Predicting the Win-Loss Records of Every New NFL Head Coach in 2012
Eight new head coaches will patrol the sidelines this season. The group includes a coach who stepped in on an interim basis last season and is determined to prove he can be a success in his second attempt as the man in charge.
There is also the return to the NFL of a well-respected coach who spent 16 seasons building competitive squads for one franchise. Perhaps the biggest challenge awaits two young, former defensive coordinators who are being asked to overhaul the culture at struggling franchises.
Here is a prediction of the win-loss record for every new head coach in 2012, beginning with those joining the AFC.
Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins
Joe Philbin faces an uphill task turning the Miami Dolphins into winners in the ultra-competitive AFC East. A questionable quarterback situation is not the best way for the first-time head coach to begin life in charge.
The Dolphins have Matt Moore, journeyman David Garrard and rookie Ryan Tannehill competing for the starting job. The trio have hardly distinguished themselves so far, and in truth, whomever emerges as the winner, is unlikely to inspire much confidence.
The eventual starter won't be helped by a lack of explosive weapons at wide receiver. The Dolphins added Chad Ochocinco but have little else beyond the controversial veteran.
What Philbin will be able to rely on is a running game led by Reggie Bush and a stout defense. The decision to switch to a 4-3 is a good one, but personnel entrenched in the 3-4 will need time to adjust.
The defense will still be a strength, but the offense will put too much strain on Cameron Wake and company. Philbin and new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman will do their best to cover the gaps, but the lack of offense will ruin the chances of a winning start for the new regime.
The Dolphins do have a favourable schedule, including home games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and St. Louis Rams, as well as a trip to face the Indianapolis Colts. Philbin will register a slight improvement on 2011's 6-10, but the points-shy Dolphins will still be off the pace in a tough division.
Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts
Chuck Pagano has arguably the most difficult job of all 2012's new head coaches. After only one season as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, Pagano is being asked to direct a complete transformation of the Indianapolis Colts.
The Peyton Manning-Bill Polian era has been swept aside, and Pagano has been given Andrew Luck to construct a new-look team around. That makeover includes new schemes on both sides of the ball.
Luck won't have many weapons at his disposal and will have to rely on fellow rookie Coby Fleener, his favourite target in college. Pagano will need running back Donald Brown to live up to his status as a first-round selection in 2009 and ease some of the pressure on Luck.
Defensively, the changes are even more radical. Pagano and new coordinator Greg Manusky are switching to a hybrid 3-4 system. That means veteran defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are being asked to convert to rush linebackers.
The changes are big in Indianapolis, so expect Pagano to struggle in his first season in charge. Luck's development will take time, and the transition on defense won't be smooth.
Mike Mularkey, Jacksonville Jaguars
Mike Mularkey inherits plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but his chances of a quick turnaround with the Jacksonville Jaguars will hinge on the play of Blaine Gabbert. Given how much the quarterback struggled during his rookie campaign, that's not good news for Mularkey.
The first-year head coach has done his best to equip Gabbert with better targets to aim for this season. Those efforts included selecting Justin Blackmon with the draft's fifth overall pick and snaring former Dallas Cowboy Laurent Robinson in free agency.
However, Mularkey would be wise to tailor his offense to the talents of the superb Maurice Jones-Drew. Expect a heavy dose of the powerful running back, in a fullback-oriented scheme, similar to the one Mularkey coordinated with the Atlanta Falcons.
Yet the formula of Jones-Drew and a strong defense will only take the Jaguars so far. They will still need Gabbert to prove he can win a game.
Mularkey will face a tricky schedule, including games against the AFC East and NFC North. Without dramatic improvement from Gabbert, the Jaguars will struggle to get above .500.
Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs
Although he went 2-1 in the final three games of 2011, this season will be the first full year in charge for new Kansas City Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel. Crennel endured a rough four-year spell in charge of the Cleveland Browns from 2005-08, but the Chiefs have enough talent to make him a quicker success this time.
The defense he crafted is still intact and will welcome the return of talented safety Eric Berry. Crennel's scheming will see the unit amongst the league's best.
The offense has plenty of issues, particularly the line and at quarterback. The Chiefs have taken steps to solidify the front five, drafting Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson and signing former Houston Texans starter Eric Winston.
The Chiefs need the line to be solid, because they already have enough problems with the passing game. Matt Cassel has yet to fully convince, and wideouts Jon Baldwin and Dwayne Bowe remain talented but temperamental and inconsistent.
Having tight end Tony Moeaki back in the lineup will help, but the Chiefs still need Cassel to establish a stronger rapport with his receivers. The wise move will be to rely on the running game. However, that will depend on how well Jamaal Charles rebounds from injury and if free-agent Peyton Hillis can stay focused.
The Chiefs will be competitive and close to playoff contention but will ultimately fall short in the bigger games.
Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders are intent on changing the culture, and that's a tall order for first-year head coach Dennis Allen. He has already been hindered by the absence of selections in the first two rounds of the 2012 draft.
The Raiders have a talented core of players on defense, including Richard Seymour and safety Tyvon Branch. Allen will also be able to count on some explosive, young playmakers on offense, such as Darren McFadden and wide receiver Denarius Moore.
However, they have struggled to surround that group with marquee reinforcements in free agency and the draft. The cornerback position has undergone a major revamp, and quarterback Carson Palmer must perform a lot better than he did in 2011.
The offense is likely to miss the change of pace, power running of Michael Bush and Allen may struggle to make his defensive schemes work, without elite, athletic pass-rushers on the edge. Playing the AFC North and NFC South won't help matters either.
The Raiders will be a force in the AFC West and be close in a lot of games. However, the wholesale change they are aiming for won't yield results right away.
Joe Vitt, New Orleans Saints
Joe Vitt faces a unique challenge in what may well be his only season in charge of the New Orleans Saints. He will be attempting to maintain the success of a group missing the head coach who originally put them together.
Vitt's task hasn't been made any easier by the contract dispute between star player Drew Brees and the front office and a defense that is the subject of the ugly bountygate scandal. However, amidst all of the controversy, it's been easy to overlook the fact that the Saints are a team loaded with talent.
With Brees under center, the offense won't miss Sean Payton too much. Brees can still rely on a multi-talented collection of pass-catchers, including Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Darren Sproles.
Most importantly, the defense can be much better, thanks to new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and free-agent additions Brodrick Bunkley, Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne. If Spagnuolo can quickly teach his complex mix of fire zone pressures to the defense, Brees and company may finally have some real support.
The Saints will overcome some struggles when the schedule gets tougher in the middle of the season, but they will still emerge as the main contenders for the NFC South title.
Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made some bold moves in free agency and the draft to give former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano everything he needs to succeed in the NFL.
Adding Dallas Clark, Vincent Jackson and rookie running back Doug Martin makes the offense a potentially potent unit. The key will be if quarterback Josh Freeman can recapture his 2010 form.
His completion percentage and yards per pass average were drastically reduced last season, and Freeman also hurled 22 interceptions. Jackson and Clark will help, as will the presence of Carl Nicks on the offensive line. However, the onus will still be on Freeman to show he can capitalise on the superior talent around him.
Still, no matter how the offense performs, it will be the defense that determines what kind of debut season Schiano experiences. The Buccaneers were last in the league in points and rushing yards allowed.
It will take more than their top draft pick, safety Mark Barron, to turn around this beleaguered unit. Schiano will likely run a more attack-minded scheme than the old Tampa-2, but he will need the defensive tackle rotation to stay healthy and somebody to prove capable of reaching double-digit sacks.
The Buccaneers face plenty of tough running games in 2012, including division rivals the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers. Schiano has upgraded the talent base, but there are still too many question marks in key areas of the team for them to be winners right away.
Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams
Jeff Fisher's return to the NFL will begin with a difficult debut season with the St. Louis Rams. The man who spent 16 seasons in charge of the Tennessee Titans has made some smart moves to set the Rams on the road to recovery.
He has stockpiled picks for the next two drafts and added some solid free agents to a roster ravaged by injuries in 2011. However, the Rams will need plenty of early impact from this year's draft class to help navigate their way through a tough schedule.
There are trips to take on the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills awaiting Fisher's new charges. Then there are home games against the Green Bay packers and New York Jets, as well as a journey to London to face the New England Patriots.
Fisher is fighting against a culture of losing resulting from only 15 wins in the past five seasons. The performance of star running back Steven Jackson and keeping quarterback Sam Bradford upright will be key.
Although the Rams will endure another losing season in 2012, Fisher will prove that things are on the right track in St. Louis.