Posted by: Mike Cornelius | December 28, 2014

Time For The NFL’s Revolving Door To Start Turning

As this is written the final weekend of the NFL’s regular season is winding down. While all of the playoff seedings won’t be set until the result of the very last contest, Sunday night’s AFC North divisional showdown between the Bengals and Steelers is known; the list of the 12 teams moving on to the postseason is complete. In the AFC the Bengals, Broncos, Colts, Patriots, Ravens and Steelers still have games to play. In the NFC the Cardinals, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Panthers and Seahawks are into the tournament that culminates with the Super Bowl, an event that long since passed from mere sporting contest to cultural happening, held on what is now an unofficial national holiday.

But the NFL has 32 franchises, which means that for 20 teams the season has already ended in failure. That term is relative of course. The Carolina Panthers finished the regular season with a sub-.500 record of 7-8-1. But that was good enough to claim the title in the woeful NFC South, in a failure disguised as success.  The Panthers will not only be in the playoffs but will host a game next weekend. They will also likely be the underdog while playing at home, and no one outside of the greater Charlotte metro area is expecting Carolina to have a postseason run deep into January.

On the other hand the Buffalo Bills missed the playoffs for the 15th straight year, the longest drought in the league. The Bills’ hopes were done in by a dreadful road loss to Oakland one week ago. Still Buffalo won on Sunday, beating a team of New England reserves 17-9. The victory at least gives the fans in upstate New York their first winning season in a decade. With that plus a new owner who has quickly doused rumors of the franchise’s possible relocation, hope springs eternal on the snowy shores of Lake Erie.

In sports as in life the one constant is change, and fans of all 20 franchises shut out of the playoffs know that change is coming. Coaches and general managers will be fired and rosters will be remade, all in the hope that next season’s results will be different. These efforts more often than not don’t yield the quick results that are usually promised when they are announced. As noted in this space last week, despite its reputation for parity the cream at the top of the NFL changes slowly. The playoffs that start next week feature five new teams from last season’s participants. But the Ravens are back after missing just one season, and the Steelers and Lions return after absences of only two years. Only the Cardinals and Cowboys have had a significant gap in postseason play; with both returning for the first time in five years.

Still sometimes a dramatic change can produce results of a like kind. After back to back losing campaigns of 4-12 in 2012 and 7-9 in 2013, the Lions installed Jim Caldwell as head coach. The 59-year old Caldwell, who took the Peyton Manning-led Colts to Super Bowl XLIV in his rookie year as a head coach, returned Detroit to the postseason with a record of 11-5.

That’s the kind of improvement that owners will be promising their fans in the next few days and weeks. It will be the promise in Atlanta, where the Falcons have already hired a consulting firm to assist in the recruitment process after Mike Smith, the most successful coach in team history, is given his walking papers. The same story will play out in San Francisco, where Jim Harbaugh wore out his welcome with astonishing speed. It’s back to the college ranks and the University of Michigan for Harbaugh, according to numerous reports. Tony Sparano in Oakland and Marc Treastman in Chicago are also widely considered to be on the hot seat. Then there are the two head coaching jobs for the teams that share MetLife Stadium.

The Giants finished 6-10 after a final loss to the Eagles, and that record was made better only by a late season three-game winning streak. It’s just the third time in eleven seasons with Tom Coughlin as head coach that the Giants have posted a losing record. The problem for Coughlin is that two of those three have now come in a row. New York was 3-2 after Week 5, but then proceeded to lose 7 consecutive games. It was a haunting reminder of the previous campaign, when the Giants opened with 6 straight losses. Those numbers, coupled with the fact that the team has now missed the playoffs five of the last six years, may well spell the end of the Coughlin era. But that one recent trip to the postseason ended with a victory in Super Bowl XLVI, matching the team’s triumph four years earlier. The question for general manager Jerry Reese is whether the good will engendered by a pair of rings is enough to allow the 68-year old Coughlin to remain for the final year of his contract.

For the Jets the only question seems to be whether owner Woody Johnson gets rid of only head coach Rex Ryan, or adds GM John Idzik to the unemployment line as well. Johnson has brought in Charles Casserly, a longtime NFL general manager as a consultant, a sure sign that changes are in the offing. While Ryan won’t be missed, it would be unfair to spare Idzik. The reality is that the Jets just aren’t a very good team, with no clear answer at quarterback and too many holes up and down the roster. No amount of coaching can turn some rosters into winners.

Ryan arrived in Gotham full of bluster and boasts, despite the fact that leading the Jets was his first head coaching job. He was a player’s coach, and for two seasons got the most out of his team as the Jets twice went to the AFC Conference Championship. But while the boasts kept coming the wins stopped. Ryan never seemed to grasp that a team led by the likes of Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith in a quarterback-centric league was not a candidate for the Super Bowl.

Barring a major surprise from the Jets ownership, Ryan will soon have the opportunity to take his constantly running mouth to another franchise in another city. Make no mistake; he and the others about to be unemployed will almost certainly be given another chance with another team. That of course is the irony of this time of year in the NFL. As the playoffs get underway the losing franchises begin the process of tearing themselves down. Then in short order they start rebuilding, more often than not by signing on as the certain savior for the future, someone who has only recently been dismissed as a failure somewhere just down the road.


  1. Watch for Ryan to become Defensive coach for Washington. Chuck

    • You could be right, although I suspect Ryan will look first for another head coaching job. Once one has been in charge, it’s hard to step down. But if that doesn’t materialize, he can surely become Danny Boy’s new best friend!

      Thanks, Michael

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