The NFL's Ultimate Naughty or Nice List for the 2012 Holiday Season
With both the NFL playoffs and Christmas right around the corner, it’s time to take stock of who was naughty and who was nice during the 2012 season.
Which coaches, players and general managers will be getting whatever they want under the tree for exemplary performance? Conversely, which ones will be getting a big, fat heap of coal in their stocking?
Without further ado, 2012’s NFL Ultimate Naughty or Nice list.
NAUGHTY: Chan Gailey, Buddy Nix, Ryan Fitzpatrick
Chan Gailey isn’t a good head coach. His failure was one of the easiest predictions I’ve ever made.
The offense has regressed this season under Gailey’s watch, and he hasn’t been able to fix the team’s porous defense. Dave Wannstedt has proved to be an awful hire as defensive coordinator, as the Bills are giving up a staggering 28.7 points per game.
Gailey’s in-game management is spotty at best, and his refusal to run the ball with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson has been comical at times.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is a turnover machine masquerading as a franchise quarterback. He’s not a quality starter in the NFL.
General manager Buddy Nix, who paid Fitzpatrick like a franchise quarterback just over a year ago, can’t stop talking to the press about drafting one in 2013. Of course, this is one of the weakest quarterback draft classes in recent memory, but you can’t expect a guy who was admittedly asleep at the start of free agency in 2010 to know that.
My holiday wish for Bills fans? A clean sweep of head coach, general manager and quarterback come Black Monday.
Merry Christmas, Buffalo!
NICE: Joe Philbin and Jeff Fisher
It’s been a fantastic season for both of these head coaches.
In Miami, Philbin has proven to be an inspired hire. With a win on Sunday at home against the hapless Bills, the Dolphins can improve to 7-8. With the lack of talent on the roster, Philbin deserves a ton of credit for what he’s been able to accomplish with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Philbin joins the SiriusXM Blitz every Thursday and is candid, honest and thoughtful. He’s the right man to get things turned around in South Florida.
As for Jeff Fisher, who spurned Miami this past offseason before it hired Philbin: He’s already changed the losing culture in St. Louis.
With the haul St. Louis received in the RG3 trade, it's set to compete for years to come.
Santa Claus will be very good to Philbin and Fisher this holiday season.
NAUGHTY: Rex Ryan, Mike Tannenbaum and Mark Sanchez
Ah, 2012’s traveling circus: the New York Jets. What an absolute embarrassment and disgrace.
Mike Tannenbaum’s 53-man roster just isn’t good enough. He hasn’t given his coaches and players the ability to succeed.
Mark Sanchez, mercifully benched after Monday night’s five-turnover clunker in Nashville, was an affront to the quarterback position in 2012, setting offensive football back about 500 years.
Rex Ryan has been delusional throughout the season, blindly sticking with Sanchez as the Titanic sunk around him. Tony Sparano has proven to be an atrocious hire at offensive coordinator, as the Jets offense has fans yearning for the halcyon days of Bruce Coslet and Rich Kotite.
The only good thing to come out of the Jets' season is that Fireman Ed, the most sanctimonious, self-serving guy on the planet, won’t promote himself anymore in embarrassing fashion at their awful games.
Still, the 2012 Jets deserve nothing but coal for their pathetic, uninspired play and coaching.
NICE: Tom Brady and Peyton Manning
Ah, the good ol’ days are back again.
The two have combined for 61 touchdowns against only 16 interceptions. Their combined win-loss record is 21-7.
The best part? We appear to be on a crash course towards yet another Brady-Manning showdown in the AFC playoffs.
That alone is worth a place on the “NICE” list.
NAUGHTY: Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder
With apologies to Cam Newton and Andy Dalton, the 2011 NFL quarterback draft class isn’t looking so hot right now.
Jake Locker (the eighth pick), Blaine Gabbert (the 10th pick) and Christian Ponder (the 12th pick) haven’t been very good this season.
Locker has struggled through injuries but hasn’t dazzled when healthy. He was absolutely atrocious this past Monday night, bailed out by the fact that Mark Sanchez was worse.
Gabbert could be the worst quarterback in the league, and depending on what happens in Jacksonville this offseason, his tenure as Jaguars signal-caller could be coming to an abrupt close.
Ponder has thrown for over 200 yards only six times in 14 starts this season. He’s been so bad that the Vikings fans and media have called to see backup Joe Webb play. Webb broke into the NFL as a wide receiver. That should say it all.
Also curious was Ponder’s decision to get married this past Monday, in Wisconsin of all places. If I were a Vikings fan, I wouldn’t be thrilled with the timing of that move. It just seems like his head is elsewhere.
These three quarterbacks deserve coal in their stockings.
NICE: Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer
I’m not a huge fan of Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, but I have to give him credit: He’s done an unbelievable job assembling a coaching staff.
Both of his coordinators, Jay Gruden on offense and Mike Zimmer on defense, will be head coaches in the NFL before long.
Gruden has developed Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and the Bengals offense splendidly over the past two seasons. Zimmer has the Bengals defense flying around the ball, making plays and closing out games.
The Bengals are in position to make the playoffs for the second year in a row, and much of it is due to their outstanding coordinators.
I expect Zimmer to be a head coach in 2013 and Gruden not too long after that.
NAUGHTY: Romeo Crennel, Scott Pioli and Matt Cassel
Poor Kansas City Chiefs fans.
You really deserve so much better than the slop you’ve been force-fed this year.
Romeo Crennel is clueless and overmatched as a head coach. He’s a nice guy, but handshakes and hugs don’t win in the NFL.
Scott Pioli has done an awful job building the franchise, failing most notably at head coach and quarterback.
All three men will receive coal in their stocking, but Chiefs fans will be getting an amazing gift this offseason, as all three men will rightly lose their jobs.
NICE: Chuck Pagano, Bruce Arians and Andrew Luck
There might not be a better story in all of sports in 2012 than the Indianapolis Colts.
One year removed from a 2-14 record, the Colts are 9-5 and in pole position for an AFC wild card berth.
Head coach Chuck Pagano, diagnosed with leukemia early in the season, has inspired from afar, with the team adopting the #Chuckstrong mantra, banding together in support of their ailing leader.
His locker room speech following the team’s emotional victory over the Dolphins is one of the season’s highlights, and he’s been medically cleared to return to the sideline when ready, which is an unbelievable holiday boon for the Colts and their fans.
There’s also no discounting the job that Bruce Arians has done in replacing Pagano, guiding the team to a 9-5 record and giving the Colts a sense of purpose.
Andrew Luck has had a rookie season for the ages, showing a vast command of the offense and a propensity for comeback victories.
A berth in the postseason will be the best holiday gift of all for the Colts and their fans.
NAUGHTY: Greg Knapp
A few weeks ago, I preached patience for Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen, stating that they deserve time to turn the franchise around.
However, there’s no denying that 2012 has been an abject failure in Oakland, and changes need to be made.
The most obvious one? The firing of offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.
Knapp didn’t exactly set the world on fire in his first go-round as Raiders OC, so it was easy to see that he wouldn't succeed when Allen hired him this past offseason.
The Raiders' offensive numbers look better than they should because they’ve had to play from behind, but don’t get it twisted: Knapp has been awful. His inability to conjure up a run game has sunk the team’s chances of being competitive in a weak AFC West.
Dennis Allen can’t bring Greg Knapp back as his OC. That will be a big-time present for Raider Nation.
NICE: Adrian Peterson
What adjectives are there to describe the great Adrian Peterson?
He will likely become the first player to win both Comeback Player of the Year and MVP in the same season.
I believe he will break Eric Dickerson’s all-time rushing record of 2,105 yards.
Peterson has carried the Vikings all season long on his surgically repaired ACL and, unbelievably, has them in reach of an NFC wild-card berth, which I thought to be impossible before the season.
It’s been a season for the ages for Peterson. He’s been the most fun player to watch in 2012.
NAUGHTY: Jim Schwartz and Matthew Stafford
The 2012 Detroit Lions have been nothing short of an utter debacle.
Schwartz has been an enabler throughout his tenure in Motown, and his team continues to be undisciplined both on and off the field. He’s been unable to carry over any of the momentum from the Lions' joyous 2011 season.
Stafford has regressed this season, throwing off his back foot as if it were in his contract and showing a general apathy for the team’s struggles.
Both men need to pick up their game considerably in 2013.
NICE: Mike Smith, Thomas Dimitroff and Matt Ryan
Smith has rebounded from a terrible effort in last year’s NFC Wild Card Round loss to the Giants to guide his team to a 12-2 record. Atlanta will clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC when it defeats the hapless Lions this Saturday night.
Dimitroff has built a winner. He drafted Ryan, hired Smith and has put the team in a position to succeed year after year.
Ryan has had another superlative regular season and is amongst the best quarterbacks in the league.
The Falcons still need to get it done in January, but there can be no doubt that Santa will be kind to the organization for its 2012 accomplishments.
NAUGHTY: Arizona Cardinals Quarterbacks and Offensive Line
The quarterback situation is the worst in the history of organized sports. Cardinals quarterbacks have been sacked a league-high 52 times. They’ve only thrown 10 touchdowns.
Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley should just combine, Voltron-style, into one awful, injury-prone quarterback and save poor Ken Whisenhunt the time of throwing random darts to choose a starter.
The offensive line has been, well, offensive. It’s generally not a good thing to start two rookie tackles, and Bobby Massie and Nate Potter have proven that adage correct in 2012.
Santa will be bringing lots of coal to the desert this holiday season. Cardinals fans wish he was bringing them a quarterback.
NICE: Rick Smith
Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves for building the franchise into a winner. Since he inherited a two-win team in 2006, Smith has systematically rebuilt the team into a perennial contender.
Smith was the man who traded for quarterback Matt Schaub. He drafted Brian Cushing and J.J. Watt. He signed Arian Foster as an undrafted free agent. He signed cornerback Johnathan Joseph to shore up a porous secondary.
The depth on the Texans roster is tremendous, as evidenced by their run to the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs last year, despite a number of significant injuries, including season-enders to quarterbacks Schaub and backup Matt Leinart.
With the Texans at 12-2 and on the doorstep of home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, it’s time to give Rick Smith the credit he deserves.
NAUGHTY: Pat Shurmur
While Browns head coach Pat Shurmur was surely doomed the moment Jimmy Haslam purchased the team, he hasn’t done a good enough job to merit returning in 2013.
His in-game decisions are baffling and make Jason Garrett look like a combination of Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin.
Browns fans will enjoy their present of a new head coach come 2013.
NICE: Jim Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh has been the NFL’s version of King Midas: Whatever he touches turns to gold.
His most recent success? New starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Since Kaepernick became the 49ers starter, the team has shown a new dimension on offense. Despite Alex Smith’s steadiness, there can be no denying the upside the team has with Kaepernick under center.
While many criticized Harbaugh for making the quarterback switch, its paid off in spades, as the team beat the New England Patriots last Sunday night in the game of the year.
Harbaugh has the 49ers on track for a second consecutive division title, and their upside is the Super Bowl. That earns him significant praise this holiday season.
NAUGHTY: The Replacement Referees
Remember the replacement referees?
Remember so many NFL games early in the season nearly spiraling totally out of control?
Remember the “simultaneous catch” ruling, aka the "Fail Mary"?
Ugh. I do too.
The replacement referees were nothing short of a complete and utter disaster. Everyone involved in that grotesque abomination deserves a heaping of coal in their stocking.
NICE: Pete Carroll, John Schneider and Russell Wilson
John Schneider has drafted extremely well and made a series of shrewd signings.
Pete Carroll has coached the team up, specifically the defense, which has been dominant at times.
Russell Wilson has been a revelation at quarterback, showing poise well beyond his years.
They’ve put the Seahawks in a position to contend for years to come. Things are looking up in the Pacific Northwest.
NAUGHTY: Norv Turner and A.J. Smith
NFL fans, I urge you: Make sure to watch just a little of the Chargers' final two regular-season games.
The Norv Turner Face won’t be on display for much longer—get it while it’s hot!
Turner and general manager A.J. Smith both need to go. Turner can’t coach his way out of a paper bag and talked openly this week about potentially being an offensive coordinator again. Dead man walking, anyone?
Both men will lose their jobs on Black Monday, and deservedly so.
NICE: Mike Shanahan, Bruce Allen and Robert Griffin III
I wrote about the resurrection of the Washington Redskins a few weeks ago, and since then, all they’ve done is won two more games.
Incredibly, the Redskins are in pole position to win the NFC East. If they win their final two games, they will take the division, which was just about unthinkable before the season started.
Give the credit to Mike Shanahan and his son Kyle for the incredible job they’ve done building the offense and getting the team ready to play.
Credit general manager Bruce Allen, both for trading up to draft Robert Griffin III and having the wherewithal to also draft quarterback Kirk Cousins, who won a must-win game for the Redskins last Sunday in Cleveland.
And of course, credit the majestic Griffin, who has dazzled throughout his rookie season.
Nick Kostos is the executive producer of the SiriusXM Blitz, hosted by Rich Gannon and Adam Schein, on SiriusXM NFL Radio. You can follow Nick on Twitter.