NFL Head Coach Power Rankings Heading into Week 17
'Tis the season to experience the NFL playoffs.
Or get fired along the way.
While not as catchy as the traditional holiday tune, this is the league's harsh reality. Ten teams already punched their postseason tickets, while Black Monday looms for those coaches still on the hot seat.
Each individual situation is different, yet each coach must prove his worth.
For example, this past weekend the Cleveland Browns' Hue Jackson finally led his team to a victory. The Browns won't become the second team in NFL history to finish 0-16, and the organization rejoiced. Meanwhile, Cleveland's opponent—the San Diego Chargers—won five games this season, but the entire franchise is in flux.
Jackson is expected to return next season, while the Chargers' Mike McCoy might coach his final game in San Diego on Sunday.
Going into Week 17, each NFL head coach still has goals to achieve. How their teams perform could go a long way in determining their future.
Click through to find out where each of the 32 coaches fall in this week's power rankings as the regular season winds to a close.
32. John Fassel, Los Angeles Rams (interim)
Last Week: 31
Quote of the Week: "I'm not going to let my last week as an interim head coach just kind of fizzle and die out, be done in a week and call it an offseason. I’m going to do my best to get this team a win and say, 'One day I won the game as a head coach in the Coliseum.'"
Los Angeles Rams interim head coach John Fassel understands his situation, per ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez.
Fassel is a special teams coordinator serving as an interim coach, and Sunday's contest against the Arizona Cardinals may be his last opportunity to lead an NFL team onto the field. However, he's not in the organization's plans beyond this weekend.
The 2016 campaign has been a disaster for the 4-11 Rams. This past weekend's 22-21 last-minute loss to the San Francisco 49ers only added to their misery. Fassel is trying to make the best out of a bad situation, though.
"We've lost 10 out of the last 11," he said, per Gonzalez. "But I hope in a month or two, when we look back, the players will be like, 'That was crazy. I formed some good bonds. There were moments of really cool fellowship.'"
31. Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 27
Quote of the Week: “I’m not worried about it. I feel he’ll be around. I feel like we’ll keep him. I’m playing for the guy. That’s my boss. I’m going to fight like hell. That’s just the way it goes.”
Players, like San Diego Chargers defensive lineman Corey Liuget, do a great job distancing themselves from all the noise, per the San Diego Union-Tribune's Michael Gehlken.
Everyone needs to face reality, though.
The Chargers became that team Saturday when they lost 20-17 to the previously winless Cleveland Browns. As such, the end appears near for Chargers head coach Mike McCoy even if Liuget isn't willing to accept what appears to be inevitable.
"It's not his flippin' fault," Liuget said, per Gehlken. "It's not his fault. It's up to us as players. It ain't his fault. Players got to make plays. Players make great coaches. Good coaches, too."
San Diego is 9-22 since the start of the 2015 campaign. When players don't perform, coaches are fired. A new era appears to be coming for the Chargers organization.
30. Todd Bowles, New York Jets
Last Week: 28
Quote of the Week: "Guys weren't ready to play."
Nothing will get a coach fired faster than the team's players giving up on him. Unfortunately, the New York Jets locker room appears to have turned on head coach Todd Bowles.
The Jets' young defensive star, Leonard Williams, stated the team wasn't ready for Saturday's 41-3 thrashing at the hands of the New England Patriots, per ESPN.com's Rich Cimini. Williams made it worse when he admitted the players were "going through the motions."
Bowles' message isn't resonating with the players.
"He does a good job of reminding us and telling us what to do, but it's just like a parent," Williams said, per Cimini. "You can constantly tell your kid to stay out of trouble, but they're going to get in trouble sometimes. It's the same type of thing. But you can't fault him."
Owner Woody Johnson certainly can fault Bowles since the team is a disaster and could lose seven of their last eight games going into the offseason.
29. Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars (interim)
Last Week: N/A
Quote of the Week: "We went out there and did it for Gus Bradley."
The Jacksonville Jaguars played well Saturday for former head coach Gus Bradley, according to defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., per First Coast News' Brian Chojnacki.
But the team looked completely different under the direction of interim head coach Doug Marrone. As such, the former Buffalo Bills head coach deserves credit for Saturday's 38-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans.
"This win is my second most important career win," Marrone said after the contest, per Chojnacki. "I had a win in Buffalo after my good friend Rob Edson from Syracuse died."
Unlike the majority of interim head coaches, Marrone should be considered a strong candidate.
Prior to arriving in Jacksonville as the assistant head coach/offensive line coach, he led the Bills to a 9-7 record in 2014. Marrone opted out of his contract and became one of the top candidates on the market.
This might be a situation where a coach is in the right place at the right time. If Jacksonville plays well again against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Jaguars owner Shahid Khan should seriously consider Marrone as the team's next permanent head coach.
28. Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 30
Quote of the Week: "First of all, we've got Hue Jackson. He’s an outstanding head coach who has proven that he can win and develop quarterbacks and offenses in a number of different places. That’s a big reason for optimism."
Prior to Saturday's 20-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers, the Cleveland Browns hadn't experienced a win in 377 days. Yet there's optimism in Cleveland because of head coach Hue Jackson, according to Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, per Sporting News' Alex Marvez.
The Browns are still playing hard late into December, and their effort speaks well of Jackson.
"That says a lot about the head coach," Thomas said, per Marvez. "He's a guy who commands respect. He brings energy and enthusiasm and positivity. He demands guys give their best every single day."
Losing does wear on a coach. Jackson, for example, seemed to age in 2016 like a president does during his first term. However, one victory might be enough to change a festering culture in Cleveland.
27. Chip Kelly, San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 29
Quote of the Week: "We wouldn't have gotten this win today if we weren't standing behind him."
San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly received a vote of confidence after Saturday's 22-21 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. More importantly, the reaffirmation of Kelly's status didn't come from the team's ownership group. It resonated throughout the locker room.
Rookie defensive lineman DeForest Buckner made that statement, per the Mercury News' Tim Kawakami. The team responded when Kelly decided to attempt a game-winning two-point conversion with under a minute remaining instead of playing for a tie.
"I think the whole team wanted him to do that," cornerback Rashard Robinson said of Kelly's decision, per Kawakami. "What else do we have to lose?"
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick converted and San Francisco improved to 2-13.
Change could still occur within the 49ers organization. The team hasn't given up on Kelly, though.
26. John Fox, Chicago Bears
Last Week: 26
Quote of the Week: "We see improvement. It's not, maybe, in our record. But I think we're closer than people think.
Chicago Bears head coach John Fox continues to preach progress despite Saturday's 41-21 loss to the Washington Redskins, per the Chicago Tribune's Rich Campbell.
"Sometimes when you come into a situation, you take some steps back before you step forward," Fox said, per Campbell. "I think we're, in my opinion, in way better position to be in striking distance moving forward."
The coach's message doesn't align with his previous history. Fox turned around the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos in his second season. The same can't be said of the 3-12 Bears.
The biggest difference among those previous stops compared to the Chicago experience is roster makeup. The Bears have massive holes at quarterback and the secondary. There's talent within their lineup but not enough to consistently win.
With further offseason additions, the Bears turnaround should begin during the 2017 campaign. If it doesn't, Fox won't be discussing improvement any longer.
25. Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 25
Quote of the Week: "You can go out on a positive note. You can kind of build a foundation to roll into next year."
What a difference a week makes. The Philadelphia Eagles aren't preparing for a playoff run, but they want to finish strong, as veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins stated, per ESPN.com's Tim McManus.
Last week, the media questioned Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson after he had his team attempt a two-point conversion against the Baltimore Ravens instead of trying to tie the game with an extra point. Philadelphia failed and lost 27-26. In doing so, the Eagles dropped their fifth straight contest.
Pederson made the best decision of the past week when he challenged a third-down call late in the fourth quarter and officials overturned a first-down spot. As such, the New York Giants faced fourth down and failed to convert, leading to Philadelphia's 24-19 victory.
However, the head coach didn't call a perfect game. His decision to put Carson Wentz back into the contest after going through the concussion protocol and then asking the quarterback to block on a reverse was perplexing.
"I mean, he was cleared, came in, came out," Pederson said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer's Mike Sielski. "We talked on the sideline. We talked before the play. We talked before the series. He was good. He was cleared."
Every decision an NFL head coach is scrutinized. Winning makes those choices far more palatable.
24. Rex Ryan, Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 24
Quote of the Week: "I believed we'd get them stopped. I just thought that was the right move, pin them deep and get the ball back again."
Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan believed wrong, per the Buffalo News' Nick Veronica. Instead, the Bills lost 34-31 to the Miami Dolphins after Ryan decided to punt the ball away in overtime when Buffalo needed a victory to remain in the playoff conversation. A tie wasn't enough.
The fact Buffalo's defense surrendered 206 yards to Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi, including a 57-yard run when Buffalo had only 10 defenders on the field, made Ryan's assertion sound even worse.
Ryan said, per Veronica: And it's easy to sit back up there when your livelihood’s not riding on it and say, 'Hey, I’d go ahead and do this and this.' I'm sure you would."
The coach's livelihood may have been on the line. According to WIVB sports director Josh Reed, Ryan believes he'll be fired once the regular season ends.
With his future in doubt, Ryan played it safe. His plan backfired.
23. Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 23
Quote of the Week: "It’s not what being a Colt is all about. It’s not what playing for the horseshoe is all about."
Quarterback Andrew Luck can say Saturday's 33-25 loss to the Oakland Raiders isn't what the Colts are all about, per the Indianapolis Star's Zak Keefer. Yet, that's exactly who the Colts have been for the last two seasons.
"We didn't have any answers," head coach Chuck Pagano said, per Kevin Bowen of the Colts' official site. "That falls on me."
Indianapolis has been a mediocre team since winning three straight AFC South crowns to start Pagano's tenure. The team fell far short of expectations ever since.
"(Winning was) one of the reasons I came to Indy: They (were) in the postseason every year," linebacker Erik Walden said, per Keefer. "(Missing it two straight seasons), that’s a tough pill to swallow."
Major offseason improvements need to be made throughout the Colts' deteriorating roster. Whether Pagano will be leading the revamped lineup remains in question.
22. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 22
Quote of the Week: "(We need to) make sure we remember this feeling that we got right now.
According to Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones, his teammates need to remember Saturday's heartbreaking 12-10 loss to the Houston Texans, per ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell. Nothing went right for the Bengals in 2016, and the team will need to use these defeats as a learning experience if it plans to return to the playoffs next season.
However, head coach Marvin Lewis may not be leading the way. If he's dismissed after the team's disappointing 5-9-1 campaign, this year will stick with him for a long time.
"It pisses you off," Lewis said, per Terrell. "It really does. It gets you upset, and you stay upset. It doesn’t sit well.
"Unfortunately, I’ve got a little bit longer to be upset than in the past. Whenever the final day comes, unless you’re the last one standing, you're always upset with it. That's the way it is."
How upset Lewis will be this offseason is still being decided, but his team's performance hasn't lived up to the standards the coach built since taking over the program in 2003.
21. Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 21
Quote of the Week: "Disappointed. Disappointed. But yet, there's hope for the future. We had a long run. A long, long run. It's time for guys to have a sabbatical, so to speak, and get away from it."
But he is after the team fell to 6-9 due, in part, to the signal-caller getting very little help from the rest of the Panthers roster.
No one wants to talk about a Super Bowl hangover, yet Carolina experienced one. Injuries, poor roster decisions and a downturn in play from certain individuals placed the Panthers in the NFC South's basement.
Even so, head coach Ron Rivera believes the team can fix these issues, and Carolina will be back in the playoffs next year.
"I believe this is a blip," Rivera added, per the Associated Press' Steve Reed. "I think we will learn from it and get better."
Maybe some time off is exactly what the entire organization needs to reset after a disappointing campaign.
20. Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 16
Quote of the Week: "We felt as a team, as players, we came together, and we felt like we'd never done that when we played against the Packers. Us as DBs felt like we could handle him. That's how we felt as DBs, that we could stay on our side and cover him. In the beginning, we'd always played against them and played our sides, we never followed, so that's what we felt as DBs. That's what we went with."
The Minnesota Vikings season officially jumped ship with the near-mutinous decision from the team's secondary. Xavier Rhodes explained how the defensive backs decided not to follow head coach Mike Zimmer's coverage plan at the start of Saturday's 38-25 loss to the Green Bay Packers, per ESPN.com's Ben Goessling.
Since Rhodes' initial admission, the group stated it only switched coverage responsibilities for one series, and the Pro Bowl cornerback covered for veteran Terence Newman, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Whatever the case, the players knowingly disregarded their coach's game plan. In doing so, the Vikings secondary surrendered nine catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns to Jordy Nelson, whom Rhodes was supposed to follow during the entire contest.
These actions only add to the disarray of a lost season. After a promising 5-0 start, the Vikings won two of their next 10 games, and players openly defied their head coach. How Zimmer responds to these issues could very well define the rest of his tenure.
19. Mike Mularkey, Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 15
Quote of the Week: "I have total respect (for him). I love the player, love the man. I love everything he stands for, everything he does. I am very disappointed he got injured. He had a lot of good things ahead of him and he still does. But I am sorry to see it end his season this way, very sorry."
A promising 2016 campaign came crashing to an end when Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota left Saturday's 38-17 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars with a fractured right fibula.
Titans head coach Mike Mularkey spoke glowingly of his young signal-caller Monday knowing the former No. 2 overall pick has a four- to five-month recovery ahead of him, per Jim Wyatt of the team's official site. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Mariota is set to undergo surgery Wednesday.
"Marcus is a one-of-a-kind individual," left tackle Taylor Lewan said, per ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky. "He's a positive guy. ... He said he's going to come back stronger from this, which we all believe."
Tennessee still has one more game to play, though. There's plenty the team can achieve, too.
First, the Titans can finish 9-7. It's been five years since Tennessee managed a winning record.
Second, a victory Sunday against the offensively challenged Houston Texans would give both teams the same record. Houston already won the AFC South due to potential tiebreakers, but Tennessee can build on the fact it managed a similar campaign.
18. Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans
Last Week: 20
Quote of the Week: "I think anytime you line up, you play to win."
What is Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien trying to say, per the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson? Does he think his team should try to win, or does the coach expect his team to win?
Poor wording aside, the Texans have plenty to accomplish Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. Sure, Houston already clinched a second-consecutive AFC South crown, but the team isn't exactly lighting the world on fire coming into the final weekend of regular-season play.
In fact, O'Brien's squad needed a last-second missed field goal from former kicker Randy Bullock this past weekend to secure a 12-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Houston won its last three contests by a combined eight points.
There is very little margin for error even with the Texans' top-ranked defense. How the offense performs with Tom Savage behind center is important for Houston's postseason aspirations.
"We're playing to win," O'Brien clarified, per Wilson. "We're not even talking about that. We've got a chance to win 10 games. I don't know how many double-digit win seasons the Texans have had, but I think that's important. I think every win counts."
17. Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 19
Quote of the Week: "You run out of superlatives to describe him. He does something special every single game we play."
The 2016 Arizona Cardinals season has been a disappointment on many levels. David Johnson's performance isn't counted among them. There aren't enough words to explain how good the second-year running back has been, according to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, per ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss.
Johnson accumulated 100 or more yards from scrimmage for the 15th straight contest. The Northern Iowa product finished with 136 yards during Saturday's 34-31 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
"They were doing everything they could to stop him," Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said, per Weinfuss. But Seattle's efforts proved futile.
Johnson's performance tied Barry Sanders' record with a chance to eclipse it Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams. In total, the 25-year-old back registered 2,074 yards from scrimmage in 15 games.
What makes his performance so fascinating is the fact Arians shifted gears from a vertical passing offense in 2015 into a Johnson-centric scheme this fall. He's Arizona's bell cow, and the team's success rides on its young star.
16. Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins
Last Week: 18
Quote of the Week: "We obviously wouldn't think of it as a successful season unless you get into the playoffs, that's for sure."
Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden set the bar for his team, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Michael Phillips. Anything less than a playoff berth is a failure.
It was a bit of a brash statement since Washington didn't control its destiny at the time. But the team came one step closer after the Dallas Cowboys trounced the Detroit Lions 42-21 on Monday Night Football.
As long as Washington wins Sunday against the rival New York Giants and the Lions don't tie the Green Bay Packers, the Redskins will find their way into the postseason.
"We're building something special here," Gruden said after Saturday's 41-21 victory over the Chicago Bears, per ESPN.com's John Keim.
The last time Washington made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons came 24 years ago. If the team accomplishes the feat, no one will care how it achieved the goal.
15. Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 14
Quote of the Week: "There's other decisions like that made every week, just this one was a little higher profile."
Very few decisions usually entail a Pro Bowl running back being benched. Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter still tried to downplay the move, per the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud. Koetter explained that Jacquizz Rodgers provided the team with a better chance to win even though he rushed for only 63 yards against the New Orleans Saints.
"People can say whatever they want about how Doug would’ve been, we don’t know because he wasn’t in there," the coach said, per Stroud. "I'm not trying to confuse anybody. That's not my intent. I'm trying to put the Bucs in the best position to win games."
But they didn't win. Tampa Bay lost 31-24 on Saturday. Of course, Rodgers wasn't the reason why the Buccaneers lost, but Martin's future with the team came into question.
"I'm not sure if it should cause it (speculation about Martin’s future) or not," Koetter said, per Stroud. "I don’t really have any good answer for you. That decision was made and I’ll stand by it."
Martin is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry this season, but it's hard to imagine the franchise moving on from the two-time Pro Bowl runner since his release won't garner any cap relief in 2017, according to Spotrac.
14. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 17
Quote of the Week: "Great coach! Great game!"
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton doesn't appear to be going anywhere after owner Tom Benson's excited proclamation, per ESPN.com's Mike Triplett. Payton secured his 100th career victory with Saturday's 31-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
At 7-8, the Saints appear to have salvaged their season to some degree with two straight victories. The team isn't in the playoff mix, but Payton's presence still looms large over the organization.
"There's not a guy in this locker room that wants him to be out the door tomorrow," veteran offensive tackle Zach Strief said, per Triplett. "There’s just not. And I don't think there’s a guy in the building that does."
Are there still issues within the Saints roster and overall product? Absolutely. Payton and Co. haven't finished with an above-.500 record since 2013. However, Benson's excited tone leads one to believe his head coach isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
"I feel like we are right there (to be a playoff team), knocking on the door, and we've got a lot of the right pieces in place," quarterback Drew Brees said, per Triplett.
13. Ben McAdoo, New York Giants
Last Week: 10
Quote of the Week: "We're back in the postseason where this franchise belongs."
The New York Giants weren't victorious Thursday against the Philadelphia Eagles, but the team achieved its goal of making the playoffs with a little help. As such, no one can fault nose tackle Damon Harrison for enjoying it a little bit.
The team's postseason berth didn't excite head coach Ben McAdoo, though.
"There is a process in progressing to your ultimate objective," McAdoo said, per the New York Post's Paul Schwartz. "This is the next step in the process. But each step requires focus on the task at hand, and our focus right now is on learning from Thursday night’s game and moving on and getting better."
Any first-year head coach should be applauded for taking his team to playoffs.
Tom Coughlin became an institution in New York because he led the Giants to a pair of Super Bowl victories. Yet the team missed the postseason in each of his last four campaigns. New York hadn't even posted 10 regular-season wins since 2010.
McAdoo achieved both in his first year at the helm.
12. Gary Kubiak, Denver Broncos
Last Week: 8
Quote of the Week: "My thought is this, I told the players, 2016 [was] obviously a big disappointment. I told them on the plane ride home, get it all out of their system, next week is all about next year."
In less than a year, the Denver Broncos reached the NFL's pinnacle with a Super Bowl 50 victory before falling apart less than 10 months later.
Pride is all Denver will be playing for Sunday against the Oakland Raiders after being eliminated from the playoff race. Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak also wants to build momentum heading into the offseason, per ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold.
"The way we played, we don't deserve to make the playoffs," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said, per Legwold. "We just didn't make the key plays. We didn't improve as the season came, we stayed the same or got worse."
An opportunity exists to finish with an above-.500 record and play the role of spoiler to knock the Raiders out of the AFC's No. 2 seed.
Plus, the team can give this year's first-round pick, quarterback Paxton Lynch, valuable reps. Trevor Siemian completed a woeful 39.5 percent of his passes during Sunday's 33-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
It's time for a change.
11. Jim Caldwell, Detriot Lions
Last Week: 11
Quote of the Week: "I plan on it. They couldn’t really stop us, we stopped ourselves, so we hope so."
Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron is confident his team will face the Dallas Cowboys again...in the playoffs, per the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett.
Here's the problem: Detroit doesn't control its destiny. The Lions need a victory or tie against the Green Bay Packers and a Washington Redskins loss aginst the New York Giants to taste the postseason.
After Monday's 41-21 throttling, Jim Caldwell's squad shouldn't be looking forward to a rematch, either.
"So let's not kid ourselves," the coach said, per Birkett. "This is a good football team we played. We just didn't play well enough to hang in there with them."
A clear difference appeared between the two franchises, and it became obvious which one was a legitimate contender. The other needs help to even sniff a playoff appearance.
10. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 9
Quote of the Week: "If you’re saying we should have sat on the ball and then kept our fingers crossed to score later, I would say that’s not a strategy I’ve seen attempted too often. (The Pittsburgh Steelers) had a lot of time left on the clock, and it’s our job to get them stopped. It’s our job to get them stopped. That’s what we didn’t get done."
Asking a fullback not to score when his team trails and the opportunity arises is foolish. The Baltimore Ravens' Kyle Juszczyk did exactly what he's supposed to do after he broke multiple tackles and plunged into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He can't be blamed for a defensive effort that allowed the Steelers to march the ball 75 yards in 1:09 to clinch a 31-27 victory and the AFC North crown.
Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh wouldn't even acknowledge the possibility of telling a player not to score when his team trailed in the fourth quarter, per ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley.
Very few players even have the situational awareness to fall down just short of the goal line. Even if an individual decided not to score, the Ravens aren't guaranteed six points in that scenario.
"After we scored, in my mind, we have the best defense in the NFL, so it’s a wrap," Juszczyk said, per Hensley. "I thought they’re going to go out there and make a stop."
Teammates are supposed to pick each other up. Baltimore's fullback did. The Ravens defense didn't.
9. Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 13
Quote of the Week: "A lot of people doubted those guys when we were 1-4. They did a great job of ignoring the noise, found a way to improve each week. I know it's basic and simple but not always easy to do. Our guys did a great job of taking care of business and handling it one game at a time."
One has to read between the lines of Adam Gase's coachspeak to understand the Miami Dolphins' success this season, per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson. Basically, the team built an identity around running back Jay Ajayi's punishing running style and a dominant defensive front.
Ajayi's emergence and Cameron Wake's first start after being brought back slowly from last year's Achilles injury coincided with Gase's timeline. Since those two became bigger parts of the weekly game plans, the Dolphins are 9-1.
During Saturday's 34-31 victory over the Buffalo Bills, Ajayi ran for 206 yards. He became the first running back to run for 200 or more yards three times in the same season since 2005 and only the fourth ever in NFL history. O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Tiki Barber are the other backs to accomplish the same feat.
Wake, meanwhile, is tied for fourth overall with 11.5 sacks after he registered three in the past three contests.
"I knew what Jay Ajayi liked and what he didn’t like. That made it easier to call games," Gase said, per Jackson. "On (defensive coordinator Vance Joseph's) side, we shifted some guys around, as far as starters go, he has done a good job trying to put those guys in good position."
Wake, meanwhile, is tied for fourth overall with 11.5 sacks after he registered three in the past three contests.
"I knew what Jay Ajayi liked and what he didn’t like. That made it easier to call games," Gase said, per Jackson. "On (defensive coordinator Vance Joseph's) side, we shifted some guys around, as far as starters go, he has done a good job trying to put those guys in good position."
8. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 12
Quote of the Week: "If my job’s going to be judged off of what goes on in the social media world then I think we’re all in trouble."
Not too long ago, Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was being questioned at every turn as his team stumbled through a four-game losing streak. McCarthy probably didn't like what he read on social media, but his job isn't judged by what's said by the public, per USA Today's Tom Pelissero.
"Whether you like it or not, the negatives that are said about you, you have to look at them and identify them as perception or opinion or agenda-driven opinion (or) reality," the coach said, per Pelissero.
In some cases, the Packers were lacking. During their losing streak, the team surrendered 153 points. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers certainly didn't play to his normal standards. And the team lacked any semblance of a running game.
Since Nov. 28, Green Bay has played tremendous football.
During their current five-game win streak, the Packers defense has allowed 88 points. Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception since before Thanksgiving. And Ty Montgomery emerged as a multipurpose threat out of the backfield.
Social media is much nicer to a coach when his team is rolling and on the cusp of clinching the NFC North.
7. Jack Del Rio, Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 5
Quote of the Week: "I'm not really going to shed any more light on (Derek Carr's injury). I think at some point there may be more details that follow, but I don’t have any for you (Monday)."
Oakland Raiders fans are doing their best impersonation of Jim Carrey from Dumb & Dumber this week: "So, you're telling me there's a chance...quarterback Derek Carr can return for the Super Bowl after injuring his leg in Sunday's 38-25 victory over the Minnesota Vikings? Yeah!"
Carr's exact timetable has yet to be established, and Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio wasn't forthcoming with the quarterback's status, per the Mercury News' Jimmy Durkin.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Carr underwent surgery for his fractured fibula Tuesday and is expected to miss six to eight weeks.
"Although this situation is the toughest thing I've ever faced in my football career, it will not stop me from coming back stronger than ever," the quarterback texted to MMQB's Peter King.
Carr could be healthy just in time for Super LI based on Schefter's timeline. The Raiders simply need to navigate their way through the AFC into the big game with Matt McGloin behind center. Yeah, there's a chance, albeit slight, it could happen. Raiders faithful would like it a lot if it did.
6. Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 7
Quote of the Week: "We set out at the beginning of the season to win our division. That part has been accomplished, but there is more out there for us. This is a brotherhood that continues to play for one another every week."
Since the Atlanta Falcons achieved their first goal, the organization can turn its attention toward bigger and better things. An NFC South crown is merely the starting point, as head coach Dan Quinn stated, per ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure.
Every team needs a steppingstone in order to experience greater success. The Falcons' last division championship came four years ago when running back Michael Turner, wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez were counted among their top offensive weapons.
"It's just another step," Julio Jones said, per McClure. "We're not finished after we're NFC (South) champions. We're definitely not finished. We just keep our heads down and keep working."
Now, the Falcons can legitimately compete for a Super Bowl with the NFL's second-ranked offense and a defense that can finally pressure opposing quarterbacks.
Major roster holes can no longer be found around Jones and quarterback Matt Ryan. Multiple key pieces have been added and developed throughout the year—like center Alex Mack, linebacker Deion Jones and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel—to ensure the Falcons will be a tough out during the postseason.
5. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 6
Quote of the Week: "(Mike Tomlin) is a great cheerleader guy, but I don't know what he does. ... I don't think he is a great coach at all."
When in doubt, give the ball to wide receiver Antonio Brown.
But what does Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin know? He's just a "great cheerleader," according to former Steelers great and Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, per Fox Sports 1's Speak For Yourself.
Let's forget for a moment that Tomlin already has 102 career wins before he turns 45 years old. Let's eschew the fact he already owns a Super Bowl ring and posted 10 straight non-losing seasons. Those facts can be set aside, and it's still a ridiculous comment.
Tomlin's players showed exactly why during Sunday's 31-27 victory over the Baltimore Ravens to clinch another AFC North championship. Late in the game, Brown made the play of the Steelers season when he reached over the goal line to convert a four-yard touchdown with only nine seconds left.
With the sprawling score, Pittsburgh punched its ticket to the postseason for a third straight season.
"At the end of the day, if you don't got haters, you ain't doing something right," center Maurkice Pouncey said, per the Associated Press' Will Graves. "He's a winning coach and next thing you know, he loses and he's the worst coach in America. I mean, come on."
4. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 2
Quote of the Week: "I keep thinking we’re going to do right, we’re going to do well."
The Seattle Seahawks once again clinched a playoff berth. But just how good are they? Head coach Pete Carroll's positive mental attitude, per ESPN.com's Sheil Kapadia, will take the team only so far.
Eventually, Seattle must display some consistency if it's going to develop into a legitimate threat out of the NFC.
"We have a lot of weapons on the offensive side, and we have to protect Russell (Wilson)," wide receiver Doug Baldwin said, per Kapadia. "Russell has to get the ball out, and we have to catch it as receivers and run the ball efficiently and effectively. When we do those things, we’re pretty hard to stop."
However, Baldwin's initial point is the most crucial. Will the Seahawks offensive line protect their franchise quarterback? According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson is the league's second-most pressured quarterback, and he's being harassed on 41.8 percent of his dropbacks.
The team's front five isn't the only concern. The Seahawks lack a consistent run game and the defense is allowing more than 300 yards per game for the first time since the 2012 campaign.
Carroll thinks his team will do well, but its inconsistencies are concerning.
3. Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 3
Quote of the Week: "If you're a competitor, you want to win. That's enough to play for, simple as that."
How 'bout them Cowboys?
Dallas tied a team record Monday with its 13th regular-season victory, courtesy of a 43-21 win over the Detroit Lions.
Quarterback Dak Prescott pooh-poohed the idea his team didn't have much to play for after clinching the NFC's No. 1 seed, per ESPN.com's Ian O'Connor. The rookie provided another outstanding performance by completing 75 percent of his passes and connecting for three touchdowns.
His play evoked memories of Tom Brady's start with the New England Patriots.
"If you want to draw a parallel, it's very similar to Tommy in 2001," former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said in October, per O'Connor. "We didn't start too fast with Tommy—similar to what they've done with Dak—didn't give him too much early, and then it grew from there."
Head coach Jason Garrett continues to push all the right buttons this season, and it starts at the game's most important position. He's helped develop Prescott from a fourth-round rookie to the point where the young man should just be considered Dallas' franchise quarterback. Tony Romo's name no longer needs to be uttered.
2. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 4
Quote of the Week: "Bloated Tebow Pass."
Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs are having fun.
Nose tackle Dontari Poe delivered an unlikely Christmas present when the big man in red threw a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Demetrius Harris in Kansas City's 33-10 victory over the Denver Broncos. In doing so, Poe became the heaviest player in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Reid joked the play is named after a less-svelte Heisman Trophy winner, per BJ Kissel of the Chiefs' official site.
"Yeah, you know, I’ve learned this over time here—you can’t score enough points against these teams," Reid said about calling the trick play with a 17-point fourth-quarter lead, per Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post. "So, you can’t take anything for granted. We’re going to score as much as we can until we can’t do it."
The Chiefs should be having fun. They're 11-4 with a chance to capture the AFC's No. 2 seed during the final weekend of the regular season.
1. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Last Week: 1
Quote of the Week: "Look, I don’t really understand that question. I don't even know how many starters we have. ... This isn’t like a preseason game where you have 75 guys on your roster. This is a regular-season game. So I don't really understand that whole line of questioning."
Will the New England Patriots rest their starters Sunday against the Miami Dolphins? Head coach Bill Belichick's answer can be found above, per ESPN.com's Mike Reiss.
After Saturday's 41-3 win over the New York Jets, Belichick's squad is cruising toward the playoffs with six straight victories. At 13-2, the Patriots already secured a first-round playoff bye and the AFC's No. 1 seed is within their grasp.
Most teams would coast into the postseason; the Patriots aren't most teams.
"I'm not saying I'm a great mathematician or anything, but the numbers just don't add up for that type of conversation," Belichick added, per Reiss. "So there is no point in getting involved in it."
Since the No. 1 seed is still up for grabs, the Patriots will play hard in an attempt to gain home-field advantage against upcoming opponents.
It's not hard to understand that logic.