By Derek Lofland, NFL director at Fantasy Football Maniaxs
The NFL is a win now business; they do not put too much into past accomplishments and the good old days. The following players and coaches are 10 big names that have had some level of success in the NFL that are really staring at crossroads for their season or their career.
If these gentlemen do not have a good October and early November, they are going to be in miserable shape as the season hits the December homestretch.
1) Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre – This is a no-brainer for the top spot. Where do I begin with all his problems? The Vikings brought back 22 starters from a team that was 12-4 and lost a three-point overtime NFC Championship Game to the New Orleans Saints. Favre had 33 touchdown passes and seven interceptions in 16 regular season games last year; he has seven interceptions already.
The team has battled injuries, most notably losing WR Sidney Rice for at least the first half of the season. That prompted the Vikings to trade for WR Randy Moss, besides acquiring others such as Javon Walker (no longer with team) and Greg Camarillo.
Favre is also battling his own injuries. Ankle surgery that he had in May has not gone as well as hoped, and he already has tendinitis in his throwing arm. Then there is the dark cloud of the Jenn Sterger scandal and whether he will face a suspension under the personal conduct policy for sexual harassment when he was with the New York Jets in 2008. Throw in a 1-3 start to the Vikings season and you have a lot of reason for concern.
The problem for Favre is that he is 41 years old, and if he plays this way for much longer the Vikings are going to be out of the playoff hunt. It makes no sense to continue to play a quarterback that will not be back next year when the team has nothing to play for this year. From an organizational standpoint, they will need to roll with backup QB Tarvaris Jackson. They will need to see what they can do with Jackson this season to determine if they need to draft or sign a free agent quarterback. Normally, that is not a difficult decision, but Favre is a 20-year NFL legend with a record 289 consecutive game streak on the line.
I do not think that Favre will be benched. He is either going to turn the season around and play better with Moss there, or if the Vikings keep losing games his elbow tendinitis and ankle will become so bad that he can no longer play. They will save him the embarrassment of being benched and allow him to end his career like most 40-year-olds: on the injured list.
It’s too early to write him off yet, and I think he will earn the next two starts to show that he can save their season. If he does not start playing better and the team does not start winning, things are going to become ugly in the Twin Cities. If he wants to end his 20-year legacy with a playoff appearance and Super Bowl run, he does not have a lot of time to turn this season around. Given who he is and what he has accomplished in the NFL, he is under the most pressure after four games.
2) San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Mike Singletary – I do not think Singletary is going to make it past the end of the season. He is currently 13-17 since taking over in 2008, and the team has not finished with a winning record. Expectations were that they were going to be the NFC West champion and have one of the best defenses in the NFL. Instead they have been outscored 130-76 and have the 30th-best point differential in the NFL at 10.8 points per game. He looks like he has lost the team and that his high energy, no-nonsense personality is not working anymore.
It’s a shame. I was in his corner when he had his blowup with TE Vernon Davis back in 2008, and I thought he really started to help their young players emerge. I thought they had a great draft selecting two offensive linemen in the first round. This team is just not responding.
If he can turn it around and get this team to 9-7, it may be enough to win the NFC West and save his job. However, if they are buried at 4-12 and in last place behind the St. Louis Rams, it is going to be difficult for him to keep his job; the 49ers must look respectable the second half of the season.
3) Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Wade Phillips and Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett – Expectations are always high in Dallas, but with the Super Bowl in their stadium this year and the team coming off its first playoff win since 1996, expectations were an NFC East title and a Super Bowl run. Instead the Cowboys are 1-3 and face a virtual must win this Sunday with the Vikings in Minnesota.
Wade Phillips has been on the hot seat since his 13-3 team was bounced in the divisional round in 2007, and this year the numbers are troubling. The Cowboys are eighth in yards allowed but have only nine sacks and two interceptions. In the all-important points category they are 21st in points allowed at 21.8 per game.
The offense does not escape blame either. The Cowboys attempt a league-high 43.8 passes per game and run the ball only 23 times per game. That means they run the ball two times for every one time they throw it, which is one of the worst ratios in the league. When you consider the talent they have at running back with Felix Jones, Marion Barber and Tashard Choice, it is unexplainable why they do not run the ball more. This air it out pass attack is not producing points. They average only 20.2 points per game, which is 16th in the NFL.
I think both coaches are coaching for their jobs at this point. Garrett is no longer seen as the hot shot coordinator with a bright head coaching future that people viewed him as back in 2007, and Phillips has a history of coming up short in the regular season and the playoffs. If they do not make a Super Bowl run this year, I can see both being fired at the end of this year. Expectations are high in Dallas with a demanding Jerry Jones as the owner. These coaches are not even close to meeting those expectations.
4) Carolina Panthers Head Coach John Fox – If Singletary is not the first head coaching casualty, it is going to be Fox. The team is 0-5 and has one of the most inept offenses in the NFL. The Panthers rank 32nd in points scored despite having played five games while eight other teams have played only four games. It's safe to say that 10.5 points per game will not win any games in the NFL.
Fox did a great job to take the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2003 and the NFC Championship Game in 2005. Since then, he has a 35-34 regular season record with no playoff wins, only one playoff game, and only one winning season. That is a terrible five-year record, and now he faces the prospect of being four games behind Atlanta and three games behind New Orleans. He also has the uphill battle of trying to become the first 0-5 team to ever make the playoffs.
His seat is on fire right now. The only question is whether he will find the ax midseason or after Week 17. Short of going 10-1 or 11-0 after the bye, he has no shot to keep his job.
5) Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson / Head Coach Mike McCarthy – These guys are going to start feeling the heat if the Packers do not make the playoffs or have a solid postseason run. Thompson is in his sixth year as the GM and has only a 45-40 record to show for it and one playoff win. McCarthy is 41-28 in his five years as the head coach with only one playoff win.
The Packers were 13-3 in 2007 and made the decision to move on without Favre, which has worked out very well with QB Aaron Rodgers emerging as an elite NFL quarterback. However, it has not translated to wins with the team being only 20-17 since Rodgers became the starter.
The Packers made good strides in 2009 by finishing 11-5 and earning a wild card berth. This was supposed to be the year that the Packers were a Super Bowl contender. Thompson signed no key free agents and has not made any significant trades to upgrade the team. The special teams are still killing them, and penalties are destroying their season; they had 18 in a single game against the Chicago Bears. These were all problems in 2009 that have not been fixed.
If this team does not turn around its season and start playing like the Super Bowl contender they were billed to be, Thompson and McCarthy are going to have a lot to answer for. Injuries explain some of the problems, but injuries helped derail the 2005 team to a 4-12 record, and Thompson did not hesitate to fire head coach Mike Sherman after his first losing season in six seasons. Someone is going to pay the price if the Packers do not turn around their sloppy start to the season.
6) Cleveland Browns Head Coach Eric Mangini – Mangini was inherited from the previous regime; President of Football Operations Mike Holmgren did not handpick him for the job. Mangini benefited from a 4-0 finish to the 2009 season that started 1-11 and from the fact that Holmgren did not want to fire a coach and put a new name in place for one year heading into the possible 2011 work stoppage. This year the Browns are only 1-4, and if they have a second dismal showing, Holmgren is going to have no problem parting ways with Mangini.
Mangini was 10-6 in his first season with the New York Jets and earned a wild card berth back in 2006. In the three-plus seasons since 2006 he is 19-34 and has not made the playoffs. He is not going to keep this job or earn a third head coaching job if he has another 5-11 season. It is arguably the toughest division in football, but Mangini needs to right this ship fast. To his credit the losses have been by a small margin and the teams they have played have been very good, but close is not going to cut it for a Cleveland franchise that is striving to give its city a winner.
7) Cincinnati Bengals QB Carson Palmer – I personally think the Bengals need to draft a quarterback in the first round and move on from the Palmer era. He is only 0-2 in the playoffs despite being drafted with the first pick back in 2003. Last year the problem was supposed to be that he lacked skill position players other than WR Chad Ochocinco. That was the reason that he had only 3,094 yards passing and 21 touchdown passes.
The Bengals fixed that problem. They added WR Terrell Owens, first-round pick TE Jermaine Gresham and third-round pick WR Jordan Shipley. Palmer is on pace for more yards with 4,118, but he is only on pace for 22 touchdown passes with 19 interceptions, and his QB rating is down to a 78.3, or five points lower than last year’s 83.6. His completion percentage is also low at 59.3.
If the Bengals miss the playoffs again, they have to think about replacing a 31-year-old quarterback that cannot seem to take this team over the hump. Palmer needs to have a turnaround of the Bengals' 2-3 season; otherwise his reputation as a solid NFL starting quarterback should really take a hit. I am not even sure that reputation is justified anymore. He hasn’t been good since 2006; eventually the numbers do not lie.
8) New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick – The trade of WR Randy Moss was puzzling because it came in Week Four of the regular season. They knew his contract was up at the end of the year in August and could have made a trade then. To part ways with your best skill position player a quarter of the way through the season when the team is 3-1 is a bold move.
They then traded a fourth-round pick to add WR Deion Branch, so in essence they traded Moss to move up from the fourth round to the third round. Is that enough value for a receiver that had 50 touchdowns in 52 career games with the Patriots?
If the Patriots go on to win their division and make a playoff run, Belichick is going to look like the genius he is credited for being. If the Patriots lose out to the New York Jets or Miami Dolphins and their passing game is struggling without Moss, Belichick is going to have some explaining to do. He won’t lose his job over this trade, but it certainly will hurt his reputation as a shrewd football genius if Moss turns the Vikings' season around and his Patriots struggle in the passing game.
9) Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers – Is Aaron Rodgers the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, or is he the next Tony Romo? Brady won three Super Bowls in four appearances with the New England Patriots, and Manning won one Super Bowl in two appearances with the Indianapolis Colts.
Winning is how quarterbacks are measured in the NFL, and entering his third year as a starter, Rodgers is just 20-17 and 0-1 in the playoffs. Twenty-five percent of his regular season wins are against a Detroit Lions team that is 3-34 since Rodgers became a starting quarterback. He did not take over for a two-win team; the Packers were 13-3 and in the NFC Championship Game the year before he became the starter.
Again, he is not losing his starting job if the season goes badly; he has played well with 1,233 yards passing, nine touchdowns, six picks and a QB rating of 90.7. His problem is that he has been anointed as an elite quarterback with a career .541 winning percentage and no playoff wins. Expectations were that the Packers would be a Super Bowl club in 2010. If the Packers fail to make the playoffs or exit early, he is going to start hearing the same complaints as the next quarterback on my list.
10) Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo – Romo is in the same boat as Rodgers: He is not in danger of losing his starting job. He has already passed for 1,346 yards, seven touchdowns, five picks and a QB rating of 92.7. The problem is that the perception of him is a guy that puts up statistics but does not win big games when they matter. He started to shake that last year when he had his first winning record in December and won a playoff game.
The Cowboys were supposed to be a Super Bowl favorite this year; instead they are 1-3. The coaching staff are going to be the ones that are ousted before their 30-year-old quarterback, but every year the Cowboys fail to meet expectations is another year that Romo has to live with the label of a stats compiler that cannot win big games.
If he can turn around this season and salvage a playoff spot for the Cowboys, it would go a long way to improving his reputation. He needs a playoff run more than Rodgers does, as he has been a starter since the 2006 season, where Rodgers is four years younger and has only started since 2008.