring then firing a coach. He’s had five in six years and the team got worse after Cable took over for ousted coach Lane Kiffin. The only thing that could save his job is if Davis is self aware to realize there are not a lot of coaches willing to subject themselves to his whims.
Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati): You can pinpoint the exact second that Lewis tenure with the Bengals was doomed: Carson Palmer goes down in the early stages of their first home playoff game in over a decade after tossing a touchdown pass. The Bengals lost that game, and they have been plagued with discord, suspended players and mediocre play ever since. Lewis seems like a good coach, if one in over his head, for his sake, it’s probably for the best he gets out of Cincy.
That Seat is Awfully Hot
Jim Zorn (Washington): At 6-2 he made Dan Snyder look like a genius for plucking this obscure quarterback coach as heir apparent to Joe Gibb’s second term. Five out of six games lost, ineffective offense and disputes with their best player later, his fate may be similar to Richie Petitbon, the heir apparent to Joe Gibb’s initial tenure.
Jim Haslett (interim/St. Louis Rams): After leading the Rams to a two game win streak following the dismissal of Scott Linehan, the Rams started negotiating the removal of the interim label from Haslett’s title. The move was prohibited due to not conforming to the Rooney rule. If you ever needed proof of the effectiveness of affirmative action, there you go!
Dick Juaron (Buffalo): Meanwhile Dick Juaron was actually given an extension early in the season after the Bills started 4-0, they’ve been in freefall and 2-7 ever since, with some questionable game day decision making.
Herm Edwards (Kansas City): There is no question the Chiefs are playing better than their record suggest, however, like this week, they have a strange tendency to find ways to snatch defeat from the hands of victory. With a new General Manager/President coming next season, will he want his own guy?
Wade Phillips (Dallas): In a lose-lose situation, with probably nothing short of a Super Bowl appearance or even victory saving his job after a tumultuous season and a popular and highly paid offensive coordinator who has been groomed by the owner as a future head coach waiting in the wings.
Probably Safe….But You Never Know
Mike Singletary (interim/San Francisco): You would think the interim label would be removed by now, the team is playing much better since he took over, and that’s with the same players that Nolan lead to mediocrity for years. But the Yorks have made some stupid decisions before, and I wouldn’t put it passed them to go another way for purely arbitrary reasons.
Jack Del Rio (Jacksonville): This was a team with Super Bowl aspirations that until last week’s game was playing with minimal passion. His past success should allow him an opportunity to prove this year was just a fluke.
Norv Turner (San Diego): AJ Smith gave Turner a vote of confidence earlier this season, saying that the coach will return. But the Chargers are a loss or Broncos win away from playoff elimination following an AFC Championship appearance last season and a 14-2 record the year prior to his hiring and retaining him will be hard to explain to the team’s fans.
Tony Dungy (Indianapolis): The day after the Colt’s season ends will begin the annual will he or won’t he leave discussion. He’s the Brett Favre of coaching.
Possible Big Surprise Resigning/Firing
Andy Reid (Philadelphia): Once Holmgren retires, Reid will be the longest tenured coach in the NFC and the third longest in the league. Has had a bizarre season with the benching of McNabb which led to a surprising resurgence. If the team misses the playoffs, it will be for the third time in four seasons and the census is the current version of the team’s window of opportunity is shut.
Now to the rankings where we have a new number one team:
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) (3): I guess this may be controversial since they have one less loss than the Titans and actually lost to the Giants; they aren’t exactly blowing teams out and were a questionable call away from possibly losing to the Ravens on Sunday. Still, the defense is as dominant a force that there is currently in the league and Ben Roethlisberger has an uncanny knack to pull out a win in the fourth quarters of all these nail biting contests.
2. New York Giants (11-3) (1): Lost for the second time in two games to a desperate division rival. I will give them the benefit of the doubt due to a lack of Brandon Jacobs and retain them in the top two, where they have resided the entire season, however a loss to the Panthers will see them going in the opposite direction then they were at this time last year.
3. Carolina Panthers (11-3) (4): A part of me just doesn’t trust this team, but I have to give them credit on back to back hard fought wins over good opponents. Jake Delhomme is not having a vintage year, but the defense, when it shows up, and running attack help keep them in games making him need only one or two big plays a game to pull out a victory.
4. Tennessee Titans (12-2) (1): Still have the best record in the league, but there’s a sense that like the Colts in 2005 or the Jaguars in 2000, they are a team that will not have post-season success. The loss of Albert Haynesworth is big.
5. Indianapolis Colts (10-4) (-): Win streak now at seven, seven is also the number of consecutive straight ten win seasons the Colts have had, all since Tony Dungy took over.
6. Minnesota Vikings (9-5) (9): If you ask me, stick with Tavarias Jackson at quarterback, the veteran Gus Frerotte is a better pick to be prepared to come in if Jackson gets injured or is ineffective.
7. Atlanta Falcons (9-5) (8): Proving they are multi-dimensional, still eek out a win despite Matt Ryan’s less than impressive performance.
8. Dallas Cowboys (9-5) (10): Terrell Owens is happy for now. The improved play of the defense is the reason for their reemergence.
9. Baltimore Ravens (9-5) (6): Cannot dwell on the validity of the Steelers touchdown, their playoff hopes require a victory this week at Dallas.
10. New England Patriots (9-5) (11): This was probably the happiest Randy Moss has ever been in Oakland.
11. Miami Dolphins (9-5) (12): Amazingly have only six turnovers this entire year.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5) (7): Their increasing array of injuries may keep them out of the post-season.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (8-5-1) (18): That tie against the Bengals could end up being extremely costly.
14. New York Jets (9-5) (16): Only won due to benefit of the Bills bad play calling and JP Losman’s impressive knack of turning the ball over.
15. Chicago Bears (8-6) (17): Looking to avenge their worst loss of the season when they host the Packers this week.
16. Houston Texans (7-7) (20): Is the late emergence of the team indicative of great things to come next year or is this just like their late emergence of last season, smoke and mirrors?
17. Arizona Cardinals (8-6) (13): Just looked flat out awful at home against the Vikings, its not an excuse, but hey they just aren’t used to playing games as a division champion.
18. Denver Broncos (8-6) (16): It is conceivable that not just one team but two teams can win their division with an 8-8 record this year, the Cardinals and the AFC West champion, however, if the Broncos end up 8-8, it’s likely the Chargers and not them will be representing their division.
19. New Orleans Saints (7-7) (14): Their season may be over, but they don’t want to go down as the team the Lions beat, although they should be able to empathize, the 1980 Saints squad also started 0-14 before finishing 1-15.
20. Washington Redskins (7-7) (19): That “worst coach ever” speech probably didn’t do a lot for owner Dan Snyder’s confidence in Jim Zorn to turn things around next season.
21. San Diego Chargers (6-8) (-): Still mathematically alive, however the fact that they needed two touchdown in last two minutes to beat the Chiefs is proof this team just isn’t playing to the standards of it’s last few seasons.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9) (25): For the first time in five weeks actually showed moxie and passion. With games against the Colts and the Ravens, could help shape the playoff race even if they are only going to be spectators.
23. Green Bay Packers (5-9) (22): After an impressive start, they have lost four straight games; their last victory was against this week’s opponent, the Chicago Bears.
24. San Francisco 49ers (5-9) (23): While it’s undeniable the Niners are playing much better, the one area they still need to improve exponentially is red zone scoring, they should have won this game and could have been a lot closer against the Cowboys if they scored touchdowns and not settled for field goals so much. This might be a basic flaw of Martz’s system which is built for the big yard plays but not for the crunching short yardage pickups that the red zone necessitates.
25. Buffalo Bills (6-8) (24): If I were a coach, I’d keep the ball out of my second string turnover prone quarterback in the last two minutes of an apparent victory and place my faith in the tough reliable running back. That’s just me though.
26. Cleveland Browns (4-10) (-): Something tells me they are not going to have five primetime games next season.
27. Seattle Seahawks (3-11) (29): It’s been an awful season for the Hawks who plummeted from division champs to a three win squad, but at least they swept the Rams, which is something, I guess.
28. Cincinnati Bengals (2-11-1) (30): Going into the game, a surprise victory over the Redskins, the Bengals offense hadn’t score a touchdown in 11 quarters.
29. Kansas City Chiefs (2-12) (27): I can’t decide which was the sadder sight, the Chiefs giving up a sure victory in the final minutes or Arrowhead stadium not filled to capacity.
30. Oakland Raiders (3-11) (28): Al Davis insists that it’s a conspiracy that the Raiders always have to play a quarterback a few days after his father dies.
31. St. Louis Rams (2-12) (-): Hey Rams fans, Marc Bulger still has four years remaining on his contract, yay!!!!
32. Detroit Lions (0-14) (-): Props for giving strong efforts instead of packing it in, no props however for Calvin Johnson wildly celebrating a touchdown that placed a then 0-13 team 10 points down.