All 32 NFL teams reached the midway point of the 2017 regular season and while no dominant force emerged from the pack just yet, it has become abundantly clear which teams are nowhere close to being contenders.
That was by design in San Francisco, where the 49ers are in the midst of a massive rebuilding project under the first-year tandem of general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan. But expectations were higher – even if only marginally so – in several other cities where fans are being exposed to terrible football on a weekly basis.
A few coaches appear destined to walk the plank at the end of the season, while others need a major rebound not to receive their pink slips in time for the holidays. The five coaches with the hottest seats entering Week 10 of the NFL season:
5. Marvin Lewis, Bengals (3-5, third place in AFC North): The second-longest tenured head coach in the NFL behind only New England’s Bill Belichick, Lewis is the winningest coach in Bengals history. Hired in 2003, he has a 118-105-3 (.529) regular-season winning percentage.
Lewis has led the Bengals to seven playoff appearances and four division titles. But he is 0-7 in the postseason and the team has stagnated over the past two years despite being armed with a talented defense and investing heavily in skill position players. The Bengals are mired in 12th place in the AFC with no signs that they have the personnel to be competitive this year or anytime soon.
Lewis has received only one-year extensions since 2014, and it appears likely that the sides will part ways after this season. He may well choose to resign rather than wait for owner Mike Brown’s decision on his future.
4. Chuck Pagano, Colts (3-6, fourth place in AFC South): After three consecutive 11-5 seasons capped by trips to the postseason, it appeared Pagano’s time might come to an end following a disappointing 8-8 campaign in 2015. He survived a reportedly contentious relationship with general manager Ryan Grigson at the time and the two surprisingly got another crack at it together in 2016.
That resulted in another 8-8 year, with quarterback Andrew Luck battling through a shoulder injury that ultimately required surgery that will sideline him until next season. Grigson took the fall in January for a porous defense and a shocking refusal to aggressively address the offensive line charged with protecting the franchise.
Pagano has two years remaining on his contract, but don’t expect that to get in owner Jim Irsay’s way after the Colts stumble to the finish line last in one of the league’s softest divisions, all with the ailing Luck watching from the sideline.
3. Hue Jackson, Browns (0-8, four place in AFC North): The Browns were expected to struggle entering the season, but they were also expected to show steady signs of progress. Instead, Cleveland is 0-8, dragging Jackson’s two-year record with the franchise down to 1-23.
Then there was the strange bumbling of the trade for Bengals backup quarterback A.J. McCarron at last month’s deadline, and the conflicting reports of what went down. Did the Browns truly botch the deadline paperwork, or did GM Sashi Brown thwart the deal? There’s little doubt that Jackson, the Bengals’ former offensive coordinator, wanted McCarron after rotating through DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan and Brock Osweiler since the start of training camp.
But he didn’t get the support of the front office – by design or out of sheer incompetency – to bring in McCarron, and that doesn’t bode well for Jackson’s long-term future in Cleveland.
2. Dirk Koetter, Bucs (2-6, fourth place in NFC North): Koetter went 9-7 in his first season at the helm in 2016 and has three years remaining on his contract. But nothing loosens the footing underneath a coach faster than a team winding up as irrelevant by midseason after aggressively bringing in new personnel in order to be competitive.
Koetter was hired as the coach to help evolve the Bucs’ collection of young offensive talent. But former No. 1 pick Jameis Winston has failed to develop into an elite quarterback and the Bucs rank 21st in points scored per game (19.8). That includes a total of 13 points over the past two games.
Tampa Bay does not have a history of being patient with coaches. Koetter will be feeling increased heat with Winston out several weeks with an arm injury, unless the Bucs can show some life with journeyman backup Ryan Fitzpatrick at the wheel.
1. Ben McAdoo, Giants (1-7, fourth place in NFC East): The Giants entered the season with high expectations – potentially even Super Bowl aspirations if the cards fell into place in a stacked division.
To call that a gross miscalculation by most everyone inside and outside of the Giants’ building would be an understatement.
The vaunted defense? It ranks 30th in the NFL in yards allowed and its two best cornerbacks, Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, have served team-imposed one-game suspensions related to behavior. The third, former first-round pick Eli Apple, continues to get routinely torched while showing poor body language on the field. And the entire unit appeared to give up during last week’s 51-17 shellacking at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams.
McAdoo’s job was made infinitely more difficult with season-ending injuries to his top three wideouts – Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard. But the offensive line is a mess, there is no workhorse running back and two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Eli Manning could soon find himself on the bench watching some guy named Davis Webb take snaps from center.
Much of that blame can also be directed toward general manager Jerry Reese, who may also find his job in serious jeopardy.
The Giants have traditionally been extremely patient with coaches, but McAdoo is facing an increasingly uphill battle. He doesn’t instill much confidence as a leader, and the death knell could have come this week with multiple players saying that McAdoo has “lost” the team.
Unnamed players taking a shot at their coach during a frustrating season is always disappointing, but it also shows the increasing fracture within the Giants’ locker room. Players shouldn’t hide behind their comments, but suspensions, lack of hustle on the field and poor play across the board ultimately lands at the feet of the coach.
As Tony Dungy said on the “Dan Patrick Show” this week when asked how he got the attention of his players during difficult stretches with his team, the Hall of Fame coach replied: “Fellas, I need your attention.”