There are many signs a football team is about to begin the search for a new coach. In fact even the most casual fan could pick out the correct answer to this multiple choice question:
The biggest sign an NFL team is looking for a new coach is:
A) The head coach allegedly beats up an assistant coach in training camp, the police are called in, an investigation goes on for months, rumors start swirling about said coach’s violent and abusive past and then he goes on national TV on game day and announces that the only time he has ever hit a woman is one time when he caught his ex-wife cheating on him.
B) The owner, not pleased with the team’s direction, decides that it would be wise to hire a consultant to come in and help his head coach through a scoring drought, calls a retirement home in Minnesota, asks if he can borrow their Bingo caller, brings said Bingo caller into town and a couple of weeks later has his GM tell the head coach that he is stripped of play-calling duties because the Bingo caller will now call plays and he’s pretty sure G-52 is a winner.
C) The owner invites two fans who are longtime season-ticket holders to his office to talk about the state of the team, tells them he’s sickened by the team’s performance, assures the two fans that he will make changes, fires the GM, then denies he fired the GM and finally has to listen to the head coach explain to the media that he really hasn’t been practicing his players that hard.
D) All of the above
The NFL coaching carousel is a rite of passage. Everyone that follows the sport knows that a coach's job hinges on his won-loss record. But football folks also know that a marginally good coach can balance good seasons with bad seasons if he doesn’t go around making a mockery of his organization (see answer A) or if the owner hasn’t lost a complete sense of rationale (see answers B & C).
For the Carolina Panthers, John Fox has been the epitome of a marginally good coach who has balanced bad seasons with enough good seasons and high moments to keep his job.
Consider this: In 2002, Fox took over a 1-15 team and went 7-9 in his first season. Without a doubt, Fox was an infusion of freshness and his rookie season culminated in one of the biggest about faces in NFL history. Of course, Fox and the Panthers benefited from playing a last-place schedule thanks to their dismal campaign in 2001.
In his second year at the helm, Fox guided the Panthers to a surprising NFC Championship and a berth in the Super Bowl where they lost to the New England Patriots.
Playing a division-champion’s schedule following their 11-5 season in ‘03, the Panthers started 1-7 in 2004 before salvaging a 7-9 season.
In 2005 the Panthers, based on the previous season’s sub-.500 record, were awarded with a middle-of-the-road strength of schedule and parlayed that into an 11-5 record and their second playoff appearance under Fox.
A 7-9 record in 2007 followed an 8-8 season in 2006. Last season, the Panthers again won the NFC South under Fox and have seen their division-champion’s schedule turn into a 3-5 start in 2009.
Sunday, the Panthers were on the verge of the season’s biggest upset, having dominated unbeaten New Orleans in the first half. Suddenly, a 4-4 start seemed a reality. Then Fox happened. Or at least Fox and his coaching staff, for whom he is ultimately responsible, happened.
During the first half, the Saints had six possessions where they were faced with having to gain three to seven yards on third down. Once, they ran a swing pass to the right flat. On another occasion they went deep to Reggie Bush covered by Chris Gamble on the sideline. Four times they threw slants or short outs to the right side.
Trailing 17-6 during the first drive of the second half, the Saints faced a 3rd-and-3 at their own 27. The Panthers lined up eight in the box with man-to-man coverage on the outside and a lone safety deep.
I knew the Saints were looking for the quick slant. The guy pouring drinks at The Corner Bar knew the quick slant was coming. The three blind men playing the blues in front of The Superdome knew the quick slant was there. The Panthers had no clue.
The result: Brees hits Devery Henderson with a quick slant to the right, he slips behind the safety on the route and turns it into a 63-yard gain. On the next play Pierre Thomas scores on a 10-yard run and the extra point cut the lead to 17-13.
Later in the third quarter, after the Panthers pushed the lead to seven, the Saints had a 3rd-and-5 from their own 46. Guess what? They send Robert Meachem on a medium slant route on the right side which he turns into a 54-yard catch and run for a game-tying score.
At some point the Panthers should have anticipated the Saints were going to run a variation of a quick slant, isolating a Panther defender - likely Gamble - in one-on-one coverage.Yet, as the game wore on, the Saints continued to run that play and the Panthers made no changes to their defense to stop it.
Although turnovers doomed the Panthers chance to rally once the Saints took the lead, it was poor management of game situations that landed the Panthers behind the proverbial eight-ball. John Fox gets praise for being a player’s coach and is reportedly very calm under pressure. As for X’s and O’s he’s only marginally good and a record like that will eventually come back to haunt an NFL coach.
Last week The Carolina Sports Guy was John Fox-like with a marginal 5-6-1 record against the spread. But the Panthers, who I guaranteed would beat the spread, made me a winner against my guest prognosticator, Ted Prestwood.
Ted, who was bandwagonning the Ravens D, forgot that Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ offense were only marginally good.
Now on to The Carolina Sports Guy’s Week 10 NFL picks:
(Home team in CAPS).
Patriots (+3) over COLTS
Underdog pick of the week – Brady and Pats beat the spread and stop the winning streak
Remember last week when I said forget the Saints, the Colts are the best team in the league? I told you they would handle the Texans with ease. Well, I was only partially right. They handled the Texans. It wasn’t easy. And they still look like the best team after the Saints had to come from behind again to beat the Panthers.
Anyone who thinks this streak the Colts have got going isn’t driving Belichick and Brady crazy is well – crazy. Expect a classic Patriot scoring clinic as the Colts fall from the rank of the unbeatens.
Broncos (-3) over REDSKINS
All I needed last week to have a winning record was for the Broncos to cover the spread against the Steelers. What I didn’t need was for Kyle Orton to triple his interception total for the season. He has now thrown four picks on the year. I’ll go out on a limb and say that if he throws four picks vs. Washington, the Broncos still win.
Lions (+16.5) over VIKINGS
This is the NFL. I don’t care how bad you are, you should beat a 16.5-point spread. Even if you’ve only won once in the past two seasons, you beat a 16.5-point spread. Until the Lions are booted out of the league, I’ll take them and a 16.5-point spread.
Saints (-13) over RAMS
Remember when the Rams were what the Saints are now and the Saints were what the Rams are now?
Doesn’t it seem like yesterday when the Rams were The Greatest Show on Turf and Saints’ fans wore bags over their face. I guess change is inevitable.
Bengals (+7) over STEELERS
The Steelers continue to bait me. Last week I swore the Broncos would halt their win streak. This week the Steelers are at home against the Bengals and laying a touchdown. A smart man would take the Steelers knowing that the Bengals, even at 6-2, are still the Bengals. Call me crazy but I think the striped cats beat the spread even if they leave Pittsburgh in second place.
Bills (+7) over TITANS
Did you really think I was going to take the Bengals and seven over a 6-2 Pittsburgh team and not take the Bills and seven over a 2-6 Tennessee team? This is the first of three games in this week’s “I bet a Jon and Kate Marathon would out rate this game category.”
PANTHERS (+1.5) over Falcons
For the third straight week I’m picking the Panthers to beat the spread. The other two weeks they were getting double digit points. I’m not sure why – maybe it’s the measly 1.5 points, but I don’t feel as confident this week.
DOLPHINS (-10) over Buccaneers
The Bucs stopped their season-long losing streak last week against the Packers. At this point, I don’t think a win over the Packers is a good measurement of success. The Dolphins should run the ball at will against Tampa Bay and at home they should cover the spread.
Chiefs (+2) over RAIDERS
This game would have been relevant ten years ago. This is the second leg of the “I bet a Jon and Kate Marathon would out rate this game category.”
CARDINALS (-8) over Seahawks
Arizona won by 24 in Seattle in week 6. Seattle counts wins over St. Louis and Detroit among their three victories. Those two facts alone should equal a double digit Cardinals’ win.
Eagles (+1.5) over CHARGERS
Can you believe these two teams are a combined 10-6 and neither team in those 16 games has a 100-yard rusher? The return of Brian Westbrook adds another dimension for the Eagles as they beat the spread on the road.
Ravens (-10) over BROWNS
This game closes out the “I bet a Jon and Kate Marathon would out rate this game category” trifecta for the week. And it’s a Monday night affair. I bet someone in the NFL scheduling department got fired over this one.
The Carolina Sports Guy Guest Pick of the Week by Ted Prestwood
Cowboys (-3) over PACKERS
For the second straight week I’ve given my pal Ted the opportunity to pick against my Underdog pick of the week and for the second straight Sunday he takes a favorite giving a measly three points.
Last week his smugness bit him squarely on the back side as the Bengals waxed the Ravens. This week he takes the Cowboys laying a field goal against a Packers team that just lost as 9-point favorites to winless Tampa Bay.
Thanks for playing, Ted.
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