Welcome to the speculative, nasty and brutal phase of the NFL season: the part where we find out which head coach will get fired at year's end.
In conversations with head coaches, assistant coaches and team executives across football, one of the situations these sources say they are closely monitoring is in Cincinnati. The Bengals' 5-7-1 mark qualifies as one of the biggest (if not the biggest) disappointments this season. The feeling among the coaches and executives interviewed is that the Bengals may need a change of voice, which means Marvin Lewis could finally be in trouble.
But wide receiver A.J. Green, in a conversation with Bleacher Report, said no major changes are needed in Cincinnati.
"I don't feel like we need to do anything drastic," he said in a telephone interview while working with the Boys and Girls Club and promoting Rockin' Refuel.
"The big thing we need to do is just win close games," he said. "Last year, we could have been 0-8 [to start the season], but we were 8-0 because we won close games. We need to win those games."
Green having Lewis' back is a good thing for Lewis. Around the league, the support for other coaches in trouble isn't as strong.
Let's take a look at some of the stickier situations coaches are facing.
(A quick disclaimer: None of this is about rooting for coaches to get fired. We know families of coaches are affected by this and remain sensitive to it. Also, all of the information below is based on interviews with a mix of about a half-dozen head coaches, assistant coaches and team front office personnel. OK, thanks, carrying on...)
Buffalo: It's almost a foregone conclusion, coaches and team executives say, that Rex Ryan will be fired. They believe this will happen at the end of the season. One assistant coach who knows Ryan well believes Ryan knows his firing is inevitable.
Two years in Buffalo have seen the Bills get the full Rex Ryan Effect. Talk. Plus more talk. Then talk piled on top of talk. But few results.
Los Angeles: The Rams want Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (get in line, Rams). But, I'm told, McDaniels is in no hurry to become a head coach again. So keep that in mind as you hear his name repeatedly after the season. He is a patient guy and will wait for the perfect opportunity.
Back to the Rams. They want to make a huge splash with a big name, but around the league there is a lot of skepticism they can lure one. The reason is Jared Goff. There's tremendous doubt about just how good he is. The thinking goes that the Rams will find it nearly impossible to get the big name they want because whoever goes there will have his wagon hitched to a player who just might stink.
It's possible they go after a lower-profile college coach, as Peter King of The MMQB reported. But can you sell someone like Dan Mullen in Los Angeles? (The answer is hell no.)
Jim Harbaugh is out (actually, he was never in). There's no way a Nick Saban or Urban Meyer goes, which brings us back to McDaniels. The Rams are focusing on him, I'm told, because he's more realistic, and he's a big enough name to sell in L.A. Plus, he can fix any potential Goff issues, the Rams think.
Would McDaniels go to Los Angeles? That's the unknown.
New York Jets: The question the Jets have to answer is whether or not Todd Bowles has lost his team. In my opinion, he was saddled with a sorry quarterback and an aging star wide receiver. One general manager strongly disagreed, though, saying he thought it was 70-30 that Bowles takes the fall for the team's dismal showing. Others interviewed said they honestly had no idea what would happen. It was the only situation where most of the sources felt uncertain about the future.
Jacksonville: Everyone interviewed felt that coach Gus Bradley is gone. The name that kept coming up as a replacement was Tom Coughlin. It would be a smart choice, but I'm not sure owner Shahid Khan would go that route. Khan strikes me as an owner who wants fresh blood. I've heard McDaniels' name here a lot.
Chicago: John Fox is likely gone, the coaches and officials with whom B/R spoke believe. One of the names that has come up for this spot is Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. (Love saying that name, by the way. Causes a slight tingling sensation.) Cooter has helped Matthew Stafford become an MVP candidate. Maybe he could fix the Bears offense. Not Jay Cutler, mind you, who appears on his way out too.
Indianapolis: A lot of what happens here, the sources speculate, depends on how the season ends. The Colts still have a chance to win the division. Not a great chance, but it is, after all, the AFC South, the sorriest division in the NFL, and still totally winnable.
At the owners meetings this week, Jim Irsay said he didn't plan on making a change, telling USA Today: "Honestly, at the end of every season, we sit down and review where we're at. I don't have any anticipation of change. There's no plan of that. We'll evaluate everything. I will.
"Look, if you can improve your franchise, even if you're doing well, you're going to make that move. You just are—at least I am. It's about winning and winning the right way and trying to sustain success over a large period of time. We're used to being in the playoffs. This is the first time in almost 20 years we (wouldn't have) made the playoffs in back-to-back years. That's extremely disappointing. We hold out the hope we can win three, though, and get everything to fall our way."
He may make a change or he may not. Got it?
Just to be clear, if the Colts miss the postseason, the expectation is Irsay will clean house. McDaniels is mentioned here a lot as well.
Cleveland: Almost all of our sources believe Hue Jackson will get another year, at least, even if the Browns finish winless.
San Francisco: Chip Kelly's work with Colin Kaepernick may have given Kelly one more season, one assistant coach said. But other team executives believe the entire operation will be obliterated and rebuilt. There were few names I heard associated with the 49ers.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.