Now that Black Friday is behind us, we can look ahead to Black Monday.
That, of course, is the unofficial nickname for the day after the final game of the regular season, when NFL teams start firing their coaches.
This year may not match the upheaval of last year, when 10 teams changed coaches, but I count 10 coaches fighting for their jobs over the final seven weeks of the season. And for head coaches that do survive, someone on the staff will be held accountable.
Let’s take a look at the 10 coaches on the hot seat entering Week 12:
▪ Nathaniel Hackett, Broncos: He was a great offensive coordinator in Jacksonville and Green Bay, but Hackett isn’t cutting it as a head coach. The Broncos are last in the NFL in scoring (14.7 points per game), last in red zone scoring, and first in penalties. Russell Wilson is having the worst season of his career, but he signed a long-term contract and isn’t going anywhere. Hackett had to hire Jerry Rosburg midseason to manage the clock, and recently handed play-calling duties to Klint Kubiak. The fans are booing and leaving the stadium in droves. And the Broncos’ new owners, WalMart heirs worth dozens of billions, didn’t hire Hackett. It will be an upset if Hackett isn’t one and done.
▪ Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals: Since starting 10-2 last year, the Cardinals have gone 5-12, including 4-7 this season. Their offense is 18th in points, and Kyler Murray isn’t taking that next step, though it could be because he doesn’t study enough. Kingsbury has a 28-32-1 record in three-plus seasons, with one playoff appearance and no wins. His team is one of the biggest disappointments of the season, and just got embarrassed by the 49ers on national TV. Kingsbury got a contract extension through 2027 this past offseason, but it’s not clear how much of it is guaranteed. Kingsbury hasn’t been awful, like other college coaches coming to the NFL, but Cardinals ownership expected more and may be running out of patience.
▪ Lovie Smith, Texans: He was dealt a losing hand this year, taking over a rebuilding team that had one of the worst quarterback situations, as well as overall talent, in the NFL. But so was David Culley, and that wasn’t enough to save him after going 4-13 last season. Smith is 1-8-1, with his only win over the Jaguars and four losses by double digits. Firing Smith wouldn’t be fair, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
▪ Dennis Allen, Saints: The Saints didn’t get much from Jameis Winston in his return from a torn ACL, and have had to rely on Andy Dalton. That said, they still have a lot of expensive pieces around the quarterback, yet are a disappointing 4-7, and Allen’s defense is 25th in points allowed. The Saints tried to maintain continuity after Sean Payton’s departure but may need a fresh start.
▪ Steve Wilks, Panthers: He’s obviously on the hot seat as interim coach, taking over for Matt Rhule. And if the Panthers are in line to draft a franchise quarterback, it makes sense to hire an offense-oriented coach. But hopefully NFL owners, especially the one in Carolina, notice that the Panthers have two hard-fought wins under Wilks, plus a tough overtime loss to the Falcons, after trading Christian McCaffrey.
▪ Josh McDaniels, Raiders: Has gotten a vote of confidence from owner Mark Davis, and may be spared if Davis doesn’t want to pay another buyout after paying a big one to Jon Gruden. But someone is going to take the fall, and it’s most likely on the defensive side, where the Raiders are ranked among the worst in several categories (more on that below). It’s probably not looking good for defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.
▪ Kevin Stefanski, Browns: He has been hamstrung by having to play a backup quarterback. But Stefanski has gone from 11-5 to 8-9 to 3-7 in his three seasons, and surely owner Jimmy Haslam thought the Browns would be in better playoff shape for Deshaun Watson’s return in a week. Haslam should probably give Stefanski another year, especially since the Browns’ offense is a solid 10th in points. But there has to be some accountability, and like the Raiders, it might come on defense with coordinator Joe Woods.
▪ Brandon Staley, Chargers: The Chargers have been hit hard by injuries but are a disappointing 5-5 and, most alarmingly, Staley’s defense is 29th in points allowed. They’re not maximizing Justin Herbert by having a defense-oriented head coach. It’s got to be tempting to hire a young offensive coach such as Lions coordinator Ben Johnson or Seahawks coordinator Shane Waldron.
▪ Todd Bowles, Buccaneers: The 5-5 Buccaneers still have a great shot to win the division and get a home playoff game. But if they miss the playoffs, and Tom Brady leaves, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them clean house and start fresh.
▪ Jeff Saturday, Colts: Technically, he’s on the hot seat as interim coach. But Saturday, by way of his relationship with owner Jim Irsay, seems to have the inside track on the job, as Irsay badly wants him to succeed.
EASY DOES IT
Chiefs have clear path to top seed
The 8-2 Chiefs have the best record in the AFC and the highest-scoring offense in the NFL. Unfortunately for AFC rivals, the Chiefs’ road to the No. 1 seed appears to be smooth, with only a few bumps.
The Chiefs’ remaining seven opponents have a combined winning percentage of .364, giving the Chiefs the NFL’s easiest schedule down the stretch. The Chiefs have two games against teams in playoff position — at the Bengals and vs. the Seahawks. Otherwise, they have two games against the woeful Broncos, plus matchups against the Rams, Texans, and Raiders.
Other teams with easy schedules are the Ravens (.366), Panthers (.403), Buccaneers (.419), and Chargers, Lions, and Vikings (.438). Tampa Bay’s schedule bodes well for a late-season run from Tom Brady.
Conversely, the 7-4 Giants, third in the NFC East following their Thanksgiving loss to the Cowboys, may have tough times ahead. The Giants have the toughest remaining schedule by a significant margin — an opponents’ winning percentage of .680, compared with .625 for the next toughest. The Giants have two games each against the Eagles and Commanders, visit the Vikings, and host the Colts.
Other teams with tough schedules are the Bears (.625), Bengals (.611), Patriots (.571), and Texans, Jaguars, and Commanders (.562).
AFC West a big disappointment
The AFC West was supposed to be the best division in the NFL, but outside of the Chiefs, it has been the biggest disappointment. In looking deeper into the teams, two aspects jump out:
▪ CBS Sports posted a wild stat on Twitter this past week: Since 1970, Derek Carr leads all quarterbacks in points per game allowed by the defense (26.3). In his nine seasons, the Raiders have never been better than 20th in points allowed, and twice they have been 32nd.
Whether the defensive coach is Dennis Allen or Ken Norton or John Pagano or Paul Guenther or Gus Bradley, the Raiders just can’t fix their woes. And that has continued this year under Patrick Graham.
The Raiders’ defense is eye-poppingly bad in several key stats. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 71.5 percent of passes, the highest in the NFL. QBs have a passer rating of 106.3, also highest. The Raiders have the fewest sacks (13), fewest takeaways (6), and fewest negative plays (46). They are 31st in the red zone (touchdowns on 71 percent), 29th on third down (46.4 percent), 26th in touchdowns allowed (28), and allow the longest drives in the league (an average of 3:05).
Josh McDaniels had better fix his defense this offseason.
▪ The Broncos aren’t just bad, but the games sound really boring. The Broncos are 32nd in scoring (14.7 points per game) and No. 2 in points allowed (17.1). The combined 31.8 points are the lowest in the NFL by 4. By contrast, the Chiefs and Lions average more than 53 points.
The Broncos are also last in red zone offense at 36.4 percent (8 of 22). But they are first in red zone defense at an impressive 27.3 percent (6 of 22).
And Broncos games are flag fests. Their 83 penalties for 696 yards are most in the NFL, as are their opponents’ 686 penalty yards.
No one is going to games to see field goals, punts, and penalties.
Insight into former Patriots
A couple of interesting media-related items for Tom Brady and Julian Edelman over the past week:
▪ Edelman got his own NFL Films “A Football Life” one-hour special, which aired Friday night on NFL Network. It was an entertaining look at Edelman’s journey from undersized and overlooked athlete to Patriots hero, and two parts stood out.
One was the acknowledgment from the Patriots that Edelman’s career almost didn’t happen. Edelman lived on the roster bubble for his first four seasons and didn’t break out until his fifth (2013). Only his versatility as a punt returner and defensive back saved him.
“Julian Edelman probably was almost cut more often than any player that I’ve ever coached,” said former receivers coach Chad O’Shea, an NFL coach for 20 seasons.
The other interesting bit was hearing Edelman’s reaction to Bill Belichick giving Danny Amendola a five-year, $31 million contract in 2013 after Wes Welker left. Edelman thought it was his turn to be the Patriots’ slot receiver, but instead got little interest in free agency and returned to New England on a near-minimum deal.
“I was like, [expletive] Belichick, [expletive] the Patriots, I hate everyone here, how are you going to do this to me?” Edelman said.
Of course, Amendola got hurt, and Edelman became a star.
▪ As for Brady, I appreciated his perspective on how he watches football on the latest episode of his “Let’s Go!” podcast with Jim Gray. When you’ve won seven Super Bowls and played at the highest level for two decades, it’s natural to be disgusted by bad football.
“When I watch football now, the only thing I see, nine out of 10 times it’s, ‘Man, that was a really bad play,’ ” Brady told guest Charles Barkley. ”As opposed to, ‘Wow, the spectacular play that [Patrick] Mahomes made, or the spectacular play that Josh Allen made.’ Now it’s like, ‘Man, what a bad defensive play, what a bad play by the quarterback.’ When you play with Randy Moss, with Wes Welker and [Rob Gronkowski], and Edelman, and Mike Evans, you see greatness, and there’s a standard for perfection that I want to see the game played at.”
It will be interesting to see if Brady remains critical when (if) he ever joins the booth for Fox.
“I just feel like there’s probably more Johnny Miller in me,” Brady said. “It was just scathing sometimes. ‘That guy choked under pressure.’ And that’s how I end up seeing the game now, not that I want to be negative.”
Brady also credited Belichick for teaching him about avoiding bad football.
“Belichick taught this to me a lot — it’s hard to win a game in the NFL. There’s more games lost in the NFL than they’re won,” Brady said. “If you don’t screw it up, you’ve got a great chance to win, because most people do just mess it up. You do the basic fundamentals of what the sport are, and you can do really well in the sport, proven by that Patriot system all those years.”
Inside the numbers
A couple quick Patriots stats:
▪ Mac Jones threw for a career-high 382 yards in Thursday night’s loss to the Vikings. But Jones is 3-7 in his career when throwing for at least 250 yards. For context, NFL quarterbacks are 67-62-1 (.527) this year when reaching that mark. Jones’s three wins — 36-13 last year over the Titans, 54-13 last year over the Jets, and 17-14 this year over the Steelers, when he threw for 252 yards.
Conversely, Jones is 11-5 when throwing for fewer than 250 yards. He also has just one game-winning drive, against the Texans last year. These stats seem to demonstrate that Jones has yet to put the Patriots on his back to win a game.
▪ The Patriots are minus-167 in net penalty yards this year, the worst margin in the NFL, per NFLPenalties.com. They have committed 66 penalties for 528 yards, and benefitted on 43 penalties for 361 yards.
Zach Wilson may have hit his lowest point last week when he declined to take accountability for his struggles, then was benched for this Sunday’s game against the Bears. But sometimes a kick in the tail is needed to help spur real change. Wilson said he immediately got scolded by his father, who texted him, “Bro, what are you doing?” And Wilson’s teammates seemed pleased with Wilson’s apology during the week. “What he said was very genuine,” cornerback D.J. Reed said via the New York Post. “It was very real. He definitely poured his heart out. If he didn’t already have it, he definitely earned and gained everyone’s respect.” Wilson is a great athlete and has a live arm. If he can fix his footwork and work hard in the film room, he has the tools to be a terrific quarterback … “Hard Knocks” has gotten soft. Last week’s 45-minute episode had nothing on the Cardinals’ surprising release of running back Eno Benjamin, nor the release of assistant coach Sean Kugler following an incident in Mexico City involving unwanted advances, per ESPN. The show has no use if it’s going to be one long music video and not a reality show … Sunday’s Rams-Chiefs game was supposed to be one of the premier matchups of the season. The last meeting, in 2018, was a 54-51 Rams win with 1,001 yards of offense. But Matthew Stafford is out with a neck injury, Cooper Kupp is out with an ankle injury, and the Rams are 3-7 and 29th in scoring … Bad news/good news for the Eagles: None of the last seven teams to start 9-1 won the Super Bowl, but the last team to do it was the 2017 Eagles … The Eagles have had impressive durability on the offensive line. Four of their linemen have started all 10 games, and left tackle Jordan Mailata has started nine … This week’s LOL stat: The Bills on Thursday became the first team to win consecutive games at Ford Field since the Lions in 2016.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.