1. Let’s start off by jumping into the coaching issues that will impact the 2011 season. In Dallas, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has handed over the reins to offensive coordinator Jason Garrett after firing Wade Phillips. At the time of Phillips’ firing, there were rumors that Jones would finally hire a general manager as well as a new head coach and hand over decision-making authority to the duo. That was wishful thinking. Jones has run the Cowboys with an iron grip save for two periods. First, when Jimmie Johnson was running the show; then, when Bill Parcells was in charge. Garrett is currently 2-1 as the team’s head coach, with a tough loss on Thanksgiving in a game the Cowboys should have won. If Jones’ end game is to retain his power within the organization, then it is easy to ignore his comment that the team has been contacted by Super Bowl–winning coaches about the Dallas head coaching position. While that may be true, hiring such a coach would lessen Jones’ control, and it therefore seems unlikely to happen. Look for Jones to soon hire Garrett as the team’s coach for next season, before a losing streak jeopardizes his ability to rationalize that hiring Garrett is the proper decision.
2. Over in Minnesota, Brad Childress was finally shown the door, less than a season removed from being a few plays from taking the Vikings to the Super Bowl. Quarterback Brett Favre cost Childress and the Vikings a chance to go to the Super Bowl last season and, with his poor play this season, Favre likely cost Childress his job. While many can argue that Childress’ time was up, we may never know how much say he had in the team’s decisions to bring back Favre for another season and to trade for wide receiver Randy Moss. One thing we do know is that with Childress gone, Favre will remain the starting quarterback for the balance of the season, barring injury. Interim head coach Leslie Frazier is essentially auditioning not only for the Vikings job in 2011 but also for other openings that will come up once the season ends. Because of that, he is going to field the team’s best lineup on Sundays, with no regard to grooming players for next season. That ensures that Favre will be under center in Minnesota.
3. Here is my list of coaches who may not be back with their current teams, in order of the most likely to go: John Fox in Carolina, Mike Singletary in San Francisco, Gary Kubiak in Houston, Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, Eric Mangini in Cleveland, and Josh McDaniels in Denver. Despite having underachieving teams, it looks like Jim Schwartz is safe in Detroit, as is Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona. In Tennessee, Jeff Fisher will likely decide his own fate if owner Bud Adams refuses to release the troubled Vince Young, but look for Adams to pick the proven track record of Fisher over the potential that Young offers at quarterback.
4. The Thanksgiving Day game between the Patriots and Lions offered a great contrast in the coaching philosophies of each team. In New England, head coach Bill Belichick has shown he isn’t afraid to bench players during a game if they aren’t performing, change the starting lineup on a weekly basis based on the performances from the previous game, or release players who have been productive in the previous year if they have had a bad training camp. Over in Detroit, the Lions have held on to several players far longer than they should have and refuse to give up on high draft picks, even if they have long stretches of poor play (although Schwartz has brought some improvement to that area). However, this week the Lions coaching staff left themselves open to much criticism by refusing to bench starting cornerback Alphonso Smith despite his horrendous effort against the Patriots. He was torched for three passing touchdowns—making little effort to shove Deion Branch out of bounds on one of them—and got steamrolled on BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ touchdown run in another evident lack of effort. Schwartz should be given credit for the improvement the Lions have shown during his tenure, but he needs to go a step further by making his players accountable.
5. The Falcons have had a strong start to the season. While that wasn’t unexpected, their current position atop the standings in the NFC certainly is. A big part of the reason for their 8-2 record is their strong play in the Georgia Dome, and they enter this week’s home game against the Packers with a 5-0 home record. Simply put, quarterback Matt Ryan has been nearly unbeatable at home since entering the league. The Falcons have a home record of 18-1 when Ryan starts.
6. With the Broncos recent decision to give rookie first round pick Tim Tebow more playing time at quarterback, there has been some speculation the team may be planning to start him for a game or two at the end of the season. Don’t expect that to happen. When Denver drafted Tebow, they were well aware that he was a project at quarterback, and all indications are that they do not view him as a potential starter until the 2012 season. Incumbent Kyle Orton has played well and is signed for the 2011 season at just under $9 million, with $5.5 million of that amount guaranteed. While Tebow may get some spot playing time at quarterback in special packages, he is no threat to take over under center at any point this season.
7. Mark it down: the winner of the NFC West will finish the season with a losing record. The Seahawks currently lead the division with a 5-5 record and face three teams with winning records in their last six games. They also have to go on the road to face the 49ers, and they get the Rams at home, who they lost to 20-3 earlier in the season. As a whole, the division has a .375 winning percentage (15-25) with six of those wins coming in interdivisional games. That translates into a winning percentage of .321 (9-19). The NFC West division winner will be the fourth seed in the conference, with a matchup against the top wildcard team—and you can bet that the wildcard team will be heavily favored in that game.
8. Not a whole lot better over in the AFC West, where the division sports a .475 winning percentage. At least the winner of the AFC West will likely be favored in their home playoff game.
9. Current Bengals wide receiver Terrell Owens has had a fabulous career that will one day land him in the Hall of Fame. What he apparently doesn’t have a future in is evaluating talent. T.O. declared this week that Darrelle Revis was an average cornerback, an outlandish statement given Revis’ earned reputation as one of the top two, if not the top cornerback in the league. On Thanksgiving night, the Jets cornerback tandem of Revis and Antonio Cromartie showed T.O. just how wrong he was by limiting him and Chad Ochocinco to a combined seven receptions for 58 yards.
10. The Giants decided this week they had had enough of Ahmad Bradshaw’s fumbling issues, and the first-year starter was benched in favor of the player he had replaced, Brandon Jacobs. However, Bradshaw isn’t the only Giant who has had issues with ball protection in 2010. Quarterback Eli Manning has received kudos for his passing and is on pace for career highs in yardage and touchdowns. However, that has been more than offset by his inability to protect the football; he has lost five fumbles and has thrown 16 interceptions so far this year. Given the state of the team’s receiving corps, it won’t be a surprise if he ends up with career highs in those categories as well.
11. With reclamation project Mike Williams likely on the shelf this week with a foot injury, Seahawks wide receiver Deon Butler is getting some attention as a suitable waiver wire addition. Butler has had a decent second season in the league, but Ben Obomanu has come on over the last two games, catching nine of 11 targets for 147 yards and a touchdown. He now has touchdowns in two of his last three games. Picked in the seventh round of the 2006 draft, Obomanu has always tantalized the team with his potential and playmaking ability in practice, but that has rarely translated into production on game day. With Butler perhaps better suited to playing out of the slot and with rookie second-round pick Golden Tate having a disappointing season, Obomanu is worth taking a flyer on in dynasty leagues—with an outside chance that he becomes a WR3 over the balance of the 2010 season.
12. With the Browns coming off a pair of solid outings, most expected them to go into Jacksonville this week and come out with a win. That didn’t happen, as they dropped a 24-20 decision to Jacksonville, despite the fact that the Cleveland defense forced six turnovers. It is rare for a team to lose when they generate that many turnovers and rarer still when they win the turnover battle by five (the Jaguars forced just one Cleveland turnover).
13. You have to hand it to the Houston Texans pass defense: This unit knows how to blow a lead every way imaginable. Two weeks ago, they lost on a final-second Hail Mary pass that was deflected by Glover Quin into the waiting arms of Jaguars wide receiver Mike Thomas. This week they lost on a last-minute drive by the Jets after kicking a field goal to go up by four points. Texans head coach Gary Kubiak took heat after the loss for his decision to call three running plays from the Jets’ 10-yard line rather than taking a shot in the end zone. While it’s hard to imagine a coach thinking that he needed to score a touchdown to go up by eight points rather than playing for a field goal with 45 seconds remaining, in this case the criticism might be justified. The porous Texans secondary promptly gave up 24 yards on a pair of passes to LaDainian Tomlinson before allowing Braylon Edwards to break free down the right sideline for a 42-yard gain to the Texans’ seven-yard line. With Houston sitting at 4-6 and 12th in the AFC, and with Kubiak almost certainly needing a playoff berth to return in 2011, these two last-second losses are likely the key moments of Kubiak’s demise.