The Carolina Panthers are better than their record indicates.
As the NFL regular season nears crunch time, there have been a number of NFL head coaches who have been identified as being on the hot seat. How many of them have a realistic chance to be brought back in 2013 to continue what they started?
Depending on the various sources you look at, there are as many as 14 head coaches who have been labeled as "hot-seat coaches" at one point or another this season. Out of the group of 14, the coaches that seem to have no chance of returning in 2013 would be Andy Reid (Philadelphia Eagles), Pat Shurmur (Cleveland Browns), Romeo Crennel (Kansas City Chiefs) and Norv Turner (San Diego Chargers). Their fates appear to be sealed.
With five weeks left to go in the 2012 season, there is still time for coaches who are on shaky ground to firm up their status by going on a late winning streak. For those who are unable to motivate their teams to get hot in December, these final five weeks will serve as their swan song.
Here are the coaches on the hot seat who we believe will find a way to be back in 2013, and what they have to do to continue their current employment.
Ron Rivera's defense has been improving in Carolina.
After beating the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football, the Carolina Panthers are now 3-8 on the season.
Yes, 3-8 is an ugly record, and that is why head coach Ron Rivera has been labeled as a hot-seat coach. But this Panthers team and Rivera's job deserve a closer examination.
In the past four weeks, the team has gone .500. Overall, the Panthers have been in every game with the exception of two blowout losses to the New York Giants and Denver Broncos. No real embarrassment there.
Of their six losses, you have an overtime loss to Tampa Bay, a two-point loss to Atlanta, a four-point loss to Seattle, a five-point loss to Dallas, a one-point loss to Chicago and a six-point loss to Tampa Bay.
With a couple of bounces this team could easily be 5-6 or 6-5. The Carolina defense was the real nemesis in 2011, when the unit finished the year as the No. 28 overall defense in the NFL. In 2012, the Panthers defense is currently ranked No. 17 overall. It would help if it could shave some points off of its current average of allowing 24.1 points per game, but it has definitely improved as a unit.
Given the ease with which quarterback Cam Newton tore through the NFL as a rookie, it shouldn't really come as a major surprise that he took a step backward as a sophomore. Newton will rebound in 2013 with another year of experience under his belt, and Rivera would be able to reap the awards of an improved quarterback and defense next year.
That is why Rivera should be brought back for at least another year.
Chan Gailey has the full backing of GM Buddy Nix
Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey has come under fire for most of the 2012 season due to his underperforming team. The Bills were thought to be ready to contend for a playoff spot this year, but after Week 12 they are 4-7 and need to sweep their last five games to have any shot at a postseason berth.
When a head coach has the full backing of his general manager, that is as close to an ideal scenario as you can have. What would be even better is if the owner was also on board. For Gailey, he does have the full support of general manager Buddy Nix. Ralph Wilson can be counted on to be firmly in the "jury-is-still-out-on-Gailey" camp.
Gailey's ability to be an effective play-caller was brought into question by Buffalo wide receiver Steve Johnson, following the latest loss to the Indianapolis Colts, according to this video and article on NFL.com.
It is never a good thing when a star player calls out the head coach.
The point Johnson wanted to make was that the Bills offense seems to be more effective when Ryan Fitzpatrick is allowed to audible at the line of scrimmage. But Gailey squashed the notion that Fitzpatrick would be granted more leeway when he said he will continue to call the plays.
Perhaps there is something to be said for Johnson's comments. The Bills have been stalling out frequently in the red zone during the past month and were only able to score one touchdown against a very average Colts defense last Sunday.
The playoffs look very doubtful in 2012, so the best the team can hope for is a positive end to the season to create some momentum for 2013. The schedule does look favorable but the Bills offense has to execute better for that to happen. If Buddy Nix is back in 2013, it looks like Chan Gailey will be as well. If Nix is fired or resigns in the offseason, then all bets are off.
Will Jason Garrett and Andy Reid both be relieved of their jobs after the season?
Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has been under fire in Dallas for not being able to mold the talent he has into a winning team. Since the Cowboys gave Garrett the interim head coach tag back in the 2010 season, Garrett's record has been 18-17, which amounts to a winning percentage of .514.
That is fine if you are content with an average team or barely breaking even, but this is America's Team we are talking about. The Dallas Cowboys have a higher level of expectations than most franchises, but it has proved to be very difficult to live up to how high the bar has been set.
The one saving grace for Garrett and his tenure in Dallas is the remaining 2012 schedule. Over the final five weeks, the Cowboys face Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and then close out the year at Washington. It is possible for the team to go 3-2 or 4-1 over the final five games. If they can, then they close out the year at either 8-8 or 9-7. Not terrible, but not great either.
Dallas owner Jerry Jones is still in Jason Garrett's corner, and that is the biggest reason that Garrett appears on this presentation. If Jones thought he could sign Sean Payton away from the New Orleans Saints (he is still a free agent by the way), that might be the type of scenario that it would take for Garrett to lose his job. For now, Garrett needs to focus on maxing out his chances to win in December and see what happens.
Tom Brady hands Rex Ryan and the Jets another loss in 2012.
The New York Jets and head coach Rex Ryan are under fire due to their current record of 4-7. The Jets have lost four of their last five games, with three of those losses by 21 points or more. When Fireman Ed, the de facto team mascot, quits on the team, you know that something is really wrong in Gotham.
Rex Ryan has tried hard to cool it on the predictions front. With the crazed media in New York City always ready to pounce on any outlandish quote, Ryan has learned to temper his comments in his fourth year on the job.
With a 20-12 start over his first two years in the regular season, Ryan's message seems to now be wearing thin on his players. Since the start of the 2011 season New York's record is 12-15, and patience has left the building for all parties concerned.
So, what can Ryan do to possibly save his job? He needs to win the final five games. That would be a very good start. Look at the Jets' remaining schedule. They play Arizona, Jacksonville, Tennessee, San Diego and close out with Buffalo. Not one of their final five opponents has a winning record.
If Ryan goes 2-3 over the final five weeks, then he probably deserves to be fired. But if they go 4-1 or 5-0 over the last five games, then there is a decent chance that the positive momentum will be enough keep him around for 2013.
Mike Shanahan is all smiles after the latest winning streak
Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan is in the midst of a three-game run through the tough NFC East division. The Redskins have defeated the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys in consecutive weeks to bring their record to 5-6. A victory in Week 13 against the New York Giants would put Washington one game behind the Giants for first place in the division.
When the Redskins were 3-6, there were an increasing number of complaints about the job Shanahan was doing. His overall record in Washington after the first nine games this year was an anemic 14-27. That means that the team would win one game for every two that it would lose. The two straight wins has now bumped him to 16-27, but the winning percentage is still only 37.2.
That is why he was on the hot seat.
As the 2012 season continues to unfold, Shanahan is learning more about what he can do with his gifted rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. The better that Griffin plays, the better a fit Shanahan appears to be for the team.
The offense is taking off in 2012, thanks to the play of rookies Griffin and RB Alfred Morris. They have possibly saved Shanahan's job with their performances. The defense is now No. 28 overall in the NFL, which is a big slide from being No. 13 in 2011.
Shanahan has five weeks to turn around that unit. If he can't, that might ultimately spell his undoing.
There is still time for the Redskins to catch the Giants, but a win in Week 13 against New York would be a giant step toward Shanahan retaining his job for 2013.
Since 2010, Marvin Lewis is 0-9 against Pittsburgh and Baltimore
Is there a streakier team in the NFL than the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012? For head coach Marvin Lewis, he opened up the year with a loss against Baltimore, won three straight games, then lost the next four contests, only to then win the last three games. Add it all up and the Bengals are 6-5 and still in the hunt for the postseason.
Back when they were 3-5, Lewis was thought to be on the hot seat. In reality, he probably still is. The Bengals have lost their last nine games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore and will close out the 2012 season playing both teams in the last two games. Dropping both of those games also means that Lewis and the Bengals would fail to secure a playoff spot.
It's not like Lewis hasn't had his chances to learn what it takes to defeat his AFC North rivals. This is his 10th year on the job in Cincinnati, so he should know the tendencies of his rival teams like the back of his hand.
His career record is four games under .500 at 75-79-1.
A win over either Baltimore or Pittsburgh in the final two weeks might be the victory that springs the Bengals back into the playoffs and allows Lewis to return in 2013. If they fall to 8-8 or worse, that might tempt owner Mike Brown to consider making a change.
Jim Schwartz poor decision on Thanksgiving was a costly mistake.
The whole country was watching the Detroit Lions battle the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving when head coach Jim Schwartz threw the challenge flag after the referees blew the call on Justin Forsett's 81-yard touchdown run.
The NFL was reminded of the implications when a head coach challenges a call that was automatically going to be reviewed by the booth. An incident happened earlier this year when Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith and the Falcons lost the chance for the play to be reviewed. Apparently, Schwartz wasn't paying attention, or his emotions are so volatile that he lost control of his senses.
The latter does seem to apply to Schwartz.
Detroit essentially the same team that qualified for the playoffs in 2011, but it is now 4-7. The 2012 offseason was filled with several arrests and that have to be a reflection on the front office and the coaching staff for the expectations they lay out for the players on and off the field.
Due to their poor record in 2012, the Lions' playoff chances appear remote at best. The only thing that the team can do is to try to play spoiler over the remaining schedule. It will be a tough road for Detroit, as four of its final five games are going to be against Green Bay, Chicago, Atlanta and Indianapolis. If the Lions end up at 5-11, you would have to wonder about Schwartz's job security.
But he is, after all, the coach that took them to the playoffs in 2011, and for that reason alone he should be brought back for 2013.
Titans have gone from 9-7 to 4-7 in one year under Munchak
Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak went 9-7 his rookie season as head coach, and that was with a Chris Johnson holdout. This year Johnson was motivated to play from day one, but the Titans are significantly worse at 4-7.
Munchak made the decision to start Jake Locker at quarterback, but injuries forced Munchak to turn to veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Good thing he did because Hasselbeck led Tennessee to wins over Pittsburgh and Buffalo.
Locker has also led his team to two wins this year (over Miami and Detroit). It would be fair to say that Locker's production has been inconsistent in 2012. Locker has seven touchdowns compared to four interceptions. He is ranked No. 18 in the NFL with a passer rating of 84.5.
Since this is Munchak's second year as the head coach, the call here is that owner Bud Adams will bring him back for 2013, but if the team gets off to a slow start, the axe could drop quickly. What we are trying to say is that Adams won't be providing Munchak with very much rope to hang himself.
Mike Mularkey should be back in 2013 to coach Jaguars.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have experienced a great deal of change in the past year. Shahid Khan purchased the team and long-time head coach Jack Del Rio was replaced by Mike Mularkey.
No sooner did the Jaguars hire Mularkey than star running back Maurice Jones-Drew decided to hold out and not report to training camp. First-round draft pick Justin Blackmon was arrested for a DUI, and that was how Mularkey's debut in Jacksonville began. Sorry, we forgot to mention that he inherited Blaine Gabbert as his starting quarterback.
Fast forward to the current time, and Jacksonville is sitting there at 2-9, fighting it out with Kansas City to see who gets the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2013. Probably not what Khan envisioned when he purchased the team.
Gabbert has shown a couple flashes but not enough. He injured his shoulder, which required surgery, prompting Mularkey to play Chad Henne. Henne is now auditioning for the 2013 starting job and that could be a step in the right direction. Rookie WR Blackmon and WR Cecil Shorts have started to show signs of life after Henne stepped in, so there is a ray of hope.
When you consider how seldom Maurice Jones-Drew was available this year due to injury, the deck was really stacked against Mularkey to succeed. He will be back in 2013, and it will be difficult for his team not to show some improvement, if only because the 2012 Jaguars team has been pretty bad.
Ken Whisenhunt hasn't received much production from any of his quarterbacks.
From Kevin Kolb to John Skelton to Ryan Lindley, Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt has watched his carousel of starting quarterbacks come and go.
All three have come up with one game of over 300 passing yards, but that is just a statistic. It doesn't address the quality of their play. A better description of their play reads like this: 10 total touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions for the year.
The Arizona passing attack is ranked No. 24 in the NFL. They throw for 210 yards per game, and that is with All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The reality is any Arizona quarterback is usually running for his life when he drops back to pass. The Cardinals offensive line has given up a NFL-worst 46 sacks, which is nine more sacks than Chicago has allowed.
The front office under GM Rod Graves has done a poor job at building the offensive line, either through free agency or the draft. The Cardinals quarterback situation is still a mess, and nobody knows what to expect in 2013.
As for Whisenhunt, he can only coach the players that his team decides to provide him. His coaching allowed them to reel off four straight wins to open the year, including the upset over New England on the road. The current seven straight losses is more indicative of the talent level, not the coaching.
For the offense to have any chance to succeed, the Cardinals must commit to upgrading the talent on the offensive line and to developing their own franchise quarterback. Otherwise, long losing streaks will continue to plague the franchise.
Thanks for checking out the presentation.