1. The firing season
It's impossible not to like Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz. I played high school football with him, and he hasn't changed one bit in years. Schwartz is a fiery, extremely intelligent man. Unfortunately, that hasn't been enough to help him win with the Lions.
In interviews with team executives, one thing is becoming clear: Schwartz is in deep poo poo. No one will say, as the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported, that if Schwartz fails to make the postseason, he's gone. Some team executives believe Schwartz would get one more season to prove himself.
But it doesn't look great. It doesn't look great because, in addition to the fact the Lions might miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, they are still among the dumbest teams in all of sports. It's not just the penalties or the dropped passes or the kicks to the leg or the penalties or the cheap shots or the penalties or the choke jobs or the arrests or the numerous dumbass penalties. It's all of those things, year in and year out, under Schwartz.
The way Detroit lost to the Ravens was extremely Lions-y. They have talent on both sides of the ball, but the quarterback, the defense and many aspects of that team lack football intelligence—which is ironic, because the head coach is so smart.
Schwartz obviously isn't the only coach in potential trouble. Unfortunately, there are many more:
Rex Ryan, Jets: The feeling with some team executives is that he will get fired. Yet the feeling also is that Ryan has done a tremendous coaching job with minimal talent. He'd get fired, one team exec explained, because the new general manager would want his own guy.
Jason Garrett, Cowboys: How can he come back after the most epic loss in Cowboys history?
Mike Munchak, Titans: Unfortunately, almost a lock to get fired.
Dennis Allen, Raiders: The next person who figures out the Raiders will be the first.
Tom Coughlin, Giants: Toughest one to figure out. He is immensely well liked by management. Cherished, in many ways. But the Giants are one of the best organizations in all of sports because they don't tolerate losing seasons, even from someone they respect, like Coughlin. I do think he gets another season.
Mike Shanahan, Washington: Gone. So is his son.
Leslie Frazier, Vikings: Likely fired. But he is another example of a coach who was stuck with dregs at quarterback (even though I thought Christian Ponder would be good).
Greg Schiano, Buccaneers: NFL team officials believe his chances of coaching next season have gone from sub-zero to around 30 percent.
Mike Smith, Falcons: Horrible year, but he's probably back. Deserves to be, too.
That's 10 possible changes, and every season there is always one surprise. My guess is the number will be in the six-to-eight range.
The heart of the firing season is coming. Unfortunately, it comes every year.
2. The opposite of fired
The best coaching jobs (not in any order):
Joe Philbin, Dolphins: Some of the mess was self-created. He stood by while an ugly locker-room situation festered. Yet he has coached his ass off to keep the Dolphins competitive.
Gus Bradley, Jaguars: The Jags have zero talent, and Bradley has this team competing.
Andy Reid, Chiefs: Think about where the Chiefs were last year, both on and off the field. Now, they're fighting for a No. 1 seed. Incredible.
Chip Kelly, Eagles: Proving to be a major force in this league.
Mike McCarthy, Packers: One of my favorite coaches because he is no nonsense and can coach his ass off. No Aaron Rodgers, and the Packers are still in the hunt.
Pete Carroll, Seahawks: In a league where offense rules, he has built a formidable defense.
Ron Rivera, Panthers: He's gone from "sure to be fired" to top-three Coach of the Year candidate.
Bruce Arians, Cardinals: Has made the Cardinals contenders in a brutal division.
3. All kinds of this
Just, awesome. No further comment needed. Except maybe…awesome. Pure awesomeness. Like, Christmas awesome. That is all.
4. The new NFL
There's no denying the new NFL is explosive and gorgeous and free-flowing. It's fun to watch. Tons of offense. Tons of passing. Lots of touchdowns. Lots of fantasy football owners happy.
The new NFL is also becoming something else: utterly defenseless. There is no better indicator of how rule changes are transforming the sport—the way fluorocarbons are transforming the Earth—than what quarterback Peyton Manning is about to do.
It's been largely quiet, but Manning, with two games left, needs just four touchdown passes to pass Tom Brady's single-season record of 50. Manning might break that record this week.
Dan Marino set the record in 1984 at 48, and he held it for two decades until Manning broke it with 49 in 2004. Three years later, Brady broke it with 50. Now, just five years later, Manning could shatter it. The record could be reset three times in under 10 years.
There's no better indicator of how the sport is changing than the back-and-forth with this record. Most of the time, defenses don't have a chance and human radar dishes like Manning can easily take advantage.
I'm not even mentioning other things, like how, according to the Elias Sports Bureau the 763 points scored Sunday were an NFL single-day record. There were 759 points scored on Jan. 1, 2012.
Someone else will break the single-season touchdown passing record after Manning does. Maybe it'll be Andrew Luck in a few years. But it will happen. And soon. Because this is the era where offenses can do whatever the hell they want.
5. The broken jaw
Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber breaks his jaw. Few things are more painful. Here is MDDirect.org on the science of what happens.
6. The four phases of a concussion
This Westwood One radio interview with Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, one of the smartest people in football, perfectly exemplifies what one player once told me he called the four phases of getting a concussion.
First came the dizzying hit.
Second came the urge to overcome the pain and fogginess and go back into the game.
Third came the doctors.
And fourth came the concern about the long-term effects.
In Fitzgerald's words:
You know, I was watching the football, and the next thing I know I was being helped up by my trainer…so I was a little out of it. Equilibrium was lost a bit, but our training staff did an unbelievable job. Tom Reed and Dr. Kuhl and our team staff put me through a gamut of testing and felt that it was in my best interests not to come back into the game. And I appreciate those guys looking out for my best interests, because I really wanted to go back in.
You know, you don’t want to let your teammates down...you work so hard with those guys that they depend on you. I depend on them. And me being the captain, I definitely have to go out there and fight with them. That’s my mentality and always will be.
Well, today I went in and saw an independent neurologist, and he put me through a screening test—a baseline test—that I took in the springtime, and they wanted to see if my scores were on the same level as my scores when I was fully functioning in the offseason. And those tests came back positive. I was right where I needed to be. Tomorrow, I will see another neurologist to get another independent look, and at that point it's just about how I feel. But right now, I’m feeling good. I’m going to get some rest today, get some rest tomorrow and get back to work for a big game against Seattle next week.
I don’t think I’m any different than most guys. You look at guys and the injuries that they sustain, and you always think, "That’s not going to be me." But the unfortunate part of our business is it's tough. Everybody gets it eventually, and I’m going to deal with it, go through protocol, follow the team’s guidelines, follow the league guidelines, and I‘m going to do everything in my power to make sure that I am recovering at a fast rate so I can be out there with my team come Sunday.
7. Megatron vs. Jerry Rice
Just a month or so ago, there was actually talk, from actual human beings, that Calvin Johnson would be better than Jerry Rice, or that he already was. It was a ridiculous notion, but this is America and the Constitution guarantees people the right to really dumb opinions.
Johnson's Monday night showed the difference between him and Rice. Rice did have drops, but they were rare—and it was even more rare for Rice to have them in huge games. The bigger the game, the bigger the Rice.
Johnson has 10 drops this season, according to Pro Football Focus (via mlive.com), placing him among the league's top 10.
8. Kicker loves fantasy football
This might be the best fantasy football quote ever. And I mean, ever.
9. The annual Jon Gruden rumor(s)
Every year, Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden, either himself or utilizing his agent, or some combination thereof, checks out the coaching landscape. Every year, Gruden or his agent, or some combination thereof, denies the rumor. Rinse, wash, repeat. And yes, I'm hearing from team officials that Gruden or his agent, or some combination thereof, is again looking.
10. Hall of Fame, meet Mr. Gonzalez…Mr. Gonzalez, meet the Hall of Fame
Just wanted to end with this. Last week, Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez became the first tight end in history to reach 15,000 career receiving yards. He has 15,008. To me, Gonzalez isn't the best tight end ever. That honor belongs to Baltimore Colt John Mackey. Gonzalez is in the top three to five. Mackey, Ozzie Newsome and Kellen Winslow were better. But Gonzalez has had a remarkable career, and equally importantly, he has been one of the game's best ambassadors.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.