NFL coach rumors, playoff picture, Vikings choke and more

NFL


With the end of the regular season comes Black Monday, where a litany of head coaches of given their walking papers in a matter of hours.

The regular season is over. Now the hot seats come to a boil.

With Week 17 in the books, the firings have already begun in the NFL. First it was Dirk Koetter being relieved of his duties in Tampa Bay. Next it was Todd Bowles and the Jets parting ways. On Monday, expect the Broncos to move on from Vance Joseph and the Cardinals to remove Steve Wilks.

Then there are the potential firings, including Adam Gase by the Dolphins and Mike Zimmer in Minnesota. On the flip side, the Jaguars and Panthers have already stated Doug Marrone and Ron Rivera will return for another season in their respective cities.

In Green Bay and Cleveland, searches are already underway for a permanent hire. Green Bay has already started its search by interviewing former head coaches Jim Caldwell and Chuck Pagano and requesting interviews with Josh McDaniels and Brian Flores of New England.

There is also the intrigue of John Harbaugh. While the Ravens are enjoying an AFC North crown, some believe that he’ll be dangled as trade bait eventually. Should Baltimore decide to move Harbaugh, the Dolphins are the frontrunner in that conversation, per FanSided sources.

Around the league, there are reservations about college coaches coming into the fray. The rumored names — Matt Campbell, Pat Fitzgerald and Lincoln Riley — have never been in the NFL and might have a tough time assembling a staff without connections.

Still, the Packers are intrigued by Fitzgerald. While the team hasn’t officially contacted Fitzgerald yet — Northwestern’s bowl game is on New Year’s Eve — the two parties are expected to chat soon. Per sources,  Fitzgerald is the frontrunner alongside McDaniels.

As for the hot-shot assistants, they are few and far between. The Saints, Rams and Chiefs are the three best offenses in a league trending heavily in that direction. Unfortunately, none have sure-fire names to join the fray, with the closest men being Eric Bieniemy and Dave Toub with Kansas City.

That isn’t going to keep at least a half-dozen teams from looking for the next great hire.

In Cleveland, general manager John Dorsey wants to hire Mike McCarthy. The two go back to their time shared in Green Bay (1999; 2006-12) and have remained friends. However, owner Jimmy Haslam has eyes for Gregg Williams, muddying the waters there.

GOING DEEP: Way-too-early 2019 mock draft

Elsewhere, the Buccaneers are launching a search to find the a solid solution after rifling through coaches for a decade since Jon Gruden left. Tampa Bay is reportedly interested in Bruce Arians, although the current CBS commentator is 66 years old.

The Broncos are trying to bounce back from their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72. Denver General Manager/President of Football Operations John Elway has work ahead. Denver is keeping tabs on the Harbaugh situation.

In Arizona, the Cardinals have a tougher road to navigate. With the likely one-and-done firing of Wilks, it’s a franchise trying to shed the label of chaotic. Most established names will stay away, meaning the Cardinals will have to make a savvy hire, and maybe not the popular one.

All told, the carousel begins in earnest. Time for teams to live with another set of choices.

Power rankings

Top 10 non-playoff teams with best chance to reach postseason in 2019

1. Green Bay Packers
2. Minnesota Vikings
3. Cleveland Browns
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
5. Atlanta Falcons
6. Tennessee Titans
7. Carolina Panthers
8. San Francisco 49ers
9. New York Jets
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Quotable

“It’s ridiculous. I think it’s sad that’s the only thing they can point to. This isn’t about me, this is about this football team, what they do. To make this about one person, it’s not about one person. This is my job that’s it.”

– Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis on his future being discussed in Cincinnati

Lewis seems to have a lifetime contract in Cincinnati, but it’s more than time for new blood. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1991, going 0-7 during Lewis’ tenure which began in 2003. All that said, his removal likely means Hue Jackson ascending the ladder. Maybe Lewis being the head coach isn’t the worst thing for Bengals fans.

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Random stat

Just an incredible note on the Steelers, and what will be a haunting loss throughout the offseason.

Info learned this week

1. Vikings have to be physically ill after defeat

Nobody had a more painful Week 17 than the Vikings. After loading up in the offseason with Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson, Minnesota went from a 13-3 team a year ago to 8-7-1.

Losing 24-10 to the Bears was the final off-key note in what has been a miserable campaign for Minnesota. Cousins, with his $84 million guaranteed contract, was supposed to be the missing piece to a championship puzzle. Instead, in the season’s biggest moment, Cousins threw for 132 yards on 33 attempts.

Going into the winter, it’s fair to wonder where the Vikings and General Manager Rick Spielman go from here. Minnesota only has $11.3 million in cap space and tough decisions ahead. Improving the roster will have to be almost strictly through the draft.

Just a brutal, brutal nightmare to finish off what was hoped to be a dream season.

2. Texans, Ravens host in AFC Wild Card matchups

Wild Card weekend is always a treat after a long regular season. In the AFC, we get a pair of matchups that’ll be hard to pick.

On Saturday, the AFC South takes center stage with the Texans hosting the Colts. After missing a year due to shoulder surgery, Andrew Luck enjoyed a superb year to help Indianapolis reach the postseason. After winning a virtual playoff game on Sunday night over the Titans, the Colts now get the Texans in Houston. For Bill O’Brien and Co., this a chance to avenge a 24-21 loss at home to Indianapolis in Week 14.

GOING DEEP: AFC road winds through Kansas City

On Sunday, the Ravens play host to the Chargers in a Week 16 rematch. In the original meeting, Baltimore went to Los Angeles and won 22-10, vaulting itself into the AFC North lead while keeping the Chargers out of the AFC West penthouse.

After going 6-1 down the stretch, the Ravens now try to topple Los Angeles on their own turf. In their prior meeting, Philip Rivers was battered to the tune of four sacks and two interceptions. Now contending with cold weather and the crowd noise, Rivers’ life won’t be any easier.

3. Eagles-Bears headlines NFC Wild Card showdowns

The Philadelphia Eagles are alive. After sitting at 6-7 and facing a trip to Los Angeles to play the Rams without starting quarterback Carson Wentz, the defending champs rattled off three consecutive wins. Now, the Eagles head to the Windy City for a date with the Bears, who helped punch their postseason ticket by beating Minnesota.

While Chicago is a 12-win team at home, it’s hard to overlook how tough Philadelphia has been behind back quarterback Nick Foles this season and, of course, last season. The Bears will need Mitchell Trubisky to make plays, while the defense lives up to its stout reputation.

On Saturday night, it’s the Cowboys and Seahawks from JerryWorld. Dallas enters hot, having won seven of its previous eight, including a wild 36-35 win over the Giants in Week 17. The Cowboys played at Seattle in Week 3 and lost. The venue shifts this time. As for Seattle, the question is whether or not the Seahawks, who barely sneaked by Arizona, show up or if the version that trounced the Chiefs in Week 16 makes the trip to Dallas.

In both matchups, defenses should rule the day in a year defined by offense.

4. Mahomes powers Chiefs win in historic performance

Not even the wildest Patrick Mahomes supporter could have dreamed this. In his first season as a starter, the 23-year-old broke through a pair of magical thresholds in Week 17, throwing for 50 touchdowns and 5,000 yards. Only Peyton Manning had ever achieved both milestones in the same campaign.

Fittingly, Mahomes’ eclipsed both marks on an 89-yard touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson. The play all but clinched Kansas City’s bid for the AFC’s top seed, giving the Chiefs home-field advantage for the first time since 1997.

As for Mahomes, it’s hard to envision any scenario where he isn’t the NFL MVP.

5. Bridgewater struggles in first start since 2015

On Sunday, Teddy Bridgewater was a feel-good story. After rehabbing and then riding the bench for the better part of three seasons, Bridgewater started for the Saints in a Week 17 tilt against the Panthers. While New Orleans lost, 33-14, Bridgewater completed 14-of-22 for 118 yards with a touchdown and interception.

With the offseason looming, Bridgewater’s situation is fascinating. For the second consecutive year, the former Louisville star is slated for free agency. Will his performance on Sunday sour some thinking about taking a chance on Bridgewater’s talent? Or, will quarterback-needy teams such as the Redskins, Broncos, Jaguars and Dolphins bid for his services?

At only 26 years old, Bridgewater’s future remains uncertain yet tantalizing.

History lesson

The Lions’ win over the Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field was only their third victory at the Frozen Tundra since 1991.

While Detroit’s mark in Green Bay is rough, it has company from a historical perspective. The Patriots lost 16 straight games at the Orange Bowl before winning the 1985 AFC Championship Game there.

The 49ers also held total dominance over the Rams in the 1990s, winning 17 consecutive games before being swept by the eventual Super Bowl champs in 1999.

Parting shot

Kyle Williams played in 183 regular-season games for the Bills during his 13-year career.

On Sunday, his career came to a celebrated close in front of the rabid fans in Buffalo. He got a hero’s welcome in the introductions before playing one last time to the roar of an appreciative crowd.

Over his career, Williams earned $58.853 million. Yet for the wealth he amassed and the longevity he enjoyed, the 35-year-old should be most remembered for was his unbridled enthusiasm when the Bills broke their 17-year playoff drought a season ago. Williams was jubilant in the visiting locker room at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. He was sobbing, hugging his children.

It was the portrait of a man who wasn’t counting his millions. It was the showcase of a hard-working guy in western New York who simply wanted a taste of what so many others get as an annual rite.

The five-time Pro Bowler finally got his moment in the sun. Enjoy retirement, Kyle.





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